Mumbai: Drag Kings set to rule the stage

Two women are ready to essay the city’s first ever public, ticketed Drag King performance

Public performances in Mumbai get set to break into never, ever before territory with a Drag King show called ‘Tape: The King of Drag’ to be staged on September 12 at a Lower Parel venue.

Sheena Khalid (l) and Puja Sarup during makeup trials for Patchwork Ensemble’s Tape produced by Gaysi. Pics/Prashansa Gurung
Sheena Khalid (l) and Puja Sarup during makeup trials for Patchwork Ensemble’s Tape produced by Gaysi. Pics/Prashansa Gurung

For those having a ‘Drag King? what's that?’ moment, a Drag King means a female performer who dresses in masculine drag (like a man) and exaggerates male gender stereotypes as part of the routine. The 80-minute performance will be held at Tilt All Day, in Kamala Mills. Lower Parel.

Sheena Khalid gives you that look and Puja Sarup goes into don’t mess with me mode
Sheena Khalid gives you that look and Puja Sarup goes into don’t mess with me mode

Two female theatre artistes, Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid with a solid background of theatre work, star in the minimalist production. Drag Kings often take on male celebrity personas and in this performance, Puja will be inspired by late actor Shammi Kapoor, while Sheena is inspired by Elvis Presley and a mix of other celebrity male personas.

Puja Sarup (l), Sheena Khalid (c) and writer Vikram Phukan talk about Tape, taking a break at a practice session in Mahim. Pic/Tushar Satam
Puja Sarup (l), Sheena Khalid (c) and writer Vikram Phukan talk about Tape, taking a break at a practice session in Mahim. Pic/Tushar Satam

In a country where there is still very little awareness about 'drag' in general, drag queens too are not that well known so drag kings (several rungs lower on the awareness ladder) may be extremely obscure for most.

Vikram Phukan, writer of ‘Tape’ admits, “Not much is known about Drag Kings, in fact, they are generally much lesser known than drag queens through history and here, of course, they are practically not on the radar. Yet, it is not as if they do not exist. We do have women dressed as men, exaggerated masculinity. in some private parties.”

Practice
Puja and Sheena were practicing for the show in a Mahim flat when this reporter met them. In response to questions, it was evident that the duo wanted to keep the tenor of the interview, like the performance, light and casual. The operative word for the young performers was “fun”.

Puja and Sheena said answering a question about whether they were observing men more closely, the way they walk, the talk and typical male mannerisms as they ready to essay their drag king roles. “It is not that you observe ‘a’ particular man, but sometimes you do observe the swagger, certain mannerisms.

In the end, as actors you have to go with the flow. You know as artistes we are constantly observing everybody, not just men, we observe how people behave it is part of our nature and part of the job.” Puja admits that as performance date nears her home is resounding to Shammi Kapoor songs.

“I have been looking at Shammi tapes,” says the fair-skinned, light-eyed girl to really get into the character of Shammi. Phukan, who was also present at the practice said about Tape, “There is music and dance involved though it is not a musical. What it really is, is a spoof and a celebration of masculinity.”

Qualities
The name of the performance, 'Tape' refers to the practice that several Drag Kings do, they tape their breasts because they are playing male characters. Trawling through Drag King history, one learns that this is a debatable aspect, with some drag kings saying that there is no need for taping though there are others who do so.

‘History’, ‘debate’ are heavyweight words which both Sheena and Puja say do not fit in here. They add, “Keep all that ground breaking, a new paradigm, kind of adjectives aside.” They do not want to feel the weight of those labels on their shoulders. In fact, flamboyant and energy is key. What they really want to do is “engage” the audience.

They are now upping their practice hours as showtime nears and. Their focus is simply on giving a great show to the audience. So, Sheena ‘Elvis’ Khalid (will she be wearing Blue Suede Shoes?) and Puja ‘Shammi Kapoor’ Sarup (chahe koi mujhe jungleee kahe...) sign off with a laugh when talking about the pressure, “Hey, we better be good.” Phukan says about the zing in the evening, “The musical vibe is 1960s era filmi surf rock.” Well, yahoo.

What are Drag Kings?
Drag kings are mostly female performance artistes who dress in masculine drag and personify male gender stereotypes as part of their routine.

A typical show may incorporate dancing and singing, sometimes live or lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks Drag kings often perform as exaggeratedly macho male characters, portray marginalized masculinities such as construction workers, rappers, or they will impersonate male celebrities like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s several drag kings became British music hall stars, and British pantomime has preserved the tradition of women performing in male roles. Starting in the mid-1990s, drag kings have begun to gain some of the fame and attention that drag queens have known.

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