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Pride Month: ‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag’

Updated on: 23 June,2021 12:00 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Anuka Roy |

Sushant Divgikar, popular for his drag avatar Rani Ko-He-Nur, didn’t know what drag was growing up. But he was inspired by female characters, makeup, costumes, and accessories. He talks about his recent single ‘Diamond’, the drag culture in Mumbai, and myths about the performance art

Pride Month: ‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag’

Sushant Divgikar

Sushant Divgikar is working on his make-up for a shoot as his drag avatar ‘Rani Ko-He-Nur’, while speaking to us over the phone. He is good at multi-tasking, if the multiple accomplishments to his name are anything to go by. He is a drag artist, a reality TV star, winner of Mr Gay India 2014, and has a new feather in his cap in the form of the debut single ‘Diamond’, which released last December. 

“I just wanted to create a song which could become like an anthem for people to believe in themselves that we’ve reached here, we have survived the pandemic. I wanted people to believe that everybody somewhere down the line is a diamond,” he says. The song is a mix of pop-rock and R&B. In the video, Divgikar appears as Rani along with more LGBTQIA+ individuals as well as people from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Among them are equal rights activist Gulnaar Sheetal Bhan, trans activist Urmi, footballer Winnie Chopra, and Divgikar’s own father. “I wanted to have real people in the video. So I think I didn't have any model. They were real people telling the real story about how people have tagged them and labelled them.” Apart from his single, he will soon make his debut as a playback singer in Kannada films with the upcoming movie ‘3Devi’.

2020 was significant for Divgikar. Last year he became the first drag artist from India to ever feature on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List. Right from childhood Divgikar enjoyed dressing up and was fascinated by makeup, costumes and accessories. Though he didn’t exactly know what drag was at the time, he was always very inspired by female characters. “My drag persona is a tribute to womanhood. I think being a woman is the most powerful thing in the world. Women are the creators of humanity.” Divgikar’s list of inspirations is long, including his mother, various actresses, and goddesses too. “That is the reason I said that I had to do drag and take it to the next level to celebrate all these women who have really pushed the boundary.”

In 2015, he got his first opportunity to perform in drag in Vikram Kapadia’s theatre production ‘Merchant of Venice’. He went on to host several live events and even international film festivals in drag. It was in 2017 that he started doing drag professionally when Keshav Suri of the Lalit Hospitality Group invited him to perform at his night club KittySu in New Delhi, alongside the world-renowned drag queen Violet Chachki. That’s how the journey of ‘Rani Ko-He-Nur’ started. 

Sushant Divgikarr started doing drag professionally from 2017. His drag avatar is called Rani Ko-He-Nur

The idea behind the stage name was just word-play. “Rani means queen and Kohinoor because it is the most expensive diamond. I just wanted to assure my Indian people that one Kohinoor might have been robbed from us, but the second Kohinoor is still here.”  The name also has some gender-play in it. The ‘He’ in the name puts across the point that “he is a queen but he has both male and female energy.” Divgikar says, “It beautifully portrays me as a non-binary person.”

According to him, drag is a form of self-expression and every nuance and detail of performance art is very important. Make-up and fashion are a very integral part of the entire process. They help create an alter persona / stage persona and add to the production value of an artiste.

But how does he balance Sushant and Rani? “Earlier people didn’t know what to call me when. Now, through social media I have been educating people about drag, which pronouns to use etc. That’s how I balance it. Earlier I used to get booked for shows and events as Sushant, but now it is for both Rani and Sushant. So, it is a nice balance.” He says the beauty of this is that he has created this alter ego or personality which a lot of people can relate to. Both Sushant and his stage avatar Rani are unapologetic. “The difference between the two is that Rani is a bit more fabulous than Sushant. A lot more people DM and flirt with Rani,” quips Divgikar, who is one the most followed queer influencers in India. 

While he may have won accolades for his drag avatar, Divgikar is extremely grateful to the people before him who paved the way for drag culture in India. While drag performances may have been in the limelight for the past few years, he says performers like Alan Gill, Edwin Fernandes and Queen Harish, among others, should be credited as pioneers who had been performing the art even before it was considered to be mainstream.

Speaking about the drag culture in Mumbai he says, “It has been forever evolving. Drag resurfaced with a bang in 2017. In 2021, there are about 20 to 25 drag queens in the city.” He says drag culture across the globe is different yet similar in a lot of ways – the foundation of drag as a performance art is the same everywhere. “Drag culture in India can be traced way back in history. I feel a little bad that Indian mainstream cinema and pop culture has not celebrated drag culture that much.” He further opines that today’s makeup artists and makeup on even actresses has been inspired by drag artists. “Drag has got a very firm influence and relevance in Indian culture.”

He believes that there is more awareness about drag and the queer community in the country now, but the pace at which the consciousness is spreading isn’t enough. As the end of Pride month approaches, the hope is that the conversation around inclusivity in the art and culture space continues. Divgikar also wants to break a myth about drag. “Most people believe that drag is done by gay people or people from within the LGBTQIA+ community. But it is not specific to any gender. Drag is inclusive. It is for everyone and as (American drag queen) RuPaul very famously said, ‘We’re all born naked, and the rest is drag’.” 

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