"Back in the day, there were just two other drag artists who were just trying to figure out themselves" - Betta Naan Stop.
1. What does "Drag" mean to you personally?
The meaning of drag has changed for me. I think it changes with every new drag artist I meet. I think I would say that I started with the very limited knowledge of the term “Drag Queen” like very heteronormative in movies. The first time I heard the term drag queen in the show called F.R.I.E.N.D.S where Chandler’s dad was a drag queen. So, it was very limited for me. The definition started from woman impersonation to balls and now it’s more like gender-neutral and has more to do with individuality. Drag for me now means whatever you want to be for the night. It changes for a lot of people but stays the same for the kings and queens. It’s just the character basically. So, whatever is the best representation of your drag persona is what drag is.
2. When did you start doing drag?
I started doing drag when I started experimenting with make up back in 2016. Started doing my make up in December, 2016 through 2017 and got my first show in December, 2017. So, technically 2017 end is when I started drag.
3. How did you start doing drag?
Drag came to me at a point in life where I had nowhere to go. I just came back from Australia finishing my dance scholarship program and once you come back from a foreign education you’re expected to have something in your hand but I came back with nothing. Not nothing, I mean I had a lot of amazing memories and experience. Crazy and passionate dance techniques, student and amazing dance teacher so for me personally I gained a lot. But in general society terms, if you don’t have a job, you don’t have anything. So it was that point where I started working in call centre and that was just a drastic change in my life. I couldn’t cope up with it honestly, I mean it isn’t very difficult because there are bery hard working people at call centres. If it works for them, it’s really great and it’s a really great career opportunity but not everyone belongs there. I didn’t feel I belonged there. I used to fall sick a lot. So, I decided to quit it and practice make up when I was home alone. I also used to teach dance as a medium of earning. And that is when make up and dancing came together and drag started.
4. When was the first time you performed in drag?
My performance was for myself at night, that’s when I used to practice. My first ever performance was at a Queer Workshop happening at a school in Delhi. The organizer has asked me to perform in between the panel discussions where there were sections for other performers like poetry etc. I performed on Ariana Grande’s that times recent song “Greedy”. This was in September/October in 2017.
5. Criticisms can either make you or break you. What were some critics you got when you started?
I used to get criticized a lot from all kind of people who have zero knowledge about drag. But I knew what feedbacks were useful like if a make up artist is telling me something about my make up then that is something that I can work upon. Back in the day, there were just two other drag artists who were just trying to figure out themselves and their art form. It was really difficult to find and meet other drag queens who understand and appreciate the technicality and hard work I used to put in my artform. So occasionally we used to meet and discuss what works for them and how they used to try different things. So initially because of limited audience it was difficult to meet like minded people.
6. "Relevance of drag in India." What do you think?
In a country like India, which is so diverse religiously, politically, regionally, geographically, terrain wise, climate wise and with food preferences. There are so many aspects within one country. I feel artform like drag combines things together. It celebrates your freedom, celebrates you and how you feel. For example, a Gujrati boy want to wear lehenga choli in Navratri and do full circle thingy with cousins and friends. But, he can’t do it because he’s not accepted the way he is. But with drag everything is possible. In my honest opinion, in a country like India we need to have an artform which does not have biases, have criteria or hard and fast rules to be followed. It just celebrates you and every aspect of you. I think when people know themselves more they tend to be less insecure. Most of the negativity comes from insecurities. These are my general observations from what I’ve seen people around me. I feel that is the general mindset of the country but if people are happier, judge themselves less and not be insecure, we all can come to peace.
7. What was the initial reaction of your family and friends when you told them about you as a drag performer?
I didn’t tell anyone. I just started uploading pictures. The only person to know was my sister because I was using her make up and her brushes. I got a lot of mixed reactions. Some people loved it, some of them unfollowed me on Instagram. For most part people showed love and appreciation towards me. A lot of girls loved my make up and asked me to teach them and do it on their face. I was okay with doing a drag make up on them because that’s what I can do rather than a everyday glam smokey eye look.
8. "Drag is political." Do you agree? Present your thoughts on the same.
Drag is absolutely political. I think it’s a shame if a drag artist doesn’t try to make change in the society. Reason being, drag started from oppression, it started as a political protest and it was a slap on the authority figure who tried to push you down. I think we should not forget the roots from where drag comes from. Till this day drag queens are the faces of pride parade. It’s a huge phenomenon.
“Drag is all over the world. It’s a phenomenon.” – Rupaul.
Imagine something so powerful with so much positivity can have effect on the world. So, I’ll ask all the drag queens to stand up for what they believe in and brush up their political knowledge.
9. Do you feel drag needs to be inclusive? Why or why not?
The definition of drag has changed for me, so I think it needs to be more and more inclusive. Like everyone keeps posting drag has no rules and anybody can do drag. So, let everyone do drag. Everyone who wants to do drag can do drag. Doing drag not necessarily mean you do the whole thing and you’ll get a show. That is a different business aspect of it. No one should measure their drag caliber with the number of performances that they’ve done. It can be just in your room for your video camera, not even video camera, just for the mirror or better just for you. It’s still drag so it has to be inclusive.
10. Do you believe drag culture is compromised?
You can say that. There is one aspect of drag which was initially most popular form of drag and Rupaul took that as a concept for her reality show. Now it’s like any other reality televion show like American Idol, X factor etc where there are multiple seasons and have franchises with other countries as well. Now Rupaul’s drag race is becoming a representation of drag culture for majority of the population. So a lot of non queer people think that what drag is. However, it’s just a part of drag and there are a lot of aspects of drag. And different kind of drag artists who are not even allowed to be a part of show because they don’t fit the format. When we say drag is inclusive then a drag completion should be inclusive as well. That is the only negative side of it. But because of the show a lot of people know about the term drag and they now enjoy it. Its really good opportunity created by Rupaul for all the people who do drag and are even contestants on the show.
11. What is your vision through the art of drag?
My vision through drag is to see Drag as a respectable art form in India. Not necessarily mainstream in reality TV etc. But drag being celebrated at all levels where individuals are getting to be themselves and get the love, support and praise everyone deserves.
12. A message you'd like to give to young aspiring drag artists.
Don't run behind getting shows and performing at big stages. That will come sooner or later. Get your act together first! Taking inspiration from drag artists is great but blindly copying it is not helping you. So find out who you are.
Secondly find drag sister(s) – the actual support you need, the unbiased feedback and a friend who shares the same passion as you.
Follow Betta Naan Stop on Instagram to support her and see her upcoming work at https://www.instagram.com/bettanaanstop/
About author : Miss Bhenji is an Indian aesthetic drag queen. She's a dancer, actor and a comedian. She's based out of Nagpur and her interview talk show is called Baatein with Bhenji. Baatein with Bhenji was an initiative taken by Miss Bhenji to interview the queer artists of India to give them exposure for people to learn more about them.