Baatein with Bhenji ft. Dame Imfala

"My vision is simple. Self-liberation. Try it." - Dame Imfala

1. What does "Drag" mean to you personally?


Drag is an extremely underrated form of performance art that's been otherized because of several preconceived notions and stigmas developed around being "queer". As liberating as drag is, it is extremely demanding and requires the artist to be on top of their game at basically everything. You're your own one-woman-band!


2. When and how did you start doing drag?


I got into drag for the first time in high school in 2013. I was actively into theatrics then and I was cast as Zuleikha in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat! Girl, was I feeling my oats! I was allowed to design my own costumes and I had a fantastic time embodying the role in drag. Little did I know I would go on to do it professionally 4 years later.


3. How did you start doing drag?


In 2017, a group of seniors at college who were equally enthusiastic about Drag Race approached me for a project. They really wanted to put me in drag for a photo series. This was around the same time I got more vocal about queer rights and queer culture, so I readily agreed because I thought it was an amazing opportunity to promote the art form among my peers.


4. When was the first time you performed in drag?


I debuted as Dame Imfala at Mind The Gap co hosted by Dysco and Generation Mixx on 2nd June, 2018 in Mumbai. I performed alongside Miss Pepper and Tropical Marca. It was fun!


5. How would you describe your drag style?


I am a performer at heart and on stage. I bring a lot of visually inspired looks to the table. It's fashion forward and sticks out from traditional drag. I don't like to label it as club kid or camp or glam. My drag is basically me on anabolic androgenic steroids with a dash of femininity.


6. Criticisms either make you or break you. What were some critics you got when you started?


I was initially called out for using very little make up which I completely understand now. I never learnt to apply makeup so my friends use to help me out who had no clue how to apply drag make up. I don't take criticisms personally or seriously especially for drag because a girl's just trying to have some fun! I've been doing my own make up for over a year now and have managed to achieve a style that flatters my facial features and I see a big difference.


7. "Relevance of drag in India." What do you think?


Drag in the present context is associated with queer nightlife. However, drag has been a part of Indian culture through and through. I was brought up in a very culturally rich environment and was exposed to various forms of Indian classical and folk dances. It was very interesting for me to observe that it's nothing but drag when a Kathakali dancer paints a Minukku face or a female dancer embodies Lord Krishna in Manipuri classical dance. Some of these dance forms can be traced back as early as 17th century. It's fair to say drag is inherently a part of Indian culture and I'm absolutely proud of it.

8. What the initial reaction of your family and friends when you told them about you as a drag performer?

My parents don't exactly know I am Dame Imfala on stage. They're aware of my acting and modeling gigs but they've never watched me perform. On the other hand, I have super duper supportive friends who show up or actively promote my body of work. They have never questioned what I do but have always supported and contributed in whatever way they can from across the world and it's extremely humbling.


9. "Drag is political." Do you agree? Present your thoughts on the same.


Honey, your entire existence is political and if you disagree, you're in denial. I'd like to quote something wonderful I read in this context. "...because as playful and as fun as drag can and will always be, it can also be serious fun, by playing with society’s norms in a very profound way. And drag only becomes more pointedly political in an environment where an illegitimate regime seeks — picking just one example — to impose reductive and cruel ideas about gender that fly in the face of gender’s proven complexity.”


10. Do you feel drag needs to be inclusive? Why or why not?


Isn't it already? Drag needs to be more inclusive when it comes to representation in media and pop culture for sure. But I do have cis, trans, non binary friends who have done drag and thoroughly enjoyed it which I actively support.


11. Do you believe drag culture is compromised?


There are NO rules in drag. You either have it in you or not. I don't care how you do what you do as long as I'm entertained as a viewer.


12. What are your thoughts on "Drag patronizing"?


There's a lot of internalized homophobia within the queer community. I absolutely cannot fathom how that works but crossdressers or female impersonators are often looked down upon by other queer people and that's thoroughly ridiculous. It's important for all of us to realize we're here to uplift each other as a community. We talk about pride and universal love all the time, so show it!


13. Were you ill treated/abused because you perform in drag? Please share your experience if comfortable.


Nope. I consider myself extremely lucky and privileged to belong to a liberal surrounding. I have always found a way to stand up for myself and people have always respected it.


14. What is your vision through the art of drag?


It's simple. Self-liberation. Try it.


15. A message you'd like to give to young drag artists.


I am a young drag artist myself. It makes absolutely no sense to preach to my peers. I do drag because it brings me joy, an overwhelming amount of joy. Not to prove a point to anybody. And that's all you should care about.


Follow Dame Imfala on Instagram to support her and see her upcoming work at https://www.instagram.com/dameimfala/


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.


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