"This guy in the audience got so turned on that he came upon the stage and tried to tear my skirt but in few seconds and dragged him out of the stage." - Shabnam Bewafa.
1. What does "Drag" mean to you personally?
By general definition, Drag is an art form where a man dresses up as a woman for entertainment purposes. For me, personally, Drag is an outlet for me to express my feminine side and celebrate my underdogs whenever I’m feeling low in my life. Drag has helped me so much and I’ve learned so much.
2. When did you start doing drag?
In 2016, a few of my friends challenged me to dress up as a woman, it wasn’t the traditional drag but it was my introduction to the world of drag. My friends told me there are guys who dress up as women and it is called Drag. Then I started doing shows in Drag in 2017 and I officially performed in Kitty Su, Delhi in May 2018.
3. How did you start doing drag?
In 2017, I broke with my partner of that time and I was very devastated and feeling low. That time I had just came out to my family. Things are pretty great now but back in the time they were taking their time to understand it. So, in 2017 I dressed up as a woman for Delhi Queer Pride Parade where I wore Saree which I loved wearing.
4. When was the first time you performed in drag?
Before doing drag I used to be Emcee for events in Delhi, India. So, my friend who was an event organizer was throwing a queer party. I thought of mixing and matching and I performed in the event during Christmas, 2017.
5. How would you describe your drag style?
Growing up, I used to love watching Hannah Montana on TV. I used to be so fascinated by the way Miley Cyrus used to turn herself into Hannah Montana. No one knew that she was a star and used to live her teenage life normally. In similar way I was a huge fan of Kareena Kapoor Khan. But my fascination for Saree came from my teacher in school whose name was also Shabnam and she used to always help, support and motivate me when I was teased by other students for being effeminate. She always told me that she sees a spark in me and she was so beautiful in the way she used to wear sarees with her curvy body and was always very kind and humble to everyone. So my drag style comes from wearing Sarees from my teacher, blonde hair from Hannah Montana and sassy personality from Kareena Kapoor Khan.
6. Criticisms can either make you or break you. What were some critics you got when you started?
I feel whenever anyone starts something new there would be people who would have nice things to say and some will really try to put you down. So, talking about me I was raised in a very privileged background. So from my family I never had any issue and I personally feel that the family’s way of reacting to your art is what makes you or breaks you. However, my brother is very homophobic but his comments never broke me but helped me to be a better version of myself. But I feel the most criticism comes from within the Drag community and I’ve always been very vocal about it. If you try something new then they will ban you from having shows and I think that has never put me down because apart from those groups I’ve performed at different places. It’s because I’ve created that kind of group for myself which is why it’s important to have family support to have that strength in life.
7. "Relevance of drag in India." What do you think?
I believe that Drag has always been a part of our country. Even in past when women were not allowed to step out so men used to do female roles on stage. For me, I remember watching Palak and Gutthi on The Kapil Sharma’s show. Although I never liked the show much but Sunil Grover played the role of Gutthi and Kiku Sharda played the role of Palak. So such examples of drag has always been in India. Even a lot of Bollywood actors and actresses have performed roles in opposite gender and that is Drag.
8. What was the initial reaction of your family and friends when you told them about you as a drag performer?
I have told some of my friends about Drag myself and the reactions have been very positive and it wasn’t a big deal. They always appreciated and motivated me to keep doing what I love. When I told my family, it was hard for them to digest to understand me as a gay person and also a drag queen because coming out as gay and drag queen is actually coming out twice. So, I never told my family but they actually found out that I do drag when my father saw me on newspaper and he was happy for me but he was confused. Later he saw me on TV and we never had a dialogue about it but he’s okay with it if it’s keeping me busy. Being a lazy kid, it’s very nice to see me being productive. Back in college days I had a lot of time to do drag but now with work and drag it’s difficult to keep up. But I love managing my time to create something magical on stage. I have to work continuously for 2-3 days for my drag with less sleep and not taking holidays from my work.
9. "Drag is political." Do you agree? Present your thoughts on the same.
I feel talking about LGBTQ rights is very vital and me being a drag queen I was always able to speak my mind on the issues that are needed to be talked. Drag has given me the voice to educate the people in society and bring the voices in forefront. However, I am a very apolitical person but with drag I got the power to be something and say something to fight for our rights in the society.
10. Do you feel drag needs to be inclusive? Why or why not?
I feel Drag is already very inclusive because it doesn’t have any rules. I feel if you’re gay, straight, bisexual or trans, you can do drag. But however the drag politics, which I’ve only seen in India where there are groups of drag queens who don’t want you to perform. However I am so lucky that I found my own way to do something I really love. But it is definitely very toxic and they won’t let the new queens perform. Some people are very manipulative, care only about themselves and some of them even try to destroy others. They are problematic in other people’s life just for their entertainment.
11. Do you believe drag culture is compromised?
Drag is not compromised but it is seen as a sub category of LGBTQIA community, although Drag has much more to it than it has to offer. I’ve read this in newspaper that a male’s market value is decreased when they perform as female. I feel people’s nazariya (perception) has to change and they should see it as any other artform.
12. What are your thoughts on "Drag patronizing"?
Like I said people should take it normally like an artform and be kind to drag performers. Like I’ve seen when I perform 80% of the people will enjoy and 20% of it just don’t give a fuck. They should realize that we have bills to pay. There have been a lot of time when people have asked me to perform for free and I’ve this policy to not charge people from college and the community because it’s mostly self funding but it terms of business people should be kind to us in terms of our bills because Drag is very expensive.
13. Were you ill treated/abused because you perform in drag? Please share your experience if comfortable.
I remember it happening to me 2-3 times when people were trying to misbehave with me. I remember performing on one of my favorite song Pound the Alarm by Nicki Minaj and I was lying down and trying to twerk. But this guy in the audience got so turned on that he came up on the stage and tried to tear my skirt but in few seconds and dragged him out of the stage. I remember feeling numb in that moment and although I was okay later after that show but then this fear developed in my brain when I went on stage the next time. But the show must go on. After that the rules of club were changes and it never happened to me again and I hope it never does.
14. What is your vision through the art of drag?
My vision is to obviously be famous as a drag queen but Drag Queens are already the celebrities of the community and I feel when I have that kind of responsibility then I’ve to help them to grow. I want to perform in colleges and educate people about community. My vision is not to be toxic like other drag queens but an example for people to look up to.
15. A message you'd like to give to young aspiring drag artists.
Choose your Drag friends wisely. You will never know how people will try to twist your minds. I learned it the hard way but if you’re lost you can always be found and it’s never too late to turn your life around. If you really want to do drag just give it a shot and it will give you happiness and you can decide for yourself if you want to continue or not. The younger queens can always come to me for support because when I was younger I didn’t had that kind of support. My message is that just do drag if you want to do it.
Follow Shabnam Bewafa on Instagram to support her and see her upcoming work at https://www.instagram.com/iamshabnambewafa/
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.