Pride month is a month that is highly celebrated by the LGBTQIA+ Community time. this is the time of the year where major brands change their logos to rainbow colours to shower support to people from the pride community. As the pride month starts more and more queer conversations started flourishing on Facebook, Instagram and a new add-on to the clubhouse. While these conversations surface this year. India had one unique conversation which took up some light.
Year after its launch, Indian’s only exclusive drag website Dragvanti celebrated its anniversary by ideating Indian’s first of its kind conference for drag. The Indian Drag Conference which commenced on 25th June 2021 was indeed a unique celebration that had people from the drag community come together to discuss their art. The event has some of the best drag artists sharing academic papers on different topics and traces of drag. It was a flow of knowledge and presentation that unfolded candid conversations across the community. The event has more than 250 people joining online across 2 social media platforms and the zoom platforms.
The event started with an Initial ideation note by the convenor of the drag conference Patruni Sastry, where they set up the tone about the conference and possible takeaways they put for the audience. Followed by the first Lec-dem by International drag artist Kween Mallika aka Sarbjeet Singh Gujral from Canada currently visiting India on the topic “Globalization of Desi drag” which both the anecdotes of Desi drag artists such as Rupaul’s drag race Canada famed Queen Priyanka and other South Asian drag artists and their artistry. The talk has followed the topic “Bollywood's influence on Indian Drag” presented by drag queen Miss Bhenji aka Nilay Joshi from Nagpur, who are known for their high packed Bollywood number performances in the Indian drag industry. Miss Benji's talks highlighted the conversation of how Bollywood actresses like Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi pioneered the inspiration for Indian drag queens. She also touch-based about the miss interpretations of queerness within the film and media sector and urged the audience to stand up for such miss-representation.
The third talk was titled “Decolonizing the Gaze- Lessons from Launda Naach” by Avatari Devi aka Saransh Sugandh was one of the most delightful talks which cheered up the audience. Avatari’s tone of rustic Bihari accent and their deliberated satire and reads were both political yet left a huge impact on the crowd. The talk was followed by a film on Hiten Noonwal, which was then summoned by Hiten’s topic “Drag as a Performance Art: Gender Performance”. Hiten’s visual approach and mastery of how the body becomes part of art was shown visually in the video presentation which made the audience glued to the screen the whole time. Following which Hiten spoke about their involvement with the idea of how drag becomes a tool for performance art and what is the reaction they receive when they bring the idea of abstract performances with the drag space. Hiten shared anecdotes of their performances in Rising and fall festival, Kolkata performance art festival and so one which thrilled the audience.
The final talk was by another Indian drag performer who is internationally famed Abhishek Singhania aka Jiya Labeija. Jiya shared their journey of being the first Indian to be a part of the Labeija dynasty. Jiya shared the importance of Drag Ball, how drag balls were evolved and why there is a huge need to create a ballroom scene in India. Jiya also shared some thoughts about how drag can break barriers of privilege within the ballroom scene and what drag mother/fatherhood is. Along with insights, Jiya’s wit and sass made the crowd in splits.
One of the most interesting parts of the conference was the Panel discussion on the Past Present and future of Indian drag moderated by Hyderabad based Drag artist Nutty Savitri aka Anil Kohli. The panelists included drag artist Cumsin Haseena aka Ashish Chopra, Delhi based artist Cologne doll, Bio queen Neon Scythe aka Samyukta Bharadwaj. the discussion started from personal experiences of discrimination of drag artists within the community. As a part of the conversation, Ashish spoke about how he was told to shave their beard and body hair to fit into the standards of defined feminity within drag circuits and why drag artists need to stick to their gut feeling and re-define such standard myths of femineity. Samyukta added that it's been time and again where people from the AFAB community are kept on the veil for a long time and its high time to disqualify binaries within drag such as drag queen and drag kings and look beyond other gender/bodies to diversify the art. They said it’s high time to accept bio queens, trans drags, gender non confirming drag into visibility and drag conversations. The panel ended up with a fun rapid-fire round which had some interesting answers too. The entire event was hosted by the co-founder of the Hyderabad dance festival and inclusion catalyst Vaibhav Kumar Modi.
The event ended with a Valedictory by Patruni Sastry about the conference and why it is really important to bring such spaces of discussion. Patruni said ” This year dragvanti wanted to celebrate pride with showcasing inclusivity and sister/brotherhood within the queer community by bringing queer artists, queer businesses and queer and ally organizations at one place. This event is completely organized by queer people from start to end. We have queer business Beunic, Qucciberry, Flirt diamonds who are gifting us, blue raccoon workshop enabling us technically, the Nation's Rock Beat bringing us to give away. We have queer organizations like Mobbera foundation, Jamshedpur pride, firefly community, Syzygy art festival and the dance institution Am2am partnering with us for promotions. All of them coming together to celebrate Pride with the community. “ the event concluded with a vote of thanks by Patruni Sastry.