The girls had heard that the boys were having a blast playing drag queens for a wacky in-studio photography project. The annual queer festival was coming up and the community was abuzz with activities. Why should drag queens have all the fun? Let us play ball too, the girls decided. We'll be drag kings. And not indoors, but on the streets. Thus was born India's first drag king project, MAN i FEST.
Drag kings — women dressed in masculine drag to personify male stereotypes — are quite rare anywhere in the world. They are unheard of in India, where the queer community is even more marginal.
So when one of them, 31-year-old businesswoman Vidya (she prefers to go by first name alone), sent out a message to the WHaQ! (We're Here and Queer!) “calling all queer wimmin who would like to participate in a drag king photo project”, she wasn't too sure how many would heed her call. “Don your sexiest manself on, and be shot erasing those damn restrictive gender boxes. The idea is to capture raw masculine energy and style in female-bodied persons,” her email said. Before long, 13 women — two from Mumbai — were ready to gender bend and impersonate their favourite male persona.
Pop culture characters the girls chose were mostly exaggerated macho male, some stark and dark, some in-your-face, some even sexually ambiguous.
Salman Khan's Chulbul Pandey of Dabangg, Tom Cruise's Maverick in Top Gun, Quick Gun Murugun, Sherlock Holmes, Clark Kent aka Superman, Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, Zorro, Indiana Jones ... were all taken in a jiffy.
For practical reasons, Sowmya Reddy — a busy 29-year-old vegan and an animal rights activist trained in environmental law at the National Law School — chose the pot-bellied, lungi-clad, crotch-scratching Malayali Alex of the popular Channel [V] show Lola Kutty. "I found it perfect as it required no elaborate costume, just a lungi and a baniyan, and I could walk around digging and scratching as a man. During my shoot by the road, so many people gathered to watch the proceedings. I was thoroughly enjoying myself grossing out everyone. While a woman stared on, I casually lifted my lungi and scratched my balls. She threw me such a disgusted look, it was priceless."
A bunch of female-identified women playing at being men meant more than just hunting for costumes and make-up. Their breasts had to vanish beneath layers of tight binding. Inside their underwear, they were to pack socks to resemble a penis.
Vidya, playing Chulbul Pandey, stuffed a shampoo bottle inside a sock and therefore sported an embarrassingly large bulge in the pants when she donned the tough cop garb.
Indu Antony, a TFA (Toto Funds the Arts) photography award winner, who had just completed Bitch Please!, the drag queen photography project which inspired the queer girls, was steering the drag kings as well. Indu pulled in her favourite make-up artist, Rahul Pillai. He had helped transform seven queer men into stunning drag queens for her. Together, they set out to "celebrate masculinity", got the queer women to show off their male side and created the first such project in the country.
The images will be on a calender soon — "the first drag king calendar ever," says Indu — which will be sold widely.