Queer artists from Hyderabad explain how performing arts are an expression of empowerment

Performing arts channel the strengths and vulnerabilities of the LGBTQ+ community in Hyderabad

Performing arts channel the strengths and vulnerabilities of the LGBTQ+ community in Hyderabad

In Hyderabad, drag performance is on the rise; from just three drag queens in 2019 to eight drag queens and three drag kings this year. Lately, more and more members of the LGBTQ+ community are getting into the performing arts, perhaps due to the reading of Section 377 and a gradual increase in social acceptance.

Drag artist Patruni Chidananda Sastry, product specialist at FactSet, an American data and financial software company, is working on a concept shoot to recreate the image of Bal Gandharva, the Marathi singer and performing artist known for portraying female characters at a time when women weren’t allowed on stage.

Patruni adds, “People get into art because it gives them space to recreate their own reality.”

Affirmation of identity

From wanting to copy an established drag performer for his first performance in 2019 to not focusing on creating a “happy image” in performance in 2022, he has evolved as a drag performer. “Speaking from my heart or creating a meter makes me release my emotions in the form of art. It eases my emotional addictions and helps me fight them regularly,” says Patruni, who finds a thin line of connectivity with looks on stage. “For example, Dasha Maha Vidya, describing the idea of ​​Devis in drag, made me celebrate the feminine in all its forms.”

Stating that drag is multidisciplinary, he rewrites Telugu folk songs and performs them online and at queer events around the city. Patruni also creates content with Rangula Rattnam, a gay-specific Telugu podcast that aims to give “words and experience of homosexuality”. “These conversations help queer Telugu children not only learn the lingo but also come out to their family and friends. As we cover positive stories, it helps them to look better.

Accept and educate

Vaibhav Kumar Modi

Vaibhav Kumar Modi | Photo credit: special arrangement

Every time Vaibhav Kumar Modi takes the stage, the queer artist channels his self. “There is nothing visible on stage. Everyone, queer or not, is vulnerable to it. The audience can see the performer’s nervousness or confidence; it’s like ‘being naked’ to the world,” says this classical dancer and founder of Hyderabad-based curation company Dark Vibe Society.

To be able to put everything aside and perform is a cathartic experience. He says: “When the feelings of trauma, phobia and anxiety felt are channeled into something artistic on stage, the feeling of ‘being able to create something on my own’ brings acceptance. Art is the enabler that helps no matter who you are.

Vaibhav Kumar Modi

Vaibhav Kumar Modi | Photo credit: special arrangement

The kathak has been a way to embrace her vulnerability and channel her emotions. In the four years of training – first with Mangala Bhatt and now with Mohit Sridhar – Vaibhav has done around 15 performances. The dance teachers played a positive role with their mantra “speak the truth and do what is important and right for you”. “My teachers told me, ‘Art is incomplete until you put yourself, and what you feel and what you feel, into it,'” Vaibhav explains. Dvibhanga’, his recent production with Mohit brought duality to the fore by focusing on Ardha Narishwara and the story of ‘one person with two souls – Arjuna and Brihannala from Mahabharata’. “The story was told by two Kathak artists simultaneously; we were both doing the same steps but you could see the difference between us. Having received the “best support from the public”, Vaibhav feels lucky. “I think education dispels fear and it changes public perception; the only difference here is that I try to educate through my art.

music as a medium

sandi

sandy | Photo credit: special arrangement

“Music calms me down; I can express myself however I want and it relaxes and rejuvenates me on bad days,” says Sandeepan Kushary aka Sandi, an MNC employee and LGBTQ+ activist. He finds solace in Hindustani classical music, especially in Raag Kafi, which is known to evoke a sense of calm in listeners. Born into a family of musicians, his interest in music was organic. Having learned Rabindra Sangeet at 12, he wanted to learn Hindustani music when he moved to Hyderabad in 2013. “I waited three years because I was afraid of being judged. Now I am happy to have found a guru,” says Sandi referring to her music teacher and singer Aradhana Karhade. He adds: “Dancing and painting are popular expressions for homosexuals to express their emotions. Singing is also popular, but it has limitations when it comes to representing inclusivity through art.

work is identity

Shailaja Padindala

Shailaja Padindala | Photo credit: special arrangement

Filmmaker Shailaja Padindala recently moved to Hyderabad from Bengaluru. Her lesbian film Kannada Ladies Nanu won Best Picture at the recent South Asian Film Festival in Washington DC. “Human beings are artists; heterosexuals are in the majority so their expression is normalized. But for those who are queer, self-expression is taboo. So we use music, film, art and drag shows as writing tools to express our homosexuality and our identity, to normalize and raise awareness of our existence and who we are as minorities.

In Bangalore, Shailaja started out as a painter and sculptor, but was drawn to film during her fine arts course. Now a composer and dancer, Sailaja says, “The voices of the queer community weren’t as liberal 15 years ago as they are today. Art was a medium through which we could talk about ourselves in an abstract way.

Shailaja Padindala

Shailaja Padindala | Photo credit: special arrangement

She believes that her work gives her an identity. While as an artist her paintings depicted sexuality, queer love and a voice against patriarchy, she admits that movies don’t have that kind of scope. “I identify first as a queer person rather than as another identity. Art has taken me a long way to be able to express myself and fight to integrate myself into society. She strives to bring content related to homosexuality in his films “Queer people and the community have always been shown in a pejorative way in films. Queer people who tell their own stories have more weight because it is their first-hand experience.