She lives life, king size

She lives life, king size

Meet Bidisha Mohanta, the presenter of Desi Drag King' and a powerhouse of talent always looking for ways to engage in a dialogue about queer identities

If you’re a TV buff, you’ve probably seen Bidisha Mohanta crooning in that soulful voice of hers on India’s Got Talent, Season 8. A finalist on the show, Bidisha garnered attention for not just her impeccable vocals, but also the gumption of laying bare parts of her personal life and speaking of her homosexuality — unusual for Indian prime time national TV.

As an advocate of the LGBTQI community and a powerhouse of talent, Bidisha is always looking for ways to engage in a dialogue about queer identities. And she is doing it in a way few others in our country have envisioned — by presenting the Desi Drag King, an initiative that aims to focus on the community via photo projects and drag performances. In keeping with the desi, the costumes are elaborate and Indian — such as sherwanis, dhotis etc.

“Like everybody else, I had only heard of drag queens for most part of my life. It was during my second year of college in Singapore that I came across a video of one of the most popular drag kings, Landon Cider. I saw the clothes, the character, the channeling and I thought to myself, ‘I’d like to do this, too’. So, last year, my friends and I put out pictures of ourselves dressed as men on Instagram. Within a few days, I was contacted by the leading drag kings of India, activists such as Sushant Divgikar et al, and they asked me if we’d like to pursue it and enter a performance-based set-up. None of my other friends agreed to that, but to me it was what I had always envisioned,” she says.

A new character

Hence was born Badshah Mayur — Bidhisha’s drag avatar. It was the most organic play on her first name, she tells us. Besides, what better than a name that suggests ‘king’? “For me, drag is about building a personality around the character. I love to dance on Ranveer Singh’s songs. I like to sing a lot of Sufi. I haven’t figured out a definitive personality for my character yet, it’s evolving as I go,” says the 22-year-old who currently does drag performances for Kitty Su, a club and performance space chain.

Bidisha’s drag characters thus far have been largely masculine but she’d love to add shades of femininity to turn around the concept of gender that restrains one’s self-expression. “I want to pull down the gender stereotypes. Having said that, drag for me is only a front. It’s different from what I am as a person.”

Bidisha’s acts include song and dance, but she wants to, along the way, incorporate a dialogue with her audience and perhaps crack jokes about the confines of gender binaries. Engaging in a dialogue comes naturally to Bidisha. As a queer Indian woman, she is used to people asking her curious and, sometimes, insensitive questions, she admits. “The most common one I get is, ‘What if you just haven’t found the right man yet?’ I tell them no, that’s not what I seek from life. Regarding the drag, I often get, ‘Do you want to be a guy?’ I tell them my on-stage and off-stage characters are different.”

Ever since her IGT performance, Bidisha's calendar has filled up with all kinds of offers within the LGBTQI spectrum and otherwise. She says, “For me, speaking of my sexuality was the most natural thing to do because I believe it was holding me back. That my parents weren’t accepting of it and that wasn’t allowing me to reach my potential.” That has changed, of course. “The other day, my dad sent me an article about Australia legalising same-sex marriages,” she chuckles. “They’re very supportive now.”

Going on

Bidisha wants to immerse herself in singing, honing her craft and being “unabashedly herself.” She believes that nothing touches people more than genuineness. But “the most difficult part (of a queer life) is getting out of the closet. But when they see one of them being part of the mainstream media and leading a ‘regular’ life, it gives them reassurance. We can survive with families; we’d love to attend house parties, family events etc. I want the queer to unapologetically love themselves and the society to love us for who we are — humans first."