‘Shammi Kapoor’ took off her binder – which flattens her chest for the role – and showed it to the audience

Drag Kings as Shammi Kapoor Justin Timberlake took Bengaluru on a rollercoaster gender-bender rideJazeela Basheer
Features Theatre Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - 16:10

After pacing for an anxious half hour on the waiting list at the Goethe Institute / Max Mueller Bhavan in Bengaluru, this reporter – with a very lucky adjustment – got stamped before she waltzed into The Gentlemen’s Club: A fictitious underground club set in the City That Never Sleeps, India’s sanctum sanctorum of artists and strugglers, Bombay. The performances were a binary-smashing, Drag King extravaganza essaying the roles of Shammi Kapoor and Justin Timberlake among others.

In collaboration with The Sandbox Collective, The Patchworks Ensemble took Bengaluru by a storm with a performance of Tape aka The Kings of Drag – The Gentlemen’s Club, a series of standalone but thematically connected acts. The production had three shows in different venues between May 27-29. For the uninitiated, “the tape” is what was used by Drag Kings to flatten their breasts.

Image Source: Jazeela Basheer

Originally called Tape aka The Kings of Drag, the show was devised and curated in September 2015 by online queer journal Gaysi Family; Puja Sarup, Sheena Khalid and Rachel D’ Souza of theatre group The Patchworks Ensemble; and writer Vikram Phukan. As the first drag king show in India, the production started a new dialogue on gender fluidity.

Drag Kings are a far lesser known subculture within the queer world. Simply put, women portray men, celebrating masculinity in all its eccentricities through exaggerated depictions of macho mannerisms and a spoof on the stereotypical slurs perpetuated by society.

Image Source: Jazeela Basheer

When the curtains were raised, the audience jived through the nostalgic soiree of the 1960s era filmi surf rock led by Shammi Kapoor, Timberlake’s Sexy back and lots of ding-a-ling-a-ling’s that debunked the fragile illusions of gender constructs.

Actors wowed the audience with their spunky recreation of Shammi Kapoor, along with a medley of motley acts, drawing from JT’s Sexy Back and Sukhbir’s Panjabi powerhouse.

In a memorable moment as Shammi Kapoor, actor Puja Sarup adopts a confessional stance by showing the audiences her binder, which flattens her chest for the role of a man. Taking off her shimmery jacket and shirt, she stood before the audience in her vest, and said, ‘They call this a binder, but do I look bound’? There are several other subtle undercurrents through the play that normalise traversing through the otherwise untrodden paths of the ‘other’ gender.

Interspersed between the main acts was a performance, which, in a way, kept getting interrupted by the main acts: the enactment of the backstage lives of performers. Through a journalist’s interviews of drag kings, we get a glimpse into who the women playing Shammi Kapoor and Justin Timberlake really are.

Image source: Jazeela Basheer 

What follows is an exploration of backstage dynamics, the psychological complexities of the performers interspersed with the roles they perform and a very interesting commentary on how adopting a man’s external gear can bring about a change in their attitudes and behaviors.

One of the acts was a satirical song, sung by a Bengali revolutionary called Pachppan, which was essayed by Ratnabali Bhattacharjee. The song emphatically voices Pachppan’s disagreement with an oppressive government’s ideological fallacies. Speaking to this reporter after the performance, Ratnabali said: “Unless you explore, you won’t find out what it is that you truly want.”

The operational word for all the members on the team was “fun”. They enjoy their journey as they explore the unchartered territories of gender fluidity. There is no didactic message that the actors have set out to deliver in this gender-bender performance. After the show, Puja Sarup remarked, “The minute you have a message concealed within your play, you adopt the gusto of someone who knows something more than the audience and that’s not what we’re here for.”

 

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