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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

India’s Youngest Performing Drag Queen Shabnam Be-Wa-Fa Gives Us A Sneak Peek Into Her World

  • IWB Post
  •  July 17, 2019

“It’s a blessing to do drag, it’s like peeling off your layers, celebrating your underdog and expressing the voices that are concealed deep inside my heart,” says India’s youngest performing Drag Queen Shabnam Be-Wa-Fa. Interesting name, right?

However, one conversation with Tish aka Shabnam and you will know that that this 20-year-old is a powerhouse of entertainment and just like his drag name, he makes everything interesting with his smooth, playful nonchalance. With his wit, playful sarcasm and endearing innocence, it’s almost impossible for you to not like this person.

Tish aka Shabnam

Tish aka Shabnam

Just a few months since his induction into drag, Shabnam is already fallen head over heels for the enchanting allure of this world. He tells me, “I have learned a lot about myself, I feel empowered and happy as Shabnam and it gave me a new voice. It makes me a better human.”

Intrigued to read more? Read on for the excerpts from a conversation that I recently had with Shabnam Be-Wa-Fa:

Help me follow the train of thought that runs in your head while you are performing as Shabnam Be-Wa-Fa?

I always feel more empowered and confident mentally as Shabnam Be-Wa-Fa because everything about this character makes me happy, be it her hair, costumes, set list or the concept. There’s no doubt that I’m nervous before every show but the moment I get my foot on stage, my main focus is the show and to entertain people.

Let’s look back at your first day at drag. How did it go? Did your seniors help you with some valuable advice or warnings?

Before Kitty Su I used to dress up and do shayariss on stage for DU, but this was something really big. It was a great opportunity because it is a huge platform and everyone yearns to perform there. I mean it is not every day that you get a chance to perform at India’s no. 1 entertainment destination, right?

Naturally, I was super nervous for my Drag Debut. I felt like I’ll either fall off the stage or forget my lyrics but somehow that show went really well. I was no doubt super scared but I had support from all the senior queens- Betta, Lush and Kushboo. They kept telling me “it’s gonna be fine.” Some of them also came up with tips like, “just play with your expressions,” “play with your eyes,” “engage with audience too” etc.

Any one in particular who has been instrumental in facilitating and easing your journey till now?

Betta Naan Stop, being my drag mother, has personally helped and guided me with my make up. She has enlightened my way throughout.

Same way Mr. Keshav Suri (who’s the owner of the club and one of six petitioners against section 377 in supreme Court) is someone I can’t thank enough. He has always encouraged my spark to do drag and has always taken great pride in enriching India’s drag scene. I still can’t get over my debut night when I came home and received a text from Mr. Keshav Suri saying “YOU’RE THE NEXT DRAG SUPER STAR.” I couldn’t sleep that night. Life’s been amazing since then.

Talking about your drag mother, tell me about your relationship with her? How has it helped you with your drag?

Betta Naan stop aka Prateek Sachdeva is a 25-year-old man who is a professionally trained dancer.

It all started when I met him at an event and after sensing my interest in drag he started helping me. He’s undoubtedly a great mentor and a very good friend. However, I’d like to emphasize that ‘mother’ is just a tag here. In fact, he is the one who made me understand and believe it’s all the individual talent and hard work that takes us ahead.

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I deeply respect Prateek, we do our rehearsals or set songs together, we have common friends so we often hang out together and sometimes we even shop together. The relationship is more like a bond that I believe has no specific name but still in drag I call him “mommie” as this is something that makes us happy. And yes, we both are equally beautiful so like mother, like daughter (giggles).

Hahaha. On that note we should totally talk about the experience of shopping for Shabnam Bewafaa. What is it like?

Here comes the most tricky part – Shopping for Shabnam as Tish!

Being drag artists we need fun costumes, good make up, and fine wigs. Buying dresses and sarees is fine. Even wigs can be ordered online. But when it comes to buying bras and heels , that’s something else altogether. But I handle it well with my sarcasm. In fact I have an advice here, take a female friend along with you and if the shop wale bhaiya gives you a weird look just keep staring him till he returns your change. That should do it. (laughs)

How do you think is the European concept of drag community being adopted in the Indian context now?

We are certainly getting inspired from western queens, without an iota of doubt. But even when we perform on a Western song, we can slay it and also absolutely own it by adding Indian inflections to it. Will you believe me if I tell you that I have never watched RuPaul’s Drag Race?

You’ve got to be kidding me!

No seriously, I have never watched it. That’s not my concept of drag. Even when I am dressing up as a blonde I mostly prefer wearing a saree with my signature maang tika. After all, we are adapting the concept of drag in the India context, how can we possibly do without Indian nuances?

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That makes a lot of sense. So tell me, how do you see the drag scene evolving in India in the next 3-5 years?

We are already seeing a lot of people who aspire to be drag queens. Also, I have personally experienced how people are loving drag. So yes, drag’s gonna be a pop and fresh hit in the coming years.

When it comes to drag, while the drag queens are finally getting limelight, the drag kings are still not talked about. What according to you is the reason behind the same?

Actually, that is slowly changing. We are working on this and recently Kitty Su organised India’s first drag king show – DRAG KING SHAKTI – and it was a hit.

Picture Courtesy: Sahiba  Chawdhary

This article was first published on August 17, 2018.

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