Kween Mallika: One look at Mallika’s Instagram account, and you are in awe. A scientist and a performer, Mallika holds the unofficial title of Madhuri Dixit of Drag in Toronto. A big fan of, you guessed it, Madhuri and Bollywood, Mallika’s drag routine is pure entertainment.
In the middle of a big, fat Indian family wedding, Mallika sat down with ELLE and spoke to us about identity, the art of drag and everything in between.
ELLE: Tell us about your journey with drag. When did it begin, and how has it changed you as a person over the years?
Queen Mallika: My first time in drag was very painful; I was all tucked, pulled, pushed, taped, walking in 4-inch heels. But, when I went out, and my friends saw me, I felt something I cannot explain in words. I was so proud of myself for putting in an effort to try something new. During the same period, I was questioned about my gender identity by some of my friends, and I struggled with it. I was eventually clear about the fact that I am a gay guy who is not a trans person.
I also got a first-hand experience of how fragile masculinity can be for many people. Leave aside straight people, our very own gay community, which I am part of, can be highly toxic when it comes to expressing or accepting femininity.
The second time I did drag was in 2017, where my life changed! I was surrounded by my kind of people – desi gay guys. I got my first break for an on-stage performance in December (2017), and since then, I have been performing regularly in various clubs around the city of Toronto and have performed in Kitty Su, Delhi.
ELLE: You’ve spoken about how your fascination with the art of drag started when you saw a performance in Toronto. Tell us about that memory.
QM: The first time I went to a gay club in my life was in early 2015. I saw this beauty queen who came to me, said hi and introduced herself as Sofonda Cox. I had no idea who she was, or what being a drag queen meant. After the performance, I went to talk to Sofonda and came to know about drag culture in Toronto. I wanted to explore it as a performer. It took me around ten months to convince myself to try drag for the first time.
ELLE: How do you personally define the art of drag?
QM: Drag gives me a way of expressing myself without thinking of what others will say. It’s similar to singing in a shower. There are no rules to drag. The only rule as a performer, however, is to be humble and be respectful.
ELLE: You’ve been open about your journey with drag, but you mentioned that when you came out, people had a hard time accepting it. What were some of the things you drew inspiration from, at that point?
QM: I had to face two sets of challenges; first, I had to tell people about being gay, and then, a drag queen. One of my transformation videos on TikTok went viral, and my family (my mom, specifically) asked me about it. I had to tell them why I am doing it and who I am. The timing of my coming out was not planned, but it helped me start talking to my parents about who I truly am. I used to send my mom and dad links to YouTube videos which helped them learn about sexual identity, and how it has been mentioned in various religious texts in Hinduism and Sikhism.
I just accepted that whatever I do, not everyone will be happy, so I will do whatever I like, and if anyone wants to leave me because of the way I am, I will not bother myself.
ELLE: What are some of the misconceptions you’d like to address about drag, especially in the India cultural context?
QM: Many people fail to distinguish between a drag queen, a hijra or a transgender person. Drag is all about entertainment. Also, not all drag queens are Shemales, crossdressers or prostitutes!
ELLE: We’ve read that you proudly hold the title of ‘Madhuri Dixit of Drag’ given by your friends. Tell us about that, and why it’s so special?
QM: This title (given by my friends) holds a special place in my heart as Madhuriji is one of the biggest inspirations in my life. I grew up watching her movies and have danced to her songs. Some of her best numbers are my go-to songs to perform on stage. People expect performances on Madhuri’s songs when they know I am performing.
ELLE: Give us an insight into your drag routine? What inspires you? And how has it changed over the years?
QM: My inspiration in drag is old Bollywood movies and the latest club hits. My drag routine is quite elaborate. It takes me about an hour and a half to get ready. The process starts with shaving my beard, then glueing my eyebrows, a complete makeup transformation. Tucking is the next step, followed by many layers of pantyhose and padding in different parts of the body. A corset helps me define my shape into an hourglass figure. A wig is a final step in the transformation.
Over the years, I have started making changes in my style of drag. I have started wearing flowy costumes, which helps me make the performance more visibly appealing; it eliminates the need for putting on paddings and a corset.
ELLE: What is the one thing you love when it comes to drag, in the Indian context?
QM: The things I love about the Indian style of drag is that I can mix the cultural aspect into my drag style. I can take folk songs and do a drag performance on that. I can wear a sari, salwar kameez, a lehenga choli, or any other traditional clothing style and turn it into a drag costume. Moreover, I can take inspiration from our rich culture and history and amalgamate that into a drag style. I am sure you will not get a vast array of references to base a drag performance anywhere else in the world.
ELLE: Any advice for aspiring drag artists?
QM: If you want to do drag, do drag! If you are not sure, ask a queen, you know. If you don’t know any drag queen, reach out. If you still don’t get help, you can turn to YouTube! Drag costs a lot of money, time and dedication. Think about your finances. Last and most important thing, don’t let anyone pull you down! Always keep your head high and be humble!
Images via Kween Mallika’s Instagram