Meet Patruni Sastry, Hyderabad's first drag artist, founder of Dragvanti, who's working hard to make this art mainstream!

Mishkaat Imrani
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Patruni Sastry

Patruni Sastry is also a trained Kuchipudi and Butoh dancer who runs a podcast in the Telugu language by the name of Rangularattnam that's bringing the queer voices of the Telugu communities.

Patruni Sastry was 5 when he saw a popular Telugu actress expressing herself beautifully through dance in a song, and that's when he fell in love with it. He also realized that dance is one of the strongest ways of emoting oneself and was keen to learn the same. Seeing his interest, Patruni's father suggested, that he learns Classical dance, and that's how his journey with rhythm and movements began. While learning the same, he came across Drag art and was so intrigued by it that he ended up doing it professionally.

Patruni has been learning dance for the last 12 years now, but it was 2019 when he was introduced to drag. "I'm the very first drag queen from Hyderabad and since then I'm presenting the idea of drag in the local scene within Hyderabad and Vishakhapatnam", he told Local Samosa.

Founding Dragvanti

When Patruni got involved in drag art, he had no idea on how to go about it. There were very few drag queens in the city, but there was no organization or even a platform that could guide him. It was all a blur and had left him confused. "When I started Dragvanti, there wasn't much content about drag as an art form apart from personal interviews of drag queens. So that's when I realized firstly it's important to get a directory of drag artists in India, and secondly to have content that talks about drag and its idea. I jotted down and started Dragvanti, an online portal that can become a resource place for a lot of people who are trying to learn drag in the first place. It takes its inspiration from Narthaki, an online portal on Indian classical dance", he added.

Unboxing the social stigma in Telugu

Meanwhile, Patruni noticed that podcasts were also becoming popular and so to tap the Telugu queer community, he started a podcast by the name Rangularattnam. "In south India, the colourful giant wheels are called Rangularattnma and are made up for bamboo and painted in multiple colours. It is something that has been derived from the idea of queerness, a circle, and something which is not flat. It's an experience, and thus every level would have something unique to offer. I used this Telugu word with an intention to associate with people in a better way", said Patruni.

Just like Dragvanti, this podcast series too is receiving a lot of love from and even outside the community. It talks about how queerness is evolving and people from the LGBTQIA+ community share their journey in Telugu. "Many kids are using our podcasts to educate their parents", he mentioned. Along with all this, Patruni has also been organizing many unconventional events including the Drag King, and the Indian drag conference, and is planning to organize the Indian drag festival in the near future.

Merging expressionism and folk into Drag and writing songs

Patruni's taking drag to a whole new level. Watching him perform, where he adds the elements of Butoh, which is a Japanese dance form and Classical dance with folk, is another reason to appreciate his work. "Expressionism is a work of art where we talk about issues which are considered taboo along with deads and diseases. The idea of it is quite anti-beauty and it takes off the romanticism and talks about the reality and the idea of cis-genderless. So I choose to imbibe them into my drag performances and use the elements of the same as a dance", he told Local Samosa.

Patruni is a big admirer of Malini Awasthy, who is a folk singer and when he was looking into the other pedagogies of performances, he came across her work and fell in love with how Awasthy was bringing the idea of folk forward. " Initially, I was singing the folk songs that were already there, and then, when I moved forward, I started writing folk songs in queer language to connect them with the queer audience", he added.

Makeup but with a twist

Just like his dance, Patruni's take on his entire look is something very unique. For him, makeup is not about enhancing his features or making him look beautiful, but it's something raw and ugly. "Well, it's trash makeup. I like to deform my face. It helps me create something which is a little ugly. I learned it myself by watching YouTube videos. But my beloved wife wants me to look beautiful and so she creates a beautified version of it. She's one of my trainers and somebody who has been working on it, and so I give credit to her for the same", he mentioned.

Coming out of the closet

It was 2018 when Patruni was invited to dance at Lamakaan for the Queer and Ally Film Festival. He then got involved with people from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and realized that he was also not heteronormative. Patruni figured out his sexuality as a pansexual and gender-fluid person but didn’t come out for a long time. " In 2018, once section 377 was decriminalized, a news portal was doing a story on queer individuals coming out. That was the time I came out to the world as Gender fluid. I was 21 then. I came out first to my family as gender fluid and then as a pansexual to my family", he said.

When Patruni was dating his current partner, Rajeswari, he was skeptical about revealing his sexuality. One day he dropped her a text saying he is pansexual. "The next day, got back two web links about pansexuality and a question: “Is this what you meant?” I needed to know whether she understood me, so I called her. “It doesn’t matter what your sexuality or gender is. I may not fully understand these words and feelings, but it only matters whether you love me and wish to be with me,” she said. That’s how I came out to her and she accepted me for who I am", he further explained.

Future of Drag in India

In the past few years, we have seen a lot of growth. Be it the way people perceive the LGBTQIA+ community or the way the community itself has thrived, there's positivity, and we are glad. The same can be said about the drag artists, too. Patruni feels the future is pretty bright, and it can go as mainstream as dance and theatre. " Drag is definitely changing and we now have new faces. Along with that, we also have multiple ways of performing. We are not simply copying it from the West, but redefining it. Years before, it was just a few people doing it, but today we have many artists who are doing drag actively", said Patruni.

Quick 5

1) Indian drag artists you admire:

Hiten Noonwal, because his work is just so different, while Avatari Devi is bringing uniqueness to this art. Zeesh would be the third as he is a wonderfully creative person. Daniel Lismore is another favourite, even though Daniel doesn't identify as a drag queen, but I love their way of presenting the idea of drag.

2) Three Indian cities that you think have accepted and encouraged the drag culture recently?

Hyderabad has come a long way in the past year. Vizag has been doing amazing work too, and the other city that I feel is doing awesome is Kolkata, and has always been rich in drag, and so I'm really looking forward to doing something in Kolkata.

3) Your favourite Queer party places in Hyderabad?

My fab party place in Hyderabad kind of changes but Giggle water and One love parties by Vaibhav Modi are my favourites.

4) Your favourite queer-friendly cafes/ in Hyderabad?

Paarmaa Raama, Aaromale, Lamakaan, and Chai Dukan.

5) Places where you like to perform in his city?

Has to be Falaknuma palace! I also to wish to perform at every pub in Hyderabad and really looking forward to performing in cities like Delhi, and Mumbai.

Also Read: Meet the personality behind mainstreaming Drag as an art since 2014, Alex Mathew!

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