Jaisalmer/Kolkata: He slips into the gait of a woman to set the stage on fire and when the show is over, he has a different identity – a doting father and a loving husband. Between the gallis of Jaisalmer and stages that he takes on, Harish Kumar turns into a diva that many may desire. It is here that the line blurs between the dual lives of Harish albeit Queen Harish – the Indian drag queen leads.
Born in the dusty town of Jaisalmer, Harish was a brilliant school student, who had never in his wildest dream had thought of being a dancer. But as a thirteen-year-old, he was left with no other option but to slip on a ghagra choli and keep dancing for two hours at hotels to earn as little as Rs 100.
“I was only 13 when my mother died of cancer. It was a long battle, which definitely exhausted our savings. To make matters worse, the same year my father passed away, leaving the three of us all by ourselves,” recounts Harish while speaking to eNewsroom over phone from Jaisalmer. He then goes on to add, “With the responsibility of making ends meet, someone suggested me to take on dancing at hotels as a part-time job. I took it on as that meant I could continue studying.”
A road less trodden
At a time when dancing was considered as a profession not that dignified, the road was definitely much more difficult for a man who chose dance as a cross-dresser. “Indeed it was a difficult decision. And at times I was even forced to think of quitting. The society, as you know, was not ready to accept me as a man who was merely dressing up as a woman to dance. They often bracketed me in the league of a transgender or even eunuch. Today, when I look back, I feel that I had to face a lot of criticism for doing what I am doing now – dancing,” he said.
Having to face jeer or being called a hijra, Harish, at a point of time was left with no option but to stay limited to his dancing fraternity. His sisters too began to create pressure to quit the job. But Harish was firm, that at least for a year or two, he had no other option but to lead this dual life. “Everyone was telling me to not dance as a cross-dresser but no one was stepping in to take on the responsibility of feeding my family for six-month, thereby, giving me time to hunt for an alternative job. So, I told my sisters, that this was all that we had to manage our expenses,” he recalled.
Harish, maintained that when he took on this profession, back then, no television artist even dared to cross-dress, barring Amitabh Bachchan, who cross-dressed for the Bollywood number, Mere Angney Mein.
Destined to be the Queen
When Harish put on the ghagra for the first time to dance, he thought it to be a cakewalk. But no, it wasn’t. The fact that he was good dancer didn’t help him much. He soon realized that he needed to put in more time if he wanted to make a mark as a dancer. “I was earning only hundred bucks a day. To earn more I needed to sharpen my skills. I took classes to perfect my poise, and soon I graduated from being a background dancer to being the lead dancer of the troupe. A couple of international performances and I managed to make a mark for myself as a folk dancer. I still faced rejection from the society. People began to avoid me and seeing their behaviour even I began to avoid them. But God definitely had a different plan for me,” he said.
His dedication and no-nonsense attitude made him create a brand, which he chose to call Queen Harish. Elaborating on how he chose his brand name, the dancer revealed, “I am a man, who chooses to dance for a living. That’s a reality that I will never ignore. So, Harish had to be there. The queen part comes from the Drag Queen culture of the West. But unlike the west, I chose to make the Queen part more regal and not comical. The combination – Queen Harish clicked. And rest as they say is history.”
His dedication even helped him emerge as the semi finalist for India Got Talent. Queen Harish also has a Bollywood number—Najar Tori Raja in Priyanka Chopra starrer Jai Gangaajal to his credit. His Bollywood connect doesn’t end here. He was an integral part of Aiyaary movie’s promotional activity in Jaisalmer. The film released in February, 2018.
On being asked about his marriage, Harish laughed and said, “Well, that’s a different story. I come from a place where casteism is at its peak. So, getting a girl from the same caste to marry a cross-dresser was definitely not easy. Ours was a love-cum-arranged marriage. Her family understood my circumstances. The fact that I used to lead a dual life made things easier. When on stage, I was the diva, when offstage; I was the normal man, Harish, just like any other man of Jaisalmer. Guess that added on to my advantage.” He added that post marriage, things became better for him. “Once I fathered my first child all things became better for me. People, who used to ridicule me by calling me by various, now have nothing more to jeer me with.”
Being a Cross-Dresser in India
Along with the fame and money came unsolicited calls from gays and catcalls from men wanting to have fun. Harish said, “Be it me, or a woman or a transgender, such advances are part and parcel of such a job. We must learn to accept things gracefully and now how to draw the line. There have been cases, where if I had compromised, I could have earned a few extra bucks. But I stuck on to my ethics and just took dancing as a job, and turned down such advances. This, in the long run, helped me earn a reputation for myself and I kept growing and people began loving me as Queen Harish, the dancer.” However, he added, “Cross-dressing has definitely made me understand the problems that women face in a much better way.”
Today, Harish, in collaboration with the government of Rajasthan runs a daily evening show at Jaisalmer called The Queen Harish Show. “It feels good to have a show named after me. I take immense pride in what I do and the place that I hail from. I leave no chance to promote my city,” he summed up.