Shadows flicker across the room as Patruni Chidananda Sastry glides with the captivating colors and garments that adorn their graceful body. Amidst the music, a lone voice dissects the intricacies of gender fluidity. Patruni’s hands hold two masks representing the constructs of masculinity and femininity. The masks move across their face in slow motions. They are masculinity, femininity, neither, and more.
Patruni presents this dance form, called “expressionism,” in a performance titled “Gender Charishnu.” The performance is one of many they present as a gender-fluid drag artist based in Hyderabad, Telangana.
“Expressionist movement was a dance movement that happened in traditional ballet,” said Patruni. “Dancers challenged the viewpoint of romanization in performances and revisit it via realism. Expressionism breaks the idea of beauty, romantic, spiritual and caricatured dance representations into real, cause-based, reflective, and questioning performances. Indian expressionism, which I started performing, takes away the formatting, structured, mythical and spiritual viewpoint of Indian dance forms. It presents real-life situations such as queer issues, sexual education, women’s rights, and death in performances.”
Patruni incorporates classical dance into his expressionism. “In my expressionist work, I also use the Indian classical dance grammar of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Odissi,” Patruni said. “I employ props and external elements to create my messaging which is different from traditional Indian classical dance performances.”
Patruni’s journey as a drag artist began at the age of 13, when their mother did their makeup as they prepared to present their first traditional drag performance in the Kuchipudi style. They learned Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, and Odissi from various renowned Indian classical dancers. They’ve also learned Butoh, a Japanese art form.
Apart from incorporating expressionism into their performances, Patruni performs as a Tranimal drag artist. Tranimal drag began in the early 2000s in Los Angeles. Patruni’s Desi interpretation of Tranimal drag brands them as a particularly creative and innovative artist.
“My style of drag is Tranimal drag, a drag format which is performance art,” Patruni said. “Traditional drag gives attention to beauty, class, and elegance. However, Tranimal drag expresses anti-beauty. It’s a postmodern approach for drag in which the costumes are made of trash material, with makeup and dress placement in random order as well. The key quotient is how a certain object of daily use can break fashion and be used as a piece of art.”
The S.A.S persona:
Patruni utilizes the expressionist style to deliver a combination of art as well as activism. As Patruni explored their relationship with drag, they spread awareness on issues of importance: sexual and menstrual health, casteism, homophobia, fascism, environmental preservation, LGBTQIA+ allyship, and gender as a social construct.
“My drag name, S.A.S, [stands for] Suffocated Art Specimen,” Patruni said. “It helps me bring balance between activism and art together.”
Patruni has performed Tranimal drag at venues such as Hyderabad Lit Festival, Kittu Su, and Kitty Ko. Subsequently, they founded Dragvanti, a website concerning the welfare of the Indian drag community. The website provides a platform for Desi drag queens to express themselves, while also featuring a podcast run by Patruni. Further, the website indicates the future addition of a new section called “Dragvanti School,” a new initiative by them.
“I always wanted to open up a drag school in India and teach the aesthetics of Indian drag styles, performers, folk and classical drag art forms, Indian drag history and practice sessions to aspirants from a young age,” Patruni said. “Teaching drag with as much importance as we teach dance or music is required. It empowers the young mind to be inclusive, see the world with a different set of lenses and also find the art to be spiritual as well as agnostic.”
Patruni is currently preparing to present a drag performance at the Hyderabad Dance Festival on April 11th, 2021. They also balance their endeavors as a drag artist along with their role as a customer service expert and trainer at Deloitte.