They say that the world is your stage. But for Sushant Divgikar, the stage is his world. From the nascent age of 5 years, Sushant had made the stage his home, and the title of a dedicated performer a formative part of his identity. Ever since, Sushant’s story and his journey as a drag icon has been no less than a fiction that you can’t keep down. It is a story as much of all the pomp and glory of show lights as they are of quiet revelations and a will of steel.
But as Sushant’s heart opened to the possibilities of his growth as a person, so did the voices of apprehension and judgement around him. But, the spotlights shone brighter on his ipseity and his selfhood with all its beautiful eccentricities than they ever could on the fingers that were pointed at him. The stage was sometimes his battle field, and sometimes his safe haven, a refuge, a shelter, and home to his drag queen alter-ego Rani KoHEnur who, as he says, contains all that he as Sushant sometimes can’t. She is the beatific synergy of the male and the female, and an epitome of the futility of the boundaries etched in both through social norms.
Rani KoHEnur is a nonpareil performer, she is confident, a ‘kween’ in all its might and glory, and a force to be reckoned with both on and off stage. Whether Sushant has molded her or she Sushant, is a conversation gone futile for it is in their unison that every unforgettable performance takes place, an experience, a documentary of time freezing as Rani KoHEnur walks under the spotlight, while being ushered words of cheer and praise by Sushant Divgikar.
As an ode to love, and a celebration of Gucci’s first-ever fine jewelry collection launch in India – Link To Love, we explore the many different bonds shared amongst and as friends, father and daughter, artists, collaborators, or with our own selves through Runway Square X Gucci LOVE LINKS Anthology wherein we tell five beautiful stories to honour these connections. We live multiple lives in a lifetime, but love was, is, and always will be there – and that’s why this anthology puts a spotlight on the lesser-known, yet enduring connections shared by these known faces. And this is the story of Sushant Divgikar.
RSQ: Do you remember the first time you performed on stage? How did it feel? What was going on in your head before you hit the stage?
Sushant: The first time I performed on stage was when I was about five years old. I was performing to a wonderful Raveena Tandon song with my older brother and my cousin brother. I was dressed as Raveena and it was an iconic moment for me because it was the first time I really let go of myself, and even forgot the steps because I thought “Oh my God, I am Raveena herself”. From that day to this day, I have had a lot of breakdowns on stage, and as you grow older, there are more judgments. That used to affect me a lot; I have frozen on stage a lot of times. But today when I enter a set or stage, I command attention because I have completely celebrated and embraced my authentic self which is the badass b**** queen I am. And if people are intimidated by it, then they need to leave the stage because I am being paid to be on it. I have realised I can’t be scared of people’s judgement because there’s a reason why I am in front of the camera. People believe in me, the client believes in me, and I can’t let the client down. There will always be people who will like you, have an opinion about you, and there will be people who will always be ready to pinpoint a fault in you. But if you believe you are good enough and that you are worth it, then everybody’s voices just start disappearing in the background. My mother always says, “You’re put on stage for one reason and that is to empower people through your art and performance. And the audience just has one job, and that is to clap.”
RSQ: How would you describe the feeling of being on stage?
Sushant: They say that the world is your stage, but for me, the stage is my world. I get to do so much on stage, be myself as an artist, get into different characters, and create Rani KoHEnur.
RSQ: Do you get cold feet or feel nervous before performances?
Sushant: Even to date, I am a little nervous, but that’s the positive nervousness because I know if I get too complacent, I will mess up. My nervousness comes from wanting to do and be better than my last show. That just pushes me to be a better artist.
RSQ: How did the lockdown impact the performer in you?
Sushant: The lockdown really gave me a lot of perspective about myself. I used to identify myself as a gay male before the lockdown. I sat with myself and understood that I am not going to be compartmentalized into one gender because either male or female cannot contain all this fabulosity. I have to respect my masculinity and femininity, and the synergies of both. This is why I can’t call myself male or female, and then I realised I’m a gender-fluid transgender person. I also realised that before this, I used to plateau people’s notions about how I used to be, and there were a lot of inner conflicts.
As creative people, we complain that we don’t have time for ourselves, and I got that during the lockdown. Yes, it has been a very trying time for all humanity, but I saw the positive in terms of the fact that there was not a lot of work happening, but there was work happening within myself and on myself. And today, the person I am, I am not apologetic anymore about my being and the person I have become. And this wasn’t always there, it’s a muscle I have built. Therefore, I think the lockdown gave me a lot of perspective.
RSQ: If you had to introduce Rani KoHEnur to us, how would you do it?
Sushant: I would just say, “Here is presenting the queen of your hearts, give her your ears, and she will take your heart.”
She is sassy, empathetic, opulence in all its finery, fantastic, intelligent, graceful, and articulate. She is everything! She is an eclectic queen; she dances, sings, models, acts, turns, splits, kicks, and jumps. I am actually jealous of Rani because I don’t think Sushant does it every day. That is why I created her because I can do so much through her.
RSQ: What is your greatest strength and biggest insecurity as a performer?
Sushant: I think my greatest strength as a performer is that I understand my audience. I’m not going to lie, I used to do it for the applause. But now I have become that person who will do it for myself, and if people get empowered by it, great, but I’m not going to change or dumb my content down. The same internet connection that people use to troll and abuse people can be used to research and know more about what you’re watching. So my strength is that I play to the audience, but I also make sure that I stand my ground. And I am confident as a performer. I will never create content that dehumanizes or degrades anyone. And I feel bad for the consumers who consume that kind of content.
As for my biggest insecurity as a performer, at present, I don’t have any. I believe that each and every artist has to understand that they are unique in their own way and that there’s space for everyone in the industry. But I used to have a lot of insecurities when I wasn’t comfortable with myself. And that’s what happens when you haven’t gone through the path of self-discovery.
RSQ: What advice would Rani have for Sushant, and Sushant for Rani?
Sushant: I think Rani would constantly be bickering and telling Sushant to dress better because Sushant has an extensive wardrobe that he doesn’t use too much. She would say, “do yourself a favor and make an effort to be more out there.”
If Rani was a different entity sitting in front of me, I don’t think I would have the guts to tell her anything.
RSQ: Are they ever at loggerheads, at an emotional war?
Sushant: No, I don’t think that my drag persona and I as Sushant are at ever loggerheads because that unison is so beautiful of Sushant and Rani that comes through the performances, I think that’s the beauty of my being. And if you see my audiences, they love it. They kind of use Sushant and Rani interchangeably because I have realized Sushant is also a queen. Every one of us is a queen, regardless of gender.
RSQ: You have a huge social media following. What kind of influence do you wish to/aim to wield on your audience?
Sushant: Social media has really been my machinery to reach millions and billions of people. And I did, in the lockdown. Social media can be such a beautiful platform for people that don’t have the support that I have from my family. If they have a camera in front of them, they can create content and put it out on social media, there will be people who appreciate it. I’m not one of those who chase numbers because I have been here for 15 years. Even if I give that strength to a queer child, a transgender person, or a woman to live another day and celebrate the fact that they are alive because they can get better and because it can get better, then I think my message has reached, and I’m on the right track. Hopefully, Rani goes all over the world with this message that life is beautiful, and so are you.
Editor + Creative Director: Charu Gaur
Photographer + Videographer + Art Director: Pretika Menon
Stylist: Ekta Rajani
Junior Editor + Creative Assistant: Karishma Gulyani
Make-up + Hair + Manicure: Jean-Claude Biguine India
Text: Shubhanjana Das
Styling Assistant: Swity Shinde
Photography Assistant + Photo Editor: Karan Sarnaik
Music: JBABE / Third Culture
Set Designer: Jangu Sethna
Production House: Anomaly Production Pvt. Ltd.
Artworks: Shaista Syed / Kitsuné India
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