Hail the King of Queens
It was the stately courtyard of the BRYS Fort Hotel in Jaisalmer where a live rendition of the sensuous style of Rajasthani folk dance Kalbelia was in progress. The grace and élan with which the woman in the traditional Rajasthani outfit was performing the moves was enough to enthral every person in the audience which comprised of tourists from within the country and abroad.
It was only after the performance was over when we realised it was not a woman. It was Harish, a male dancer from Jaisalmer who has been creating waves with his performances of Rajasthani folk and Bollywood dancing not just in the country but internationally as well.
Harish’s claim to fame is his elegant dance performance of Kalbelia dance that bears the stamp of his signature style, flair and moves. Attired in the most resplendent and colourful costumes which bring to mind the Bani Thani paintings of the famed Kishangarh school, Harish has achieved widespread fame with his dancing talents, which has also made his title ‘Queen Harish’ a much appreciated phenomenon in the film industry. From dancing on copper utensils to playing with fire, Harish has done it all.
Today Harish has to his credit solo international tours in countries like Japan, Russia, Australia, South Africa, USA and more. He has performed in Hollywood, attained a spot as a semi-finalist in the popular reality TV show India’s Got Talent and even bagged a role in the recently released Priyanka Chopra movie Jai Gangaajal.
But it was not always this way. Life has been cruel to Harish. When he started out he faced much ridicule. Being a man who dances in a female garb is not something that is easily accepted in Indian society. “There was the usual laughing, ribbing, passing lewd remarks but after 15 years of excellence in your profession and all the fame that comes with it, people have been silenced,” Harish says nonchalantly over a telephone interview.
Incidentally, Harish is not formally trained as a dancer. Dancing was a hobby and the demand for folk dancers in the tourist-frequented city of Jaisalmer in the mid-90s is in part responsible for his rise in this field. He started out young, taking his penchant for dancing as a hobby to perfecting it as a profession in which he now ranks among the star performers in the folk dancing tradition, all for making a livelihood when there was no other means of support.
Having lost his parents at a young age and burdened with responsibility of his siblings, Harish took to dancing in disguise. For six years he performed in hotels, his graceful moves not giving even a hint to onlookers about his true identity. Over the years, as he grew more confident about his talent, and his performances began to be much in demand, Harish overcame the stigma that the society attempted to heap on him, calling him a hijra, mocking his performances and turned it into appreciation.
There have been more hurdles in his way than he can now remember but Harish has always tried to turn them to his advantage. The stage name ‘Queen Harish’ that he chose for himself is an interesting example of how he adapted the negative connotations associated with drag dancing into a positive image. He transformed the biggest negative in his life into his biggest positive through his immense talent. While the western world is more open to transgenders today, in India it is still considered an abnormality. “Internationally, the term ‘Queen’ has become a symbol of my drag dancing but in India the usage is much more positive. The association of the term ‘Queen’ prefixed with my name is a reference to my ensemble – my costume reminds people of a regal Queen, hence the name,” he explains.
So does he mind being called a drag dancer? He says no, because it has only served to highlight his talent and got him more love from people.
No one who has seen Queen Harish perform can remain unmoved by his sensuous moves and grace. As he proudly declares, it is his ambition to constantly give his audience something new, something unique which they identify only with him. “Even if only 50% of my audience has accepted me in this form, I hope to entice the rest with my dance moves. And the more signature moves I have, the greater will be my fame,” he says.
Harish is a positive inspiration to the millions who wish to pursue their passions for a profession but are bogged down by restrictions the society places on the choice of career they make. He says he is lucky but we know he has struggled hard to get where he is. We hope and wish that he continues to innovate and reach greater heights in his profession just the way he desires.