Patruni Chidananda Sastry’s queer reimagining of Telugu popular culture – the New Indian Express
Express news service
What does it take to reinvent Mayabazar’s hit 1957 folk song “Chiranjeeva Chiranjeeva”, the most famous classic in the Telugu film industry? Or “Chudu Pinnamma” from the hit 1957 film Chillarakottu Chittamma? Audacity, you think. “Goal,” says Patruni Chidananda Sastry, classical dancer and drag artist from Hyderabad. On December 1, Sastry released two numbers of reimagined / rewritten Telugu films inspired by these classics to tackle queer issues. “We live in a waking world. It’s time to talk / sing about it, ”says the singer-dancer.
Since Sastry has already given over 1,000 performances for big companies such as Microsoft, Dellolite and Uber across India and is a five-time TEDx speaker, he knows the pulse of the public. Dubbed the ‘Telugu Drag Today torchbearer’ by Hyderabad’s queer community, Sastry has been a prolific performer both online and offline during the lockdown.
In June 2020, Sastry also founded a website, Dragvanti.com, to read and share news, interviews, articles, memes, quotes and knowledge about the Indian approach to drag. Dragging is a gender bending art form in which a person dresses exaggeratedly to represent a specific gender identity. Over the past five years, drag has become the best form of self-expression and a celebration of queer pride, mainly because in the early 1900s, men portrayed female characters, thereby bypassing gender lines. .
“Telugu filmmakers are confused with definitions of gender and sexuality. I felt there was a huge need to create content in Telugu to explain this, ”says Sastry. Popular folk songs from old Telugu classics seemed like a good bet to connect with the crowd, especially the younger generation. The 29-year-old artist also released a song called ‘Pride Masam Anna’ in June, in honor of Pride Month. He emphasized basic terminologies and gender issues. “This song can be a rhyme to educate children and adults about gender and sexuality. I’ve had the opportunity to present these pieces in live shows on numerous occasions, ”says Sastry. In colloquial Telugu, the song’s lyrics break down queer terminology and indicate that if nature wants a person to have a certain sexuality, kiss them and not be ashamed.
The number, ‘Chudu Sexy Gurl’, is a Telugu-English song written to recapture the transphobic tunes of ‘Chudu Pinnamma’ and make it a celebratory tune to embrace gender expressions. The song is also inspired by American Drag Queen RuPaul’s “Cover Girl”, written in basic English. “All of these songs were self-recorded with limited equipment and released on music platforms such as Spotify, Amazon Music on December 1st.”
This classical dancer from Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh is a product analyst in a financial company and practices drag as a passion. He spends his weekend working on queer lyrics and songs. But can songs break down complex topics like queer community and gender rights? “As an educator for an organization called Sweccha five years ago, I have trained children and adolescents about gender and sexuality. The kids were more drawn to my performance than a PowerPoint presentation because the first one has its heart in the right place and is fun. Around the same time, an Instagram account was stories about queer content in all languages and when it comes to Telugu, they couldn’t find any movies, music, poems, or literature with a positive orientation. I decided to remedy the lack of queer representation in the Telugu arts by composing folk songs, ”says Sastry.
Sastry has had the opportunity to feature this song at various live events recently. “My audience got hooked,” he says. Letting yourself be influenced by the melody is good. But can a song like “Chudu Sexy Gurl” work in a Telugu movie and create social change? “It would be a great opportunity to create and present such songs in movies, especially Telugu movies, because they have huge audiences and a history of homophobic content. However, I doubt that a filmmaker is still ready to seriously make Telugu films sensitized to homosexuals, ”explains the expressionist artist.
“I want this song to be used more in gender awareness sessions, annual events and as an icebreaker for anyone who wants to learn more about gender and sexuality,” he adds.
Pages of history
Sastry also shatters the myth that the art of dragging is only performed by members of the queer community. “This idea is borrowed from the West. India boasts of ancient forms of dance across states in which
straight men dress up as women and perform, ”he says.