Mayamma, a fierce drag queen from India

The journey of an unconventional performer

Lifestyle

News - India & You

December 14, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

Humour is a big component of Maya's shows

Humour is a big component of Maya’s shows

We spoke to Alex Mathew, also known as Mayamma or Maya the Drag Queen, who gave us an insight into the world of drag in India.

Though drag as a performance art is at its nascent stages in India, some drag queens have already established themselves, breaking one stereotype after another. Alex Mathew, who appears on stage as Mayamma or Maya the drag queen, has been performing for over 3 years now and has a unique persona with an interesting background. Mathew, who found inspiration from several characters in movies and in real life, speaks to us about Maya, her style and her journey.

“Maya is a woman who grew up in a family of fishermen in Kerala and always wanted to be a performer. She ended up eloping with her lover to Bengaluru and her journey continues even today,” says Mathew. He adds, “The root of the idea behind this woman, however, came definitely from the women in my family- my mother, my grandmother and my aunt. Maya can also be a typical kitty-party aunty when she needs to; outspoken and sassy, yet loving all the same.”

As drag queens in India as well as other traditional societies in the world are often mistaken as transgender, performers hope to break the stereotype. Mathew, who identifies as queer, shares the same sentiments. “I have to say, my identity as a drag queen is that as a performer, and does not mean I am transgender. I have had incidents where people have called me a hijra (a community of transgenders in South Asia), or people expecting me to dress in my sari every day. Maya is a performer, and her character is larger than life, and it is the stage where she belongs.”

Mayamma, which translates to the mother of illusions, is quite a rooted woman who is seen sporting saris, which, Mathew says, makes him feel strong. Finding a drag queen in India is quite a task in itself, and one who sports only traditional clothing is even more unique. “My identity as a Malayali (persons hailing from Kerala) also transcends into my act, though I had been shamed for the same accent when I was involved in theatre.” Sharing what one could expect in a performance, Mathew said, “I do stand-up comedy, parodies of English songs yet my humour is not self-depreciating.”

Mayamma, also known as Maya the drag queen, is known to embrace her roots

Mayamma, also known as Maya the drag queen, is known to embrace her roots

Looking back, looking ahead

Mathew, who has a catchphrase in Malyalam that translates to My dear children, recalls a performance which remains memorable for him. “After a performance that I thought didn’t go too well, because of the set-up of the venue, an MBBS student came and spoke to me. He said that my performance was inspiring and asked me to keep doing this.” Moments such as this, giving hope that others, who are unable to express themselves in a similar manner, give hope to Mathew to continue with drag, despite having faced challenges such as losing several jobs owing to his passion.

Since starting out in 2014, Mathew has seen many changes in the drag queen scene in India, stating that people have slowly started showing more support. As a first in Indian drag-queen scene, he has joined hands with another performer and lined up a four-city tour of the country, starting from December 21. “Though there is a long way to go before drag, as a performance art, becomes acceptable and popular in India, I remain optimistic,” he says.

 

video: @mayathedragqueen , Instagram

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