Most of us wouldn’t recognise the name Prateek Sachdeva – but say ‘Betta Naan Stop’ and much of India’s queer community will stop in their tracks. After all, Betta is one of India’s best-known drag performers.
Drag is a performance art in which people dress up in extravagant gender-swapped costumes to act, sing, dance, do stand-up comedy, emcee shows and carry out a host of other performances. Betta first appeared on India’s drag scene six years ago, when it was still quite new.
As a young boy, Sachdeva was a quiet child. The now 29-year-old Delhiite says he never thought of himself as gay: “All the gay characters I saw online were there for comic relief and that wasn’t me.”
It wasn’t until he started professionally training as a dancer at Ashely Lobo’s The DanceWorx that he became comfortable with being open about his identity. Then, during a brief stint learning musical theatre in Melbourne, he saw a live drag performance for the first time. Despite having known about drag earlier, with binge-watches of RuPaul’s Drag Race, something clicked. That’s when his onstage drag persona, Betta Naan Stop, was born. The name comes from a combination of the food ‘Butter naan’ and the motto ‘Better Not Stop’ – both of which Sachdeva lives by.
After attending events featuring American drag queens Violet Chachki and Derrick Barry at the Lalit group’s queer nightclub chain Kittysu, Betta was spotted by the Executive Director at The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Keshav Suri himself. And she is now, as Sachdeva puts it, ‘Head b*tch in charge’ at Kittysu Delhi.
Sachdeva spoke about starting out in drag, his relationship with his workspace, which is the stage, his favourite drag queens and more. Edited excerpts.
There are two parts to it– the green room and the stage. At The Lalit, we get ready for shows in hotel rooms or salons. We do our choreography and rehearsals, iron our costumes, steam our hair, and even take a pre-performance me-time nap. It’s a relaxing and safe space. At the venue stage, we do tech rehearsals, lighting, sound check, and get a hang of any props we’re using. The shows begin around midnight, after dinner.
When I started – I did not care about the stage or the green room or all that – it was just the rush of getting to perform. I’ve changed in storerooms behind cafés, an under construction metro station’s toilet, and even a public washroom in which my stocking got completely wet and I had to perform like that! Now that I’m more established, I get some perks.
The stage. I was always a reserved and introverted child but I found my voice on stage. When I’m up there, I can’t see the audience, so it almost feels like I’m performing for myself in this huge empty space. I can be as crazy, foolish, graceful, beautiful as I want to be. Or maybe I just like the attention!
I don’t have to share the stage as much. As a dancer, I was always performing in groups – but as a drag queen, I have my own identity.
It’s an escape and a refuge. In my daily life, I’m an anxious person, but when I’m onstage, I find peace. You could call it almost call it a state of trance or of release.
The biggest epiphany (I had) was that drag is a celebration of individuality. There is no one way to do it – everyone brings their own experiences to it. The other was that drag has always been a form of protest. When society told queer people that we couldn’t dress or be a certain way, we used drag to break those rules.
None! I know that this is where I’m meant to be.
Lush Monsoon is my Delhi drag sister. I have huge respect for Rani Kohinoor, who works so hard – it’s so great to see another queer artist become a mainstream star. I love Maya the drag queen, who has faced a lot of questioning even within the community. And, of course, me!
I think while the term ‘drag’ may be Western, the art form is not. This activity of taking a different form or shape has been present in India since mythological times! Take stories of people changing gender, like Mohini, Brihannala, Shikhandi – without the ‘magic’ in them, are they not a form of drag?
Oh, yes. The audience is much more diverse now – with many people from outside the community. This is great – this is what we’ve been working for!
Rush Mukherjee is a writer based in Kolkata.
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.