The glittering ghagra choli, bangles all the way up to his shoulders, Salvatore Ferragamo pumps and bright makeup — every time Harish Kumar aka Queen Harish walked onto the stage, he would light it up with his lithe moves and the mesmerised audience would soon forget that this was a man in drag.
“I don’t want to present dance in drag as an imitation of something people have seen. I want my dance to be looked upon as a dignified presentation in itself,” Queen Harish had said some years ago while sitting in the Zenana courtyard of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur after his performance at the Rajasthan International Folk Festival.
Kumar, father of two young children whose unconventional profession earned him the fame and dignity he aspired for, died in a fatal car crash while on his way from Jodhpur to Ajmer for a show. Police said their SUV collided with a stationary truck near Kaparada village in the district. Three other folk artistes with Kumar also died in the accident that took place near Kaparda village early Sunday morning. Five others were injured in the accident.
With expertise in Rajasthani folk forms such as ghoomar, kalbelia, and bhawai, among others, it was Harish’s appearance on India’s Got Talent in 2010 that made him hugely popular. In 2007, he featured in Gypsy Caravan, a documentary by American filmmaker Jasmine Dellal. He has also been a part of Bollywood movies such as Jai Gangaajal.
Harish began dancing at the age of 20 to make ends meet – an unusual choice of profession for Suthars, the carpenter community to which he belonged. “But the area that he lived in in those days was a Manganiyar hub. That’s where he picked the strong sense of rhythm that’s needed to dance,” says Vinod Joshi of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation who was involved in a number of performances that Harish was part of. “He saw the Manganiyars travelling abroad for shows… that motivated him too. He loved the spotlight.”
Joshi adds that Harish could not sing or play any instrument because in Rajasthan, “these musical forms are all passed down by families” and his parents had died early.
Harish found a teacher in ‘Annu Dancer’, the first male professional dancer in drag from Jaisalmer. ‘He learned from Annu, but he did better than his master and reached where no Indian male dancer in drag has,” says Joshi.
Harish is survived by his wife and sons aged 8 and 10.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot expressed his condolences and termed Kumar’s demise as a big loss.
(With inputs from ENS, Jaipur)