Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

I'm going to do my best to make this world better for every queer: Sushant Divgikar aka Rani KoHEnur

The LGBTQ+ activist and actor says we need to have enough education around the queer community for its people to foray into any vocation

Samidha Jain
Published: Jun 15, 2023 03:34:59 PM IST
Updated: Jun 15, 2023 03:52:38 PM IST

I'm going to do my best to make this world better for every queer: Sushant Divgikar aka Rani KoHEnurSushant Divgikar, or Rani KoHEnur, actor, drag artist and LGBTQIA+ activist. Image: Mexy Xavier

Sushant Divgikar, or Rani KoHEnur, is an actor, drag artist and LGBTQIA+ activist who identifies as a gender-fluid trans person. Divgikar, who has 2.1 million followers on Instagram, has been a part of Forbes Asia 30 under 30 in 2020 and has also been a part of Forbes India’s top 100 digital stars list. With close to 30,000 subscribers on YouTube, they use social media to talk largely about their latest projects, and inclusion of transgender individuals in cinema and the entertainment industry.
In conversation with Forbes India, Divgikar talks about the importance of Pride Month, queer representation in Indian cinema, the need for education around the LGBTQ+ community and more. Edited excerpts:
Q. What does Pride Month mean to you personally, and why is it significant for the LGBTQ+ community?
Pride Month, for me specifically, is the month to celebrate the people that came before us, and their contributions. These individuals accelerated and catalysed the movement of queer rights and LGBTQ+ rights to be considered as human rights, and for a better life with dignity and integrity for the queer community. They fought for the rights of an entire community that was marginalised—millions and billions of people around the world—from which we are able to benefit today. Having said that, I want to remind this generation about their contributions as they've probably not seen as much struggle as the generations that came before them.
I know I have struggled so much as an entertainer, and as an artiste, but when I see the people that came before me, they have struggled even more than I could have even imagined. I want this generation today to know that what they enjoy today are rights for which people have given their blood, sweat and tears, some have even given their life for our rights. For me, it is also a month of gratitude, where I thank my stars that I'm living, breathing and thriving because people that came before me laid this foundation for us to thrive.
Q. What steps can educational institutions and workplaces take to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for queers?
I think educational institutions, workplaces and also the government have to create better policies to safeguard queer people because we've been conditioned to believe that we have some disease or some abnormalities. In many countries, including India, there are laws passed against degrading or dehumanising people based on their caste, colour, gender orientation, sexuality, etc. That’s a good step. I just think that better policies have to be made, especially at workplaces, so that people can enjoy equal rights just as much as cis-gendered individuals.

We first need to have enough education available around the LGBTQ+ community, only then can we foray into any vocation that we wish to pursue, and we don't need to rely on donations, or we don't need to rely on prayers. We will work hard and I know for a fact that within our community, we have some absolutely wonderful, talented people, and I think that their talent needs to be tapped just like any other kid, whether a male or female.
Q. What is your take on queer representation in Indian cinema?
Well, I think queer representation in Indian cinema is minimal, close to nil, in fact. I think we need to do better as a community of artistes as we have a big influence on the way people think and act. People are conditioned through our cinema, and especially Bollywood, which is one of the biggest industries that is flourishing now. Even in such a world-renowned industry, I have not seen queer people being represented enough. This needs to change because if we want to normalise conversations around queers, I do think that we need to start with giving queer roles and just basically roles to people from the LGBTQ+ community. An artiste is an artiste, and an artiste should be allowed to play any and every role, irrespective of their gender and sexual orientation.
If a cis-gendered heterosexual man plays the role of a trans woman or a transgender person, people rationalise that and say, “But that's an art, he's an artiste, he can play anything.” I say, if that's the case, then let transgender actors play men and women also, or play ourselves, but we are not given any opportunities. With that mindset, we should also be allowed to give auditions for every role and every character. Like heterosexual actors use hair, makeup, and special effects to look like us, the same thing can be done by us.

Also read: Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju: Empowering others to own their story

I think we, as a community, need to take a stand and say that we need representation through our cinema through equal opportunities and equity. I think that will only change once we are really on ground, and are able to change certain aspects of casting, writing, [writing] dialogues, and better scripts which don’t dehumanise trans people, and just makes us look like we are only going to beg and do sex work in films.
Q. Are there any particular LGBTQ+ movies, books or TV shows that have had a significant impact on you and that you would recommend?
Well, there are certain LGBTQ TV shows and movies that I really like. I admire Pose, which is an American drama series on the LGBTQ+ culture. There’s Made In Heaven which I really like watching. And, I also like talent shows which are essentially and particularly for the queer population like Rupaul's Drag Race.

Also see: Pride and no prejudice

I was on a show called Queen of the Universe, which was nominated for an MTV International Award for best up-and-coming music reality television show. I represented India there, and was the third runner-up. That was a very good show because it showed that as drag queens, we are not just about the costumes and loud makeup, but also about our talent.
Q. What advice do you have for young queer individuals who may be struggling with their identity or facing discrimination?
I want to tell all queer individuals that your journey is your journey. Don't ever let anybody undermine your journey and make it look like their journey is bigger than yours or their struggles are bigger than yours. Everybody is important. Everybody's journeys are important. I want people who are struggling right now to hang in there because it gets better. It might not get better this year, or in the next three years or in the next five years. But it will. I waited 17 years for my first film. I did not have a choice but to take it in my own hands and change it for the better for myself. But I know there are so many people who don't have that liberty to make their own decisions and they depend for a very long time in their lives on other people.
I believe that life is too precious, and very beautiful. Of course, there are ups and downs, some days are beautiful, and some horrible. To every queer person out there, I want to say that I'm gonna do my best to change the world for the better, for them. Meanwhile, please know that you are important. Claim that space. It'll take some time. It's still better than what it was 10 years back and in another 10 years, it's going to be so much better.