The heroine of Raja Harishchandra, the first full-length feature film of Indian Cinema, was a male actor Anna Salunke cast in the role of Queen Taramati. Acting was a profession looked down upon in those days and the restriction was more so in case of females because of which Dadasaheb Phalke, the father of Indian Cinema, could not get a female actress to play the heroine’s role. After searching for many days Phalke settled for an effeminate looking Anna Salunke, to dress up as a female and thus in 1913 when the film released, technically he became Indian Cinema’s first ‘Heroine’…
From time to time the male actors of our industry have donned the female attire without any qualms to raise a few laughs and provide some change from the usual. The scripts of stories have been tailored to include situations where such scenes can be incorporated with ease, for instance to escape some bad guys or cops during chase scenes, to trick the villains in a bid to catch them, to enter a girls’ hostel stealthily, to fool the would-be father-in-law or maybe just for a lark.
Though some actors only came for a few scenes some lucky ones also got to lip-sync to a catchy number sung by a female playback singer which gave the whole get-up a really hilarious touch. Two notable exceptions have been when Amitabh Bachchan and Kishore Kumar dressed up as females, they sang their own songs.
Here’s a look at some of the popular songs picturized on our ‘Drag Queens’…
Biswajeet in Kismet, 1968
Biswajeet’s name was immortalized in Bollywood history when he got to lip-sync to this outstanding duet along with Babita dressed up as a man. Composed by the genius O P Nayyar and sung by Asha Bhonsle and Shamshad Begum, this remains the most melodious song sung in this manner in Bollywood.
Kishore Kumar in Half-Ticket, 1965.
Anything that this genius maverick has ever done remains inimitable. Imagine singing a duet in both female and male voices- in the female voice for himself dressed as a gypsy girl and in the male voice for Pran! It is said that for some reason, Lata Mangeshkar could not reach the recording studio to record the duet and it took poor Kishore Kumar a lot of time and effort to convince music director Salil Choudhary to allow him to sing in two voices…
Pran in Jangal Mein Mangal, 1972
This romantic-crime thriller had veteran Pran playing a double role with aplomb. He also managed to shock his fans when he decided to masquerade as a woman along with Kiran Kumar, also dressed in drag, and sing this hilarious song.
I S Johar in Bewakoof, 1960
I S Johar dons the garb of a widow and pretends to seduce the actors Ulhas and Mukri and keep them occupied so that Kishore Kumar, his friend in the film, gets time to spend with Ulhas’s daughter Mala Sinha. He seems to be enjoying the whole experience…
Amitabh Bachchan in Lawaaris, 1981
In 1981, Amitabh Bachchan sent a shock wave with this song as nobody had expected this from the then Superstar. The song however became a rage and also became a part of every stage show he performed thereafter where Jaya Bhaduri would come on stage for the stanza ‘Jiski biwi choti…’
Kamal Hassan in Chachi 420, 1997
Kamal Hassan took up this act a step further by dressing up in drag for an entire film- Chachi 420. He dresses up like a middle-aged woman and by a quirk of circumstance gets employed as a nanny to his own daughter in his wife’s house. He has both Amrish Puri and Paresh Rawal fall for him and the ensuing love-triangle is very entertaining.
Dara Singh in Lootera, 1965
Who could have imagined our He-Man Dara Singh to don the female attire with panache and convincingly sing and dance also? All the other ‘girls ‘also seem to be males dressed like this in an attempt to fool the ‘bad’ guys and catch them ‘red-handed’.
Sheikh Mukhtar in Hum Sab Ustaad Hain, 1965
Another huge and hefty man of his time, Sheikh Mukhtar, the ‘bad guy’ here, decides to disguise as a Parsi lady and ends up being a part of this lovely Kishore Kumar number.
Ram Kapoor, Saif Khan, Riteish Deshmukh in Humshakals,2014
These three talented artistes play triple role in Humshakals and bring the house down with their ridiculous antics. Here is a song where one set of the trio decides to become females and romance their look-alikes from another set of the triple role. While Saif romances the female Riteish and Riteish romances the female Saif, Ram Kapoor romances his own double…
Shashi Kapoor in Haseena Maan Jaayegi, 1968
Shashi Kapoor decides to have some fun by dressing up in different types of female attire in different stanzas of the same song but he does look at ease in all of them…
Shammi Kapoor in Bluff Master, 1963
Donning the female avatar for a stage show, Shammi Kapoor brings the house down in this unique type of qawaali.
Johny Walker in Choo Mantar, 1956
In this song, actress Shyama comes to his rescue by singing for him and Johny Walker can be seen to be enjoying himself.
Govinda in Aunty No. 1, 1998
Govinda can be seeing imitating many of Madhuri Dixit’s steps from some of her popular dance numbers but sadly gives a vulgar touch to the scene.
Some actors owing to their fair skin and effeminate features actually ended up looking beautiful.
Aamir Khan in Baazi, 1995
So convincingly does he do this cabaret number that it could put seasoned ‘item’ girls to shame.
Rishi Kapoor in Rafoo Chakkar, 1975
Rishi Kapoor and his friend Paintal witness a murder and to escape the murderers, they dress up in drag and enter a female compartment and meet the heroine Neetu Singh and her friends. For a large part of the film, they keep changing between the drag character and the real character.
All these songs became very popular. While some of the actors like Kishore Kumar and Shammi Kapoor were really funny, some like Govinda and Dara Singh looked weird and some like Rishi Kapoor actually ended up looking cute. But all were undoubtedly entertaining.
Whatever the audience response may have been, all these actors who dared to take the plunge deserve to be applauded for their audacity…