An Interview with Naach Artist

S: My wife finds it okay. As long as it brings money, it’s alright!

R: Has your wife seen you dance/perform?

S: Yes, she has seen me. One uncle’s daughter was getting married. The other party had come from Surat. I performed in the wedding.

R: What did she say?

S: She said, “You were looking beautiful!” When I would not perform, I would go looking after buffalos in shabby clothes. When I asked for money, no one gave me anything. My father bought a pair of chappals and kept nagging about it.

Since the time I have started performing, I have become myself. I wear nice clothes now…I bought a phone as well.

R: So, do you perform throughout the year?

S: Yes, throughout the year…It starts in November and runs till April-May. After the wedding season ends in June, I migrate outside.

R: How do you make a living outside?

S: Roses!

R: What of roses!

S: I cannot do heavy work. I don’t migrate just for wages. You have to prune the roses…pack them. It is put in a box and sent to places…the other thing is I cannot wield spade and plough soil…it is difficult for me to do such work. I like working with the roses…the industry is relaxed…you don’t have to sweat…you can work indoors. Last time I asked my wife and children to come along for the wedding season. I become a Sardar there!

R: You don’t cut your hair!?

S: If I cut my hair, how will I perform back in the village? So, I keep my hair wrapped under a gamcha! People persistently ask why do I keep such long hair!? I don’t want to show it because someone’s gaze might cast an evil eye. Someone might say it looks good. Someone might say otherwise. Are you a Launda? Some people appreciate it. Some just say he is a Launda Sometimes when I travel in the bus, they say, “Launda hau! Do you want to sit beside a Launda?” They also abuse at times. When I went to perform on the 27th, they said, “Launda has used so much scent (perfume)”. They were dancing while abusing me. They would tease me…clench my chest…they would ask, “Wouldn’t you give a kiss?” They would try tearing my clothes. I feel agitated and sometimes throw them away _______ The contractor would call back again threatening to cut the performance fees. What people would also do is they would call you to collect money, once you went, they would ask you to sit on their lap…then they would put the money in their mouth and will try thrusting it into mine. They would ask for a kiss…sometimes they would say I can pay five hundred or thousand rupees if you do it.. Sometimes I wonder, why did I take up dancing?

Suppose this is Art!

R: People should respect artists.

S: Yes, they should be respected. Like all artists…If we get respect like the big ones we will feel good. Few high-status people get respect even if they do less work. When it comes to us they say we are not worthy enough. Even if we work hard enough, we don’t get good money…respect…or anything.

R: What do you lack?

S: I don’t know why we don’t get the same respect! What should we do to gain respect? People don’t respect naach jaat, those who perform/dance.

R: It is possible. Whatever naach jaat does they will be called nachaniya and bajaniya

S: They are called nachaniya and bajaniya. Even if we give all that we have, they would, “he is the same…launda…who acts… a natwa!

(Launda) Naach, as an art form, involves men impersonating women, leading to cross dressing and fluidity in gender behaviour. Although the tradition began as a sort of entertainment, performed on occasions like marriage and childbirth, it was popularised by Bhikhari Thakur in the 20th century who brought this historical tradition into the realm of theatre and performance to comment on the social and moral fabric of rural society and pressing issues like migration. Thakur’s play called Bidesiya was first performed circa 1917.


However, in recent years, (Launda) Naach has also been seen as a ‘cheap’ form of entertainment, where the practitioners of this art form who are mainly male, are seen as effeminate and of low moral character. Movies like Gangs of Wasseypur have reinforced the stereotype where men who are sleazy and of licentious nature use (Launda) Naach to entertain themselves.


Such stereotyping is both the cause and result of declining patronage for these artists. According to an estimate given by Raju Ranjan, a singer-performer and cultural activist from the region, there are around 50-60 practising Naach artists in the Bhojpur district of Bihar. Having grown up watching renditions of Naach performances, where the sheer energy of the performers captivated his artistic soul, Ranjan claims “They can be as good as shashtriya kalakaars (classical artists) if they are supported and patronised by the government and private organisations.” 


Commanded by a desire to work with the Naach artists’ community, Ranjan spoke to Sipahi Lathore, a second generation artist in Kanela, a village located in Bhojpur district of Bihar. Without any support from either the government or civil society, artists like Sipahi have to migrate to other cities for work; in this case, Pune for seasonal work. 


In their conversation, interspersed with humour and disillusionment, discussions range from family relations to ordinary struggles, personal achievements and workplace harassment in their profession—and most importantly, Sipahi’s devotion and care towards his long, cascading hair!


Research and Direction: Raju Ranjan

Edit: Piyush Kashyap

Logistics, Equipment and Studio by zeropowercut

Audio Recording and Editing: Piyush Kashyap

Produced by Poorvanchal aur Palayan and zeropowercut


Also read: Inhabiting Memory

About the contributors

zeropowercut creates inter(caste)actions of research and production, to investigate the role of art, aesthetics, and language in how caste is coded in reality. We are based out of a small workshop in the old part of Patna, Bihar, India.


They are on instagram:


Piyush Kashyap is an artist, writer, and filmmaker, based in Bihar, India. Through materials, image, text, history, and philosophy, Kashyap’s independent research on caste analyses how the caste-sanctioned categorisation of workers as ‘Sudra’ (a term which means: menial and unknowledgeable) dissociates Knowledge and Work, and actually, sudra-fies not just the people, but a whole cultural notion of Intelligence.


Raju Ranjan is a jangayek—a (public) singer-performer and theatre artist. He hails from a community of landless agricultural labourers from Arrah, Bihar. He has a diploma in Theatre from the Bhopal School of Drama, and has been active as a theatre artist and cultural activist from a very young age.


He is on Instagram: @rajukumarranjan30