Shailaja Padindala, founder of Mustache Under My Nose Ring, speaks on non-binary dressing and her new, dark comedy on queer expression in a heteronormative world.
“The beauty of some women lies in their unacknowledged mustache,” Padindala tells me earneslty.
Sitting across me at a table in the canteen of the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bengaluru, Padindala is thrumming with barely suppressed energy. The filmmaker is putting finishing touches to Naanu Ladies (I am Ladies in Kannada) which she has written, is co-producing, directing, and starring in. It is scheduled for release early next year.
Slight of frame, Padindala is dressed in a manner that offsets her nervous energy, in dark jeans and a sombre black jacket. She is in her early thirties but looks years younger, her hair short and sharply layered, her eyes bright and smile infectious.
“What do clothes mean to you?” I ask.
“I wear my clothes, I don’t let them wear me,” she begins, then tells me of a time some years ago, when she was overweight, had adopted a flagrantly butch style and thought she was the cat`s whiskers. That was a time to be angsty, rambunctious and yes, vulnerable. Now caprice seems to have given way to comfort.
Elaborating on the topic, she says, “Being queer, I naturally had a non-binary approach to my fashion expression where my sexuality played a vital part in its representation and through the years, that has underpinned my appearance. My personality, one that is driven by freedom in self- expression, dictates my style choices.”
Padindala continues, “With those style choices, I attempt at normalizing queer expression of fashion, which will create an all-inclusive platform irrespective of gender or class. Fashion to me is a tool to express my sexuality, gender, class and political ideas.
“I am comfortable in my skin, I’m not very keen on ‘dressing up’ all the time, I like my shorts and T-shirt, my lungi and baniyan (vest). However, if I must attend a traditional gathering where fashion follows restricted gender norms that adheres to a patriarchal, heteronormative worldview, then I express myself and my ideas through what I wear and how I wear it. Sexuality is a core ingredient that defines a personality and clothing is definitely a means to represent that core ingredient of self for the other, through fashion,” she concludes.