SN Spotlight: Untold stories, inspiring journeys & unfiltered insights of your favourite creators!
Nama-slay 2024! In SN Spotlight this week, we had the privilege of having a wholesome, enlightening, inspirational, yet super fun conversation with the Rani and the Pari of our hearts: Rani KoHEnur a.k.a. Sushant Divgikr! Read on to learn how this icon Namaslay-ed all year long:
How would you sum up the fantastic year that you’ve had in 2023?
2023 was definitely a fantastic year for me. Many, many firsts. Lots of revelations. Also, I learned so much about myself as an artist, as a person, and as somebody who enjoys this and is going to continue doing magical things because I work hard. I believe in myself and my art. And I know that at the end of the tunnel, there is light. So I kept going and going and going and I think I’ve just begun.
It sounds very cliché, no? But sometimes even after 17 years, you find the light and I just hope that I get more projects where I can show myself. I think that I have so much to show to the audience, whether it’s singing, acting, dancing, art, or performance art. Acha hua ke mujhe itne saalon baad mauka mila films mein.
We’re in awe of your voice! Can you tell us about your musical journey?
I’ve never taken classes in terms of my Riyaz. I do it myself. Because I remember I had gone to a couple of vocal coaches and they had told me that it won’t be possible for us to train you. Not in a bad way. They just said that if we have to give time to both your voices, male and female, then we won’t be able to give time to the other students. So they used to send me recordings of their classes. Ke aap isse kuch seekh sakte ho toh theek hai, lijiye. So I realized it’s okay, I don’t hold any grudges against them. In fact, they have created some of our best singers in the industry. I used to look at other singers who started a little before me and learned from them. Their recordings were sent to me.
I do believe some of them had a problem with my gender or my expression. But according to me, kala ka koi gender nahi hota. Kalakaar ka kya hota hai, voh alag baat hai. But we are a medium to promote our art to our audience. It’s our duty to just present our art. We’re just a medium. We’re a vessel.
And I think this year I have been able to give that to the audience through my acting, my live shows, my singing, my philanthropy, through celebrating community sentiment. And learning new languages, learning Kathak, Hindustani classical music and Bolly Jazz. And so many things. So I’m very happy.
Talking about your big Bollywood debut, what did young Sushant think about it?
You know, I have always felt that he’s going to be on a big screen in the future. And he’s going to do something so amazing.
How do you feel about your “Thank You For Coming” experience?
I think that once it sinks in, I will let you know. I’m shocked and pleasantly surprised. I have to be honest, I had imagined myself to be on the big screen. I knew I would work hard and get there. I know I was not one to give up. Mujhe lagta hai ki dusron ke opinions unke hote hai, voh meri reality nahi hai. Apni reality main roz subah aaine mein dekhti hoon, main jaanti hoon kya hai.
Now people like it or not, that’s fine, that is their choice. I’m appreciative of the fact that you’re still monetizing my content you’re still talking about it you’re still increasing the algorithm. Changing the game for me without even knowing it so please go ahead and do it. But please watch our content, please listen to the song, y’all have made it a success.
I think I will make many more reels myself only. I was telling my dance instructor ‘Chalna banate hai aur ek’ and she was like ‘Abhi toh banaye the tumne teen…’ I had made three reels on Pari Hoon Main and she said ‘Thoda overkill nahi hoga?’ And I said ‘Excuse me, kitne logon ko Sunidhi ma’am ke saath debut milta hai?’ Main 1500 reel banungi! Kaun bolega mereko nahi? Aap banao, aap apna hi karo. Beat your own drum. I say you should be your own cheerleader, biggest cheerleader.
What was your parents’ reaction when they saw you on the big screen?
My mom toh died of shock when she saw me as Rahul and I was flirting with Bhumi. She’s saying ‘he kay aahe?’ I’m like ‘Mummy! It’s called acting!’ Actor hoon na? Koi bhi kirdhar nibhaana hai na?’
We are really intrigued by the name you chose for yourself: Rani KoHEnur. What is the story behind it?
Well, what do you think? Rani toh main hoon. Bohot log bolte hain ki, oh my God, there are only two genders. First of all, these are the people who don’t know Indian culture. They don’t know Indian history. Transgender people have been part of our history since time immemorial. You have had references in the scriptures and in temples.
But my thing is that when I came out or when I started talking about myself, I used to feel scared at first. Then I realised who is going to say anything to me? And why should they say anything to me? So then I realised that in Indian culture, we have had so many queens, kings, emperors, provinces. We didn’t have one queen. Many countries have only one queen.
In all of these things, the Hijra community, the Kinnar Samaj and the transgender people who were also born intersex had a very big role in the kingdoms. Intersex and transgender are two different things. Unko senapati banaya jaata tha. If you are invading a king and his province, your senapati would tell you how to fight a man. Because they would have the knowledge of both sides. Because they are male and female. They have both energies.
I accept and appreciate the fact I was born male but with feminine energy more than my male energy. Now what is between my legs and between my chest and between my mind is none of anyone’s business. My provision is that this constitution of India tells me you are allowed to live a dignified life. Right? Am I asking you what is between your legs? You prove to me that you are a woman. Is anybody being asked like this? Why only trans people are asked?
KoHEnur is because first of all, Kohinoor is the most expensive and exquisite diamond in the world. But I put HE in Kohinoor because I have male energy too. These men are the same men who will be like, there are only two genders. But you also want to fuck us and abuse us. Like what? You know, go back a couple of thousand years and understand how we did it. There was respect for men, women, trans. Everybody was living respectfully. We need to bring that back.
Why that had disappeared is because the British had, in the colonial times, come up with these rubbish laws. We are also more rubbish because we continue to live with those also. So those were the things that I really felt were very offensive to human rights in a country which is a democracy and everybody deserves equal rights. So for all these years, people thought that we are wrong because the British said we are wrong. But before that, we have had transgender gods. Which world are you living in?
KoHEnur because mujhe mere persona ke through, ya alter ego ya stage ego ke through, ye batana hain logon ko ke chaahe aap kinnar ho, hijda ho, trans ho, aurat ho, mard ho, aap sab KoHEnur hai. Aap sab mein male aur female energies hain. That’s where my drag persona comes from.
I could have picked a western name too, I mean it’s not wrong to but in this country, everyone can say Rani. But mera birth name aur surname bolte bolte log so jaate hain. It’s quite tough. So I thought, pehle toh people have to relate. The girls will relate to Rani. If you are not a Rani, you are still a KoHEnur na? KoHEnur mein ‘HE’ hain. So you relate to that.
I think that there is a KoHEnur in all your families and within yourself. There is. So instead of trolling and abusing other people and questioning their morals and everything, identify the Kohinoor within you. That is my idea of Rani KoHEnur.
The bond that you share with your parents is truly beautiful to see. What does that support mean to you?
My mother says this one thing, ‘I am so lucky to have a son and a daughter in the same child.’ Now she’s fractured her leg. Today, I’m able to carry her. I’m able to also cook for her and take care of her. I’m also able to give her empathy, love, emotion, but also strength. So I consider us a very lucky family.
We have had very middle-class values, very strong family values. We come from a Konkani Marathi-type family and Karwari. So basically our communities are very close-knit. My ancestors, technically are descendants of Kashmiri Pandits and then all the way down to Karwar. I’m also South Indian and Maharashtrian, I have a mix of everything.
Hamare parents ka itna bada haath hai hamare development mein in our formative years. And I keep saying this that we would be nothing – my brother and I, even some of my cousins, some of my friends, whose parents have not been accepting and loving to them. They have stayed in my mother’s house for 2 to 3 months! And they have reared them in like their own child.
Even when I’m on tour in America, London, UK, Europe, or anywhere in the world, she’ll still tell my friends, you come. ‘Why you should live in a hostel or why you should live hand to mouth. You come here na. I’m your mother also.’ So my mother is like that.
And my dad is just absolutely amazing. He’s been a public servant and has just instilled so much value in us. Unhone mujhe bataya hai ke aap chahe duniya mein ya duniya ki sabse zyada daulat na kamae, voh theek hai. But aap jitna bhi kamao, aap achche se kamao, you should feel happy and satisfied that you did not harm anybody. And ussi vajah se aapko raat ko neend achchi honi chahiye. Ye mere papa ne mujhe bachpan se sikhaya hain. So, I did not have an option. I had to work hard and succeed.
You know in middle-class families, earlier we used to always see the right hand side of the menu first or the price tag. Today I tell my mom, you like it, buy it. I’ll work and buy it for you. That much I have worked. And I would not have gotten here if I had not believed in myself because of my parents. So they play a very very important role.
My mother says ‘why do you have to buy a new car? Kashala waste karayche?’ I was like what is waste in that? Y’all have worked all your lives to give us the best of what you could give us, more than what we should have got also. I get emotional. They gave us love, education, a home to stay in. Whether people think it was big or small, I don’t care.
There were many nights when we had to accommodate our grandparents, cousins, aunties, and uncles in the same house. And there was not enough place. But we made place. You know we slept more nights down than on a bed. But today when I have a 4BHK I’m like you sleep in whichever room you want.
I think that button switched in me when I saw my father once sleep on the floor when I walked in after a shoot. That’s when I realized that I’m going to give them everything and more. I’m just blessed to have them. And I hope they feel the same. I think as a child only you want your parents to just be proud of you. And then just you know be able to give them whatever you can. Because I’ve got that love from them.
If you had to advise parents today on how to bring up their children, what would you say?
These are kids whose parenting is not good. Those are just people who have decided to have kids. And that’s not called parenting. Did you have peer pressure? Your neighbour had two kids so you had to have one? Please, if you are not ready to be parents, please don’t be. We are not losing out on anything. It’s not a championship match between us and China for who is more populated. Please stop as soon as possible.
We have seen so many people who can’t take care of their children. Then they go into the system. People need to understand that just because they gave you birth, they don’t make you your parents. There is a difference. There has to be love. There has to be understanding. There has to be unconditional support. If you can’t do it, then don’t.
In Maharashtra, at least, we go through every document to check whether you are allowed and eligible to even adopt. Adoption ke pehle pura research karte hai ki aap kya karte hai, aap kiske saath hai, aapki shaadi hui hai ya nahi. But then why don’t you do the research about the people who are just having children like that only? So marriage is what? A certificate to just have children or what?
If you can’t give them love then don’t have a child. I’ve seen my friends, colleagues, a lot of people that I’ve worked with that have not had good parents or a good family or a home. Or they’ve had very abusive relationships with parents and family. So it really harms and affects them. I am so strong and confident today because I had that support from my parents.
Talking about parenting, what are your views on motherhood?
‘Every child is my child,’ my mother said. That’s how I learned that I might not be able to give birth physically, but I can still be a mother. As trans people, we can’t give birth, especially if you are assigned male at birth. You don’t have a uterus. We are aware of that. But we can be mothers because motherhood is an emotion. It’s a behaviour. It’s not just the act of removing a child and then not being there. Not being available for them emotionally, spiritually, mentally, financially. If you are not there, then you are just somebody who gave birth.
And I think that if you don’t get that, somebody else gives you that love. You have all these references in our history. Like Lord Krishna too, it’s so beautifully portrayed. That’s when I realized that I might not be able to give birth. But I am very able to give love and education and support them. Today, I have money. Before that, I did not have money. I had not just one mother. I had many mothers. So they supported me and she gave me love. She gave me everything. She has worked overnight, overtime, even when she was pregnant. So, they’ve given us a lot and this is just our time to give it back.
With the advent of social media, it has become a lot easier to get noticed by people and famous personalities. Can you tell us about any such celebrity interaction which was your favourite?
Earlier, we didn’t have Instagram and all. We had Orkut then Facebook and Yahoo – it’s Messenger Chats! We used to actually meet people in person. Voh zamaana kuch aur hi tha. And that time so many celebrities or famous people were not online. But one or two that were there, when we used to get a reply from them, I used to go mad!
The first time I got a reply from Sushmita Sen, I fainted. I was like, that’s it. Then I met Rekha ji. I used to be a national champion in swimming. At that time she used to come to the Otter’s Club in Khar Gymkhana as a chief guest and give us the prize. As a kid, I used to look at her and wonder ‘how can someone be so beautiful?’ As I became older, I wanted to become Rekha ji. And then she came in Bigg Boss and gifted me a saree! Then I died again.
Pankaj sir follows me! That’s it, I can retire. The national awardee, sensation, legend, icon – Pankaj Tripathi follows me. And I thought, ‘Do I deserve this?’ He is the nicest person. I would love to work with people like this.
Which actor do you wish to work with next?
I want to work with Ayushmann, Vicky, Nawazuddin, Pankaj Sir. These are all great actors and especially so hardworking, I would love that. I would also like to work with Shefali Shah, Radhika Apte, Rasika Duggal, Ratna ma’am, Supriya ma’am, Naseer sir. I want to work once with Kirron Kher ma’am, what a fantastic personality! I’m talking about films which were in the late 80s-90s. She used to do films that no other actors would touch, she has played very very amazing roles. So these are actors I would like to work with, I’m manifesting it on your show. But abhi mujhe Aditya Roy Kapoor chahiye as my next co-star!
What are your biggest learnings this year?
One of my biggest learnings was ‘Always believe in yourself.’ Keep working hard and smart. Katrina Kaif had told me this once ‘Darling, you work so hard, I’ll just give you a couple of tips’. A lot of people think that oh my god you all are just blessed with good hair, good this, good that, and Katrina said ‘Yeah, but we maintain it also. So please don’t feel bad for being.’
There are a lot of people who are slammed for taking care of themselves. I have seen people hate on people and thinking that she is not relatable. So she taught me to be smart about how I perceive myself. With her brand, Kay Beauty, she has very beautifully transitioned into becoming an entrepreneur. So I learnt from her. Be humble. Be smart. Be hardworking. And provide for others if you have a little extra.
Is there any message you would like to give to the people and the whole queer community?
When I say sense of community, you know, a lot of people are like ‘ye LG TV kya hai? LGBT kya hai?’ Humne koi membership cards baant ke nahi kare hai ye communities form. Humko alag kiya gaya tha. Iske liye humne ‘Kranti Kranti’ chillake ye community banayi. Hum bhi utne hi ‘bhartiya’ hain jitne ke aap hain. Hum bhi utne hi ‘insaan’ hain jitne aap hain.
But what I mean by building a community or the community sentiment is agar aapko kuch zarurat hai aur mere paas resources hai toh aap aa jayein. Jo transgender bacche hain jinhe ghar se bahar nikaala jaata hai, ya fir unke paas equipment nahi hai jaise light, sound, camera, plain background, aesthetic, toh main unko bolti hoon ke mera ghar hain.
Agar aapko content banana hain, toh aap mere ghar pe aake banao. I say this. Why not? We did not have that. So I can give it to the next person. Abhi mere paas hai, do kamre mere free rehte hain. Aap karo jo contnet aapko create karna hain. Put whatever you want. But they don’t have it. Unko haq nahi hai kya sapne dekhne ka? Agar hamare paas zyaada hai toh hum de sakte hain.
Can you tell us about the Yana Foundation?
When I say give back, it is also through my Yana Foundation which launched in 2023 on my birthday. I have launched it to educate, skill-build, and provide jobs for transgender people. We also have mental health professionals. A big shoutout to Trijog, which is a mental health community. They have provided over 200 hours of free counselling sessions for whoever needs it from trans communities. Also, a shoutout to Aspire For Her, an organisation that works to educate the girl child, but also trans people and non-binary people. They have skilled people in cloud skills and tech as well.
Basically, we want tech for all. I think technology is the way ahead. Many hundreds of kids have been educated in cloud skills through us. So they are also getting jobs in technology and tech-based jobs. I think that these are some magical things that I have been able to do.
Through this India tour, I realized that I was making a little more money than I expected. So that extra money is going to all these institutions and organizations that work or are already working but don’t get funding from governments. So I’m giving them the extra that I’m making through my shows because they are doing God’s work. They’re rescuing people from sex work, domestic violence, and abuse. They also take care of people who are literally on their deathbed, who have illnesses that cannot be cured. They are God for me.
In the professional aspect, what are we going to see in 2024?
A lot more singing, a lot more OTT, a lot more theatre time, a lot more live shows, a lot more countries that I’m going to go to, and a lot more co-stars!
What is your motto for 2024?
That Kareena’s dialogue was there na? ‘Main apni favourite hoon!’ Main hoon. Tumko bhi hona chahiye.Ye toh meri puri life ki hi motto hai. I have come this far also believing in this.
Rani for a reason, right? Whenever we’ve spoken to Sushant Divgikr a.k.a. Rani KoHEnur, it’s been a masterclass in self-love. What a beautifully inspiring and stimulating conversation that was! Thank you for being you, Rani! You’re an ICON for ages to come 🙂