Mumbai Rising

1.16.2011

By Raphael Kadushin

Bollywood central is becoming the passage to gay india.

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When the poster for the Indian film Dunno Y?Na Jaane Kyun ricocheted around the web last summer, it constituted a cultural sea change. Though by Bollywood standards the image was minimalist—no manic chorus line, no candy colors—it featured two topless men passionately embracing.

The premiere was delayed, and actor Kapil Sharma
received death threats, but this Indian answer to Brokeback Mountain would have been unthinkable until recently. And while the cultural revolution may be moving slowly in the hinterland, the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) has emerged as one of the most intriguing new gay destinations.

Already the country's economic capital, Mumbai is home to flashy Bollywood (the Hindi-language film industry), the country's IT industry, and a cosmopolitan population. "People here tend to mind their own business," says Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, India?s only openly gay prince, and a major supporter of Dunno Y. "And gay life is evolving quickly in Mumbai. There are gay rights organizations, an evolving party scene, and a sophisticated intellectual scene." Delhi?s high court decriminalized homosexuality in July 2009, and according to GayBombay.org, one of the city's cultural anchors, there are now about 750,000 gay men in Mumbai—a conservative estimate given the city's population of around 15 million.

How to access the nascent but percolating scene? Start with an increasingly spirited mass media. Prince Manvendra has launched two magazines: Bombay Dost, emphasizing gay empowerment, and Fun, which he says focuses on "gadgets, grooming, and psychological counseling." Also featured: "the sensuous model of the month."

But websites remain at the center of queer life in Mumbai. Gay Bombay, founded in 2001, bills itself as the largest LGBT Yahoo! Group in the world, throwing parties and providing info on legal issues, health, and sex. SalvationStar.com, which targets a younger audience, sponsors its own club nights, including a Friday night Supa?Party at Dios Lounge, with a large dance floor, open-air terraces, and revolving DJs.

Perhaps the biggest sign of change is that now Mumbai?s gay life is extending beyond the Internet. Voodoo) is one of the few clubs to advertise a mixed night, every Saturday, and its exuberant crowd makes up for the cramped, sweaty space. Then there is Azaad Bazaar, recently opened in the stylish Bandra shopping district, which bills itself as India?s first LGBT pride shop. The boutique stocks pride mugs and T-shirts bearing slogans like pink sheep of the family and your handcuffs or mine? One of the most popular tees features the saying love is love. Or as Mohandas Gandhi put it, "A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave."

Tags: Exclusives

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