Text by Shubham Ladha
In the 1990s, Voodoo in Mumbai’s Colaba was notoriously known to be one of the first queer haunts in the city’s public landscape. Since then, there haven’t been exclusively queer clubs or bars in India, but in the last decade, the queer rights movement has proliferated through the crevices of Mumbai’s homophobia. Giving rise to a host of queer party organisations who’ve been striving to set up safe nights out, without any prejudice from others.
Predominantly earlier and sometimes even now, when my friends (most of whom are male) and I would try to enter many of the mainstream clubs located across south Mumbai, we would be halted because the door staff was instructed to strictly allow only heterosexual couples. Today though, a younger and more liberal generation is a part of the changed dynamics of the queer nightlife. More vibrant now, the parties are held amongst large, but close-knit circuits and well-known clubs than just at back-alley, seedy haunts.
Some organisations have historically been holding parties in India since the start of the millennium. Such parties were previously usually held in suburban areas, far from the city’s mainland, because prime party spots were tough deals to crack, especially because of the widespread homophobia, and fear from Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), bringing with them hate crimes and raids. They were and have been places where the community found a sanctuary of sorts, however short-lived it can be.
Now though, the market is growing, and the many organisers alterante the weekends so there’re no clashes and every party-goer can have a taste of all the scenes out there. It’s pleasantly surprising how queer subversive culture can co-exist alongside the mainstream.
We tell you about some of the organisations, who have carved their niche through their policies, themes and beliefs and made a safe den for their loyalists, inside and outside the community:
Zsa Zsa Events, Mumbai
Hot off the block, Zsa Zsa events in the last few months has become a regular queer organiser in Bandra. What’s big is that they’ve managed to host them at Olive Bar and Kitchen, where at one point, Bollywood’s biggest names could be spotted. With an exclusive guestlist — which one can register for on their Facebook event page — the parties are usually small, but intimate and interesting.
Fevernites, since 2009, has been arranging LGBTQIA parties in India’s Silicon Valley at some of the chicest venues in town, such as The Gateway Hotel Bangalore’s Saphyre to the LaLiT Ashok’s Sutra Pumping house music mixes keep the ambience fresh and modern usually, otherwise there’re always themes such as “Bollywood Dandiya”, “Okto-Beer-Fiesta” and “Drag-O-Ween”, which keep the parties in high spirits.
Gay Bombay, Mumbai
One of the longest-running online queer support groups in India since 1998, Gay Bombay was also one of pioneers to host private queer parties in the city’s clubs in 2000. Apart from organising counselling sessions, meet-ups and other activities, they’ve also made their parties some of the safest and accessible spaces across Mumbai for queer folks. While their parties might usually seem filled with throngs of folks, it’s because love for populist Bollywood music and the casual ambience they create, for everyone to feel welcome.
While queer and trans men have a multitude of queer party options to choose from, media company and online queer resource centre, Gaysi sought out to level the ground by organising events for LBT females in Bombay since 2007. While the party is usually open to all the members of the community, Gaysi rightfully insists that male attendees must come along with at least one female companion. The music is a mix between Bollywood and Western Pop chart-toppers at hip suburban and mainland venues. Gaysi’s even popular for helming ‘drag king’ performances occasionally, India’s first-ever and nit to be missed.
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Start Date: July 29, 2018, 8 p.m. End Date: July 30, 2018, 1 a.m. Venue: Farmaaish Lounge and Bar, Viman Nagar, Pune https://www.instamojo.com/lgbtmist/lbt-night/ DESCRIPTION Mist presents the second LBT night on the last Sunday of July 2018, the 29th at Farmaaish Lounge and Bar, Viman Nagar, Pune 8 pm onwards. Early bird entry (if booked through Instamojo) INR 500. Entry at the venue: INR 600. Instamojo ticket link closes on 28th July 6 pm. Terms: 1. Cisgender men need to be accompanied with a non-cisgender man or LBT individual for admission. 2. Organizers hold the right to reserve entry. 3. Organizers hold the right to restrict entry at any point. 4. Ticket amount will be refunded only if the entry is restricted at the initial stage. 5. The organizers are not responsible for any loss, theft or misplacing of any personal belongings. 6. Early bird price of INR 500 is applicable only if the ticket is booked through Instamojo. 7. The entry fee covers a redeemable coupon of INR 300. #LGBT #Queer #lesbian #bisexual #transgender #women #LBT #Proud
Founded a couple of years ago, MIST is an online collective of members of the queer community. It’s parties, usually cosy and low-key, are comfortably held in Pune’s clubs and bars. With its sustaining student population that’s liberally inclined, the parties are populated with a youthful energy all around.
Kitty Su, Delhi and Mumbai
Inspired by the LaLit Groups’ executive director, Keshav Suri’s vision of a drag queen, Kitty Su was born in 2011. Through course of time, as drag culture found its space in the Indian queer scene, Kitty Su’s made it a weekly part of their Thursday night parties, C-U-Next-Thursday at the club, at Andheri’s The Lalit Hotel. It still is one of the very few places where drag is performed to question gender stereotypes, break the norms of conformity and cultivate an inclusive ideology in the queer community. They even have interesting themes once in a while, paying homage to iconic pop cultural icons, such as ‘A Night Of A Thousand Lady Gagas’ or ‘Madhuri Dixit’ and et al, and folks are expected to fall in line with it. There’s no pressure, though. More so, Kitty Su’s managed to bring down some of the US’s famous drag queens who’ve appeared on the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, to India and perform. If anything, it’s been a liberating journey so far.
Salvation Star and Rage by D’Kloset, Mumbai
Since 2007, Salvation Star has become one of the premiere LGBTQIA lifestyle events company in Mumbai. Their soireés, as they’re called, are held in Mumbai’s prime venues, such as Bandra’s Bonobo and Lower Parel’s Todi Mill Social, Kamala Mill’s Theory et al, trying make mainstream places more regularly inclusive and queer-friendly, which is a big step in itself. Their music ranges between western contemporary pop chart-busters to electronic mixes for you to groove to.
For seven years, Inder Vhatwar has been organising easy-going parties at clubs and bars (those in 4 to 5-star hotels as well) all over Mumbai. Inspired by the name of his boutique, Rage — by D’Kloset has made its name with parties being held regularly every weekend. With a crowd-pleasing mix of Bollywood and Western Pop tracks, Rage’s vibe is everyone’s to enjoy.
Since Section 377 of the IPC was denounced, a flurry of newer party organisers has also started to take shape. Some of the newest ones have been Hive Events and Elysium Unlimited, who’ve held a party each at prominent venues such as Khar’s Out Of The Blue and Bandra’s Eddie’s Bistro, respectively.
Even though the many springing watering holes, there’re still certain internal discriminatory practices which plague the parties. Apart from at Kitty Su and Gaysi’s events, there’s a clear lack of trans and LBT folks at many of these clubs, mostly because of the venue proprietor’s and predominantly gay community’s phobic attitude towards trans, femme folks.
With time of course, we’re all hoping that the community’s able to celebrate its diversity wholesomely rather than just in fragments divided by gender and self-expression.