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GAY NIGHTS

Men at party

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The verdict is two years old, but the after-parties haven't stopped. They've only gone from vanilla to rainbow as Queer India has the gayest time.

What's my name? What's my name? What's my name? ...My name is Sheeeeeeela, Sheeeeeela ki jawani..." A roomful of gorgeous men do their best Katrina Kaif impersonation, waists taut, bodies damp with sweat and pouts perfectly in place. While the lovely actress may have spent months getting the right moves for the item number, most of these boys can copy them almost effortlessly. "This is such a fun song, " says 25-year-old Akshay, Delhiite who goes dancing with his friends at least twice a week.
The only difference between Akshay's set and other Delhi youngsters is that he usually frequents gay parties that are now a rage in the Capital. In fact, there are quite a few happening tonight to celebrate the second anniversary of the verdict. "Some of my older gay friends say the party scene wasn't as hot when they were my age. But today, we party at the best venues, with the best crowd, " says Akshay.

The 377 verdict has changed the gay party scene forever. Mohnish Kabir Malhotra, 23, one of the organisers of the first Delhi gay Pride in 2008, has witnessed the party scene in the city go from plain vanilla to rainbow. "Once people got to know we were putting together the Pride, they approached us and asked if we'd also throw a party and offered us venues for the same, " says Malhotra, who went on to found a private group called Queer Delhi soon after. What the group offers is an exclusive network of parties with hand-picked guest list and high-end venues in Delhi, like Ai, Olive, Baci, Veda and Cibo.

"Across the world, every good club has a designated gay night. As long as one can maintain a certain standard of attendees and create a safe space for gay men to party, clubs in Delhi are more than willing to offer their premises to host such events, " says Malhotra, who has seen the Queer Delhi guest list swell from 30 to 300 over the past two years. All Queer Delhi invitations are sent either on SMS or on a closed Facebook group. "I can safely say that we have the email IDs and mobile numbers of all our guests, " says Malhotra, adding that if a new guest wants entry, s/he must be vouched for informally by a Queer Delhi member.
Lesbian and straight women, mostly fag-hags, are also regulars at such parties. "From Gaga to Guetta, Madonna to MJ and, of course, Bollywood chartbusters, no other party plays such great music, " says Sarika, a 30-year-old Mumbaikar who vouches for the style quotient and safety standards of gay nights over straight nights. "Though Mumbai is not really unsafe, I still end up having much more fun, being less inhibited at a gay party, " she says.

Recently voted among the six most happening underground parties in Mumbai by a survey, SalvationStar's Khush nights, a first-Friday-of-the-month party at Bandra's popular watering hole, Zenzi, have really caught on. Five-year-old SalvationStar is the brainchild of Mumbaikars Nakul and Jaymin. "The idea was to allow the community more visibility at mainstream popular venues of the city, " explains Nakul. "It's an LGBT-friendly night and open to all from within and outside the community. We have visiting DJs, movie screenings, food, fashion and much more, " adds Jaymin.

Alok Aggarwal, co-owner of Veda and Chibo in Delhi (couturier Rohit Bal is the other owner), has hosted gay nights at both the venues. "We don't discriminate on the basis of either gender or sexual preference. The only thing that matters to us is the profile of the people attending, " says Aggarwal. "Our staff did have initial apprehensions in accepting men dancing with men at such parties, but by now they have realised that gay people are not from another planet, " he adds.

But organising a gay party is not all fun and games, says Vikram from Gaybombay, the oldest gay group in the city. "We face the usual risks like drugs and inappropriate behaviour. We now hire our own guards to check everyone coming in for drugs. Despite this, and following all rules, we sometimes get harassed, for example by anonymous callers who try and get the police to stop the party. We also face problems from people who don't appreciate the need to maintain a safe space. For example, gay parties have always been a space for women, who really like coming to them because they know they can have fun and be safe. But there are some 'straight' guys who come, quite often with gay men, who start hitting on the women. It's like they need to prove their sexuality just because they're in a gay space, " he explains.

When SalvationStar started out, there were just a couple of LGBT-friendly spaces in the city and almost none that offered different genres of music, beyond Bollywood. "We have constantly tried to fill that gap. In fact, our brand of music has always been our only crowd filter, " says Nakul.

Of course, gay or straight, the economics have to work out before any venue agrees to host a party. Rates usually vary according to the venue. While Queer Delhi still follows a strict "no cover" policy and the venue earns its revenues from the sale of drinks and snacks, SalvationStar charges a minimum cover that includes enough to buy a couple of drinks and to help defray expenses for the sound, DJ and the venue. The cover at a SalvationStar party is anything between Rs 500 and Rs 700, depending on the venue. "On a Saturday night, of course, a straight party will make us more money than a gay party, " says Aggarwal. A Gaybombay party charges a cover of Rs 600-650, depending on the venue, and includes some drinks. Parties in Bangalore charge a cover of Rs 200-300 and include one drink.

As frequency goes, Delhi leads the pack with gay nights every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Mumbai hosts one or two parties a fortnight and Bangalore has two parties on Saturday and one on Wednesday. Pune, Calcutta and Hyderabad also have gay nights.

Rohan Mehta has lived in and attended gay parties across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. "Surprisingly, Delhi is the most chilled out towards alternative sexuality. I have been on dates in various mainstream pubs and restaurants and have never felt awkward or suffered strange looks from other patrons. Mumbai occasionally has seriously rocking parties, but the police often play spoilsport. Bangalore is stuck somewhere between awareness and acceptance. Even the pub owners there are quite conservative. "

Mehta feels the Delhi parties are better because there is always something for the classes and the masses. "I am not an elitist, but I'd prefer to dance and be groped without the fear of my pocket being picked, " he says.

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