fabulous folks from Sholay Productions celebrate two years of Desilicious fun
by Lawrence Ferber
Photography by Aaron Cobbett for HX
In the Hindi and Urdu tongues, Sholay connotes flame or spark.
Theres certainly something ablaze within New Yorks Sholay Productions, an
events company behind the popular monthly gay South Asian dance party Desilicious.
The extravaganzas boast Saree-draped drag queens, dazzling visuals and revelers of all
ethnicities gyrating to Bollywood (Indias musical movies) and Bhangra beats. Its
all a spectacular nod to the queerness and culture of South Asia, a geographic region that
includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and
Bhutan. Of course, the culture is receiving a fresh dose of press coverage due to Andrew
Lloyd Webbers new Broadway show, Bombay Dreams. But were particularly
excited about the Desilicious party, which celebrates its second anniversary this Friday,
Desi means from my country, explains Atif Toor,
Sholays visuals maestro. People use it as a term to identify other South
Asians. Sholays primaries include Toor, marketing/ production expert Rajesh
Parwatkar and DJ Ashu Rai. Hailing from Connecticut, Bombay and California respectively,
the trio met through Gothams South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association group
(salganyc.org) before founding Sholay, whose name is also a nod to a 1975 Bollywood camp
classic. A lot of people would call Sholay a Curry Western, with
men in denim duking it out, Toor explains. In the South Asian community,
people would joke about how it was a buddy film and it had a homoerotic read, so we
thought it would be a great name for our [company].
Sholay often collaborates with other cultural and queer organizations, such as
CurryClubNYC, an Indo-Caribbean group, and Baruch College. Sholays expansive array
of events, including Laff-O-Rama comedy nights, museum festivals and book launches, also
serve as fundraisers.
In South Asian culture, male bonding - such as men holding hands - is common, but
homosexuality is frowned upon, if not punishable by law. Men generally live with their
parents until marriage, making it near impossible for two men to cohabitate. The down
low phenomenon of married men clandestinely having sex with other men is very much
prevalent. In the culture, you just dont talk about it and hope it goes away,
Rajesh says. Even New Yorks desi community is uneasy concerning homosexuality -
local Indian newspapers will often excise the word queer from listings of
People dont talk about sexuality, Toor continues. Its a
very family-oriented culture, so its a real struggle to come out. I grew up thinking
I was the only one. When I moved to New York in 92, I discovered there were other
queer South Asians out there - which was very empowering. In India, theres been a
lot more gay activism [of late], more films with gay characters. A real recent sexual
revolution, and along with that is more recognition of queer sexuality.
Since Sholays Desilicious party was christened in 2002, crowds have been flocking
to the monthly parties. Highlights have included the Gay Pride and Halloween events, which
drew more than 700 revelers, and 2002s Axis of Pleasure, which helped diffuse ethnic
tensions building thanks to President Bushs axis of evil nonsense.
At least Bushs rhetoric could inspire us to have a good party, notes
For a spell, Desilicious went weekly at the East Villages Pyramid, but in
February, the organizers reverted back to a monthly format, to build up more anticipation
and momentum for each party. People take two weeks just to plan their outfits!
laughs Rajesh. Im visualizing a lot of people in really outrageous costumes
and dresses [for the anniversary]. Skimpy clothes are encouraged!
Rai, who got her start DJing at a college radio station, describes her style as a
sort of Indo- Bhangra-Techno-remix. She explains: I play a lot of old classic
Bollywood numbers set to a faster beat. Like Dum Maro Dum, which is a classic
70s song, then a modern song, like Its the Time to Disco [from the
recent Bollywood hit Kal Ho Naa Ho]. I like to break it up, so Ill throw in
some house music as well - an old Junior track or Saeed and Palash. Maybe some Missy or
New Order to throw in some English.
A Punjabi folk music tradition, Bhangra gained Western pop awareness in the 1980s when
South Asian artists like Bally Sagoo in England fused the style with dance hall and
hip-hop. Nowadays, Top 40 artists such as Jay-Z and Britney Spears have incorporated
Bhangra into their songs.
As for Bollywood, its extensive catalog of films and songs date back half a century.
Bollywood is the one thing that unifies the whole South Asian diaspora - theyve
all been exposed to Bollywood, Toor says. And theyre all musicals, even
if its an action film like Rambo.
Every film has seven or eight songs - a lot are often remixed by DJs - and they
release soundtracks months before the movies come out, Rai adds. At the parties,
musical numbers are often displayed on large screens, which Desilicious drag
regulars - including Zeena Diwani, Hamida, Bijli, Naina and Payal - bring to life. I
get requests from the drag queens to play a specific number from a Bollywood film, and
they get up and act it out, including all the dance moves!
The Desilicious Boom Boom Anniversary Party, 9pm, Friday, April 16, at Pepper (35
Leonard St @ Broadway), $10$15. Visit sholayevents.com or call 212-713-5111 for more