Photography by Lily Vetch

inside london’s gay bollywood hip hop night, hungama

What began as a party at The Glory pub in Haggerston, has since evolved into a freewheeling celebration of out, proud and inclusive queer Asian culture.

by Matthew Whitehouse
17 August 2018, 12:28pm

Photography by Lily Vetch

HUNGAMA is bhangra, henna, fashion, mash-up, make-up, samosas and drag queens rolled into one intoxicating whole. London’s biggest gay Bollywood hip hop night, what began as a party at The Glory pub in Haggerston, has since evolved into a freewheeling community of out, proud and inclusive queer Asians; mixing fashion, art and the sexy, euphoric sounds of Aastha Gill in the process.

“We are not only showing London that Bollywood has a place in clubbing culture, but we are ready to serves looks, sounds and our culture for every henny,” says fab HUNGAMA founder, Ryan Lanji. “We are taking back the power, removing the complex of not belonging, and championing love, diversity and welcoming vibes through the music we grew up with.”

Too right they are. Get dressed, get jazzed and get reading our chat with Ryan below.

First thing’s first, are you London’s only gay Bollywood night or have we just not been getting out enough?
i-D! This is why you guys are legends! HUNGAMA is the first of its kind but it is not the first gay Bollywood night in London. Nights like Club Kali have been running for over two decades and there are others sprinkled around London and throughout the UK. These nights are so important for queer Asians who are still finding their tribe. These nights are not public facing and I respect them for taking care of their guests privacy and the sensitivity of their journey. HUNGAMA on the other hand is the first gay Bollywood night that merges the fashion community and creative subcultures of queer east London with Bollywood in a inclusive, diverse and public-facing manner. We are not clandestine. We are queer Asians who are out, proud and ready to be a visual voice for our community.

What does Hungama mean and how did you chose the name?
HUNGAMA is the Hindi equivalent of “lit”. It means “chaos” or “bedlam” in Hindi and, to follow a more anecdotal genesis of the name, I remember hearing my mum on the phone to my aunties after weddings and gatherings and she would always describe the night as “such a hungama”. I remember those nights being full of laughter, outfits, dancing, and so the word became very dear to my heart, because it was her adjective for total, reckless enjoyment.

What inspired you to start the night?
I was always such a mash-up that I didn’t know where I fit in. I was an east London fashion and art curator, Canadian-British-Asian by descent, and gay. I felt like I had everything and nothing in common with no one and everyone. When I thought about the times I felt safe, I was reminded of car rides with my mum. We would laugh and sing to Bollywood hip-hop mash-ups and I was determined to bring that feeling back into my life.

How would you describe the South Asian community’s understanding of sexuality or gender, generally?
To be honest, the South Asian community’s understanding is as archaic as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It doesn’t make sense to me because naturally our kind of people are highly creative, colourful and energetic personalities -- and these things pair so well with South Asian culture! It’s a shame to think that our families are so hell bent on creating a mirage of the perfect Indian family that they don’t love unconditionally and allow their sons or daughters to be happy. I do, in their defence, think it takes time, knowledge and support to allow their horizons to broaden and open. My sister told me when I came out of the closet that in order to be accepted, I need to be accepting of the people around me. Instead of condemning them as backwards, I practice love and kindness and know that the ones who truly love me will stand by me.

Have you experienced any struggles in that regard?
When I came out to my mum, my entire relationship with her changed. We used to do everything together and I was her right-hand man, her best friend. I came out at 19 and our relationship was never the same. It wasn’t because she didn’t love me, but it was because for the first time what she wanted for me and what I wanted for myself didn’t match and rendered itself incompatible. Cultural computer says “no”. I basically banished myself from my family, leaving school, moving out and following my then-boyfriend across the pond to London. It was only last month, eight years later, that my mum came to visit me for the first time, and hosted a HUNGAMA. She was scared, but she saw the world I had created for myself, read the reviews and, after dancing until 2am, gave me the biggest hug and said, “Beta [son], I’ve always been proud of you.”

Is the crowd exclusively South Asian or can any Tom, Dick or Harry turn up?
Anyone can turn up! The music is for everyone. I think as much as we are creating a night for queer Asians to party to their favourite music, we as a community need to welcome people from all walks of life and show them how wonderful we are. It’s not just pointing out that the backing track of Get Ur Freak On by Missy Elliot or What’s Happening by Busta Rhymes are both woven with Bollywood. It’s about evolving a movement of change.

Lastly, what do you hope people take away from the night?
I really hope that people leave dripping in sweat, laughing with people they never thought they’d meet. I hope people can walk away feeling like a more wholesome version of themselves. I hope we can show that, even in this world full of political uncertainty and upheaval, we can come together and celebrate our authentic selves and dance like no one is watching. I feel like this movement of belonging and togetherness can inspire what we are looking for. Change through HUNGAMA.

The next HUNGAMA takes place at London’s Visions on Friday 17 August at 10pm. Tickets are £10 on the door. Follow @hungama_ldn for details.