BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
South Asia meets South Beach this weekend in a three-day celebration of Southeast gay culture.
“Bollywood: Mumbai to Miami,” a series of parties and networking events sponsored by the gay-oriented Lords South Beach hotel, begins Friday.
“We’re always looking to shine the light on the hidden corners of our community and really celebrating all aspects of gay life,” says Lords co-founder Brian Gorman. “This is really a chance for people in Miami to experience something different and get to know another part of our gay community.”
Gorman says the idea first took hold about a year ago when several South Asian men stayed at the hotel. “I realized how interesting — how different — the lives of the Southeast gay guys are from the liberal New York background, where [gay men’s] moms still say they love you,” Gorman said.
Throughout much of South Asia, gay relations are still taboo, said Alijah Derani, 32, of North Miami, who plans to attend the Bollywood event.
“I’m combining culture, religious traditions and my sexual orientation, and I’m celebrating all three,” said Derani, who knows few other gay South Asians in the Miami area.
“For this group of people to come together, and they’re mostly closeted … someone needs to take a step,” Derani said. “If there are other gay Pakistani Afghans out there, it makes it easier for us.”
Derani said he has met several other gay South Asians via the Internet. “You have these groups within the Southeast gay community, Muslims, Hindus, who’ve given up their faith and are completely gay, or they are in the closet and probably will be married to a woman.”
Raised in Texas, Derani grew up in “a very traditional household.” His parents know he’s gay, but they don’t talk about it.
He maintains ties to his Muslim upbringing. “I go to mosque. I fast at Ramadan,” Derani said.
Within the Muslim community, Derani is circumspect about his sexual orientation. “I respect their beliefs. There’s no reason for me to walk in the mosque and throw confetti everywhere.”
“I was there 12 years,” said Hardy, who was born in London and raised in Bombay, now known as Mumbai. “It’s not easy [being a gay Hindu], but once you have a good network of friends, life can be quite bearable.”
Hardy, who came out about age 14, said there is still cultural pressure on gay South Asian men and women to marry and have children. Many gay people conform “and have another life on the side,” he said.
Hardy said there has been a major cultural and political shift to the left since the 1990s.
“The opening up of the economy, people going abroad, a lot of influence from the West,” he said. “The Indians are very open to Western culture. Bombay, New Delhi are very popular — a lot of tourists.”
The Bollywood movement has also contributed to the cultural change, said Rohan Sheth, 25, of New York City, who is producing this weekend’s event in Miami Beach. “Bollywood has come a long way in representation of queer men,” said Sheth, who was born in Pittsburgh to Indian parents.
“I grew up watching Bollywood films and being very up to date with the music that comes out of the industry,” he said. “As I learned more about the culture and Bollywood itself, the one thing I found really exciting is there’s a lot of escapism.”
Bollywood films feature ”very energetic music, dance, over the top storylines, almost fairy tale-like narratives about internal conflict between parents and children, religion,” he said. “A lot of Bollywood is based on love.”
Four years ago, a Bollywood film featuring a gay storyline, Dostana, was filmed entirely in Miami. But most Bollywood films frequently feature characters who are not specifically gay.
“In general, if you look at Bollywood historically, it’s hetero-normative,” Sheth said. “But there are definitely unmentioned characters that play parts in film that could be some sort of queer: A very effeminate man who could be a dance master. Or a very effeminate best friend character who is sexless.”
IF YOU GO
The “Mumbai to Miami” celebration will be hosted Friday, Saturday and Sunday by Lords South Beach hotel, 1120 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Events include a Lincoln Road bar crawl on Friday night, parties at Lords and Twist (1057 Washington Ave.) on Saturday and brunch Sunday at Palace South Beach, 1200 Ocean Dr. Visit lordssouthbeach.com for details.