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Cops… with Prabhat P

It was the third shoot for the Mumbai issue, and the third time that a cop came to interrupt our work. There was no reason for it, just a case of trying to assert authority, intimidate, and perhaps fish for bribes. In each instance, having a local with me diffused things, and fortunately no harm came, but it was frustrating. Prabhat taught me to just move along if a cop showed up, and to hide my camera when not using it.

When I was a teenager, I was pulled over by a cop for some traffic offense that I hadn’t realised I’d done. When I saw the flashing lights and heard the siren coming behind me, I kept pulling away, changing lanes to let him pass, not knowing he was after me. So when I did pull over, the cop’s anger was high. He wrote me a ticket and gave it to me with a big dose of profanity.

I decided not to pay the fine but go to court instead. The reason wasn’t to argue that I wasn’t at fault, but just to inconvenience the cop by making him attend court. Also, I wanted a moment with the judge and public to call him out for his bad behaviour. The cop was defensive, but the judge apologised on his behalf and slapped him on the wrist.

Since then I’ve not been good with the police, or with authority in general. Lucky for me, this was the last time that the Mumbai fuzz bothered me. One more time and I probably would have lost my cool and ended up writing this from an Indian jail instead of on my comfortable sofa with a cat purring on my lap.

To see more of Prabhat P and to read his story, pick up Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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Why we chose Bombay… with Saif G

As we come to the end of April, with a new Elska edition a week away, I wonder if we’ll ever get back to India for another issue. I certainly would like to return, but if we did , what city would be choose? To answer that, I’m going to go into why we chose Bombay in the first place and what other cities were considered.

1) Delhi – This is the city that most foreign tourists end up in, partly because it’s near the great Taj Mahal, and partly because its sister New Delhi is the country’s capital. But during our research, time and time again people told us that Dilliwalas are awful people – rude, arrogant and exceptionally superficial. I’m sure it’s an exaggeration and perhaps even plain wrong, but it was enough to put me off.

2) Calcutta – I’d always been intrigued by the Bengali capital. Perhaps it’s due to my Catholic schooling where every day we were asked to pray for the Pope and “Mother Theresa and the starving people of Calcutta”. Seriously, it was only ever those two my church focused on! Anyway, the feedback I had was that it’s an amazing city, but not one recommended for your first time in India due to the extremes of life here… so it was put on the shelf.

3) Pune – I actually got contacted by a boy in Pune wanting to be in Elska Magazine. I kinda fobbed him off, saying that I’d consider it if he could find some more boys to take part. To my surprise, he did. But even though 2 ½ million people live in Pune, I didn’t think that even a fraction of readers would have heard of it, so I rejected it for the sake of marketing ease.

4) Amritsar – Just when I was almost sure that Mumbai would be the choice, one of the boys who would be photographed for the issue almost swayed us away. Why? It’s ‘cos he said that the most beautiful men in India are from Punjab, and its most beautiful city is Amritsar. I was certainly intrigued, but with a small population (by Indian standards) of under a million, it seemed a risky choice. Plus, with nearly all of India’s actors and models from this rather light-skinned state, we’ve probably already seen enough from Punjab.

5) Mumbai – As the biggest Indian city, it seemed like a safe bet that we’d be able to find enough guys to participate here. Indeed two of the guys in the issue, Anzie V and Saif G, came to our attention before we even decided to come to India at all. With two guys under our belt before we even started looking, I was excited. So for those of you thinking it’s a waste of time to ask us to come to your city, know that we definitely listen to your requests, and like with Mumbai, we may even follow through.

To see more of Saif G and to read his story, pick up a copy of Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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I love you and loathe you… with Aarash K from Mumbai

I knew this boy was gonna be trouble before we ever met. When I first made contact with Aarash before my trip to India, he was totally keen on taking part in Elska but also way too casual about the details. When I told him he needed to write a story, the response was “no problem”; when I tried to schedule our shoot, he’d say “just let me know when you get to Mumbai”… I didn’t hold my breath, so when we finally did meet, I was surprised. 

Yet despite my worries, we had an amazing shoot. He took me on the back of his bike and rode me around his neighbourhood, stopping in loads of interesting spots. His district, Kurla, was a fascinating mix of old and new, decrepit and modern. One particularly striking sight was a landscape of still-empty apartment blocks lining a street filled waist high with rubbish (a local even stopped by thinking I was a journalist and asked me to please draw attention to the dumping). Another sight was an area of shops selling just car parts. And then another was a square of gleaming international office buildings (where we stopped for tea and cake). A truly mixed up sort of place, which I love. And then it was time to go back to Aarash’s place for the more intimate shots.

It was such a great day that my doubts about Aarash went away. And then I waited for him to send his story. And I waited and waited and waited. So long that I prepared an alternate version of the issue without him. And then, just at the last minute, his story came. Oh Aarash, I love you and loathe you at once, kinda like how I feel about Bombay!

To see more of Aarash K and to read that story, pick up Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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The boy looks pretty… with Sanky E from Mumbai

When this Elska thing started, I was open to shooting any guy. It wasn’t out of principal, but simply because I was too naive to think that one type of guy would be more marketable than another. Over time I learned both that certain types of men are indeed “better” than others commercially, but also that Elska’s decision to ignore that commercial fact was in itself a selling point of Elska. Yet when I met Sanky E for our shoot, I felt somehow uncomfortable. And even after the shoot, before even looking at the images, I told myself that I wouldn’t include the pics in the issue.

It wasn’t age, race, or body type, but rather style that put me off. It seems that I had a problem with the fact that he wore make-up. I’ve shot guys with piercings, tattoos, beards, bellies, even straight guys and trans guys… but suddenly I meet a guy wearing make-up and I’m drawing a line? 

But rather than accept my rejection of Sanky as some personal preference, I tried to think about why it bothered me. Honestly, as best as I can think, his make-up was a symbol of effeminacy that reminded me of my struggles with my sexuality as a young teenager. When kids in school called me ‘faggot’ or tried to mimic my voice, I did two things. First I withdrew to become a very quiet kid, trying to be invisible. Second I tried to butch myself up, teaching myself how I could walk and talk like a “man”. Needless to say, as I got older I thought I changed. That is until, I saw this Sanky with his preened hair, plucked eyebrows and beat face. 

So I  decided to just get over it and publish the images, ‘cos Sanky deserves to be equally with the other Mumbai boys. And, well, the boy looks pretty. Nothing wrong with that!

To see more of Sanky E and to read his story, pick up Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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Result!… with Jahan B from Mumbai

I met Jahan in the northwestern part of Mumbai, beyond the reach of standard public transport. So after I got the train as far as I could go, I hopped on an auto-rickshaw and told the driver where I needed to get. But he couldn’t understand me – I guess I was pronouncing the destination all wrong! So I called Jahan and handed the phone to the driver (a tactic I ended up using several times in Mumbai).

After about five or ten minutes I was dropped off in a busy market square, and I thanked the driver in good faith that he’d dropped me actually where I wanted to be. From there I searched to find Jahan, whom I’d only ever seen a couple pics of from his Instagram, but with all the crowds, it was impossible.  Then just as I was about to reach for my phone again, he found me. Considering I was the only white guy around, it was easy!

So we walked to his place, but since his boyfriend was sleeping off a hangover in the flat, we went to his roof to shoot before quietly entering the flat. We shot with tip-toes and whispers in the kitchen, the lounge, the bedroom… then coerced his bf to leave the other bedroom so we could use it instead.

I really liked Jahan, a super intelligent and sharp guy, the kind who will read this and tell me how I am remembering the details all wrong! I had a bit of time after we finished shooting and wanted to spend it chatting with him, but I was too shy to ask. But as Jahan walked me outside, he invited me to the beach. Result!  There we walked on the sand between calm sea and cliff rocks studded with couples making out. Another great Elska shoot with another great Elska boy, one that hopefully would turn into a lasting friendship.

To see more of Jahan B and to read his story, pick up a copy of Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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Centre of Attention… with Vinamra S from Mumbai

I hate using taxis. Even in a city where public transport is especially difficult and uncomfortable like Mumbai, I still stick to trains and my feet. But when it came to shooting Vinamra early in the morning at his place way on the other side of Mumbai in Mulund, I opted for an Uber. At least with Uber I wouldn’t get cheated and the driver would have my destination on GPS so I wouldn’t have to explain where I wanted to go and so he couldn’t get lost on purpose. Plus in India, Uber is really cheap, which doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, when the driver dropped me off, I realised that I didn’t have the full address. I was stood outside a mid-rise apartment block with no apartment number and my local mobile phone was out of credit! Soon, the sight of a white boy in this far-from-central location started to grab attention. One by one, men started to approach me to see who I was and what I was doing hanging around their neighbourhood. None of them spoke English so I just kept saying “Vinamra”, “Vinamra" in hopes one would recognise the name. Then I whipped out my laptop where I thought I had his instagram page still open… but I didn’t. By this time I had around ten middle-aged men trying to take control of the situation.

Finally a youngish guy came up asking in English who I was looking for. And fortunately this guy knew Vinamra and told me I was outside the wrong building! He walked me across the road, and just as I got to the main doors, Vinamra emerged, wondering why I was late and wasn’t answering my phone. 

Two lessons learned… 1) check your phone balance before you go out; 2) don’t expect to go unnoticed as a foreigner in India; 3) people in India will try to help you. Generally I hate being the centre of attention but in this case, it helped.

To see more of Vinamra S and to read his story, pick up Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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Chai… with Namit K from Mumbai

I met Namit K just after sunrise at a Starbucks next to Juhu Beach. I often meet at Starbucks, not so much so to get a drink, but more because they serve as recognisable landmarks, a more pleasant and less smelly version of a McDonalds that is available in every place on Earth. Anyway, we’d planned to shoot during golden hour, but since it was overcast anyway, there was no rush to shoot so we stayed for a drink after all. I got my usual filter coffee, but Namit just wanted “tea" which bizarrely Starbucks in India doesn’t serve. Yes, they sell English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Chamomile, and other bag teas, but not Indian “masala chai”. It’s especially odd since Starbucks in the West does sell a “Chai Tea Latte”, albeit in a very inauthentic form, but here in India they don’t bother. Anyway, I asked the barista to make something “like a chai” and he did his best, which Namit drank, I believe, out of politeness.

Anyway, after our drinks we walked along the beach and took some shots. Then we got in a rickshaw and went to Namit’s place. Once there we went straight to his roof to do some nudes with the cityscape around us. That was supposed to be the end, but Namit invited me inside for some real Indian tea, a proper “chai”.

We then sat in Namit’s bedroom while his mum prepared the most delicious and spicy hot cup of sweet, milky heaven I’d ever tasted. So amazing was it that I asked him to send me the recipe; as soon as I got home to London I was down in the Indian markets in Tooting to buy the ingredients. His mum’s recipe worked a treat… if you’d like the recipe, just pop us an email!

P.S. The book you see Namit reading in the picture is a photobook by Mitch Cullen, one of the photo-artists featured in this issue’s Elska Dehors section.

To see more of Namit K and to read his story, pick up Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).