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A great gift… with Faraz A from Mumbai

Faraz was the last guy shot for the Mumbai issue, although he was one of the first guys found for it. The thing is, he’s a really busy guy, very dedicated to making the first LGBT Indian silent film S i s a k. When we did finally get together, he helped make a perfect goodbye to Elska’s Indian adventure.

Faraz knows the city exceptionally well, and what I really mean is that he knows the best shops, the best restaurants, the best cafés, the best everything that the city has to offer. When we met in Kala Ghoda, I was at once in love and annoyed that I hadn’t found the neighbourhood sooner. He took me to this fantastic café where we had hot chocolate and some sort of ridiculously good cake made out of ground cashew nuts. Then he showed me around the rest of the area while I shot him, directing me to all the other places I’d missed out on and now wouldn’t have the time to see. In the end, Faraz gave me a great gift: a huge list of reasons to come back to India. One day I hope I will, and you better be there waiting for me, Faraz!

To see more of Faraz A and to read his text, pick up a copy of 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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Marathi Charm… with Anzie V in Mumbai

After I shot Anzie in my room at Abode Bombay we headed out into the neighbourhood for some street shots. Barely five metres from the hotel entrance, however, I felt a swift breeze sweep up behind me followed by a tap on the shoulder. It was a cop.

Only the second day in Mumbai and it was already my second (and not the last) run-in with the local police, who seemed to have a problem with a white guy toting a camera. And in every case dealing with cops, they didn’t speak any English. They didn’t (or wouldn’t) even speak Hindi. It was always Marathi, the local Maharashtrian language.

With Anzie, who fortunately spoke Marathi, he was able to get the cop off our backs. At first he wanted ID. Then he seemed to want to see a permit for shooting (which we didn’t need). Then he was just trying to be smarmy and obtuse. If it wasn’t for that Marathi charm offensive, who knows what would have happened to us and this issue?  

The dealings with cops aside, I realised that language has a big role to play in the local culture and hierarchy. Even name of the city was changed from “Bombay” to “Mumbai” in part to appease Marathi nationalism. But while the cops seemed to love speaking Marathi, our boys didn’t. Although most of the boys in the issue could speak it, none of them wanted to write their story in it. They all wanted to write in English. The only exception was from a boy who barely spoke English, though he wrote his story in Hindi rather than his native Marathi. It was like Marathi was something to be ashamed of, perhaps a sign of not being educated or being low class… I really don’t know. I tried to ask, but the responses I got never really seemed truthful. All I can say is that ten days in India isn’t enough to understand this place but it certainly makes you want to come back and get deeper.

To see more of Anzie V and to read his story (in English), pick up a copy of Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai (India).

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A Sari and a bindi… with Rehaan D from Mumbai

First of all, I didn’t ask Rehaan to put on a sari and a bindi. It was all his idea. And I didn’t ask him to mention dressing in “Indian drag” in his story, but he did. Nor by the way did I ask Colin C to wear lederhosen in the Berlin issue… do you think I wanted to get a complaint letter from some arsehole about how culturally it was inaccurate for a Berliner to wear them?! Chill the f*** out!

Now that my ranting is out of the way, I introduce you to Rehaan D. Our shoot together was one of the most interesting shoots I ever had. We met in Worli Tip, an extra colourful part of Mumbai set on a disconnected bit of land under the Sea Link Bridge. It’s an amazing place that you must see if you go to Bombay, but it’s still so undiscovered and hard to get to that the locals will look at you like they’d never seen a foreigner before.

Then we went to Rehaan’s neighbourhood, set in the Dadar Parsi Colony, almost next door to one of the world’s rare remaining Zoroastrian temples. I tried to go inside by the way, but it’s for Parsis only.

And then we were in Rehaan’s house, where he cooked us some breakfast and tea before stripping off for the camera… and then getting dressed up again in his grandmother’s clothes. His story, by the way, is in the form of a letter to her, and it’s one of my favourite stories every written for Elska Magazine.

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

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(This Is What An Icelander Looks Like… with FRIÐRIK Á from Reykjavík)

For the Reykjavík shoots, my assistant Andriy was in charge of finding the lads to be featured in the issue. Before meeting Friðrik, I’d only had a chat online and seen one profile pic. He seemed to have darker hair and complexion than most Icelanders I’d met, but with that very Icelandic letter ´ð´ (pronounced like the ‘th’ in ‘weather’ or ‘father’) in his name, I didn’t think he was anything but Icelandic. 

Having spent most of my life in a very multi-cultural place – London – where colour says nothing about your nationality, I took this same attitude to Iceland. Of course, although Reykjavík is much more multicultural than most people expect, it’s no London. Walking the streets in the city centre of the capital, you see a lot of races, but most of them are probably tourists. When you get out into the suburbs and villages, however, it all gets pretty white and blond. 
So when I met Friðrik in the flesh, I was dying to know his origin story. Yet it seemed so politically incorrect to straight out ask ‘why do you look like that?!’ He could have been an immigrant, I suppose, but when I heard him take a phone call, his Icelandic accent was so perfect that I was sure he was born in Iceland. And then when I read the story he wrote for the issue, his massively emotional relationship with nature made him seem Icelandic right to the core. I didn’t know why he had these sort of Middle Eastern / Indian looks, but whatever, I thought, this is what an Icelander looks like.

Eventually, however, I had to find out more, so we did a little interview that’s published in Friðrik Á’s very own dedicated issue of Elska Ekstra. He does indeed have ethnic roots in Asia, but his heart is truly in Iceland.

See more of Friðrik and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (03) Reykjavík