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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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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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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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Join us in New York to launch our upcoming Elska Magazine issue (10) Mumbai

7pm on March 9, 2017 – BGSQD, 208 West 13th Street, Room 210, New York, NY, 10011

Mark your calendars and celebrate the launch of the tenth edition of Elska Magazine, this time dedicated to Mumbai, India. The founder of Elska Magazine, Liam Campbell, will be there to say a few words about Elska and talk about the experience of meeting and shooting men In India and around the world. Come hang out with us, ask questions, have a chat, maybe meet some boys… and pick up a copy of the latest issue. Free “Elska Mumbai” posters will be available to everyone who buys a copy from the Bureau on the night.

To join the event, click here: https://www.facebook.com/events/248825655541638/