Take an auto rickshaw to Mumbai’s upper-west suburb Andheri. On Linking Road, just before reaching Infinity Mall, make a right on a “choti gali” and go to the building at the end of the street. On the top floor is Apicius, a chic, scenic venue where Mumbai’s premier, queer-oriented open-mic will be taking place. Meet the event’s anonymous organizers: Modern-day business managers by day, and LGBTQ activists by night, “Sherlock Homo” and “MJ” lead Mumbai’s effort in promoting free-speech and equality vis-a-vis their edgy, open forum-style website Gaysi: The Gay Desi. Today, they’re managing “Dirty Talk,” a live, open-mic featuring a diverse array of musicians, comedians, writers, and artists, with radio host sensation Rohini Ramnathan as the MC. As the name suggests, Dirty Talk has developed a reputation for crossing boundaries of all kinds:
In Mumbai, open-mic events come few and far between. Over the years, they have also been associated with the literary scene and/or attached to traditional feminist activism, more akin to, say, an episode of Portlandia, as Sherlock insinuates. Through Dirty Talk, Gaysi is trying to break the open-mic mold by providing a platform for artists from backgrounds of all kinds to deconstruct and redefine the status quo of acceptability. Unapologetically raunchy, subversive, and offbeat, the Gaysi girls encourage “Dirty Talk-wallas” to let down their hair and say what they want to say, “so long as they don’t offend anyone.” (That is, of course, up to viewers to determine for themselves.)
Part of what makes Dirty Talk so cutting-edge in India, is its ability to sell the unsellable. I think that largely has to do with the package their “product” comes in, and the trust that people instill in the organizers and communities that support them. Dirty Talk provides the space within which people are allowed to “come out” of their hiding places to voice their thoughts, free of criticism and conjecture. Dirty Talk audiences are free to accept or reject what they see in front of them, so long as they make a concerted effort to put aside their own personal boundaries of acceptability. That seems to be the only rule.
Not to get too jargony, but here it goes: Ideally, the Dirty Talk as an event signifies a performative break-through of the societal restraints that normally suppress individual thought and action, pushing them into various states of liminality. “It’s our responsibility as artists to break through the mundane and reach people’s hearts,” as Hip Hop artist Manmeet Kaur says. “Through art we win hearts and heal broken souls. Through this we truly accept our responsibility as artists; We bless you all with eternal power…” In a way, Dirty Talk provides a modern-day sanctuary for identities, in their multitudinous incarnations, to be worshipped freely through subversive art.
Gaysi is trying to bring Dirty Talk “into the future” with more frequent open-mics in smaller, more intimate venues. Recently, Dirty Talk has also made efforts to project itself on the international platform. One of the more recent events (named ‘Dirty Talk: A Little Bit’) was organized at the behest of a(n unnamed) major media outlet from Great Britain who is producing a documentary about LGBTQ communities all over the world, featuring media personality Stephen Fry. Dirty Talk, along with other events and organizations in Mumbai’s LGBTQ scene, is expected to make its appearance in the film, which is set to release later next year. I had the good fortune of being invited to perform with my violin at the event. Yes, Mom, I am putting all those years of violin lessons to use!
Make sure to visit the Gaysi homepage for updates on future queer events in Mumbai.