Gundi Crush__6 March 2019
On a winter morning in London, Gundi founder Natasha Sumant sat down with Ryan Lanji, DJ, Curator and founder of Hungama- London’s Queer Bollywood dance party.
Ryan, hails from Canada and has been living in London for the past 10 years. We sat down with Ryan for a casual conversation about being a desi person in the fashion industry, third culture problems like changing accents and the importance of creating spaces like Hungama in a western dominated society.
Read below or listen to the full conversation here:
Ryan: I find you so fascinating because you come from India, then moved here, but the way that you speak. I don’t know-
Natasha: Yeah. Okay, so I’m gonna make a whole thing about code switching, because my accent moves-do you feel that? Like from moving from Canada to here? My accent moves from being american to indian, depending on the setting.
Ryan: I have impostor syndrome because in Canada, I am very articulate and eloquent. And it’s just something that I’ve had my whole life, but I also mumble. In Canada sound British, but in London, sound Canadian, and I never have a Canadian and a British person in the same room to argue that out, so I am always constantly trying to mark my territory, because I do sound like I’m from Canada. I never almost sound British, so like, my “t” has changed. I used to say boddle, and now I say bottle. And I have no control over that.
Natasha: No, exactly!
Ryan: I hate when it gets pointed out, because it reminds me of when I was in India as a kid. My nana and nanny would be like, “You need to speak more Hindi. Teach him more Hindi!” But I would try, but they would make fun of me for pronunciation. Then I would come home, and people would be like, “Yeah, you said tea party, party.” And I was like, “I can’t … I don’t know what I’m doing!”
Natasha: Yeah, exactly!
Ryan: I have trouble with this.
Natasha: Yeah, for me, it’s like some words come out differently. I will say, I think I was really insecure when I came to the states. I was 18, and I didn’t know anyone, blah blah blah. And it just made my life so much easier, when I felt my accent changing, I just let it change and didn’t correct myself. And Americans are weird about that like when you have a different accent they treat you differently. And that whole “otherness”, I didn’t want to deal with it. I already look “other” enough. So … I just said, “Fuck it.”
Photo by Lewis Edwards via Hungama's instagram
Ryan:Yeah, it’s so true. London is not like that, because we’re just like much more multicultural. Everything is really transient, so you can never expect that someone is going to be from here … it’s actually rare to find a Londoner from London.
Ryan: So you just assume that they come from somewhere else. It’s actually more insightful. At least people want to connect about it. Rather than like put you on a shelf, and be like, “Isn’t that cool that she’s from here? My mixed race friend!”
Natasha: Exactly. Oh my god, yeah. I had a whole awakening, like maybe when I graduated from college actually. I understood some things about race when I came to the States. Only when I had to work, and understood systematic racism, and had to apply for a Visa, and I was like, “What the fuck is going on? I have always been privileged.” And then I was like, “Oh my god, these are challenges that everyone faces, and I totally understand.
I went to Parsons in New York. I didn’t want to hang out with Indian kids when I was in college, because I didn’t want to be that Indian kid who only hangs out with Indian kids. And now, I’m just like, “Where are all those other Indian kids at?” I need my people.
Ryan: Yeah. I felt the same way. In high school I was the kid who basically could be friends with anyone. So I could be friends with the geeks who did math, I could be in the forest being stoned with the stoners, pretending, because I didn’t know how to smoke weed then … I couldn’t inhale all the way. I’d pretend to be high. And then I was hanging out with all the jocks and the cool kids, because I helped them with their homework, because the geeks helped me out. And I was never part of a group, so I’ve always had this floating feeling. And what I learned from it was that when I was in other groups, I realized how much more I knew. Like how the cheerleaders really felt. And how the jocks really … how insecure they really were, what the geeks were really aspiring to. And I’ve seen moments where I became a cool kid, and a theater kid, became a part of student council, and what the transitions were, and I was really fascinated by that, because no one really noticed that I didn’t have a membership card, or subscribe to a specific one. So I just always enjoyed it.
Natasha: And that’s what you’re doing with Hungama.
“Hungama just started with me just playing spotify at a gay club and its just grown organically.”
Ryan:Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Ryan:I guess so, true. Yeah, yeah, I don’t really try to define it, because I’m like if you can, then you put it in a box.
Natasha:Yeah, and I also think the culture that we live in right now, the whole tribalism thing, everyone is putting each other in boxes in some way. Yes they’re trying to define their identity, but by doing that, they are putting themselves in a box, and there’s no melting pot. People are going to make mistakes, they are going to say the wrong thing. Does that happen at parties? That happens to me in the States where sometimes I’ll say the wrong thing, and I’m like, “oh my God, please tell me how to correct myself”.
Ryan:Yeah, that is a really great approach, because I’ve been in situations in the gay community where people will correct me when I’m speaking, and I’ve had to say to them, “I’m so sorry. But I’m not … it’s not coming from naivety, it’s coming from the fact that I’m Canadian. And in Canada, we respect everybody. And we’re not told to protect people because everyone is protected.”
Ryan:And for you guys to check me at the door confuses me, because I never thought I was unsafe”. And everyone is given that room for exercise and learning, and to make a couple mistakes, and have that not be held against them, because it’s a learning curve. And so, with Hungama, we have never had any issues with some of the major umbrella issues that are occurring in other lead subculture parties, because of the fact that everyone’s operating from kindness, and a like-minded position.
So Hungama, started with me just playing music on Spotify at a gay club, and then it’s grown organically. And it’s still so young, I’ve only been doing it religiously for like 5 months. Before that, it was just a year ago, I did like one party, or two parties. Now it’ growing month by month, and so far, the natural growth is just bringing more and more cool people in. Who are like you’re saying, people who where the other versus us. And so I don’t in any way, shape or form try to pretend like we are the first bollywood gay night.
Ryan:There is Club Polly, which has run for over 25 years. There’s Desi Boys, there are other nightclubs that have popped up but the thing that’s different is ours is public facing, is 100% at the junction of fashion, art, music. Because I feel like if you are colored skin, or if you are an other, or an immigrant, getting into the fashion, and music industry is very difficult.
Natasha:It’s so hard.
Photo by Michelle Baron via Hungama's instagram
Photo by Michelle Baron via Hungama's instagram
Ryan: Yeah, and so I wanted to create a space that empowered the other person. And then while they’re enjoying themselves about being free, and dancing, and using their photography, and the posters, and counting their work through Hungama, that you have the people I’ve worked with in the last ten years like stylists, art directors, milliners, set designers watching, and actually paying attention and respecting people enough to work with them.
So we have had a lot of great collaborators in the sense that we had models that came to Hungama working with fashion designers who were on schedule. And we have photographer who were like, “I really want to shoot this person.” Or musicians who are like performing, or down to performing now, doing an EP launches at the people. It’s just really great, because it’s created like a hub for everyone to just chill in.
Natasha: Yeah, I have a question … so you know how you were saying that people from the outside, because you created this space for the other, if you create a strong enough aesthetic, the outside will buy into it? I feel like that’s what Hungama is doing in a way.
Ryan: Yeah. Because the first one that we did, we had Max Allen decorate. And I think it was quite experimental. And I think this is like in 2017, in May. We had Paula Harrowing shoot the poster. We had Daniell Sallstrom do the makeup. Waj Hussain, he’s like an East London punk kid, a DJ and artist, Max Allen is a G. I think he’s one of the best visionaries that east london will see and he did the poster, we did it really quickly and then in the space I had samosas and jalebis, and performers, and I was paying homage to Club Polly by getting their drag queens to perform, because I didn’t know any at the time, and I was busy playing music that I wanted to hear. So, it was almost like a passing of the baton, where I was saying to the Club Polly crew that we see you guys and we’re giving you a space in East London, and we’re happy to celebrate, and I can take it from here. And then like the second poster for the party was super early 2000s, blockbuster Indian movie. Have you seen that?
Natasha: Yeah, yeah. I have.
Ryan: Yeah, we had Eman and myself in an embrace. It was very Shahrukh Khan, Dil Se, Manisha Koirala vibe, and like we’re trying to take it very sceney and discotheque. But then, because it’s happened so quickly now, we’ve actually just been like … using our tools that we have, like collage work, imagery of the people that around us. Creating mosaics of what’s happening in different cultures. The third Hungama I did in June, we had five polish club kids host the night and they are insane.
Poster for Hungama
Poster for Hungama
Ryan: They were like the Leigh Bowery generation generation come alive again.
Ryan: They host Ministry of Sound, and all these techno raves that go until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and they never go to sleep. They’re my friends and family, they care about me, I go on vacation with them, and I know them as people, and I know them as fun kids. They’re historical, and I was like I’d really love for them to be here and show people how to be liberated. And they came in and literally just turned the entire party, and it was so beautiful that it ended up getting the most press, that party, because their imagery was everywhere. It was so beautiful looking back now that by inviting them to be crazy, and be themselves,anyone else who was watching, all the Asians were like “I want to go to there”.
It was so great, and it looked like a Indian Studio 54.
Natasha: Yeah exactly.
Ryan:That was a night for us and we weren’t there. And so it just created this sense of FOMO that I could never have created.
Ryan:It was so great, and it looked like a Indian Studio 54.
Natasha: Yeah that’s kind of what I think of it as a little-bit, yeah.
Ryan: And just cause it’s a mash up of everything where celebrity doesn’t exist anymore. Studio 54 was famous because of celebrities, and it was because of gay people, and the mixture of those two. And now I kind of feel like the maker, it’s not the influencers, it’s not the celebs anymore, now it’s the ones who have the endurance and the stamina, and the ability to survive it all and vibe with it in. Because they’re the ones who have lived here to tell the tale afterwards, and so I’m not concerned with within the space now, it’s about who gets to tell the story later.
Natasha: Totally, and celebrities come from them so it’s kind of like … yeah whatever. But I mean I think people will remember how they feel at these parties more than anything else, and they’ll take that with them.
Ryan: A sense of joy and belonging is like the point of it. I think what’s interesting about Hungama is that it is a night that people come to just experience. It’s not necessarily a night that is … and it’s the same thing for everybody, as much as it can be. I think that I would never want to actively host a night that is in resistance to an opposite culture, because I feel like that isn’t forward thinking.
Natasha: No it’s not.
Ryan: It’s important to create a safe space and something that is your own, but I think it’s important for it to be an open door for everybody to learn, and see, and enjoy.
Natasha: Thanks so much! This has been so great, I’m going to turn this shit off now…..
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