"In the face of homophobia, we choose to love defiantly"
Rangeela is home to the most elaborate LGBTQ+ Bollywood events in North America. They are celebrating the end of Covid-19 restrictions with the world’s biggest Bollywood Pride event.
As well as being a non-profit organisation, Rangeela have put on spectacular festivities honouring the Desi LGBTQ+ scene for over 10 years.
The platform has raised thousands of dollars for various causes. Their vibrant and unapologetic bashes ooze with magical performances and commemorations of inclusivity.
Rangeela are well aware of the strains that LGBTQ+ South Asians can face over their lifetime.
However, the colourful ecstasy and empowering togetherness of their events evoke the true essence of acceptance.
Likewise, they provide a safe space to praise this underrepresented community and commend the individuality of each person.
Filled with glitter, sultry bodies, bouncing bass and breathtaking dancing, Rangeela’s events are mesmerising.
They are now taking this same aesthetic and applying it to the biggest queer celebration of Bollywood in the world, titled ‘Sukh’.
As North America missed out on a lot during their pandemic lockdowns, Rangeela are making up for the missed joy with this party.
The historic Opera House in Toronto, Canada, will house a euphoric and multicoloured ambience across its 20,000 square foot environment.
It will be a playground of breathtaking balcony views, free flow music and fiery grooves. It was clear to see this from the promotion video that Rangeela released.
The production was draped in spellbinding colour as well as fetish gear, bridal lenghas and sparkling bindis.
It’s a fun and chaotic ode to the messy magic of nightlife and how Rangeela fuses Desi culture into the world.
Charting into a new future, co-organiser Waseem Shayk spoke exclusively to DESIblitz to talk about this incredible occasion, its importance and what it will mean for the future.
Can you tell us about Rangeela and the kind of work you do?
Rangeela is a Bollywood nightlife event for the LGBTQ+ community.
We host large-scale quarterly events, with audiences ranging from 500-900 people, making it the biggest event of its kind in North America.
There has always been a need for safe spaces for queer South Asians.
When you’re racialised and queer, you are marginalised both within the Desi community and within mainstream LGBTQ+ spaces.
But Rangeela’s inception was almost coincidental.
In 2010, when floods ravaged Pakistan’s Sindh region, displacing 20 million people, we were just looking for a way to fundraise.
What started off as a one-time fundraiser for Pakistan has resulted in 11 years of not-for-profit parties.
In the process, we’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for charities around the world.
These include UNICEF Canada’s efforts in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.
As well as the NAZ Foundations in India and Pakistan and the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention in Canada.
Can you tell us about the upcoming ‘Sukh’ event?
With ‘Sukh’, Rangeela turns 11 years old.
“It’s also our first Pride event after two years of lockdowns.”
It takes place at Toronto’s historic Opera House, with 20,000 sq ft of dancing space, and breathtaking balcony views.
And the fact that it’s hoping to attract almost 1000 people makes it our biggest event to date, and the biggest event of its kind in the world.
How does this differ from other Pride events going on?
Well, for one, Rangeela is one of those rare spaces, where queer South Asians aren’t a minority.
We’re also firm believers that niche need not mean small. Our culture is grand, loud and colourful – why shouldn’t our celebrations mirror that?
Our work over the past 11 years has been to elevate our production to a point where a queer, Desi event becomes the event of choice, even for non-South Asians.
With all the work we’ve done, when we look at our crowd now – we’re proud to see hundreds of people of all races vibing to Bollywood.
What have been the rewards/difficulties in organising this type of celebration?
The greatest reward has always been the people. We grew up as queer, brown kids wondering if there were others like us out there.
A party like this was beyond our wildest imaginations. Seeing this generation of young, Desi queers have a space like this is rewarding.
Seeing the joy in people’s eyes when they’re lip-synching to a Madhuri Dixit song at the top of their lungs is rewarding.
“Dancing, while surrounded by literally hundreds of queer South Asians, is rewarding.”
The flip side of it, of course, is the immense time investment it takes.
Being a volunteer-led event, it’s sometimes hard for us to justify the time it takes away from our families.
But if that’s what it takes to push queer, Desi nightlife forward, we’re game.
What was the inspiration behind the teaser video for ‘Sukh’?
We wanted to create something that felt like a time capsule of what it means to be queer and Desi in North America.
So there is a lot of reference in the video to queer history, and to Desi culture, and it all blends together in a strange but fun way.
You’ll see Tom-Of-Finland-Esque leathermen in bridal lehengas, poppers bottles hidden in jhumkas, pills doubling as bindis, a gender inversion in the filmi mujra trope.
It makes for a trippy visual, and yet there’s so much context to it.
How are you planning on making this a celebration of the Desi LGBTQ+ community?
You can’t have a queer celebration of Bollywood without the music, the production and the big choreographed number.
There will be that and so much more!
One of the things we always say is that we want attendees to feel like they’re the main characters in their own filmi story.
It’s one reason why we don’t use celebrities on our posters.
“Our job is to create the perfect backdrop for people to live out their Bollywood fantasy.”
So if you can feel that wind-blowing, 50 back-up dancers, love-at-first-sight waali feeling on the dance floor, we’ve done our job.
What is the Desi LGBTQ+ scene like in North America?
It’s growing every day, thanks to immigration, and evolving attitudes within Desi communities around the world.
We are a complex community of different experiences and traumas, and backlash is usually an outcome of past hurt.
When you’re creating a space that speaks to so many diverse people, you’re bound to have people who will disagree with your way.
In moments like these, you hold on to the love and the reasons why you do the work you do. It gets you through a lot.
What’s the best thing about being part of the Desi LGBTQ+ community?
I’d say it’s our strong sense of identity.
As Desi LGBTQ+ folks, we aren’t just products of what we were born into.
“Our identities are shaped by strong, difficult choices that we make every day.”
In the face of racism, we choose to celebrate our culture. In the face of homophobia, we choose to love defiantly.
We’re anything but basic.
As Waseem so delightfully tells, Rangeela is a tremendous team effort to showcase the spectacle that is Desi culture. Whilst allowing all those, whether South Asian or not, to feel welcome in celebrating it.
Although the platform puts on spellbinding parties, their work for humanitarian and charitable causes shows the extent and power of the work they do.
Waseem is helped out by fellow organisers, Shazad Hai, Siva Gunaratnam and Imran Nayani. Their efforts in making these events can only progress the community forward.
‘Sukh’ will be no different. With such a catalogue of performers, volunteers and guests involved, it’s sure to set the bar for Pride parties.
Bollywood flair, Desi colour, and classical dance all mixed in with a buoyant, passionate and jubilant atmosphere will culminate in the biggest highlight reel for Rangeela’s catalogue.
Check out more about Rangeela and the event here.
An Exclusive Reward for our Readers
If you want to attend the ‘Sukh’ event, you can use the promo code ‘DESIblitz’ to get a discount on tickets.
Visit the event website here and then when selecting your tickets, enter the promo at the very top of the screen.
*Please note this event is taking place in Canada.