Sunday, August 30, 2009

In the pink of wealth

In the pink of wealth

By: Hemal Ashar


Date:  2009-08-30


Place: Mumbai

Entrepreneurs are tapping into the gay market, realising the power of the pink rupee client

The reading down by the Indian High Court of Section 377 that criminalised homosexuality, is proving to be the proverbial wake-up call for the desi entrepreneur. The Indian businessman may be opening up to the growing power of what Vivek Anand, trustee, Humsafar, who is also on the advisory board of the gay community magazine Bombay Dost, says is the power of the "pink rupee". Adds Vivek, "Gay money power is called the pink dollar in the US and here, it is the pink rupee." Incidentally, even the rainbow is associated with the gay community, with the different colours standing for diversity.

Niche magazine launched for gays

The re-launch this year of Bombay Dost, which has arisen like a phoenix from the ashes of its financially troubled past, shows that think pink may become a savvy business mantra. Nitin Karani, editor at large for the magazine that has two issues a year (one issue priced at Rs 150) says, "The magazine closed down seven years ago because of a financial crunch. This time, we have seen money from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and have to make it financially viable in some time. There is greater acceptance, but challenges like gays afraid of ordering the magazine at home and reluctant to go and buy a copy from stalls do exist."

Hard-selling to gay clientele
Vivek says, "Corporates are realising that the purchasing power of a single, gay person may be much more than a married man with a family. Lifestyle stores, music outlets and clothing companies are becoming aware that there is a 'pink rupee' market out there. In three years, Bombay Dost should become financially viable."

Serious gay-themed movies have a market
More filmmakers are exploring the gay theme in different ways. Earlier, films with alternate sexuality themes fell into parallel cinema or were festival films, but now, several are theatre releases. Shamim Sarif's I Can't Think Straight, a movie about two women in love, will release in theaters on September 11.

Actor Deepti Naval has directed a movie called Do Paise Ki Dhoop, Chaar Aane Ki Baarish about a gay lyricist (Rajit Kapur) who has left his boyfriend (Milind Soman in a cameo), an ageing prostitute (Manisha Koirala) and her physically-challenged, in a wheelchair son. Professor N Sardesai, who is on the censor board, says the film is excellent and has been "passed with no cuts but with an 'A' certification."

Nightclubs catering to gay party-goers
Vikram Doctor of Gay Bombay says, "Party venues may still be reluctant to be identified as gay spaces, but currently at least four nightclubs in Mumbai do host regular gay parties."  Just a few years earlier, Vikram claims, "Places that were going to close down like the now-defunct Velocity and Mikanos, used to be gay party venues. Now so many clubs and nightclubs are more gay-friendly, because of changing attitudes but yes, it makes business sense too."

Sperm banks come of age
Even that entirely serious business of procreation may be eyeing the homosexual bank. Says Dilip Patil, managing director of the sperm bank Cryos International, India, "The cost for using services of sperm/egg banks differ. Yet, the average cost of one frozen sperm sample (for the recipient from an international standardised sperm bank like Cryos) would be around Rs 3,500 and that for a batch of donor eggs would be about Rs 1 lakh."

Though no figures are available, Patil adds,  "With more gay couples making their relationship public due to favourable legislation, we expect more of them to come forward to get samples from our bank. Enquiries post the reading down of Section 377 have increased, though not all have translated into homosexuals availing of the facility."

Advertising gets into the mood
The advertising world is feeling the pulse of the market too. Amul butter, that quirky, amusing barometer for all things Mumbai-centric, had an advertisement showing the Amul girl mascot offering buttered slices of bread to two girls. The caption: 'Out of the closet, out of the fridge' shows its support to the recent change in the law.

The pink fridge and the rainbow colour background of the July 2009 hoarding are self-explanatory.

A year ago, Virgin Mobile had an advertisement in which a girl manipulates her parents to say yes to her going on a picnic to Goa with boys, by making them paranoid that she may be a lesbian. The ad can be construed by some as homophobic, but the point is that the homosexuality theme was touched upon. A bus stop near the Nehru Planetarium and old Lotus theater in Worli advertises Absolut. While there is no overt reference to any gay theme, the rainbow-coloured line and the slogan: 'In an Absolut world, everyone is equal' may be open to interpretation.  

Globe trotting greenbacks, a website created by Delhi-based fashion designer Sanjay Malhotra, which offers customised tours for gays across the country, may be breaking new ground in the Indian travel industry. Recently, a clutch of travel professionals attended a course at the Shreyas building in Babulnath, on new trends in the industry, where teachers spoke about gay tourism as a future avenue. An online store called Azaad Bazaar aimed at the gay community, went 'live', a little before Mumbai's Gay Pride march.

The money, honey 
Perhaps the most visible manifestation of the growing gay market is the Gay Pride also called as the Queer Azaadi March (QAM) which took place from August Kranti Maidan to Chowpatty on August 16, 2009, like last year. Says Vikram, "Gay Prides are commercialised in Western countries. Sponsors may line up here too in the future, but not everybody thinks it is a good idea to become totally commercialised. I am worried about people piggybacking on the community."

Chayanika of the Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action (LABIA) group says, "Commercial sponsors may use overt controls like what we can say and can't during Pride. Some times, the product that sponsors a Pride or a gay initiative may promote an event or push a line that is contrary to the statement we are trying to make. There may be a conflict of interest."

Wake up, and...
It is not just fashionable or politically correct to be a gay rights supporter, it might make good business sense too.  During this year's general elections, a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons met with political parties in Mumbai to highlight their issues and emphasise their power as a vote bank. Activist Ashok Row Kavi had then said, "We are 45 million across the country, they (the political parties) should notice us."

It is a statement that has started to find resonance in the commercial sphere as well.




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