News / City Life

Meet the Londoner bringing Bollywood to the capital’s LGBT+ clubs

Ryan Lanji My London Story Hungama
Scott Chasserot

Feeling isolated on London’s LGBT+ scene by his South Asian heritage, Ryan Lanji started Hungama: a ‘big gay Indian wedding’ where everyone is welcome…

Growing up as a queer Asian in Canada had its challenges. It carried a huge stigma: in the South Asian community, having a gay son is considered an “error”. If parents find out their son is gay, they’re seen to have messed up. I came out when I was 19, and even though my parents accepted me, they told me: “We’ll get through this.” It still made me feel like my sexuality needed to be “fixed”, rather than it being a part of who I was.

I dropped out of university, left home and started to explore my queer side. At 22, I moved to London with my partner. But when we broke up three years later, I realised I didn’t have many friends in the LGBT+ community here. I started to immerse myself in east London’s queer club culture: a scene where I was one of the only people of colour. One night, I left a lock-in at 5am in tears, wondering why I didn’t belong. That was a turning point.

I’d always reminisced about the Bollywood music and films I grew up with. When I went out to LGBT+ clubs, I wanted to hear Bollywood songs that I’d danced to as a kid. On a visit back to Canada, I started listening to Bollywood music again, and when I returned to London, I thought: I don’t have to lose this. I can keep it. If I feel alone, then other people must feel the same. That’s where the idea for Hungama came from.

I decided to throw a big gay Indian wedding. The name “Hungama” means “chaos” or “bedlam” in Urdu and Hindi. My mum used to say it after parties, on the phone: “It was such a hungama.” One of my favourite Bollywood songs said it at the end too. I hadn’t thought that I could be both queer and South Asian, but the idea was to marry all the different parts of who I was together.

The first Hungama night in May 2017 was surreal. We decorated The Glory in east London like an Indian temple covered in marigolds. There was mehndi (henna), samosas and Bollywood drag queens. The queue stretched down the road.

Of all the thank-you messages I received afterwards, the most memorable one was from a man whose best friend was Asian. He said, “I wish he had had a night like this to go to – then he wouldn’t have married a woman. He could have seen that there was space for him.” That spurred me on. I wanted to show that Hungama could have a place in the LGBT+ community.

More than 200 people turned up to the second event. I played an old-school Bollywood song and everyone in the room was screaming and singing along to it. Someone stepped on to a table wearing this long, beautiful dress and started throwing it around everyone’s heads. In that moment, we were all united.

To date, there have been five Hungamas. It’s so rewarding to have created a safe space for Asians’ sexuality and culture to seamlessly coexist. The same goes for the number of people who now tell me, “I’m also brown and queer.” I hope Hungama leaves a longer-lasting impression than simply a place to go out on a Friday or Saturday night. I’m excited about what the future holds.’

The next Hungama is on September 21 at The Chateau, 29-33 Camberwell Church St.

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