As Dostana raked in Rs 36.86 crore in the first three weeks, and Rs 18-20 crore in the first weekend itself, Sumant Bhargav, Managing Director, Stargaze Entertainment is a happy man. In South Delhi’s posh New Friends Colony cinema hall Glitz, Dostana ran to packed houses. Dostana is still doing especially well in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, and upper middle-class families are flocking to the theatre as Bhargav shares, “It’s a hit and its business can be compared to that of Singh is Kinng for Glitz. And it’s the younger lot, in the age group of 20 to 40 that is the mainstay and adding considerably to the concession sales in terms of food and beverage items, which is great for exhibitors.”
Gays and people who are sensitive about the subject may not approve of the tone, but its success does bring to the fore emerging socio-economic paradigms of new India. We are referring to the positioning and display of the gay community from an item number to the central character of mainstream cinema and its wider connotations. Dr Deepak Mehta, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, observes, “Its potential is definitely going to increase in light of the fact that it is visible in mainstream media for the first time the way it is. Synergy between activism, media’s role and exclusivity in consumer needs which is obviously fuelled by the financial power of gay groups in India will bring sexuality to the arena of consumption and expression in a substantial way.”
With respect to ‘Pink’ money, though one can’t presently equate India with the West, but one cannot also deny its arrival, and potential. As Parmesh Shahani, author of Gay Bombay and Editorial Director, Verve, reasons, “Unlike India, people have to live by themselves in the West. The idea of self just isn’t so articulated, as self is a part of the larger community here. But now, there are these people who are moving out from the stereo-types, though consumption for them is still at a conceptual level. India is still taking tentative steps as one notices parties, there’s a queer line of T-shirts, queer friendly hotels, restaurants. But publicity is usually by word of mouth.”
In terms of their needs and preferences, Dr Puneet Dwevedi, Consultant Psychiatrist, Max Hospital, Gurgaon, explains that the desires and the drives of gays are as normal as any. The only difference is in their sexual preference. Once we understand this, we also understand that as in any relationship, there is an active partner (male) whose desires, wishes, fantasies, style of living and modes of getting happiness would be similar to a male and same holds true for a ‘passive’ partner whose wishes would be similar to female. In a gay relation, the ‘passive partner’ would like to dress up, would be more focussed on colourful wrist bands, and lots of tattoos to show of his beautiful body, would like piercing ears/nose etc in order to attract his partners attention. His clothes will also reflect change in the colour from a more sober to more flashy colours and make-up would be important for him and he would be going to the beauty parlours, taking care of appearance in utmost fashion. Similarly, the male or the active partner would like to be caring in a male fashion, his passion for manly clothes, bikes/ cars/ high style living with spending, giving him happiness might be able to define his financial habits and the couple will be very finicky and choosy about their brands.
In the US, companies like Volvo and Subaru are consciously tapping and targeting this aspect of the gay-lesbian market, and in the US alone the market is estimated to be roughly worth $660 billion in disposable income. Categories such as alcoholic beverages, luxury goods, entertainment, travel, financial services, automotive, hair and skincare, pharmaceuticals, and fashion are discovering a niche segment. With the recent news of bra for young boys becoming online bestseller in Japan making headlines, India does not look far behind. As Shahani adds, “In India I see small niche brands venturing into the market. Also the situation may develop as in the US, where a decade ago, being gay was considered hip, so there were many willing to patronise.” As Mehta corroborates, “In terms of production and distribution, the fashion industry will lead from the front in India.”
The spending potential also stems from the earning power of the community. As Dr Dwevedi elaborates, as they are generally ‘the double-income-no- kids’ group and if in a relationship, both partners are earning, which is more likely than in a heterosexual relationship (most of the researches show earning discrepancy in heterosexual relationship where man is supposed to be earning major amount and wife is dependant on him), then obviously the spending power is also more and so are the lifestyle options and better financial status. And thus spending on travel and entertainment increases substantially, as travelling entails not just spending time with your partner or in similar groups, but also probably it addresses the need of not being noticed in other places, which comes as an added advantage.
Owing to this, some industries in the US have tried to tap into these markets with specific advertising campaigns. American Airlines saw its earnings rise after formation of a team devoted to gay and lesbian marketing. Also according to a study published in The New York Times in June, gay and lesbian spending was expected to amount for $64 billion a year on domestic leisure travel.
Special gay events such as annual gay pride parades, gay festivals, concerts, dance conventions, sports meets, give a special boost to gay tourism. As gay tourism will catch on, it will have ripple effects on the Asian and Indian tourism sector and they too will join the party.
As www.utopia-asia.com, a website that conducts gay tours enlists India as a popular destination. According to the site, places like Chandigarh, Kolkata, Jaipur too have a vibrant gay culture and happening spots. In Delhi it mentions clubs like, Concorde, Kuki, Pegs N Pints as having exclusive gay nights and in Mumbai, Voodoo, thriving on the culture. Such exclusive sites and magazines dedicated to the community, are mushrooming around, are proving to be good advertising options to reach out to an uncharted market. As utopia-asia.com claims, ‘With three million plus page views each month, Utopia is the best way to promote your business or group to the economically powerful gay and lesbian consumer with a special interest in Asia.’ Delhi-based independent researcher, Himanshu Verma also agrees how the advertisers are now taking note of its potential and very quietly and subtly addressing this sub-culture.
In India, its early days for Pink Rupee, but yes it is knocking at the doorstep; also with India emerging as a favoured destination for adoption and surrogate births for gay couples, it would add a new angle to money matrix. As Professor Arun Kumar, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, adds, “In India the subject is still under wraps, but the dynamics will completely change once the legal issue is settled, and we will find middle class gays coming out of the closet. It is a commercially viable market and sooner than later manufacturers will sense that there is a segment in the market which differs in some ways, and they will not miss out on the opportunity to develop a tailor-made strategy to make moolah.” And designer Suneet Verma also shares a similar sentiment especially owing to the legal complications it entails.
Even though experts do not consider preference research truly representative of economic change, but the fact remains that some brands, products and destinations are definitely favoured by gays. And here will lie the potential and challenge for companies to cash in. As, activist Ashok Row Kavi confirms, after all, it’s about 26 million Indians that we are talking about here.
The power of pink
In the West, ‘Pink’ money denotes the purchasing power of the gay community and how it has traversed from being a fringe or marginalised market to a thriving industry, especially in the US and the UK. The Pink Dollar and Pink Pound are eulogised and targeted by many leading brands. Businesses especially cater to homosexual customers and their specific needs, which include restaurants, shops, nightclubs and even cabs. Worldwide, Pink money is valued in billions across a variety of sectors. On domestic travel alone the spending is expected at $64 billion a year in the US.