“Jesus Christ, this is a hot mess.”
I turn towards my friend and am about to reprimand her for taking the Lord’s name in vain when I am practically accosted by somebody dressed like a Japanese schoolgirl. After I am done disentangling myself from the ribbons and such, I turn my attention towards the mess my friend is talking about. The sight before my eyes is one to behold. We are at a club in Delhi, which is a well-known party space for the LGBT community. Three drag queens are grinding against a male stripper while another shoves his head under the stripper’s crotch. This is my friend’s first time at a gay party and she is watching things unfold with equal parts excitement and befuddlement.
“I enjoy the attention, actually. I mean, there’s a reason I work out so much, yes?” Rahul (name changed) tells me, when I catch him outside the club, smoking a joint. He’s just taken a break from the grinding and stripping and is inhaling the sweet aroma of THC. Rahul works as a waiter by day and, two days of the week, he moonlights as a stripper at one of Delhi’s posh clubs. I ask him about the weirdest request he has received till date.
“This dude wanted me to pee on him. That was pretty weird,” he tells me. He passes the joint to me, but I decline and head inside to find my friend drowning in vodka. But that’s a story for another time.
Male strippers are one of India’s best kept secrets. In fact, one quick search on JustDial is enough to reveal a plethora of men who are willing to dance and entertain in their birthday suit for money. Then there are the ones that you cannot find on JustDial but can only access via referral, i.e. if a friend/acquaintance has enjoyed the stripper’s services, they can connect you to them and that’s the only way you can hire them for a performance.
“It’s kind of a weird experience. We wanted to book a stripper and we got some random contact through friends of friends, and he was this gay Arabic dude, who was really hot but quite effeminate. He said he would charge about 35 thousand rupees for a night for four people to watch and we were like ‘Oops no. Too expensive.’ I was in my 2nd year of college,” a friend who is now a celebrity manager tells me when I enquire if she has ever tried to hire a stripper. Another recounts a story about two men who dressed as cops (cliché, much?) and danced for a friend’s 30th birthday party. The strippers charged 10 thousand rupees per person for a two-hour performance.
Aatif (name changed) is a handsome IT professional. He took to stripping (and escorting) because the money involved was crazy. “I earn about 40 thousand rupees a month at my job but can make up to five thousand for an hour when I strip. I charge about seven thousand if they want to fuck,” he tells me over the phone. There are many in the city like Aatif who mirror his sentiments.
But how does he find his clients, I ask.
“Grindr,” he says, in a tone that implies I’m dumb for even asking such a silly question. Of course, there is no shortage of men who ply their wares — so to speak — on the gay dating app. A majority of them in Mumbai are aspiring actors and models who came to the city with big dreams but are now crippled by financial struggles. However, this is no sob story. The guys I spoke to saw no fault or felt no guilt in hooking up or stripping for money. The demand for strippers, male entertainers and escorts is a common feature on gay dating apps, and people are ready to pay big bucks for it. For heterosexual women, the avenues of finding quality male strippers in this country are quite slim. Tinder doesn’t help (and is honestly, not the space to find such services) and most women are wary of inviting strangers over to their houses or parties for a service that is sexually titillating. That’s why referrals is the only option for them. Unlike the systematic concept of strip clubs and stripping services abroad, India sees it as foreplay for paid sex.
“If you’ve got it, flaunt it,” one of them told me. There is a famous stripper-cum-escort from Hyderabad who took to the profession because his mother was ill. He is thick in all the right places and muscular to boot. He asks me if I want to hire him but I decline. “I am a straight guy. I started as a gym trainer but the salary was too low. Then, some photographers recommended modelling to me and I did a few shoots. People started making offers of sex for money,” he tells me, adding: “My first customer was a rich housewife. She paid very well.” I ask him how he got into stripping and escorting for men. “My mother has a medical condition and the hospital bills were very high. One male doctor wanted to hire me and I’d never thought of doing it with a man, but I was ready to give it a shot. We can do anything for our mothers,” he added. He typically charges eight thousand rupees an hour for his services which range from stripping and lap dances to sex.
From what I gather from my conversations with a majority of male strippers in India, stripping and escorting go hand in hand. There are some who don’t cover all the bases but are okay with engaging in fellatio. There is one who is okay with the client feeling him up and giving him a handjob — he refuses to go further than that.
Then there’s RJ and SS — two extremely muscular and good-looking male strippers with impressive packages. I met them through Inder Vhatwar, one of Mumbai’s premier party planners. Vhatwar knows where all the happening parties are and hosts a few of them. He appears to have become the Cher to SS’s Christina Aguilera (that’s a Burlesque reference, guys). “He’s mentored me and it is because of him and my friend that I got the confidence to become a stripper. I view it as an art and see it as no different from any other dance form,” SS tells me, when I meet him for a quick chat. RJ and SS are hoping to take male stripping to the next level in India, with the help of Vhatwar and the flamboyant Keshav Suri, the boss man of the LaLit group of hotels. I need to ask if they are gay because the duo primarily perform at LGBT parties at Kitty Su, The LaLit’s renowned safe space for the community. While RJ says he is straight, SS doesn’t give me a direct answer.
RJ’s family has no idea that he is a male stripper, they only know that he is a dancer of sorts and performs at the club. SS’s family, on the other hand, found out about his profession and he was thrown out of his house.
“My sister was crying and my mother kept saying “don’t we have enough money, why do you need to do this?” SS tells me. “It took me days to convince them that it is just another art form and that it’s not ‘skin show’ or prostitution,” he adds. RJ and SS are very comfortable with each other, I find out, as they rub body lotion on each other’s bodies and writhe on the dance floor while the disco lights shine down upon them. The whole performance is sexy, the guys are professionals at it and, surprisingly, do not look cheap. Vhatwar tells me that the strippers often perform in underwear that barely leaves anything to the imagination. “But they are in the shortest shorts I’ve seen,” I say, looking at the skimpy black and red undergarment that is doing a poor job of hiding their modesty. Vhatwar reminds me that while I might find this risqué enough already, these guys actually perform in a room full of horny drunk men spraying them with alcohol enthusiastically, wearing nothing but a thong.
Vhatwar, Suri and the LaLit group take great care of their strippers with bouncers standing a mere foot apart when the boys perform for a packed audience. If a patron tries to touch them, the strippers just have to look at the bouncers and the patron is whisked away. RJ and SS make about eighty thousand rupees per month from five performances of 15 minutes each. For private hen nights and bachelorette parties, the price starts at fifteen thousand rupees. “Some don’t even want us to strip, they just want to talk and have the boyfriend experience. We don’t charge them much for that. The weirdest thing I faced was when a man wanted me to strip for his wife while he sat and enjoyed the show,” RJ tells me.
Sandy is a major fitness influencer on Instagram. “For you, it’s only twenty thousand rupees,” he tells me with a wink. He’s hot and I’m tempted, but then I remind myself that I’m not a sheikh. Reluctantly, I turn the conversation to other things like: “Why did you start stripping?” “Does your family know?” “What’s the weirdest request you’ve received?” “If you don’t mind, can I ask what you charge usually?” “Woah, slow down, babe,” he tells me with a laugh, adding: “You need to chill. Want a massage?”
This conversation is going nowhere, I think, but then Sandy sighs and starts telling me his story. He was a gym trainer and that job didn’t exactly pay much. He hooked up with a male client once or twice and got paid handsomely for it. Since then, this client has hooked him up with a bunch of his female friends who regularly invite him over during their parties to add that “extra something”. He charges around thirty thousand rupees for fifteen minutes of stripping and is happy to give a “private performance” for one lucky lady inside a closed room.
He also connects me to Ricky (name changed), a male model who seems to be doing quite well considering his face is plastered on multiple billboards around Mumbai. He earns around two lakhs for a look book itself and has shot with some highly famous photographers for reputed magazines. However, he tells me that he took to stripping because his lifestyle demands it.
“You’ve got to look and act the part of a famous personality for people to take you seriously,” he tells me via direct message on Instagram. “These vacations and this skin don’t come easy, baby,” he adds.
“So . . . anything else?” Sandy asks as I pay the bill and prepare to leave the café where I met him. For a second, I’m confused and refer to my notes to check if I’ve missed out any question. He rolls his eye and ruffles my hair. I see him making eyes at someone.
“If that’s all, I’ve got to go. I think I just spotted a client,” he smirks and heads towards the far end of the café where another man looks him up and down and smiles.
(Image Credits: Chinmay Dhayalkar)