Interview : Shazad Hai from Toronto’s ASAAP

Shazad Hai is the MSM Outreach Coordinator at ASAAP where he coordinates HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention based programming for self-identified South Asian queer men and is the lead on the “Colour Me Queer” project.

This year, Toronto and Chicago’s Pride celebrations did not overlap and I was able to visit TO in all its glorious gaiety.  At parties, the parade, and even on Grindr, I kept seeing these super handsome queer desi men who looked strangely familiar even though we had never met.  I realized that I recognized them from the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention’s (ASAAP) social messaging video Protect Your Love that was released earlier this summer (link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7G2LDY9flQ). I found the video charming and impactful and wanted to find out more…

I had the opportunity to sit down with Shazad, one of the actors in the video and a staff member at ASAAP to ask him more about the video, its making, and responses.

Shazad Hai is the MSM Outreach Coordinator at ASAAP where he coordinates HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention based programming for self-identified South Asian queer men and is the lead on the “Colour Me Queer” project. He facilitates ‘Dosti’ – a social support space for South Asian men and runs the group’s well-established online presence. He is a member of the Gay Men’s Provincial Advisory Body and participates on the Gay Men’s Sexual Health Summit Planning Committee. Shazad is also a founding member of ‘Rangeela’ a quarterly event for queer identified South Asians, profits of which are donated to various local and international non-profits.

 

Q: Who came up with the idea for the video? And what was the intention behind it?

S: It was an ASAAP volunteer, he’s in media and production and stuff like that.  It was meant for a queer South Asian audience.  The creator’s intention was to take a step away form the overtly sexual messaging that focuses on fucking, and go back to the more traditional lovey-dovey Bollywood thing to connect with a queer South Asian audience.  From what I’ve found, a lot of guys have a heightened need to stick to tradition; they feel like, “I’m already gay, I’m different,” so there’s this need to hold on to these ideals and traditions not appear so different.  We just wanted to bring people in using those love scenarios, to connect with that audience.

Q: Did he script the whole thing?

S: Yeah.  He storyboarded it and got all the actors…

Q: What was filming like?  Was it all done at once?

S: He scheduled it, different people, different days, different locations.  It was very much a professional thing, he had a crew and all.

Q: Was it funded by anyone?

S: ASAAP funded it essentially.

Q: How’d you get the word out?  Where’d you circulate it?

S: Different blogs were contacted beforehand and we sent it out to different networks and lists.  It made it to some really awesome blogs… because there’s not really anything like it!

Q: Why not?  Why haven’t other south Asians been making stuff like this?

S: There has been stuff within the queer South Asian community in Toronto.  Since the late 80s there were different groups that started up: a group called Khush which helped create ASAAP.  Things would start up, people would gather resources, but then there’d be no continuity and they would die out.  There was a particular festival called Desh Pardesh—like an art festival: poetry, performances, dancing.  But then that died out.  There just hasn’t been much continuity, things start up and die out.  You just have to pick it up again… people think this is something new, but it’s really not.

Q: Was the purpose to have an all South Asian cast?  Some folks commented to me that they haven’t seen South Asian men in the diaspora dating each other and felt it was unrealistic.  What is the dating scene like?  Do South Asians date each other?

S: It does happen.  They do date each other… within certain circles.  You don’t see a lot of it. Everyone’s different when it comes to whether they’re out or not.  Maybe they are dating someone but you don’t even know about it.  The reason we made that video was because there are a lot of guys who want that, and we get their attention this way.  But it does happen, there are guys who do date each other who are brown, there’s just not a lot of visibility.

Q: Were any of the cast worried about their own visibility or privacy?

S: No, a lot of them knew what they were getting into.

Q: Are a lot of them already involved with ASAAP?

S: Yeah, some of them were.

Q: Have you gotten any interesting responses?

S: People love it.  The way it’s shot.  It’s shot really well.  The message is really beautiful.  And it has that “awww” factor, like “aww, that’s so cute.”  It appeals to that very traditional side of things.  It’s had like 10,000 views now.

Q: What was your experience filming it? Being on set?

S: That was interesting, I did the sex scene, so that was interesting… when they try to script sex scenes (laughs).  They say, “So can you do this and this and this?” and you can’t really… you just have to just go with it, let it flow naturally.  So the director’s like, “I want you to do one kiss here, and then I want you to flip him over,” and I was just like, “Oh my god!”  Sex scenes, if they’re that scripted they’re kind of hard to do.  Eventually, you add your own little spin on it… but it was fun.

Q: All the actors were volunteer?

S: Yep.

Q: Has it had any negative reactions?

S: There’s been some negative reactions, but it goes back to associating it with HIV.  People are like, “The video’s really great, but it just reinforces the belief that if you’re gay you’ll get AIDS.”  It still leads back to the whole pairing the HIV with being gay

Q: How did you get involved in HIV prevention work?

S: I just saw the posting for the position of this job.  What I liked about it, it had to do with working with queer South Asian men.  I found it really awesome that there was something like that.

Q: Did you have a background in social work?

S: My background is in communications, The cool thing about this position is that it’s open and creative and you can do a lot of things with it in getting the message out to gay men.

 

About the author

KareemPuff

Academic, activist, artist. Believes in glitter, neon, paisleys, sequins, mehndi, mohawks, dessert, materiality, and feelings. Abstract, but not obscure.