Since its founding, SAJA has been, more than anything else, about the journalism, and stuff like the truth. But it's also been about trends and representation, and about sexy, and to that end we've asked Saroosh Gull, publisher of DesiClub.com, to elaborate on his Sexy South Asian Girls 2007 Calendar. The calendar has been selling for $14.95 online, and features Anjali Bhimani, who acted in the Broadway run of Bombay Dreams, as well as Mariyah Moten (the cover girl), who won the Miss Pakistan Bikini title. The calendar's launch party is today in New York.
A press release on the DesiClub website plays up the potential for controversy:
"The calendar itself is not without controversy. The cover girl, along with several other models in the calendar are of muslim background and posing in bikinis has caused quite an uproar in some communities."
Tell us a little about this calendar. Has anything like this been done before? Who's funding it?
SAROOSH GULL: Well, the idea was there for some time about doing something new and edgy but it wasn't until my co-publisher, Ojas Vaidya, pushed the idea on me by starting the initial model search. And no, I am very proud to say that this has indeed never been done before in North America or the UK. The only other calendar showcasing South Asian (Indian) models is the Kingfisher calendar, which is far more conservative and is based solely out of and for India. This is being funded by myself and Ojas Vaidya. We also have some great sponsors on board.
What kind of distribution do you have in mind? What's your print run?
We printed an initial batch of 20,000 and after a few weeks of selling it exclusively on DesiClub.com, we have a little more than half left, which we plan on distributing at various launch parties and for promotional purposes - as was our plan. Its a great tool for our brand so sales weren't the only catalyst. We do however plan on having a non-exclusive distribution channel in place for the 2008 calendar, which will make the calendar available in mainstream retail outlets and other websites.
These women - how did you find them?
We found all of our models by doing a model search on our site, DesiClub.com, and by utilizing our relationships with key players in the South Asian-American scene. It wasn't easy finding 12 Desi girls who wanted to pose in Bikinis, but we actually found 17, of which only 12 made it to the calendar.
Given that this is a desi calendar, you could've dressed your models in, say, salwar kameez. But you chose bikinis instead. Why?
I don't think anyone wants to see South Asian models in salwar kameez, that's been killed and killed again by the existing fashion outlets, who do nothing but the same thing over and over again. That was also part of the reason for doing what we did, to showcase South Asian women in a way that they have never been shown before. It puts a whole new perspective on South Asian-Americans being in the mainstream and not repeating the cliched Indian fashion look of saris and salwar kameez - not that there is anything wrong with that but we wanted to project an American look and that is what we accomplished.
Were there any decisions you made to scale down the sexy factor, given the audience?
Not at all. But in directing the photo shoots, there were times when I did have to scale things back a little, but only for artistic reasons. I don't think the calendar is overtly sexy, it has a good blend of sexiness, but does not cross any boundaries that have not been crossed in the mainstream.
You say the calendar isn't 'overtly sexy.' But isn't it? Would it be unfair to some of the shots are inspired by porn, as mainstream as some porn imagery may be? Most of the shots are more risque than what you'd find in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
I do not think it is overtly sexy - it is nothing more than what you see on MTV or VH1 or any Network channel at any given time. We could have done something more conservative, but then what would be the point of that as our main goal was to bring South Asian models into the mainstream and by maintaining a conservative concept, it really would not be introducing anything new and it most certainly would not have the impact that this is having on getting notoriety for the models and for the project itself. While we did maintain an edgy style - it is nothing beyond mainstream publications MAXIM or FHM or network TV for that matter.