Gay nightlife as sociopolitical performance


Ishtyle follows queer South Asian men across borders into gay neighborhoods, nightclubs, bars, and house parties in Bangalore and Chicago. Bringing the cultural practices they are most familiar with into these spaces, these men accent the aesthetics of nightlife cultures through performance. Kareem Khubchandani develops the notion of “ishtyle” to name this accented style, while also showing how brown bodies inadvertently become accents themselves, ornamental inclusions in the racialized grammar of desire. Ishtyle allows us to reimagine a global class perpetually represented as docile and desexualized workers caught in the web of global capitalism. The book highlights a different kind of labor, the embodied work these men do to feel queer and sexy together. Engaging major themes in queer studies, Khubchandani explains how his interlocutors’ performances stage relationships between: colonial law and public sexuality; film divas and queer fans; and race, caste, and desire. Ultimately, the book demonstrates that the unlikely site of nightlife can be a productive venue for the study of global politics and its institutional hierarchies.

Kareem Khubchandani is Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Tufts University. Khubchandani was awarded the 2019 CLAGS Fellowship from CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies for the Ishtyle manuscript.

Winner: Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) 2021 Outstanding Book Award

- ATHE Outstanding Book Award

Ishtyle captures the complex vectors of power—the hierarchies of caste, region, class—that mark the spaces of gay Desi nightlife, even as those who participate in these spaces challenge multiple meanings of normative national and ‘global gay’ cosmopolitan identities. Khubchandani’s own diasporic travels and trajectories are central, as he is both an astute observer and fully embedded, and embodied, participant. He is acutely aware of how gay nightlife spaces are sites of imagining otherwise, even as they are haunted by those who are kept outside its doors: the abjected classed and caste-inflected trans-femininities that are invariably denied entry. Khubchandani brings his own inimitable ‘ishtyle’ to existing queer, South Asian, and performance studies scholarship, and in so doing produces a deeply moving, eloquent testament to the laborious pleasures, and pleasurable labors, of queer worldmaking practices.”  
—Gayatri Gopinath, New York University 

- Gayatri Gopinath, New York University

“A flawless guide through the queer nights of the South Asian diaspora in the 21st century. Deeply attuned to the ephemeral signs of queer ishtyle—that accented, slightly-off style that marks localities, migrations, and fabulously failed assimilations—Khubchandani describes the gestures and encounters that bring diaspora into being on the dance floor. This is a vital work of performance ethnography, written with exuberance and love for the brown worlds it conjures.”

—Shane Vogel, Ruth N. Halls Professor of English, Indiana University 

- Shane Vogel, Ruth N. Halls Professor of English, Indiana University

 “A gorgeous, at times brilliant, ever stylish, fun, and surprising ethnography of queer desi nightlife around the world. . . . Ishtyle is original, well-researched, lively, and queer.”
—Naisargi N. Dave, University of Toronto

- Naisargi N. Dave, University of Toronto

"The outstanding feature of Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife is that it makes the subject of gay Indian nightlife in two interconnected geographical locations fully visible through an astute, engaging, theoretically sophisticated commentary and analysis... ...Khubchandani offers analyses and perspectives that are incisively original contributions to transnational performance studies and the field of Indian diasporic performance."
Modern Drama

- Aparna Dharwadker

"In each instance, the clarity of Khubchandani’s writing is notable. His ethnography skillfully laces vignettes and history, both personal and national, with a nuanced study of how gay nightlife reorients one’s performance towards a gayness that is de rigueur and a counterculture that hopes to undo it."
Journal of Postcolonial Writing

- Journal of Postcolonial Writing

"The sensorial richness of the book—its expert attention to the sonic, haptic, and affective textures of gay Indian nightlife— re-creates the feeling of the nightclub’s promises of fun, pleasure, and sex. Khubchandani’s evocative writing is a study in sensory ethnography, inviting readers to share in the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of gay Indian nightlife."
Transgender Studies Quarterly

- Transgender Studies Quarterly

"[Khubchandani]'s is a refreshing study written with verve and rigor that should be widely read and embraced in Asian American and queer of color studies."
Journal of Asian American Studies

- Journal of Asian American Studies

"Ishtyle reveals what has always been possible in queer nightlife: that the learned repertoires of pleasure can never be fully erased by catastrophic material conditions. They wait in abeyance until they can slip through hidden spaces and burst into fleeting spotlights, like they have always done. Reading this book brings us home to those dancefloors we may not have ever stepped onto, but of which we have always and already dreamed."
Text and Performance Quarterly

- Text and Performance Quarterly

"Kareem Khubchandani’s new book, Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife, is definitely one of a kind. It isn’t every day a book begins with a Spotify playlist with a song dedicated to you! In considered, elegant and playful voice, Khubchandani’s ethnography takes the readers on a journey across Chicago and Bangalore, where we encounter desi drag queens, queer activists, party revellers and socialite divas."
Asian Studies Review

- Asian Studies Review

"Ishtyle is an incredibly rich ethnography that explores different registers of visibility (abject/acceptable/desired), bodies, gender performativity, and the way non-normative sexuality is explored and experienced. ...While it may seem that nightlife as an ethnographic setting may be the most attractive field-site to consider, Khubchandani’s study makes clear what a productive space it offers to consider a whole array of questions ranging from gender and sexuality to race, ethnicity and the experience of migration/diasporic longing and belonging."
South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies

- South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies

Winner: Dance Studies Association (DSA) 2021 de la Torre Bueno Book Prize

- DSA de la Torre Bueno Book Prize

Honorable Mention: GLQ Caucus of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Queer/Trans Caucus of American Studies Association (ASA) 2021 Alan Bray Book Prize

- GLQ Caucus of the MLA and Queer/Trans Caucus of ASA Alan Bray Book Prize

"...from its impeccable, lush writing to its self-reflexive interrogation of what it means to become a desi drag queen or organize a queer Indian nightlife party where there was none, Ishtyle: Accenting Gay Indian Nightlife is an act of love."
Performance Research

- Performance Research

Honorable Mention: 2022 American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) Sally Banes Publication Prize

- ASTR Sally Banes Publication Prize

"[Khubchandani] is not a professional voyeur, peeking in with a heteronormative gaze just because queerness now seems cool and marketable. The knowledge he generates is possible only because of his unique vantage point as a performance studies scholar, a drag queen, and a transnational desi. ...He speaks of the gay men he meets from a place of “critical generosity.” They are not merely subjects to be studied. Many of them are friends, acquaintances, community members, and love interests. There is a relationship of care."
Hindustan Times

- Chintan Girish Modi

Read:Ishtyle reviewed in the Hindustan Times | 06/24/2021
WatchIshtyle Virtual Book Launch, moderated by Ramon Rivera-Servera | 08/25/2020
Listen: Kareem Khubchandani interviewed by Sneha Annavarapu about Ishtyle for the New Books Network - South Asian Studies I 08/24/2020
Watch: Kareem Khubchandani interviewed on Impact Duty | 08/08/2020
Read: Kareem Khubchandani interviewed by Josephine Tolin about Ishtyle for the U-M LSA Center for South Asian Studies | 7/14/2020
Watch: Kareem Khubchandani on the British Council India Instagram live broadcast, #PrideatHome | 06/20/2020
Listen: Kareem Khubchandani interviewed by Priya Arora about Ishtyle on the Queering Desi podcast | 1/22/2020