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Meet Anwesh Sahoo: The man who shut mouths and dropped jaws!



anwesh sahoo portrait - the reel stars

Do you often find yourself in a dark place? Stuck confined in the depths of the closet? Then let anwesh sahoo story of courage, determination and fearlessness be the ray of hope, safely guiding you out. His story is sure to leave you questioning yourself (in the best way possible!). So, buckle up, as we introduce you to the trailblazer who single-handedly redefined norms and broke regressive barriers.

A childhood unlike the rest:

Anwesh sahoo was born in the temple city, Bhubaneshwar, in the small yet scenic town of Kaniha, on 4th July 1995. After 13 years, he moved to Noida for his schooling but let’s just say that it wasn’t easy on him. Anwesh always felt more drawn towards his femme side and when he started to express himself, the backlash he faced was absolutely traumatic, to say the least. He questioned his sexuality daily but soon found people inquiring about it even more. He mentioned having a very good childhood until he started middle school, that’s when things really went downhill and he faced terrible instances of bullying and mockery throughout his formative years, especially among peers and relatives.

Anwesh sahoo has always been brilliant and an absolute go-getter and this very attitude encouraged him to not give-up or succumb to the bullying. He used to study as an escape mechanism and immersed himself in his books, thereby drowning the constant taunts as he focused on acing his 12th Boards. Rightfully so, his efforts bore fruit and he scored a whopping 95% after which he sat for the National Institute of Fashion Technology’s exam in 2018. He secured an All India Rank 15, thereafter pursuing M. Des at NIFT, New Delhi. 

The courage to finally come out:

After flourishing academically, at age 16, Anwesh finally gained the courage to come out to his sister and that was the beginning of a new journey for him. With his newfound confidence, by age 18, he started to write a blog called “The Effeminare.” He used it as a medium to create awareness in India, hoping to successfully contribute towards combating homophobia while drawing attention to LGBTQIA+ issues.

Further, he wrote an article for Pink-Pages, a National LGBT magazine in India, called ‘Under the Lucky Star’. He used this article as a means to come out to his audience as well as his parents. His words set him free and he realised that now he not only enjoyed expressing himself through his blogs but could use them to stand as an inspiration and example, thereby impacting so many lives through his work.

From Darkness to Light: A Story of Couragepen_spark

Thus, later he wrote another article the following year for Pink-Pages called ‘Growing up Gay’ (yes, confident and to the point), where he wrote about how contrary to the common notions that people have, growing up gay in India isn’t so bad. Looking back, even he stands impressed with the courage that he displayed when he came out in 2013. In the homophobic world that he was surrounded by, he displayed the courage to fight for himself, simply because he knew no one else would.

Did you know that the one moment that changed his life forever was a bus ride back in school. Him and his peers were on their way to summer camp and he was treated in a horrible manner. His helplessness at that time kindled the spark that burns gloriously in him even today and it made him decide to strive to work towards spreading awareness about homophobia or at least creating a safe space for people who needed it.

The teenage struggle was real:

‘Privilege’, Anwesh comprehended the immense power that this 9-letter-word held very early on in life. Growing up in an Indian household, even having a conversation about sexuality or simple saying the forbidden word ‘sex’ out loud was considered a taboo and would definitely give him a taste of his dad’s belt, (in typical Indian parent fashion). The support that Anwesh receives today is the result of years of hard work and patience put in to achieve the same.

After he realised that he wouldn’t receive any support, he soon began working twice as hard and fought for every opportunity that came his way. As an adolescent Indian boy, his first reaction was instant denial, self-pity and confusion. He was soon a loner in school and soon, young Anwesh began questioning if it was even worth living? He started having concerning suicidal thoughts at the young age of 16 and the anchor of depression grabbed him by the leg, sinking him a little lower daily.

A Turning Point: Mr. Gay World India

The most important step towards combating an issue, is first accepting that there is an issue and lucky for Anwesh the acceptance came easily. He soon realised that these thoughts were not correct and he needs to pull himself out and get back on shore before he sunk too deep.

Of course, as a young queer boy, still questioning reality. Moreover, combating confusion and constantly in despair, he didn’t know how to fix his situation. That was when his love for books came to save the show, cutting the ties that bound him. He started surfing the internet and began journaling his thoughts and that was when he came across Robin Sharma’s, ‘The monk who sold his Ferrari’. According to him, Robin Sharma’s, ‘The monk who sold his Ferrari’, changed his entire perspective on life. He learned that prioritising himself was okay and he needed to save himself before anything else.

‘2016’, The Year that Changed his life Forever! :

As an adolescent, Anwesh did not focus on his beauty or looks as had other pertinent matters and responsibilities to deal with. Things changed during his 3rd year of Engineering, when he was crowned Mr. Gay World India at 20. Moreover, deeming him the youngest contestant at the World Pageant. His campaign called ‘fitting out’, gained widespread recognition that year. After being crowned, he became a part of the ‘50 shades of Gay’, campaign shot by Shubham Mehrotra and also featured on the ‘Gay Star News’ that year. Anwesh then was featured by ‘Deutsche Welle’, Germany’s public international broadcaster, wherein, he spoke about coming out especially in a Nation where homophobia is so prevalent and acceptance doesn’t come too often. (even homosexuality was illegal back then).

In 2016, he became the first contributor to the Pink Pages magazine that had featured on the cover page in it’s June 2016 issue. He gained massive recognition online after a video he shot with Gaysi called ‘Silly Questions Straight People Ask Gay Men’ went viral all over the internet and was subsequently featured on various Indian as well as international websites, including BuzzFeed India, Cosmopolitan India, etc. Later that year, another video of him belly-dancing to ‘My name is Lakhan’ went viral and popular websites like Indian Express, Story Pick, Queerty and Vegabomb reached out for features.

The Power of Self-Belief: Overcoming Challenges

The whole pageant process was strenuous for him, emotionally, mentally, physically and even financially as he had limited resources. Despite his means, he flourished where he was planted and secured a win. Winning the crown didn’t make things easier for him. Moreover, if anything it threw him into a whole new world of problems. Suddenly, his looks were judged and questions were raised on his eligibility to win the title. People picked on the color of his skin and his appearance became a focal point that exposed him to a lot of unnecessary back lash.

Even though it was perplexing for him, the hate acted as a catalyst for him as he reshaped the representation that men had, diverging from the conventional fair-skinned archetype.He feels safe and is extremely grateful for the community he fondly calls home. He especially credits Shushant Divgikr and Celina Jaitley who helped and supported him through this journey. At a time when being queer was ostracized, he was blessed to have good people in his life.

A Multifaceted Artist: From Writing to Visuals

One such friend even gifted him a hard disk filled with 100 queer film documentaries and shows. However, each of which he religiously watched and learned from. Another good friend of his back in Noida also made a difference by always standing up for him. Today, he writes voraciously, is a lover of old-school Indian art, music and fashion. Like most of us, he is a firm believer in practicality but a part of him loves living in a world full of possibilities, navigating life his way.

The very essence of his journey thus far, lies in the simple fact that he knew that his journey wasn’t going to be an easy one and yet he was courageous enough to take the first leap of faith and traverse on the road not taken. Ever since he started believing in himself, things started working out him. However, he believes that is the key to his success thus far. Despite initial struggle, his perseverance managed to pull him out of despair. Today, he is a beacon of light, providing inspiration to many!

His love for Art and Expression:

Anwesh began illustrating from the young age of 4 and later went on to pursue art professionally as a Visual Designer and Digital Illustrator. He has contributed notable artworks for Google, WhatsApp and Disney Hotstar, to name a few. Anwesh has always been down to earth and despite his glorious achievements. Besides, his artworks are a perfect display of his humility, simplicity and beauty.

He re-imagined the universe of Effeminare and ‘Patachitra’, which is an old Odiya traditional art form. Moreover, enhanced it with his creativity and opulent fashion references. Moreover, He added other elements that reflected the essence of Odiya culture like ‘Chilika Lake’, where he used to spend most of his childhood in the summer. He was also a part of Google’s ‘Search for Change’ campaign. Anwesh uses his art as a means of expressing himself and his thoughts. However, alongside trying to educate the masses on the pertinence of allyship.

He is also an eloquent orator and has spoken in over 4 TEDx events. His speeches ranged from expressing the need to break out of the gender binary. Besides, through which he challenged societal stereotype and other pre-conceived notions. Now, non-conforming to gender stereotyping and also simple things like developing confidence.

Finding His Voice: Embracing His Identity

As recently as 2022, Anwesh returned to the Ted X stage again and spoke about the extensive need for allyship and his personal struggles while growing up in India and ended the talk by urging people to stop judgement and unsolicited advice. He believes that once gender stereotyping stops in India. Moreover, all genders begin to receive equal opportunity, is when true reform will take place. He concluded by urging everyone to not be afraid of judgement. While expressing themselves and that this was also the true definition of freedom.

Acting was something that came naturally to Anwesh. He began by doing an ad film with ‘Kraftly’ in the year 2017. Furthermore, after which he did another one for the Indian Dessert chain ‘Frozen Bottle’. But it wasn’t until 2021 that he received his big break with ‘Dating these Days’ Season 2. Besides, for Bumble that released on Disney+ Hotstar. Thereafter in 2022, he grabbed another major ad campaign for Absolut Glassware. He has also modelled for British photographer Olivia Arthur for Magnum photos for a series exploring sexuality in Mumbai. However, India and this later was exhibited at the ‘Focus Photography Festival’, 2017 at Elysium Mansion, Colaba.

Pride Activitism:

His natural flair for writing has held him in good stead so far. Especially when he uses it as a medium to unapologetically express himself and inspire others as well. He also works as a freelancer for Swaddle, where he writes a gender issues and sexuality. However, took to the internet to write about his experience of being bullied for his looks and skin colour online after being crowned in 2016.

His article ‘The Problem with Stereotypes’ has also featured on DNA, India in 2017. However, he made an appearance on National Geographic channel’s ‘Explorer’ Season 10, episode 2. And that released on April 22nd May 2017. But it doesn’t stop here. Furthermore, on 6th October 2018, Anwesh became the first Indian who received the honour of the Troy Perry Award for compassionate activism.

Looking Forward: Inspiration and Hope

He organized Delhi University’s first Pride Walk in association with IIT Delhi’s Annual Fest ‘Rendezvous’. However, where he began to create awareness and spread acceptance about the LGBTQ community. He has contributed in every way possible and tried to make a change while positively impacting whoever he could.

His immense contribution and works have received tons of applause and appreciation. Anwesh Sahoo was also named as one of the emerging LGBT Role Models of 2016 by Indian Women Blog. He had the honour of sharing this prestigious award. However, with transgender rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and business analyst Himanshu Singh.

He has also featured in a social media campaign for the Delhi based brand Poem bags. Furthermore, was an ambassador for ‘Dance4Pride’ a dance event organized by Delhi-based organization. ‘Those in Need’ association with Scruff in April 2021. Anwesh has also been listed in Times 11 most inspirational LGBTQIA+ Indians. Moreover, along with others like Vikram Seth and Keshav Suri and featured in Vogue India 2020. Furthermore, in the list of 5 queer Indian influencers you should follow on Instagram.

Looking Forward with Anwesh:

Today Anwesh’s talent and hard work have shone through. He believes that being financially independent is extremely important especially for the LGBTQIA+ community. Besides, as they constantly strive to fight for the rights and opportunities that they deserve. That is one of the reasons why he is constantly grateful for the brands that continually stand by him. However, despite the backlash that they may face. Despite facing so much of bullying and trauma, Anwesh’s positivity shines through daily.

He believes that hope is as super power and he encourages everyone to hopeful, especially during adversity. His pragmatic attitude and quest for finding his true inner-self has led him to self-discovery, artistic expression and social activism. He is unafraid to fight for the rights that he did not receive and constantly strives to create an anti-homophobic. Furthermore, safe space for people part of LGBTQIA+ as well as for the ally’s who choose to support them. Through his work and determination, he has redefined beauty standards. Besides, broken societal norms and also inspired the queer community to embrace their identities with PRIDE!

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Vietnam is Paradise on a Budget for Indian Travelers



komal maheshwari in vietnam - the reelstars

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian gem that beckons Indian travelers with its rich culture, stunning landscapes, and delicious cuisine – all at a price that won’t break the bank. This Asian destination became one of the top-tourist destinations for Indians post Covid-19 and the hype doesn’t seem likely to die down anytime soon! Buckle up for an unforgettable adventure that’s easy on your wallet!

Here’s what you need to know to help you get started with your Vietnam itinerary; with some tips we stole from slow travel content creator Komal Maheshwari!

First, meet Komal! She’s a slow traveller who takes her followers along on her journeys on social media. This engineering graduate from Siliguri, quit her IT job to pursue content creation full-time and there’s been no looking back. She now has 53K followers on Instagram! If you’ve got the travel bug, follow Komal Maheshwari for some authentic travel tips!

Now, let’s dive into our take on what you can do to make your Vietnam trip a success, with some tips from this traveller!

Must-Visit Cities in Vietnam:

  • Hanoi: Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of Vietnam’s capital. Explore the Old Quarter’s bustling streets, visit the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, and delve into the city’s fascinating history at museums like the War Remnants Museum.
  • Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): Experience the dynamic heart of South Vietnam. Take a motorbike tour, wander through Ben Thanh Market, or visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and Reunification Palace. Don’t miss the Cu Chi Tunnels for a glimpse into the war’s complexities.
  • Hoi An: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a photographer’s paradise. Explore the charming ancient town with its colorful lanterns, tailor-made clothes, and Japanese Covered Bridge. Relax on the nearby beaches of Cua Dai or An Bang.
  • Nha Trang: Craving beach bliss? Nha Trang boasts pristine coastline with turquoise waters and soft sand. Explore nearby islands like Hon Mun for snorkeling and diving adventures.
  • Ha Long Bay: Embark on a magical cruise through this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Witness towering limestone pillars rising from the emerald waters, explore hidden caves, and discover a breathtaking natural wonder.

Foods to Try:

  • Phở (Noodle Soup): A quintessential Vietnamese dish, Phở features fragrant broth, rice noodles, and thinly sliced meat (often beef or chicken).
  • Bánh Mì (Savory Sandwiches): These delightful baguettes are filled with savory ingredients like pate, grilled pork, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs.
  • Bún Chả (Grilled Pork with Noodles): Tender grilled pork served over rice noodles with a sweet and savory dipping sauce is a must-try.
  • Gỏi Cuốn (Spring Rolls): Fresh rice paper rolls filled with vegetables, meat, or shrimp, dipped in a flavorful peanut sauce.
  • Cà phê Phin (Vietnamese Coffee): Enjoy a strong and silky coffee brewed with a traditional phin filter.

Experiences to Try:

  • Motorbike Tour: Explore the countryside or bustling cities on a motorbike for an authentic Vietnamese experience.
  • Cooking Class: Learn the secrets of Vietnamese cuisine by taking a cooking class and whipping up your favorite dishes.
  • Tailor-Made Clothing: Hoi An is famous for its skilled tailors, so take advantage of getting custom-made clothes at affordable prices.
  • Water Puppet Show: Witness a unique Vietnamese tradition where puppets come alive on water, accompanied by live music.
  • Kayaking in Ha Long Bay: Explore the hidden grottoes and emerald waters of Ha Long Bay on a kayaking adventure.

How to Plan Your Budget-Friendly Vietnamese Escape:

Wondering how to plan the trip and budget? According to @komalified, your budget could range anywhere between INR 25,000 to INR 70,000+ and it all depends on what kind of traveller you are.

Here’s how to can plan in advance, save some money and figure out exactly how much you’ll need! But remember, you should always carry a little extra, just in case!

  • Travel During Shoulder Seasons: Avoid peak tourist season (December-February, July) for better deals on flights and accommodation. Shoulder seasons (April-May or September-October) offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds.
  • Book in Advance: Secure flights and accommodation well in advance, especially during peak season, to get the best deals.
  • Embrace Public Transportation: Buses, trains, and local taxis are affordable ways to get around Vietnam.
  • Explore Street Food: Indulge in delicious and budget-friendly street food for an authentic culinary experience.
  • Accommodation Options: Opt for guesthouses, homestays, or hostels for comfortable and affordable lodging.
  • Visa on Arrival: Indians can conveniently obtain a visa upon arrival in Vietnam, simplifying the travel process.

With a little planning and these tips, Vietnam is ready to unfold its magic for Indian travelers seeking an unforgettable and budget-friendly adventure. So, pack your bags, open your mind to new experiences, and get ready to discover the beauty of Vietnam!

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Simple Yoga Asanas To Start Your Yoga Journey on World Yoga Day



Yoga Asana - The Reelstars

Yoga brings body and mind together to achieve alignment in life. Its three main aspects are movement, breathing, and meditation. Yoga Asana has many physical and mental health benefits, including flexibility, strength, emotional and physical balance, improved posture, and body awareness. 

Did you know? An āsana is a Sanskrit word that means a body posture. In English, it is called a Yoga posture or Yoga pose. It embodies a steady and comfortable posture. 

On this international yoga day, let’s meet the Yoga Influencers who teach all the basic Yoga Asanas, each with its own benefits:

TRIKONASANA (Triangle Pose) by Rishika Khandelwal @yoga.with.rishika

Rishika Khandelwal is a Yoga influencer and fitness freak. She loves dancing and is a choreographer. She teaches yoga asanas through her Reels, which are easy to learn. Riishika’s mission is to help people get STRONG and FLEXIBLE with bodyweight exercises, such as Yoga. 

Trikonasana, a powerful yoga pose, relieves stiffness and enhances flexibility. This sideways bending pose can elongate the leg muscles, improving the strength of the thighs, calves, and legs. Its benefits extend to the back muscles of the thigh, known as hamstrings, making it a comprehensive exercise for the lower body.

Bhujangasan (Cobra Pose) by KumKum Patnaik @kumkumpattnaik

Kumkum Pattnaik is a Yoga practitioner. Flow with her as you learn the art of becoming a yogi. She believes that ‘The Present is All You Have.’ She also lifts weights at the gym. 

Bhujangasana is a great stress reliever. Its benefits include strengthening the spine, improving flexibility, and stimulating abdominal organs for better digestion. It also helps open the chest and shoulders, improve posture, and relieve back pain. It also helps to strengthen core muscles and has a calming effect. 

To do Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), lie face down with hands under shoulders. Inhale, lift your chest and straighten your arms slightly. Keep shoulders back and look upward. Hold for 15-30 seconds, then exhale and lower back down.

Uttanasana (Standing forward bend pose.) by Kruna Tyagi @karuna_tyagi123

Kruna Tyagi is a certified yoga trainer. She loves traveling and exploring nature. Wherever she goes, she likes to spend some time in nature with her Yogic Kriya. 

Uttanasana is the go-to treatment for (or prevention of) back-related issues. It also enhances blood flow, lowers stress levels, builds hamstring muscles, and increases adaptability.

Stand straight, bend forward, and touch your feet. 

Baddha Konasana (Butterfly pose) by Somya Thakur @somya_yoga

Somya Thakur is a Certified International Yoga Trainer—RYT500 from Indore. RYT 500 means a yoga teacher has completed a 200-hour and 300-hour training. 

She is also a Certified Nutritionist. She teaches yoga through her content and also talks about its benefits. 

Baddha Konasana’s benefits include activating the bladder’s urethra, controlling kidney issues, enhancing the digestive system, managing the menopause process, and relieving tiredness. This Yoga Asana is also called Butterfly Pose.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) by Siddhi Jain @_yoga_abhyasa_

Siddhi Jain is a yoga teacher who shares yoga and lifestyle tips. She is also a Spiritual Being Living A Human Life. Her way of teaching Yoga Asana is very simplified.

Dhanurasana’s benefits include strengthening the back and abdominal muscles, improving blood circulation, adjusting hunched back and body posture, and managing diabetes, digestive ailments, and chest ailments.

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) by Ael @foldsbyael

Simple Yoga Asanas To Start Your Yoga Journey on #InternationalYogaDay - The Reelstars

Ael is a yoga instructor who loves exploring her lifestyle, infused with humor. Her content is all about yoga and its benefits. 

Vajrasana is a seated pose in which you sit on your heels with your hands resting on your thighs or knees. It helps improve digestion and relieves gas and bloating; it is an after-meal practice for better digestion. Other benefits are that it supports weight loss, relaxes the body, reduces bloating, constipation, and gas, controls diarrhea, calms pain due to fissures and piles, and calms the mind. 

These basic Yoga Asanas can be practiced by anyone and everyone easily. Every Yoga Asana has its own benefits, to improve your health and well-being. Follow these yoga influencers to help improve your Yoga practice on this World Yoga Day!

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Raunaq Sahni: Embracing The Melodies of India



raunaq sahni travel creator - the reelstars

Raunaq Sahni, popularly known as Monkey Magic, has reached a remarkable milestone with the successful launch of his debut book, “Melodies of India.” As a travel creator turned author, Sahni’s literary skills shine in this captivating exploration of Indian culture and life along the revered Ganga River.

In an impressive display of independent authorship, Raunaq wrote and published “Melodies of India,” offering readers a unique perspective on India’s rich heritage. The book has already surpassed 5,000 pre-orders, setting a new record for creator-published works in India.

6 months along the Ganga River:

Raunaq’s journey to craft this inaugural literary work spanned over four months. From the mystical origins of Gomukh to the tranquil shores of Gangasagar, his adventure along the Ganga River inspired “Melodies of India,” delivering a profound exploration of the country’s diverse heritage.

Raunaq kicked off his pre-launch tour on June 2, meeting fans and distributing pre-ordered books across seven cities, including Jaipur, Surat, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Varanasi. The tour concluded with a grand launch in Delhi on June 16.

The seeds of this idea were sown back in 2018, when Raunaq first visited Rishikesh and felt an instant fascination with the Ganga River. His annual tradition of visiting the river on his birthday deepened his connection, ultimately inspiring the book.

Embarking on the Narmada Parikrama:

An unexpected visa rejection in March 2023 led Raunaq to embark on the Narmada Parikrama, where he experienced incredible hospitality and warmth from the people he met. These interactions fueled his passion for exploring and documenting India’s cultural richness, culminating in “Melodies of India.”

Through “Melodies of India,” Raunaq Sahni has not only shared his experiences but also inspires countless others to explore the world around them with an open heart and mind. His story is a beacon of inspiration for anyone looking to embark on their own journey of discovery.

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