Sunday, 4 January 2009

Bangalore: the town where the evil kids reign

Bangalore has always been described as one of India's most liberal cities, full of nightclubs and parties, fiery hedonism lit by old money and fuelled by new. But all is not as it seems, and the state government of Karnataka appears to have been keen to bring Bangalore and Bangaloreans to heel by imposing idiotic and archaic restrictions to the nightlife: for example, a closing time of 11.30pm; even a short-lived ban on dancing.

En route to one of the newest happening bars, Shiro, my cousin Shonali fills me in. Shonali is one of Bangalore's original party princesses; even now with a child, she still makes sure she heads out to a bar or club at least once a week.

"See, you could be carrying a tray of drinks and swaying under the weight, and you'd get a tap on the shoulder reminding you not to dance. If you were in a bar and someone stood up and started dancing, the DJ would get on the mike and ask them to stop."

Luckily the ban has recently been overturned, although the 11.30pm curfew remains in place.

Jason, in the back seat, quotes Kenneth from 30 Rock: "Do you remember the movie Footloose, where those evil kids won in the end?"
Like many inane government policies, this one was rooted in morality. In 2005, the Karnataka state government decided the good people of Bangalore had better use for their time and money than nightclubs and dancing. Hundreds of police were deployed to enforce the order. Even New Year's Eve was barely spared: the curfew was extended only until 12.30, meaning most Bangaloreans opted to decamp to Goa for the night.

Shiro is housed inside Bangalore's gleaming new monument to wealth: UB City.

It's the brainchild of Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, who oversaw the conversion of a former brewery to a complex of bars, restaurants, offices and luxury shops.

Open just five months, already the favourite catchcry of Bangalorean party-goers is, "let's meet outside Louis Vuitton."

Inside, it's all high escalators, marble and Victorian-style freizes. Is this India? You could easily be in Monaco, or the Gold Coast, or any other preserve of the newly rich.

Shiro is beautiful, so beautiful I forgot to be cool and started pointing and saying things like "oh my god look at that water feature", etc. I even nearly whipped out my camera to take photos, before I was reminded that taking photos in bars is the epitome of uncool and the best way to mark one out as an interloper.

When you enter there is a massive carved stone head, about the size of a room, greeting you with an expression of serenity and calm. Inside is a dining room with dark wood chairs and tables; turn left and you are on a massive balcony, where all the action happens. There is a long bar lit with bamboo lanterns, clumps of tables and round wicker chairs, and towards the back, two open-air teppanyaki stations and long family tables. The crowd is chi-chi Bangalore at its best: all hair flipping, tight kurtis, high heels and full makeup. (And the girls also make an effort.) The soundtrack is decent too: tongue-in-cheek '80s retro. They even play Footloose, without a trace of irony. Perhaps it is a secret signal that the evil kids always do win in the end?

Almost. At 11 on the dot, the music fades and the lights go up. Just then our food finally arrives so we loiter and pick at plates of chicken, marinated potato and fantastic cheese spring rolls. (India has the BEST, most inventive, vegetarian food, seriously,) We manage to stretch things out till about 11.45pm, when it becomes very clear it's time to leave. After a few failed attempts at drinking elsewhere, we end up back at Shonali and her husband's home: eight 30-somethings sitting on the dewy front lawn, drinking vodka from the bottle, eating chips and keeping the neighbours awake. Thirty-somethings acting like teenagers, thanks to a nanny state.

1 comment:

Prasant Sudhakaran said...

Ah yes, the great Desi Lounge Bar™. Tonight will be my first time at Shiro, and I am preparing to get disappointed (on many levels) and then get charged for it exorbitantly. Almost therapeutic, and validates your existence.

Wonder how different it will be from the Desi Irish Pub™. Well you certainly can't chat up a lady there for sure, without encountering a man who has many talents - bodyguard, PR guy, Spokesman, jealous boyfriend.