Dinner, drinks, a gig, an open mic night, a stand-up night… despite the variety, there is often a sameness to the Mumbai entertainment scene.
Now, a number of new companies are offering the Facebook-multiplex-coffee shop generation evenings built around an experience—like the chance to bartend for a day, or make burgers, attend a Japanese-themed night or have an evening of drinking games, hear strangers tell short stories or hire a musician to help you write a customised song for a special event.
It started two years ago, with companies such as Blue Bulb curating experience-based activities such as bullock-cart rides, fire-spinning sessions or picnics at ‘secret’ or inaccessible locations. Then there is adventure travel company JumpStart organising weekends on the outskirts of the city where Mumbaiites travelled and camped with indie musicians and unwound to live performances in scenic spots.
Over the past five months, three more such companies have been launched in the city — Accessed, Tall Tales and Sing-A-Gram. “Mumbaiites have become a lot more adventurous in their choices,” says Blue Bulb co-founder Regan Rodricks. “Conventional entertainment is not Facebook status material. Youngsters with high disposable incomes are looking for unique experiences to enjoy and talk about.”
Experts say this evolution of the entertainment scene follows the global trend among well-travelled, well-heeled young urban adults.
Over the past two years, for instance, Blue Bulb’s clientele has grown from 532 in 2011 to 840 so far this year.
“A certain degree of standardisation has seeped in the nature of consumption in metros such as Mumbai,” says MT Joseph, professor of sociology at University of Mumbai. “The elite, new rich and well-travelled are bored of these standard offerings and are constantly looking for new experiences, even if they come at a price.”
For this reason, outdoor adventure company Jumpstart has seen demand grow from two Great Gig in the Sky events in 2011 to nine in the past 18 months, taking weekenders and musicians on adventures to caves, hilltop forts, islands and beach and lakeside camping sites.
In response to the growing fan base for independent music, this model is now being used by city-based adventure travel company The Blueberry Trails, in a venture titled Music in the Great Outdoors. “The demand for something new is endless,” says Sudeip Nair of entertainment company Culture Shoq, formerly known as Bombay Elektrik Projekt, which pioneered open-mic nights in the city.
“And an evening or a weekend built around a new experience becomes something unique, a conversation starter and one more photo to proudly Instagram, tweet or Facebook about.”
Listen to tales told by strangers
Launched in: March 2013
Offers: Mumbaiites a platform to tell 15-minute real-life stories about anything, or listen to others narrate their tales
Founded by: Documentary filmmaker Michael Burns, 37 and theatre actor Kaneez Surka, 29
Tall Tales is about experiencing raw, real life by listening to someone else’s heartfelt adventure, even if just for a few minutes,” says Burns.
With two events so far, drawing a total of 230 audience members — at a cost of R150 to R200 per head — and the full quota of eight story-tellers, the initiative has already taken off. The Tall Tales team now receives, via email, at least one story a day from people eager to move from the audience on to the stage. Both telling and listening to a story is an experience.
At the June 29 event, former banker and theatre actor Mukul Chaddha spoke of his struggle to find a trashcan in Tokyo and fiction writer Rochelle Potkar discussed the effects of domestic distress through a delicately woven tale about her bickering parents.
“Seeing an invisible or notional reader spring up, real, embodied, listening with rapt attention, was intoxicating,” says Potkar.
Adds attendee Ekta Gulechha, 24, a marketing executive: “This was a new, interesting experience, something I could talk about later to my friends.”
They’ll play your song
Launched in: February 2013
Offerings include: Musicians who will help you write a customised song and perform it at your chosen venue and event
Founded by: Event management consultant Aalok Aswani, 24
Sing-A-Gram offers options of a solo guitarist, a singer, a quartet or an entire band to play the song of your choice at any event. So far, most of the 50 bookings have been for events such as birthdays, anniversaries and apologies.
Bartending, burger-making, Japanese nights
Launched in: May 2013
Offerings include: Pop-up Japanese-themed nights; bartending for a day; cocktail- and burger-making contests; afternoons of card games and high tea.
Founded by: Stern School of Business graduates Surekha Rao, 24, and Aditi Khandelwal, 23
Mumbai is such a big, transplant city, home to expats on short work stints and college students and newcomers from across the country. This audience is looking to explore their new city and meet new people. This can be best achieved through an experiential setting,” says Rao. “Locals too are increasingly looking for fresh experiences. That’s where we step in.”
The fresh experience is what drew Prabhadevi resident and student Saahil Karpe, 24, to the Accessed Japanese-themed night in April.
“Earlier, youngsters were happy to go to the same cafés with the same friends every weekend,” he says. “Today, the options have increased. It’s no longer about sticking to one pattern.”