Aftab Mathur, a 30-year-old corporate vice-president, has loved Paris ever since he first visited that city in 2009. Now, thanks to brownpaperbag.com (BPB), a lifestyle blog-turned-website, he often has a French-style chicken salad for lunch or a ham-and-cheese crepe, courtesy Suzette, a year-old café at Nariman Point. Mathur first heard of Suzette on BPB, which tracks new restaurants, services, gigs, events and sales on microsites dedicated to Mumbai, Pune and New Delhi.
“Suzette’s crepes are as authentic as those served in Paris,” says Mathur, a Malabar Hill resident. “The place has a charming, roadside French café feel.”
In addition to BPB’s daily newsletter, Mathur uses EkSMS, Mumbai Boss and Burrp. It’s a dependency feeding the emergence of websites and portals that help Mumbaiites navigate the city’s increasingly complex and crowded social and entertainment scene.
Burrp, with its directory of restaurants and its cultural calendar, helped Mathur find his feet when he returned to Mumbai in 2007, after a decade in New York. He needed Burrp in the first place because the food and entertainment segments had exploded. “When I was young, you could count good restaurants here on your fingers,” he says. “When I came back, there were swanky restaurants and bars all over the place.”
With the venues also organising sporadic board-game nights, poetry slams, comedy nights, etc, and with food, cultural venues opening, shutting and reopening all the time, it has become increasing difficult to navigate the options without a guide. Log on
After starting with Burrp, the only such website around at that time, Mathur began to subscribe to new entrants. From EkSMS, he gets restaurant listings on demand, complete with discounts and special offers. BPB and Mumbai Boss, meanwhile, offer dependable reviews and previews, not just of new restaurants and food festivals but also of upcoming art shows, events and concerts. They also keep him abreast of new products in the increasingly personalised retail and services spaces — whether it’s an on-demand secretary service or personalised vintage Bollywood-style posters. “The reviews help me decide if I should spend my time and money on something,” he says. For each new listings-and-reviews website that Mathur knows of and uses, there is one he hasn’t yet heard of.
Social media expert Narendra Nag attributes the rise in the number of such websites to the nature of today’s social networks and interactions. “These websites serve as discovery services for the young smartphone-using Indian with a high disposable income,” he says. “They also connect subscribers with like-minded people outside their own social circle.”
Two-month-old Trabblr is doing exactly this. It allows expats, tourists and locals to organise group events in Mumbai or London — the home cities of the two Indian founders. “People are tired of doing the same things with the same people,” says Mumbai-based co-founder Hersh Kumbhani. “Here, they can build an event around a specific interest and meet new people.” Bandra resident and Trabblr member Joshua Roy swears by the idea. A martial arts and jazz music enthusiast, Joshua used the website to meet seven strangers at the Mahindra Blues Festival at Bandra’s Mehboob Studio in February. They cheered for American Blues guitarist Buddy Guy and then chatted over chilled beers. “My friends are not into jazz,” says Roy. “Trabblr gave me the chance to connect with people who are. Two of them are now my friends.”