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How Delhi did it: nightlife in the '90s

With the reopening of Ghungroo, the fabled nightclub of the '90s, we look back at Delhi's pulsating nightlife in that decade.

brunch Updated: Dec 21, 2013 18:04 IST
Yashica Dutt
Yashica Dutt
Hindustan Times

The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there. For no other generation does this LP Hartley quote hold truer than ours. We, the children of the ’90s, find a piquant pleasure in filtering the present with nostalgia-coloured lenses. And Facebook groups documenting how the decade of Madhuri Dixit, Shaktiman and Gold Spot ‘was so much better’, testify to that. So, when Ghungroo, the fabled nightclub of the ’90s, reopened a few weeks ago, it would have been a disservice to our (read: my) fixation with nostalgia not to focus on that era’s ill-documented nightlife. How dancing in nightclubs would have made for a slightly odd playtime option for five-year-olds – the average age of the ’90s kids then – is a minor technicality which shouldn’t be allowed to hinder this pursuit.

The way we wore

When DD Metro was the television channel of the youth and model and VJ Ruby Bhatia listed out songs that tenaciously stuck to the international charts – Cotton-Eyed Joe by Rednex was there almost every week – on Channel V, partying was a thinly-veiled allusion to getting together at a friend’s house, blasting the stereo and letting it rip, while mommy served Uncle Chipps and cold drinks. Going to the disco was an occasional pastime, when a friend with liberal parents would offer to drop and pick you from a nightclub. (Or you were obviously spending the night ‘studying’). Party regular Tanisha Mohan, who in the early ’90s worked with British Airways, often partied with friends like the late model Jessica Lal and her sister Sabrina. "It’s not like today when you can party any day. We would wait for the weekend the whole week. We would extensively discuss plans – since we were allowed to go out only once – figure whose parents were picking us up and when to make a trip to Janpath or FU/Inter Shoppe in South Extension, the only places to buy fashionable clothes. It was all very simple back then."

Channelling the frothy fashion of the era, the girls would dress in leggings and satin dresses with huge bows at the back or later, around the late ’90s, in tube tops and halter blouses with denim skirts and leather pants. Hair was almost always big and permed and by the time the Eighties hangover passed, poker-straight with blinding highlights. Ramneek Pantal, now an emcee but a model in those days, admits to using a lot of bling, especially towards the end of the decade. "We did try and look like the Spice Girls!" The men couldn’t care less about clothes, (metrosexual was yet to be coined) and often hung around in loose jeans and round necked T-shirts or baggy, ill-fitting suits that can only be classified as the worst of the ’90s. Dancing was on everybody’s minds and as designer Ritu Beri puts it, "It was definitely different back then. The refrain was ‘let’s go dancing’, when all people want to do today is to go ‘chilling out’. The idea was to have a good time."

The It list

Music was meant for dancing and all one heard was dance music. Tracks like Dr Alban’s It’s My Life and Los Del Rio’s Macarena were evidently popular, followed by the Vengaboys’ music in the later years. DJ Sunny Sarid, who played at Ghungroo, however, didn’t rely on charts and countdowns but on sounds that moved the crowd. He and the hotel staff even invented a drinking game, predicting what tracks would be hits. He won almost every time. "I had friends working with airlines who would be nice enough to carry the latest music from across the world. Without the Internet it was not so easy to get new releases. Our own Indi-pop was big too and Anamika, Bally Sagoo and Sivamani were very popular. Chura Liya was requested all the time. Also, no one played Bollywood music in clubs like you hear these days, except maybe a track or two," says Sarid.

Float at The Park Royal was one of the clubs that invited bands to play Photo: Raj K Raj

The nightclubs were few but fabled. Apart from Ghungroo in Welcomgroup Maurya Sheraton (it has reopened in WelcomHotel, Dwarka), there was Djinns at the Hyatt, CJ’s at Le Méridien, My Kind of Place at Taj Palace, Annabelles at Hotel Intercontinental, Mirage at The Surya Best Western Hotel, Fireball at 32nd Milestone, Gurgaon, and Float at The Park Royal, Nehru Place Community Centre.

Unlike today, when every community has a club in its backyard, most ‘discos’ were located in five-star hotels. Which made them expensive and way tougher to get into. Gunjita Dhawan, who owns a PR firm now, regularly went out on Saturdays with her husband Abhinav Dhawan, and describes the velvet ropeway, much like the clubs of New York and London, where entry was impossible unless you knew the manager. “There used to be long queues which extended miles outside the club. Unlike today, it wasn’t as if you’d eventually get an entry if you hung around long enough. Profiling was stricter which made the clubs that much safer,” she says.

People partied till the wee hours, since clubs stayed open till 5-6 am on weekends, adds Dhawan. “There were no 12.30 am deadlines and we would be out the whole night. The party goers were few and one ended up knowing almost everybody. It was actually a party circuit.”

Won’t you linger?
Since there was so much concentration on dancing, the dance floor was glamorous territory, not a cube of space at the end of the floor, like it is now. Ghungroo claims to be the first club to have introduced lighting under the glass floor, a concept we now associate with dance floors in Delhi.

Greesh Bindra, general manager, Crowne Plaza, recalls launching Float in the late ’90s, a stylised club which invited you to sit at different levels around a dance club in the centre. “Today’s youngsters stand and dance anywhere but then one only danced on the dance floor. I remember we hosted the launch party of Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani and Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla stayed almost the whole night partying. It wasn’t an orchestrated fleeting appearance.”

Brands were few, choices limited and people still considered loyalty a virtue, especially with regard to their favourite clubs. Abhishek Narang, who now works as an assistant F&B director at the Hyatt, was a bartender in Djinns back then. “There was no concept of club-hopping. People came to a club and stayed there till it closed for the night. There was no rush to get to some other place. It allowed friendships to foster,” he says. Adds Sarid, “At a time when mobiles were nonexistent, clubs were the place where friends caught up with each other.”

Even if it’s strange to think of clubs as friendly places, remember it was in a foreign country when things were done differently.

You know you were partying in the Nineties if…
As a girl, you spent three hours with hot rollers in your hair so that your curls would be perfectly permed for the night

Planned the entire week (with all your friends) as to which clubs you’d hit on Saturday night

Assidulously practised the ‘mad’ moves of Macarena to show off at the disco later

Waited in endlessly long lines at the bank to withdraw cash for the evening. (Hard to imagine not having cards around, isn’t it?)

Knew at least one proper break dance/robot dance move from start to finish

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From HT Brunch, December 22

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First Published: Dec 21, 2013 15:34 IST