Nightlife: life of the party in the decade gone by
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Nightlife: life of the party in the decade gone by

A city's nightlife is really just a mirror to it. What this says about Delhi is that perhaps more than any other city in India, the capital has been a changeling, writes Divrina Dhingra.

brunch Updated: Feb 22, 2014 20:22 IST
Divrina Dhingra
Divrina Dhingra
Hindustan Times
10 Years of Brunch,Brunch,Hindustan Times

The first issue of Brunch in Delhi came out on February 1, 2004. Nine months later, with the launch of the Hindustan Times in Mumbai, Brunch was introduced to readers there as well.

The Delhi Brunch completes 10 years this month. And so we bring you a special two-part anniversary issue, on the theme 'Look How We've Changed!' We asked writers, specialists in their field, to do a series of essays for us, chronicling these changes.

In this essay, Divrina Dhingra -- a freelance multimedia journalist -- writes about the shift in Delhi's party scene from being a Page 3 phenomenon to private party moments.

The city of good times
You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: a city's nightlife is really just a mirror to it. What this says about Delhi is that perhaps more than any other city in India, the capital has been a changeling. Look into the archives: we were really cool in the 1980s, embracing bad perms, worse clothes and disco with aplomb. In the next decade we gave grunge a bit of a miss (a wise move), and moved out of the disco into our friends' homes/farmhouses and became known for "house parties" where anything went. Were you looking to experiment with mild hallucinogens? Your sexuality? There was a party for that, as long as you were okay with tepid beer in plastic glasses.

And then came the age of big clubs, over-the-top parties to rival the clubs, and going out to see and be seen. We stood behind velvet ropes, held back by a phalanx of bouncers and PR girls with lists till we were allowed to enter huge spaces packed to the rafters with people we barely knew, celebrities, photographers and TV crews. The following day, there was Page 3 - the city-wide guilty pleasure - to pore over and dissect.

We're left with nightlife that sounds like it could help Delhi get rid of its reputation for being brash and exclusivist, and lead the way to becoming a kinder city

How Delhi moved on
Change doesn't stop though, and the way that Delhi likes to kick back and have a good time now is proof that we've moved on.

"I think there's an appreciation now for places where the crowd is more self-selective and democratic," says Vandana Verma, 30, editor at Motherland magazine, and a former Time Out Delhi editor. "I love that there isn't that 'Wednesday night at Djinns' situation any longer where clubs were places to be seen and spend money. People are dancing again, and to good music. At least, there's music to choose from."

Indeed, choice seems to be the new trend. As young people in Delhi choose to do different things professionally, so they carry that over to the after hours. What began a few years ago as a small alternative scene in Hauz Khas Village, with places like The Living Room has become the new normal. It's almost as though, with the decline of Page 3's popularity, Delhi woke up en masse, to realise that posturing wasn't a requisite to a great night out. In its heyday, Page 3 was the arbiter of who and what was cool. A photograph there allowed you to bask in smugness for a while. And then the tables turned.

Brand consultant Arjun Sawhney, MD of the New Delhi-based firm The Communication Council/Grey Goose Design, has been at the organisational and attendee end of several memorable parties over the years. According to him, the marketing of the page was its death knell. "It wasn't cool to be seen on Page 3 anymore," he says.

So everyone decided to retreat to private parties where photographers weren't invited. That, it seems, is where they have more or less stayed, ever since.

The advent of social media
The rise and domination of social media in the last half decade is perhaps a part of the reason. More people go out, discover places and post their frank and unedited opinions of them online so that it's easy to find a place you like and go there with people you like. Choice, once again, seems to define the shift that has taken place, along with a need for keeping things intimate.

Designer Dhruv Kapur, whose label DRVV, has earned acclaim for its monochromatic, androgynous garments, is 26 years old, New Delhi-based, and enjoys a good party as much as the next person. His idea of what constitutes that underlines the shift.

"A good party is a few people enjoying music, drinking and talking," he says. And a really fun one is when that devolves to lots more drinking with "people dancing on chairs, and generally letting go".

Is that really very different from what used to happen in the past? "People shy away from being photographed. If there's a camera around, everyone will stay sober." Pictures of the revelry may make it to Instagram, but as he puts it, "the whole paper thing is over".

So is the whole club thing, and the big fat party thing.

What we're left with is nightlife that sounds like it could help Delhi get rid of its reputation for being brash and exclusivist, and lead the way to becoming a kinder, more tolerant city.

"Delhi has a thriving scene, great little parties every weekend if you're up for it," says Verma. "There's something for everyone."


Page 3 back then it started in the late '90s, Page 3 was the place to be seen. A photograph there meant you had arrived on the social scene. It was supposed to portray the sunny side of life and give readers something aspirational in the morning.

The rules of engagement in a notoriously fickle city like Delhi change every nine months. You have to be au-courant with the current set of tricks.

From a cover story by image maker Dilip Cherian, May 23, 2004. In How to Break Into Delhi's Social Circuit, Cherian gave a step-by-step guide to make it to Page 3, which was at the peak of its popularity then.

Page 3 back then

The Capital is India's first city of revelry and if you have the energy and a strong stomach, you can dine out and drink yourself silly every night of the week.

A book release, the opening of an art show, a new restaurant, a fashion do, a product launch, a country's National Day, a visiting film star… anything's an excuse for a party From a cover story by former UN diplomat Bhaichand Patel, October, 2004. Life's A Party In Delhi looked at how Delhi was the party capital of India

Page 3 today 3's golden days have long been over. Those who had once lived and died to party didn't want to be seen doing that any more.

Now everything was Page 3 material: birthday parties, mundan ceremonies, dog funerals. The real Page 3 was gone From a story by Yashica Dutt, July 12, 2012, RIP Page 3, We Mourn Your Loss. (Why did the popular Page 3 lose its sheen?)

Divrina Dhingra is a freelance multimedia journalist who divides her time between Delhi and Goa

From HT Brunch, February 23

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First Published: Feb 22, 2014 14:13 IST