The Party Machine

What the boutique was to the 1980s, event management is to the new millennium with partying becoming a way of life in metropolitan India
By Kaveree Bamzai and Nidhi Taparia Rathi

When Moet et Chandon wanted to announce the presence of its champagne, Dom Perignon, in Delhi, it got in touch with Vandana Mohan's Backstage Productions. At Rs 5 lakh, she organised a dinner party for 52 exclusive guests who sat chic by jowl to sample a happy fusion of culinary excess and liquid pleasure. When designer J.J. Valaya wanted to celebrate his 10th anniversary in the profession, Devika Bhojwani (as much party animal as party organiser) put together a fashion show to raise money for Tata Memorial Hospital's breast-cancer ward. With Mumbai's hip crowd actually shelling out money for an invitation, it garnered Rs 12 lakh. Bhojwani's charge for such an event? A minimum of Rs 2 lakh. When a Delhi-based garment exporter wanted to celebrate his wedding anniversary last year, he thought no one could do it better than Mehr Sarid. At Rs 2 lakh, she designed a black-and-white theme at the host's farmhouse, which manifested itself in zebra stripes on the awnings, zebra stripes on candles and, in case one missed the symbolism, zebra stripes on cushions on artfully arranged sofas too.

The Organisers
The business has bred a new class of professionals. And cashing in on the new -found devotion are regular party-goers, former models and socialites, who now call themselves "event organisers".
"Our clients have become very sophisticated with travel, TV and reading. They want exclusivity."
Mehr Sarid
Party organiser, has an army of professionals, from a landscape artist to a linen specialist to DJs.
"Everyone thinks they are event organisers, whether they are florists or tentwallahs."
Geeta Samuel
Hotelier-turned-event manager, stage-managed a shootout for a Godfather IV theme party.
"Bangaloreans love to sweat it out at a party. It is a whole new experience and a great new wave.''
Prasad Bidapa
Fashion designer, creator of several models and beauty queens, one-stop event organiser.
"Every client wants to make a statement with his/her party: the more elitist the better."
Brian Tellis
Radio jockey, co-owner of a company that balances corporate events with private dos.
Exotic Dancers
A belly dancer like Reeme (left) could cost Rs 1.25 lakh a month. And if patrons are feeling generous, she could make Rs 50,000 in tips stuffed down her, er, top.

Welcome to metropolitan India, where from the humble, bunting-balloon-extra-candle-for-luck kind of do, parties have now graduated to events where two-door BMWs are given as 18th birthday gifts-and landed in the middle of a farmhouse from a helicopter. Where homegrown kitsch has collided with global trends to create a hybrid aspirational lifestyle. Where life is elsewhere and where every night has to be a night out. Where even tradition-bound institutions such as Kolkata's Tollygunge Club, which used to delight in the staid charms of ballroom dancing, are willing to pay up to Rs 10 lakh an evening for Ibiza DJs like Danny Rampling. And where an exporter's wife like Divya Mehra can use the 10th anniversary of her wedding as a vehicle of social mobility-by pursuing city editors (with a bottle of bootlegged plonk masquerading as decent red wine) to come to the event, no doubt, with a shutterbug in tow.

As a business, it has bred a new class of successful professionals: event organisers. Some operate from their homes (like Delhi's Geeta Samuel), some from their cell phones like Marc Robinson, while some like Bhojwani have one-woman armies. Some even operate from under the umbrella of large organisations (like Mona Bhattacharya's IdeaStreamz in which the UB Group has a majority stake, appropriate given Chairman Vijay Mallya's penchant for Gulfstream-borne, city-hopping partying). Others, like Sarid, employ a landscape artist, linen specialist, packaging expert, candlemaker, graphic designers, florists and inhouse DJs. "What the boutique was to the 1980s, event management is to the millennium," says Mohan. And no one, but no one, wants to repeat a theme, says Rahul Bhalla of Magnum Nexus.

Estimated to be a Rs 100-crore industry, partying has spawned many sub-sectors: from caterers who specialise in well-presented "glamour food" to even a company called Super Loo that imports mobile toilets. Partying is now such a legitimate promotional activity that Smirnoff is using clubbing to popularise its vodka. Brian Tellis, co-owner of Mumbai's Fountainhead, has already organised 15 clubbing nights in 10 cities, from Chandigarh to Hyderabad. He calls it the "new movement".

While VJs and models charge Rs 15,000-20,000 a night, professional bartenders cost up to Rs 10,000 and know what they are serving.

Unaffected by recession and good taste, the industry has caused the establishment to reconsider its high moral position. The aiadmk Government in Tamil Nadu had to overturn a ban on discos in 2001 after protests from hotels. It has even caused cities to change their laidback tenor. Take Kolkata's New Year Eve celebrations in 2002. Between Egyptian belly dancers, pole dancers from England and go-go girls from Las Vegas, the last bastion of conservatism is crumbling under the assault of a different kind of party.

Thanks to this, those in the glamour game have raised their career's life expectancy and acquired a new nomenclature. Former models and socialites have now packaged themselves as "event organisers", replacing society matrons who controlled access to international jetsetters and glittering flim-flam, even as bouncers call themselves security specialists and bartenders say they are beverage consultants. Take Mumbai-based model and choreographer Robinson, a messiah for most who don't know the ABC of partying. At a recent launch of Christian Dior's new perfume at Insomnia (the Mumbai pub, not the movie), he put together the event-fashion show, models, lights, sound and invitations to the right people-all for between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 3 lakh.

In Bangalore, fashion designer Prasad Bidapa has already become a one-stop shop for anyone with an urge to party. From fashion shows to product launches to store openings, his 12-member team does it all.

Find a Theme
A set ranges between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 8 lakh and can vary from an exotic Moroccon tent to a masked ball

The partying bug has bitten Chennai too: beach houses along the city's East Coast Road are the favourite of private party organisers. DJ Ravi, a regular on the party circuit, says these are "only by invitation". It can cost up to Rs 50,000-the beach house rent is Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000, DJs are paid between Rs 5,000 and Rs 20,000, alcohol costs Rs 15,000 and the rest is divided between sound, lights and food (usually provided for by Uncle Sam caterers).

In Kolkata, the industry is more organised. Even a small company like Stairways organised 25 Friday and Saturday night parties last year. "There are events to suit all pockets: from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 35 lakh," says Director Shehzad Kamal.

For Wizcraft, one of the oldest entertainment companies, parties mean big money. Their charge ranges from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 5 crore (for instance, Sony asked them to do their annual party for 1,000 guests, with five areas done up in five different themes). Director Sabbas Joseph has been a witness to the increasingly sophisticated demands of clients: "People have not only become cost-conscious but they also increasingly want an international look, feel and theme." Demand meets supply, as Mumbai party organiser Gurlein Manchanda says, "You have to pay attention to everything, from chair covers to the size of candles to freshness of flowers."

Get a Celebrity
Shah Rukh Khan charges more than Rs 5 lakh for an appearance. Madhuri Dixit (right) charged the same amount in her heyday.

DJ-provider Vikrant Pawa agrees, "Farmhouses in Delhi have become like floating nightclubs. Pre-wedding parties hosted by friends are very popular, where themes vary from James Bond vs Austin Powers to Denim and Diamonds." Each costs up to Rs 10 lakh, starts at 11 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m., with Gucci-shod, Armani-clad guests staggering out completely inebriated.

But aggressive partying is not restricted to any demographic category. There are enough counters in the entertainment supermarket to choose from:

I, Me, Myself Parties: These are vanity fairs, by and for the host. From birthdays to anniversaries to Christmas/Diwali, they exist only to massage one's ego. Like in Delhi, when a businessman contacted Samuel and paid her Rs 3 lakh to organise his daughter's little mermaid birthday party (it included two models with golden hair and flippers). Or when a courier king celebrated his 40th birthday with a Godfather IV theme. She stage-managed a shootout, had a sheet of glass for actors to dive through and "saucy stuff" that spilled out when they were shot. Cost is not an issue when staging a spectacle for 400 "friends".

Take Ashish Raheja's annual Christmas party. It began as a fun event seven years ago but has now become a semi-corporate do. The 24-year-old executive director of Raheja Developers has an in-house team to work on the party: cards are printed five months in advance, the menu is planned six months ahead and the DJ is booked with a year to spare. This year, the theme was Moroccan and 750 people attended.

Get a DJ
DJs like Pearl (right), one of the few women in her field, charge Rs 10,000-20,000 depending on the place and the event. Prices for celebrity DJs, like Bally Sagoo (left), are between Rs 50,000 and Rs 1 lakh a night.

Page 3 Parties: Pretty pictures in city supplements come at a price. As Robinson says, "In Mumbai, your power is measured by who you can call to parties." To modify it: in Mumbai, you invite filmstars, in Delhi, it is the politicians (unless the host is a politician). Sometimes a party can be a career move. Like model Cleo Isaacs who wanted to be in the news after a break: she paid Rs 1,500 per guest at a Mumbai eatery, a tag which included celebrity DJ Ranjeev Mulchandani. The next day, Page 3 pictures were enough to declare that she was back.

Such parties have got a boost with pr agencies such as Medianet being floated to charge up to Rs 17,000 per picture to appear on Page 3 of The Times of India's city supplements. Such exchanges are not always necessary. Take Shalini Passi. Till April, she was just another Delhi homemaker married to a rich automobile dealer. But then, boom, she wore a Swarovski-encrusted Rs 2.5-lakh Adarsh Gill sari to a party where her husband invited the media. Suddenly her frenetic shopping at London's trendy Bond Street (Versace accessories and Dior clothes) seemed worthwhile. She had become a minor star.

HOW TO INVITE Through SMS. Raman Macker of Rain livens up a dead restaurant at 11 p.m. Sends messages to people and within half-an-hour his restaurant is rocking.
WHEN TO GO At midnight. Get into a disco earlier, you're low life.
WHERE TO GO Cannot be a single destination. Begin at a coffee bar like Mocha, move to eateries like Olive, end at Enigma.
WHAT TO WEAR Hair colour, tattoos, lots of skin.
MUST HAVE Leather bags, boots, and a cell phone with the latest ring tone. Not to miss a trophy boyfriend or girlfriend.
HOW TO LOOK Busy. But always on the phone.
WHAT TO DRINK Bacardi Breezer. Cheap yet colourful, in five flavours.

Product Launch Parties: The kind Mumbai-based Provogue Director Salil Chaturvedi likes to host, where the host is as much a product as the brand he sells. When Chaturvedi wanted some publicity for Provogue, he got in touch with Sameer Bayani of Showstuff Entertainment who hosted a do for 1,500 people. It had all the guests enter via a lookalike greenroom door and walk the ramp even as the spotlight stayed focused on them. The guests loved it. And the cost to Provogue: under Rs 5 lakh.

Pub, Store and Restaurant Parties: There is no better way for a pub/restaurant/store to get good business than to host a party. It doesn't have to be a big event. Like Rain, which opened on Mumbai's crowded party scene a year ago. Raman Macker, its owner, drew up a brand new menu card for Sussane Khan, Hrithik Roshan's wife, for a small birthday party. It didn't earn the restaurant the requisite press, but it got written about for hosting Rakesh Roshan's birthday do. It also got acres of news-space for hosting Vivek Oberoi's now iffy engagement to Gurpreet. Then Macker threw a party for the fashion channel, FTV. The alcohol was sponsored, but Rain paid for the food and the decor. Dublin, the new nightclub at Delhi's ITC Maurya Sheraton, did the same, with its celebrity guests turning into regulars.

Mumbai's Olive, which may seem like home to black-clad creatures of the night, follows the same strategy. It brought in 2003 with a Moulin Rouge Masquerade. For restaurant-owner and unfailingly enthusiastic party-giver A.D. Singh, who worked with a team of four to create gourmet dishes for 500 guests, it was a paid-for party but regulars got in free. Says Singh: "In the past year, partying has become a way of life. People want to be where the buzz is."

And buzz is what oils the wheels of the party machine. Even if it is at a cost which is not always currency.

— with Stephen David in Bangalore, Suman Chakrabarti in Kolkata and Arun Ram in Chennai

Hung Over
Hypertension in the 20s, depression in the 30s. It could just be the after-effects of partying like there is no tomorrow.

ON A HIGH: Frequent partying usually leads to high-risk behaviour

Few vodka pegs at the new pub. Sniffed dope with some pals of pals. Discussed which disc would have the most happening crowd. Elbowed our way in. Downed few more pegs. Grooved to the latest House music, turned into up close and personal grind with attractive new-acquaintance-now-turned-date. Heavy duty necking in date's car. Very high and tad groggy. Carried up to a pal's pad. Crashed out at 4 a.m. Woke up with a hangover at 1 p.m. Status: At peak.
-Diary of a Party Animal

Behind the buzzing lounge bar, the pulsating dance floor and the seductive bacchanalia is a smoky realm growing grittier by the day as it accumulates varied psychological and physiological stress. Read between the lines of party diaries and you will see states of mind devoid of the joie de vivre that partying ideally stands for. Partying because it is important to be seen partying. Doping because a fellow party soul asks, "What is partying without Ecstasy?" Smoking because, well, everyone smokes. Drinking because you don't want to look like a sissy with orange juice. Dancing provocatively because you wouldn't otherwise feel sexy. Snogging because you were too drunk to know better. That's only the tip of the dysfunctional party-berg.

"People want powerful pleasures to hit their senses," says Harish Shetty, president, Counsellors Association of India. "What many of them don't realise is partying as life's dominant theme does more harm than good." Shetty isn't the only one to caution. Says Mumbai-based counsellor Anjali Chhabria: "These days 30-40 per cent of my patients suffer from lifestyle stress related to the high-risk behaviour that frequent partying involves."

What is alarming is the trend of the 14-22 age group clubbing very early. Partying for many of them cannot happen without pints of beer or vodka shots. The "social image risk" factor is most relevant to them. It is low when they are "visible" in a happening place and high when they don't go out. And then there are the health effects. "You cannot play with the pineal gland," warns Shetty. "It controls your sleep pattern. Those who indulge in immoderate partying have trouble." Hypertension in the 20s, depression in the 30s, and cardiac arrests in early 40s. That's the flipside of excessive partying.

-Natasha Israni