November 7, 2005

Once Footloose, Bangalore Clubs Are Now Dance-Free

A timely article. Highlights what was stated yesterday.
How Indian cities are now resembling saudi arabia.
To Rein In Western Influence,
Indian City Tightens Rules;
DJs Lower the Volume
November 7, 2005; Page A1

BANGALORE, India -- On a Saturday night, club owner Amardipta "Deep" Biswas was locked in battle with six policemen in the rain. The cops were blocking people from entering his club after unconfirmed reports that people inside were breaking the law, by dancing.

"We've turned down the music and stopped the dancing!" he pleaded to an indifferent deputy commissioner of police lounging in a chauffeured cruiser. "We'll even put on traditional Indian music. Just please let us stay open." Unimpressed, the lawman rolled up a tinted window and waved his driver on.

The city fathers of this conservative part of India's Hindu heartland recently dusted off old morality codes that effectively outlaw dancing. The move was a reaction to the rising temperature of the club scene in India's version of Silicon Valley -- a reflection of the discomfort traditional Indians feel as their young sons and daughters drift toward Western ways and mores.

Since it opened 10 months ago, Mr. Biswas's Thailand-themed restaurant and bar "Taika" has been one of Bangalore's hottest clubs. On Saturdays before the new law, the dance floor was packed with more than 500 of Bangalore's brightest engineers, consultants and call-center employees, bouncing to hip-hop and house music from the West.

Today, Taika's dance floor -- which boasts an $80,000 sound system and the biggest sub woofer in India -- is filled with sofas, chairs and tables, all intended to obstruct would-be dancers.

Places that were regularly open until 3 a.m. now must shut before 11:30 p.m. Signs at the entrance of clubs say no dancing is allowed. DJs have been told to lower the volume to a third of the normal levels and avoid playing music that might "incite dancing." Bouncers have even been forcing dancers to stop and sit down.

The call-center kids -- an increasingly important consumer group in the city of eight million -- aren't having it. "Youngsters are working now so they have money and want to party," says 27-year-old Sarah Sangma, who is sitting at a sofa on the Taika dance floor. She spends most nights helping the U.S. customers of America Online. "When you are working such strange shifts you need a place to relax."

Outsourcing has brought much more than jobs to the subcontinent. It has created a new young consumer class that wants to go out to drink, dine, dance and date. Their parents, politicians and police -- and their more conservative and often poorer peers -- want to stiff-arm change.

"Parents are really strict in India, I'd be hung if mine knew I was here," says Lorraine Pereira, 32, a Taika regular and call-center employee who pitches refinancing packages to Americans while most of India sleeps.

The clash is on vivid display in Bangalore. In less than a decade, it has changed from a sleepy college and retirement town to a buzzing city with cafes, clubs and epic traffic jams.

The new law is part of a broader crackdown. Since the southern city started enforcing the "Licensing and Controlling of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order" in July, the police have been roaming the city and closing down bars, cabarets and establishments with live bands and dancing girls. Under the new order, discos are treated like bars promoting prostitution.

"The legislature was worried that such places are corrupting the minds of the young," says Kishore Chandra, a police commissioner in Bangalore. "A lot of undesirable actions may be going on."

He says Bangalore is dealing with new ailments of affluence. For the first time, the police have had to deal with kids drag racing their new motorcycles at night. Cellphone thefts have surged as have break-ins among the new apartments sprouting on the edge of town.

The new entertainment order doesn't actually ban dancing, but it introduces tough licensing requirements that make it nearly impossible to have a business that has both drinking and dancing. Since the law went into effect, no licenses have been issued despite more than 60 applications, says Mr. Chandra. He admits the tough safety, building and lighting requirements will mean most places will be rejected and have to close.

Bangalore has seen anti-westernization campaigns before. In 1995, there were riots when the first KFC opened in the city. The American chain was trashed by local farmers and Hindu nationalists. Riots broke out again the following year when the Ms. World contest came here. More than 1,500 protesters were arrested and one set himself on fire. Contestants had to wear sheer skirts over their swimwear.

Bangalore's club owners and managers say they are being harassed. Police officers rush into their clubs at 11:30, bang on the tables with their long bamboo night sticks and berate customers. The more forgiving owners say that it is partly a misunderstanding: Police assume discos are akin to dance bars where girls in bright dresses twirl to Bollywood hits as men throw money at them.

"We are looked on as if we were criminals," says Mr. Biswas, who has been dragged downtown five times for being open late. "These guys don't know anything about this life; I offered one officer a glass of red wine and he wanted it mixed with soda water."

Club owners and goers are fighting back. Some club managers look the other way if their customers start moving to the music. They post lookouts to tell the DJ to stop the music when the police approach. Owners have banded to form the Bangalore Resto-Lounge and Discotheque Owners Association to lobby their cause.

"Being 'Bangalored' meant losing jobs from London or Boston to the outsourcing revolution," says a chain email from clubbing crusader and Bangalore advertising executive Harish Bijoor. "Today 'being Bangalored' means being left high and dry at the end of a long working day with nowhere to go."

Some of the club kids have offered to show their support by cruising the main drag to noisily protest the ban. The association stopped them, worried they'd be arrested for drunk driving. Others have started private parties in farmhouses outside of the city limits to keep the party rocking.

At Taika, a dejected Mr. Biswas told the DJ to turn off the music over the protests of the Saturday night crowd. He got on the microphone to tell people he is trying to fight the new order. "Please bring out your thoughts and comments," he said, referring to a petition circulating around the club. "But please don't write vulgarities we cannot present to the state assembly."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel ashamed. I used to ridicule the attitude of middle-east, Afghanistan, our neighbours and others about the way restrict and try to own their citizens and used to say I would never go their for all the money of the world. But I never knew I belong to a society which is not too far from it...!!!