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Entertainment in the Dark


Over a year ago, a major newspaper in India conducted an opinion poll among the youth on the nightlife in India. The poll revealed many things, but what emerged prominently was that around 90 per cent youth in urban India think that nightlife is a crucial part of their life and they would prefer to live or make that city their home, where there is a “happening” nightlife. The opinion survey highlighted the growing craze and love for nightlife among Indian youth. It is as much a part and parcel of life as their job, office, friends, and relatives.

Now, the big question is: What is nightlife? If one searches the word on Google, it reads, “the social activities and entertainment available in town at night”. But for our youth, nightlife means something else. For them, it is synonymous with partying, drinking, dancing and having fun with their friends through the night. For the older generation this at times is a cultural shock as traditionally, one is advised to go to bed as soon as it gets dark. In fact, going out at night is still considered not too good and is always looked at with a skeptical eye. Even government has issued strict guidelines that ensure restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars shut down, latest by midnight. However, they cite a different reason – security. Officials and police personnel opine that keeping late night increases the chances of crime in the city.

In reality, pub and club owners say, government regulations and moral policing by right wing activists hardly made any difference; the sector is growing in leaps and bounds. Opening up of new lounges and club every other day is the testament to this.

Fat data

If one takes a look at the facts and figures, one would notice that this sector is generating a lot of revenue to the government as well as employment. In a conversation with several players, it emerged that the industry’s potential is still untapped. On the other hand, the food and nightlife industry is being ignored by the government. In 2015-16, organised food service market size was Rs.22,000-22,500 crore. It has almost doubled from Rs.11,500-11,900 crore in 2013. If a mere 30 per cent of the fragmented and unorganised industry came together, it could generate an additional 13,000-14,000 crore.

As for employment, the sector has a potential to generate 5.8 million jobs – an estimated 3 million in the organised and another 2.3 million in standalone outlets. If the market continues to grow at the current pace of 20 per cent per annum, the sector would have employed 8.7 million people by 2021.

Evolving fast

As already discussed, the concept of nightlife travelled into India from the West. But the down the years, the nightlife fever is gripping the Indian society very rapidly. Just a decade ago there were just a handful of night clubs and bars and that too in Five-star hotels.

Then the city had discothèques and private loft parties, employing DJs (disc jockeys). These venues were mostly accessible to members only but now there is open access to night clubs, resto bars and lounges and can be enjoyed by everyone. “Just a few years back, a customer had limited choice. But over the years, things have improved. Now people can choose from a list of restaurants, movie theatres, play bars and others,” said A D Singh, owner of Olive Bar and Kitchen.

In recent years, the country is home to bars, night clubs and music festivals. “It’s a growing trend for the younger generation to work late in the day. For them a city’s nightlife would be considered a crucial factor in deciding where they would like to work and live,” said Sanjay Vazirani CMD and MD of Foodlink Services India Pvt. Ltd.

It is not that nightlife is growing only in metro cities. Even small cities are in the race. They also sport bars, earning a good revenue. The only problem with this market is that it is untapped and needs to be regulated. However, in terms of infrastructure, bars in small cities cannot compete with the metropolitan cities, but they are still doing well. “I can tell you that people are spending more money in Kanpur, Nagpur and Chandigarh for a good nightlife. They are ready to pay, they only need good services. Moreover, Delhi’s numerous malls and bars are full of people from Chandigarh and other neighboring city,” said Dilip Joshi, an industry expert and consultant for restaurants, bars, lounges.

Early or late?

Apart from Goa, nightclubs in India normally start early and finish no later than 1:30 am. While cities like Mumbai and Delhi have specific venues for after parties, which go until 3-4 am, often people choose to host house parties, which go on as per their wishes.

A conversation with corporate workers, students and other professionals revealed that nightlife in India is like a curfew, as it starts early and ends early too. In fact, many countries, which are less-developed than India, including many Muslim countries, which are more conservative than India, have a better nightlife. Their bars, pubs and clubs are open for longer in the night than in India. “I am in favour of opening the bars and pubs till 6 am. This change would do well for our business, which in return would boost the country’s image,” said Sanjay Vazirani.

Riyaaz Amlani, president of National Restaurant Association, also advocated opening bars and pubs round the clock but for different reason. He thinks if these bars and restaurants are opened the whole day or late at night, it can boost tourism also. “If you see, the most popular tourist destinations in the world have vibrant nightlife. For instance, take Hong Kong, Singapore or Dubai,” Amlani added. “I have noticed that tourists visit monuments during the day but at night want a good nightlife, where they can spend some quality time.”

However, officials have a different perspective. They reason that opening of bars late at night could lead to drunken brawls at the pubs. Incidents of drunken brawls in many night joints substantiate these claims. In fact, a top cop in Delhi said in a report in news website, Firstpost, “Incidents of crime against women, drunken driving and brawls won’t stop and there will be a spurt in such crimes if clubs, bars, restaurants and pubs are allowed to operate 24 hours. Many of these establishments indulge in illegal activities like flesh trade, serving liquor to those below 25 years and so on. Shutting the clubs down by 1 am helps the police in ensuring women’s safety and maintaining law and order.”

Police also fears a rise in pub brawls and drunken driving if the premises are open all night. There are many small bars and restaurants, which don’t have enough security and are unable to control brawls and molestation. At the same time, there are many places, which promote sex racketing or escort system. Many party goers agree that they go looking for a random “hook-up”. If they fail, it turns into a brawl or are accused of molestation.

Longer and safer

There is a huge debate over the timings of these bars and pubs. Many regulars agree that these places should be open till late night, but many disagree too. Their argument is that in a city like Delhi opening till late night was an invitation for crimes. Given the incidents of crime, which mostly happen at night, they are justified.

However, party lovers and industry players in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai, have a different take on it. They think that a city with an active nightlife actually becomes more safe for women because of the presence of large numbers of people in public places even late at night. If there are more people on road, the chances of crime is very less, they assert. “It is proven that if a city has a vibrant nightlife, it is more safe. Darkness puts less traffic on the road. When there is enough traffic and people on the road, the crime will drastically reduce,” said Amlani.

“Do you think, if we close the bars and disco at sharp 11 o’clock, the children will go back to their homes. No…I don’t think so. They will go some other place like inside cars or other open areas to party and needless to say, these places are more unsafe. If one stays in bars or pubs, they will be under the watch of the bar’s CCTV camera, bouncers and surrounded by people. Isn’t it better to open the bar till late night?” expressed Dilip Joshi.

To check brawls, the clubs and government should increase the deployment of bouncers not only within the premises but also in their vicinity. “If there are more bouncers and better street lighting around an outlet or in the market where it is situated as well as parking lots, it will help a great deal,” said Joshi.

Untapped market

Many places have the most vibrant nightlife. For example Hong Kong sees 45 million people and London 25 million people. But all of India sees only 8 million people. Even though the industry is flourishing these days, it is said to be facing multiple problems from all sides. The major problem with this industry is not having a central coordination. “Tell me, whom should I connect for this industry. Who is listening our problem?” asked Dilip Joshi. “In a place like London or Berlin, they have nightlife commissioner and czars. Similarly, we can also have Bombay nightlife commissioner or Delhi nightlife commissioner, who will work like a mediator between government and pubs. He will be responsible for everything.”

Apart from this the industry is also facing problem of multiple taxation and over-regulation. Different departments have different taxes. If we go as per the demand of the industry, they should club all the taxes, so that we don’t have to walk from one office to other just to fulfill the criteria,” said A D Singh.

Creating problems

News of bar brawl is quite frequent. Sometimes wards of big names, including politicians, are also involved. Remember the story of Jessica Lal murder case, the fight of Lalu Yadav’s sons or brawl of Delhi Police Commissioner’s son and a Haryana politician’s son? These news are quite frequent. Apart from this, there is news about low and medium budget bars also promoting drugs and prostitution. Usually, for the sake of safety, and to deal with any untoward incidents or to ward off any brawl, almost every club has employed bouncers, but not many. On many occasions, these bouncers are quite helpful in stopping fights. However, the situation gets tense when the women start a brawl. This is a very common sight. At that time, the situation turns very sensitive because none of them hire any women security guard or bouncers.

Source: thestatesman

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