Just off the Bandra-Worli Sealink, the one snazzy space in Mumbai where the skyline could easily be that of Manhattan or Shanghai, lies the 600- year-old fishing village of Worli. The village is like one of the many other gao thans (indigenous villages) in the island city where the close-knit residents live in cramped quarters. They are used to the occasional curious wanderers who land up at the village to see the 17th century British fort that lies at the edge of Worli Koliwada.
What they are not used to is being on the radar of urban hipsters who have made Worli Village the new underground party centre. As one enters Worli Village, just past the garbage dump with stray cats and illegal hutments, one finds Cool Chef Cafe in a squat bare building, which stands out just enough to not quite blend in. Cool Chef Cafe is the venue for Grime Riot Disco (GRD), the alternative party in Mumbai that is the new buzzword for the bourgeois Bohemians.
It is the brainchild of Monica Dogra, actor and one half of the alternative music duo Shaa’ir+Func, along with graphic designer Kunal Lodhia. Dogra grew up in New York and Lodhia in Toronto. They bring with them a homogenised and globalised form of “hipsterdom” which has been embraced by many “creative types” in the city.
New York Times describes the pop-up club or anti-party as temporary parties in secret non-traditional spaces. The anti-party may conjure up images of mahila mandals protesting against women partying in short shorts, but it is far from that. It is, according to the organ isers, the party for “like-minded people, for those without ego and pretentiousness,” says Dogra who describes her cult as the ‘Grime Rioters’. The monthly counter-culture party was conceived as the alternative to partying at fancy-schmancy nightclubs in the city.
The previous locations for GRD have included Club Madness and Bollywood Mischief, both past-their-sell-by-date clubs in Bandra. Choosing the right location is the most important pre-requisite of the underground party. The more fallen-off-the-map the place is, the better. “It’s exciting to go to a rundown place that people have not seen before. A party works with the right people and music, and not because it’s in a chic nightclub,” says Lodhia.
The avowed mission of the anti-party brigade is to rebel against conformism, to undermine the idea of partying as cool. And in a strange way, the irony is completely lost to them. For even though the hipsters would loathe to admit it, there is a distinct “we’re too cool to be cool” vibe to the party. It’s not the sort of party you just walk into. Every person who comes to the party is extremely self-aware, and is there to see and be seen. “The best DJs host our parties. We have music you would find in a top nightclub without paying exorbitant prices. There’s no dress code either. It’s cheap and friendly. You just come and be yourself,” says Dogra, who takes her role as a free-thinking hipster party girl very seriously in bright yellow boho sunglasses, Day-Glo make-up and packets of Gems around her neck that she handed out to those around her.
Hints of subversion are everywhere, from the unlikely location to the kitschy decor. Inside Cool Chef Cafe, cheap streamers and tinsel is hanging from the neon-graffiti splattered walls. A retro red disco ball spins on the dance floor. The tables have been pushed aside and a DJ’s console occupies one corner. The intimate space gives the vibe of a house party, except that there are over 200 people gathered. The guests are so obviously Bohemian that one could have walked into the 1960s.
The DJ is spinning a mix of new funk, dubstep and mash-ups, non-mainstream hipster-approved music. DJ Ruskin, the regular DJ for Grime Riot and the resident DJ for the popular live music venue Blue Frog, says: “You will never hear Black Eyed Peas or Akon here. It is extremely gratifying to play for a crowd that really gets it. The music is quirky and it matches the crowd.”
This gentrification has been taking place in Mumbai for the past few years. A few months ago, Mukul Deora, musician and entrepreneur, organised a pub crawl for artists and hipsters in an open double decker bus that went through Sewri on the eastern shore, the city’s underbelly, with stops at trucker and dance bars. Dubbed the Eastern Promises, Deora plans to make it a regular feature and feels that a city is best understood by exploring its seamier side.
Tullika Wangdi Sonam, 24, who works in movie promotion and is a regular at GRD, says that Mumbai can be a very “look at me” kind of city. “If you go to a fancy place like Trilogy, you are expected to look the part. But here everyone is non-judgemental.” Attired in a silver-sequinned dress with a retro headband and silver stick-on tattoos all over, she looks every inch the pin-up girl for hipster chic.
Ironically, hipsters have a ‘we’re too cool to be cool’ vibe to their parties. Everyone who comes is there to be seen
Mumbai-based writer Amana Khan, who lived in London before shifting base here, says that the underground party scene in Mumbai is nascent and exciting. “Every great city’s nightlife offers pockets of sub-culture as Mumbai is discovering now.” The organisers of Grime Riot have been asked to bring the pop-up party to Delhi and Bengaluru. Lodhia is waiting for the day when he can host a party in Mumbai on top of an oil tanker in the middle of the sea. “It’s a party where everyone knows everyone, the alternative/creative profe ssionals land here in droves. I love the experience,” says Aarti Wig, 31, who wo rks in the development sector. But she expresses her reservations about the “slum party”. “I’m a little discomfited as it reminded me of slum tourism. It is a party that happens in the middle of a slum but isn’t open to those who live there.”
As a postscript to this thought, recently, Cool Chef Cafe was ransacked by workers of Shiv Sena who feel that the place is corrupting the residents of the area. “Couples step out of the cafe to smoke and make out. Women dressed in really tiny skirts stand outside and do unmentionable things,” says Shiv Sena corporator Sanjay Agaldare in an angry sound bite. The anti-party attacked by the anti-party.
As Suketu Mehta says in Maximum City, Mumbai is full of restless people.