The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Midnight manners

There’s a nightclub code to decide who gets in and who stays out; some black and white, but most grey...

Nightlife is booming in Calcutta. Fourteen nightclubs come to mind readily. On weekends and special nights, they are bursting at the seams. It looks like the world and its aunt — yes, many aunties, and uncles, get in and shake up the dance floor — have turned up. Having a great night never looked simpler.

It is simple, for many. Yet nightclubs in the city, like anywhere in the world, follow codes — some of it written in very fine print. You should not be surprised if you are stopped at the gate and told: “Sorry, sir, but it’s a Members Only Night.” You should ask: “What’s wrong with me'” as a “A Members Only Night” generally means you are not good enough.

With the city’s nightlife changing, where do nightclubs draw the line' It’s a fine one, which separates the OK people from the not-OK, the upmarket from the downmarket, the aunties from the teens, the wheat from the chaff, and sometimes, the PLUs (people like us) from the powers-that-be. Here’s a check-list of the rules at Calcutta nightclubs, though some of them may leave you wondering.


For men: They have always had it bad at nightclubs, which prefer westernwear and women to Indianwear and men. But with the upsurge in ethnic wear and fusion fashion, the kurtas and kurtis and bandhgalas now come in interesting shades of grey for some nightclubs. Clubs say they “avoid” giving entry to people in ethnic outfits. “Men are barred entry in Indian outfits. We make exceptions only for Pujas, festivals and theme nights,” says a nightclub official. Shisha, the happening lounge and hookah bar, doesn’t allow “fancy fusion wear for men”. That means no jeans-and-kurtas, no Chinese collars, no stoles with kurta-pyjama. “Embroidered” kurta-pyjamas are not allowed. But it “can’t say no” to the national outfit, dhoti-kurta. (No statistics available on how many men wear dhoti-kurta to a nightclub.)

At Venom, on Camac Street, a green flex banner guards the entrance. It spells out the rules, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. The investigation starts from the gate and it is the discretion of the manager to allow someone inside. The rules are rigid for men. Though ethnic wear like regular kurta pyjama is allowed, a sleeveless shirt or T-shirt and open footwear are not permitted. “On special occasions like Diwali we allow funky kurtas but on normal days they are banned,” says Bunty Sethi, owner of Venom. “Frankly speaking, 90 per cent of Calcuttans don’t know how to look good,” he adds.

Open footwear, bermudas/shorts, are banned, but “semi-closed” sandals or mojris are okay for men. Question: What’s wrong with men’s toes showing' Answer: It’s all about toeing the line, sir.

For women: Women have it easy, but are “preferred” in westernwear. Shisha says so. Still, a sari or salwar kurta is not a rare sight on the dance floor. Sethi of Venom, where there are several complaints of girls wearing Indian dresses having been refused entry, says ethnic or western wear doesn’t matter because it is the “package deal that counts”.

Sethi, who started it all with Anticlock back in 1994, tries to define this ‘package’: “It could be shabby or mismatched clothes, or her partner, or what we can guess about social background.” It can be something as obvious as a shiny cheap top that looks out of place, or something less definable like the overall “look”, which makes the keeper of the gate decide that she’s better out than in.

So behind the salwar kurta or the sari, somehow you will have to be convincingly cool or classy or both. But don’t think you can pretend. The nightspots may hate the behenji, but they hate the behenji trying to pass off as trendy much more. “I’m glad to know that people complain that getting into Venom isn’t easy, because we cater to a certain class and want to maintain that,” stresses Sethi.

Cool within cool

That doesn’t mean it’s not enough to be trendy. There are many shades of cool and you have to know what fits where. Or when. At one of the lounge bars in the city, a kurta-and-jeans-clad lady was allowed to enter one night and the very next night dressed in jeans and a black top she was denied entry, because the face at the gate had changed.

The authorities at The Park, which houses three nightspots in Tantra, Someplace Else (SPE) and Roxy, insist that guests must be “appropriately dressed and not impaired by drinks or drugs”. But the appropriate dress code varies from one place to another on the same premises. Red pants and a black ribbed sleeveless top, looking to dance to Beedi will surely be allowed entry into Tantra, but is likely to get the “Members only” treatment at “classy” Roxy. So, check out your brand of cool and be prepared to be shown the door if you don’t fit in.

Male-female ratio

At nightclubs, men not only retain the burden of being a “stag”, denoting the animal potential of the unattached Indian male at a nightclub. They are also taking on more names — “member”, “regular” and “walk-in” (one-time visitor) — stags, while the club authorities try to formulate strategy to get in more women to set the gender ratio right. Which simply means that you may not make it in because you are a man. “Abroad, there’s nothing called stag entry because the girl-guy ratio comes naturally. It’s over here that we need to consciously work towards it,” says a club manager. Often, the number of men allowed in depends on the women who are already in.

“We allow stags, depending on the ratio of girls and boys present. These days groups of young single girls venture out to party. We have to ensure their security and so it is important to monitor the flow of stags who might disturb the peace,” says Gautam Singh, manager of SPE. Even regulars are often stopped for being part of the only-the-lonely club.

But rules are far more flexible when it comes to foreigners. Two white men will invariably get easier entry than two Indian men.

So get metrosexual, get in touch with your feminine side, get trendy women friends — and breeze past the nightclub barrier.

Bargain and business card

Sometimes, the nightclubs may not show the Members Only sign, but will tell you to pay a special entry price. Enter, bargaining skills. A recent visitor to a happening nightspot was asked to cough up Rs 1,000 for two. But he bargained hard and sweet-talked the gatekeeper into cancelling it.

Often, what cash can’t do, the (business) card can. For that is the best accessory, even if you are a stag or shabbily dressed, or both. At Underground, if the authorities are apprehensive about letting in someone who looks like trouble, they ask for his business card. “If we see that the person holds a good position in a reputed organisation, we allow him in,” admits Vaibhav Gupta, manager.

Thin gay line

Of all would-be nightclub-goers, a gay couple or a gay group is most likely to be refused entry. “You have to go in with a woman,” grumbles Bishan Samaddar.

Though there are gay persons who are part of Calcutta’s party crowd and the clubs don’t mind them mingling with the celebrity brigade, life is not so easy for less well-known gay persons. Even if they are allowed to enter, with girls, they are not at liberty to enjoy the way they want to. “A friend of mine was dancing alone at a nightclub, when the bouncer came and said that he had to dance with a woman. Apparently it was the rule,” explains Bishan.

A place like Someplace Else is, apparently, much more convenient as there is no couple-entry rule and even if one is inclined to dance with another man, which is not possible because of the dearth of space, you are not stopped. “Someplace Else is far more progressive in that way,” claims a gay guy.

But if rules are more relaxed for gay men, won’t it work better for clubs looking to maximise profits' “What needs to be understood is that gays today are a sizeable chunk of the population and they are also ready to pay. But where are the opportunities'” asks a gay nightclub regular with a woman on his arm as entry permit.

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