Shonali Muthalaly and Priyadarshini Paitandy join clubbers and party goers to find this city never sleeps
Can Chennai rock all night? Undoubtedly. After all this is the city of beach house parties: midnight swimming pool plunges, drinking games on the terrace and dancing till dawn. This is the city that embraced ECR’s rain dances, between moonlit beach volley ball, splashing in the surf and lip syncing to Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s my life’ on the dance floor.
This is where the party revival is happening: after years of Cinderella deadlines, we’re out to prove we’ve not turned into a city of pumpkins. Which brings us to the big question. Chennai can party all night. But can we?
It’s an admittedly unusual assignment. Follow the clubbers, the dancers, the party girls. For a change we’re not worrying about running out of ink, paper or batteries on our voice recorders. We prepare for the night carefully, bringing out the big guns. Our highest stilettos, our most sparkly dresses and — of course — long staying deep red lipstick. It’s Friday. We’re out to prove that this city can party all night. And we intend to do it in style.
The newly opened Ramada
Oh dear. A guest list. And a line of shuffling people. In front a stern woman with a clipboard takes down names and numbers. It feels more like gym class than a glamorous fashion show. Inside, it’s bright and breezy on the terrace. Girls in high heels walk gingerly between the wooden board flooring, holding in their stomachs for the benefit of their little dresses. Between it all fashion designer Karun Raman stands, welcoming guests in a chic skinny white shirt. We air-kiss our way around the room and then finally settle under the massive speakers. Waiters with spiky hair come by with steamy cheese balls, crisp prawn varuval and plump chicken tikka. The music is thumping so loudly we can barely hear ourselves think. We resort to smsing each other to communicate. We’re deconstructing outfits, and it requires concentration. The show finally begins at 10 p.m.: fashionably late. As Rochelle Rao, Femina Miss India International 2012, sashays down the runway, we slither out.
Taj Club House
We tear in excitedly to find ourselves in a practically empty room. Bouncing up and down on the plush couches, we order beetroot-clove-whiskey cocktails and look around. This is perplexing. Where is everyone? From all accounts, Blend heaves with people on Friday night. However, right now the only customers are a clutch of geeky boys drinking juice and watching Fashion TV. The guest DG looks like he’s having a good time though, on his obligatory Apple computer. Vijay Chawla, popular resident DJ (referred to as ‘Chocolate Chawla’ by his legion of female admirers), comes by to say hello. In a lame attempt to save face, we snigger about how quiet it is, and are told we’re ridiculously early. Apparently, the ‘action’ only starts well past 11.30 p.m. Feeling like total bumpkins we sadly eat a plate of addictively spicy baby corn, while Chawla and Executive Chef Siddique watch us sympathetically. Ah well. We have places to go.
Madras Pub -
It’s opening night. Shutter bugs and red carpets? Hardly. It’s fairly dodgy outside, and the club is set on a quiet dark lane. This does not look promising. Climbing a steep flight of stairs, we find ourselves nose to nose with a beefy bouncer in a tight black T-shirt. Cue: Smile, flutter eyelashes. Getting into clubs is an art form. He looks us up and down, then pushes open the doors. Neon lights, staggering people and men with mops scurrying around. We navigate through couples entangled together, sad drunken men and teeny boppers head banging on the dance floor. They’ve been slammed by crowds, and its happy chaos. Manager Arasu, formerly with Zara, looks equally delighted with both his new portfolio, and shiny suit. He dances over, carrying caipirinhas, spilling generous amounts along the way. (That explains the men with mops.) We bump into Rina Raymond, Chennai’s ultimate party girl. Listening to our schedule, she shakes her head in disapproval. “No No. First Zara, then come here. Blend is next, and finally Dublin because that’s open till morning.” At least it’s not too late to mend our ways. We make plans to meet in Dublin later.
But first, we need to rest our feet. (High heels are torturous.) Mathsya’s the city’s favourite late night dosa haunt, bringing together an unlikely assortment of people: doctors, DJs, chefs and police officers — all settling down for a relaxed late night snack after their night shifts. Owner Ram Bhat always knows what’s happening in the city, because so many of the parties end with Udupi dosas. “We had a big crowd from the fashion show earlier,” he says, as we settle down with their trademark fluffy cheese toast, ginger-slathered aasai dosais and masala chai. By the time our tea arrives, the bustling restaurant is quiet. The staff pull down the shutters. “We close earlier to keep out the drunk people,” smiles Bhat. “So where next?” We smile triumphantly. We finally know the ‘cool’ answer to this. “Dublin. We’re going dancing.”
We don’t expect quite so much sweat. Stylishly entering the Park Sheraton lobby, we smile like Miss World contestants. It’s all golden light and perfume, till we clip down the corridor and see The Queue. Central Station at peak hour pales in comparison. The line of impatient clubbers, push, poke and pull in their desperation to get past the bouncers. We try being polite. Till a sweaty man with a scraggly ponytail shoves us against the wall. Fortunately the manager spots us. (There are admittedly some perks to being a journalist!). We’re in. The energy is infectious. A two-level dance floor, pulsating with people. Girls with glow-in-the-dark bangles and boys in grungy T-shirts.
The dance floor is a great leveller. Everyone’s grooving to the music, moving together. The crowd parts to make room for us. As the DJ starts playing ‘Don’t you worry Child’ (Swedish House Mafia feat. John Martin), we lift our arms in the air, singing along with everyone. By 3 a.m. we’re knackered. Our mascara’s running, and the long-lasting lipstick’s long gone. As we hobble out of Dublin, a surge of people enter, dressed to the hilt, and ready to party.
Bah. We’ll never win. Well. At least the city keeps going.