Do Dining and Music mix?
In the west dining and music go together, but this concept hasn’t quite caught on here. Ofcourse, a lot of hotels in India have been doing it for a while. Plenty of bands do play at fancy and not-so-fancy restaurants and live music has acquired a kind of snob value. But this doesn’t mean that the Indian audience listens to the music with rapt attention or even appreciates the performance. They can be quite absorbed in having fun.
The Portuguese band strummed its tune and as the lead singer went from one song to the next, the diners became busy with casual chatter over their meals. This upset the singer, who requested silence. When her request was not met she threatened to walk out…What however rubbed the patrons the wrong way is when one of the partners of the restaurant (gave) a little spiel to the patrons on restaurant etiquette. “He said that he was embarrassed about Mumbai, and that those who cannot keep their voices down should just leave,” charges Praveena. “We say if you are embarrassed about Mumbai, you should leave.” Adman Mahesh Mathai (of Whitelight Films), one of the proprietors of the restaurant, puts it down to “teething problems” before as he says Mumbai can take on this international concept of dining.
International concepts need to adapt before they are absorbed. Nothing is wrong with Mumbai or India. Something is wrong with those who imagine that we should not just ape western concepts but also behave like westerners. It’s not possible, even if desirable.
Music is ingrained in our DNA
Traditionally, we do not mix music with food. For Indians food is a social occasion and where music is concerned, it’s in our very blood. The idea of gulping down dollops of food and downing a peg or two and at the same time listening to a Kishori Amonkar or Zakir Hussain? How disrespectful! Ofcourse one can always say that the comparison is wrong. That serious music and/or great performers are different and would never be heard in a dining place. And that all performers need to be given respect because they are artists and we should just shut up and listen to them.
We are a loud people
Well, Indians aren’t used to it. We love to talk and talk loudly. We are a gregarious, social and warm people and well…noisy. We are used to concerts, yes, but not a mish-mash of dining and serious music. I’m calling it serious because if one has to listen in relative silence I guess it becomes a grave affair! Many sophisticated and westernized Indians have indeed mastered the art, but it still remains a a foreign concept to most.
I am certainly not saying that we should not import this or other western concepts to India. But to expect diners to talk in hushed tones and/or act in a propah manner during a restaurant/club performance isn’t practical.
If restaurants such as Blue Frog want to make a splash they need to go about it with sensitivity and they need to adapt.
Indianisation of the Imported
On another note, there have been many cases where imported concepts if not tuned in to local needs have flopped. Whether it was MTV or Walls Ice-cream, they had to adapt to Indian needs before they saw any kind of success. MTV went Indian after a dismal opening, and Walls Ice-cream started to sell family packs (which they hadn’t earlier) after sales never took off. And Amul (Real Milk, Real Ice-cream is the slogan) showed up Wall’s weakness (Indians prefer dairy products, not frozen desserts) beat them hollow. The oldest example I can think of is detergent powder. Decades ago Indians were used to using bars of soap, not powder, and it took some time for the concept to catch on. Even today bars of soap still sell well. Consumers like to give clothes a good scrub, yes, even before chucking them into the washing machine. Considering our weather and the dust it makes perfect sense.
Indians demand Indianisation. Arjun Swarup has discussed this briefly in his post on the Indian Economy blog where he talks about the power of local consumption. He mentions that while we may import western concepts (talking in relation to brands and the mall culture) we Indianise them as well, perhaps more so than other countries of the world. And as one of the commentators of that post mentioned, food items (Pizza for example) sell well with Indian toppings.
I am quite sure that a Tandoori Chicken topping is more popular than the smoked chicken one! And a Veggie MacDonald’s burger is an Indian concept (it’s actually got masala!) and there is no beef in anything. And a non-veg dosa is only outwardly Indian.
In India jeans are often worn with kurti’s, a hybrid of a kurta and a western style top. So what I am saying is that whether it’s music or food or detergent or clothes, or whether it’s a concept, a product or just a style, if it has to succeed in India on a decent enough scale, really catch on, it needs to morph into something that the locals can tune into.
(The first photo is taken from the musicbanter.com and the second one is by me and both are for representative purposes only.)