What are socialites? To paraphrase Camille Paglia, a socialite is one of life’s greatest misinterpreters of reality, demanding that life’s slow, bland routine yield a fantasia of ecstacy and sensation. And hopefully fashionable social prominence.
They’re all here—frockmaking fortunes, pharmaceutical pharaohs, hoteliering honchos, lager/liquor lords, media/movie/ model moghuls, Medusas and Madonnas, Jekylls and Hydes, old rich and new, fifteen-minutes-of-fame pffafers.
"Everyone wants to have fun at someone else’s expense. There’s also a lot of illicit money floating around to fuel such party-making. Today’s socialites are go-getters. They carry cell phones to solicit invitations." —Rita Sen, Calcutta socialite. Friend to Prince Philip Von Liechtenstein.
Sen couldn’t have put it better. Take Delhi construction magnate Arun Ahuja. Supreme exemplar of the Arriviste Aristocrat who orders the guests with the meal. Lands up for his own party to meet people he’s never met before, convert them into "contacts". His recent Bollywood theme party in Delhi hit every newspaper frontpage. It was where shirtmaker Rohit Gandhi came dressed as Bappi Lahiri, exporter Sumit Nair came dolled up as Mandakini... It was Ahuja’s social splash party. He protests innocence: "I don’t need to network. People I invite can’t help me in my business." The follow-up remark is more revelatory of intent. "Delhi has become more conscious about who comes to your parties. It’s important to get the right celebrities." Well... Ahuja’s not alone. Metros are teeming with johnny’s-come-lately seeking an entry.
Bangalore-based playwright Mahesh Dattani knows the breed. "They’re out of towners, fringe people seeking an ‘in’ into the charmed circle. They’ll raid other people’s mailing lists. Splurge generously. It helps. Parties come expensive. Average theme-do cost? Rs 4 lakh. Booze itself is a lakh plus. Decor/theme props/venue/DJ rentals/food account for the rest. Not hosting; even attending costs. Theme parties demand theme dressing: "You can’t repeat your outfits. Everything’s new: the shoes from London, the Italian shirt, the Parisian frock, the German bag..." confides an experienced acolyte. A Bombay-based socialite/columnist makes a perceptive comment: "Delhi is more outrageous than Bombay. It’s a bania world. The nouveau riche is fascinated by the popular impression of how the rich live. They try to live that life, do the things they believe are statements of being rich."
Hustler hosts thrive on hustling invitees. 400 people were invited by Ahuja. An equal number gatecrashed. "That’s common," reveals Delhi-based party-thrower Alex Housego. "I knew only one of every five people I had at my own party once!" Ramona Garware, Bombay-based socialite, is cutting about them: "These people are attracted to the frills, desperate to be invited." Dattani sees invitation hustlers as types: "They’re intrinsically worthless types looking for confirmation of a worth they know to be missing. Social acceptance/rejection for them is a life and death thing." As it is for the Delhi-based fashion designer of spurious stature seen piteously cadging invitations time and again.
Landing up in uninvited herds at watering-hole party venues can prove amusing sometimes. Housego recalls landing up at a Delhi party where each guest gave him a different name for the host."I found out the host’s name a good two weeks later!" he laughs.
"I hate being called a socialite. It’s an embarrassing, traumatic label." - Nafisa Ali, Delhi-based socialite, aids activist.
They assume assorted avatars, these socialites. Some just party to party. To keep life and ennui away. People with more money than merit. Vapid, vacuous, vain. Helpless jellies poured into the tin mould of life. Preoccupied with the petty trivia of other people, other lives. They’re everywhere: manners, maquillage, coiffure, couture impeccably in place along with the trademark, vacant desert-in-my-soul-expressions. At society weddings and funerals, galas and regattas, launches and arrivals, openings and closings. They live on the fringes of fashion and fad. Between covers of society rags. They have no names. Only nomenclatures viz. the steel/ pharma/sugar/ liquor fortune. Fortune Jr or Fortune Sr would suffice as description and personality profile.
"I don’t like that word ‘socialite’. It gives the impression that the person is some kind of social butterfly. Really wealthy people seek equality. People who really make partymaking a farce are the gatecrashers." - Ramona Garware, Bombay-based socialite.
But like it or not, socialite= social butterfly. Recently, a Delhi-based Modi scion’s secretary rang up startled socialites in Jaipur (three out of five were women), informing them the boss they’d never met was coming to town and would be delighted to have them join him for dinner in his hotel suite. "This woman," recalls a lady who went out of sheer curiosity, "landed up at the height of a Rajasthan winter in a flimsy off-the-shoulder gown with a flimsier wrap, announced loudly she needed a relationship with a man ‘who was there but not there’, confessed to all present she was proud of a body she took great care of and so on. Some party!" The host zeroed in on another statuesque American who introduced herself as "professional party maker"! Sen’s sniffy: "If I accepted invites to these parties I’d consider myself a loose woman."
"There are people that are installed along with the ice sculptures. Both are there to lend ambience. Party peacocks play the part. Sometimes even live it. Like the ice sculptures they melt to nothingness upon closer, more extended inspection." - Mahesh Dattani, Bangalore-based playwright.
These are the people you read about in those inane Around Town, Hi Society, Buzz, Zoning, Glitterati/Chatterati variety of print pffaf. "Who is Peshi Nat? Or for that matter Dave Chang? Or Aimee Bajaj, Lily Khanna, Kitten Musker? Why do we need to know them? Because they’re rich? And party? What kind of message are we sending? That to party is an achievement?" asks singer Shubha Mudgal. These are people that make ninnies of themselves in their attempt to communicate back-slapping familiarity with everybody important. Take the time socialite Nina Pillai charged into adman Frank Simoes at a Bombay literary soiree: "Why, Dom, darling! Wonderful to see you," she gushed as Simoes bucked in shocked surprise.
Parties are peopled by wannabes—pop celebs coming to be seen. The ‘knowing-the-right-people syndrome’ can be stretched to absurdity. Like designer Rina Dhaka did gushing about how supermodel Naomi Campbell had BATHED, not just WASHED in her house!
There are more risque stories. Like that of the drunken model at the all-night rave who took off her panties while dancing. Or the one about the diplomats and women-about-town gang that settled in for post-party tea, found the strainer missing, improvised one with the bra a lady sportingly provided. Then there’s the inebriated ad lady who danced topless at a city discotheque. Not to omit the story about the Bombay actress who relieved herself in the host’s loo at a Delhi party—even as select invitees/ sundry saunterers watched. She, along with the illustrious sorority listed above, are wanted, solicited presences at august society dos.
Delhi’s party gal non pareil? Drag queen Sylvie. Then, there are the mysterious beautiful women who call themselves "consultants". The fashpack walas are part of the Party Pantheon, for whom partying is a career choice. A top Delhi designer, delicate of health, washes up in hospital party after party; but hi-lifes on.
Bombay has its own party pack: Ramona Garware, Nina Pillai, Parmeshwar Godrej (her plunging neckline upstaged Gina Lollobrigida’s some years ago), Maureen Wadia, bottle-blonde Avanti Birla, Rekha Mallya. Pied Piper of the Calcutta circuit? Actress Moon Moon Sen. Funny thing happened to her recently. Parked herself in front of a Delhi dancer: "I’m Moon Moon Sen. Who’re you? And what do you do?" He answered politely enough, and then asked what SHE did. She was not amused.
In Bangalore, recently deserted by the Mallyas in favour of Bombay, the socially-bereft model coordinator Prasad Bidappa, actresses Arundhati Nag, Priscilla Corner, businesswoman Kiran Majumdar Shaw, race course fixture R.R. Byramji keep the party flag flying. "But it’s not the same after Mallya," moans Bidappa.
"It’s true there are people that cultivate the press so that they can be written about. I know people in the circle who’ll do anything. They send out photographs to the press. Even call up and say they held a party." - Devika Bhojwani, Bombay designer, TV producer.
What’s the point of conducting a week-long wedding, putting up Rajasthan, Mediterranean theme tents, Flowers and Gold Tissue clad tables, flying in Saroj Khan to choreograph the ladies sangeet, if it doesn’t hit the news? Why have a Rs 4-10 lakh extravaganza: Jungle, Casino, Traffic Light Theme, All Night Rave if your social sensex doesn’t zoom? Why should Mallya throw his birthday, Derby or Diwali bash to which the likes of WorldTel honcho Mark Mascarenhas report every year "because it’s such fun to party with Vijay" if it’s not hossanahed? IT MUST. Especially when bands are flown in from Singapore, chefs from Egypt. Bangalore’s most spectacular do? The recent Kiran Majumdar hosted theme party where Sunil Alagh, ceo, Brittania, came dressed as a pimp, complete with album of come-hither women pics. Delhi socialite Anu Malhotra’s leather-bustiered entry at the Rohit Bal show in Delhi, her blue-wigged splash at the First City anniversary bash had the paparazzi in a frenzy.
Media attention is solicited. Shamelessly. By hostesses who invite celebs as guest baits—"Do come dahling. So-and-so will be there". "There’s an incestuous alliance between the fourth estate and the cocktail circuit. The educated middle class that reads about the Bals and Dhakas gets an inferiority complex, feels he’s achieved little without this deity darshan," says anchorman Vinod Dua. Columnist V. Gangadhar corroborates, "Columnists are obviously doing favours for friends. Those friends in turn invite them to parties." Actress Simi Garewal voices despair: "Some papers believe readers want to know what the rich wear, how they party.I disagree. I think a few journalists are so much in awe of the wealthy they can’t help writing about them."
"They think they’ll MAKE IT by going to a party. Think some of the tinsel will rub off." - Namrata Joshipura, fashion designer.
So they change names from a regular Prabhjot Kaur to a more stylish Preah or Rhea. Acquire the right attitudes, accents. Grab, turn, twist, manipulate. Gladiators in gladrags, running the GET AHEAD race. Sometimes it backfires. Like it did for the Delhi ingenue who threw a party for a hundred "close" friends. NO ONE came. They went to a more "happening" party. Never mind her hurt. The weekend after Jessica Lall’s death many "close" friends went to a big farmhouse bash. Of course, they ALL went there to mourn.
With Manu Joseph in Bombay, B.R. Srikanth in Bangalore and Soutik Biswas in Calcutta.
With Manu Joseph in Bombay, B.R. Srikanth in Bangloreand Soutik Biswas in Calcutta