“Enjoy the Playboy experience,” says an immaculately togged up bouncer as he slides a red satin sash on to my wrist. A eady mix of YSL, Gucci and Issey Miyake lingers in the air as a group of twentysomethings queues up at the entrance of Novotel to sample the first Indian Playboy Club, which kicked off in Hyderabad recently. “Oooh, aren’t you excited,” giggles a pretty one in the group. “Only if you let me play,” mutters her companion with a teasing grin. Kaavya, a chartered accountant in an MNC, has had her satin-smooth skin polished to further perfection for the night and clings to her man as she stands tall on her wedges.
It’s 10.30 pm on a Saturday and the night couldn’t get any younger. Many of those walking into Playboy Club are a little self-conscious, wondering if they are there too early. But as the door swings open, the immensely addictive techno music of Konstantin Yoodza drags the languid Hyderabadi soul into a different “ozonosphere”. DJ Anees ups the tempo; the younger lot are queueing up for tequila shots at the bar near the dance floor. This is where the acoustics change the soft murmurs in the heart to a steady throb, the ‘thump experience’, as it were.
A look at the swaying mass indicates that either the famous bunnies are in hiding or have blended entirely into the partying crowd. Going by the large firang clientele, it’s difficult to guess. Except for one club hostess, it’s a complete beef fest as far as the bartending section goes.
A ravishing 27-year-old, Fahrie Berisha, who’s been in Hyderabad for over a year now, shouts over the din that she loves the “international feel out here”. “I have been to most of the city’s clubs but this music I like,” she says, bestowing the DJ with a wink. But desi boys beware, if a ‘Saturday Saturday’ is your type of dance music, Playboy isn’t the place for you. The mere mention of Bollywood causes club manager Gaurav Bankaya to give me a smirk but he does temper it with a “we might have an infusion of Bollywood once in a while in Playboy in terms of live performances, but that’s it”. So if you are in Playboy, think tech house, deep house, EDM (Electronic Dance Music), progressive house, techno and vocal house.
Shekhar and Rajani arrive at around 11.30 pm, and immediately launch into some practised house dance moves. Shekhar’s eyes dart around the club, resting ever so delicately on an expat group led by a Saudi Airlines hostess, Uzma. “You know, there’s so much vulgarity in Hindi TV soaps, why do these women’s rights groups think that a few Playboy bunnies will ruin our culture?” he wonders aloud, clearly wishing there were a few women around wearing bodices and bow ties.
The only bunnies on display currently are the large red Playboy logos glistening under the psychedelic lights. Of course, the classy menus have pages elaborating the history of Playboy and its culture.
The violent protests during the club’s inauguration has rankled the management and they are taking no chances. Parag Sanghvi, co-owner of PB Lifestyle, says Hyderabad just happened to be the city where Playboy Club came up first. “We are also locking destinations in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi,” he says. On the protests by the women’s groups as also the Bharatiya Yuva Jana Morcha, Parag exclaims, “We are a high-end luxury nightclub chain, not a strip joint. Members or customers who come here are used to a certain lifestyle, and party in luxury. The look and feel is completely international,” he assures you.
About the order issued by Cyberabad police commissioner C.V. Anand that women in any attire will not be allowed to serve as waitresses, hostesses or to serve liquor in Playboy Club, Parag says it’s extremely unfair. “We find female hostesses everywhere in the hospitality industry, be it in hotels or airlines. So why should Playboy Club be singled out?” he asks. The licence-holder for Playboy Club says that eventually there will be female hostesses, though not “pinned down to any uniform”.
V. Chamundeswarinath, who has a five per cent stake in Playboy Club, Hyderabad, insists there will be no bunnies to cater to Indian sensibilities though rumours of high-end escorts with members fly thick and fast in the city’s elite circles. As of now, the club has a little over 150 members who have paid Rs 3 lakh/annum each for the same. Others pay Rs 4,000 as cover charges for entry into the nightclub but are not allowed into the members area. The biggest plus for members is they get entry into any of 40 Playboy Clubs across the world with this membership, says Chamundeswarinath.
Of course, not everyone’s happy with the club’s arrival. Social activist Devi, who led the opposition against the Playboy Club, says the very brand represents a “shady, provocative culture”. “We had information that six women had come from Australia and elsewhere to function as bunnies but due to the huge outcry, they are lying low. People who pay Rs 3 lakh for a club membership are not fools, they expect bunnies to serve them...directly or indirectly. This will only lead to a cheap imitation of Playboy culture across Telugu land and encourage trafficking of women,” says an angry Devi. Local BJYM leader Kalyan, who stormed Novotel on Playboy’s opening night, wonders why the KCR government was in such a hurry to grant the licence when even Goa had refused.
Meanwhile, oblivious to all the brouhaha, Fahrie is grinding into her companion for the evening, entranced by the thumping beats of Jerome Isma-Ae. The Hyderabadis are more circumspect and as always the poor dancers make way for the better ones in the middle. Co2 guns make sure that sweaty, grooving bodies get some relief. On the next level, in the members lounge, Sana Satish Babu, one of the club directors, is hosting a private party. Forty-year-old men clutch their Glenlivet on ice as they lounge on red leather sofas. Most of the guests prefer to hang out in the corners, peering down at the dance floor, drinking in the magic of youth and techno. A diminutive Satish Babu holds out a shy handshake and does his best to make himself invisible. No Hugh Hefner hangover here. Club director Tirumal Rao, a solar panel businessman from Guntur and my host for the night, is itching for a smoke. So we proceed to the terrace level where the mood is more informal and nicotine-driven.
Guests have collapsed into cushy sofas with their Budweisers, nachos and cancer sticks. A few stand around bar stools valiantly pumping their legs. There are a few dancers too, hands up in the air, doing typical Hindi disco moves. Evidently, you can take Bollywood out of a nightclub but not out of the Indian dancing gene. The group of girls led by air-hostess Uzma is getting progressively sloshed. All of them totter about in their gravity-defying heels, assisted by the bouncers. The Telugu lads on the terrace lap up this burst of exotica. One of them whips out his smartphone, clicks some rapid selfies and WhatsApps his friends. He calls up someone and yells, “Anna nenu Playboy lo unna, nuvvu ekkada? Vachesi ikkadaki” (Bro, I am at Playboy, where are you? Hurry up and come). Another bunch of barely 21 girls with boyfriends in tow request the photographer to keep away. Nikhila instructs her man, “Orey, dance floor ki pada raa (Hey, let’s go to the dance floor).” The boy follows dutifully. The dress code for most women is the same, the LBD (little black dress). While a hint of cleavage is optional, toned legs and a spritely will are an absolute must. Short shorts are of course another option. Denims can stay at home.
As the night wears on and the moon lights up the sky, DJ Anees weaves further EDM magic, playing Spartaque. Last order for drinks continues till 2 am but the partying goes on till the wee hours in this part of sleepless Hyderabad. As we emerge, one of the young girls in Kaavya’s group is being taken away in a wheelchair. “Yay, Playboy bunnies,” yells the girl grabbing one of the bouncers and planting a smooch on him. After all, it’s the Playboy experience and everyone wants to play. Outside, my host Tirumal collects his Audi and jumps right back into his Hyderabadi skin. “What would you like for dinner? Guntur podi idlis or biriyani?” he asks.
By Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad