August 13, 2008 12:56:29 am
A continuing series of live music, featuring jazz and rock acts from around the country, at one of Bangalore’s popular nightspots, was scheduled to host Virgil Donati — labelled the “wildest drummer in the world” — on August 1. While music lovers in the city geared up for the show, the organisers of the event got a surprise notice from the police. They were told that no restaurant in the city could host live music anymore. Recorded was fine but not live.
In a hurried move, the Virgil Donati-Brett Garsed show was postponed to August 6 and moved to a regular auditorium in the city.
Bangalore, once known as the Pub City on account of a pub culture, finds itself stretching at the moral seams as a small but increasingly international and modern lifestyle vies with conservative administrative mindset. Misadventures in the framing and interpretation of new laws have not helped matters either.
At the heart of the latest clampdown on live music and dancing at restaurants is ‘the licensing and controlling of places of public entertainment (Bangalore City) order, 2005’, introduced in May 2005 and targeted in particular at the ‘dance bars’ of the kind banned in Mumbai. Taking umbrage under loopholes in the then existing public entertainment rules, dance bars had emerged all over the city in early 2005. Several police complaints were filed against these bars.
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The 2005 order, however, clubbed all entertainment spots under a common banner — not differentiating between dance bars, discotheques or regular restaurants with live music. After the order was introduced in June 2005, all public entertainment spots were forced to pull the plug on live music and dancing. Many restaurants even warned owners against allowing patrons to sway to recorded music being played at their establishments.
The 2005 order requires license applicants to adhere to a strict timing for shows, safety of women working or performing at these establishments, apart from technical aspects like seating area vis-à-vis performance zones.
With no establishment being able to adhere to all the specifications in the order, there were no restaurants with live music or dancing permitted in Bangalore through much of the second half of 2005. All restaurants serving alcohol had to shut down by 11:30 pm under the existing excise licensing norms.
In December 2005, however, the Resto-Lounge Bar and Discotheque Owners Association got some relief with the Supreme Court ruling that licenses could be issued to places not promoting indecent shows and prostitution.
Following this order the Bangalore police gradually began taking a more lenient view on public entertainment, allowing regular restaurants to host live music and allowing discotheques to open as well.
According to senior government officials a move began in late 2007, during the Governor’s rule, to consider reframing excise rules that imposed the 11:30 pm curfew on restaurants serving alcohol. “A proposal came from the tourism department for extending night deadlines to 1:30 am. It was sent to the Excise Department who said they were okay if the police could ensure security. However, no decision was taken,” the senior government official said.
The current clampdown on live music and discotheques began around August 1 after owners of the dance bars filed a petition in the high court stating that many discotheques were functioning without licenses in the city. Summoned to the high court, Police Commissioner Shankar Bidari promised to shut down all places operating in violation of the 2005 public entertainment order. He warned local police inspectors of suspension if any establishment violated the order in their respective areas.
The clampdown has resulted in two Sunday protests in the heart of Bangalore — the first by a handful of people and then by over 1000 — for restoration of live music in restaurants. But the Police Commissioner and Home Minister have stated that there will be no relaxations in the existing law.
“The number of people who want a nightlife in Bangalore constitute a small percentage. Those against it are larger in numbers. Maybe it will take another 10 years for the majority of the city to adapt to a new lifestyle,” a senior government official said.
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