Monday, March 05, 2007

Chowdiah -- The Warm Welcome (Too Warm!!)

My wife took me to the Russel Peters show last Tuesday. I say "took me" because she decided to spend one week's salary on the tickets within blink of an eye. I salute her foresight and ability to enjoy what may be called as "once in a lifetime" experience. Had she allowed me to decide, the show was sold out in about 5-10 blinks it normally takes me. In 15 blinks, all 3 shows were sold out--- even the free passes were gone!!!

This chap is a stand-up comedian of Indian origin, born in Canada and cracking up in US. A staple on youtube, this was the first time he visited three Indian cities. All the "cheap downloading bastards" (as he called us) decided to fork over some dough for once, and landed up to watch him live at Chowdiah Memorial in Bangalore. The audience was heavily titled towards 22-25 year olds, which I found odd. It also reminded me that I already belong to a "has been" generation. As my wife reminded me yesterday, "during college" is now a reference to an era 10 years past...!

The show itself was a laugh-riot as expected. What was unexpected was that NONE of the jokes were repeats from other DVDs and snippets we had stolen off the net earlier. It was by and large original and adapted to Indian audiences. That is not to say it lacked any trademark grossness, obscenity or hilarious toilet audio. A friend of ours managed to grab front-seats in another show and make full use of Peters' interactive act. He got himself "picked upon". During our show, we settled for watching him pick on (random?) members of the audience as nothing remained sacred-- their names, race, color, hairstyle, education and pubic hair. It was hilarious to watch it all being ripped apart by the master comedian (no pun intended).

Since this features on my blog hailing the idiosyncrasies of Bangalore, time now to indulge.

Chowdiah is the local equivalent of something like the NCPA auditorium. Just like Rangshankara imagines itself to be the local Prithvi. While RS has managed to emulate Prithvi in spirit, if not in content, the only equivalence Chowdiah shares with NCPA is higher ticket prices!

It shocks us to find, all 4 times that we have been there, everyone sweating it out. The humor in the production is offset by the human comedy dribbling down my neck. The Air-conditioning is either switched on late or pathetically incapable to cool that size of theatre.

We have noticed this peculiar energy-saving "logic" to switch on the AC late and switch it off about 10 minutes BEFORE closing time at numerous multiplexes, theatres and malls in Bangalore. Once upon a time Bangalore was called Garden-city and did not NEED any AC or fans. Wake up, guys, that "once upon a time" was a long LONG time ago!!

The other craziness at Chowdiah is the pedestrian cafeteria and the virtual stampede that a 10 minute interval can cause. RS charges a tenth of the entrance fee (upper end) and yet has such a well-managed and well-maintained cafe.

Thirdly, while the parking seems to be better, the approach and exit roads are a maze of narrow one-way bylanes. How can such a premium venue be tucked away so secretly that not one sign directs us from the main road? Can the government not make a better route to-and-fro considering it hosts the best of international acts and audiences?

I reckon the monopoly position as a large-enough venue and our high threshold for sub-standard quality allow places like Palace Ground and Chowdiah to get away with this "take it or leave it" attitude year after year, performance after performance.

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