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December 31, 2013

Those Sizzling Shindigs

Text by Neha Gupta

Fisherwomen greetings, Avatar lamps, old barber chairs – three party planners, Gurleen Puri, Neelabh Kapoor and Dave Chang, relive experimental themes in entertainment

  • Jazzy seatings by Neelabh Kapoor
    Jazzy seatings by Neelabh Kapoor
  • Flower arrangements by Gurleen Puri
    Flower arrangements by Gurleen Puri
  • Sheesh Mahal inspired decor by Neelabh Kapoor
    Sheesh Mahal inspired decor by Neelabh Kapoor
  • Gilt sets by Dave Chang
    Gilt sets by Dave Chang

The key to a fun event is not copious amounts of coinage. It is, in fact, about owning a snazzy bone that’s up for anything. Hiring a dancer from Turkey or mixologists from Russia or ropewalkers from Estonia is easy. But how involved are the guests in such celebrations? The novelties of these often-sighted holiday attractions may lack charm when pinched from their authentic surroundings. Planning such soirees is a task; execution at these scales can be much more arduous.

It’s no wonder that Gurleen Puri, Neelabh Kapoor, and Dave Chang for Vivek Sahni Designs (VSD) prefer those parties known more for displaying style sans fiscal bravura. “Parties don’t have that fun factor that used to exist earlier. People were far more experimental and their parties were far more interactive,” Puri reminisces. Today she can’t fathom the thought of hiring fisherwomen to add to the ambience and greeting guests like she had a decade ago. Another time she invited a Kathakali dancer who invoked the curiosity of his audience when he plunged into the elaborate dressing-up ritual, right in the middle of the hall. Everyone wanted to participate, and as he moved through the crowd, they picked up onto his energetic vibe.

These may not be as avant-garde as the ones she orchestrates regularly. But reminiscing today, the one party that pushes sentimental buttons was a small gathering of sweet elderly ladies for the birthday lunch of their 87-year-old friend. Her crown shaped cake was wheeled in on dry ice and decorated with sparklers. The bar was inspired by Snow White and they were served mocktails in much the manner of fairy-tale princesses.

For Neelabh Kapoor, speaking about a particular mehendi function is what turns him into an overtly garrulous man. The bar was titled Daaru Desi, held a larger-than-life boom box with trumpets as horns, and huge cassettes as the bar’s fascia. Another part, inspired from Lahore’s Sheesh Mahal, worked with reflections using water. A carnival feel took over a third of the room. One wall held an installation of bicycles drowned in white, and carried tiered lunch boxes. Old rum bottles held pompoms to make centrepieces. Tables were built from cycle rims; old cola wooden boxes, layered with cushions, made for seats. Guests sat on vintage barber chairs while professionals applied henna on their palms. The bride and groom themselves sat in thrones decorated with LED lights. The theme – horn-okay-please – called for bling. “When you work with many elements, you create something which is anything but monotonous. You get so involved with it that it becomes a beautiful reflection of your art.”

And artistic flair is exactly what Dave Chang aims to imbue into each of his events. For instance, one with giant gold murals was triggered off from Warhol’s piss paintings. Of course they used vinegar instead! His squad is always up for a good challenge. So when another client insisted on James Cameron’s Avatar theme, it was a trial they really had to pre-prepare and then prepare for again. While the movie was built on special effects, the VSD crew had to balance the task of imbibing these in physical form, on a budget, without arriving at a poor reproduction of a spectacular masterpiece. The entire team struggled with creating life-like floating floral islands, and lamps patterned after jellyfish. “If it fits the budget and isn’t illegal then Bob’s your uncle!” is Chang’s motto.

When these artistes finally plan a do at home, it’s a cosy group that won’t go beyond 15! Chang says, “Great food, a lethal seasonal cocktail from a well-stocked bar and a very specific playlist…and of course the décor.”

For Puri, entertaining at home is all about serving home-cooked meals, but not without élan. They may not be as radical as one of her legendary themes conceived for clients 10 to 15 years ago: a room covered with leaves for a jungle party, or lace and leather for décor and dress for a bachelorette. Yet, guests have been dazzled with simple tea-light placements and flower arrangements.

Ask any of these three party planners about what would douse their fire, and they are unanimous in their answer: controlling and meddling clients, replication of what’s been done before, and a bad hair day.

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