The day the music died

Deccan Chronicle.  | Ajit Saldanha

Opinion, Op Ed

To say that musicians are upset would be “misunderestimating (sic)” the situation.

the Supreme Court (Photo: DC)

Somewhere in Hades, Aurangzeb must be cackling with glee following the upholding of the Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment Order of 2005 by the Supreme Court. Rewind to1989 when the Police Commissioner made it mandatory for all pubs and restaurants in Bangalore to get a music licence. Pub owners went to court on the grounds that they were merely offering food and beverage, not “public amusement” or “public entertainment”. I consider Anu Malik, EDM and DJ Snake a medieval form of torture, not entertainment, but that’s just me. The matter came up before the Supreme Court in 2002 and the pub owners got a stay. In 2005 the order was repackaged and the same rigmarole was repeated with one crucial difference: the SC upheld the order, stating that public safety took precedence over the right to livelihood. Some 400 pubs will play, “the day the music died” one last time before they shut shop; no “adjust maadi” is possible.

To say that musicians are upset would be “misunderestimating (sic)” the situation. The times they are a changing for professional musicians with bookings coming down from 4-5 gigs a week to 1. The ruling affects their livelihood, their families and sends a chilling message to the talented few who can cut it in the intensely competitive field of live music: get a day job.

326 pubs have been issued with closure notices and from the 54 brave souls who have applied for licences, 18 applications have been rejected with the rest on tenterhooks. Nikhil Barua of Humming Tree is aggrieved because he felt the initial target was dance bars but now all bars have been clubbed under the ruling. Instead of banding together in the struggle against the creeping Talibanisation of Bengaluru, the pub owners took a snooty, not-my- problem-dude- approach and are now facing the music, if you will permit a dreadful pun.
The pub owners claim they are happy to comply with the rules but the question remains as to why 12 th Main Rd had become an urban nightmare?

Pity the poor musician who is out of a job but spare a thought for the hapless residents who bought property in the 80’s. If you live near an Indiranagar bar life can be hell with the loud thump of EDM keeping you awake till 1AM with cars haphazardly parked, cigarette butts in your garden and drunken strangers urinating on your wall. The irate citizens of Indirangar picketed the pubs with imaginative posters to resist the rampant illegal commercialisation of the area. “Your drinking and screaming stops my dreaming.”


Greedy developers have blatantly flouted the building/zoning by-laws and transformed a peaceful residential area into a disaster zone.

Reality check: Many plots in Defence Colony, for example, were allotted to retired army personnel who later cashed in on the property boom. How was this allowed?

Greedy landlords built ugly fire-traps violating set-backs with no parking.

Reality check: Pub owners went ahead and rented unsuitable premises citing the convenient, “everyone is doing it, if I don’t someone else will,” excuse.

Discrimination: When Yakshagana, balayata and mridangam performances are allowed without licensing requirements, why should other forms of music be banned? The conditions specified in the Order 2005 to obtain the licence are unworkable, unreasonable and harsh, incapable of being implemented and discriminatory.

The SC judgement states, “We do not find any merit in this submission though look attractive at its first blush. First, it is for the Police Commissioner to decide in its discretion having regard to the totality of entire fact situation as to what should be brought within the ambit of the Order 2005 and what should be left out from its clutches. Second, there appears reasonable distinction between the two performances because as rightly urged by the respondent, the performances specified in the order are not usually performed in restaurants but are performed in theaters or/and auditoriums as one time performance by the artists whereas the three performing items namely - Cabaret, Discotheque and Live Band Music are the activities which are regularly performed and attract more crowd and lastly the items specified in proviso even if performed in restaurants does not involve any kind of indecency or obscenity whereas other three performances may unless controlled.”

Reality Check: With all due respect to our overworked police force, their primary function is to provide law and order, not decide on whether citizens should be Yakshagana or Bruno Mars fans. We need real police, not cultural policing. Bengaluru has far more pressing concerns in terms of public safety on its agenda and one wonders how this issue found its way on to the SC list.