A visitor in Bengaluru, looking through the city's calendar, would no doubt, have a difficult time picking a spot. The city is dotted with venues, offering up a whole range of culinary and nightlife experiences, usually combined with a live band or a standup comic.
Things were very different a decade ago. Until that point, performance venues where people could sit back with a drink and enjoy a show were few and far between. Performances happened at more traditional venues, the largest usually taking place at Chowdiah. Arati Rao-Shetty, a jazz singer and a well-known name in the music scene, was running another venue, which they had first brought to Indiranagar. "It was a resto-bar," says Arati, "But I would do a jazz gig there every month. Louis Banks was the first to perform there, I thinK!"
In 2009, they opened bFlat (B Flat is a key commonly used in jazz compositions) and it didn't hurt that it was also synonymous with a night on the town.
For the first time, world fusion and jazz came together with nightlife. The music was always carefully curated - “We would even put ensembles together,” Arati recalls.
The standup comic scene was nascent too, at the time, and comedians like Sanjay Manaktala, the first to rise to fame in Bengaluru, found the venue beautiful, but daunting. “They would do a lot of jazz gigs and we weren’t sure if standup comedy could draw the same audience strenght,” Sanjay says. “We managed to get the place, it was a week night, I think and about 80 people showed up. Arati recognised that standup was still very new.”
She also understood its potential and today, there are very few comics, says Sanjay, who haven’t passed through the bFlat stage. “Whether they’re comedians in Bengaluru or from anywhere in the country, this place has helped nurture them.”
This weekend, the Halli Boys - Sanjay Manaktala, Sundeep Rao, Praveen Kumar and Vamsidhar Bhogaraju will take the stage for a special performance to mark BFlat's 10th anniversary in Bengaluru.
If performance venues that served food and drink were rare, standup comedy was even less frequent. That's when Sanjay, Sundeep and Praveen took the city by storm, with an act they called The Polished Bottoms. Sanjay, who was raised in the United States and had a corporate job in Bengaluru, captured his audiences - who knew the IT world was the stuff of humour! Praveen, who began doing comedy during his BITS Pilani days, began taking the art form seriously in 2009.
Together, they formed The Polished Bottoms, a Bangalore comedy group, with names like Vamsidhar Bhogaraju and Kenny Sebastian. "There were two venues in the city offering a stage for standup comedy," Arati recalls. "There was no comedy scene either, so we grew together and the scene grew with them." The Polished Bottoms have all moved on to greener pastures, Manaktala still has a hold over the IT crowd and Praveen Kumar is a senior standup comedy. "Vamsidhar has even been on the silver screen. That's why we're bringing them together for the 10th anniversary - these are the guys who started it all."