Carousal Wounds: Closing The Cool Chef Chapter
3 April 2013
We needed a den - some sort of dingy, intimate space where the alternative music crew could disappear into a few hours a week to exorcise their more spirited inner demons. Some place where the dirt came off easy and people actually preferred the sound of stomping, shuffling feet over half-witted snippets of the same conversation we heard last week and the crashing collarbones of clumsy hugs. So when Cool Chef Cafe first opened its doors to underground gigging back in 2011, it seemed destined to become that den. It had the potential anyway. An almost macabre, aged bungalow complete with its smoky navigation to the cramped, dark room behind the bar, which they reserved for serious dancing. Unfortunately, it didn't take too long before the seams began to unravel.
Now the black-balled (scroll down a bit, you’ll see what we mean) managing duo of CCC, the Thadani brothers (Tarun and Kaviraj), are finally giving up the gig game - as of 1 April they've turned Cool Chef Cafe into a beer brewery/food-focussed joint called Kolonial - we decided to trace the history a bit. No one's really done a full frontal and presented the whole story but we've all heard. You know, the stories of bounced cheques, missed payments, angry promoters resorting to ripping Cool Chef's equipment right off their premises, FIRs, strange responses from the management to the allegations, social media campaigns against the same. The list is endless and the accusers innumerable. The latter don't require mentioning, they've made their stance publicly clear already but it should be noted that most of these people form a respected, skeletal structure for the music scene. And it has become a battle of their word against the Cool Chef establishment’s.
Either way, like full frontals, we’ve always only heard one side so it's time we heard from Tarun Thadani himself. What started off as a basic query about the venue’s makeover ended up in some serious defending of his turf. Besides, if he was going there voluntarily, we figured it was time some of these questions got answered and he was given a voice.
As aware as he clearly seems to be about his reputation, what does he make of it himself and was this change of avatar a cloaked apology to the music masses?
"Look, everyone blames Cool Chef for everything but I don't really give a fuck. I always sort out everybody in the end, I wouldn't even be alive 'till now if I didn't eventually always sort people out. It's easy to blame one person, people should realise that all the other venues in Bombay have 5-10 partners, it was just Kaviraj and me trying to run the whole show here, from cops to licenses to not having investors, so of course there were going to be a few delays and mess-ups. If anything, I think a lot of people need to thank us. This place was a career-starter for plenty of unknown DJs."
He insists the gigs aren't necessarily stopping though. "Anyone who wants to have a gig here, feel free to rent it out. Just handle your promotions and the organisation yourself, I don't want to be involved in it at all. We never said no to anybody, all we ever wanted was some activity but I'm done with promotions man, we've had a great run and now I'm tired of it. Besides, my family's first focus has always been food. Just watch, Kolonial isn't going to be frequented because I'm promoting it, I won’t need to. People will come simply because we have the best stuff."
Sounds like CCC's closing the chapter with more than a few loose ends dangling outside it though? "All I can say is there are no hard feelings from our side. You have to think logically, we're closing the chapter now because if anyone has not settled with us still it's probably because of their own ego. At the end of the day, it's mostly really small sums of money we're talking about in the first place and I've been really clear with the people involved - remove your hate comments, swing by the office and I'll happily give you your money on the spot. No one's asking these people to start a revolution like they're in Egypt or something!"
There's no denying that he winded it down positively enough though, "Cool Chef isn't holding any grudges, we just want to smoke a peace pipe with everyone. Like I said earlier, you want to have gigs here I won't think about the history and all that shit, I forgive and forget, let's just move on." Which leaves the ball in the other squadron's court, we suppose. Will it save the venue if they accept this olive branch? Stranger things have happened.
After over a year of drama, there isn't much to say about the controversy that hasn't already been said. But in the light of a temporarily closed-down Bonobo for who knows how long and an ever-decreasing shelf-life on the city's limited venues we will mourn the loss of a great gig venue. And perhaps, even the loss of a more straightforward moral stance in one of the few industries that's attempted to keep its essence alive. Partly because it's still much too small for a ‘divided we rule’ stance and partly because - put your rose-tinted shades on - there's an amazing sense of idealism when things are still this nascent, even budding.
Now that the chapter's finally closed, sadly, we’re back to square one. We still need that den.
Words: Mandovi Menon
Image Credit: Grime Riot Disco