This WILD Cat of Cool
WHEN a place called Junglee Billee pops up on the ever-changing socialscape of Delhi, you can’t help but imagine all the wild cats, lead by the Fearless ‘Hunterwali’ Nadia, cracking a whip, summersaulting into action and making men piss in their pants. From the czarinas of cabaret, the maharanis of mystique, the ultimate dream girls to the queens of sass, doyennes of drama, mistresses of their own fate and avenging angels, the real ‘Junglee Billees’ were (still are) trailblazing women of style and substance.
In a freewheeling conversation over cheesy garlic bites and a cocktail naughtily coined as ‘Bitch in Me’, self taught artist, acclaimed designer and the undisputed queen of Indian Kitsch, Nida Mahmood opens doors to her latest venture – the ‘all women’s club’ Junglee Billee in GK’s M Block. This is Bombay Velvet, the swinging sixties with its opium dens, nightclubs, Impalas and colonial hangover. Nida strikes a fine balance as she blends it with a modern quirk and orchestrates a nostalgic yet nouveau experience via a place where the world of vintage comes alive through memorabilia of a bygone era, a space that may very well pass off as a quirky 18th century Rani’s parlour of indulgence.
Q. Tell us, what is the inspiration, the driving force behind Junglee Billee?
NM: Junglee Billee is inspired from Bombay Velvet. This is the time when India was seeing a very beautiful shift in design ideology, in the sense of cultural references, in the sense of changing times from the perspective of there being so many interesting elements coming into India from external shores, like British etc. Primarily the visual story evolved from the Bombay Velvet of the art nouveau, art décor of that period. In spirit and essence, Junglee Billee stands for the feisty women who have held their own, women who have done creative interesting things in their life, created a place for themselves in their respective fields. For instance, Gauhar Jaan in the Thirties, a one of the special women of that era. In a time when it was even more male dominated society, difficult for women to find a spot in the outside world, Gauhar Jaan took to playback singing. You see, when playback started, men singing as women got petrified thinking that the ‘big thing’ in which they have to sing will suck in their voices and they will go mute, so they all withdrew. But this woman jumped in, grabbed the opportunity and became one of the iconic stars in the history of Indian music. That is Junglee Billee, women who stood up, had the courage to step out of the box, create their own persona, do their own thing, be it from the field of music, dance, singers, art, films etc. This is the core idea of Junglee Billee. Also, I don’t like to be too preachy and therefore my work is always representative of that exciting, effervescent sort of space even though there is always a deeper meaning to what I’m doing. One can’t tell that it is actually evolving from a socially relevant subject unless one speaks about it.
Q. You’ve been a designer, artist, now a restaurateur – does multitasking come easy?
NM (smiles): I feel creative people should not restrict themselves to one place they officially belong to. It is one life and my epitaph has to be 20 different cool things. A restaurant was always on the radar, in fact make that restaurants for I see myself doing lot more. I’ve done fashion, homes, I am doing a film, which is to be released soon in another two months. In short, I like to experiment and explore. I read somewhere, that ‘obsessions make my life a bit difficult but at the end make life very satisfying’. I am a workaholic who is passionate about my work because more than a livelihood, my heart belongs to my profession. I am not stuck just to make a living. Also, everything evolves from creativity, and when you create something from absolute zero, from thin air, something which does not exist without having a reference point, without knowing the journey, or the end product, is a beautiful high, one almost feels like God !
Q. Choice of place makes a difference, how did market like GK – 1 come to you, matches the theme or one of the many choices?
NM: The market where you are situated does make a difference, but today when you think south Delhi and Hauz Khaas village in it, only one thing stands out – it is over populated, saturated with hole in the wall spaces. People are constantly looking for change, and so the minute a bar opens, ten similar ones crop up, over crowding the entire area. I wanted to create an experiential space, that was bit off, had enough room where i could bring to fore my theme. I also felt this market needed to be revived.
Q. Tell us a bit about the target audience you are aiming at for Junglee Billee.
NM: It’s developed as an all women’s club, (men are allowed too) – spirited, feisty cosmopolitan ladies who are well travelled, who have a taste for the modern space, understand and appreciate aesthetics, are an inspiration for being “very” Indian because I also profess speaking about India. Most importantly, this is for the women who have a mind of her own, the discerning, courageous, gutsy gal who has created a space which is hers.
Q. I’m interested to know how food & beverage of this place is in tune with your creative sensibilities.
NM: It’s one of those very rare times that décor and food have come together so fabulously well that it almost looks contrived. We have a feisty team of young people – a bartender who experiments, a chef who creates. Our food is inspired from quirky things: street India, Bombay Velvet, Koliwada, little pockets of Mumbai, things which are every tactile but far away from Mumbai here in Delhi – we are recreating and reinventing the flavours. For instance, your regular dhokla has been created as an amuse bouche pint sized piece toasted with beautiful toppings along with chutneys. It’s also served as a delicate, easy to eat snack, one that is not too big or chunky for a lady.
The crockery and cutlery, also for sale, is all designed from scratch and carries that floral vintage touch.
The most interesting element is our signature whisky cocktail, ‘Bitch in Me’, and that’s something I’d really like to associate with Junglee Billee for we are still exploring and learning.
Liquid Sunshine – A meal for two (without the drinks) would be Rs 1500 to 3000.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge while setting up this venture, and do you feel the heat of competition?
NM: You see, I have a rather interesting way of looking at things – I usually don’t worry about not knowing about certain things. This is my first time, but I do not fear how to run a restaurant. My aim right now is to create a brand and hence, important for me to know the “how if it”. The core doesn’t change – If I can make a clothing brand, I can do this. I know what women want, and I can deliver that. It’s more about identifying with the space and allowing this natural progression of understanding. Having said that, I always go with my gut because mathematical calculations usually don’t work in a space like this. Too many rules seldom work, and hence my only rule is not to have rules! As for the competition, this is a brand new concept, and I guess many will follow suit soon. Other players are all in a wonderful healthy space with us.
Liquid Sunshine – On your next visit to JB, if you love the couch, chair, the saucer, typewriter with the plants in it or anything there, extend that experience to your home, for everything is on sale. Ask the service staff for price & delivery details.