I never fully understood what the boy in a romcom goes through in that quintessential airport chase when he tells the girl he loves her. That was till I experienced something similar (only more magnified), when I was stopped 20 minutes away from blueFROG by an early Ganpati procession. It was the last day, and I had to get in under any circumstances and be able to say goodbye.
At 5 pm, I was lucky enough to find myself inside and talking to a brave, collected and gracious Ashu Phatak, one of the founders and owners of the nerve center of music in Mumbai. “We’re all just trying to hold it in,” he said, in the midst of the people stopping by to hug him “It’s a dream that manifested and is now coming to an end. No regrets! This was something that had to be done, and I’m glad we did it.” blueFROG was the dream of composers-producers, Ashu Phatak and Dhruv Ghanekar, film director Mahesh Mathai, film producer Srila Chatterjee and fund manager Simran Mulachandani. Nine years ago, they put in their blood, sweat and tears and breathed life into the deserted Mathuradas Mill Compound. The first of its kind in Mumbai, blueFROG was a gift– a 6500 sq ft gift from the people crazy enough about music to want to share it with the city.
Were Mumbaikars ready for it? “We didn’t know how the city was going to take it,” says Ghanekar, “I think that’s what made the first month so exciting for us.”
Looking at his eyes light up with memories of those first days, I had no doubt about it. The leap of faith they took as they dared to fight for something they believe in, the anxiety and uncertainty, the shared excitement of watching it grow – all of it played on his face. “The energy I felt in this place in the first month we ventured into the unknown is the same I feel tonight. Putting the sound console where there could have been a 10-seater table was a 45-day long fight. A lot of thought has gone into each and everything here.” Taking in the beauty of the place so lovingly modelled on Milan’s famous La Scala Opera House, I could see what he meant.
At a time when live music places either did retro, cover bands or any other crowd-pleasers, this music haven dared to bring in indie bands and original music created purely for the love of it. And with the end of an era marked by its shutting down, I made a promise to myself to look for live music venues in Mumbai to go to, purely for the love of music.
World-class artists and legends such as John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain and Anoushka Shankar have played on the stage of blueFROG. Gino Banks, a drummer, who has played with some of these legends, cherishes the nights he shared the stage with his father, Louis Banks, known as the Godfather of Jazz around here. He plays drums for a living but this was where he played for his heart. “And it was connoisseurs of the heart we played for” joins in Louis Banks, as he was hugged by Mathai, who urged him not to cry on stage.
More importantly, the venue was the steppingstone for so many aspiring musicians and bands. Coming from a college (St. Xavier’s) that picked an Am Nite (Amateur Nite) over a Prom Nite, I have seen, cheered for and been crazy after many musicians, much like the rest of my college mates. These people commanded awe as they walked into the college canteen. I can’t help but thank blueFROG for happening to them right after college. Saxophone player Rhys Sebastian D’Souza says, “We used to record in the studios at the back and then come here to enjoy the performances. This has been our adda. I’m going to miss everyone who made this place what it was.”
Mohini and Esani De, the youngest bass guitarist sister duo of the country, echoed this. Mohini performed her first gig in Mumbai here while Esani performed her first-ever gig in life here when she was 13. They shared their journeys and favorite anecdotes before each performance. Indian playback singer, songwriter and guitarist, Nikhil D’souza, recalled the time he stopped between two songs and asked his audience for a sip of whiskey. They passed him a quarter and egged him on to down it. I wish I was there for the performance that must have followed that! I wish I was there for a lot of these times that were being spoken about.
“I’m not sad about it shutting down,” said the stunning Srila Chatterjee, “blueFROG is not something that can close. It’s got life, so it will come back in some way.”
Nobody could have summed up the emotions of the folks present there that night more powerfully than that. I shamelessly eavesdropped on the conversations of people, who were making immediate plans to go visit the Pune and Bangalore branches. Some of them were confirming its comeback in the city in the form of two new outlets, one in Colaba, another in the suburbs, and promising to show them the love that they should have shown this one. ‘Only know you love her when you let her go….’
So why didn’t the mad crowd filling up the place today, laughing and crying, just kiss the frog earlier and turn it into their prince? Well, blueFROG was a place you could expect the kind of music you could neither dance to nor sing to; you had to respect it enough to not treat it as the background score to your dinner conversation either. I was among the people who wouldn’t pick that over a karaoke night, a DJ or at least being able to talk to my friends while the piano player does his thing.
Watching guitarist Rhythm Shaw perform his first and last concert on this stage, I realised with a heavy heart the importance of having a stage and audience that appreciates its artists and their music. This music is like a painting – it’s art! People might or might not grasp its depth.. But if they pay close attention, even those who don’t get it will be able to see one of their own truths reflected in the play of hues and will take home their own connection to that painting.
That’s exactly what happened the night Phatak, true to the song he had composed for blueFROG’s fifth anniversary and was performing for the last time on that stage, painted everyone present in Shades of Blue.