St Regis comes to town

For the inhabitants of a city, the launch of a new hotel is almost as significant as the discovery of a new star happens to be for astronomers.

A new hotel epitomizes the hopes and aspirations of a city; it becomes a stage for its choicest occurrences and the repository of its DNA and character. So it would not be an overstatement to say that Mumbai has looked towards the coming of the St Regis, star in the Starwood universe, with much anticipation.

Salman KhanSalman Khan

Hence, there was much riding on this weekend, when the hotel finally opened its doors in its spanking new avatar with a two-tiered party hosted by Jim Petrus, global brand leader St Regis Hotels & Resorts and Anurag Bhatnagar, general manager, The St Regis Mumbai and area general manager, Starwood India; there was to be champagne, dinner and Jazz by Natty Congeroo and The Flames of Rhythm at the Astor Ballroom and Terrace, followed by canapes and cocktails at The Penthouse on the hotel’s 37th and 38th floors.

(From left) Surendra, Alka, Niranjan and Kamal Hiranandani
(From left) Surendra, Alka, Niranjan and Kamal Hiranandani

And indeed, the city had shown up with high expectations to embrace the new hotel and give it a ceremonial thumbs-up and there were many of Mumbai’s leading denizens in their Friday best, who had made the time in their busy schedules to attend.

Atul and Gayatri Ruia with Sanjay Kapoor
Atul and Gayatri Ruia with Sanjay Kapoor

Blame it on the weather, (way too hot to serve dinner outdoors) the two-decked venues, or the plain bad service, but guests were slightly underwhelmed by St Regis’ first handshake with Mumbai. Vegetarians were heard complaining about the lumpy pieces of cold paneer tikka and deep-fried tofu that was their only pre-dinner fare; leading industrialists grumbled about not getting anything to drink and so on and so forth.

“To give them the benefit of doubt, these are early days and the staff has been through many such openings before, so were probably suffering from ‘launch fatigue’; also, having so many stakeholders does add to the confusion at parties such as these,” said a benevolent soul, adding, “Though having Gayatri and Atul Ruia, one of the most savvy and astute couples who know Mumbai so well, ought to have given them a huge advantage. But this is definitely not the St Regis standards we’ve experienced when we’ve stayed at the hotel abroad.” Oh dear. Perhaps some going back to the drawing board required?

In top position
Cyrus Poonawalla is always a delight to chat with. We asked the newest entrant in the Forbes top ten Indian billionaires list, and the proud owner of what is easily the most drool-worthy property in Mumbai, why he had sat through the entire Zubin Mehta concert with a handkerchief on his head.

Cyrus Poonawalla, Sharon Stone and Miley Cyrus
Cyrus Poonawalla, Sharon Stone and Miley Cyrus

Because indeed, peering discreetly down our row at the Jamshed Bhabha on the second night of the concert, we had seen the bon vivant with just such an item curiously placed. “Because of the AC draft. I catch a cold quite easily and had no idea I’d be sitting under one,” he said candidly.

‘Tops’ occupied the rest of our conversation too, as we congratulated him on the recent acquisition of the former US consulate’s home in SoBo, which had once been a dreamy, turreted, sea-facing castle. We commended the Parsi tycoon on his taste and choice of residence.

A couple of years ago, we had gently suggested to another Mumbai billionaire that he would be bestowing himself, and Mumbai, a favour if he bought the Consulate, which was then on sale. “You could then prevent it from being pulled down and turned in to a high-rise tower, thereby protecting Mumbai’s skyline and architectural heritage,” we’d urged.

Alas, the man, not into skyline or heritage, had not been convinced. What were Poonawalla’s plans for the bungalow? “We will not change it from the outside,” said the chairman of the Serum Institute, a world leader in its field. “But from inside, we will remove a floor so we have a high and grand ceiling which we will have painted like the Sistine Chapel,” he said, his arm tracing an arc over his head...

And who will he get to perform at the opening of what will certainly be one of Mumbai’s landmark residences and an important cultural heritage? “I could fly Miley Cyrus down,” said Poonawalla who has often been spotted in the company of Sharon Stone and Paris Hilton at sundry European hotspots.

“But only if she promises to grow out her hair. I hate it so short.” See what we mean about the conversation being about ‘tops’? A kerchief atop a billionaire’s head, a high ceiling atop an epochal residence and what sits atop Miley Cyrus’s head.

Celebrations for the Marias
He is one of the top cops in Mumbai and his no-nonsense, clipped demeanour and his ‘St Xavier’s College, Bandra boy from-film family’ feel has endeared him to Mumbaikars, making him a local hero.

Rakesh Maria
Rakesh Maria

And now that invitations to former Police Commissioner and current DG (Home Guards), Rakesh Maria’s son’s imminent wedding are being received, there is much excitement over the occasion to be held at the Tote at the Race Course.

Weddings are celebrations that witness the gathering of a family’s well-wishers and friends, and the fact that Maria and his elegant wife Preeti have many, will make this a big-ticket and well-attended affair on the city’s social calendar.

Champagne in Champaran
The delicious drollness of its tone was perfect. The Bihar election results on Sunday gave reason for many champagne bottles to be popped and delighted comments to be posted across social media by those who’d been at the receiving end of ridicule and attack from Hindutva Bhakts.

N Radhakrishnan
N Radhakrishnan 

But for our money, none as searingly sarcastic as that of our friend and colleague, the dapper N Radhakrishnan, editor and publisher of a slew of magazines like Man’s World and Rolling Stone, whose “Hate the beef eating, book reading, Scotch drinking, Pakistan loving, English and French speaking elite that dominate places like Champaran, Bhagalpur, Purnea, etc.” more or less nailed the spurious arguments against those who feared for India’s rising intolerance and sectarianism. The book-reading, Scotch-drinking elite of Champaran and Bhagalpur, indeed.

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