Malls or town halls?

Jul 29, 2012, 07:53 IST | Anjana Vaswani

Through history, marketplaces have served as more than just shopping destinations. Now, Mumbai malls have recognised that their success depends not on how many brands they offer but on their ability to fulfil the innate human need for social interaction. Anjana Vaswani tracks the evolution of these modern-day marketplaces

Markets have always served as more than mere commercial venues. Even centuries ago, the ancient markets of the Vijayanagara Empire in South India were designed to include special stadiums where visitors could watch animals fight or indulge in assorted recreational activities. When Lucknow was ruled by the Nawabs of Awadh between the 18th and 19th centuries, music, dance and art were integral features of the local bazaar.

Korum mall at Thane has dance performances lined up on every Sunday (4pm to 8pm) till August 5th;and they held rainwater harvesting workshops recently. Pic/Anita Anand

And, legend even has it that the first sparks of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s celebrated romance were ignited in a marketplace. It was in Meena Bazaar that Prince Khurram first met silk and beads seller Arjumand Banu Begum, who would later become Mumtaz Mahal, the Queen whose tomb is now such a world-renowned symbol of eternal love that it receives over 3 million visitors each year.

For the community
These days, it would seem love is in the air at Inorbit (Malad). Telling us why they decided to host frequent cultural and social events at the mall, Nishank Joshi, DGM, Corporate Communications, Inorbit Malls, says, “Some years ago, we noticed that the benches outside Rajdhani restaurant (now, Maharaja Bhog) at our mall, were regularly being used as a meeting place for eligible men and women. The families would dine inside the restaurant while the couple would have a chat and get to know each other on those benches outside. When we observed that such matrimonial arrangements were a frequent occurrence here, we realised that the mall could be so much more than just a place to shop.”

Thane’s Korum Mall is also rapidly turning into what, Centre Manager, Deva Jyotula describes as, “a socially responsible community centre.” Between May and June this year, the mall offered workshops on everything from robotics and puppet making to origami, yoga and art. Jyotula says, “We have been organising educational and fun activities for our shoppers since March 2010, just months after the mall first opened its doors. The idea is to boost the shopping experience and give shoppers an additional reason to spend quality time with their family and friends at our mall.”

On the occasion of International Women’s Day in March, Korum organised a seminar on cervical cancer and breast cancer, and on June 5 — Environment Day — their Go Green campaign included recycling and rain-harvesting workshops. “One workshop taught visitors how to make carry-bags from newspapers,” Jyotula cites as an example. “We’ve also formed an association with the Thane Traffic Police to offer road safety workshops.”

Live at Inorbit, on the other hand, promotes young musicians and gives them a chance to perform before a crowd. “We have an agency that conducts auditions,” explains Joshi. “They select musicians across genres, so we could have ghazal singers one day and a rock group on another occasion.” Inorbit also opens before hours, to allow residents of the neighbourhood to enjoy a morning walk. “We decided to open the mall at 6 am because we’re aware of the limited walking spaces in the vicinity. The mall is a safe, clean space and walkers have access to restroom facilities. Plus our visitors are served tea.”

Encouraging consumerism
While Sadia Raval, founder and chief clinical psychologist, Inner Space counselling and assessment, appreciates that such initiatives meet a social need given the dire shortage of public recreational spaces in this city, she’s not satisfied by the level of cultural interaction that mall events allow. Raval also stresses on the dangers of moving away from nature. “We don’t have enough parks and gardens, and so people in the city spend most of their free time in malls.

At Growel’s 101 Mall in Kandivli (East), visitors will be entertained by dance performances every Saturday and Sunday, from 6 to 9 pm till August 12. Last Saturday trained European dancers performed the Antre dance. Pics/ Sunil Tiwari

There’s no scenery to take in here. There’s no peace and quiet, which would allow you to reflect. It’s all about moving from one gratifying activity to another.” Raval fears the trend will produce “generations of dissatisfied, easily-bored, irritable and edgy people with a constant need to be entertained.”
She doesn’t buy into the “more than marketing” campaign at all. “Workshops and such are just a promotional gimmick,” she asserts, adding, “Just another means to encourage consumerism.”

Pointing out that with a mall, the underlying motive would naturally be brand promotion, Raval says, “We don’t need free concerts and classes. What we really need is a space where people can just be — maybe events which encourage cultural interaction, a meeting place where members of the community can discuss various issues freely. That would be healthy!”

Numbers argue differently
Still, such events do draw the crowds. “During an event, the average incremental rise in footfalls is as much as 30 per cent,” admits Korum’s Jyotula, while Prasad Rane, Deputy General Manager, Growel’s 101 Mall at Kandivli (East) says, “We’ve noticed that footfall increases by as much as 25 per cent and trading density increases by 15 per cent during mall events and activities.”

Skating workshops at Inorbit are currently suspended but will resume post the monsoon

While he doesn’t offer specifics, Puneet Verma, GM Marketing, High Street Phoenix at Lower Parel, which is currently hosting Makeover Mondays — where on one Monday of each month, women can get free makeovers from noted lifestyle, hair, beauty and make-up brands — also admits, “The various events that we have on a monthly basis and on special occasions help to engage consumers, increase footfall and provide necessary word-of-mouth publicity for the brand.”

Inorbit Malls’ Joshi observes, “Workshops for women and children are the most popular ones. We conducted some workshops for men on technology and photography, but the responses don’t compare with whatever we have received for our women and child-centric workshops. We would draw about 250 to 300 people for men’s workshops while, typically, we have over 500 attendees for women’s workshops.”

“Gourmet Food workshops and displays are extremely popular,” says Verma, telling us about the success of Palladium’s World Food Fridays. “Performance oriented events draw the maximum crowd,” he adds, recalling the response to the mall’s World Aids Day concert in December 2011, where Chandresh Kudwa performed. Growel’s Rane agrees. “We launched 101 Mall with a huge Vishal-Shekhar concert in 2010,” he says, stressing however that events aren’t just a means to promote the mall. “The idea is to create a long-lasting relationship with the customer. Our biggest challenge is to change the perception of a mall from a shopping-cinema venue to something bigger than that — a space that encourages a sense of community.” 

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