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A Peek Into Kolkata’s New Music Venue TopCat

Opened in April, the large-capacity space has already hosted everything from metal to pop to jazz

Anurag Tagat May 27, 2019

A gig at TopCat CCU in Kolkata. Photo: Margub Ali

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Sometime in the middle of last year, Kolkata gig promoter Nishit Arora (who founded event company Smoke Inc) got a call one morning from friend of the scene Meghdut Roychowdhury that was answered groggily. Arora recalls, “Meghdut said, ‘Dude, I just purchased this building.’ He said to come right now.”

Roychowdhury, who is director of global operations at educational institution Techno India University, also set up Kolkata recording studio BlooperHouse in 2010. After studying and living in Paris and Tel Aviv, the young entrepreneur says, “When I was considering coming back to India, I started to look at a venue, it felt like a natural forward progressing after a studio, becoming a part of the ecosystem.”

The city’s newest music mainstay TopCat CCU – which opened its doors in April – is housed inside a new initiative called Offbeat CCU. In addition to the 400 capacity venue, there’s a backpackers hostel, co-working spaces, a recording studio, restaurant and more. Roychowdhury says there’s also a school for short-term education. Created from an old hotel which thrived in the Eighties (Landmark Hotel), Roychowdhury terms Offbeat “an interdisciplinary school for experiential learning.” He adds, “That’s the toughest way to say it but also the most appropriate way.”

Mumbai death metallers Gutslit live at TopCat in Kolkata earlier this month. Photo: Margub Ali

So far, TopCat has hosted everyone from producer-singers such as Plastic Parvati and Pulpy Shilpy to composer Tajdar Junaid, metal bands like Gutslit, What Escapes Me and jazz acts like Bodhisattwa Trio. They were the only ones to host dream pop act Parekh & Singh’s launch tour for Science City (which is apt, because the real Science City is down the road) before it got nixed. Of course, independent music has had varying interest in Kolkata, with Arora’s regular gig series such as Jamsteady running for more than four years but ultimately becoming “homeless.” Arora adds, “With this, we feel hope – it feels like Jamsteady finally has a home.”

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While some complained about no alcohol at the venue – it’s yet to get its license, which Roychowdhury says will be in place by June – Arora says that for every gig, the energy has been infectious. While they had 400 people attend their recent metal gig – death metal bands Gutslit and Godless on their Eviscerating India tour – the question of sustainability does arise. Roychowdhury says Offbeat and TopCat will run on a “cross-subsidized model” where other operations will bring in revenue to keep the entire building running. Arora adds, “The idea was to create an ecosystem within the building to help each other – if a hundred people are always staying at the hostel, they’re going to be hanging out at our bars or eating the food. We’ve modeled that within the system.”

TopCat isn’t just going to be about music either. They’ve hosted theater and comedy so far, with a set by stand-up comic Nasif Akhtar coming up on June 23rd. Roychowdhury says, “We’re raring to start a five-gig week. We’ll have other events as well, including comedy and stuff. It gives us incentive to start up new things in the city.”

Follow TopCat here.

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