#PuneInLowSpirits – Performing Artists To Boycott Lounge

Image for representation only


The past few weeks have seen multiple women come out and speak against abuse and harassment they’ve faced from men holding powerful positions. Closer to home, Pune has seen no different.

On October 11, Sheena Dabholkar, a writer and editor, began a Twitter thread detailing how the owner of High Spirits, Khodu Irani, and his friends, allegedly harassed numerous women at this establishment.

High Spirits is a popular night life spot in Pune that regularly hosts popular musicians, bands and stand-up comedians for performances.

The allegations against Irani include incidents where lewd comments, inappropriate gestures and groping took place in plain view. It is further alleged that the establishment has, in the past, doled out awards for ‘Best Breasts’.

Dabholkar has released screenshots of conversations with multiple women who narrated similar experiences with the owner.

According to her, over thirty women have shared their disturbing experiences.

Recently, Divya Desa, 27, a freelance writer and a former employee of High Spirits wrote an essay where she narrated her demeaning experience working under Irani. She writes, “I complained about being groped and bullied by my boss to his spouse, and so he (my boss) then poured a pint of beer on my head during my shift, and told me, that if I went home to change, or ever brought this up to her (his spouse) again, I would lose my job.” Her story further detailed how this owner allegedly indulged in fat-shaming, pinching, bullying, verbal and emotional abuse.

Many comedians including Karunesh Talwar, Kunal Kamra, Rohan Joshi, Tanmay Bhat and Sahil Shah have announced on their social media timelines stating that they will now boycott the venue. However, only a handful of musicians like Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues, Sahej Bakshi of Dualist Inquiry and Gaurav Jagwani have voiced their condemnation.

Mendonsa was the only musician who responded when Pune365 reached out to several other musicians who have performed at High Spirits.

He states, “Divya’s account was such a shock to read. We’ve always had a great crowd every time we played there, and have been dealt with professionally by the venue. I don’t think we will [play there], not until they own up to the fact that they have a problem and take steps to rectifying it.” [sic]

On whether boycotting the venue is a solution or not, he says, “Considering their most recent public statements, maybe this may help them realise, that it has taken a lot of courage for many women to speak up about their experiences, and it is not just a vendetta from a single individual. I do hope they do whatever it takes to make it a safe space for women.”

Sources inform us that High Spirits does not have an HR head or an internal complaints committee to address such incidents. Pune365 repeatedly try to get in touch with representatives of High Spirits for an official statement regarding the allegations but received no response till this report was being filed.

According to Rama Sarode, an eminent city lawyer, who has dealt with several cases of sexual harassment, every organisation is mandated to have an internal complaints committee that must be headed by a woman.

“These rules apply to any workplace even if it is a bar or a pub as long as there are ten or more employees. There has to be an external member who could be a social worker.”

“Pune also has a local committee where complaints can be filed to the Collector. Women can also file complaints at the Collectorate, to the Women and Child Development Office.”

High Spirits sexual harassment khodu irani
Zomato’s moderation alert on High Spirits’ listing page

People have also taken to the popular restaurant discovery site, Zomato, to post their negative experiences at High Spirits in light of recent events.

Interestingly, Zomato, a ‘neutral’ platform, has put a moderation alert on the restaurant’s listing and states, “This establishment has seen some social media/news coverage recently, leading to opinions being shared on Zomato which aren’t about its food, service, or ambience…There’s a chance that reviews may be removed as part of this process.” [sic]

Vikram Shetty, Vice President, Pune Restaurants and Hoteliers’ Association says, “We do have rules in place for employees but it depends upon the owner or others how they handle themselves. I am not aware of female bouncers being at this venue.”

On asking him whether the association would take a stand against the owner’s actions and the establishment if proven guilty, Shetty states, “We cannot oust him. These are private matters and we can’t make guidelines for these things.”

#Pune365View: It is imperative for the authorities to take cognizance of the complaints and allegations being made and investigate this matter thoroughly, in the best interest of all. The larger issue however, remains the imminent need to have guidelines in place, that are strictly enforced at all establishments in the city, to prevent any possible incident, alleged or otherwise.

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree. vijayta@pune365.com
Vijayta Lalwani