Most Indian cities are just waking up to the phenomenon of speed dating. But not so Mumbai. This colorful and cosmopolitan city witnessed the first speed dating event in the country in 2005 and since then it has regularly hosted others.
As the name suggests, speed dating is all about determining the potential of a date in the shortest possible time. This dating practice involves singles from both sexes gathering at a venue where they are handed out numbers and scorecards. Each individual is given three to five minutes to get introduced to a person of the opposite sex and after that required to mark the potential of the date on the scorecard. At the end of the event, couples with the highest mutual attraction are helped by the organizers to get in touch with each other.
Speed dating arrived on the western social scene in the early 2000. Since then, it has become increasingly popular with professional and busy singles who are saved the time and expense associated with going on repeated dates only to find that hardly any of them are potentially attractive matches. Since dating itself is a relatively recent social trend in India, it was only expected that speed dating took would take its time, in this case five years, to make its appearance in the country.
The liberal and cosmopolitan character of Mumbai made it the natural choice as the first Indian city to host a speed dating event in India. In March 2005, bombayspeedd8.com invited forty men and women to sample the new trend at an open air lounge lapping the sandy beaches of the Arabian Sea. Organized under the aegis of Asian Speed D8 Company, the event was a huge hit with the singles of Mumbai and saw packed houses for two days running as well as a long waiting list for the next one. Encouraged by the overwhelming response to the debut speed dating event, Maha Khan one of the organizers of the event who set up Asian Speed D8 two years ago in London, commented that speed dating had arrived in India and “cities like Mumbai are ready for a safe, informal way of getting to know each other face-to-face with a view to finding partners".
In the last five years, other media and event management agencies have also organized speed dating events, mostly with the help of the Internet. Along with Bombayspeedd8.com, 5minutesdate.com was another portal to have taken the initiative in bringing the new dating trend to the city. In September 2008, yet another speed dating event was organized which saw 13 women and 12 men clocking their dating fortunes in those all-important three minutes. The venue was Out of the Blue, a restaurant in Bandra which is one of the most upscale locations in Mumbai. The organizers of the event were two women, an Australian Sarah Parker and an Indian conference producer, Jagriti. According to the organizers the idea occurred to them over a cup of coffee when they were complaining about the lack of dating opportunities available to single women in big cities like Mumbai. Before long a dating agency catering to this trend was set up and called, what else, Bombay Speed Dating. But it was actually the power of Internet and more specifically Facebook which encouraged them to go ahead with the plan. They created the Bombay Speed Dating group on the popular social networking site and the volume of response convinced them of the feasibility of the idea.
And when it is anything to do with Mumbai, can Bollywood be far behind? The same year saw two of the biggest stars of Hindi Film industry, the husband-wife pair of Ajay Devgn and Kajol promoting their upcoming film, “U Me Aur Hum” by making an appearance at a Speed dating event in the city. The show was organized by media company Radio One and it was their third annual speed dating event titled Dating Fatafat. The venue was Club D'Ultimate at Andheri in Mumbai and the atmosphere was electric with Kajol dazzling her fans with her signature charm and dressed in a turquoise and white silk top with white boot-cut pants. While her husband did not exactly set the fashion charts zooming, the event came alive with the mix of Bollymagic and young singles all eager to find the partner of their dreams, filmi-ishtyle.
Despite many such events being planned all over Mumbai, professional event managers say that the trend is not catching up among the young and hip singles as fast it should. For many an ingrained discomfort with the practice remains while for others, especially professional women, the events are just not throwing up the kind of singles that they would want to know better. According to some organizers Mumbai's singles are afraid that if they are seen at a speed dating event, they might be labelled as `desperate' to hook up with someone. Lack of commitment is yet another factor which has reduced the attendance at Mumbai’s speed dating events. Says Sandeep Shetty who was one of the earliest brains behind speed dating in Mumbai, “There would be last-minute cancellations, especially with women, who would pull out if their girl friends decided to do so. By the end of it, it just got really tiring,''.
The solution to this curious ennui perhaps lies not so much in focusing on a niche segment as with finding patrons from other groups. The Bombay Paris Punchayat in fact organizes regular matchmaking events to encourage the young men and women from their community to find partner and once in a while the events take on many features of speed dating too, with written feedback, DJs making music as well as an atmosphere of fun. Yet another event held in Malad, Mumbai on June 1 this year and titled as the Senior Citizen Parichay Mela, brought together as many as 500 seniors in search for partners or just companions. Organized by Rotary Club of Northwest Mumbai with an Ahmedabad-based organization, the occasion was billed as a matchmaking event but included several aspects of speed dating like numbered tokens as well as quick introductions.
So despite highs and lows, speed dating in Mumbai is here to stay. After all, traditional Indian culture with its arranged marriages is no stranger to the practice of finding a life partner in the briefest of meetings.