Ansal Plaza, the colosseum-shaped mall in Andrews Ganj—the epicentre of Delhi’s yuppiedom before it shifted to bigger, better behemoths at Saket and Vasant Kunj—is desolate on a Thursday evening. There’s only one place you could possibly be headed to, and the liftman knows this. “Harry’s?" he asks, pressing the button for the third floor, where Delhi’s only exclusively karaoke lounge bar is located.

photoThursdays in Harry’s Karaoke Lounge Bar, its red-brick interiors wallpapered with vinyl records, are dedicated to vintage Hindi film songs. A lonesome crooner sings the Kishore Kumar classic Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar, reading the lyrics off a giant screen as the audience explodes into loud applause. Harry’s hosts karaoke all nights of the week, but their Thursdays and fusion Fridays (Hindi and English) are crowd-pullers; the pulsating energy inside a stark contrast to the slowly dying mall outside.

Not only has karaoke rescued places like Ansal Plaza from death, it has also brought to life new ones. Just about a year ago, in the nondescript G-Block market in Hauz Khas—so nondescript that it’s hard to give directions for it—Manajsa, a three-storeyed lounge bar, was born. Despite the odd-sounding name, Manajsa is now the place to be, and on Wednesday nights, there is a fair chance you may be jostled out of it. It’s free drinks for ladies—but those syrupy martinis are not what the crowds are there for; they’re there for the karaoke. “We’re not in a prime location so karaoke was a way of bringing in the crowds, about telling the city that G-Block Hauz Khas has Manajsa," says owner Ajit Singh.

“Karaoke nowadays has become essential," says Manish Gunthey, karaoke jockey (KJ) and co-founder, Microphonics, a consortium of KJs. Every second restaurant or bar in the city has karaoke nights, and every new restaurant announces itself to the city with karaoke, he says. Just last month, alongside the string of text messages inviting us to buy German inverters, Korean batteries and real estate on Gurgaon-Sohna Road, Ardor Resto Bar & Lounge, a new restaurant in Connaught Place, made an offer you couldn’t refuse: “Experience fine dining @ Level 1, Club Lounge @ Level 2 with karaoke nite tonite (sic)."

photoHarry’s seven nights a week; Manajsa, Toro (Khan Market), Tapas World (Defence Colony) and The [v] Spot Café Bar (Saket) on Wednesdays; Rock A Fella (Defence Colony) and Café Morrison (South Extension-II) on Thursdays; Route 04’s Gurgaon on Thursdays and Connaught Place on Mondays and Fridays; Xes Café (Saket) on Saturdays; TC (Adchini) on Sundays. These are among the 40-odd venues in the Capital offering karaoke, says Gunthey.

Karaoke is also a popular means of entertainment at private and corporate parties, says Ankur Kalra, CEO, Vibgyor Brand Services, an event management company. “Unlike three-four years ago, when it was not even a known concept, karaoke is becoming hugely popular at corporate get-togethers and picnics. It’s an innovative way to reach out to different clients, let them discover a whole new aspect of their personality." Plus, if you’re looking for ice-breakers, perhaps nothing can be as effective as a duet with your boss on a version of Dil ding dong ding bole.

“Everyone says they’re the first ones to bring karaoke to the city," says Gunthey. But the place that really brought karaoke to the city no longer exists. Aquifer, a bar in Greater Kailash-II’s M-Block market, which started karaoke on Thursdays in 2008, shut its doors within a year, but all its groupies, including Gunthey, went to another bar in the neighbourhood, Bennigan’s Grill and Tavern, where Gunthey took to hosting karaoke himself.

photoFashion designer and karaoke enthusiast Anurag Khurana says that from October 2009 until it shut down in December 2011, Bennigan’s on Saturday was unbeatable; always packed to capacity, cheering audiences, and a list of home-grown rock stars. “While Aquifer started karaoke, Bennigan’s took it to another level. It was a place that I could just walk into alone on a Saturday evening and still have a great time. It was a place where all of us formed lasting friendships," he says.

These friendships and sense of community are the essence of why karaoke has worked in the city. Tonsana Laisram, a communications professional who moved from his hometown in Manipur to Delhi in 2001, finds that the three years he’s been karaoke-hopping have been the most productive years of his social life. “I can’t really count the numbers, but I’d say about 50% of my friends circle consists of karaoke friends," he says. “In Delhi, striking up conversation with random people is impossible—you can’t really talk to someone unless you are introduced to them—but karaoke allows such conversations," says Laisram. “Delhiites don’t take kindly to random conversations in a bar—people are extremely guarded. But when you have an interactive activity like karaoke, before you know it you’ve spent 3-4 hours in a bar, and made friends with people you won’t ordinarily bump into in your social circle," says Ankush Roy, a corporate events planner and karaoke jockey with Microphonics.

photoPub owners like Abhimanyu Rana, of Route 04 Connaught Place, Khan Market and Gurgaon, count on these friendships to bring people into their pubs. Not only does this help create customers, these friendships have spawned an entourage of karaoke jockeys across the city. The KJs hosting at venues spread across the city were all once Bennigan’s regulars. Roy’s association with Microphonics began over a random song he sang at Bennigan’s. Besides the eight-member Microphonics, other Bennigan’s regulars who have become jockeys include Prithvi Raj Dev and Saurabh Sabyasachi.

But you can’t count on karaoke alone to bring you business, says Gunthey—this is why many places have had to discontinue karaoke. “Places that have made it work for them include Manajsa and Route 04 because they do a lot of post-event publicity," he says. A photographer is hired for every evening, and the next morning there are photos of people in rock star poses plastered on Facebook. It doesn’t matter that you brayed into the mike last evening, because in your Facebook profile picture you’re Jim Morrison.