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Are YOU single? Here's a new lonely hearts club

Last updated on: March 15, 2012 14:18 IST

Are YOU single? Here's a new lonely hearts club

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A Ganesh Nadar

A unique singles club for people over 27 years has been making heads turn in Mumbai. A Ganesh Nadar explores the dynamics behind running this enterprise.

One August night in 2009, Varsha and Abhishek Agnihotri found themselves at a party amidst 99 young people, everyone over 27 and everyone single.

They looked around and smiled. When they'd sent out an email about 20 days ago, they certainly weren't expecting this large a crowd. The brother-sister duo had been single for a while now -- Abhishek had recently broken up with his girlfriend -- and like many young people in big cities, they discovered it wasn't very easy to meet new people, let alone find love.

The party they hosted in the upmarket suburb of Bandra was an attempt to get more people like themselves -- single and looking to hook up -- and basically introduce everyone to everyone.

What they started that evening in 2009 is now a popular single's club called Footloose No More that has over 2500 registered members across age groups from various metros across the country. And in over two and a half years, they've organised over 40 events, including exclusive parties, bunches, karaoke nights, jam sessions, treks, adventure sports events and on a few occasions even cricket matches at The Oval!

The only prerequisites to be part of the club are that you must be at least 27 years of age and have a minimum of 100 friends on your Facebook profile.

"A Facebook profile tells a lot about a person," Abhishek tells me over email, "It is a social marker in a way. And when they have over a 100 friends, it also means that they have been active for some time and haven't just opened a fake account to get into Footloose. Unfortunately, if a person does not have an FB account, they cannot join us yet."


Image: (from L-R) Prashant, Varsha, Dali and Abhishek. Varsha and Abhishek who started footloose also met their partners Prashant and Dali there


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Needless to say the applications are scanned for prospective creeps. Besides going through their posts and looking for abusive messages, Footloose No More demands applicants to share their personal phone numbers and further verify their details.

"The first verification happens via a phone call where personal / professional details are taken down. This should match what has been spelled out in the registration form.

The website registration process is designed such that one can only register through Facebook and it will fill out certain 'non editable' fields which makes it impossible to fudge your details. Of course, these details have to be corroborated with documents that members must submit.

If one does not give out proper information, talks foul, is seen as faking identity or refuses to submit necessary personal identification details, we eliminate that person."

As numbers grow however, the Agnihotris are looking at employing more people in various cities -- they currently do not employ anyone -- to be able to handle the verification as well as the organising processes better.

Varsha and Abhishek Agnihotri were well into their 30s when they hit upon this idea.

Abhishek confesses that their friends thought they were rather desperate when they started out. "We disregarded their opinion," he says, "because Footloose... was not about their judgements but rather our happiness... or at-least having a shot at it!"

It also helped that their parents stood by their decision.


Image: Members of Footloose no More on a trek


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Traditionally, singles clubs and dating sites have less than welcoming undertones in India, both often being associated with escort services.

"It is absolutely true that the stigma exists," Abhishek says, "Which is why it took us a while to break through the glass ceiling (socially)."

Today though, the Agnihotris are discovering that the more people are being open to the idea, albeit with some amount of caution.

He continues, "We have had parents come with their children to talk to us before they send their wards to the events. We also encourage people to come with ANY member of their family for any of our events because that's the kind of place that footloose intends to be!

Many parents want their children to be married to someone the children like and they are willing to take this chance rather than have the children stay single. Today happiness means more than conformity for all involved.

An old friend of mine was referred by her father in the Terai region of Uttarakhand after he read about footloose somewhere.

We have brothers chaperoning their sisters to the events... we have sons chaperoning their mothers to the events... we have mothers sending their sons to the events.

The fact that a brother-sister pair runs Footloose (and) the fact that they got married on it is a big plus!


Image: at a cricket match at The Oval


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It was the fourth Footloose No More Party at Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai when Dali walked up to Abhishek and asked him, "What's this dodgy vodka you guys are serving?"
 
Abhishek said to himself, "What a cribber this chick is!"

Three months later, the two were dating each other and one fine day after his parents 'cornered' Dali, the two got married.

Unlike Abhishek, Varsha took a little longer to find her match... about 18 months to be specific.

In her post on the club's website, she writes: "I (would go) for events, monitored the group, set up people and watched budding romances. Eighteen months and I wondered, 'Mera number kab ayega?'
 
Then came the Holi bash. I had fever, didn't want to go. But I don't have that choice. So I put on my glad rags, slapped on my makeup and dragged myself to the party. And in walked Prashant Vadhyar!

It was his first event. But he said he felt no pressure to connect with anyone. He was content to 'hang out'. So we hung out, first at the party, then with friends at various pubs, bars and other places of fun but he never asked me out (he claims there was no way of getting me alone to have a conversation). But slowly, without realising it, we slipped (sic) in love, partied some more and one fine day he said, "So? Get married or what?'
 
And just like that, my life turned around."


Image: at a party in a Mumbai night club


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The Agnihotris like to see Footloose No More as a 'new age matrimony (website) of a new age India'. So some special events are organised for single parents too.

"Those have been fabulous events, where we encourage single parents to get their children along. It's different as they walk in with a lot of hope to be able to find the right partner and most importantly, the right parent for their kids."

"At footloose, everyone is at least 27 years old. They are well qualified, well placed in a job and extremely independent and responsible," Abhishek points out.

The embargo on folks younger than 27-year-olds comes from the founders' idea that 'they still have the time'.

In some ways, Footloose offers people a second chance at life -- it opens new doors to people who have lost all hope of finding company.

The revenue model for Footloose No More is quite simple. You aren't charged to be a member but you must pay to participate in their events. The prices of course vary depending upon the event (The website assures that 'the costs are not back-breaking and nor are they rock bottom').

Abhishek says, "For every event the member pays a certain amount to be a part of it, and this helps us raise some money. However, at the moment, the company just makes enough money to be able to cover the cost of managing an extensive website that we have.

As the community grows, the work will grow too and we will learn how to break even further, and with time make profits.

Revenue was not the intention when we started Footloose No More. But as days passed, members added up and we realised this has some potential to grow into a revenue earning venture.

Marriage is one thing everybody considers sooner or later...but would they approach getting married in the same old traditional formal way today?

This venture is worth giving it a chance and we have put our best foot forward.

Expanding to other cities and holding up a subscription fee are being considered at the moment."


Image: at a Paintball arena in Mumbai

Tags: Abhishek , YOU , India

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For now though, their 10-year-old corporate communications company Magic Mushroom Entertainment sustains Footloose No More puts food on their table. The fact that they run their own setup helps them to make time for Footloose No More's operations.

"Between the two of us, we divide the work as and when needed," Abhishek says.

In the 30-odd months that Footloose No More has been in business, verification of details is one of the major challenges they face, one which they hope to address by hiring more people.

"Keeping an eye on creeps and eliminating them is another one," says Abhishek and one that keeps them on their toes throughout their events.

"Maintaining the man-woman ratio (is yet another challenge) as more women generally show up than their male counterparts," he adds.


"Marriage in India is a complex process, Abhishek tells me, "Nobody wants to be without a partner, no matter what their age is. Indian society is undergoing a metamorphosis and opening up to the idea of 'from relationship to marriage'"

Yet the Footloose No More website doesn't promise marriage. It does however promise you a platform where you could meet other single people quite like yourself

When I ask Abhishek his learnings from the last two-and-a-half years, he says, "At the end of the day, each of us wants love and happiness and a meaningful companionship. We have come to understand that marriage is a matter of intention -- one will settle down only if one intends to."


Image: at yet another party in Mumbai


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