There are three things a ManServant will say no to. No sex, no drugs and no drinking while on the job. Besides that, he can offer whatever he deems fit.
When Mumbai-based PR executive Megha Iyer wanted to let her hair down, she went to Attica, a nightclub in Singapore. Sitting in the VIP lounge she saw male strippers on the job, stripping a little, then covering up, stripping again and covering up, until they got down to the last act in just their trunks and suspenders. “Nope, the full monty did not happen but, among all the drinking and cheering, it was good fun,” says Iyer.
Sure, she had her fun in Singapore, but do women in India enjoy such services? Apparently, yes. For a tidy sum, this kind of “entertainment” at birthday bashes and bachelorette parties is only a call or click away. Take Kajal’s case, for instance. She had a bachelorette party and a few of her friends surprised her with a male stripper. “The party was at my husband’s condominium and I had invited about 10 to 12 of my close girl friends. Around 8:30pm, the stripper waltzed in and grooved to some Bollywood and techno numbers with some seductive moves. This went on until 3am when he actually went butt naked after switching off the lights, using only his cowboy hat to cover himself. But, by then we were so sloshed with all the drinking, hooting and cheering that we were ready to call it a night,” she says.
Unlike Kajal, not everyone at these parties looks forward to going the whole hog. Nidhi Kejriwal, who, along with her sisters Ritu, Ruchi and Vasudha, runs Hop, Skip and a Party, has organised hundreds of bashes, many of them bachelorette parties. “A lot of these bashes usually start at somebody’s home or a hotel suite or even a spa and, a couple of hours later, after the women have started drinking and enjoying themselves, the gang heads out to another lounge bar or a nightclub,” she says. “Often, there are overnight parties, too, where the gang heads out of the city.” The sisters, however, organise very niche events and no two dos are the same. Their base package starts at 040,000 and includes designing the party, conceptualising it, providing the paraphernalia and decorating the place. But is there any naughty fun included in the packages? She says that, in her experience, there is a certain line that Indian women will simply not cross. “None of them are willing to go all out,” says Kejriwal. “Sometimes, we do get requests for pole dances and stripteases but there are safety as well as legal issues and so we politely decline.”
Mumbai-based model and actor Shilpa Gupta says she had a horrid time at a bachelorette party in one the city’s western suburbs. “A friend of mine was getting married and it was her bachelorette party. A stripper had been called and he came in wearing these godawful tight-fitting jeans and he gyrated around us for what seemed like forever. Later, he lost the jeans and danced around wearing nothing but a thong, with a piece of ice pursed between his lips. He wasn’t very tall or hot and his moves were so grotesque and in the face that, forget enjoying the party, I almost threw up. Frankly, what could have been a night of revelry was a big turn off for me,” she says.
US-based Dalal Khajah and Josephine Wai Lin understood that this kind of grossness was not what classy women were looking for. What started out as a joke for these young women, who worked together at an ad agency, is now a lucrative startup that has expanded from San Francisco to Los Angeles and New York, all within a year. One day, the duo thought of hiring a male assistant for a friend’s birthday to do her bidding. After unsuccessfully scouting for somebody hot enough on popular websites Craigslist and Task Rabbit, they ended up hiring a male stripper. However, he was strictly told not to strip. Instead, he was assigned a set of duties which included cutting open a coconut with a machete, accompanying the ladies to lunch and fetching coffee for them. The idea was a hit and it egged them on to try a similar service for another friend’s bachelorette party. After that they released a video, which went viral, and they haven't looked back since. Now, three ladies—Josephine, Dalal and Annie Pariseau—have legitimised ManServants as a business. And, buoyed by the success of their website manservants.co, the company is now developing an app to better serve its clients. The service is yet to be available in India.
Most of these ManServants are models or actors, some are employed with startups and tech companies, and some are comedians or bartenders. “Any chivalrous gentleman with a heart of gold and a few tricks up his sleeve should apply,” says the trio in an email. “While most of the ladies look for tall, dark and handsome, which are all important qualities, we focus on charisma and wit. Those are two most important qualities in a ManServant. And, obviously, a high regard for women. Most of our ManServants have close relationships with their mothers or sisters.”
But who are the people willing to shell out $125 an hour for such a service? Most of their clients, say the ladies, are “educated, successful and urban dwelling. Also, many are married or in committed relationships, with their ages ranging from 25 to 60 plus.”
There are, however, three things a ManServant will say no to. No sex, no drugs and no drinking while on the job. Besides that, he can offer whatever he deems fit. “These duties range from hair braiding, mixing drinks, taking photos or wooing the ladies in French or with his dance moves,” say the Ladies of Manservants, as they like to be known. “There is absolutely no stripping, but he may be shirtless for specific events, like a pool party. Also, you can’t hire him to be your date for a wedding. He is intended to be the life of a party.”
It is class, they say, that sets ManServants apart. “For instance, our gentlemen will never be allowed to be shirtless wearing a bow tie. That is not us,” they say. And as their service is intended to entertain, humour is an important aspect.
Also, it would be a good idea if women came up with clever duties for the ManServants, rather than just have them roll out a red carpet in front of them, which, by the way, was a wish they did comply with. Clients, however, are not allowed to do demeaning things. “One of our terms is that in order for him to be a gentleman, you must act like a lady. We have gotten some interesting email requests from clients who misinterpreted our services, which we politely refused,” they say.
The ManServant is the charming stranger, a character that the client chooses. This means the company does not share personal information about the men. “Strippers developed because men fantasise about having an attractive women physically strip, without telling him anything about herself. Women, however, want to strip the gentlemen emotionally," the three women say. "Once we explain the concept to sceptical men, it is easier for them to wrap their heads around what we do. For the most part, guys get it and think it would be a fun experience to try out.”