Bombay Beard Club members talk about dumping the 'chikna' look

By Aastha Atray Banan

Updated: Jan 29, 2017, 14:29 IST

Members of the just-formed Bombay Beard Club talk of dumping the chikna look and how it changed their lives

Kamaljeet Rana, Nikhil Alag, Vishal Singh, J’son D’souza and Clince Varghese. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

We know we look good and that has upped our confidence,” says Vishal Singh, president and founder of the eight-month-old Bangalore Beard Club who has now brought the society of men with facial hair to Mumbai. An entire society founded on facial hair, might seem a bit much, but Singh, 32, says that thanks to the beard, “We are completely different people from who we used to be.” 

We are at a café at a suburban mall and the five men at the table sport different lengths and styles of facial hair. There’s Singh, the alpha dog digital marketer, with a long, straight beard that gets its shape thanks to a blow dry. The sorted and “mature” ex-banker now restaurateur J’son D’Souza, 40, has the short salt and pepper crop. Madcap emcee and corporate trainer Clince Varghese, 26, has long curly locks, which are set off by a small but well groomed goatee. Software engineer-turned-actor Kamaljeet Rana, 30, has the unkempt long beard. And the quietly confident sales executive Nikhil Alag, 28, has a golden well-coiffed growth. Interestingly, this is the first time they are meeting each other too -- the Bombay Beard Club’s (BBC) first event is scheduled this evening at Lower Parel brewery, Barking Deer.

Singh, who is from Mumbai, but has made Bengaluru home, says he first decided to grow a beard in 2013. He started the club as he saw many others out there who were doing the same, all in a bid to enhance their personality. He started a Facebook page, and interested beards just kept clicking.

The club meetings, which are open to women by the way, continue for three hours or more, and are a mixed bag. While there’ll always be food and drinks to enjoy, experts are brought in to discuss grooming tips, products to use, where to go for a cut and what shape goes best with their face. They will also talk about how men can try and solve issues plaguing women. “The proceeds from all our events -- members pay `1,000 -- go to charity. We have been donating to an NGO helping men with prostate cancer for the last few events,” says Singh.

It sounds like a boy’s club with a difference, if you must define it. “The tag line of the club is Beards With Brains. I have a conversation with every person who shows interest and they need to not just be pretty faces, or a good beard.

They have to have substance. We all need to be on the same wavelength,” says Singh. He doesn’t do well with the “only reason I have a beard is because it’s in fashion” sort of conversations.

The members also have to subscribe to the notion that not only has the beard made them more attractive, it has also made them go-getters, confident about what they want and commanding respect. Rana firmly believes so.

“When I was going for auditions, I realised that everyone looked the same. Doesn’t Mumbai, or Lokhandwala, have enough tall, well-built, good looking boys? And so, I decided to do the risky thing and get a beard. So, even though I have missed out on some parts, I am proud of my beard because it helps me stand out,” adds the Andheri West resident, whose tryst with the beard began a year ago.

When popularity of the Bangalore Beard Club soared -- of the club and the the ‘beard’ itself, thanks to all the hipsters in the world (who disowned it as soon as it became common) -- Singh knew it was time for Mumbai to get its own chapter. He reached out via his Facebook page and finalised the group last week.

Among the first to sign up was Orlem-based D’Souza. “I was a banker, and people would look at my beard and tattoos with wonderment, but I was getting the work done and that’s what mattered,” he says. They all cite the example of Indian skipper Virat Kohli who has, in the last year, grown a rather sexy beard. “If he was going to be captain, he needed to be taken seriously, and he did it with a beard,” says Singh. At which point, Alag adds, “It’s not just the beard, it’s the way you dress with it. It changes everything from the the clothes you wear to the way you carry yourself.” There are loud yeses.

“Gone is the time when we just wore a shirt and a pair of trousers and headed off to work. Now, we mix and match. We have a whole identity to go along with it,” says Singh. Varghese smiles, “It helps us stand out everywhere we go. And the women of course, love it as well. We have certainly got more attention since we got the beards.” They all laugh and admit that they were never this popular with the ladies as “chikna” boys, and the ladies are invited to their events, to talk, interact or just gaze. Have they become a tad vain since they started keeping their facial hair? They answer in the negative. “We just need 40 minutes in the morning to deal with the beard, and then we are done,” says Singh, who blow dries his beard every day to get that straight, smooth texture. They are all capable of having a conversation about what products to put in their hair for hours and are happy to have found friends who, unlike others, don’t find them obsessive. “Once we are done, we know we look damn good, and then, the whole day is a breeze,” signs off D’Souza.

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