“Being a bartender meant that I would be working at a bar or pub and performing in front of drunk people, at late hours.
“Playing with tools and ingredients is risky as you might get hurt or make a fool of yourselves if you don’t practice your tricks well.
“The competition is getting tougher by the day…
“The audience always wants to see new tricks..
Acclaimed bartender Ami Behram Shroff tells Divya Nair/Rediff.com how her passion for bartending got her to break rules and set new benchmarks.
Shatbhi Basu may well hold the record for being India’s first female bartender, but Ami Shroff went a step ahead of her contemporary and set her niche in flair bartending.
Shroff has never taken a professional course and can never say for sure what she’s going to perform at a event.
“I am constantly improvising my tricks. I get bored doing the same tricks,” she says.
“Besides entertaining audiences, I like taking part in competitions. It helps me learn and meet new people,” Shroff adds.
After winning the India championship in December 2014, she was one of the finalists to represent India in the Regional Finals of La Maison Cointreau, an all-women bartending competition held in Bangkok, Thailand in January 2015.
At the India-leg competition, Shatbhi Basu who was one of the panellists acknowledged her work and congratulated her too, she recollects.
The young bartender who has also worked as an instructor in Mumbai, tells us how she’s constantly learning on the job and how she’s evolved as a person through the profession.
I had been working since the age of 15, doing odd jobs as a saleswoman, co-ordinating at events and exhibitions, part-time alongside attending college.
I was about 18 when I attended this event where two guys — Ankit and Shawn Dsouza — were performing stunts at the bar.
Bartending was still catching up around that time, but mostly men enrolled for it. I was intrigued and wanted to try it myself.
My friend Delnaz and I signed up to work at a resto-bar in Mumbai and learned some tricks on the job. I gave my first performance at the Enigma festival in Goa and the rest is history.
Initially I could not inform my parents that I wanted to be a bartender because I knew they would be upset.
My parents — my father is a lawyer, mother, a professor — would care less about my choice of career, but rather about my safety.
So I told them much later and they weren’t very happy about it.
However, one of my father’s friends happened to see me at one of these events and he was quite surprised with my talent.
He immediately called my father and appreciated my work.
Gradually my parents gave in and understood that this is what I loved to do.
I have never been to a bartending school so I am not a certified bartender.
I read a bit about different types of alcohol and their properties but I never took a professional course.
When I started off, there were bartenders who did stunts but none of the females attempted stunts involving props or fire.
I was among the contemporaries to be successful in flair (playing with props) bartending.
Being a bartender meant that I would be working at a bar or pub and performing in front of drunk people, at late hours.
Playing with tools and ingredients is risky as you might get hurt or make a fool of yourselves if you don’t practice your tricks well.
The competition is getting tougher by the day, so you must always be up-to-date with what’s happening around you.
The audience always wants to see new tricks so you must have a ready trick up your sleeve all the time which surpasses the expectations of your audience, which can be quite challenging.
If you’re a full time employee in a bar, you’ll have to deal with hierarchy in management, which a creative person will not necessarily enjoy.
Also, the remuneration is not very great for full time bartenders in India. Most of us survive on tips from clients and freelance opportunities, which sometimes supersedes our monthly salary.
Since I know my job well, I prefer to freelance and work on my own terms.
I get to travel a lot, meet new people and learn new things.
The best part of the job is the need for adventure and the thrill of surprising and entertaining audiences.
Bartending is a creative profession and each day is a new day — you have ample scope to use your inspiration and influences in your task.
If it’s a good event, I earn anything between Rs 20,000 and 50,000 per day.
Moreover the appreciation you get from the audience drives your passion and keeps you going.
At times people ask me how I manage to perform in front of and entertain so many strangers?
Well, the job has taught me to be confident and I can easily entertain an audience of 400 or more and perhaps even strike a 20-second conversation with each of them, if the need arises.
There are times when people tell me that I do stunts better than the boys.
I have learned that no matter what job you choose, you need to have a good team. In the end that is what will keep you going during tough times.
Everyone has bad days; it may not always be your fault.
But you need to find ways to motivate yourself out of the situation and see each day as a new adventure.
Be curious — to do new things, to push your limits — but also, be careful and responsible.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Kirti Chavan