It’s taken way too long for Indians to effectively realise that humour is not our best suit. As this Bombay High Court judge perceptively—albeit belatedly—remarked last year: "In India, the absence of humour...has sunk to a shocking low”. So when we came across a court order given out by the Delhi High Court today, at the behest of French accessories and fashion giant, Hermès International, to Impresario Entertainment—the company behind some of the most experimental dining experiences in India including Social and Smoke House Deli—we couldn’t help but laugh at our collective sense of humour. Or the lack thereof.
The flow of events goes reportedly like this: Restaurant chain Impresario Entertainment was pulled up when Hermès International moved the Delhi High Court for the former violating its “trademark, logo etc” at one of its restaurants, Goregaon Social, in Mumbai.
The design—conceptualised and executed by Mumbai-based The Busride Design Studio—was a “spoof on consumer culture”. “It was meant to be light-hearted,” Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Entertainment, tells VICE.
According to Indian legal news site Bar & Bench, “the case was disposed of after Impresario Entertainment stated that it would not use the Hermes trademark or other intellectual property to its benefit.” However, despite that, Goregaon Social reportedly retained “a red watch-box with the Hermès logo and the word ‘Herpes’”. The report says, “It was submitted that the word ‘Herpes’ was written in the same font style and size as ‘Hermès’. Therefore, an unsuspecting individual would ascribe some affinity to Hermes International. Further noting that the word ‘Herpes’ is associated with a skin disease, it was submitted that the display was in bad taste and reflected poorly on Hermès International.”
“When we got the order, we removed [those elements],” Amlani reiterates. “It wasn’t an infringement of anybody’s copyright. It was a spoof. But once Hermès said it is not acceptable, we immediately removed it. Inadvertently one very small detail was left out, and Hermès came back to the court and said that this is not cool. That was an oversight on our part, and therefore we have been punished by the court.”
However, in an unusual twist that doesn’t often see the light of day in the Indian justice system—an infrastructure that can, at best, be equated with this writer’s deplorable diet plans—the Delhi High Court instructed Impresario to provide one meal per day to children in 10 orphanages and 10 foster care homes in Delhi for two years. “The restaurant chain will continue providing one meal per day to the children lodged in these centres until the expenditure incurred by it becomes equal to the punitive costs of Rs 20 lakh imposed on it by the Court,” says a report by Press Trust of India. “The owner of the SOCIAL chain will also provide sanitary napkins to adolescent girls at these centres.”
The company is also reportedly required to install a commercial water purifier at Bacchiyon Ka Ghar, one of Delhi’s oldest orphanages. The sanitary napkins, on the other hand, will reportedly be sourced under the Delhi Government’s Kishori Shakti Yojna.
The order in this contempt case was reportedly passed by a single judge bench of Justice Najmi Waziri, a formidable dude who—among other noteworthy orders—once came down hard on two passport officers at the court for “sporting a casual tee, while another [wore] jeans and a formal shirt with its buttons upon to the chest to flaunt his gold chain.”
Amlani adds, “We’re kind of happy that it’s money well spent, for a social cause. There was no commercial angle to [the designs]. It’s not like we were selling duplicate products. It was meant to be in jest, but apparently, it wasn’t taken that way. I think it was blown out of proportion. But ultimately, some good came out of it. Instead of saying that they want to put some penal action on us, they wanted to serve society. It’s an interesting way of delivering justice.”
VICE reached out to Ayaz Basrai, of The Busride Design Studio, to explain the disputed icons and symbols that reportedly do not exist at the outlet anymore. “A brand like Hermès taking offence to parody is just lack of humour. And ‘Herpes’ is such a low-hanging fruit, man,” Basrai says. “The idea of the facade is to take a piss at the mall context, because you’re in the most generic, faceless kind of a structure. The idea was to masquerade [Goregaon Social] as a high-end retail store in the front. We never really assumed that people would actually take a closer look. We had anyway populated it with mannequins and all of that, so why not take a piss at all these international brands?”
A quick online search also reveals that the parody might not be a new one either.
In fact, the above artwork is also available on T-shirts you could buy off an e-comm website that turns artist creations into merchandise.
According to Basrai, Social is anyway known to create a parody kind of mind space. And if someone takes offence at a roast or a parody, the whole point is lost. “We kind of also came with the assumption that people don’t have the attention span or intention to look closely, and we might as well hide some Easter eggs," he says. "But obviously, someone from Hermès looked inside."
VICE reached out to the Hermès office in India; they have declined to comment.
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