The seaside, southern Indian city of Cochin is on “India time,” which technically means nine and a half hours ahead of the West Village, but also denotes the indigenous relaxed vibe.
The same could have been said last week of Vikram Chatwal—the 37-year-old Sikh man of leisure, erstwhile Bollywood actor, scion of a hotel empire—who was in town to launch the latest branch of his chic boutique hotel chain, Dream Cochin.
Consider it an overseas warm-up for the big launch of his long-awaited new Manhattan lodge, the Chatwal, later this year—an event nearly a decade in the making.
Everything was in place for the 14-story, 151-room neon-trimmed Cochin hotel’s splashy opening party on Sunday, April 5: tribal drummers, models, journalists, government officials, a pair of festooned elephants. Everything, of course, but Mr. Chatwal himself.
“Where’s Vikram?” his mother, Daman Chatwal, demanded. Each mention of his name drew glances around the room. His father, Sant Singh Chatwal, founder of the worldwide Hampshire Hotels chain, who in 2006 famously threw his son a lavish three-city Indian wedding complete with models and an appearance by Bill Clinton, grinned severely beneath an imperial red turban. Vivek Chatwal, the younger, more buttoned-down son, who is also involved in the family business, stood quietly in his brother’s place.
There were differing accounts over where the man of the hour was: in a meeting, in an interview, in one of his posh hotel’s comfortable beds. “He wanted to give his brother an equal part,” Papa Chatwal later explained to the Daily Transom. “They’re two very different sons. One is north, one is south. One sleeps at 11 o’clock, the other wakes at 11 o’clock. He’s a party man!”
The elder Mr. Chatwal undoubtedly recognizes his son’s Bacchanalian persona as a brand-booster. “He knows Naomi Campbell, he creates an international scene, whereas I follow the nitty-gritty.”
When he finally showed up a half-hour later, ushered in by his assistant Ursa Philbin, a former Slovenian model, Mr. Chatwal greeted VIPs, lounged with friends and later even manned the turntables. “I was basically a hip-hop kid for the last 25 years,” said Mr. Chatwal, dressed in a tight black T-shirt and jeans (and noticably not wearing his iconic turban). “But I started getting more aware of mortality. I had a few bad accidents, I got married, had a child. Music used to be a lot more about angst for me. Now it’s the only form of meditation I do.”
His “angst” has been well chronicled by Page Six—flying around with P. Diddy, dating Gisele Bundchen, landing a cameo in the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander. But he also had a business degree from Wharton, and he was worrying his parents, who had shipped him to Sikh camp as a youngster. (Sikhs, he noted, “are the Hasidics of Punjabi culture.”) After he and his wife, the Indian model Priya Sachdev, had a child, “[my parents] thought, “Oh, now he’s more mature, he can raise a family.’ So they’re backing off a bit now.” He added, “Nepotism sometimes can be a lose-lose situation.”
Now, Mr. Chatwal commutes to Delhi once a month to see his daughter and wife; neither attended the hotel opening. And he’s more balanced. He keeps his ratio of partying to working at 50-50, down from 60-40. “But,” he smiled laconically, “maybe that’s because the hotel biz involves so much partying.”