On November 27, I was one of 165-plus flash mobbers that danced to the cheerful and patriotic film song “Rang De Basanti” at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Three years and a day after Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan had killed 58 people here in one of the worst terrorist attacks on the city, our flash mob organiser, Shonan Kothari, had convinced railway authorities to let us take over the station for a song and dance. It was nothing short of a coup.
We had other options: Priyadarshini Park in Nepean Sea Road, but few of us wanted that. Kothari even considered Palladium at Phoenix Mills as a location but didn’t want to pay a fee to secure the premises. So we had our Jai Ho moment at one of Mumbai’s busiest stations – a truly public space.
Friends and colleagues have argued that it isn’t a flash mob if you seek permission and prepare for it. My question is: if we had danced unsynchronised, would it have gone off so well? Mumbai, with its massive population and crammed spaces, isn’t really a flash-mob friendly city. If all you want to do is freeze for a few minutes at a mall or a railway station, then sure, you don’t need either permissions or much rehearsal. And in our case, the element of surprise was retained – for the commuters.
The flash mob was divided in four batches of dancers. I was one of the fourth and last batch who had agreed to spend three nights over two weeks learning the routine at the Yoga Room in Priyadarshini Park. The other dancers ranged from a four-year-old girl to a 60-something aunty. My batch, I discovered, had to perform the least number of steps since we came in only during the last 90 seconds of the song. This was also perhaps why my group had a few 50-somethings including Kothari’s father, Mehul. The choreography by Bhaumik Shah was easy, enjoyable and captured the spirit of the song. It was also well-suited for a flash mob, with steps that looked great performed by a big group in sync.
It was only a day before the event that all four batches met for the first time at the football grounds at PDP, to learn the last 40 seconds of the routine. Kothari brought chutney sandwiches. A lone bulb illuminated the premises as 200 of us attempted to get the formations right. Chaos reigned. After some ten rehearsals, we were let go with a three-page document of instructions including “Try to fit in with the passengers”, “This is a surprise, not a performance” and “Stand/Walk/Go about things normally before you start dancing”.
We weren’t successful in following all the rules. Some of us didn’t do a good job pretending to be commuters, some were anxious about their entry points and were rehearsing their steps. A few dancers had invited friends. (As one noted, “That woman in high heels is definitely not on the passenger list.”) The multiple cameras, many policemen and sound checks also made it obvious something was going to happen.
The first, and perhaps real, flash mob took place at 4.52 pm. As soon as the first two girls started dancing, the commuters charged towards them. The other dancers had to push their way through to get into position in time. The group danced in a space that was meant only for half the number of people; Kothari said she considered stopping the routine at one point. But she had had the foresight to get a second time slot. Ten minutes before 5.33pm, we formed a human chain to clear some space. This time around, we were able to dance in full sync. (One part we did well both times was to disperse as if nothing had happened.)
Still, it was a video of the first, less perfect routine that Kothari finally chose to put up on YouTube. “It was hilarious,” said the 23-year-old. “It spoke more about Bombay.” As for success, ever since I sent the link to friends and family – and it went viral – I have got nothing but complimentary, thrilled messages. It’s almost like I was a background dancer in a Madonna show. At CST, two women commuters had asked me whether we were being paid to dance. I told them that the aim was to surprise and entertain people. “Just for fun,” I said. That was the beauty of it.
To see the complete video click on this link :http://www.youtube.com/user/shonankothari#p/a/u/0/Iyt16efRrBo
By Suhani Singh on March 02 2012 2.07pm
Photos by Shonan Kothari