Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mumbai Flash Mob


200 ordinary Mumbaikars (aged 4-60) come together one busy Sunday evening for the pure joy of dancing. The historic CST station blares 'Rang De Basanti...




Even as India was yet to overcome the `Kolaveri Di` fever, another Internet sensation arrived to spellbind one and all.  Video of Mumbai’s first flash mob went gone viral on YouTube and had over 6 lakh views since it was uploaded on 28th November, Monday in just around a couple of days.
The video shows a group of over 200 people put up a dance act at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus in India’s financial capital on Sunday.

The act that lasted for 10 minutes grabbed attention of the motormen as well, who were all set to depart the station for their respective destinations. A huge crowd gathered and was dumbfounded to see a flash mob, something that was the first of its kind in the city.
Participants of the flash mob danced to the patriotic tune of the title song of Aamir Khan’s film `Rang De Basanti`. The visuals would leave even a stone hearted person teary eyed. Such is the impact of the video that can easily stir national consciousness in people.



The city of Mumbai or `Mayanagari` as it is also called, has a reputation of being extremely fast paced. People have little time to waste and are always on their heels. But the performance that was staged at CST gripped the crowd that was present there. Life almost came to a standstill and people were left awestruck.

The Mumbai Flash Mob, as it was dubbed, threatened to become a viral phenomenon in India by Tuesday evening, as videos of the performance rocketed through the Twitter universe, were posted on Facebook and liked on YouTube.

While the video looks spontaneous, the act was carefully planned.
"One of the top items on my travel to-do list, which I never got around to in Europe, was to be a part of a Flash Mob," one of the organizers of the mob, Shonan Kothari, formerly a researcher for Harvard Business School, said in a telephone interview. "Since India didn't have anything of the sort, I figured I'd do it myself," she said.


Getting over 200 people to participate in a choreographed dance in the middle of Mumbai's bustling central railway station required a month of planning, including visits to three different departments at the station for security clearance. Atul Rane, senior divisional operations manager at Indian Railways, helped coordinate with other departments to organize the lighting, ladders and camera placements, Shonan Kothari said.



Then Shonan Kothari had to coordinate the dancers. "I had 325 people sign up within two days of sending out the e-mail," she said. She didn't spread the word on any social networking Web site, fearing too many people would show up. The dancers were taught the choreography in small batches over the course of two weeks in a Malabar Hill park.



While so-called flash mobs have been popular in the United States and Europe for years, the phenomenon has not really caught on in India. That may be about to change, judging by the amount of attention the video has garnered. A video of the dancing, put up on YouTube early Tuesday morning, had already been "liked" by 1,435 people by 6:30 in the evening.


Actor Abhishek Bachchan tweeted  the video of the dance on Tuesday evening and said “NOW THIS IS COOL!!! Next time I wanna join too.”

Ms. Kothari was surprised and happy to learn of Mr. Bachchan’s tweet, as well as the overall online response.
She first learned about flash mobs when she was a student in London and she saw a handful of people suddenly start singing at a local grocery store. She later looked up the phenomenon and found that it’s “an art movement all over the world,” she says.She decided she wanted to be part of one.She all but forgot about the idea after her move to Mumbai for a job in 2010. But last month, when she happened to look up her Things-to-Do-In-Life list, she realized that she hadn’t ticked off her plan to participate in a flash mob.
Ms. Kothari figured she would just have to organize one herself. She emailed 20 friends, and asked them to further spread the word without using social media, thus keeping the event under wraps.“Within two days, we had 325 sign-ups,” says Ms. Kothari. “Most people I didn’t know.”While she had set no age limit, Ms. Kothari says the bulk of the crowd comprised of 20-something college students.
Kothari even refused sponsorship, paying out of her own (or as she laughingly points out, her father’s) pocket.
“I did have people wanting to buy it out but I didn’t want to make this commercial at all. It was just about having fun.”
This isn’t Mumbai’s first flash mob (several brands have organised such initiatives in the past), but this is certainly the first time it’s got so much attention. And going by conversations on Twitter and Facebook, it certainly won’t be the last.

In early November, she called on Bhaumik Shah, who had choreographed a dance at her cousin’s wedding, to help put together the dance. At the time, “I didn’t know what is a flash mob,” says Mr. Shah. Ms. Kothari explained, as she did to most people who signed up for the event. She even sent them a hand-written manual. She rented a yoga hall in Priyadarshini Park in Park in a wealthy neighborhood of south Mumbai and organized practice sessions in batches starting mid-November. She also hired Mumbai-based Running Cow Films to shoot and edit a video of the final dance. Ms. Kothari, who works at a corporate social responsibility-consulting firm, paid for all services. But she added that many people, including executives at Running Cows helped out financially by charging lower-than-normal prices for their services.
The trickiest part was getting permission from the railway authorities to perform at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Ms. Kothari didn’t have any contacts in the Railways, so “I quite shamelessy marched into offices,” she says.When she found senior officials, she would pop open her laptop and show them videos of flash mobs held elsewhere in the world to explain her goal. Their typical first response was: “Are you crazy?” says Ms. Kothari. They couldn’t quite get why she wanted to do this, she says.Still, they heard her out and after at least half a dozen visits she found a senior official who backed her, so long as the event was not for commercial use or for publicity of a company.
Ms. Kothari got permission to play the song – Rang De Basanti from the eponymous movie – on the train station’s announcement system. The station stopped official announcements during this period.Ms. Kothari and her team danced twice – at 4.52 pm and at 5.33 pm – but the video is primarily of the first dance. “It was really fun,” she says.
Kothari, 23, says she didn’t mean for this to be a symbol of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, or anything else really.
“Nothing about this had an agenda. We just wanted to have fun,” she told Reuters.


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