Thursday, 30 August 2012

Flash Mobbed!

‘Flash Mob’ a term the average Mumbaikars was oblivious of till they were struck by one on 27th November 2011. Hundreds of young people dancing to the tune of a popular Bollywood song at one of Mumbai’s most prominent landmark – The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, also one of the busiest train terminals in World, were a sight to behold. What followed was euphoria, with many similar flash mobs being organized by people elsewhere in the country. Well, we can proudly say that Mumbai was the city that popularized the concept of Flash Mobs in India. Discovering Mumbai presents to you ‘Shonan Kothari’ the Mumbai girl who gave us ‘Flash Mobs’ and we are definitely obliged to her!
Shonan Kothari

Shonan first encountered a flash mob when she was in London for her masters. It happened one fine evening when she was out shopping for grocery at a nearby store. It was a small group of four people who suddenly broke in to a song. She was enchanted by what she experienced and it left an indelible mark on her mind. She scribbled it down on her ‘to do’ list – participate in a flash mob. The note, however, was soon forgotten. It was only after she returned to Mumbai and while going through some old things that the old ‘to do’ list came to her notice. One thing that had not been ticked out was the flash mob. Flash mobs, till that time were unheard of in India. Shonan immediately realised that to complete this task she will have to organize her own flash mob. The fire had started, now it was down to the execution part.

From the start she knew that the biggest challenge would not be gathering people, it would be getting the requisite permission from numerous authorities to be able to make such a performance a reality. The most important thing was the location and the date. Mumbai’s iconic Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was chosen for obvious reasons; it was the busiest train station in Mumbai – this meant a lot of eyeballs. Secondly, the date that was chosen – 27th November, was the date when horrific terrorist attacks had taken place at CST. The event would be a sort of tribute, an attempt to change the image of the building and the city. However, she took care never to announce this as the objective of the flash mob, as it could have led to critical judgements about the entire event per se. For her, the flash mob was an instrument to spread happiness and smiles among Mumbaikars.

For the making the event happen at CST she had to take numerous permissions from the railways, the BMC and the Police. This was a slow and laborious process and took her about a month to achieve. The first time she tried reaching out to the railway authorities through a contact, for the permission, she was bluntly turned down. Undeterred, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She decided to walk straight into the office of Central Railways to seek permission. Many officials directed her to their superiors, but ultimately she found the right person. The senior official at railways gave her the permission, as long as they event would not be for commercial purposes or for the promotion of any company.
A picture of the performance at CST

Participants were gathered through emails. She shot out emails to close friends and asked them to spread the message among their friends. The message made a special request to the readers to not spread word on social networks. This was essential to keep the event under wraps; secrecy is after all the essence of a flash mob. She was amazed by the response her email got, in two days 325 people had signed up for the event. She hired a choreographer for training the participants. She wanted the training itself to take place in batches at a park in South Mumbai. She wrote to the Urban Minister of Maharashtra, who oversees the functioning of the park. After winning him over, the park authorities agreed to keep the park open till 11 PM for two weeks, which is two hours after their usual closing time For filming of the dance she roped in ‘Running Cow Films’, a videography company, plus an assortment of generous friends who volunteered to film the dance on the day itself. The song ‘Rang De Basanti’ was chosen. All cost for the entire event was borne by Shonan and her family. Her parents supported her throughout the journey. From conceptualization to execution, the entire event took just over a month to complete.

Finally the day came, 27th November 2011. For the final dance around 200 participants were present. The performed twice at CST, the first performance took place at 4.52 PM and the second one at 5.33 PM. Station authorities had stopped all announcements for the duration of the dance, the public address system of the station only played the song Rang De Basanti. Some in the crowd were shocked, some were clueless about what was happening, and some were so excited that they joined in the dance! “Crowd control was a problem. The crowd moved in very close to the performers which meant we could not perform some of the moves which had planned”, said Shonan. The flash mob was a hit. Once the video was up on the net, nothing could stop it from going viral. “The reaction was far beyond what we expected. It was overwhelming. More than 100 media organizations covered us. It was really nice to be covered by the regional media, especially.”

Shonan is one satisfied girl. Her flash mob sparked of a chain of mobs elsewhere in the country. She is happy that the initiative started off something so popular. We asked her if she has any other surprise up her sleeve, “Not particularly, not at this moment” is what she answered. But we hope that she soon plans something big for the city!
You can revisit the video of the famous flash mob here -

You can follow Shonan on her twitter id - @ShonanKothari