Fearless joie-de-vivre of flash mob

Published: Dec 04, 2011, 10:29 IST | Paromita Vohra |

If you haven't seen it already, I can only imagine you don't have internet access. I mean that video, where on November 27, a train slowly pulls up at VT station

If you haven't seen it already, I can only imagine you don't have internet access. I mean that video, where on November 27, a train slowly pulls up at VT station. The defeated lady, who lives in the speakers, is about to announce that "platform paanch ki local yard mein jayegi" when Daler Mehendi hijacks her mike and suddenly bursts out singing Rang de Basanti.

Illustration/ Jishu Dev Malakar

A girl in a pink scarf starts dancing and in a minute, another hundred and ninety nine folks have joined her, in Mumbai's first flash mob. Flash mobs are a kind of public performance art, where large groups of people suddenly do something in a public place -- sing, dance, pillow-fight --  for no apparent reason except fun.

Shonan Kothari, who has become famous in a day for organising the flash mob, also says she had no agenda political or otherwise. She'd just seen this in London and always wanted to be part of one. So she thought, why not do it here?

Even so, the date, just a day after the  November 26 attacks, which took place at that very location was not without significance for the city. And ambiguous as the performance was, it was surely the most wonderful tribute anyone could have made to the city and what it's borne the last few years.

With just a few minutes of exuberance, a few minutes of not hitting us on the head with a message or advertisement, just a celebration of life, with an act created for no reason except, maybe, love, the flash mob made people feel alive and alert to life.

Having been part of something that did not want to tell them what to think (unlike your channel, which wants you to know, you should demand we go to war! ), did not try to make them buy an overpriced ticket for some overblown piece of crap pretending to be a movie, did not want them to listen to a message, or 50, from the sponsors, how could they not have recovered some of the generous spirit, droll humour and matwala andaz that was once part of them? How could a little of the enervation and loneliness of urban living not have slipped out as they laughed and marveled at the crazy dancers?

Art is supposed to do that for us. But look at our public art -- those geometry box murals, those perplexing metal sculptures. How could you possibly feel happier, smarter, brighter from seeing that stuff? I don't know how the railways allowed this to happen, but may Ganesha shower them with promotions and budgetary allocations.

While watching the video, I had a comical memory of myself at Churchgate station during the '92-'93 riots, with some older folks, singing well meaning songs for communal harmony. This must have been potent and meaningful in the 1970s, when these older folks were young, but my 22 year-old self could feel its weakness in that moment. Like the government murals, and our movies, it was a formula, which is the anti-thesis of creativity. It changes nothing, even if people nod solemnly.

Sensing the suddenly alive air around the flash mob you can see how art changes us --  with how it makes us feel, not by what it preaches. Abhishek Bachchan and friends tweeted that this was so cool, next time they wanted to be part of one. And so they would if their movies had a quarter of this fearless joie-de-vivre. Because it's not about the flash mob per se. It's about that flash, the same car that inspiration drives.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with
fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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