It all started with Shonan Kothari's CST flashmob. At the end of November 2011, Kothari and dozens of other dancers stunned the Mumbai rush hour with a pair of high-energy dance performances to A. R. Rahman's Rang De Basanti; they then stunned the rest of India and the world as the skilfully edited official video went viral.
Soon, similar flashmobs were popping up everywhere: in Hyderabad, in Ahmedabad, in Kochi and more (including Delhi, where one failed attempt begat another, more successful effort). The media followed the phenomenon across the country, clamouring to fill their news bulletins and websites with coverage of the latest spontaneous dance effort.
The ripples even reached as far as New Zealand. From her home in Auckland, Chennai-born Padma Akula sat watching the Mumbai CST flashmob official video over and over, wishing she could join the craze somehow.
“I just wished to be part of a flash mob but found none,” says Akula. “I was quite disappointed – but my desire to be part of a flash mob led me to organise one.”
The rest is history. Since Akula and her motley crew danced to a remix of 'Why This Kolaveri Di' in central Auckland on December 19th, the echoes have reverberated far and wide through media as diverse as the following:
- a steady stream of positive comments on the YouTube video;
- references on Tamil and American TV;
- seemingly endless Facebook and Twitter shares;
- smiling and clapping onlookers at the actual performances;
- and even an upcoming performance in Sydney, organised by Rashmi Bedarar, and another repeat performance in Chennai organised by Akula herself.
So how did all that happen? Akula says that once the initial inspiration struck, she had a clear idea of what she wanted to create.
“I was very particular from the beginning that it wasn’t about great choreography or spectacular dancing skills. I wanted everyone and anyone who wanted to shake a leg to be able to be part of the buzz without feeling intimidated by great dancers or complicated dance moves.”
From there, Facebook invitations went out and 92 people responded with a yes. Ultimately, the power of a click on Facebook meant much less than pre-rehearsal SMS reminders and even driving participants to the rehearsal venue – both of which Akula had to do in order to bring her vision to fruition. Alongside the 30 dancers who eventually committed to the final performances, a DJ and a crew of videographers and editors joined the team, agreeing to work for little or no pay. It was their footage that would eventually be viewed by millions.
In discussing her flashmob's somewhat surprising global impact, Akula is quick to praise the 'Why This Kolaveri Di' effect. “[It's a] great catchy tune and was such a viral buzz! But the deciding factor was the lyrics. All my friends, regardless of age, language or nationality, found the song amusing and would sing along when we hung out.” She also believes people browsing the internet were curious to see why 'Why This Kolaveri Di' had popped up all the way down in New Zealand.
Still, the dancers themselves – aged from 14 to 37 and from a range of countries, cultures and occupations – were the main act. Akula agrees: “I knew as long as we had the spirit we would spread joy and amusement. I reckon the smile on every dancer's face displayed joy and that we were absolutely having fun.”
That was the greatest reward of the whole experience, she says: the forging of new friendships. Given the connectedness they appear to display in the video, one suspects those friendships could last long after the Auckland Kolaveri flashmob's global echoes finally pass.
THAT FLASHMOB FEELING
Erum Panju (dancer):
“It was amazing. [It was] an effort to get to the practices after a full day’s work, but just meeting the others put a smile on your face. Getting that adrenaline rush when you’re finally up there and everything is coming together and know that everything was totally worth it. A once in a lifetime experience.”
Hari Amgoth (dancer):
“I enjoyed dancing with these cool steps a lot. It also gave me an opportunity to meet new friends. When my friends saw the video they were surprised and showered compliments like anything; one of my friends in India commented ‘Paruvu Nilipav’ (made us proud). It’s my luck to be a part of the Kolaveri Team.”
Dil Bagh (dancer):
“The whole feeling of dancing to best song of 2011... c'mon. One word: 'awesome'. I will cherish it for the rest of my life [...] a great bunch of people to work with and each one of us had great fun performing on that day. The surprise reception we got from the crowd was all worth practising for.”
Karima Madut (dancer):
“It was a good feeling to be able to put my inhibitions aside and just do something that was outside the box. I understood that it was for the sake of entertainment but it was a great lesson to us performers to challenge ourselves and not just utilise our talents with expectations of getting something back, like payment or applause, but use it to create joy and a sense of connection with ourselves, each other and our spectators in that moment.
It was also kind of special to be able to be a part of something, as performers, where we and the audience were aware that they were playing a central role just by being present and reacting to the piece.”
Kaushik Balan (lead dancer/choreographer):
“[The flashmob was] a journey that was very different, but one that led to the same satisfaction and goal: having FUN. The opportunity of teaching the participants was an experience of its own, which enabled me to open my eyes as to what I can really do […] working with a large team that I had no prior interaction with made it all the more challenging and fun for me.”
Vinayak Dev (dancer):
“I am not a very keen dancer.... [but] dancing in a flash mob is nothing like dancing in your room or around your friends. It's something different and far more enjoyable. Seeing the expressions of happiness and astonishment on people's faces as soon as a flash mob begins, is truly priceless! I still remember a few people coming towards us just after we finished performing and asking what group we belonged to – to which our organiser Padma just replied with a smile and a twinkle in her eye: “none!”
After participating in this flash mob, I feel much more comfortable dancing and I have made a number of friends and met many amazing people whom I consider myself truly privileged to know. The wonderful memories that I have collected through this journey always bring a smile to my face whenever I look back on them. I would encourage everyone to experience a flash mob at least once – I can guarantee that you'll be surprised by how much you enjoyed it!”
If you want to get involved in the Kolaveri flashmob phenomenon, you can visit the Sydney and Chennai event pages on Facebook and register your interest.