Editor's Note: The cancellation of David Guetta concerts in Bengaluru and Mumbai in the eleventh hour on 12 and 13 January respectively has transported us back to the morning of 19 November last year, the day Coldplay was scheduled to perform at the Global Citizen Festival in Mumbai. Reports came in that the entire event would get cancelled because the organisers failed to obtain a fire permission. However, the issue was resolved within hours and the event was a grand success. Firstpost journalist Lakshmi Govindrajan Javeri had analysed then why organising a concert in India is a rather difficult job given the red tape and heavy opposition at the drop of the hat. We cannot help but nod in agreement as her analysis stands even more valid today in light of Guetta's concerts getting cancelled because of 'security issues' and 'organisers failing to seek permission from the police.'
The Coldplay concert today (Saturday, 19 November) has been seeing its fair share of controversy ever since it was announced. If it wasn’t for Maharashtra state being a strategic partner and the subsequent entertainment tax waiver, or the first-time benevolence of the state authorities helming MMRDA Grounds to give rental concession, it was Congress and other Opposition parties questioning why liquor might be served at a venue that has over the years refrained from doing so.
While this is a Global Citizen initiative, let us not kid ourselves for even a moment that, for most of the concertgoers today, this is simply a Coldplay concert. This, even though, Coldplay will be preceded by Demi Lovato, Jay Z and a whole host of Bollywood stars and sports personalities.
I’m inclined to believe that the demographics of those who will be present at the event will include some genuine Coldplay fans, genuine Jay-Z fans, compulsive celebrity watchers, supporters of Farhan Akhtar’s highly preposterous “singer” avatar, and a majority of #FOMO-ers.
Almost none of those who’ll be there will genuinely feel for either of the causes adopted, so the state government that is masquerading this as a charity event has a seriously skewed understanding of our intelligence. Because, I mean, if the state had to work in the fields of education, sanitation, poverty alleviating, they ought to do so themselves as elected representatives, and not have to route this via its usual high-pitched PR drama and an international body, for what has essentially been an election promise!
So it’s a good thing that the Bombay High Court called the bluff on this entertainment tax waiver and directed that the concert can go on only after the state government secured an undertaking from the organisers that they would pay the tax as per the Bombay Entertainment Duty Act, 1923. That the MMRDA Grounds has also given a massive rental concession for the event, an unprecedented move by the venue where set up has been happening since a fortnight now, is quite something.
That the state may have an eye on the upcoming BMC elections and so this concert should fall under the ambit of the Election Commission’s Code of Conduct is a weird allegation to make. Most of those who will be at the concert today, will not go in to vote for the civic polls thinking “This government brought down Coldplay, they get my vote!” If they even go to vote, they’re more likely to think “I’m not voting for that inept idiot who’s just dug up my road twice in the same year.”
For most of us concert goers, our demands are simple. We just want a good gig. Because we delude ourselves in Mumbai that we’re the entertainment capital of the world, so I mean how hard can it be to have good concerts more frequently? Well, you’d be surprised.
Concert organisers in Mumbai have a rather unenviable job. By the time the concert even gets started — that’s if it’s not cancelled already — the system has taken them to the cleaners.
Not only is the process of getting permissions and licences in place completely disorganised and capricious, there’s also the political opposition and random PILs that they have to brace themselves for. If the state sees a Coldplay and company concert as an excellent way to grab eyeballs, why would they not look at easing things up for the live entertainment industry through the rest of the year? The laws that govern the industry today were never meant for them, but adapted for them from as early as 1923. There has been no concerted effort from the various state governments in Maharashtra to streamline the permissions/licences process in the city.
It’s a highly money-raking industry that comprises passionate and visionary organisers who have learnt to work with the system and around it, to give you that good gig you think is easy to organise. Despite that, people experienced in the ways of the system get held at ransom over permissions like parking provisions. Jerry Seinfeld’s show was cancelled last year because the police department was unsure of how the event at NSCI would be able to provide parking spots. And this tussle was with Only Much Louder, an events company that has hosted music festivals across the country and have been among the only ones to organise shuttles to pre-determined parking lots. If a proper system was in place or if more venues created to host events of this size that check all the parameters of parking and safety, such last-minute cancellation, embarrassment and disappointment wouldn’t become the albatross on these organisers.
Twitter-happy friends this morning were concerned at the possibility of the event being cancelled, after news broke out that the fire permission had not yet been granted to Wizcraft, the organisers of this event. Fans were furious that despite having the state as a strategic partner, the organisers had to wait on this crucial licence.
For starters, the fire department issues a provisional licence days before the event and will give an NOC only after the venue has been fully readied for the crowds to come. This is because only after all the setup is done can the fire department assess if the venue is safe enough. And given Wizcraft’s unfortunate run in February this year at the Make in India event no less, the state and the organisers would be better off following at least some due diligence. Nevertheless, the licences are now all in place, Bollywood actors dressed in their best Boho-meets-rockstar looks have taken to the stage, as has Demi Lovato.
Meanwhile, serpentine queues of fans with a head full of dreams are still waiting to enter the venue. They’re probably grateful to the practice demonetisation has given them to stand peacefully in a long queue.