As I began writing about my experience at perhaps the most talked about music concert in a while, I had one clear direction in my head: Resist the urge to pun on Coldplay song titles. It’s a cliché and everyone’s done it — so what if I felt a rush of blood to my head anticipating the adventure of a lifetime from all the hymns of the weekend.
Yeah! I’m totally avoiding those puns.
Heck, I’ll pass on references to ticking items off bucket lists too.
I bet you’re already tired of the shaky, low-res, mobile phone recordings of Chris Martin crooning Maa Tujhe Salaam with AR Rahman, or the numerous selfies posted by that one friend on your Instagram timeline, who’s maternal cousin’s neighbour’s uncle got him a sponsors’ ticket to the festival.
But please bear with me as I attempt to write the least obvious piece you’ve read on the Global Citizen Festival India.
Around 5.30 am last Saturday, on advice from my maternal cousin’s neighbour’s uncle (who didn’t get us a sponsor’s ticket), a friend and I drove down to Mumbai from Pune. We wanted to get to the venue early to claim the ‘best seats’ in the Silver Zone — a privileged part of the sprawling MMRDA Ground, only three light years away from the stage.
No, seriously. When we reached our destination, we queued up for nearly two hours in the midday sun, only to get in and realise that we were barely in on the action. From where we were positioned, I spotted a faint outline of what looked like a crouched human figure standing center-stage.
Excited at my first celebrity sighting of the day, I asked, “Is that Arjun Kapoor?”
“No dude, that’s a tripod.”
It always starts with Bollywood
By the time the performances began, we had already taken our place — behind what looked like 90 people waiting in a queue for water. In hindsight, it was possibly our recent practice of whiling away long hours outside ATMs, and the hope that we could miss out on Shraddha Kapoor’s and Sonakshi Sinha’s musical genius, that kept us patiently in line and away from the histrionics on stage.
Countless celebrities, activists, and corporate honchos walked up on stage to greet us ‘Global Citizens’ — the assumption being that we had made our way to the venue to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of education, gender equality and sanitation. Truth be told, most people around us didn’t mind the cause, but were there to only watch Coldplay and Jay Z.
As the evening wore on, maybe it was the heat or the long hours of standing the sun that did this to us, but things seemed to get weird. While Arjun Kapoor (the actor, not the tripod), Parineeti Chopra, Ayushmann Khurrana, and Alia Bhatt displayed a borderline remarkable (I’m being generous) gift of the gab, it was Sonam Kapoor’s talk on empowerment that left the crowd bewildered.
Then there was Ananya Birla, a 22-year-old singer and entrepreneur (and daughter of billionaire industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla), who performed her new single 'Livin’ the Life'. While many around me accused her of lip-syncing, I only have the deepest respect for someone privileged yet modest enough to let auto-tune chart her success.
Composer trio Shankar, Ehsan and Loy, as well as Rahman went old school with their acts – wowing the audience with hits like 'Breathless' and 'Humma Humma' respectively. Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz were among the other bright sparks, but Farhan Akhtar perhaps got more viewers here than in the movie halls for Rock On 2.
Bizarre and Sublime
As we became increasingly restless to get at least a glimpse of Coldplay, the organisers thought it would be prudent to use monikers like "the most awaited act" and “the international act you have been dying to witness” for almost everyone apart from them. As a result, the poor performers, talented British band The Vamps for instance, had to bear the consequence of a disgruntled crowd.
Needless to say, by the time we came to the final few hours, the event was a heady mix of bizarre and sublime. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an appearance via video conferencing, quoting ‘his idol’ Bob Dylan and attempting a potshot at the demand for Rs 100 currency notes.
Jay Z, on the other hand, is one of the biggest superstars in music and only he could have gotten away with a song called 'Big Pimpin’' at a showpiece event for gender equality.
After a strange 20-minute set by Australian DJs The Electroverts and what can only be called a botched attempt at compering by the visibly uncomfortable Freida Pinto, Coldplay finally came on stage to rapturous applause. The two-hour set that followed was magic, with Chris Martin’s energy peppered with plenty of ‘Shukriyas’ enough to melt even the biggest cynics.
'Fix You', 'Yellow' and 'The Scientist' brought back memories from a decade ago and I’m not embarrassed to admit that the performance left me teary-eyed on more than one occasion. Eighty thousand people sang along to 'Paradise' and 'Everglow', and cheered as one when the band unexpectedly played 'Heroes' – a tribute to the late David Bowie. Coldplay was spectacular in a way that only they can be and the band’s promise of another visit received perhaps the loudest roar of the night.
The success of the event is being gauged with the billions of dollars committed to providing for the three SDGs in the coming years. But the pile of garbage left behind at the venue — mostly leftover food wrappers and water bottles — told a different story of indifference and apathy. We have a long long way to go before we become Global Citizens.
Till then, every teardrop is a waterfall.