'Howdy, Modi' event: Modi, Trump stole thunder but organisers painted poor picture of India's heritage with shoddy cultural programme

It amazes one that with two leaders representing the largest democracies in the world appearing before 50,000 people and a TV audience of one billion-plus the organisers were unable to rise above the amateur theatrics of a bunch of college students whose abilities were shored up by enthusiasm and little else.

Bikram Vohra September 24, 2019 14:50:14 IST
'Howdy, Modi' event: Modi, Trump stole thunder but organisers painted poor picture of India's heritage with shoddy cultural programme
  • It amazes one that with two leaders representing the largest democracies in the world appearing before 50,000 people and a TV audience of one billion-plus the organisers were unable to rise above the amateur theatrics of a bunch of college students whose abilities were shored up by enthusiasm and little else.

  • There was one interminable dance by a single person that was so soporific the dancer herself got so tired she stopped bouncing around even as the music went on.

  • Indian art and artistes are export of high quality.

Indian culture when expressed in song and dance is at its best when interpreted by exponents who spend a lifetime practising their art. Whether it is Kathak or Kathakali or Bharat Natyam or the orchestra in the tabla-sitar duet format it resonates and serves as a lyrical messenger only when it is intricate and exquisite in its moments. Anything less and it threatens to become a parody.

Unfortunately, the two-hour preamble to the Howdy Modi event fell squarely in the ‘uh oh’ category. It amazes one that with two leaders representing the largest democracies in the world appearing before 50,000 people and a TV audience of one billion-plus the organisers were unable to rise above the amateur theatrics of a bunch of college students whose abilities were shored up by enthusiasm and little else.

Howdy Modi event Modi Trump stole thunder but organisers painted poor picture of Indias heritage with shoddy cultural programme

Dancers perform before Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks at the Community Summit on 22 September, 2019 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Getty Images

This sort of running about the stage in a non-choreographed and chaotic fashion is cute for the first five minutes. Then it becomes an irritant and by the time the first 60 minutes are over you wish they would just pull the curtain down.

Because there was so much goodwill splashing about the NRG arena and it spilt into drawing rooms the world over one could be forgiving. But the fact that it was paid for and not a free for all makes it incumbent upon the organising committee to put up a half-decent show where talent goes beyond people scurrying up and down the stage without any just cause.

Legend has it then when the Marx brothers opened in Chicago, the review in The Tribune by critic Percy Hammond next day said: "The Marx Brothers and their various relatives ran around the stage for almost an hour, yesterday afternoon. Why I'll never understand."

Pretty much par for Houston. Except it was two hours and excruciatingly poor. There was one interminable dance by a single person that was so soporific the dancer herself got so tired she stopped bouncing around even as the music went on.

Surely, the event deserved more than this leaping about like leprechauns under the guise of Indian culture. With Senators, Texas House representatives and Governors in situ surely they could have done a far better job and practiced and practised rather than sticking to this ad hoc ordeal.

It was not just the entertainment that was shoddy. Even the arrival of the Modi and Trump cavalcades was sort of dismal and they were ushered on to the stage from the back like they were sneaking into the circus tent. There was no announcement, no grand fanfare, not even hail to the chief. In fact, the two just trotted onto the stage with a singular microphone doing them little honour. No compere or master of ceremonies and then came the rendition of the two national anthems. One would have thought 50,000 voices would do lusty justice to Jana Gana Mana but it was tinny, tuneless and what is seen as arguably the finest anthem in the world lay there in excruciating pain. You wanted a tear in the eye, a lump in the throat.

Of course, it is all forgivable because there were so much love and the political import of both speeches of such global significance that they were paramount and eclipse everything else. But if you have to exploit this unique occasion then project India as she is, in all her glory and her grandeur. Indian art and artistes are export of high quality. Hugely talented. The four million Indian Americans dismally lagged behind the home country on this score. Packaging counts. Yes, for sure, this event missed the bus…whence shall come such another.

This piece first appeared in Khaleej Times.

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