A grand view of the Arabian Sea with a backdrop of elegant skyscrapers, a constant cool breeze blowing, a magnificent promenade and a mini melting pot of cultures that typically symbolises the city, the Marine Drive is quite a setting. It makes for a perfect Sunday evening hangout spot, and if you can add floating colourful balloons on the sea water, it just elevates the whole atmosphere. Crowds gathered on the promenade on Sunday were treated to this sight.
However, none of those big coloured balloons that floated on the sea on Marine Drive were meant for decoration, they marked the course of the race on water for the first Indian Grand Prix of the Seas — the Nexa P1 Powerboat Racing championships.
Half an hour before the race was about to commence, there was just the usual Sunday crowd on the promenade and one couldn't quite see a huge gathering of people flocking to see the race. One could identify some portions of the crowd that comprised of people who had made the deliberate trip to witness the occasion as they sat staring at the shore in eagerness under their umbrellas brought specially to tackle the afternoon sun. But there was little buzz unlike the one at the start of any sporting event.
However by the time the boats made their way to the starting line, there was a wall of spectators at the Nariman Point end of the promenade. The race track had caught people's attention and the few who knew about the race clued people in by educating them about the race. So when the it started, there was a decent amount of people in attendance. Something one didn't quite expect a few minutes earlier.
The race began, the boats zipped past the shore one by one as the crowd gathered for their first taste of Powerboat racing. The humming noise of the boats got the people going. The phones came out, so did the photographers hidden among the audience. The boats raced to the Chowpatty end as the people standing outside the Trident Hotel eagerly awaited their return to their side. It didn't take long, but the whole lot was a bit more dispersed by the time the first lap was completed at the Trident end. After a couple of laps there was clear daylight between all the competitors and some boat or the other always passed by the Trident end of the track where the action came closest to the coastline.
By the fifth lap, a bit of monotony had set in among the crowd as the boats kept on passing by the shore. That's where the thrill of the sport should have taken over, but there was nothing to facilitate the same. Soon the crowd got anxious, sought information about the ongoing laps, the live positions of the racers and there was nothing to provide answer to those questions.
That prompted few to transform into self-proclaimed experts and give their own verdict about the race. The lack of conviction in their voices suggested it was pure guesswork. I was roaming with my media accreditation card trying to get a feel of the race and many mistook me for the organisers.
"Are you here to explain us about the sport," asked Milap Tejale, a fire brigade employee from Mulund who had brought his family to watch the race. "How long will the race last? Who is winning?" he enquired later. I could answer his first question, but I was as clueless as him about the happenings of the race. He threw me a perplexed look before I cleared his suspicion that I was one of the organisers.
As I went away to other side of the Marine Drive promenade, there were few with similar questionmarks on their face. The hanging pass on my neck once again prompted people to quiz me about the event. I could only share my helplessness with them. By that time, there was a bit of disappointment starting to set in among a few who were struggling for information. There was no one to update them with the happenings of the race, no big screen or digital board to inform them and no announcer to keep them informed and engaged. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had denied the organisers permission to have any interactive setup on the promenade, according to a Times of India report. Thus, the audience was left scratching its head.
Milap Shah, a Sion resident, was accompanied by four friends and ten kids who had specially come to watch the race. He too was left a bit disappointed. "It was bit of a dampener. You can look at it for a couple of minutes, but beyond that you don't know what's happening," he said. The kids who initially had their eyes firmly on the boats got a bit distracted as the race went on.
The race that had initially created a spectacle, failed to build on it. A group of boys from Colaba were watching with particular interest. " We were here yesterday for the qualifier races as well, we knew today the race was there so we came,"said a boy who lived in the nearby locality of Colaba and had come with his friends.
On being asked if he knew what was happening in the race he said "little bit", but there was hardly any confidence in his voice. He was happy to see the boats cruising in the water and getting to watch it for free, he didn't really have anything to lose.
Another local had made his way to the promenade and watched closely. He had followed the start of the race on television and that prompted him to experience it first-hand. "I am not quite sure what's happening, but it's a good spectacle. It's nice to see something new, so I am liking it," he said.
"I enjoyed watching the boats. It was a good event," said Tejale, echoing the other citizen's thoughts as he was about to leave from the promenade.
There was hardly anyone who disliked the spectacle that the powerboat race created but barely anyone got to know the nuances of the sport. It was brilliant in terms of a boat exhibition or a boat parade, but a mess as far as live sport is concerned.
Anil Singh, the Managing Director of Procam International who jointly initiated this event with P1 Global had stressed the importance "connecting" with the audiences before the event, but thanks to the BMC's resistance to cooperate, it couldn't happen. There were plenty of volunteers of the organisers doing rounds around the Trident end, but they too weren't aware enough to guide the confused crowd.
This is where the organisers could have fared better and used the human resources, which they seem to have in excess, especially in the Trident lounge where the VIP guests were seated. They instead needed to be on the promenade to inform the public at regular intervals. A lack of effort on that front was telling. Vivek Singh, the joint managing director of Procam International, told Times of India that "there was nothing to be disappointed about the race" as it was the first time they were organising the event. This comes as a surprise if not a shock and perhaps shows where the lack of desire to educate the people stemmed from.
It was a missed opportunity for them to engage, involve and more importantly educate a captive audience about the sport, and at the end of the day it is their loss.
"Knowing a bit more about the sport would have been beneficial. What laps are happening, what speeds the boats are travelling at, what is the current statistics or positions that might have been a little bit exciting and got us involved in the game," assessed Milap after the race.
"I give them the benefit of the doubt as this was the first time they had organised such an event. We need more such things happening apart from cricket and I give them the credit for that," he added.
So the people might have left with happy memories of the boats, few would remember it as a race as many struggled to identify the winners. For most, the memory would be of boats doing rounds on a picturesque water track on Marine Drive and not of a thrilling sport they witnessed. So whether or not this audience would come back to watch it again remains a question.
It might still be early days for P1 Powerboat Racing, but this missed opportunity of educating the audience about the sport and possibly getting them hooked, could come back to haunt them.
Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 13:00 PM