Two months ago, at a resort in Mahabaleshwar, more than 300 people gathered in one of the banquet halls. They mingled and chatted, enjoying the food and drinks. The DJ was playing the latest Bollywood hits. Suddenly, a few people at the bar put their glasses down, headed to the centre of the hall and started dancing to Sooraj ki bahon mein, a song from Farhan Akthar’s Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Just as they had finished and had returned to their drinks and conversations, as if nothing had happened, another group emerged from another corner of the room and did another dance.
A flash mob had erupted at the function, a wedding, taking the place of the traditional sangeet.
“We wanted to do something different that would involve lots of people,” said Almitra Chandrachud, a Juhu-based lawyer whose sister-in-law’s wedding it was. “My sister-in-law married a Briton, who had invited 30 of his friends. We wanted them to be part of the sangeet too. So we decided to organise a flash mob that would involve them and others. We kept the steps simple.”
A flash mob consists of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time and then disperse. Organised via social media or viral emails, the flash mob can be a form of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. When organised for commercial purposes, such as product launches, it is called a smart mob.
Mumbai witnessed its first flash mob at CST on November 27, a day after the third anniversary of the terror attacks. More than 200 people came together and danced to Rang de Basanti. Its YouTube video has been viewed in 214 countries.
Since then, Mumbai’s youngsters have adapted this street phenomenon to fit several occasions — college projects, protest rallies and wedding sangeets. “People want something different at their parties,” said Bhakti Shah, a choreographer who has been including flash mobs in sangeets for the past three months. “Some people begin their performances with a flash mob just for the surprise element, while others end a sangeet with a flash mob so that the whole audience can join in.”
The first flash mobs were created in Manhattan in 2003, by Bill Wasik, then senior editor of Harper’s Magazine, a high-brow, liberal monthly magazine. “It was a prank, a social experiment,” Wasik, now the editor of Wired, a monthly technology magazine, told HT in an email interview. “I saw the way that chain emails could get passed around to thousands of people, where you could scroll down and see that this person had sent it to that person, and so on. So I had the idea of starting a chain email that would tell everyone to come to the same place at the same time — to create a crowd where there wasn’t supposed to be one.” (See interview, on the left ‘For the fun of it’.)
In Mumbai, Shonan Kothari, a 23-year-old corporate social responsibility consultant, was the first to organise a flash mob, at CST. “We did it because we all wanted to be part of one,” she said. “But today, I see it being used in many ways, including for awareness campaigns. Anything that will bring so many people together for something positive is a good thing.”