In a flash

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 16, 2011 19:31 hrs

India’s first flash mob happened less than a month ago, but going by the excitement and publicity it generated, the phenomenon is here to stay. Priyanka Sharma explains what are flash mobs and how they are organised.

On November 27, while commuters hurried to buy tickets and catch trains at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) station in Mumbai, a mob of 200 gathered at platforms five and six to perform a coordinated dance to AR Rahman’s 2006 chartbuster, Rang De Basanti. The group dispersed within four minutes. The train announcements resumed a second later, as if nothing had happened.

But it was enough to make 23-year-old Shonan Kothari, who had organised it — the city’s first “flash mob,” very famous. Having seen one performed at a railway station in Antwerp, Belgium, on YouTube, Kothari chose one of the busiest train stations in the city with 17 lakh daily commuters to stage one.

This was followed by a spate of flash mobs across Bangalore, Pune, Delhi and most recently Chennai. While the one in Chennai was dedicated to actor Rajnikanth’s 62nd birthday, Delhi’s flash mob, organised by event management company Cabbageheads, was simply to “break the monotony”, says participant Ayush Verma.

Extremely popular in Europe and the US, the motives behind flash mobs range from entertainment, protests against politicians or government and, most often, commercial advertisements and promotions for companies. For instance, websites such as and organise flash mobs regularly for companies with their own set of professional dancers and choreographers. While they charge a certain fee, they take care of all the logistical requirements from costumes to equipment.

Flashmob America recently organised a flash mob for the magazine National Geographic Kids, with the objective of breaking the Guiness World Record for most people doing jumping jacks within 24 hours — a record that was broken with over 300,000 jumpers from across the US. First lady Michelle Obama also joined the mob as “official jumper in chief” of the Washington jumpers.

In India, too, flash mobs seem to be the new way to get the word out, be it about a social cause, a product promotion or to celebrate a city’s spirit. To organise such a performance at a railway station, the proposed activity must have one of three motives — social, educational or commercial. In addition, the event must not disrupt the train schedule or disorient commuters. At CST, though the loudspeaker announcements were cut off, the visual signs were kept on to help passengers.

For the “spontaneous” dance, Kothari sought multiple permissions from the Indian Railways a month in advance — the railways department gave the green signal only because Kothari emphasised that her efforts had no commercial reasons whatsoever, but was an extension of the city’s efforts to put the 26/11 attacks of 2008 behind.

To keep news of the flash mob off social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, she did not disclose the location of the dance till the last rehearsal on November 26 at Priyadarshini Park.

Several sponsors approached her as soon as they heard about it, admits Kothari. Though she refuses to name them, she adds, “I wanted the motive behind the flash mob to remain a celebration of the spirit of Mumbai and not a product promotion.”

But Kothari’s flash mob did not go unnoticed by mobile company Nokia, which used the phenomenon to promote its new smartphone, the Nokia Lumia 800. In a campaign called “The Amazing Everyday”, the company organised a series of flash mobs in popular malls in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Around 50 dancers, including housewives dressed in salwar kameez, danced to American rapper Lil Wayne’s hit number, “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night”.

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