YourStory.in Exclusive with Shonan Kothari - The Woman Behind Mumbai CST Flash Mob

21st Dec 2011
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Mumbai CST flash mob

I guess most of us have already heard or seen the videos of India's first citizen flash mob that took place in Mumbai CST - one of the busiest transport hub in Mumbai, where two hundred youngster stormed the railway station and danced to A.R.Rahman's “Rang De Basanti” tune. YourStory.in got in touch with Shonan Kothari, the 23-year old woman behind the Mumbai CST flash mob to know more on how they did it.Tell us about yourself, in a nutshell.

Hello, there. I’m Shonan Kothari, known most recently as ‘that CST flash mob girl.’ I’m more than that, but that’s enough for this nutshell.


For the ones who don't know it yet, what is a 'flash mob'?A flash mob is when a whole bunch of people assemble unannounced at a public place, perform a strange act for a short while, then disperse, mostly for the purposes of artistic expression.

Our little piece of collective art was designed to be for joy distilled.

Where are you from and where have you been all these years?

I’m from Mumbai and that’s just where I’ve been all these years :D (Other than the time I wandered off to London to get myself a master’s degree.)

And for those who have not seen it (yet!) give us the much sought url to your wonder-work

 Thank you. You induced a little blush when you called it a wonder-work. Here it is:

[jwplayer mediaid="12876"]

What do you do when you're not making people exclaim themselves in public places?

An assortment of things. I work in the development sector. That implies writing policy research papers and consulting. As part of a team at work, we are also developing a website called www.searchingforgoodness.org. Beyond working hours, I’m usually snuggled into the armchairs at plays, musicals, standup comedy gigs, performance poetry nights and book club meetings.

Can you tell us about some of the most famous ones around the world?

The Sound of Music flash mob in Belgium by Culture Pub:

I’m not sure if it’s very famous, but here’s the one that first compelled me to jump around like a kid and say “I want to do it toooo.”

[jwplayer mediaid="12878"]

There are silent discos, mass pillow fights, classrooms and exam halls that break out into flash mobs, breastfeeding flash mobs, and amusing ones like this:

[jwplayer mediaid="12879"]

Oprah’s kickoff party

Here’s a good ol’ Beatles sing along by T-Mobile:

[jwplayer mediaid="12882"]

Then there’s the original one that goes way back. Frozen Grand Central by Improv Everywhere.

Of course, there are many more - one should do their own exploring :D

Have you been a part of one before?

Nope.

What made you bring it to India?

While we have a pretty super cultural background, it would be lovely to make art a natural extension of our everyday life.

Plus, it just seemed essential for someone to represent India within this global art movement.

How did the people come in?

Here! Many friends and family swooped in and saved the day. Bit and pieces were sourced in for the materials.

For the dancers, I sent a detailed email that was passed around - about what a flash mob is, the idea, what we were setting out to do, the reasons behind it, what we planned to achieve and a methodical road map of how we’d go about being spectacular.

These chosen awesome people (the ones who sat through the whole email) went on selection sprees of their own- and indoctrinated about 10-20 people each.

What about the practice sessions and dance routine?

Ah! Many practice locations were considered until we struck gold with the Yoga Room at Priyadarshini Park. We’d teach small batches of people at a time- for a couple of hours every night after work.

For the main choreography, we worked with Bhaumik Shah (because he was always on time) and Vinod (because he had a sense of humour). Other than being good dance teachers, of course!

And did you get sponsored too?

I declined the sponsorship offers that came our way- since this particular flash mob was better non-commercial. But it’s definitely a way forward- for those who may wish to plan one too.

Was it to commemorate or symbolize something? Or was it just pure fun?

One rolls right into the other, na? Pure fun itself embodies a wealth of things. The intention was to find joy and freedom in the moment, to represent the city and the station in a happier way, and firmly tack on a new memory to their history.

How did people react when you first told them your idea?

Oh there was the whole spectrum of reactions. Some sparkly eyes, some ‘it’s never gonna happen’s, and everything in between.

More importantly, how did folks at home take it?

The folks at home are the only reason anything happened. My parents and brother supported me in so many meaningful ways. Priyank bhai would call me every two hours to check on the progress, at the time.

Why the Rang De Basanti song?

Because it’s patriotic, and the energy spills over through every note. And because it’s A. R. Rahman composing for a great movie.

What made CST the ideal venue?

It’s a beautiful, historic building that is the very post-card of the city. People from all backgrounds share the space day in and day out, so it oozes (quite literally) of India.

It has a very high footfall- so it works for reactions. Plus it’s indoors, where it’s easy to manage light (for the filming). In our recces, we found nooks and crannies to place inconspicuous cameras in those high ceilings. This would’ve been harder to do outdoors.

I heard there were railway officials backing your plan too?

Yes, Mr. Atul Rane from the commercial division, Mr. V. A. Malegaonkar from the CPRO, Mr. Wadekar and Mr. Sunil Udasi from the GM’s office. Further, the stationmaster, the train announcer, the ticketing person, the sound technicians, the railway police force, the electricity department, Refresh restaurant staff, the ladder people etc.

It takes a village! The railway officials really came together to facilitate us. Among several such things, they let us frequently climb on top of the roof during our recces, test our camera lenses, check the sound systems after midnight across the platforms etc. On the day itself, they gave me a walkie talkie to tune in to the frequencies of various departments too. It was fun walking around with a walkie talkie acting all stressed out and important :P

Ok, just before you began ... the final minutes before the dance ... how did you feel?

I was all wound up because there were so many factors that had to come together at the exact second (We had a precise four minute slot within the railway schedule). I couldn’t spot Priya, our first dancer, in the crowd. That was a bit of a panic button moment. But when the music started, it was almost magical and like I had arrived home.

 At any point of time while preparing for the event, did you feel like dumping it all?

Not once. This is something I was doing for fun, so it was never a burden. With a full-time job, there were reasons to. I was under slept, and possibly running on some pretty wholesome adrenaline.

 We even saw a lot of people present on the station normally, join in ... that must have been a nice boost!

Hahaha, yes, it absolutely was.

It looks nice on camera, but when those hundreds of people charged towards us when it was just the two of us dancing at the beginning, I had no idea how the other 198 dancers would join us! They elbowed their way in, and it ended up looking very ‘Mumbai’ J

There an old lady in the bottom left corner of the screen at the very end of the dance - who is everything that the dance was about.

Abhishek Bachhan (among others!) was all excited about it. How did that feel?

A bit surreal. And wonderful. The ‘among others’ bit was good, as I was lucky enough to save emails from some particularly great people.

I loved that this was no longer my story- it was larger than that. Someone celebrated their birthday at CST on the day, one couple started dating in the dance practices, one father-daughter duo started to plan their own flash mob after hearing about my dad and me.

And what next? Any more plans to take the nation by the storm?

Along with Akshay Tandon, we are developing a website called www.searchingforgoodness.org, Maybe that will!

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