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Mumbai's mobocrat


HAPPY FEET Shonan Kothari was surprised at the range of people who signed up for the event

On the Internet, the YouTube video of a flash mob at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus received over 7 lakh views in two days, becoming the second biggest viral hit after 'Kolaveri di' this year. And the person behind it is a 23-year-old.

Shonan Kothari succeeded in making 200 Mumbaikars dance to her tune in just two weeks. A Mumbaikar and a CSR consultant, she decided in early November that she wanted to spread cheer in the city. Besides, being part of a flash mob was also on her to-do list and this was her chance to start with a splash.

"When I was studying in the UK, I saw my first flash mob in a grocery store where people came together all of a sudden and started singing a song, " says Kothari who was doing her masters back then. "I had to look it up. "

While the dance only lasted for a few minutes, it was possible only because it was planned in detail, days in advance. For the
Mumbai event, Kothari got everything organised including permissions from the babus and the cops. She got a choreographer to teach the group Bollywood-style moves and a team of videographers to shoot the event from seven different angles.

What started as an email to 20 friends, asking them if they'd want to be part of a flash mob, became a symbolic gesture to reclaim the city's identity. In fact, on the Internet, the video is being seen as a fitting reply all those who unleashed the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

"It just happened to be a coincidence that the event was held a day after the third anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks and at the CST, where the two terrorists had shot innocent people in cold blood. We didn't want it to be political or to offend anyone's sentiments. It was a pure gesture from the heart, " says Kothari. Some of the over 3, 000 comments on YouTube credit the flash mob team with restoring the happy aura to a place that has been linked with a terrible tragedy.

Kothari, along with her friends, managed to garner 325 sign-ups, ranging from teenie boppers to greyhaired pensioners, without using Facebook. "We didn't use any social networking sites because we wanted it to be a surprise, " she says. Thereafter, the group signed on a choreographer and practiced in a hall in South Mumbai's Priyadarshini Park.

Kothari's biggest challenge was convincing the authorities. She made video presentations to railway officials and showed them clips of flash mobs organised in different countries, including an impassioned speech about how 'the city needed to be happier'. "CST was my dream location because it is one place that exudes the city's energy and, of course, has a high footfall, " she says.
Kothari was pleasantly surprised to find that the officials and cops were forthcoming and helpful. She received support from Atul Rane, senior divisional operations manager, Indian Railways. The group was even granted permission to have their tune, 'Rang De Basanti', played on the public announcement system.

The music was loud and the bass was strong - as soon as the first dancer was joined by Kothari, curious spectators rushed to surround them. "I was worried that 198 participants wouldn't have space to join in. But they elbowed their way, Mumbai style, " she recalls.

Meanwhile, the success of the event has inspired others across the country. A group in Delhi is organising a flash mob at a South Delhi mall today. Kothari has been approached by several private companies to do a similar gig as a marketing gimmick. But she rejected the offers - to wait for something that actually inspires her. She is now helping a friend promote a site called www. searchingforgoodness. org that will be an art and content "gallery of goodness" from around the world.

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