A R Rahman Concert Fiasco Throws Up Many Uncomfortable Questions For Him And Chennai To Answer

A R Rahman Concert Fiasco Throws Up Many Uncomfortable Questions For Him And Chennai To Answer

by K Balakumar - Tuesday, September 12, 2023 04:28 PM IST
A R Rahman Concert Fiasco Throws Up Many Uncomfortable Questions For Him And Chennai To AnswerThe poster for the AR Rahman concert in Chennai
  • Does the city have the place to host such big crowded events? Hint: No

Last Sunday, R Ravishankar, a Chennai resident, was one of the worst affected by the now-infamous concert of AR Rahman at Akkarai on the ECR (East Coast Road). And the thing is Ravishankar wasn't even one of the attendees at the concert. 

As it happened, he was one of the many who was caught in the maddening traffic chaos that the concert and its attendant fiasco threw up on the arterial ECR. 

Ravishankar, who was returning to his home at Kottivakkam, was caught in the blightening traffic snarl for over 4 hours, and had to go without his diabetes medicine. 

"I was close to swooning in my car. It was scary as I was driving alone," he recalls with a shudder. "I couldn't get out of the car. It was one of the most traumatic few hours in my life," says the 46-year-old Ravishankar, who is an architect.

Even the State Chief Minister M K Stalin was reportedly affected by the traffic mess, and following which the police have started an enquiry on what went wrong at the event. 

Anyway, the plight of those who had attended the concert was even worse, going by the many impassioned accounts on social media. 

Many women have complained that they were groped and molested as some men in the milling crowd, using the stampede-like situation, resorted to villainous behaviour. 

While what happened at the concert and outside on the main road were extremely problematic, what followed since then is equally disturbing. 

First off, the man of the moment, Rahman, has let himself and the millions and millions of his diehard fans down by his scarcely-believable response to all the mounting criticism of the event.

Rahman shoots himself in the foot

On his Twitter account (now X), he was practically blase for most of yesterday's morning (Monday), choosing to retweet only a couple of positive comments on the event. It is only after the noise got shriller, his PR machinery got into work. 

A particular news publication was chosen for an interview of sorts in which the music composer practically defended himself, choosing to leave the blame at the doorsteps of the organisers and the poor infrastructure at the event location. 

His words did not seem to come from a man who was genuinely offering his regrets. "Marakkuma Nenjam (the name of the concert) is India’s highest-sold show till date, which is great, but it is more important how we treat people than the actual concert itself. And that, I had little control over," he said. 

"This was like a cyclone we did not plan for. We did 20 concerts in the US last year, and everything was smooth and trouble free — because we trusted the system there," he said in that interview to The Hindu.

But not a word about the major allegation that the organisers had played fraud and sold tickets more than the capacity of the venue. This was said to be the main reason for the stampede-like situation and hundreds of legitimate ticket-holders being barred from even entering the concert place. 

On his Instagram handle, Rahman, unfortunately, played the injured party. And what was grating was the way he went about it. "Some people call me G.O.A.T …………let me be the sacrificial goat this time for all of us to wake up..." 

There are many ways to express regret at what happened. But surely this has to be the most insensitive way to convey one's remorse. The thing is no one talks of one's own greatness in a line that is supposed to offer sympathies and solace. 

Who's the victim here?

His two daughters Raheema and Khatija have also jumped to his defence. Again, nothing wrong in the two of them standing up for their dad. But the way they went about it was where the problem lay. 

Both of them shared a statement which read, "From last night, all media/social media is talking about AR Rahman (like scammer) & some playing cheap politics. The reason for the unfortunate circumstances happened yesterday is 100% from organiser side! But he took the responsibility and accountable" (sic). Their posts also listed a number of charity concerts that the composer held from 2016 to 2022. 

The thing is nobody is personally holding Rahman responsible for the disaster of a concert. But since the whole thing was held under his aegis, the ethical thing for him would have been to issue a simple no-nonsense apology for the troubles that his fans endured. That would have quietened down many, if not all. 

In general, the public tends to cut a lot of slack for the Academy and Grammy winner. Instead Rahman sullied his copybook by taking a line of defence that let him down further.

And today (Tuesday), things have gotten even more bizarre with a bunch of celebrities from Kollywood putting out tweets that seek to separate Rahman from the debacle. Their gist is: 'I stand with Rahman', almost making him a victim when in actual reality the paying public, all of whom are his sincere fans, are the ones who  suffered.

Chennai's infra not up to scratch

Considering the level of suffering that the public had endured and the horror stories they have recounted, the police need to question the organisers and the venue owners. 

From the accounts in the public domain, the organisers were trying to make quick money by overselling the event. Also, when the venue had no facilities to match the event of this magnitude, why was it allowed to host it? The police and other civic authorities who oversee these things have a few uncomfortable questions to answer themselves. 

Rahman in his Insta post said "...let Chennai’s live art flourish with a world class infrastructure, increase in tourism, efficient crowd management, traffic management, refining audiences to follow rules... creating a safe and surreal experience for children and women...Triggering a cultural renaissance at Chennai celebrating our deserving, illuminated local and international talent!” (sic).

The fact of the matter is that Chennai doesn't have the infrastructure to handle events of this magnitude. That is the harsh fact. It is all fine to talk of having a flourishing arts scene, the reality is there is no place large enough with parking and other attendant facilities like toilets to handle such large numbers of people. It cannot be no coincidence that all the concerts of this type held in Chennai have had similar sour stories (mercifully though not of this magnitude).

Also, proper spectator behaviour is also absent from the public. Buying one class of ticket but gatecrashing into higher valued seats is typical of those troubling attitudes that is quite common. It is here organisers have to be firm. But when they themselves are fly by night operators, you cannot expect things to be any better at the events put up by them.

The authorities can be much more vigilant and not grant permission if the arrangements are not up to scratch. Also, it is one thing for the event attendees to suffer. It is totally another, and unacceptable, for those totally unconnected with it to suffer similar if not bigger indignation.  

The afore-quoted Ravishankar nods in agreement.

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