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Stage Fear

How organizing a fest can be a staggering exercise and why venues are moving out of city limits

Megha Mahindru Nov 10, 2012
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Papon at Weekender, Delhi. Photo: Prarthna Singh

Last month, concert goers in Delhi spent between two to four hours to get to Buddh International Circuit [BIC], the venue for the Delhi edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender. The venue is in fact located a good 60 km from the capital city, in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The lack of signage, multiple entrances and intersecting roads resulted in Weekender fans going around in circles. 

Accessibility issues aside, OML CEO Vijay Nair and his team managed to put together a glitch-free show and Nair is convinced that he’s found the perfect festival space in BIC. Adds Nair, “In my entire decade of working I haven’t seen anything like Buddh with parking for over 20,000 vehicles and a great private security system that leave us with fewer hassles to take care of.” Organizers such as Nikhil Chinapa, cofounder of Submerge, an electronica dance music events company, also cites traffic management as a reason for hosting shows away from the city. Chinapa has chosen the Unitech Golf Course in Noida for electronica supergroup Swedish House Mafia’s first show in the country.

Shifting out of metros also means fewer permissions and lower entertainment tax levied on ticket sales. But the basic problem remains. “There are no concert spaces in India. Our cities are not planned with multipurpose venues or arenas, like say a Wembley Stadium, which you can use for sports as well as concerts,” says Farhad Wadia, organizer of the country’s longest running festival, Independence Rock, which is currently in its 27th year. Delhi has sports venues such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that was revamped during the 2010 Commonwealth
Games, but most are unavailable for festivals. Karamjeet Singh, Senior Vice President of MOOZ Entertainment that plans to bring Guns N’ Roses to India later this year says, “The Jawaharlal Nehru stadium was a great venue for Sting, Peter Gabriel or Deep Purple, but current policies do not seem to allow for its usage for non-sports events. This is the case with most stadiums in Delhi.”

Once organizers book a venue, there is the hassle of obtaining at least 15-30 licenses including permits from the State police, traffic, fire and No Objection Certificates from the Home Ministry. While a daily rental for a venue can cost between Rs 10-30 lakh, the entire production costs including stage, sound and lights adds up to at least twice the amount. Add to this the artists’ fee, costs of their travel, stay, marketing budgets and entertainment tax.

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Mumbai’s entertainment tax is the highest at 25 per cent on every ticket sold, while organizers in Delhi and Bengaluru have to shell out 15 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively. “Organizers have to cough up at least Rs 1 crore as taxes even before they sell any tickets. Foreign bands charge in dollars, sponsors mark up their ticket price and the public prefers free passes rather than buying tickets,” says Wadia.

Swedish House Mafia have booked shows in most countries this year [they have sold out all three concerts in Stockholm, their
next tour stop after India] but ticket sales are yet to gain momentum in India [at the time of going to print]. “If fans aren’t ready to pay, the scene will never flourish,” says Wadia. But with ticket prices shooting up ”“ once priced at a modest Rs 900 [remember Iron Maiden in 2007?], tickets now cost between Rs 2,500 to 4,000 ”“ concert goers have reason to complain too. “Tickets are expensive.
Then there is airfare to Bengaluru, hotel cost and travel to the venue in a city like Bengaluru where public transport is fucked up. I would rather fly to another country,” says Anuradha Menon, a metal fan from Mumbai.

Children of Bodom perform under makeshift tents at Jayamahal Palace, Bengaluru. Photo: Rajiv Shyamsundar

Festivals like Storm in Coorg and Ragasthan in Jaisalmer have attempted tented accommodation, but organizers point out that unlike in the West, camping culture is yet to take off in the country. There’s scope for a three-day festival like the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune to turn into a tented festival, but Nair is convinced that Indian concert-goers cannot handle the not-so-pretty side of it. In December 2010, the festival made its debut at Pune’s prime spot, Koregaon Park. “The first Weekender, we pretty much took whatever venue we got,” says Nair. The next year, the fest moved to Magarpatta City on the outskirts of Pune so more stages could be set up. Added Nair of the venue in the festival promo video: “There are no neighbors so you could be as loud as you want to.” This year, the festival shifts to the tony residential colony, Amanora Park, a bigger venue that poses fewer parking hassles.

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In Delhi too, most big-ticket concerts over the past two years that have been promoted as Delhi shows have in fact been held in Gurgaon or Noida. This is odd since Delhi has massive grounds such as Pragati Maidan that are finding no takers. Back in 1995, the Hamsadhwani Theatre at Pragati Maidan hosted The Great Indian Rock Festival giving bands such as Indian Ocean their biggest platform. MOOZ Entertainment’s Singh says he’s wary of organizing shows at the “ill-organized” Pragati Maidan and Talkatora Stadium since they might be too small for big ticket international acts.

In concert capital Bengaluru, organizers have had to look for newer spaces after the State government pulled the plug on music performances at Palace Grounds in August. Bhartiya City Thanisandra Road in Bengaluru, the venue for the Santana and Slayer concerts, is about 10 km from the center. Other venues such as Clarks Exotica [where Wolf performs], Embassy International Riding School [Bacardi NH7 Weekender] and NICE Grounds at Dasanapura Hobli [Enrique Iglesias] are located more than 20 km away from the city.

The only exception in Bengaluru is Jayamahal Palace, a popular wedding venue in the city, where Children of Bodom performed as part of The Kingfisher Great Indian October Fest. The concert, however, almost got canned, thanks to unexpected showers. The band’s drummer Jaska Raatikainen posted after the show on Facebook: “”¦Well, the festival organiser came up with the idea to have a small tent for every band member. Sounds silly but it worked somehow and we played the show.”

Until stadiums open up to hosting concerts and designated multi-purpose entertainment areas are set up in major cities, the Indian concert organizer may have to continue stretching his resources to pull off festivals.


This article was published in the November 2012 issue of Rolling Stone India 

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