-by Janak Samtani
Pythagoras and the Right Angles opened with a bang with an Iron Maiden cover called The Trooper. Standing in the front row, I could feel the push as the audience closed in on just hearing the opening riff of the song.
This was 1997, Independence Rock XII. My very first live music concert. I can clearly remember the sight of the bands playing and the audience singing along in the heavy rain. It was magical. A person next to me had travelled all the way from Calcutta for the show. I am thankful to my dear friend Aditya Mehta for taking me along. A few weeks earlier he had given me three of his tapes to listen to and made me aware of what I should be expecting at the show. That was a lot of thinking on his part. I owe you for this! He suggested we go a few hours earlier so we could hear the sound check. So we did, and the sound that blasted off the amps amazed me and made me smile. I can assure you that it was the same feeling which I had experienced many years earlier, when I had got the side wheels off my bicycle and taken my first maiden clean ride.
Around 4 pm, a little after the sound-check, everyone was asked to leave the auditorium premises and queue outside. We stood right at the head of the queue because we knew we wanted to be right in front of the stage. The queue got longer every minute and only got blacker. Every one was turning up in black. No one complained about queuing up. Gates opened around 5.45 pm, we were whisked by the security and then we ran and took center positions in front of the stage.
It was 6.30 pm. And the show started. Hands went up in the air and the audience roared. Never before this had I felt such togetherness with four thousand strangers who attended the concert. I will repeat myself and say that it was magical. My excitement never diminished for the concerts in the years to come.
If you have not already guessed the venue, then it was Rang Bhavan, the open air auditorium in South Bombay which was an amphitheater, where the steps did not elevate too high. The auditorium had an unavoidable vintage charm and was safe for several thousand people and I cannot recollect any accident or stampede that ever took place here. Let’s not miss out the fact that a lot of Indian classical, Jazz & tribute concerts also took place at this venue. It was an open free space, probably the only open auditorium in the then Bombay, which was soon closing in on it to consume it.
This is the story of Rang Bhavan and us.
As the years went by, the three day concert which was held from 14th to 16th August had shortened by a day. Police around the concert had started to increase with every passing year. We were soon coming in terms of the fact that someone in the government was not happy with this event. Let’s name him too, Pramod Navalkar, the then Cultural Minister was not happy. The reason in the newspaper was that Rang Bhavan was just hundred meters from a hospital and the decibel level was too high. So that was a silence zone and the concert was violating that. Makes me really wonder, because at that exact spot was St Xavier’s college. And, at that exact time their festival Malhar would take place, which would have its own set of shows running from morning till late night. Compared to that, I-Rock would run for three hours in the evenings only. St Xavier’s had a strong and running trust, they could give a fight. Rang Bhavan had no care takers.
In the months to come the newspapers had started to unfold the news that a shopping mall or a multiplex was being planned at the spot of Rang Bhavan. So the move was good, come up with reasons to close down on the events which took place at this venue. Then declare the auditorium unsustainable due to lack of events and do a take over. In India in the early 1990s, the markets had already liberalized. Foreign investments had started coming in and the real-estate was catching the eye. A couple shopping malls had already come up. So land was being bought for future use. All open spaces had to be utilized. Rang Bhavan had to go. Now, Mr Navalkar did not get this idea of getting Rang Bhavan closed out when he held the post of the Cultural Minister. Just by doing a short search and checking the news archives you will be able to see that he had even objected forty years earlier at the time Rang Bhavan was being built, at the time when he was a student leader. It seems that this was his shot at fulfilling an unfinished obligation. Though the reasons for this obligation had changed now.
Mr Farhad Wadia, the organizer of I-Rock gave a tough fight in trying to continue the concert at the same venue. He had even filed an appeal in court, which was rejected. Rang Bhavan was almost lost. For a lot of us, we could not imagine I-Rock outside Rang Bhavan. I was still just a few years old visitor to Rang Bhavan and I-Rock. There were people who had been visiting for many more years and from the time when Indus Creed was known as Rock Machine.
I cannot remember the year in which I-Rock took place for the last time at Rang Bhavan. But, at that time news was out that a protest was going to be held outside Rang Bhavan. With this buzz everyone felt that this was our last chance. You wish we could have done something and given a better ending to this story. Only thirty people turned up. I could have been thirty one. We let Rang Bhavan die. We never gave a fight. This was the togetherness and our love for the music and Rang Bhavan? I feel ashamed.
Along with Rang Bhavan, a lot of things associated with it came to an end. I remember seeing a particular gentleman, in his early fifties, at every concert in a black Metallica t-shirt. I cannot remember his face, but remember his presence. I wonder what happened to him. Like him, there were so many people whom I never saw again. The hour long journey from North to South Bombay, which was spent in talking about the music and the bands ceased to exist too.
I have been away from Mumbai for the last five years and never got a chance to see what really came up at the spot of Rang Bhavan. This is something which I have to do once I am back.
As for I-Rock, Mr Wadia kept it alive with a lot of struggle. It sure got delayed from the regular dates and also the venue kept shifting.
As for the bands, there has been no dearth of talent. The shows still go on at numerous venues which are much smaller and mostly indoor. I am sure that neither the musicians, who got a chance to play at Rang Bhavan, or the newer musicians who have seen a concert there, have forgotten Rang Bhavan. And believe it or not, I can say that there is a certainty that they would have imagined themselves playing on stage at Rang Bhavan.
As Pythagoras starts their second song; the roar of the audience only gets louder. Sitting in my apartment in Singapore I raise my arms and join in the roar.