A.R. Rahman’s latest Chennai concert, titled ‘Marakkuma Nenjam’, will be one that many remember for a long time. But not for the right reasons.
With over 45,000 people descending on Chennai’s Adityaram Palace City on September 10 evening, scenes outside the concert venue told a story: of long queues, traffic snarls and mismanagement of ticket holders. While many fans who held valid tickets left the venue seething with rage, some got into arguments with policemen and organisers (ACTC Events) on the lack of proper arrangements.
“It was a tsunami of people and love that we were unable to handle,” Rahman told The Hindu. “As a composer, my job was to give a terrific show, and I thought everything else would be taken care of. I was just thinking that it shouldn’t rain, and was happily performing inside, without any idea of what was happening outside. Our intentions were good, but I think the response was beyond our expectations. We are collecting the data now, and we will surprise fans with something soon.”
“Right now, we are just terribly disturbed. Safety was the primary issue, especially because there were women and kids. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but we have to realise that the city is expanding, and the passion to consume music and art is also expanding.”
The concert had already been rescheduled in a last-minute change from August to September owing to unfavourable weather conditions. Rahman had said the decision was taken with the guidance of authorities and to ensure the safety and well-being of his fans.
Despite ‘Marakkuma Nenjam’ being one of India’s highest selling shows till date, the overselling of tickets and bad crowd management were among the many reasons fans were upset. Rahman explains, “The organisers [ACTC events] had put together about 46,000 chairs in the venue. In some sections, everybody sat on one side and didn’t move to the other side. Seeing this, the policemen on duty assumed that the venue was full and closed it. By this time, the show had already started inside.”
Even as the composer and music team dished out his popular songs, packed with dance sequences and visuals, many fans outside were left unattended to. “This was like a cyclone we did not plan for. We did 20 concerts in the U.S. last year, and everything was smooth and trouble free — because we trusted the system there. ‘Marakkuma Nenjam’ 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. I knew what all songs to pack in, which singers to rope in, and what musical surprises to give fans, but going forward, artistes have to take leadership on measuring contractually what goes into these arrangements.”
Despite hosting several successful concerts across the world and Chennai, several of the Oscar winner’s fans had a bitter experience on Sunday evening. “For global experiences, we need to have an international setup. This is a lesson for me. It pushes me to go beyond being a musician, and get involved in infrastructure as well. I’ve been to many arts collective in the world, and when I see those, I think: why deny this experience to our own people right here in Chennai? They deserve that, and more. What it takes is what we discovered during this concert.”
Rahman describes ‘Marakkuma Nenjam’ as a ‘90% success and a 10% loss’, with hits spanning 30 years being dished out for the audience. “Thousands of people inside were happily listening to the concert,” he says, adding “The energy and love in Chennai is overwhelming; sometimes, when you love something too much, it goes away from you. I think that’s what has happened here. I am ambitious about making Chennai an arts capital, but with respect to what happened, I do not want to point fingers at anyone because I know people come to concerts for me, and not for who the organisers are.”
“We will face this and fix it, because every soul is important to me. I told my son [A.R. Ameen] this: anything that we do in partnership, people do not look at the partnership, they look at us. The partnerships might disappear, but we will remain. I now have to think beyond just the musical aspects of a concert. We will, hopefully, not let this happen ever again.”