The NH7 Weekender Music festival was held in five cities across India for the sixth consecutive year. In an exclusive interview to The Quint, organisers cry foul over corruption and the VVIP ‘mafia’. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)
| 4 min read

Exclusive: The Dark Underbelly of Music Showbiz in India

From the weekend of October 23 to December 5, the NH7 Weekender Music festival was held across five cities in India – Shillong, Kolkata, Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru. Over fifty musicians from India and around the world performed for an audience of over one lakh people in the festival’s sixth year.

The ‘Bandobast’ Behind Music ShowBiz

Vijay Nair, the 31-year-old CEO and co-founder of Only Much Louder (OML), the company that organises the NH7 Weekender festival, in an exclusive conversation with The Quint talks about the ordeal hidden behind the glamour of show business.

Vijay Nair has been organising music festivals for 13 years. (Photo Courtesy: Vijay Nair’s Facebook page)
Vijay Nair has been organising music festivals for 13 years. (Photo Courtesy: Vijay Nair’s Facebook page)

Nair started OML when he was 18 years old, and 13 years later he has many stories to tell about dealing with babus, bribes and India’s corruption culture.

The bribe culture is so well set in India that businesses have just grown complacent and accepted it. Organising cultural festivals in India is very difficult unless they are religious. For a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for instance, there is no ‘bandobast fee’. 
Vijay Nair

The VVIP Mafia

Nair reveals that Goa is the worst on the corruption index.

From cops to cabinet ministers, everyone wants free-bees, claims Nair. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)
From cops to cabinet ministers, everyone wants free-bees, claims Nair. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)
In places like Goa, entering a government office to get permission for festivals is like entering a room full of ‘mafia’. If the going rate is Rs 3-4 lakh elsewhere, in Goa you would pay Rs 1 crore to get work done. I have seen licensed liquor trucks being stopped outside festival venues to ask for a bribe. 

Nair and his colleagues were roughed up by the Pune police during the Enrique Iglesias concert in 2012. Nair claims that even though the ACP was given a ‘substantial’ number of free passes for the Rs 8,000 platinum entry, he threatened local security and tried to let more people in. When Nair and his colleagues resisted, they were lathi-charged.

In March 2015, comedian Jerry Seinfeld was slated to perform in Mumbai. Nair says the show was cancelled in the last minute over ‘parking issues’.

The Jerry Seinfeld stand up comedy show was cancelled in Mumbai because of a badly organised political event at the same venue the proceeding weekend. I lost 1.5 million dollars; 7,000 people had paid up to hear him. That was the tipping point for me. That’s when I decided I had had enough.

The Licence Nightmare

Nair tells The Quint that there are no laws on safety, security, no contingency plans or evacuation routes mandated in the licence, it is a futile piece of paper. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)
Nair tells The Quint that there are no laws on safety, security, no contingency plans or evacuation routes mandated in the licence, it is a futile piece of paper. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)

Nair says the multi-layered licensing and permissions system is completely corrupt and nothing moves without “paying a price”. He adds that the processes are futile and there are no laws on safety, security and crowd numbers, and no contingency plans or evacuation routes mandated by these multiple licences.

Everywhere in the world there is a One-Window Licence for cultural events. In India all you need is a police licence but then you need 15 other licences to obtain that one police licence. Most of these don’t have a law or legislation or logic supporting it; it’s just there and the only way around it is bribes.

Delhi Shows The Way?

Concerts have typically stayed away from New Delhi because there were 27 licences required. The current AAP-led Delhi government has done away with these. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)
Concerts have typically stayed away from New Delhi because there were 27 licences required. The current AAP-led Delhi government has done away with these. (Photo Courtesy: NH7)

Music festivals have typically stayed out of New Delhi and have usually been held in the National Capital Region (NCR) owing to very strict licensing regulations in the capital. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal claims there were 27 licences required to conduct a music show in Delhi but his government has sought to change that.

Nair praises the Delhi administration and the Aam Admi Party-led government for being the first state to streamline procedures by introducing the One-Window Licence in India. An elated Nair claims he even got a receipt for the money paid to obtain licences in Delhi.

Nair is known to have close ties with the senior leadership of the AAP. Sources say he is a close advisor to Delhi’s tourism minister.

Is that the reason he has showered praise on the Delhi administration? Nair emphatically denies this.

I know Aditya Thackeray, and I know people in the Aam Aadmi Party and I make no bones about the fact that we shamelessly use the support of the people in power to get work done because that is the only way. I have made donations to AAP, but that was before the Lok Sabha elections and I have a receipt for it. 

Apart from the ease in licencing, he applauds the Delhi Jal Board for cooperating with the organisers to lay grass on a 3,00,000 square feet concert arena in Dwarka in a span of seven days to ensure that Delhi had a dust-free festival.

Nair says he will take the Delhi model to other states where the NH7 Weekender is held and hopes they will follow suit.