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.
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 VVIP Mafia
Nair reveals that Goa is the worst on the corruption index.
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 Licence Nightmare
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?
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.