This weekend, Jerry Seinfeld was scheduled to perform two giant shows at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI) stadium. Both performances were "almost sold out" even though tickets were steeply priced—starting at ₹7,500 ($120)—with 8,000 people expected to turn up over the two-day Seins-travaganza. However, a day before the first show, its organizers announced that the event would have to be canceled because of "issues related to traffic and parking at the venue" ("What's the deal with the traffic and parking at this venue?"), leaving thousands of ticket holders disappointed.
So, what went wrong? It all started a year ago, when the Indian artist management company Only Much Louder (OML) decided to invite Seinfeld to the country for a live performance—what would have been the comedian's very first show in India. Vijay Nair, the company's founder, claims it took "many months of convincing, a few trips to Los Angeles, and a team from LA coming to India to check everything" before they could get Seinfeld's approval. Eventually, the man Nair calls the "world's biggest comedian" agreed to two performances in Mumbai, India's entertainment capital.
Little could Nair—or anyone—have anticipated that on Wednesday, the 11th of March, a few hours before Seinfeld was to board his chartered flight for the country, the show would have to be called off. Nor could they have anticipated that the show's cancellation would turn out to be a pawn in a tussle between the Mumbai police and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, the state of which Mumbai is the capital.
The police had raised concerns that there wouldn't be adequate parking space for the nearly 4,000 people expected to turn up, and the event would lead to traffic jams. "We couldn't figure out alternate parking and traffic arrangements, and it wasn't possible to reschedule [Seinfeld's] travel," one of the show's organizers told Reuters. OML apologized to ticket holders, but deemed the circumstances beyond their control.
The "circumstances" referred to here originated two weeks ago. On March 1, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, was meant to visit the NSCI for a fashion show organized by his party's national spokesperson. To prepare for his arrival, the police imposed traffic and parking restrictions in the area, even preventing NSCI members from parking in the club's premises. By the time the CM's convoy arrived, there was a huge traffic jam around the NSCI. Outraged members of the club began protesting, some of them blocking the convoy. Images of vehicles and people kept waiting for hours flooded Indian social media.
Matters became so hostile that the police used force on the protesters to keep them at bay till the departure of Fadnavis, who tweeted an apology immediately after. "It's unfortunate that people are put to such trouble," he said. "My sincere apologies to those who were stopped by police unnecessarily." The police were left smarting from their wounds, especially after Fadnavis blamed them for the fracas on national TV the next day.
According to Harshil Chordia, a member of a political party that assisted OML in organizing the Seinfeld event, it was because the CM "blamed the police for traffic issues that night" that Rakesh Maria, the Mumbai police commissioner, then decided to ban any events on weekends at the NSCI.
The news wasn't received well by the masses, many of whom had been looking forward to the event. "Seinfeld is one of the greatest comedies of all time," remarked Sahil Bulla, a popular Mumbai-based stand-up comic. Along withFriends, the show that was proudly about "nothing" has been a huge success on Indian television for years. Channels still air repeats and marathons.
"I was delighted to see a global icon performing in India, " said Rohan Tejwani, a student who also considers Seinfeld one of his favorite shows. "It would have been a welcome change from Indian acts." His view was echoed by Rishi Alwani, a Mumbai-based professional, who had purchased tickets and said: "[I have] been watching the show since I was in school, and revisit it every year or so. "
Ticket buyers will be refunded by the 25th of March. However, the organizers stand to lose more than $2 million, which Nair believes will take them several years to recoup. "This is the single biggest loss for us ever and possibly among the biggest in our industry, " he tweeted.
India is witnessing a rising culture of live performances and tours. OML had organized a Russell Peters show last year, which was also sold out. But controversies like this don 't bode well for the country 's reputation as a host for future events. "Now, other performers and artists may feel discouraged from visiting the country, which is a shame, " proclaimed Tejwani.
India has had its fair share of cancellations and controversies in the past, with a Swedish House Mafia concert in 2012 called off at short notice and the Indian Grand Prix booted off the Formula 1 calendar in 2014 due to tax disputes.
"I am going to stop buying tickets for these big names, " said Parul Sharma, a Mumbai-based author, and dejected ticket holder, after receiving the cancellation email.
She wasn't isolated in her pessimism. "We have no potential. Full stop," claimed Alwani. "I feel sorry for anyone trying to class up the country's act. The authorities don't care. "
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