Flash Mobs: A Flash Back to Nautankis

The popularity of flash mobs in the U.S. and Europe share a link to the common spirit of camaraderie and communal expression all over the globe.

Wikipedia says the term came into it’s own nearly a decade ago. Indians, however, have grown up for ages watching spontaneous flash mob performances in public, popularly known as public plays or Nautankis. In the day back it wasn’t uncommon to see a man dressed as a woman for a public performance of Nautanki, triggering some spontaneous moments of hilarity with a ‘slip of the wig’ and ‘sudden dip in the voice’. Such plays are a more real expression of live art form than traditional media like TV, and are closer to the culture of rural and semi-rural people in India.

A famous Nautanki featuring Pandit Ram Dayal Sharma and comedian Kishan Swaroop "Awara"

For a few decades now, public plays or Nautankis in India are focusing on contemporary social messages.

The bilingual aspect (Hindi and English) of such contemporary Nautankis help dig into a storyline and convey a social message to a diverse audience. Such flash mobs are admired for passing on a social message through an invigorating performance—a theme-based song, a play and even a dance event.

Flash mobs are initiated to convey important messages, by developing bridges which connect the masses. They can be used to promote almost anything under the sun with a social message.

They are also treated as means to express the mass sentiment of joy, awareness, disappointment and triumph. It is the wave of mass sentiment broken into a performance that engage and entertain masses.

A U.S. flash mob

In the US, the popularity can be linked to the surprise element entertaining onlookers, while the participants unsuspectingly breakout into a composed dance number or a comedic sketch, and then quickly disperse. This is to give the audience a chance to watch performances during a break in their daily routine. Such flash mobs entertain and express joy through surprise performances. This, in turn, gives back to the community and also offers up-and-coming artists a chance to perform before a live audience.

The act is a good-humored social experiment, which encourages spontaneity and invites big gatherings to live in the moment. The idea is to take over commercial and public areas to break the lull and express the collective voice.

Click here to see a Nautanki designed to encourage students to vote

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