IT was Magic Jackson all the way. The back-breaking, breath-taking roller-coaster ride zipped through pages of the past, flipped through happenings in history, beyond the pyramids, the Sistine Chapel, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, racing to keep its date with an anxious audience in Shahaji Raje Bhosale Kreeda Sankul in uptown subur-ban Mumbai. The countdown— "attention please, only 30 minutes remain for HIStory to begin" in Hindi, English, French, German and Italian— had, however, begun long before the pelvic-pushing phenomenon actually touched the tarmac.
The fireworks had already been fuelled by stay orders, summons and suicidal threats from Michael Jackson Fashion Ltd and the Sena supremo's prodigal sibling, Ram-esh Thackeray. Much sound, much heat, much dust... BUT just ziltch compared to the real thing. In his MJ 2040 space capsule, the celeb time traveller cut across continents and broke boundaries before blasting the barriers of speed, sound and straight thinking at 9.17 pm with 200,000 watts of the highest-tech wizardry conceivable. "An air-conditioned tent specially constructed in an Indian setting, SFX, sound and music equipment worth several crores, a bullet-proof roof shipped from London," rattled off Nick Lewitt, chief production incharge for the ultimate entert- ainer. Jaws fell, pulse rates soared , imaginations and their inhabitors went berserk as HIStory and hysteria assumed unbelievable proportions. In a jiffy, Jackson stole the show from remix raja Bally Sagoo and Noble Savages who, earlier in the evening, had sung Mehbooba Mehbooba, Laung Lavacha, Chura Liya, I'm an Indian, Diggin' in the Nose punctuated by a periodic clamour of "we want Michael".
Crotch-clutching was culturally legit with Bal Thackeray, son Uddhav, nephew Raj, Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and moral policeman, Maharashtra Cultural Minister Pramod Navalkar in the Rs 15,000 VIP enclosure. Adding a tot of tinsel to the blinding display of dare-devilryMichael Jackson precariously perched on the edge of a crane for one of his tracks, resurrecting from the remains of a fire-ravaged coffin in Thriller, looking larger-than-life in a screen spread for Smooth Criminalwere dumb-struck desi prima donnas. Sanjay Dutt, Salman Khan and Sunil Shetty learning their first lesson in how action is spelt out the MJ way. Prabhu Deva, Alyque Padamsee, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Bose, Suneeta Rao, Shaan-Sagarika, Anu Kottoor, Jaaved Jaffrey, Sonali Bendre and Somy Ali were all grabbing a glareful of the greatest gig to hit India. One starry night earlier, the King had graced the glitterati with a passing glimpse of himself. In the 90-second appearing act, Shobha De and Anupam Kher managed to shake hands with him. Southern superstar and the Kings clone Prabhu Deva was ecstatic: "I spent just one-and-a-half minutes with him but it was a dream come true."
Not everyone was as overwhelmed. "As an entertainer, he is mesmerising; on a personal front, though, I wouldnt cross the road to see him," observed William Davies, a Mumbai-based Englishman. He added with a touch of sarcasm: "The security is not over-board but why do these cops keep repeating themselves?" Somewhere along the way, however, the 1,500-odd party-pooping police who had earlier frisked the fun out of the fans forgot their real beat and tuned themselves into a new one. They looked regretful when a senior put them in their place. Meanwhile, the 60,000-strong crowd wept with MJ during Ill Be There; they gasped during the enactment of the Tiananmen Square with a life-size battle tank for Earth Song; they relived his childhood and died a hundred deaths while MJ clung to a crazed fan crooning You Are Not Alone. "Its not fair," screamed Deepa Sinha, a hysterical fan. "I would kill to be in his arms."
The ticket prices, pegged between Rs 1,500 and Rs 15,000, were murderous enough. But that didnt deter hip-swinging, hip-dressing kids from every block in the megatown shooting up last-minute official sales. As if that were not enough, one litre cola bottles went for a cool 100 bucks, mineral water for Rs 40, chicken rolls at Rs 30. Chicken feed, apparently, for those who pinched no pennies to be there. While wallets were stripped, some hopefuls were clearly crushed by the fact that clothes were not. "One expected more hysteria, more madness. The crowd was wild, no doubt, but not completely untamed," said a yup-pie. The concert did have a few victimstwo fainting fans, a pair of broken legs and dollops of weeping women.
In a way, the mood was reflective of the Mumbai of old. Michael Jacksons destination was Bombay, India; the Noble Savages thanked the promoters, leaving out the politicos; the Mumbai police department was much married to its job and Mumbai, minus the clamp on party time, could have gone on popping any amount of space capsules right up to the extended 2.30 a.m. "We are light years behind this kind of thing," says action hero Sunil Shetty. "You only have to compare the previous acts with his to know how far we are."
By 11.20 pm, it was all over. Reiterating I luvya and sabse pyara Hindustan in varying accents, MJ had gone through the gamut of his greatest albumsright from Thriller to HIStory. And then, quite unexpectedly, the floor fell and ate him up. "I wish his exit was as dramatic as his entry," grumbled veejay Jaaved Jaffrey.
Jaffrey was not the only one disappointed: Touts who thought that MJ would make easy moolah for them had to sell their tickets at a fourth of the original price. Somewhere else, a man simmered in preventive custody. And while for one moment in time, a moonwalking Michael was frozen in Mumbai, the Nagpur bench of the Mumbai High Court has ensured that all proceeds of the concert follow suit. The big bang is likely to end in a lot of whimpering. In that sense, the show has just begun.