Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When India danced to Michael Jackson's tunes…

An interesting recollection of Michael in India in 1996 by Photo Journalist Mahesh Bhat who teamed up with our recently featured photographer John Issac. Mahesh also recalls the street children finding anything they could in the street for Michael to sign, a death threat ruins a trip and leaves Michael crying in his room, a pool party for kids and India's dignitaries and top artists turn out for the concert.

[Edited} 1996 the Upcoming concert of Michael Jackson in Mumbai was the big news. I had no plans of going for it. Few days before the concert, I got a call from my friend Shantanu Sheoreyi. He was involved in the event on an advisory capacity. "Mahesh, we need someone to document MJ's visit and the concert, will you do it?" he asked me. "Will I do it? Whoa, was on the next plane to Mumbai."
Well, I reached a day before MJ's scheduled arrival. I had
discussions with people concerend which was followed by a visit to the stadium in Andheri where the performance was to be held. A large wooden platform was built. The entire stage would be transported in 2 Antonovs. I was told that his crew would put it up in 24 hours.

On the day of his arrival, we reached the airport ahead of time. I was to document his visit from his first step out of the plane. Few of us were escorted to the door of the skybridge. Actor Sonali Bendre had the honour of welcoming MJ. One page 3 type business tycoon wanted to be there too but he was unceremoniouly shoved away by the cops. The plane carrying MJ landed. Immigration officials went into the aircraft to complete the formalities. People started coming out. Suddenly I see a familiar face.,my friend photographer John Isaac! - Hugs and "hey what are you doing here" exchanged. I learnt that John had accepted the assignment of documenting the life and work of MJ and was travelling with him!

Then MJ himself comes out. Wow the legend right in front of me, few feet away. He rushes out and I shoot pictures. Cars are waiting to whisk him away. A luxury van was waiting for him. I got into a SUV with a skyroof, so that I could stand up and shoot the motorcade. Yes, I rode in the motorcade with MJ. As we left the airport, MJ saw a whole lot of kids from the slums and asked the car to be stopped. We all jumped out. He wanted to get some video footage with them. There were three videographers shooting every move he made. Kids rushed and picked whatever they could find on the road - soiled cigarette packets, pieces of paper,and all for autographs. MJ was merrily signing on them, he didn't forget to tell his video crew not to miss recording any of it 'Make sure you are getting everything" he kept saying.

All roads cordoned off and we zipped to Bal Thackrey's residence, that was MJ's first port of call. There chaos reigned. Machine gun toting cops with walkie-talkies that had meter long antennae were not able to stop the horde of waiting press photographers from breaking the cordon and going inside. John and I were left out. Later, they took us inside. MJ got some gifts and nothing much was said. He sat with a distant expression on his face.

That evening, a dinner was organised at the Oberoi Towers where he was staying. Who's who of Mumbai and entire Bollywood was invited. Menu was totally vegetarian. MJ was there on time, most of the who's who weren't. There was a small fucntion. MJ received a diamond-studded miniature Taj Mahal. Someone made a speech. A well-known character actor jumped to the dias, shook MJ's hand and jumped like a monkey!! And MJ went back to his room. Neither did he talk to anyone nor did he touch the laid out food. Then the who's who started landing up and they had to eat that vegetarian food! People hung around and ate muttering under their breath. The next day I read in newspapers how one of the music directors of Bollywood (The man who has a penchant for gold,no prizes for guessing who!!) was going to collaborate with MJ to produce an album and that MJ showed keen interest in his gold necklace. The fact was that he arrived fashionably late for the dinner and didn't even get to glimpse MJ. On his way out, MJ shook hands with one of the waiters. That chap fainted!

Next day - it was the day before the concert, MJ didn't come out of his suite. I hung out with John Isaac in his room. The floor of the Oberoi Towers was occupied by MJ entourage and no one was else was allowed. John Isaac was born in Chennai. He worked briefly for Air India and went to NYC to become a guitar player. Instead he became a photographer and rose to be the chief photographer of the United Nations and a celebrated photojournalist. John was doing a lot of work for UNICEF. Audrey Hepburn, the then goodwill ambassador of UNICEF and a friend of John introduced him to MJ. John told me about MJ's love for poetry and that they were planning on a book of MJ's poems and John's pictures. It didn't materialise finally.

All day long the glitterati of Bollywood was descending to the hotel to 'meet' MJ. But no one was allowed to get into the lift even. Heartbreaks all over. Suddenly there was commotion. In the midst of tight security, a chap from Bihar managed to get into the hotel with a nicely packed muzzle loader on his shoulder! Don't ask me how. So cops took him away and found out that he had come to Mumbai in search of a job. And he landed up in the hotel because some one told him he might find a job here.MJ's security detail comprising of several ex-marines was always very tough. After this incident they became paranoid. There was a lot of friction and temperature was always on the boil. Later we asked them why were they so worried. 'Well, he is our bread and butter, we can't let anything happen to him', said the security in-charge.They were protecting him to safeguard themselves.

There was a plan of taking MJ to Madh Island. He wanted to visit the Mumbai centre of Nirmal Hriday. But some joker faxed a death threat. Security clamped down and vetoed any visit. MJ was inconsolable. He began to cry uncontrollably in his suite. It took some of his friends almost an hour to console him. That's when I thought that he was trapped in a diamond studded platinum cage. However the death threat did not deter some of his crew from hitting the town. I think even some of his bodyguards took an evening off. The boss couldn't step out of his room!

That evening there was photo shoot with a whole lot of kids. It was on the terrace of the hotel and then later we moved into his suite. I did a lot of portraits of his there. He didn't interact with any adult. But did talk to many kids. MJ had this massive 3D collage made from B&W pictures of his family. I heard him tell someone that he carried it with him everywhere.

MJ didn't want to be disturbed. He meditated and just before the concert, met with the key people from the Indian side and took pictures. I had reached the venue well in advance. Had a choice of two places to shoot from - the 'pit' at the bottom of the stage or in front of the sound console. It had a direct view and I didn't have to jostle for space. I chose the latter. VIP box too was there. Asha Bhosle, Sunil Gavaskar, Prabhu Deva, and the thousands of fans were waiting for the performance to begin.

MJ's stage was air conditioned and maintained at 16 degree centigrade. There were two massive AC plants pumping cool air. Massive air curtains in the front were keeping warm air out. There was a meditation room, if he chose to meditate during the break. It didn't matter where he performed; the stage was exactly the same.

The performance was amazing. He was truly a great entertainer. Ashaji was on her feet, dancing! She asked all the younger women in the VIP box to dance along. I turned around to see Sunny Gavaskar grooving! Prabhu Deva told his fans that it was like watching his god!
I don't have any more words to explain his impact.



http://entertainment.in.msn.com/hollywood/article.aspx?cp-documentid=3069357#page=1





6 comments:

Rosane said...

QUE LINDO!!! PARABÉNS PELO SEU BELO BLOG !!! ♥

Al said...

´´MJ e pàinea noastra´´ :((( ce urat , inteleg sa nu te atasezi de parsoana pe care o aperi, dar nici sa o vezi ca pe un obiect
aaa, deci ei puteau sa se distreze in oras, iar Michael sa stea incuiat in camera :((, dc se intampla ceva cu el si ei erau plecati, era vina lor, ca sa se asigure ca o sa fie bine, trebuia sa stea inchis :((( in camera

Rosane said...

adevarat .. Sunt de acord!
(Aici am încercat să înveţe câteva cuvinte în limba română ..)

MJmyinspiration said...

Obrigado, Rosana

você é bonito,
assim
:)

beijos ..

MJmyinspiration said...

você escreveu para baixo quase perfeitamente

Latina é a nossa língua :)

MJmyinspiration said...

asa au fost toti..pana si cei din familie;(( vaca de muls pentru toti

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