South Asian Games sets in with ‘digital’ evening

When the theme for the opening ceremony of the 12th South Asian Games was being finalised less than two months ago, the overriding idea initially was to portray the culture of the North-Eastern States. Bollywood, which makes an entry at every other mega event in the country, was not going to be invited for this show. It was decided to look for icons who strike a chord with those who will be at the stadium to witness the three-hour ceremony.

So musician and lyricist Bhuphen Hazarika-penned ‘Ei Prithibi Ek Krirangan’ was made the theme song of the Games, his nephew was asked to sing some of his famous uncles favourite songs, while choirs from Shillong were called in to showcase the talent of the North-East.

But this was not going to be strictly a simple song and dance show. With a push for ‘Digital India’ being one of the main objectives of the Central Government, the theme was incorporated into the opening ceremony of the games, of which minister Sarbananda Sonowal is the chairman of the organising committee.

Thirty-two high-tech projectors and over 1,000 computerised lights were used to create the digital theme. A digital river meandered on the floor of the main central dais, into which water brought by the eight participating countries and carried during the march past of the contingents was ceremonially poured into.

The motto of the games is: Play for Peace, Progress and Prosperity. It was decided that the idea of ‘Progress’ was to be merged with the message of peace and prosperity as the producers of the opening ceremony sat together and discussed the plan for the evening.

The lighting of the torch was also done by using digitally created fire as a prop. It first lit up the main dais, then the giant screen before actual flames emerged from the stadium’s torch. Baichung Bhutia was handed the task of triggering the digitally enhanced flame from the bamboo torch after it was handed over to him after it was carried by shooter Gagan Narang, athletes Anju Bobby George and Krishna Poonia among others.

A section was also devoted to India’s mission to Mars. A model of the Mangalyaan, India’s Mars orbiter, hung suspended in mid-air at one end of the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium in Sarusajai.

“Ladies and gentlemen you can see the Mangalyan representing our ingenuity by taking us to Mars and beyond,” Roshan Abbas the ‘voice’ of the opening ceremony said.

‘Idea of progress’

Abbas’s role in the opening ceremony was not restricted to only lending his voice. Rather, he was deeply involved in putting the show together. “We pitched the idea of progress through a ‘digital show’ while at the same time showcasing the culture of the North-East through song and dance. We wanted to present show which the people of this region would remember,” said Abbas, the managing director of Encompass, which is handling the opening and closing ceremony.

As Mangalyaan orbited across the stadium, a group of dancers – their bodies painted with the colours of the Indian flag – swayed to ‘Jai Ho’, a song now often associated with Indian sports team’s wins overseas or at international events at home.

‘Digitally connected India, India is now connected through the internet ‘, shouted a woman emcee’s voice as if to drive home the point that the country was making ‘progress’ courtesy broadband cables and Wi-Fi. The ‘Jai Ho’ dance was followed by a laser light show and LED light-dance spectacle.

The ceremony fluctuated between the theme of modern India and the culture and tradition of the North-East. Hazarika’s nephew Muyuk Hazarika rendered the theme song Ei Prithibi Ek Krirangan. Muyuk also sang ‘Same Boat Brother’, one of his grandfather’s favourite songs – originally sung by Paul Robeson – at the opening ceremony, accompanied by members of a Shillong-based choir.

On the field on Friday were sculptures of elephant and the rhino, two animals found in these parts of India. Singers and dancers complemented each other as they kept the spectators engrossed, while artists from the seven North-Eastern States kept the show going.

Towards the end of the show, in keeping with the message of unity and progress that the prime minister also touched upon, a large digitally-created tree took centre stage. The branches of the tree, like the water from the eight countries that were poured into the digital river were supposed to symbolise unity among the participating countries. It brought to an end the ‘digital evening’.