On Friday morning, it was announced that two back-to-back shows featuring veteran comedian Jerry Seinfeld in Mumbai were cancelled due to traffic- and parking-related issues. As part of the Stage 42 Festival organised by live entertainment company Only Much Louder (OML), this show would've been the Golden Globe winner's first show in India. The company currently faces losses amounting to nearly $2 million.
Late in the evening, OML sent out a press release containing a full statement from CEO Vijay Nair who explained what exactly what wrong. He also debunked conspiracy theories that he'd heard about the cancellation, such as whether it was a 'Censor Board issue' or because they hadn't sold enough tickets.
Below is the full statement:
Today we had to announce the cancellation of the Seinfeld shows in Mumbai, his first ever shows in Asia and arguably one of the landmark shows for live entertainment and comedy in India. This is why.
So what exactly happened?
A year ago, we decided to do something audacious, i.e., bring the biggest comedian in the world to India. It took us many many months of convincing, a few trips to Los Angeles and a team from LA coming to India to check everything out, and to finally get a go-ahead. Around the first week of February, we announced the show and started working out all the logistics. Everything was on track till Wednesday, March 11, when we were informed that the show cannot take place because the Mumbai Police would not give licenses for a show on a weekend at NSCI. In my understanding, this was largely due to a major fracas caused by a recent event where at the same venue there were issues related to traffic being held up. An unfortunate reaction to this was that the Police had to re-think licensing of events in this venue. However, the first time we were told about this issue was on March 11. We did everything we could to come up with solutions, including:
1) We offered to book additional parking. Parking for 600 more vehicles were available in the vicinity.
2) We offered to do the show at 3pm instead, so that traffic would be minimal.
However, the above was not satisfactory for the authorities and we were told that the event would not get a license. We also spoke to a few members of Parliament who we know, ministers in the government, all of whom tried to help and speak with the authorities, but eventually they all came back saying it wouldn't be possible. So on the night of the 11th, a few hours before the artist’s crew were going to get on a flight, we called them and cancelled the show. The private jet which was booked for the artist was also cancelled.
We were on the verge of announcing the cancellation yesterday when we got a call from the authorities, and I was called for a meeting. Since this would be a last-minute cancellation, the authorities were trying to help us with a plan to let this weekend’s events go on. We were now told that we could get the permission, tentatively, as well. Having cancelled the performance with the artist already, we did our best to re-book a charter and look at every possible option to get them here on time. Unfortunately, with all our travel arrangements changed, parking slots cancelled and crew being re-assigned, it became impossible to make this work. While the chance of making this happen again, at this late a time, was minimal, we did everything we could to make it work. We found a few flight options that could work, but the rest of the logistics couldn’t come together. It was just too late. In short, we were trying to arrange what took us a month the first time around, in 12 hours time.
In response to claims that the shows were not selling out, or we were “cutting our losses”...
This is one of my favorite conspiracy theories from today. Because, apparently, the best way to "cut losses" is to pay the entire artist fees, pay for all their expenses, wait for 24 hours before the show and cancel the show so that fans won't get any refunds, and then go and refund all your sponsors and ticket buyers. Both the shows were sure to sell out, without a doubt.
Did we have a parking license?
No. Because there is no such thing as a parking license. What you get in Mumbai and other cities is a Traffic NOC (No Objection Certificate), which is issued to you after the department that looks after all traffic-related issues is convinced that the show will not create any problems for citizens. We got this on Wednesday, March 5. After this, we had no reason to worry about any potential traffic-related issues. So we did not “foresee" this problem, because it didn't exist as a problem. We have also recently done a few shows at NSCI, including the Russell Peters Almost Famous World Tour, which occurred without any problems whatsoever.
Are the Police/authorities to blame?
While this is the easiest thing to do in such a situation, this is far from the truth. There has been tremendous pressure on the Mumbai Police after the incidents of March 1. This is a serious affair and they had to re-examine licensing norms. It was unfortunate that we got such a short notice about this, especially when all other licenses were being issued to us without any problems.
In all the previous events we have organised, we have got all the support we needed from the Police and traffic departments, and they do a stellar job during events. The additional ‘bandobast’ is understandably a big pain for them and they don’t get any additional fees in arranging security for events.
So who is to blame?
Since this letter will mostly be discussed on Twitter, you can blame whoever you want. I am free this weekend now, and looking forward to some more#outragewatch on social media.
How did previous events take place at NSCI if these traffic issues existed?
This is something to really think about. Almost all shows that have happened at NSCI have gone on without any trouble. I really hope that decisions taken by the authorities are made on the basis of a how a majority of events are conducted at the venue, and not by using one show as a benchmark. That’s just bad business.
Is this a Censor Board issue?
Another great conspiracy theory, and I am tempted to say ‘Yes’, just to have some fun. But sadly, no. Friends, the Censor Board didn't find anything objectionable with Seinfeld's content. #TrueStory
Will OML survive?
A lot of you have have been nice enough to send me texts and messages to see if we are doing alright. I am not going to lie. The loss from this show is the single biggest loss for us ever and possibly among the biggest in our industry. We are still a small company of 70 people and have worked really hard to get where we are at. This is a significant setback and looking at Excel sheets right now is not a particularly pleasant exercise. However, businesses are not run by Excel sheets, they are run by people. My team has the capacity to absorb this and continue pushing ahead, but many others won't and it will be a tragedy if people have to shut down their businesses for things that they can't control. So yes, we will survive this and will do whatever it takes to ensure that situations like these don’t arise in the future.
I also want to take a brief moment to talk to younger entrepreneurs who have started companies hoping to bring live entertainment to India. Don’t let incidents like these deter you. From the little experience I have, these things result into something better for the long term. Also, parking spaces is a great business opportunity. If it wasn't as boring as it sounds, I would have considered investing in that.
So what happens next?
We don’t know really. We haven't thought about rescheduling and these things are easier said than done. In the immediate future, my weekend plans just got cancelled. If you are doing something fun, please send me an invite at email@example.com or find me at @vijay_nair. That’s also where you can find me in case you have any other questions or would like to get my number to just call and shout. I personally apologize to everyone who bought tickets, Jerry Seinfeld and his incredible team (we almost made it happen), my sponsors (askme.comand Bacardi) - at least I have a good reason now to start using askme coupons and maybe a better reason to start drinking now (Yes, team Bacardi - you finally did it).