Friday, October 15, 2010

At the cost of 70 crore: did the helium balloon worth its cost

It was bought for Rs 38 crore and was supposed to be the highlight of the opening and closing ceremonies. The helium balloon cost the taxpayer almost Rs 70 crore in total. Yet, on Thursday evening, as the Delhi Games 2010 came to a close, the aerostat merely ended up being a glorified backdrop for the various acts at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Hovering above the grounds, the aerostat described by the organizers as the biggest helium balloon in the world was not even a significant part of the various acts that followed through, far from being the star of any segment. Used more as a prop, with faded pictures and video streams beamed along the sides, the balloon was literally a shadow in the background of the glittering show. For a show that aspired to deliver on the raised expectations of the opening ceremony, the balloon almost seemed an afterthought.

Not perhaps the best closing shot that the organizing committee (OC) would have wanted of this white elephant, specially considering the OC is hoping to find buyers for the aerostat once the Delhi Games 2010 is over. In an earlier interview with an English Daily Times of India, head of Delhi 2010 OC Suresh Kalmadi had admitted that the OC was going to dispose of the aerostat as soon as the Games was over and had already started looking for buyers. Kalmadi had said, ‘‘It’s the property of the OC. We are planning to sell the balloon after the Games... hopefully, this would go towards adding to the revenue OC would have in the end. Incidentally, the OC has taken a loan of Rs 1,620 crore from the Central government to organize the Games — which the OC had promised to pay back with revenue from sponsorships and ticket sales. Unfortunately for the OC, the sponsorships were nowhere near the expected figure, though the committee claims revenue in the region of Rs 700 crore has been generated to date.

The aerostat’s less than glittering show on Thursday evening, however, could not have been the best advertisement for the OC. The opening ceremony had a dedicated segment on the balloon, complete with the beats of Nagadas introducing the aerostat as it ascended to the top of the stadium, hovering 25m above ground. For many, the aerostat set the pace for the rest of the evening in the opening ceremony. For the spectators gathered at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the balloon ascension and the fireworks accompanying it seemed to be like the call to start the celebrations even as it was total paisa vasool. The underbelly of mirrors reflecting the lights on the field of play had only added to the sense of drama.

But on Thursday, that feeling was markedly absent. Most spectators were enthralled with the laser show and the Vande Mataram segment in the closing ceremony even as the Bollywood brigade represented by Shankar Mahadevan, Shiamak Davar and Kailash Kher brought the capacity crowd to its feet. Rohan Bhardwaj (name changed), a volunteer and spellbound spectator of the closing ceremony, said, ‘‘I had expected more of the balloon this time. After all, it’s a great presence in the middle of the field.

The creative team for the closing ceremony obviously didn’t think so. For a prop which at one time was supposed to take drummers up into the sky as the show opened, the aerostat’s final appearance was almost an anti-climax. Even the mirrors seem to have disappeared, leaving only a balloon reflecting images behind.’’