The disaster in Bhopal seemed so enormous, everyone wanted to do their bit to help out. So just under a year after the devastating gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in December 1984, approximately 10,000 Mumbai youngsters filed into Brabourne Stadium downtown to listen to some of India’s most exciting rock bands play their hearts out for the survivors.
The event was called Aid Bhopal, and it had been inspired by the Live Aid concert that had been held in London and Philadelphia to raise money for the victims of the Ethiopian famine a few months earlier. Like the famous We Are the World track that accompanied the Live Aid event, Aid Bhopal also had its own song.
“The atmosphere was electric,” recalled musician Farhad Wadia, who belted out the theme song, accompanied only by his acoustic guitar. “I had never stepped in front of such a large crowd.”
Uday Benegal, the lead singer of a band that was then called Rock Machine (it would later change its name to Indus Creed) was also on stage that evening of November 26, 1985. “It was quite a trip playing in front of such a large crowd,” he recalled.
The concert had been organised by a group of city college students, many of whom lived in the suburb of Bandra. Among them was Samir Chadha, who is now an ad film maker. “Sometime in July, my first memory is [of my friends] Ajay Donde and Erach Songadwala catching me in Pali Market as I was on my way to catching a BEST bus to Bandra station and telling me that they really need me to get involved,” he recalled.
The group decided to call themselves HELP ̶ or Help Express Love for People. Among their Bandra friends was the future MP Priya Dutt, and she got her brother, the actor Sanjay Dutt, to donate Rs 5,000 to help pull the concert together.
Using sheer gumption, Chadha recalls, the teenagers persuaded the liquor brand McDowell’s to sponsor the event, booked the stadium and obtained all the official permissions. They also managed to coax several big-name musicians to perform at the concert, including Louis Banks, Remo Fernandes and Gary Lawyer. There were also a host of rising talents, such as Les Boys, Ultimatum, Rock Machine and an acoustic quartet called Voices.
Many people who attended the Aid Bhopal concert were left two vivid memories: the pile of liquor bottles at the entrance that had been confiscated by security guards as they frisked entrants, and spending the chilly night out on nearby Marine Drive, waiting for the first train to get home: Mumbai had no deadlines in the early 1980s, and the concert went on long past the last local had pulled out from Churchgate station.
In the end, the concert raised Rs 2.5 lakhs, which was handed over to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
A few months later, Doordarshan broadcast the concert as a four-part serial, for a whole month of Sundays. Long after the lights dimmed at Brabourne Stadium, the music of Aid Bhopal still elicits a smile from middle-aged viewers across India.
A section of the audience.