'Embarrassing': G20 welcome dances at New Delhi airport trigger controversy

Crass beyond belief, fumed some observers; others felt the song and dance were ‘cheap’ and inappropriate. A few wondered why they were needed in the first place

Screen grab from a video of a Bihu performance in honour of UK PM Rishi Sunak (video courtesy: PIB)
Screen grab from a video of a Bihu performance in honour of UK PM Rishi Sunak (video courtesy: PIB)

AJ Prabal

The deputy prime minister of Oman, HH Sayyid Asa'ad bin Tariq Al Said, did not seem to be amused.

He had a smile on his lips as he was greeted at Indira Gandhi International Airport. His smile froze as he was led to watch a group of girls dancing in his honour. Expressionless, he remained rooted to the spot, then appeared to mumble something before turning and getting into a waiting car.

Not all guests were, however, greeted with the same item-ish dance and music number.

Not all guests seemed to mind either. Rishi Sunak looked enchanted enough. The Australian prime minister beamed at the dancers. President Macron waved at them and bowed before leaving. Canadian premier Justin Trudeau appeared to be giving serious thought to whether he might match their steps.

Most of them, however, looked bemused — while the Indian union ministers and officials looked most pleased with themselves.

When social media posts, however, began questioning the decision to welcome guests with amateur dance performances — each lasting a few minutes and presenting what might charitably be called a fusion of popular global culture and Indian aesthetics — the BJP and Modi supporters sprang up in defence.

“No one is utilising (sic) any women — this is Rajasthani folk dance!! And in our India, men, women, transgenders (sic), everyone dances, even our Gods dance! So stop the nonsense — the filth is in the eyes and minds of those who see filth and tweet rubbish!” posted venture capitalist and ‘political analyst’ Tehseen Poonawalla on X (formerly Twitter).

He was reacting to a post that talked of “utilising women as a means of entertainment” at the airport.

The rejoinders were also swift in coming:

“Don’t you think Yash Chopra portrayed Rajasthani folk dance with more grace and poise In Lamhe! This is typical chapri Bollywood matka,” protested Rezina Sultan.

Others seemed to agree: “The so-called dance moves look like that of item numbers. The fellow must be asking, 'O man, so this is the culture you're talking about.' Bollywood’s gyrations are not traditional folk dance. And surely not appropriate welcome for visiting heads of state? Who choreographed this?”

Even more embarrassing apparently was the song played to welcome Argentina’s President. Some music buffs claimed that the music was 'inspired by' Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The lyrics, they pointed out include:

“Grab on my waist and put that body on me… I am in love with your body; Last night you were in my room and now my bedsheets smell like you”.

A film buff agreed: “Instead of this embarrassing dance or playing Ed Sheeran, they could have played Govinda and Karishma videos from the (1990s). That would be something novel for the guests,” read his post.

Meanwhile, a controversy has broken out in Assam over the dance performance staged to greet Sunak, with charges being made that Bihu, the traditional Assamese folk dance form, was distorted. Netizens felt that "none of the gestures resembled the genuine moves".

India has so many dance forms besides folk dances, complained many: "Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniyattam, Kathakali etc. but none of the above dance forms were used to receive G20 leaders. Instead, what we saw was inappropriate dance forms to inappropriate music."

Video clips released by the Press Information Bureau suggested that as aircraft carrying the various international guests stopped at different parking bays, different groups of dancers were positioned across the tarmac.

It is possible that not all the songs and dances performed were as embarrassing.

Elsewhere, events at the Bharat Mandapam deepened the debate over 'Indian culture' versus 'Bharatiya sanskriti'.

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