Bombay Elektrik Projekt (Open Mic) Gets Personal When The Feedback Gets Negative

Over a year ago, I saw something in the newspaper about an open forum for poets and other performers of the written word. Intrigued, I roped in a friend and went for the event. It was an Open Mic organized by Bombay Elektrik Projekt. It was held once a month at Café Goa in Bandra on a Monday night.

I listened with rapt attention as people acted out, read out and performed various pieces that they had written. Once I watched a beatboxer, an a capella rendition another time, and a budding guitarist/songwriter on yet another occasion. And that’s over and above the everyday citizens who’d stop by after work to share a piece of their soul in the form of poetry, verse and other original expression. I became a regular, sometimes performing, always enjoying the varied creative output that came from everyday people in this city.

Some time ago, following some unsavoury behaviour by a member of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt team, I decided to stop performing myself. But the other performers (only one of whom is Ashwini, a.k.a. my dear Mr.Everyday) still held charm in my eyes. I’ve always admired people who excel at their chosen art so I continued to attend as a member of the appreciative audience.

A couple of Open Mic sessions ago, a drunk stand-up comedian began a slew of offensives which didn’t amuse me. Ashwini wasn’t impressed either and didn’t crack a smile. The comedian took umbrage at that and started a personal volley of attack on Ashwini and then at the person he was with – me. I let it pass. Ashwini’s turn came up right after that and he settled it in his oh-so-classy way, with a fitting reply and without any personal slurs.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of the Bombay Elektrik Projekt Open Mic and a competition among the poets. Ashwini was the last on the line-up and getting ready for his characteristic freestyle rapping. The music was yet to come on when one of the audience members offered to beatbox for him. He agreed and they started off. The performance started off a bit shakily as would be natural with two people who were jamming for the first time. But they got into a groove together and the performance was picking up.

Just then, another person leapt up and grabbed the mike from Ashwini. He proceeded to perform (if you can call it that) an expletive-ridden volley of words that didn’t have much to do with the earlier performance that had been interrupted. It stunned most of us into silence and I’m choosing to believe that’s why no one reacted.

When I got home, I tweeted the following:

Quite disappointed by Bombay Elektrik Projekt 2nd anniv Open Mic. Disrespect to ur artists & ur regulars is bad form and bad business.

The response came in the form of a status update on Facebook and on Twitter as follows:

@ideasmithy well ramya,you seem to be the only one disappointed with last night. i suggest you speak for yourself…

What followed was a rather vicious fight across Twitter (me, Bombay Elektrik Projekt) and Facebook, which I reproduce as follows:

Note their tweets:

@ideasmithy @spitphyre I’m sorry its always petty with u ramya but you’re exaggerations of last nights events are misleading, misdirecting

@ideasmithy @Finelychopped its funny how you only always tweet when it concerns ashwini, whom we’ve still to hear from

@ideasmithy would be nice to see how many people agree with ur misdirected angst ‘clique-y kids playing at being cool. you’ve lost the plot.

After the first couple of tweets, I started retweeting their tweets. That resulted in a number of other people getting into the discussion. Many expressed their dissent over personal attacks in response to negative feedback. At this juncture, the Facebook conversation came alive. The Bombay Elektrik id started on a defensive, even arrogant tack. These were followed by an attempt to soothe the furore down.

The Bombay Elektrik Projekt

Hey Tarun,Ashiwini,Ken,Saurabh and Ramya.. thank you for everything you guys have shared on this wall.. I was present last night and yes, keri did take the mike away from you to add in a rhyme or to as is what he must have felt was just par…t of the performance. it was after all a rap battle of sorts. You did well in your comeback after the mic was snatched from you.

This does no way justify what he did, so if you felt offended then ashwini, i apolgise.

As far as what you said ramya about us not respecting our audience or our regulars, im sorry but that just has not happened. Yes you are entitled to an opinion and i respect that, but if you chose to say that we have no respect for all the people that help make our night, that hasnt happened during the course of the last two years.

For you to say that last night was disappointing is again surprising. Yes there was this one incident but then wheres you talking about the 30 wonderful poets who came and performed, or the smile that everyone walked away with at the end of the night.

We have built a solid reputation over the past two years as being one of the few people at the forefront of the art and culture scene in the city and it hasnt been easy.

May i just add that if you have a problem, then why not just address it and sort it out then and there, im always around so come and talk.. why wait a day to put it up online and then have someone action this.

Understand that people who follow you on a social network would have only a part account of what happened and do you think its fair to get everybody to assume that the entire night was disappointing, which in a sense reflects on all the people participating last night or that we have no respect for our audience or participants.

well, ashwini..again, if you felt keri insulted you in anyway im sorry, but please bring this up more promptly if you feel so strongly about this next time


Ashwini had gotten involved by this juncture (as you can see in the thread). And that thread seemed to end on the happy ‘all’s well that ends well note’.

But wait, the story doesn’t end here! Twitter came alive again. This time the Bombay Elektrik id was tweeting (and I say ‘id’ because I can only assume that the conflicting messages from the same account are because of different people accessing it) but not including my id in their tweets. Instead, they were doing the Twitter version of backbiting and here are some of their tweets:

@wanderblah @priyal no,what’s weird was why she didn’t dm or msg us.again @sudeipv reply not bizzare but a correction of the facts

@priyal @wanderblah @sudeipv I agree but then why give ramya berth on twitter #ideasmithydeepfried

@angadc thanks angad, but were covered. if she chooses to rant, well that’s her choice and right. we have nothing more to say to her

So much for the facts of the case. As I see it there are two distinct and clear issues. The first, deeper one is the cliquish treatment of the events. These events ask attendees to pay and do not compensate the performers. Bombay Elektrik Projekt also establish themselves are promoters and organizers of cultural meetings and events. With this, they take on the onus of maintaining the integrity of the platform they stand for. If an artist or indeed, a member of the audience is insulted, it definitely is their problem, something that they need to take responsibility for. Interrupting a performance and in such an offensive manner is a serious issue and cannot be written off as one drunken act. These are not small intimate gatherings of close friends in somebody’s house. These are public events, calling to and entertaining a wide network of people, familiar and otherwise. Bombay Elektrik Projekt enjoys the attention and other benefits of being such a wide platform. They cannot then, shrug off the responsibility for things that happen on it.

The second issue is their response to criticism. My tweet was negative but it did not lash out at any one person. It addressed an actual incident that had happened and expressed my disappointment over it. Their response was first to ask me to shut up and then snigger and taunt me over being the only one to think so. I don’t know if they honestly believe that one person’s opinion doesn’t matter or whether they just don’t want my opinion for more personal reasons. Either way, because my making it public brought in a good degree of support for my right to my opinion, I think they backtracked. I would have been happy to let things settle there, since after all an opinion is an opinion and if someone is unable to take it in perspective, well, tough. But their snippy attitude continues, despite other people suggesting that they just let up.

I’ve been receiving some messages asking me to just forget it and let it drop. The point is, that I haven’t actually done anything after that first tweet. Everything after that has just been relaying what they’ve been saying and making it public. If I’m relaying what you said about me and to me, that doesn’t make me an accessory to this ugliness. I’m having to ask for public support on this precisely because of Bombay Elektrik Projekt’s first challenge that my opinion (since I’m the only one expressing it) doesn’t matter. What’s noteworthy is that there haven’t been too many people from yesterday’s event speaking up for their side either. It’s possible that there will be some tomorrow. Since their tweets haven’t gotten them the response they hoped for, I expect them to call in their inner circle members to attack me on the public forum and I say this from an earlier experience with trying to have an adult conversation over a disagreement. (Note – I just checked into the thread and it’s happening already. The same person who lashed out at me last time is now asking me to take lessons in battle rapping).

So, my dear friends who’ve been asking why I’m upset and Twitter followers who’re asking what the big deal is, this is the story. It is about having an opinion and being attacked for it. It is about what constitutes basic respect. It is about claims to artistic appreciation and the farce that actually happens.

Actually let me not say any further. I just checked out their latest tweet. After all this, this is what they have to say. Draw your own conclusions.

@angadc but angadc we’re used to calling a spade a spade. public or otherwise. does this mean we face public ire


Update on 8 December 2010: On the Facebook thread, Kerry (the person who snatched the mic) and Ashwini (the artist who was performing) had the following converation.

Kerry Harwin: Sorry, not being a big social media user, I’m late to this game. I won’t address the facebook/twitter furor, because I don’t know anything about that.

I do want to apologize to Ashwini, though. My intention was just to join in the excitement. I thought it was fantastic to have a rapper close out the night, and wanted to be a part of that. I apologize if my manner of doing so upset people. Everything was meant in good humor and in jest. MNS (wow, I just realized what unfortunate initials Monday Night Slam has) is a very interactive space and some dialog between performers, host, and audience is quite common. If I took that spirit too far, the error was all mine, and I apologize both to Ashwini and to those audience members who had a worse night because of it. I had hoped to add, not to subtract.

Ashwini Mishra: fair enough.apology accepted.just for the record, i have always encouraged collaboration and especially on the spot. But when the mic is snatched in the middle of my rhyme, that irritates the hell out of me. but it’s fine. let’s bury the hatchet. maybe we can battle again sometime. god knows i have enough material now..:)

That’s issue no.1 reached resolution (or at least one incident of it). As for issue no.2, Bombay Elektrik Projekt have not issued any further statements, slanderous, apologetic or otherwise. And there have been a few nasty jibes directed my way, by one of the judges at that event.

29 thoughts on “Bombay Elektrik Projekt (Open Mic) Gets Personal When The Feedback Gets Negative

  1. Thanks for laying it all out. I did read up their Facebook post when you first tweeted about it. Irrespective of what happened, BEP could’ve handled it better. Like you said, there seem to be different people manning various social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and is producing conflicting updates. The ‘attacks’ seem personal more than anything else.

    1. @Patrix: The personal attacks and the arrogance of implying my opinion didn’t matter since no one else felt the same are what were bothersome. That the attacks are continuing is another chapter altogether.

      1. If I were you, I would see if the organization resents you or is it just a few people who hold a personal grudge against you The two may be the same though.

  2. I’ve been following this whole episode on Twitter and Facebook, and having read both sides of the story, it is rather shameful that an outfit which has been around for quite sometime chooses such crass methods to single out one person for her opinion, and goes on to insult her and in a show of arrogance take the discussion to an altogether different forum where it is public to over 5000 people.

    The so called clarification and fake plastic apology provided by folks from the BEP crew was hardly satisfactory – a sham if I must say.

    It is absolutely shameful and saddening that this so-called outfit who claims to nurture and promote all things creative isn’t ready to take responsibility for two different issues – one: not controlling what happens at their events (I have plenty of experience having organized over a dozen events myself) and instead choosing to not even bat an eyelid and two, talking in such an arrogant fashion, blowing up one tweet into an issue, and sending replies through the official BEP Facebook and Twitter accounts.

    I think folks behind this project really need to sit down and take a crash course in polite conversations. As an outfit, that’s not how you handle criticism. Hope in the coming days/weeks/months/years (if they’re still around) they grow the hell up and learn to handle such things with grace and a bit of tact.

    Kudos to you for not shutting up and bringing this event to everyone’s attention.

    1. @laemo: And I thank you for your support. It doesn’t look like any individual can say or do anything when an organization decides to misbehave. But I realise that talking about just might.

  3. I agree…the attack was very personal kindergarten…so and so is so and so’s boy friend…they should be lucky they don’t run a restaurant…would have finely chopped them

  4. I’m surprised at the way they chose to handle it. And more than your tweets or Ashwini’s and your responses to their comments on facebook, it is their comments that have turned me off them. I’m not much of a performance poet, but I know I’m going to be thinking hard before going to one of their slams after this. Their damage control has been pretty awful. I’m guessing they’re certain they are not going to take much of a hit because of this.

    Eh, there’s always Prithvi Open Mics…

    1. @Krishnakumar: Right of course. I haven’t been able to attend the last couple of those on account of other commitments. But they definitely came to mind last night with the thought that this would never happen at one of their events.

  5. Interestingly, i would expect a response to your blog post explaining their stand. What matters is how they are going to improve rather than get net picky and have a personal agenda.

  6. Ramya thanks for laying it out the way it is. I did catch a few tidbits on twitter before reading the entire account here.

    BEP needs to deal with the problem. Not the messenger. Looks like there are too many talking heads there with no coordinated strategy for damage control.

    What you expressed is a personal opinion and of course any level headed reader understands that. For BEP to take it as a personal attack is immature on their part.

    And rightfully there was no reason for you to let go.

    Hope that common sense prevails at their end and they realize their knee “jerk” reaction; pun intended.

  7. I have no idea who BEP are, and as a third party sitting 7500 miles away, all I can say is that they seem to be run by a bunch of unprofessionals 🙂
    When someone gets uber defensive about their actions (in open public media) , one is really forced to raise an eyebrow over the reason behind that – simple psychology, I suppose..
    What melo-tweeto-drama! I mean, if they cannot handle negative feedback and open criticism (actually, your original comment that spurred this drama was in fact an opinion – it wasn’t even feedback – I mean, it was an open tweet, for God’s sake!), they had better not make themselves publicly accessibly via social networking sites!

  8. Thanks for sharing this and being brave. The personal insults were unnecessary and quite unprofessional. I’m glad you’ve laid out the entire picture. Shit happens and even if they couldn’t control the rude interrupter, they simply needed to acknowledge your comment or ignore it. Not go on the defensive.

    With you Ramya. Full support. I say start your own Stand up/ Performance night 😉 Show them who can do it better.

  9. Well chronicled. I’m not aware of their reputation or work but whatever their business, this immature high-handedness on their part signals a desperate need for them to come to terms with the network effects of social media.

    It’s SO important to choose your words carefully on Twitter when interacting with consumers because there is no other context available for interpretation.

  10. Saw the start of your outrage last night and today morning I wake up to outright petulance on their part. I am appalled at the way BEP are handling this. Even Ashwini, who has more reason to be upset, is more rational and coherent in his criticism then these people.

    Ramya, I remember how last year you had told me about the wonderful Slam BEP organises and how I looked forward to attending one with you some day. I’m sad to say I’m no longer that enchanted with the idea, not after the way they treated someone who did nothing more but air her opinion about an incident – the audience has the right to do so.

    I am just one Slam old (attendence-wise), but from what I understand, after the performer, the audience holds the highest regard. They are for the performer and vice versa. It is this powerful connection that makes poetry slams so incredible and a joy to attend.

    BEP have disregarded not only the performer in this case but the audience too. They have turned their back on a voice – IMO anathema for a poetry slam outfit.

  11. I am do hope this is an educative lesson for the BEP. They can only get better from here on in managing their Social Persona.

    What can they do from here? Reply to your post, apologise, accept mistake, inform of what they can do to fix the situation, make a loyalist out of you.

    Lets wait and watch, Ramya.

  12. I was one of the people in the discussion (@priyal) and they asked me “why I was giving Ramya berth on Twitter”.

    What I find really bizarre is BEP mixing up the above mentioned two distinct issues: One, the gig and two, the social media interaction about it. Most people including me here have criticised the second one, simply because we were not present to judge the first. (Hence

    BEP is associated with a urban young team who are atleast expected to know their social media. An individual can be be highhanded with no diplomacy on social media but an organisation just cannot, it is the unsaid obvious rule of social media. You would think with one wrong tweet, BEP would correct themselves but as chronicled in detail above, they did not stop. Sudeip, who I have met personally a few years ago and quite like, controlled the situation on Facebook in time. In Twitter however it wasn’t done and here are the consequences.

    I hope at the end of the day the lesson was learnt, in good spirit. It is fantastic to have organisations like BEP in this country and it would be a shame if anything goes wrong with an easily-rectifiable social media #nontroversy.

    1. @priyal: As it turned out, the perfomer himself apologized for his mic-snatching behaviour. B.E.P. on the other hand, has chosen to let things lie, presumably in the hope that it passes from public memory. There has been no acceptance of responsibility on their part and or claims that they’ll be more careful. I just wonder on what basis they can charge their audience now since they don’t pay the performers and don’t even provide a safe zone for the artist to perform at.

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