Dubai // Organisers of an Indian reality television show apologised yesterday after fans were injured in a stampede outside the venue on Friday night. The organiser, Asianet, admitted "things were completely out of control" when more than 15,000 fans tried to crowd into a venue meant for half as many to watch the final episode of Mammootty The Best Actor Award 2009.
Fans, many without tickets, pushed through barriers outside the Dubai Aiport Expo and overwhelmed the security staff of 70, organisers said. Police were called to help. "I saw a lady falling and people stamping over her. Her family managed to pick her up finally," said EM Bashir, 40, a resident of Al Rashidiya. "The mental and physical trauma of the evening was too much. I was hit by a guard and so was my wife. This was too much for us, and we left."
The show's main attraction Kerala superstar Mammootty almost left himself because of the chaos, but stayed and the show eventually began almost two hours late. Asianet, the event organiser, acknowledged that it had been unprepared for the size of the crowd and said it was giving refunds to ticket holders who could prove that they were turned away. "We have successfully done several events before, but this time things were completely out of control," said Bindhu Menon, the company's Middle East general manager.
"Apart from the people who had already purchased tickets, there were thousands of others who were there to get tickets." She confirmed that people had been injured in the stampede. The trouble started early, Ms Menon said, when fans swarmed Mammootty's car as he arrived. "The stars also had to come through the same entry points. Even Mr Mammootty's car was stopped and people were all over the car. It had become a major issue," Ms Menon said. "Mr Mammootty was even thinking of returning due to all this but he stayed and finally gave a great show.
"The option given to us was to either open the doors to everyone or cancel the show. "It was practically impossible for us to cancel the show, so we finally opened the gates to everyone." The show, which had been due to start at 7.30pm, finally began about 9.15pm. By that time, many fans who held tickets had left because of the crowd and the confusion. "People standing there holding their tickets for up to eight hours were just asked to leave," said Abid Aska, an Indian businessman who said he paid Dh5,000 (US$1,400) for five tickets to the event.
"One of the guards was shouting out, saying the programme was cancelled. "I reached there with my family at 4pm to avoid the rush and we were just sitting in front of the gates until 8.30pm. Very few real fans got to see the show." Born Muhammad Kutty, 56-year-old Mammootty is one of India's most popular actors. He has appeared in more than 300 films, including 1993's Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha and the 1998 English-language biopic Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, both of which won him Indian national film awards.
The one-hour reality show has aired for the past several months on Asianet, leading up to the final episode on Friday night. The 16 original participants were chosen from a field of more than 1,000 hopeful actors. They are asked to perform archetypical characters in roles Mammootty has played - examples are the Family Hero, the Macho Hero and the Epic Hero - and are judged on how well they do. The show ran more than a dozen episodes.
In the final show, a winning actor was selected by a panel of judges to receive an opportunity to act in a film by Mammootty's production house. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org