- Special Pages
By Fazeena Saleem
Eid Al Adha was an occasion to celebrate not only for Muslims, but for non-Muslims too, especially the large expatriate communities in the country. The mode of celebration, however, is changing. Gone are the days when Qatar witnessed a multitude of mega stage shows by expatriate groups on every festive occasion. While such shows have taken a back seat due to a number of factors, small community gatherings and private parties are fast gaining in popularity among expatriates.
Cultural events have always been an integral part of Eid celebrations in the country. The Qatar Tourism Authority came out with “the largest-ever” Eid celebration this time, with an array of events at popular venues. Involvement of expatriate communities in official celebrations has increased over the past few years, especially after the number of stage shows targeting this segment dwindled drastically. Cultural activities in general have got a major boost with the opening of the Waqif Art Centre, Katara Cultural Village and the iconic Qatar National Convention Centre. However, such venues remain almost inaccessible to expatriate organisations.
Commercial shows targeting expatriate audiences have lost their charm because of the high costs involved, strict safety and security requirements, shortage of affordable venues and the difficulties in making an event a success.
“The success of a stage show depends on many factors. The venue is one of them and the popularity of artistes is another. Celebrities can bring huge crowds and more sponsors. However, sports clubs are the only available venues in Qatar to host mega events,” says Amanullah Vadakangara, Chief Executive Officer of Media Plus, a leading event management company catering to mainly expatriate audiences.
The financial success of a show depends on the revenue from ticket sales and support from the sponsoring companies. Shortage of affordable auditoriums which can accommodate huge crowds has been a major restricting factor. In the past, organisers tried to overcome the problem by conducting repeat shows at the same venue with the same artistes, although this involved additional costs and more efforts.
Strict safety and security requirements imposed by authorities after the tragic Villaggio Mall fire have come as an additional blow to organisers, although they intend to ensure public safety. Organisers are often forced to shift venue or cancel event, after failing to get clearance from authorities due to non-fulfilment of safety guidelines.
The Gulf Cinema and Doha Cinema were popular venues preferred by many organisers due to the relatively low costs and their ideal location. These cinemas can accommodate around 1,000 people each, which is a small number for a mega show. After the Villaggio incident, the Civil Defence department has banned stage shows at both venues until they meet safety procedures.
“New safety requirements have in fact raised the quality of stage shows and more sports clubs are now renting out their premises for them. Although the number of mega events has come down, there has been an increase in musical and dance shows targeting elite audiences. Recently such events were successfully held at the Al Ghazal Club and the Regency Hall,” said Amanullah.
Daily rents for auditoriums range from QR10,000 to QR30,000, which few community organisations can afford without support from sponsoring companies, he said, adding that many newly established companies are showing interest to sponsor quality stage shows to promote themselves.
However, most organisers are not so optimistic, especially of small community groups. Their complaints range from allegedly long and complicated procedures to get permission to shortage of suitable venues and a lack of interest from companies to support low-profile events.
“It’s very difficult to organise a show as we need to get so many approvals,” said Lenny Cramer, President, Sri Lanka Coordinating Committee- Qatar, who has been active in holding cultural events for his community.
“As per the rules, we can’t do anything the initial approval from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. We can’t even print tickets or posters,” he added.
After finalising participating artistes locally or overseas, the organisers book the venue. Then sign an agreement with the venue management mentioning details of the cultural event and submit it to the Ministry. If a drama is to be staged for example, its script too should be submitted for approval.
A copy of the approval letter is sent to the Ministry of Interior and organisers. The approval should be certified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Then organisers should take all approval letters to the Ministry of Interior and attend an interview in which details of the event are asked. Security requirements for the event are finalised based on the venue and the expected audience.
Organisers should employ security personnel from a licensed company. The Ministry of Interior will provide policemen but organisers should pay the Ministry an amount starting from QR100 per policeman. The amount varies depending on the duration and nature of the show.
“There are very few venues for stage shows and the few existing auditoriums are not suitable for big events. Now there is an option, with the opening of the Qatar National Convention Centre, but it’s very
Organisers, especially from small communities, face problems in finding sponsors as they have few businessmen in their own community. Support from sponsors is very important as the revenue from tickets will not be sufficient to cover the expenses. And a good number of tickets will have to be given free to VIPs, well-wishers and close to organisers.
“It’s not easy to hold a typical cultural event,” said Simon D’Silva, President of the Goan Welfare Association- Qatar.
“By selling tickets we can cover only a small portion of the expenses, so we have to depend on sponsors, but getting them is difficult,” said D’Silva.
Qatar doesn’t issue visit visas to above 60 and this rule applies to visiting artistes as well.
“For one of our recent events, a very popular artiste above 60 was scheduled to come, but he was not given a visa,” said D’Silva.
D’Silva, an event organiser for the past 12 years, actively involved in the annual ‘May Queen Ball’, which attracts people from different communities, said: “We love doing this and we enjoy organising cultural events and stage shows will continue to do it despite all the limitations.”
The large number of Indian community organisations here are relying on the Ashoka Hall at the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) which can seat 300 or the small meeting rooms in their office premises to hold cultural events. The ICC auditorium has events almost every week, with 87 Indian organisations affiliated to this centre.
Some Indian schools used to rent out their premises to community organisations for major stage events but they have now restricted permission due to safety and security concerns. An Indian community organisation that had announced a cultural show at a private school in Mansoura area on the first day of Eid had to change the venue following objections by the authorities on safety grounds.
The last Eid made a difference with at least three mega musical shows held involving Indian artistes, including the crowd-pulling Shreya Ghoshal show on the second day.
Expatriate audiences have mixed feelings about attending stage events. Instead of going to a commercial show, many prefer to celebrate holiday at small gatherings with friends and relatives.
“There are enough cultural events held for the community here, but we don’t attend all,” said Chandrika Perera, a Sri Lankan professional.
“This Eid we decided to have a get-together at home and went on a picnic on the second day. Such gatherings give us more time to spend with friends and family,” she added.
The Shreya Ghoshal concert was seen by many as a event in recent time, especially because the celebrity artiste sings in many languages and is popular in Asian communities.
“We have heard of many events where artistes from India have come to perform, but we have never been to them. But the Shreya Ghoshal concert was a big show, she is a unique artiste and the venue too seemed more special,” said Mohammad Ajeet, an Indian living here with his family.
Many shy away from attending stage shows because the venue is too small and congested and tickets are expensive.
“Some events are held at schools and being small could get crowded. It’s better to watch a film at a cinema than getting into those crowded places spending as high as QR300,” said Mano Ranjani, a housewife.