Smoke filled the stage and the sound of opera filled the Mumbai exhibition grounds where 70,000 young Indians gathered today to celebrate the first-ever Global Citizen India Festival.
On video screens, the faces and voices of young people from around the world announced that it was time to welcome one of the biggest bands in India today. And with a burst of fireworks and a kick-drum, the lights went up on Coldplay.
Chris Martin jumped in the air, ran down the center aisle, and then greeted the crowd in Hindi.
“Namaste, friends,” he said.
India, as represented by the young people who had been at the festival for 12 hours, went wild.
Coldplay headlined the festival today — playing “Yellow,” “The Scientist,” “Clocks,” and “Paradise,” during its 90 minute set — but Global Citizen Festival India was more than just a concert. The young people from Mumbai, from the State of Maharashtra, and from across India came together today to celebrate Global Citizen India.
Throughout the day, performances from A.R. Rahman, Amitabh Bachchan, and Farhan Akhtar, Jay-Z, Demi Lovato, and Ranveer Singh lit up the crowd as leaders from across India and the world answered Global Citizens’ calls to commit to real, concrete change in the world. And the focus throughout from all the leaders at the GCIF was on the power of the youth to make a brighter future.
“Each and every one of you here tonight has the opportunity to be the greatest advocates and activists of our generation,” Global Citizen founder and CEO Hugh Evans told the crowd, noting that global leaders had committed to improvements that would affect over 250 million lives.
Global Citizen campaigns around the world to accomplish the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, including increasing access to education, clean water and sanitation, gender equality, and health care, in order to eradicate poverty by 2030.
For Global Citizen India, a special focus on increasing access to clean water and sanitation, in collaboration with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat or “Clean India” campaign, focused on bringing more toilets and clean water to all Indians and providing better feminine hygiene and knowledge around menstruation.
"You bring an energy and idealism that is unparalleled,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Global Citizens via a livestream video. “I am convinced that we can and we will build a Swachh Bharat free of all forms of filth within one generation."
More than 500,000 Global Citizens took 2 million actions leading up to the festival that will affect 503 million lives. Political and corporate leaders made commitments that total $5.93 billion.
Sawabh Pande, 21, was one of those new Global Citizens who took action to earn his way to the festival.
“We signed petitions and sent emails that are going to impact India,” Pande said. “How could you not love Coldplay? They’re amazing and we just like what they stand for.”
“You have to the start the change you want to see yourself,” Sophia Aedra, 21, said.
Saket Kanth, 25, stood in the front row of the festival for hours waiting to see Coldplay. A worker in the non-profit sector, Kanth said that what attracted him to the festival — in addition to Chris Martin — was how effective it was at creating real change.
“The awareness and making it actionable is great. I’m glad it’s not just tweeting for tickets but it’s actual on-the-ground creating change,” Kanth said.
The enthusiasm of the young crowd did not go unnoticed by the leaders who took the stage.
“There is no greater audience than you. You are the heroes of tomorrow, the torchbearers of hope. Right now, as you all know, our world is at a tipping point. It is up to us to decide which way things shall turn,” the spiritual leader Pujya Swamiji told the crowd.
The crowd grew hushed for a powerful instrumental performance by A.R. Rahman before he broke open into a crowd-pleasing set.
“We have a common enemy,” Rahman said, “Poverty. I am greedy. We could eradicate poverty if we put our minds together. I hope it all works. Thank you. God bless.”
The Mumbai crowd went wild for Jay-Z’s “New York.” He told the crowd they were “beautiful souls” who came to support such a “great cause.” Then he let loose with “99 Problems,” “Big Pimpin,” “Run This Town,” and “Holy Grail.”
Demi Lovato, clad in an amazing gold lame leotard and jacket and thigh-high boots, played a 20-minute, belting “Confident” and “Cool for the Summer” along with 70,000 fans.
Demi Lovato cantando "Cool For The Summer" no Global Citizen Festival em Mumbai, India (19/11) pic.twitter.com/xiQHyeEykj— Demi Brazil (@DLPaciencia) November 19, 2016
When the “king” of Bollywood films, Amitabh Bachchan, appeared on stage to perform with the Shillong Choir, tens of thousands of Indians who had grown up watching Bachchan’s films grew quiet as he recited a poem. Bachchan returned to the stage for a collaboration with Indian rock star Farhan Akhtar, who had the audience beatbox with him during his set.
In the moments before Coldplay took the stage, Bollywood star Ranveer Singh gave an incredible performance of traditional Indian dance and music, and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar credited both A.R. Rahman and Coldplay with changing his life, saying he “wouldn’t be who I am” without Rahman and, “Coldplay taught me guitar.”
And Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan sang “Atrangi Yaari” from their film Wazir.
Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Kweku Mandela, told the audience that “education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world.”
”Each of you can do something to make sure one child to make sure they receive an education,” he said.
The Indian actress and CHIME FOR CHANGE supporter Freida Pinto joined many of the night’s celebrities in calling attention to gender inequality in India.
“There are 3.7 million girls out of school, and you are here today because you clearly care,” she told the crowd. “These dreams do not have gender. Girls can be pilots. … Girls can be rock stars like Chris Martin!”
Leander Peas, the Indian tennis champion, said that he wouldn’t be where he was in life without his mixed doubles partners: women.
“We played to win each time we went out, we played as one, we played as a team, and continued equally,” he said. “In my life it's game set match. This is one game we have to win together, every single day, 365 days a year.”
The day’s hosts called for an end to the taboo on talking about menstruation, and singer Monali Thakur dedicated a song to “all the guys who love us and don’t judge us at that time of the month when we are menstruating.”
As India’s biggest celebrities welcomed Global Citizens and musicians, political leaders appeared on stage and made 25 commitments to using the resources of their offices to improving the lives of their constituents.
One of the biggest commitments of the night came from the government of the state that hosted the festival: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis committed to making his state open defecation free by March 2018, to improve nutrition for 98,000 severely malnourished children, and to build 1 million homes for the homeless by 2019.
“The youth, the energy, the support in our country are what makes us, and what define us,” Rajan Anandan, the vice president of Google South East Asia & India, said on stage, noting that Google would bring internet training to 300,000 rural villages. “The youth of this country make us, define us, they complete us.”
“We need a mass movement, a global movement of young people around the world,” Nigerian Environment Minister Amina Mohamed said.
One of the final moments of the night that ended the first-ever Global Citizen Festival India represented the spirit of collaboration that represents the movement.
“Global Citizen is about love and togetherness and that is what our band is about, too,” Chris Martin said during Coldplay’s set.
And as A.R. Rahman walked out and joined him, first in an acoustic song, and soon with the rest of the band, India’s youth joined in, too, singing “Channa Meraya,” and a movement was born.
It's a bliss to watch Chris Martin singing 'Vande Matram' on Global Citizen India concert 😍 along with A.R.Rehmaan.. #Coldplay— Shubham Pandey (@ishubhamm) November 19, 2016