This thesis conducts a history of flash mob performance in India, asking how the form has evolved over a 12-year period from its first emergence in 2003. Due to its rhizomatic appearance worldwide and its close association with internet technologies and digital culture, the flash mob has typically been treated as a ‘global’ phenomenon, and theories of flash mob performance derived from Euro-American contexts are frequently glossed as generic. However, this thesis asks what a close history of the genre in India can reveal, both in terms of the performance practice itself, and as a reflection of the specific cultural moment in which it emerged. It offers an examination of the processes of adaptation and remix underway as a ‘global’ performance practice has been re-interpreted and re-enacted from this specific, local and historical perspective, and it argues that these processes demonstrate one of the ways in which performance, particularly in a digital sphere, can operate to effect a ‘politics of forgetting’ in globalising India.
To do so, the thesis employs an interdisciplinary approach combining ethnographic and archival research, and draws on literature and theory from both performance studies and social sciences. The flash mob form is shown to have emerged in two distinct waves, marked by aesthetic and formal shifts which I relate to the evolving mediascape of the internet during this period. In its second wave, the genre has become spectacularised for an online video context and ‘Bollywoodised’ within an Indian context, reflecting broader practices of hybridity as well as cultural tensions surrounding national identity in globalising India. The thesis positions flash mob performance in this context as a social media practice engaged in symbolic, representational discourses which perform place and identity within a global sphere.