On Sunday, as the countdown to the opening ceremony started off, leading into the ascent of the Rs 38 crore aerostat into the sky, the tension was palpable. For the beleagured Organizing Committee (OC) of the Delhi Games 2010, the helium balloon was not only the highlight of the opening ceremony but also the herald of its success after a series of disasters. On the dot of 7pm, the balloon ascended and so did the spirits of the thousands of spectators who had come in expecting a grand show.
From the start of the beats of the Nagadas to the final ascension of the balloon hovering at 25 meters above the ground, the aerostat set the pace for the rest of the evening as a roar greeted the balloon. For the 60,000-odd spectators gathered in Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, the balloon ascension and the fireworks that accompanied it was like the call to start the celebrations. For many, it was also finally paisa vasool. Said Kamini, a volunteer who looked fascinated, "The balloon looks perfect... the lights reflected are setting the mood for the show too.'' It wasn't just the volunteers impressed. Even as the "oohs'' and "aahs'' went around the press stand, spectators coming out after the ceremony unhesitantly declared the aerostat of course, after A R Rahman, as the soul of the show. Said Ranjana Verma, who had come with her husband to catch the show and was sitting in one of the boxes near the stage, "The show was unbelievable! And the aerostat was completely mindblowing... the segment when the Indian Railways is showcased had such an interesting mix of images. The fireworks going off against the backdrop of the canvas when the flowers and other images are on was particularly interesting.''
Used as a canvas to showcase the theme of the opening ceremony the culture of India, the balloon formed the backdrop for the show. From images of the Mahatma to the various asanas of Yoga, every image seemed to enhance the spectacle taking place on the stage. Used for the first time as an entertainment segment of a ceremony, the aerostat with dimensions of 40mX80mX12m, was especially appreciated as it had a 360 degree projection surface. Manufactured by Per Lindstrandt and designed by Mark Fisher, the underbelly of mirrors that were reflecting the lights on the field of play only added to the sense of drama.
The overwhelming appreciation of the aerostat would come as a great piece of news for the OC. The helium balloon has been in the forefront of a series of controversies ever since it was conceptualised. Brought to India for a astounding Rs 38 crore, the balloons accompanying supports like panels and staff brought the cost up to a huge Rs 65 crore plus. The cost was not the only problem. The ideal weather conditions that the prop needs were also a black mark, especially with the unforeseen amount of rain that the city saw this year. Mid-way through the conceptualisation, it had seemed as if the balloon wouldnt be able to take off, especially after Fisher left the show.
But then, all ends that ends well. Especially for the Organizing Committee.