It was not the best of advertisements for 'Make in India' on Sunday evening, as the start of a week-long jamboree to mark Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet initiative literally went up in smoke at Mumbai's Girgaum Chowpatty beach.
A massive fire engulfed the stage as Puja Sawant and almost 50 dancers were dancing to a blockbuster traditional Maharashtrian 'Lavani' number at the seafront, where a string of film celebrities and political leaders were present including chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, governor C Vidyasagar Rao, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, actor Aamir Khan, actor and politician Hema Malini, megastar Amitabh Bachchan, and others as part of the high-profile 'Make in India' investment meet.
The fire that broke out at around 8.22 pm was put under control, and there were no casualties, chief minister Fadnavis told reporters.
"No casualties reported, no one is injured," he said. All the VVIPs including Fadnavis, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan were safely evacuated to safer areas. The programme was later called off. Bachchan had left the stage a few minutes before the fire started.
The week-long event, the boldest since Modi launched the initiative to emulate China's export miracle back in 2014, seeks to "spark a renewed sense of pride in India's manufacturing'' says the marketing blurb.
The state had earlier had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to get permission to hold the event, as such public jamborees are normally not allowed on the beach.
''Maharashtra welcomes you'' read half burnt posters and banners at the venue as cranes pick up the remains of the night and smoke continues to billow many hours after the fire.
By all accounts, the only people to emerge with credit from the incident were the city police and fire departments, which evacuated the area and brought the fire under control with clinical efficiency, winning praise from the participants as well as the audience.
It probably helped that the strong breeze blowing off the sea all day chose that particular time to die down, making it easier to manage the fire.
The disaster management plan put in place ensured the safe passage of the people attending the event - "Maharashtra Rajni", Fadnavis said. The blaze was brought under control in quick time by 14 fire engines and 10 water tankers with swift evacuation of thousands of people.
'Fire in the hold'
The exact cause of the fire that broke out one hour after the entertainment had begun was not known but state BJP spokesman Atul Shah, who was seated in the front row, said the fire apparently broke out from beneath the stage.
In fact video images showed an inferno under the stage on which performers were dancing, unaware of what was going on under them even as they began to be engulfed in smoke.
Shiv Sena MLA Vijay Shivtare said a spark was noticed beneath the stage, which was a "wooden structure", before the fire broke out. Shivtare said there were 500 artistes behind the stage and an estimated 50,000 people, several of them VIPs, had assembled at the venue.
Actor Vivek Oberoi, who was on one of the flanks of the stage and was getting ready to perform in another event, said the flames leapt 40 to 50 feet high and there was threat of it spreading to nearby tents because of the strong sea breeze but things were brought under control because of timely coordination between various agencies.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday had stayed a Bombay High Court order (See: Supreme Court clears way for 'Make in India' event at Girgaum Chowpatty) and allowed the Maharashtra government to hold the event at Girgaum Chowpatty beach to kick-start the 'Make in India Week' programme, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Fadnavis said a comprehensive inquiry has been ordered into the fire, and added that other 'Make in India' events will not be affected.
"I must compliment the authorities for quick action, they saved lives of many people," said Ashish Shelar, a BJP leader.
"I was watching a dance performance when this happened, then suddenly the stage was engulfed by smoke. I was backstage when this happened. Authorities were quick to react and evacuated people from there," actor Isha Koppikar said.
Lyricist Prasoon Joshi said he was there at the event because Amitabh Bachchan was reciting his poem. "As soon as the recital got over, I left the venue and another event started and suddenly the fire broke out.''
Superstar Aamir Khan said, "It was a very bad fire and spread at an alarming speed due to wind. I am fortunate to be alright. Police and fire department did a wonderful job in evacuating people. Thankfully, there were no injuries. Evacuation was smooth".
Event manager Sabbas Joseph said, "Everyone is safe and fire is under control."
NCP leader Sachin Ahir alleged that the "shoddy planning and organisation (of event) led to the tragedy''.
"Action should be taken against for those responsible for the fire," he said.