One of India’s largest cultural festivals kicks off tomorrow in South Mumbai. The organisers provide insights on culture and lifestyle trends, along with tips for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs.
Held early February each year, Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) is a nine-day treat of installations, artworks, craft exhibition, literature, culinary workshops, children’s activities, theatre, dance shows, and music performances. This year, the festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary (see YourStory’s coverage of the 2018 and 2017 editions).
“The energy is so fresh that it feels like the very first year of the festival despite having completed 20 years,” said festival coordinator Nicole Mody, in a chat with YourStory. “The positivity of the artists and attendees keeps us going,” she adds (see our earlier 2018 interview here). This year, the festival celebrates the spirit of nostalgia, along with an eye on the future.
“We do not sell and collect tickets, so it is hard to get exact figures on festival attendees. But we estimate that we have eight to ten lakh visitors each year,” says Maneck Davar, Managing Director of Spenta Multimedia, and Chairman of the Kala Ghoda Association which conducts the annual KGAF.
“We are a truly inclusive festival. People from all walks of life, across social and economic strata, are welcome. We give cultural exposure to those would not otherwise have access or opportunities to enjoy the splendour of art,” he adds.
The festival has a strong attraction for youth as well. “Our streets become a selfie-staan,” Maneck jokes. “In addition to young visitors, we are a platform for emerging talent. We also preserve the heritage district of Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda area, and spread the message of cultural revitalisation to other parts of the country as well,” he adds.
In addition to celebrating its 20-year journey, KGAF is commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. There are special installations, panel discussions and festivities in every section of the festival.
Other highlights of KGAF include a book launch by pastry chef Pooja Dhingra, a documentary screening on Irani cafes of Mumbai by director Khalid Mohammad, flute performance by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, and violin performance by musician-activist Sunita Bhuyan. There is also a book reading by award-winning author Githa Hariharan, a theatre performance by Suchitra Krishnamurthy, a talk by Honourable Justice Dr DY Chandrachud, and even a DIY drone workshop.
Art and design firms like Masala Works and Chumbak got some of their early exposure at previous editions of KGAF, Nicole explains. The festival has been a launch pad for a number of social entrepreneurs in crafts and upcycled products as well (stay tuned for coverage in YourStory's PhotoSparks section).
Young authors, singers and dancers have been featured, such as classical vocalist Arushi Mazumdar, who received compliments on stage by sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The standup comedy lineup this year includes Saurav Mehta, Agrima Joshua, Niveditha Prakasam, Surbhi Bagga, Vaibhav Sethia, Anirban Dasgupta, Aishwarya Mohanraj, Sonali Thakker, Supriya Joshi, Anu Menon, and Prashasti Singh.
Themes of the literature festival this year include the constitution, folklore, retelling of history, and the city. The track is titled Tell it Slant and addresses the subtlety and nuances of language in shaping thought.
There are over 150 speakers this year, including bloggers and translators, says curator Indira Chandrasekhar. The sessions promote diversity and dialogue, which are sorely needed in an era of acrimonious confrontation.
The other festival curators are Tasneem Rajkotwala, Nuriya Rao, Mayank Shekhar, Karan Agarwal, Roxanne Bamboat, Bharat Gothoskar, Yamini AS, Yashasvi Vachhani, Naveen Deshpande, Geetha Balsara, Nevil Timbadia, Varsha Karale, Jeeya Sethi, Juuhi Babbar Sonii, Kaiwan Mehta, Tripti Ayyar, Ami Patel, Tarana Khubchandani, Heeral Akhaury, Priya Sadarangani, and Bhavika Thakkar.
The number of exhibitors has been doubled this year by giving slots in two phases, says Vidula Warawdekar, art stalls curator. One group will exhibit on the first five days (February 2-6), and the second group on the next five days (February 7-10).
“Since the theme this year is retrospection, we have some old favourites among the stall owners in 2019. For Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, we also have some exhibitors in the clothes and textiles section who are using khadi differently, such as Khadi Cult from Surat who has given khadi clothes a pop culture feel by printing very kitschy motifs in neon colours and making contemporary casual wear,” Vidula explains.
Shree Aaryoday Handlooms from Maheshwar is using khadi in Maheshwari weaves, and in combination with other fibres to make sarees and yardage. Metaphor Racha has created a range of home linen in khadi. The Maharashtra State Khadi and Village Industries Board will feature other village industry products.
Applicants submitted requests online in July last year. “We prefer applicants to be new to Mumbai. If they are repeat applicants, they need to have a completely different range of products,” Vidula explains. Other selection criteria are pricing and aesthetic appeal, followed by in-person interviews for feedback and display suggestions.
Around 70 percent of interviewed applicants are finally chosen for KGAF. “We prefer artisans and designers over large retailers. We like to bring to Mumbai those who use traditional arts, designs and crafts in newer utilitarian formats that are made more suitable for modern urban living,” Vidula explains.
Green and environment/animal-friendly organisations are also encouraged to exhibit. “We are always willing to help those who help all of us in making this world a better place,” Vidula adds.
There are dance productions from across India, as well as Europe and the US. “This year, we have two mega productions. One is called Ek Tha Raja, which is by the Indian revival group from New Delhi. It is a 65-minute elaborate musical production with over 20 artists,” says Dr Anonna Guha, who has been the dance curator for the last four editions of KGAF.
The other big production is Geet Ramayan, a creative dance adaptation that includes 80 dancers representing 20 characters of Ramayana, as a celebration of 20 years of KGAF. Another performance combines the Odishi and Flamenco traditions. Flamenco and Kathak have combined before, but this Odishi combination is unique, according to Anonna.
Another feature is called 20:20, an amalgamation of 20 dance styles dedicated to 20 years of the KGAF. It features Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Mohini Attam, Salsa, belly dance, and folk styles like Lavani. More than 200 new artists, including groups and individuals, will be performing this year.
Kala Ghoda encourages young performers. “For a dancer, the life span as a performer is pretty short, as when you’re younger the kind of exuberance you have is different. At ages of around 40-50, there will be maturity in expression. It is always nice to have a blend of senior artists as well as upcoming ones,” Anonna explains.
Literature trends that Indira Chandrasekhar observes in India today include exploratory writing across genres, access to high-quality translated works, and anthologies of short stories. Readers are becoming more accepting of diverse themes and styles, she adds.
“Clothes are becoming far more contemporary in their lines. It is heartening to see traditional weaves, prints and regional arts being used in modern, trendy designs,” Vidula Warawdekar observes. People value beauty as well as the price of any product. “The quirkiness quotient is on the rise, as well as the globalisation of pop culture. A focus on utilitarianism helps sell more,” she adds.
Though Indians have a penchant for the colourful and the over the top, surprisingly clean lines and forms in product design are also doing very well. “There is a lot of experimentation in the way old items are being looked at, for example, paper and cement. Sylvn Studio made lamps and furniture with corrugated paper. Gwoss used concrete for making planters and office products,” Vidula explains.
The entire process and global lifestyle are evolving, and this impacts dance as well. “I will never say that Indian classical dance is losing out, I think we have many more people learning Indian dance now than ever before. Today, it is considered to be cool to be a dancer,” Anonna Guha observes.
In fact, her PhD topic in sociology was dance in urban culture. “More and more people are learning and wanting to express themselves. And now there is a whole lot of variety, from Bollywood to Salsa and contemporary dance,” Anonna adds.
The TV and the Internet have brought about openness in people’s minds to enjoy watching and even learning various styles of dance. “I know of classes where people have 600-650 students learning dance,” she observes; this is also reflected with her experience in her own dance institute, Nrityanjali.
The festival sections have appeal for all audiences. “Come, enjoy and let loose at the dance section of the KGAF. There is something in it for everybody, be it classical, folk, western, or popular dance forms,” suggests Anonna Guha. “What is important is to see the audiences have a smile on their face and just enjoy their time. We have back-to-back performances in the evenings,” she adds.
“Take time to talk to the stall owners and ask them about their products. Learn to appreciate the effort, thinking and passion of the designer and artisan, and the beauty of their craft,” Vidula Warawdekar advises.
For example, the festival features a ceramist who represents his village. “It makes us happy to help provide livelihood to an entire village of craftsmen through the sales they make during the nine days at our festival. Many NGOs make enough money at KGAF to sustain their admin and other annual expenses,” Vidula adds.
The organisers have a number of tips for aspiring artists as well. “It may be easier these days to become an artist, but competition has also become fierce. You have to be extra creative and work harder to break through,” advises Nicole Mody.
“It is hard to make a living as an independent writer,” adds Indira Chandrasekhar. “Persevere and stay the course. There is so much interest in writing these days, but you need to stay with it to get to the top of the industry,” she advises.
“Be passionate about your vision. But make sure it holds value for the layperson in case you want to monetise the product idea,” Vidula Warawdekar advises. “Try to broaden the horizons not just for yourself, but also for the people who visit your stall,” she adds.
“It is important to be spontaneous, to enjoy and love what one is doing, to give completely, to let oneself flow – irrespective of whether you are dancing, cooking or compering,” Anonna Guha recommends. Don’t think only about what you will receive as compensation, and don’t try to make everybody happy all the time, she adds.
“Enjoy and relish the creative process rather than complaining about life. Life is not going to be hunky dory; there is the good and the bad, but focus on the good. Learn to appreciate without focusing on the flaws. If it touches the heart, just say wow, why do we need to look at the technical aspects,” she asks.
As a Kathak dancer herself, Anonna feels a sense of responsibility to give back to society by curating the KGAF dance section. “I am able to see both the sides now, as the artist and as an organiser,” she says. Her dance institute’s motto is ‘Love, Care, and Share.’
Though competition across creative sectors is heating up, there are, fortunately, platforms like KGAF to help artists get recognition and connections. “Keep working. We are always looking out for people like you,” Nicole signs off.