Mumbai Multiplex | Bright lights, small city

Neighbourhood fests can help you belong in a city that usually doesn’t stop to breathe
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First Published: Fri, Feb 01 2013. 03 54 PM IST
Visitors at the Worli Festival on its concluding day on 27 January. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
Visitors at the Worli Festival on its concluding day on 27 January. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
Kala Ghoda has one, as do Bandra and Juhu. Andheri got one last year, so why should Worli be left behind?
Held on the waterfront of the south-central neighbourhood from 25-27 January, the Worli Festival featured puppeteers, pop musicians and food stalls. Except for stalls selling seafood, there was little indication of Worli’s origins as a fishing village, no trace of the neighbourhood’s diversity (it has several government institutions and luxurious apartments), or walks to Worli Hill or through the fishing village, even though organizations such as Mumbai Magic do have guided tours through the year.
The Worli Festival followed Juhu Hamara, which took place from 11-13 January. Organized by citizens’ groups, the festival brought locals together over music performances, plays and a football tournament.
There will be far greater variety at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) which opens today and will run till 10 February. Further down the calendar is the second edition of the perkily named Wassup! Andheri, from 28 February-3 March.
A scene from last year’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival . Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
Like Worli, Andheri doesn’t seem too concerned with marking the history of the northern neighbourhood. It too is smitten by Bollywood, even though the movie fixation is more organic here than anywhere else. This is where the movie and television industries are located and where its employees live, so it’s natural that some amount of glitter tends to stick to any local celebration. Director Anurag Basu and celebrity hairstylist Adhuna Akhtar are among those who are expected to brighten the proceedings.
Wassup! Andheri will be bigger than last year, promises Melroy Alphonso, assistant manager, events, with festival organizer F5 Advertainment. “More than 40,000 people registered last year,” he says. “The other part of the city has (the) Kala Ghoda and Bandra (festivals). It’s about time we had something in this part of town.”
The KGAF too will have a dose of glamour—film-maker Parvin Dabas has curated the film section—although the annual event has become so popular that it arguably doesn’t need any star endorsements. Attracted by the prospect of free open-air dance and music performances and ethical shopping for products by non-profit groups, locals and tourists have made the KGAF one of the best-attended performing arts events in the city. Approximately 100,000 people attended last year, says festival director Brinda Chudasama Miller.
The festival was first organized 15 years ago by a citizens’ group, Kala Ghoda Association, as a way of raising funds to restore the magnificent heritage buildings in the area—among them, the Army and Navy Building and the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room—but it now belongs to all of Mumbai.
The KGAF has effectively replaced the Mumbai Festival, which was organized by the Maharashtra government’s tourism department in association with private partners and has petered out since it was first held in 2005. With a mandate to hold events across the city, the Mumbai Festival imploded; although restricted by geography, the KGAF has exploded in all directions.
“It’s true that the festival has become a victim of its own success,” says Chudasama Miller. “We sometimes joke that it has become the tail that wags the dog.”
Critics of the festival complain about the middlebrow nature of the visual arts installations and sculptures, of the mixed-bag feel to the film screenings and discussions, and the allocation of space to retail stalls. “First, people said the festival was elitist, then when we tried to make it more popular, people said it had become too populist,” Chudasama Miller says. “People asked us why there is so much shopping. That’s what people like, and besides, it’s the only section that brings in money.”
A scene from last year’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival . Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
The KGAF’s visual arts section creates a safe zone for artists to set up quirky and easily digestible installations and sculptures, which could well be the first exposure to art for many of the visitors. Contemporary art is better showcased at the numerous art galleries in Kala Ghoda and next door Colaba. Most people seem to be seeking entertainment rather than edification at the KGAF—a chance to drift in and out of a book reading, an opportunity to watch a performance in a beautiful setting, a night under the stars.
Artists who wish to make strong political statements won’t get very far, in any case. Politics is an audience-unfriendly word at the KGAF. “People approach us to put up banners and posters, but it’s an arts festival, so why should we have anything else?” says Chudasama Miller. Yet the organizers are sensitive to new ways of looking at regular sections.
This year’s theme itself is change. “We’ve tried to make the whole thing selective,” she says. “We’ve been selective about the stalls, we have tweaked certain events.” The theme will run through the sections: Children will profile “young transformers”; Dance will focus on “tradition in transition”; Food is about an “appetite for change”.
The theme is apt, since the patch of land squeezed between Colaba and Fort has undergone tremendous transformation. Kala Ghoda is now a fashionable address for stores, restaurants and offices, and one of the few places in Mumbai to maintain links with its pre-colonial heritage while moving towards a globalizing future.
Celebrate Bandra too balances the attractiveness of the past and the seductiveness of the present. The biannual festival blends together local and global flavours, in keeping with the neighbourhood’s cosmopolitan and well-heeled citizenry, its urban village pockets and its bohemian-hipster friendliness. The event was first held in 2003 to “promote local talent”, says journalist Darryl D’Monte, a member of the managing committee. The events include music and dance performances, guided walks, culinary events and literary conversations.
Celebrate Bandra was inspired by similar events in Europe, D’Monte says. Writer Radhika Jha, who moved to Bandra from France some years ago, told D’Monte that several French towns had their own festivals. D’Monte had also been part of a committee to promote tourism in the city, where television producer Siddharth Kak had suggested that Bandra get its own festival. “I felt they were trying to fob us off as a sidekick festival, but when Jha said that (about the local festivals in France), the penny dropped,” D’Monte says.
The theme this year at Celebrate Bandra, which will run from 16 November-1 December, is music (last year’s was diversity). It’s not all song and dance, though, especially since the event was also inspired by the 1992-93 communal violence in Mumbai. “I would get calls from various people asking me to intervene because they were being attacked,” D’Monte says (he was then the resident editor of The Times of India’s Mumbai edition). He acknowledges that the message of communal harmony might be lost amid the din of the festivities. “It’s true that many people don’t get the message,” he says, but it’s more important now than ever before, at a time when “nobody knows one’s neighbour any more”. The festival has donated a part of its proceeds to social uplift projects in Bandra, such as providing a bus to a municipal school run by the non-profit organization Aseema.
A scene from last year’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival . Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.
A local festival can be about celebration as well as contemplation, says Anita Patil Deshmukh, executive director of the urban studies group Partners in Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (Pukar). “Neighbourhood events create cohesiveness within a community, a sense of belonging and pride,” she says. “One of the biggest positive outcomes is that it usually encourages artistic endeavours.” The flip side is that such events usually take place in upscale neighbourhoods.
“I wish such festivals would happen in Girangaon, Dharavi, Kurla,” she says. Residents of such neighbourhoods are more worried about survival issues, but it is important to inculcate a sense of pride about these places, she says. There have been sporadic attempts in recent years to organize walks and culinary tours in Mumbai’s mill district, such as the recent food tasting event Girnichi Chav (Taste of The Mills) in January. There have been sustained efforts to generate interest in Girangaon’s multi-hued history through events organized by groups like Pukar, such as an ongoing oral and photo documentation of people and institutions from the area.
The festivals that perhaps best reflect their neighbourhoods stick to a few elements rather than attempting to chart the spectrum of the seven arts. The annual Koli Seafood Festival held at the fishing village in Versova is one such event. The celebration of local cuisine started in 2006, and has since then laid out stalls offering delicacies that are hard to find on restaurant menus. Organized by local groups, the festival includes cultural events that highlight the Koli community’s songs, dances and costumes. The event is a timely reminder of Mumbai’s original inhabitants, whose way of life has been under threat from real estate developers in recent years.
“It’s critical that locals actually participate in a neighbourhood festival and decide what it’s going to be about,” Patil Deshmukh says.
Click here for the complete schedule of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
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First Published: Fri, Feb 01 2013. 03 54 PM IST
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