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HOW KALA GHODA ARTS FESTIVAL IN MUMBAI MADE ME TRAVEL MORE IN INCREDIBLE INDIA- AND MY BEST PICTURE!
The website of KGAF says, “Kala Ghoda Arts Festival invites you all to come and experience a kaleidoscope of music, dance, theatre, literature, street stalls, films, workshops for adults and children, visual arts and heritage walks. Nine joyful days to refresh your mind, inspire your senses and feel exhilarated!”
I have attended Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai every year from 2010 to 2014. I have taken around 3600 pictures from my visits to KGAF in these 4 years. In this blog I am sharing my best 60 pictures and the influence of KGAF on my travels across Incredible India.
The Indian Youth needs more interaction with their culture!
How do we Indians react at the mere mention of dance forms such as Jazz, Salsa, Hip-hop, Flamenco, Belly dance, the works!” Answer: We go berserk with excitement, go overboard with our oohs-aahs and are even eager to learn these dance forms in a short span of time.
Now juxtapose this with Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniyattam, Odisi, Bharatnatyam, Lavani, Kalbeliya, Chau dance etc. It is fashionable amongst Indians to yawn at the mere mention of these. We presume that it is boring and dull while the fact is that most of us have not even seen that many good quality Indian dances and can’t even differentiate between Kathakali and Kathak.
The only Indian dances we understand and appreciate and are aware of are Punjabi Bhangra and Rajasthani Kalbelia (Which let me tell you are equally breath-taking)
How a Kathak Performance at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival changed the way I looked at Indian classical dances:
I was one of ‘those’ Indians until Kala Ghoda Arts festival happened to me. I once happened to be in the festival to just check out what is it like and had nothing better to do so I decided to sit in the parking lot amphitheatre and await the Kathak dance which was to start soon.
What hooked me there was the fact that the son-father duo were from Lucknow, the place I belong to. Otherwise they couldn’t have lured me to see a Kathak dance. While waiting I was wondering, why I had even chose to see the dance. Soon the dance started and I was spellbound from the word go.
The boy from Lucknow enthralled the crowds with his super-fast swirls and spins. Equally talented was his troupe of girls. I was astonished to discover that I was liking and enjoying it all. But what bewildered me the most was the fact that the crowd was all gung ho and continuously clapped enthusiastically throughout the performance and cheered as they would do for say a Daler Mehendi concert.
And let me tell you, 90% of the crowd comprised of Adidas wearing, i Phone toting urban youth in the age group 15-30. Not only this, when the show ended, the crowd shouted their ‘Once More’s and they meant it.
I was not accompanied by any friend. It felt good to see how Mumbai audiences lapped up the culture of my city Lucknow and state U.P. This,when the politics in Maharashtra thrives on dividing Maharashtrians and U.P.ites. It also got me thinking how rich Indian Culture can be popularized amongst Indian youth which believes in blindly aping all things western. Since that day I have religiously followed the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival every year and try to catch maximum programs I can in those 9 days of celebration of all things arty.
How I re-discovered Incredible India at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival!
Come to think of it. It is so common to see crash courses in jazz, salsa,etc but have you ever seen a poster shouting “Learn Kathak/Kuchipdi/Bharatnatyam in 2 months.” It takes a lifetime of dedication and practice to master these ancient and aesthetic Indian dance forms. I am not saying western dances are bad. I am saying Indian dance/music/art, etc. is just as good.
I had my pre conceived notions regarding classical Indian dances (without even having seen one) which were broken into smithereens by Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. It made me re-discover and love the beautiful culture and unique traditions of my country. So much so that my friends in Mumbai tease me by saying, “Kala Ghoda Arts Fest is the biggest turning point in the life of Abhinav Singh.” Even though I laughed it off, in hindsight, I think it actually was a turning point.
How Kala Ghoda Arts Festival inspired me to travel more within India!
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival happened to me when I was disillusioned with India. I was always cribbing about everything wrong with my country, and failed to focus on the good aspects of the wonderland called India. KGAF changed my perception about India.
After attending the 2010 KGAF (my first), I was hooked about all things Indian, to the extent of wiki-ing and reading up matter on Indian history/geography/arts /culture/festivals, etc. on the internet. It was like going back to school. I started learning more about my country and taking pride in all things Indian.
Finally I also accepted and came to terms with all things wrong in India. I mean, which country doesn’t have problems? This was also the time I started traveling extensively across India. Ten years later, I have travelled to more than 200 places across India.
Incredible India: A sensory delight!
It also triggered off my latent passion for travel. I was intrigued with so much information overload on India and wanted to experience it all myself. The variety that Indian offers is inimitable.
You can’t beat India when it comes to sheer variety in the geography, the customs, the people, the places, the natural wonders, the architecture, the food, the dances/music, the history, the festivals. And no wonder, in 2010 and 2011, I travelled to at least 20 Indian destinations. Today I feel blessed to be born as an Indian and want to remain an Indian in all my births.
Kathak is my favourite. Here is why?
Among all the Indian dances that I ‘discovered’, I am biased towards Kathak. One of the main reasons is that I can smell the soil of my native place Uttar Pradesh in it. Kathak has a quintessential earthiness like most things U.P. I also like another U.P.ish touch the dancers give to Kathak.
We in U.P. are big talkers. It was amusing to find that amongst all the dancers the Kathak dancers talk a lot (laced with wit and humour) with the audiences in between performances thus giving it an interactive touch and making it more involving. Plus the vocals, the spins and swirls, the sound of ghunghroos, the swirling frock of the dancers and the sound of tablas are sure to transport your soul into heaven.
It was a sheer visual treat to see Delhi-based husband wife duo Vidha Lal and Abhimanyu Lal perform the Kathak and sending the crowds in trance. Both are counted as one of the best Kathak dancers of India and have travelled the world doing their shows. Vidha Lal is known for performing the most Kathak dance spins in one minute (a stagerrring 103) thus creating history when Guinness World Records included her.
Towards the end they played a fun ‘jugal-bandi’ where they asked the audience to alternate their rhythmic claps with their movements synchronized with tabla. The audience including me loved it and the performers knew it. Like me even they were surprised and happy to see so much love and adulation for a classical Indian dance by an urban and young crowd.
Choose between Bharatnatyam or Chau dance at KGAF
I also loved the way a dancer beautifully and unhurriedly told the story of Sita (from Ramayana) through Bharatnatyam. Or the lesser known ‘Chau Dance’ from Bengal where masked men somersault while masked Durga Maa dances sitting atop a lion which is actually a human in a flamboyant lion costume. Drama in dance at its best!
Equally dramatic was the tall chariot which the dancers built using nothing but the human bodies and dismantled with finesse in a jiffy as if all of it was a child’s play. And then of course everyone loves an enthusiastic and joshila Bhangra, Lavani and Kalbelia.
Western dance forms at KGAF
My heart stopped and jaw dropped like everyone else in the audiences when some 15 year olds started the B-boying dance and that included spinning round and round and round on nothing but their head on the floor.
Mind-blowing in its truest sense! It is common to find young boys practicing this quirky dance on local railway platforms of Mumbai. Also likeable were the world class and sexy jazz and salsa performances by renowned dance institutes such as Ashley Lobo’s “The Danceworx”
Mind Blowing Mallakhamb
The Mallakhamb performance was my favourite. I don’t know how to describe this amazing Maharashtrian rural sport where gymnasts perform aerial yoga poses on a vertical pole. The gymnasts change the poses within few seconds. Incredible India!
More at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival:
According to me live dances are the best part of this Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, but there is a lot more to it, like.
Films at KGAF:
Taken care of by T.V. veteran Vinta Nanda (Zee’s ‘Tara’ fame) , it screens subtitled (and free!!!) world cinema which is out of reach for many. My favourite is regional Indian cinema along-with new and old Bollywood films. Often, the director and cast of the film is also invited to discuss cinema!
It was here that I discovered that Israeli Cinema has a Kareena Kapoor look alike albeit with a husky voice of Rani Mukherjee. I saw my first Maharashtrain film Harishchandrachi Factory (A hilarious account of how Indian’s first film was born. A must-watch, mind-blowing, 2009 film.) There are also promo releases of upcoming films where big actors (I met Anurag Kashyap, Juhi Chawla, etc. here) and directors interact with audiences and discuss cinema). It’s so easy to talk to celebrities in KGAF.
Anurag Kashyap signed on an article I wrote about him in Filmfare magazine. Juhi Chawla sang ‘Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaun’ from the film ‘Yes Boss’ with me. While Deepti Naval autographed her book, The Mad Tibetan which I had bought after her ‘speaking’ session. KFAG is egalitarian!
Theatre at KGAF:
Mumbai’s best plays are shown free of cost thereby cultivating a theatre going habit amongst the general public. Plays of celebrated Mumbai thespians such as Lillette Dubey(Monsoon wedding fame), AlyquePadamsee, Dinesh Thakur, Rajit Kapoor, Divya Palat etc. can be seen here. Sanjana Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatre also contributes.My favorite was Sex, Morality and Censorship! Truly mindblowing! I loved the way they promote it with oodles of sarcasm- S*X M*Rality And Cens*Rship
Music at KGAF:
Sufi, Rock, Classical, Bollywood, Regional, the works! You name it, you have got it at the KGAF! And the names of the performers are big….real big. Sample this :Sivamani, Sunidhi Chauhan , Kavita Seth , Sonu Nigam, Rekha Bhardwaj, Susheela Raman… Got the drift, eh?
Literature at KGAF:
Books are launched and discussed. You might end up having a conversation with Prakash Jha, Pritish Nandi (A regular), Bachi Karkaria, Deepti Naval.
Workshops at KGAF:
Workshops are held on travel/food/film/script writing. Plus expect workshops on things as different as photography, tea appreciation, wine tasting, and the weird ones like draping saris in 50 different ways. I did two very useful workshops on travel writing by veterans Dilip D Souza and Sathya Saran.
Heritage Walk at KGAF:
I love this part where you can join a free guided tour to the old heritage buildings and areas of SOBO aka South Bombay. I was happy to find access to the insides of the iconic Victoria Terminus (which is almost an identity of Mumbai). Public is not allowed inside but thanks to KGAF I could see things which none of my friends have seen.
The guide also tells you the history of the building and puts a gun on your head and forces you to notice the mindblowing peacock carving on the outside of the building which you have failed to see in spite of passing through the CST building so many times. Thank God for KGAF. There are also free open air bus rides to the iconic points of the SOBO. I loved visiting the High Court of Mumbai from the inside.
Visual Arts at KGAF:
Innovative and quirky art installations and 3-D arts can be found galore. I have seen some of the art exhibited here later transferred to Mumbai Airport.
Street Fest at KGAF:
I enjoyed the part where South Indian musicians were invited on the stage and easels were laid in front of the stage. Based on what they had seen on stage, the painters had to draw a painting. Later Luke Kenny (Of Channel V and ’Rock On’ fame) recited poems that he wrote there and then based on, no prizes for guessing, “what he saw on stage”! Plus there are fire eaters and Rajasthani dancers to entertain you.
There are some artists hired to dress up like Genie/Ravana/Lord Shiva etc. and pose with bewildered and awe struck adults and afraid and wailing kids. The instant hit was the Rajasthani guy with an unending moustache. As if his looooooooooooooooooong moustache was not enough, to add to the amusement of jantajanardan, he was playing the flute with his, hold your breath………..NOSE
Activities for Children at KGAF:
There is a whole set of creative activities devoted for them.
Food at KGAF:
You can see Mumbai’s celebrity chefs whip up tasty treats in front of you. You might find yourself coaxing them for recipes.
Celebrity Watch at KGAF:
Only at KGAF, can you see celebs roaming around freely on roads. Some of my best moments are in Kala Ghoda fest only. For ex:Discussing Dev D with Anurag Kashyap and making him read an article I wrote on him in Filmfare. Or embarrassing Juhi Chawla by praising her in public and singing ‘Main koi aisa geet gaaon’ from the film ‘Yes Boss’ with her as a large audience hummed along.
Posing and chatting with Omi Vaidya (Chatur Mahalingam) was also good. Plus, watching a performance sitting next to Luke Kenny (Rock On fame) and seeing a short film directed by Ayub Khan in the company of celebs like Vinta Nanda, Adam Bedi, Dolly Thakore etc. in a Goan restaurant(Soul Casa Fry) owned by Rahul Da Cunha(The man behind those topical utterly butterly Amul ads)
I am not boasting here. Just describing the possibilities that this beautiful city and festival offers! Isn’t this egalitarian city a big leveler where celebs mingle with commoners? (P.S.: You can catch a glimpse of 2010 KGAF in the film Aisha).
Shopping and Eating at KGAF:
These are the only things for which one has to shell out money at KGAF and rightly so. The options for both are galore. Don’t forget to grab Gujarati Oundhia-Poori and Mexican nachos with cheese. Another favourite is Burmese Khow Suey. These dishes are available on the stalls.
Come to think of it where else does one get to see free world class dances and concerts by stalwarts, free theatre, free world cinema, etc. And this free of cost promotion of Indian art and culture makes KGAF one of the most amazing annual arts fest of India. People from all classes/religion/region mingle together thus making this festival a big leveler and egalitarian in nature.
Also mentionable is the venue of the fest. It is the area next to the iconic Jehangir Art Gallery and other spots within 1 km. radius of the same in Fort area
Where to stay in Mumbai:
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How to reach Kala Ghoda Arts Festival:
Take a local to CST/VT station and take a cab for a throw away price (5 to 10 minutes) to reach Kala Ghoda or better still walk up to the venue (A 15 minutes pleasurable walk through colonial buildings of SOBO). Most activities are al fresco and on streets only. Some nearby famous Mumbai auditoriums(E.g. Cama Hall) and gardens(E.g. : Horniman Garden) are also used for the venue giving it the quintessential Mumbai touch. The time chosen for KGAF is just as good.
Best Time to visit Kala Ghoda Arts Festival:
KGAF happens in the first week of February. February evenings are pleasant in Mumbai. And do I need to mention the KGAF is a photographer’s delight! Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is a wonderful way to celebrate the magic called India and educate and sensitize the Indian youth about what a wonderful country they are living in.
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