Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) makes me nostalgic. Many years back, when I moved to Mumbai, it was the first place that served culture on a delectable platter filled with Street Performances, Food, Dance, Music, Visual Arts, Cinema, Literature and a place to find that rare piece of handcrafted jewellery. Until then I went to individual events for each of these. It also meant coming down to South Mumbai (a.k.a. Town), walking around the heritage precinct, soaking in the atmosphere and then eating at old Irani and Parsi places that have now become legendary.
I have memories of incredible evenings at Rampart row watching the likes of Zakir Hussain perform an open-air concert and MF Hussain gracing the walls and streets with his brush.
How to make sense of it all
Fast forward to Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2017. There are no less than 12 categories with over 400 things to do across events, stalls and installations at multiples locations. How does one make sense of all of this? The event scheduler is a labyrinth of information that needs decoding. And the fact that it is badly designed on the website adds to the woes of festival goers. Let me attempt to put down my experiences from this year so it helps you pick and choose the best next time.
As KGAF gets bigger, better and bland, all at once, calling it an ‘Arts Festival’ is becoming a misnomer.
# 1: Unrestricted access. Come one, come all
The best part about Kala Ghoda Festival is that it is a public festival open to all. There are no tickets or entry fees – all events are free. Which means all seating is on first come, first served basis. It also means be prepared for popular events and weekends to be overcrowded.
# 2: India’s top talent is still performing
Though not the leading lights they once had in the past, you can yet have the privilege of seeing India’s top talents perform here. Sadly, as commercialization and sponsorship grow, this opportunity is dwindling. It was disappointing to see Bollywood remixes and a sensual singer trying their best to stir the crowd that was waiting for a Parveen Sultana concert.
# 3: Introduction to the New
Every year, I attend a few events that introduce me to new music, theatre or dance. This year it was a pleasure to attend performances by Pulse Conversation and Flute Symphony.
# 4 : A roadside view of Art in Mumbai’s Art District
Not sure of visiting highbrow affairs at art galleries? This is your answer. Walk through streets and grounds lined up by art. And don’t worry if you don’t get what’s happening. You are not expected to be an art connoisseur. Only a selfie clicking expert.
# 5: Want to do something other than the Arts? Try the Heritage Tour
After you have had your fill of the Arts, try Heritage and Architecture. South Mumbai is home to several architectural landmarks and the history associated with these will blow your mind away. I have been to south Mumbai countless times and yet when I pass a heritage structure, I am awestruck by the sheer genius of its design and execution.
# 6: Participate in a Art Workshop or Literature Talk
If you want to feel the pulse of the festival, participate in a workshop or a talk. It’s a chance to deep dive into an interesting topic, meet people who are passionate and be part of a group who’s eager to learn.
Straddling between the classes and masses is both an opportunity and a challenge for the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. It needs to artfully step up its performance if it wants everyone in the audience to applaud.
Hope this convinces you to visit the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival next year. I am waiting for it. If you have visited KGAF, I would love know about your experiences.
Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is one of India’s largest multicultural festival, held in February each year in Mumbai, India. For more information, visit: http://www.kalaghodaassociation.com/