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From fests to fortunes

At the age of 20, when you’re goofing around — or even sweating it out — at your boisterous annual college festival, performing with one of the country’s biggest composers, AR Rahman, at his concert would seem quite improbable. It certainly was for Bachelor of Mass Media student Avinash Tewari, of MMK in Bandra (West), until he found himself sharing the stage with the legend at his show at the DY Patil Stadium in April this year.


Sultan Barodawala, who headed KC College’s annual festival, Kiran, last year, says fests are the next big thing when it comes to landing your dream job. Barodawala earned quite a few freelance projects in the media after heading the fest. Pic/Atul Kamble

Tewari, a beatboxer and music enthusiast, used to perform during fillers at various college festivals. “Beatboxing was always just a hobby for me,” he says. “My first real exposure on stage in front of a big crowd was at Jai Hind BMM’s festival, Detour. in 2009. I later took it up professionally,” he says. It was during one such fest in January this year, (BMM festival Cutting Chai of National College in Bandra) that Rahman heard Tewari perform.

“He had come to the college for about 15 minutes, and it was my last festival as a BMM student. I made sure I beatboxed, even if it was only 30 seconds,” says Tewari. Later, in April, just two days before his concert at DY Patil Stadium, Rahman remembered Tewari from the fest and asked him to perform on stage.

“The next day I sound checked, and the day after that, I was on stage with Rahman himself,” Tewari gushes. He is now part of the band Voctronica, created by Sony and The British Council in January 2012. He found a place in the band after applying through an online competition and a undergoing training after a workshop. “I don’t think any fest could do any better for anyone,” he says.

It’s raining fests
Over the next few months, many festivals will see Mumbai’s college students competing in art and culture and management competitions. But, today, fests are not just about having a good time — they are stepping stones to lucrative career paths for people like Tewari, who know how to make the cut. The greatest advantage of festivals lies in the fact that they give students an opportunity to explore sides that cannot be honed by textbooks or set curriculum of universities. Festivals can play quite the fairy godmother when it comes to turning one’s passion into a profession.


Avinash Tewari (second from right), a singer and musician, was first spotted by AR Rahman during a college fest and performed with him at his concert in April this year. Pic Courtesy/Avinash Tewari

It happened to writer and cartoonist Alok Sharma. 31 year-old is currently writing, directing and producing the documentary film, Chitrakatha: Indian Comics Beyond Balloons & Panels, which covers the untold history of the sequential art form in India. He, however, would’ve been a chartered accountant had he not won awards for his cartoons and writing at, ironically, a commerce college’s fest in his hometown Orissa. “I remember meeting RK Laxman as a school boy.

When I showed him my cartoons, he liked them a lot, but also suggested that I have a viable alternate career plan, in case my dream of becoming a cartoonist wasn’t fulfilled. Following his advice, I planned to be a chartered accountant,” says Sharma.  However, when Sharma began interning in the second year at an institute in Madhya Pradesh, he realised he would never be happy as a chartered accountant. That is when the fests happened. “I knew I could be happy only if I was drawing or writing and I started pushing myself in that direction,” he says.

“Just participating in such fests boosts your confidence and, if your work gets noticed by the professionals who visit these fests, it can help you get small gigs at times,” he explains. Sharma got a chance to draw cartoons for local newspapers and write for a couple of publications. “Once you start getting paid for doing things you really love, you will never opt for any other career,” he says.

Bigger really is better
With festivals getting bigger every year and companies smarting up to the talent pool they provide, there’s no doubt that many youngsters will land themselves that dream job via a college festival rather than the traditional job interview.  “Some advertising agencies use festivals to give their clients better exposure. A lot more money will be invested in festivals and, as they get bigger and better, they’ll involve big judges, celebrities, huge prizes and opportunities.


Alok Sharma, a writer and cartoonist, made it big after participating at college fests in Orissa. Pic Courtesy/Alok Sharma

Earlier, college students had to beg companies to sponsor their festival, but slowly, as the level of professionalism has improved, companies have started seeing the goldmine at festivals,” says 20 year-old Sultanali Barodawala, who was chairperson of KC College’s annual festival, Kiran, last year. “More money and professionalism are opening a world of possibilities for college students and companies alike,” he says. Sultanali’s design, directorial and managerial skills landed him some cushy offers from media firms, and he is currently a freelancer who travels in his free time.

Success not short-lived
Success through fests doesn’t fade with time, either — if you’re willing to keep working at it, of course. Tanmay Bhat, for instance, is still serious about being a funny guy. The 24 year-old is a regular at the Comedy Store at Palladium, Lower Parel, runs India’s premier comedy podcast and performs with the country’s first improv troupe, The Cardinal Bengans. And it all began at a college fest.

“I can’t really say I was ‘studying’,” says Bhat, “but I attended BMM at National College, Bandra and college festivals came my way. I won Mr Malhar, Kshitij and Fest O Comm. The prizes at Malhar were spectacular, worth over a couple of lakhs. I won phones, iPods, laptops and vouchers from various sponsors, as well as amplifiers for a guitar. I still have vouchers to some eatery joints from four years ago,” he says.

The biggest win for Bhat, however, were the connections he made that eventually made him a stand-up comic and a writer. “I met a ton of my closest friends and work peers at festivals.” Bhat won the Mr Malhar title in 2008, which was sponsored by a major youth channel. “The head of the channel was one of the judges and I met her at the festival. The next day, I got a call to come and write for the channel, and that was the beginning of my TV writing career.

A colleague of mine, who used to be one of the organisers at Symbiosis Pune’s Fest O Comm, called me years later to write a TV show for him and I’m still living off that money,” he says. “A lot of college festivals, including National College’s Cutting Chai, offer direct internships at advertising agencies and other such organisations through festivals. Members of several industry realise that kids are talented even at an early age and it’s a great idea to tap into them as soon as possible,” sums up Bhat.  It’s already begun. The students are ready for the challenge. And with corporate India fuelling their dreams, this one’s a sure recipe for success. 

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