With every passing year, big-ticket cultural festivals have been disappearing from Mumbai’s annual calendar. Questions stack up as to why the government and the powers that be have failed to put the city back on the cultural map. Ruchika Kher probes through a maze of permissions, licenses and funding woes that have created more problems
We call it the Maximum City, but in its surge to live up to its burdening image, complete with high rises, infrastructural projects and, of course, the money-spinning Hindi film industry, are we losing out on our cultural fabric? While some feel that authorities have been pushing this question under the carpet for a long time, others give us reasons and share their optimism about the situation.
Prachee Shah performs at this year’s edition of the Elephanta Festival. Pic/Atul Kamble
Elephanta or Gateway?
Recently, the city witnessed one of its most popular annual cultural events, the Elephanta Festival, which was started in 1989 to promote culture and tourism. But, now, most of the events of the festival are being held at the Gateway of India (with a handful of day-time ones on the island), defeating the very purpose of the festival.
The Elephanta festival is organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC). Pic/Shadab Khan
Jagdish Patil, Managing Director, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), that organises the festival, shares his side of the story, “The Gateway of India is the gateway to the Elephanta Caves. It is the major port to go to Elephanta, so it’s not disconnected from it.”
Susheela Raman performs at Cross Maidan as part of this year’s edition of the Kala Ghoda Festival
He also reveals that logistical issues forced them to take this decision. “We have to carry everything from Mumbai to the island, including five-six generators,” he adds. Also, the number of people gets restricted. “We pay a fee of R50,000 to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for permission to organise this festival on Elephanta, and use the famous backdrop (the Trimurti rock-cut edifice). In spite of this, we can only accommodate a maximum of 1,100 people. However, at the Gateway, over 2,000 people can enjoy the function,” he reasons.
Santoor player Rahul Sharma with Tabla player Anuradha Pal at the Banganga Festival in 2007. Pic/Sameer Markande
But, cultural experts aren’t impressed. “If the Elephanta Festival cannot be held at the caves, and the choice of venue is Gateway, it should be renamed,” says Anita Garware, Chairperson, Indian Heritage Society, Mumbai.
The other cultural festival that was an annual draw, the Banganga Festival, a joint effort of the Indian Heritage Society, Mumbai (IHS) and the MTDC, has been missing from the city’s cultural calendar for years now.
Banganga Tank: Then and Now
Ducks are a common sight at the Banganga Tank steps or in its waters
“Banganga was forced to stop pursuant to the Court Order of 2004. IHS filed an Intervention, but did not succeed. Dispersion of sound through short waves was then tried for three consequent years. This innovative method failed due to interference by the audience.
Ducks waiting out of the Banganga Tank as the water got coloured and dirty during this year’s Holi celebration, while people swim in the tank. Pic/Bipin Kokate
There were 100 transistors placed on stands around the tank, but certain individuals would fiddle with the settings and cause total distortion of sound. Others would then shout, and the fear then was of a fight or a stampede,” explains Garware, adding that Banganga can be restarted only if MTDC or the State Government goes into appeal to the Supreme Court or requests for special permissions for use of loudspeakers on those additional days. The latter is done for certain religious festivals, she informs.
Till then, the only respite for performing arts enthusiasts was that IHS moved the festival to another location, outside the Town Hall, and has been organising it for the last six years, as Mumbai Sanskriti, with support from the MTDC.
The root cause
So, where is the government lacking in offering a healthy dose of cultural activities that are paramount, not just for a society’s entertainment but also for larger issues like bonding, employment and cultural stimulus?
Even organisers of events like the Kala Ghoda Festival and the Celebrate Bandra Festival, who are trying to uphold the cultural flag of the city, rue the lack of support from authorities.
Artist Brinda Miller, who is also the Festival Director of the annual Kala Ghoda Festival, vents her disappointment and says that the government and the authorities are not sensitive to any kind of ‘cultural activity’. “We (Kala Ghoda Association) struggle every year with permissions and convincing the authorities,” she says.
Darryl D’Monte, Chairman and Convenor of the Celebrate Bandra Festival echoes the sentiment, “In 2003, when Celebrate Bandra began, when we asked MTDC for support, it was underwhelming. As far as events organised by them are concerned, I feel more than a lack of funds, there is a lack of expertise in organising such festivals.”
What are the solutions?
Sanjna Kapoor, the face behind Prithvi Theatre and now, a driving force for Junoon, which is a platform for easy access to vibrant and engaging arts experiences, offers a few solutions to this stalemate.
“I do not think the government should run cultural programmes by themselves,” is her candid advice. She feels that it is not the government’s job to be specialists in various fields; however, she agrees that it is the government’s job to enable the actualisation of things that we deem essential and important in our lives today. Essentials such as clean water, non-polluted air, electricity, good roads, open green spaces, schools, medical facilities, opportunities for jobs, etc.
“I believe within this list of essentials must sit access to art and culture. It should be mandated by law. Especially in our rapidly changing times we need more than ever before, the understanding and appreciation of our culture and heritage, as well as a celebration of the diversity of our arts across India,” she elaborates.
Kapoor proposes that it be mandated by law that the central government should set up a Centrally Sponsored Scheme that shares basic costs of organising major festivals in India’s major cities. These festivals should focus on various aspects of arts such as theatre, children’s theatre, puppetry, dance, music, literature, etc. The entire functioning of the festivals should be on a Public-Private Partnership basis. Corporates can also be encouraged to contribute to the costs through their CSR programmes. And, the running of these festivals should be given to private organisations of repute, on a contract basis for a period of three-five years.
“The framework can be put in place by the government, which would, for instance, locate the venues for these festivals — that would reflect the history and culture of each individual city — in Mumbai, Elephanta or Banganga or an old mill or public park,” she suggests. The theatre stalwart feels that the government (central and state) should put the seed money together for these festivals, and be the safety net to ensure these festivals take place in case of any financial catastrophe. “The design and ambiance of the festival depends on the managing organisation. It will reflect the dynamism of the festival director each time. This will ensure freshness to the entire experience,” explains Kapoor.
Government, no thank you
However, Dev Mehta, ex-Managing Director of MTDC, who was a major force in starting the Elephanta Festival, has a divergent view, “Why do we need the government to organise these festivals for the city? Locals have the capability and the vision to organise such events like at Kala Ghoda or the Bandra fest. People are self-sufficient, and they should take the initiative.”
Private or public, the debate rages, but the blanks on our cultural calendar appear larger with every passing year. Mumbai’s cultural tag needs to be resurrected, before it’s too late.
Along with considering the launch of few more cultural festivals in the city, the MTDC is planning to promote tourism in the city though MICE Tourism — Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE, with the “E” sometimes refers to events and the “C” sometimes refers to conventions). It is a type of tourism in which large groups are brought together for a particular purpose.
These suggestions make sense
MTDC should collaborate with a residents’ organisation and also hire an event organiser with experience of running such festivals. — Darryl D’Monte
(Above) Places like the Horniman Circle should be utilised more often for cultural activities. Even music festivals like Ruhaniyat have shifted their venue to other places. FILE PHOTO
We need a good Ministry of Culture — at the State level — that encourages all forms of art and culture. Religious festivals should not be considered as part of this. Unfortunately, they are allowed to flout the rules.
— Brinda Miller
In a city starved of open spaces and recreational grounds with cheek-to-jowl development, my plea is that the government should make every effort to provide/allow cultural activities by local residents in every area. This may also be a way of reducing crimes. — Anita Garware