Fading away

28 December,2010 08:27 AM IST |   |  Rinkita Gurav

In the first of a three-part series, we examine how various cultural festivals synonymous with the city are gradually phasing out

In the first of a three-part series, we examine how various cultural festivals synonymous with the city are gradually phasing out

PB Shelley had once said, "Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory." This might be true for Mumbai's thriving cultural scene, which was, once upon a time, vibrant and vivid.

However, constant complaints by residents, introduction of theu00a0 entertainment tax, innumerable silence zones in the city, lack of funds and security concerns now threaten to end cultural festivals which have become synonymous with the city.

The annual cultural festival was organised for two days in February in the picturesque Elephanta Island, located about 10 kms from Mumbai.

Started in 1989, the festival was organised by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) to promote tourism and celebrate India's rich cultural heritage.

A performance by Ustad Amjad Ali Khan at the Elephanta Festival

The festival, renowned for its outstanding classical performances, attracted people from all over the world.

Eminent personalities from the field of music like Nanda Shankar Jayant, Dr Neena Prasad, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Smt Shallu Jindal and Pt Sanjeev Abhyankar would mesmerise the audience with their performances.
But problems began after the 26/11 terror attacks after which the event was cancelled for two consecutive years due to security reasons.

This year again, Mumbaikars, who were looking forward to the festival, were disappointed as it was called off due to security concerns.

The MTDC along with the other organisers had already spent Rs 7 lakh for the festival this year.u00a0

Last Show: February 2008
Current Status: MTDC is trying to seek permission from the police.

This festival was the ultimate destination for classical music lovers. Started in 1992 as a two-day musical extravaganza, it was one of the most awaited festivals of the year.

Held in January,u00a0u00a0 the festival was organised at the Malabar Hill by the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and other private organisers.

The festival owes its name to Banganga Tank, a sacred tank at Walkeshwar Temple. In 2008, the festival was delayed by two months due to restoration work of the Banganga Tank. But this delay happened to put an end to this musical treat forever.
The Banganga festival never saw the light of day again. The same year, MTDC pulled out of the public-private-partnership (PPP) because it felt that its goodwill was being exploited by the joint organisers and sponsors.
Stalwarts from the field of Indian classical music like Bhimsen Joshi, Shivkumar Sharma, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Prabha Atre and Zakir Hussain would enthrall the audience with their music at Banganga.

The stage was created in the middle of the tank with audience sitting on the steps surrounding the tank. Personalities from the realm of dance and music graced the vibrant festival with their presence.

Last Show: January 2007
Current Status: Restoration work has been taken up by the State Department of Archaeology and Museums.

One of the oldest bands in the city, the Mumbai police band is almost 74 years old.
"The band, which used to play every weekend at Bandstand (Bandra) had received a great response from the public," says SV Singh, Police Band Marshall.

The band also played at the Bandstand (Cooperage) every week since 1867 until the 1960s.u00a0 There are 67 members in the Brass Band while there are 30 in the regular band.
The number of performances is reducing due to the increasing workload and maintenance charges, says a band member.

The band also plays for marriage functions, but abstains from playing the national anthem for any of its public programmes.

Last show: July 2010, Hanging Garden, Malabar Hill
Current Status: The band is currently practicing for Republic Day

The festival began in 1999 and organisers hoped to encourage artists and arts in the precinct and also to improve and upgrade the existing infrastructure in the area.

That year, the festival stretched over two weeks focusing largely on artist exhibitions, both in galleries and on pavements as well as on talks and lectures delivered by prominent artists like Atul Dodiya and Jitish Kallat.

From 2000, the festival began to include other events like dance and music performances. The association began a second festival in 2008 during the month of October called the Festival of India.
In 1999, the Festival began with few stalls and took place in the months of January or February in South Mumbai.
However after 2004, the organisers felt that with the launch of the Mumbai Festival that clashed with their event, the Festival should happen every year at a fixed time.

The festival now takes place every year for nine days starting on the first Saturday of February up to the second Sunday. The 2010 festival drew more than 40,000 visitors and had 98 craft stalls in addition to art installations.

It wasn't always that easy though as organisers recall having to request the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) to set up stalls in the early years because they were not enough.

Now of course, they are spoilt for choice, with organisers in a quandary because of so many stall applications. A 2005 court order declared the Kala Ghoda area as a Silence Zone.

Following this, objections were raised in February this year over the use of loudspeakers at the festival. Conflict over noise pollution norms also led to the cancellation of the Festival in October.

Last show: February, 2010, as the Kala Ghoda Art Festival
Current Status:u00a0 Preparations for the Kala Ghoda Art Festival, 2011 are going on

Rang Bhavan at Dhobi Talao was famous for illustrious bands like Sting and Jethro Tull who performed there. Live theatre, jazz concerts, and heavy metal concerts, unique to this venue, were closed down due to noise ordinances.

A platform for upcoming rock bands, the venue also saw power-packed performances from international rock bands and musicians. One of its highlightsu00a0 was the Independence Day Rock (I-Rock) concert, which began 19 years ago with just two bands Rock Machine and Mirage.

The concert was held as a youth rebellion against St Xavier's College's diktat against including rock music at Malhar, its annual fest. Since then, I-Rock has been immensely popular with young Mumbaikars and rock enthusiasts. But after the ban on loudspeakers in 2003, the concerts at Rang Bhavan gradually faded out .

Last Show: August 2003
Current Status: With no concerts held, the place is lying vacant.

An RTI filed by Kala Ghoda resident Berjes Malu revealed that the Kala Ghoda Festival organisers, who were denied permission to go ahead with the Art Festival in February this year, still went ahead with it. In January, the organisers requested the police to grant them permission to use loudspeakers during the festival. But, the police rejected their plea.

Malu, who is a student, said, "Even when they were not given permission, they went ahead with the festival. They openly flouted the law and no organisation should do that."
The Kala Ghoda area was declared a silence zone in 2005 after a High Court order. In February, 2010, the police sent a letter to the organisers to stop activity. In spite of the letter, the organisers went ahead.

The other side

Pallavi Sahney, executive director of Kala Ghoda Association said, "We have not flouted the law. We had applied for permission, but we couldn't cancel the show because so many international bands were performing. It would have severely affected the image of the city."
"However, we didn't get permission for the October festival, so we did not go forward with it," she adds.Senior Police Inspector, A K Ingale of Colaba Police Station says,"I would need to look into the records before commenting on it."


Days after the Kala Ghoda Association called off their annual October festival due to 'no clarity' over sound regulations in the area, the BMC was caught with its pants down on October this year as the local office organised a Satyanarayan puja with loudspeakers in the area, despite a blanket ban on their use. Permissible sound level in a silent zone is 50 dB during the day and 40 dB at night, according to the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000.

(TOMORROW: Organisers and artists speak out)

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cultural festivals Music phasing out entertainment tax