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Mumbai: When college festivals lose fun

Updated on: 19 May,2024 06:48 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Tanya Syed |

They are known for their hefty endorsements, big ticket celebrities and high-octane performances—mid-day explores the pressure that putting up a perfect college festival puts on the students involved

Mumbai: When college festivals lose fun

Siddhant Chaturvedi at NM’s Umang Fest in 2019. PIC/GETTY IMAGES

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Mumbai: When college festivals lose fun

Tanya Dsouza was added to a Whatsapp group named “Malhar Quartet 2023” last summer, with a one-liner telling her to check the college website. She soon realised that she was at the helm of the city’s biggest college festival. “It was absolutely surreal,” she told mid-day, “but the very next moment I remember feeling stressed.” In the coming months, she’d shift to South Bombay into a hostel from her home in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. “I was coming to college at 8 am and leaving around 10.30 pm—I figured this set up would be better.”

For some, college festivals are the part of college life they look forward to the most. Euphoric musical shows, exclusive panel discussions, novel workshops and cut-throat competition—they have it all. Seeping in with this excitement each year is also the ever-present pressure of higher stakes, with each organising team wanting to outdo last year’s event, and bending backwards to fulfil the expectations of the impending tide of visitors—a 20,000 strong wave.

Being a part of college festivals like Malhar, Sophia’s Kaleidoscope and Jai Hind’s Talaash is a badge of honour—thousands sign up voluntarily. A member of Jai Hind’s Detour team gives us an insight into the current atmosphere. “There’s definitely a little bit of peer pressure and fear of missing out involved. You can’t afford to be in your own shell. It was an okay experience. Physically taxing and quite demanding,” they say, on condition of anonymity.

(From left) Malhar 2023 Chairperson Tanya Dsouza,  and the three vice-chairpersons
(From left) Malhar 2023 Chairperson Tanya Dsouza,  and the three vice-chairpersons

Speaking to mid-day, a senior member of this year’s Malhar team who wished to remain anonymous, says, “I’m more worried about my work at Malhar than I am about my internship.” Another Malhar team member added, “I have seen multiple breakdowns happen in a year because of college festivals. Some struggle with the decision to resign, while some actually do.” 

Psychiatrist Zirak Marker points out that teenagers are struggling to find stability, with pressure from parents and institutes. “When kids feel that pressure from their schools and parents to excel, and are not allowed flexibility, burnout is inevitable,” he says.

The impression among students is that, if you were a festival chairperson from one of the top colleges in Mumbai, you are guaranteed a placement by the recruiters associated with the college’s placement cell. When we asked Tarini Pujar, Malhar Chairperson 2022, about it, she was amused. “It does help during the screening process, but it really depends on your profile as a whole,” she remarks. Pujar is currently working at ICICI bank.

Neelakshi Singh, who headed the production team for Jashn-e-Fitoor, Xavier’s theatre festival, is of the opinion that working for a festival is in reality ungratifying and undignified, and jobs put less pressure on you. “I have seen people unable to complete a mundane task, while their coordinator screamed at them. You delude yourself that it might help you in the future. It doesn’t. College is a bubble.”

Students across festival committees complain that these mega-events are built on backbreaking work, under the garb of experience and is after all, free labour.  A former chairperson of  RD National’s Cutting Chai, says, “Some of my department heads mentioned how for the same amount of work outside, they’d at least get paid for it.”

So, does this experience help a student secure a job/internship or not? A senior member at this year’s Malhar team says if not skill, the ordeal has given them life experience, “It has taught me how to be more efficient. I am more patient and a better communicator,” they add.

But the experience being given weightage for prestigious universities, especially abroad, is inescapable. Anuj Jain, a career counsellor, who specialises in university application, told mid-day, “Leadership and event management skills are amazing areas to develop during college festivals. Planned extracurriculars during low academic rigour is good. It’s important to stay relevant. Students must take up activities and 
internships accordingly.”

Dsouza remarks, “When I think about how much we stressed about festivals back then, the worry wasn’t worth it. Now that I’ve passed college, I have to stress about getting a job, which is way more challenging than a festival. But I’d do it all over again.”

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