Well, it’s the start of the year and I am always excited about the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival that happens in February for around 9 days and I think it is the best arts festival that you can catch up if you are in South Mumbai. I have always been fascinated by artworks and creativity from my early childhood days, but back then I was just a regular school boy who had no interest in academics or sports or anything in school curriculum (I have no interest in all that even now). I had no interest in poetries or literature until 1999 when I joined Elphinstone College in South Mumbai. It was in the same year that Kala Ghoda Arts Festival was initiated by the Kala Ghoda Association. Down here is my personal picture 15 years ago when I was just a college boy attending KGAF.
I had never seen anything like it before, so I was pulled into this world of creativity and imagination where artists from all over the city would showcase their skills and talents right on the streets, where usually we see cars parked throughout the day. The entire K Dubash Marg also popularly known as the Rampart Row Street would be packed with stalls and paintings and craft that would just absorb you into a new world of its own.
Today, after 15 years I see lot of change happening at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and that is good in a way because creativity needs change or else it would be too boring. I have been attending Kala Ghoda Arts Festival since 1999 (I did miss out one or two years because I was working on a tight schedule then), but I have made sure that I attend most of it so far.
Before I move ahead, let me first tell you about KGAF if you don’t know about it. In simple words, it is an art festival that combines various programs like music, visual art, dance, heritage walks, street acts, literature and workshops for kids and adults. The center of attraction or the nerve center as they call it is the Rampart Row, just outside the Jehangir Art Gallery. However, the art festival also covers other locations like Horniman Circle Garden, David Sassoon Library, The Asiatic Library Steps, Kitab Khana, Prince of Wales Museum, Coomaraswamy Hall, NGMA, Max Mueller Bhavan, BNHS, Cross Maidan and more.
In the past 15 years, I believe Kala Ghoda Arts Festival also known as KGAF has grown in terms of scale and I would like to appreciate the hard work that goes behind it from all the volunteers and the KGAF committee that has managed to beat the odds and surprise patrons and visitors of the festival every year. Back in 1999, I remember this festival was not a big hit, and I believe half the city did not even knew about the existence of such a festival happening.
It could be that it was just in the initial phase and therefore it would be hard to get sponsors and people to pour in more money for marketing the festival. However, today KGAF has grown immensely and you can see that from the amount of people that come here in these 9 days. There are announcements about it on radio channels and advertisements in the print media. The festival today is attended not only by the locals, but also foreign tourists and expats that come here to participate and immerse in the new world of art.
On the other hand, I believe that Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is not just for art lovers, it’s for the people of the city that share the same spirit, no matter wherever they come from. In my early days, I thought and believed that art was for highly intellectual people who could understand what that painting or craft is all about, but when I visit this festival, I see people from all walks of life making out something out of a particular craft or art piece put up on the street.
Back in 1999, I usually used to see people admiring the art and craft put up by the artists, but today I usually see people taking pictures with their DSLRs and smartphones rather than admiring and understanding it, which puts me off a bit. While I never really saw many people shopping at the stalls in the early days, the trend has changed completely. Large number of people buy books, handbags, ties, ear rings, accessories and t-shirts and home decoration items here. There are many competitions that happen here each year and that provides a platform for new emerging artists and talent to put forward their best efforts.
On a personal level, I visit the event for exploring the art and craft that is on display here and to attend the concerts that are held at The Asiatic Library Steps. For my readers, I have a short video of the concert at the end of the post, so you can feel what it feels like being at the KGAF Concert. Don’t Miss That. Every year Kala Ghoda Association offers new musicians, rock bands, and music bands from all over the world that showcase their musical talents live and that is a thrilling experience in itself. Shopping is something I usually avoid here, because of the crowd factor and also because sometimes the prices are bit too high compared to what I can find in stores. However, I still find so many things here that keeps me interested that I make a point to visit it each year.
While Kala Ghoda Arts Festival has managed to garner more audience, it has also led to some protest locally as there are people that certainly do not agree with the use of loudspeakers at the amphitheatre. Many local residents demanded ban on use of loudspeakers, because of the inconvenience that they have to bear for 9 days. Kala Ghoda is a silence zone and the use of loudspeakers or horns in the area is restricted for 24 hours. Apart from that many residents were also upset with the stage work that would happen here during the night time as they would have to tolerate ugly sounds of wooden planks being nailed all the time. Today, we see a diluted version of the festival as most of the cultural events that happen at the amphitheatre do not have loudspeakers at all. The concerts are organized far away from the residential areas so that would offer some peace of mind to the local residents.
The biggest change that I have seen in the last few years is the amount of security that is deployed here at the event. I was really concerned about this because being a free event you can certainly expect some ill-mannered folks coming in that would ruin your entire experience, plus we need to provide some security to the international visitors that might get tricked in the sea of crowd here.
Here is a small video footage of the Salim Sulaiman show that happened at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival last year, only for my readers.