Entrepreneur, academic, author, editor, venture capitalist, fashion expert and an all-round cool guy. Parmesh Shahani has donned many hats (including a big one he planned to wear at a Fashion Week). Now, he has a new feather to add to any one of them.
Shahani has been named one of 214 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum, a list that includes activists, corporate honchos, filmmakers and other exceptional people under 40 from across the world. They’ll share ideas and work towards global change.
If you’re a Mumbaikar and even halfway interested in culture, you’ve probably seen Shahani or his work in action. The former MIT student and TED fellow founded Fresh Lime Soda, India’s first youth website, back in 1999. And since 2011 he’s been heading the Godrej India Culture Lab in Vikhroli, a place that’s part-museum, part-performance space, part-conference room, part-workshop and wholly carnival-esque when pop-up events are hosted.
Perhaps Shahani’s best quality is how effortlessly he joins the dots between disparate spheres of life, bringing business and culture on the same platform, making high-concept ideas accessible and informal, and cheering “Viva Vikhroli” without irony. Culture, commerce, kitsch and cool began to blur when he spoke to Brunch.
Business and culture are typically at cross purposes. Does the WEF nomination indicate that art is finally worth the money?
Across the world, the lines are blurring between corporate and non-corporate, the individual and the collective. Governments are more entrepreneurial, companies are becoming socially conscious, non-profits are trying to be financially sustainable. This kind of hybridism is new to India, where we are taught to specialise in one thing to succeed. But the future belongs to those who both dig deep and cast their nets wide. It is to WEF’s credit that they recognise this hybridism and want to present it on a global stage.
Do you think you’ve managed to put Vikhroli on Mumbai’s cultural map?
The city has changed. So, why should our cultural institutions be fossilised in that same corner of South Bombay (SoBo)? Our location is our strength, not an obstacle. We have people coming from Powai, Parel and Navi Mumbai who love what they see here. Even ‘SoBo queens’ come here. They’ll exclaim, “Oh! Vikhroli! Wow!” When the Japanese architect Tadao Ando delivered a lecture at the Culture Lab, people came from Bangalore and Ahmedabad.
Every year, we take a gigantic warehouse and convert it into something magical, like the Museum of Memories or Vikhroli Skin. These experiments have paid off in cool, crazy ways. All our events are free. People have recognised that ideas and culture can bloom everywhere.
In the four years since you founded the Culture Lab, what’s changed?
There are more avenues for people to come together; young people are increasingly inspired and have more opportunities to fulfil their dreams. We observed that youngsters are not looking to first get their roti-kapda-makaan before moving on to bigger things. They have big dreams, they have interests, and want to change the world.
I’m excited about the cultural scene in India, and Mumbai in particular. I think the city is a magnet for great ideas and those who want to make a difference in a way that no other part of India is.
But then, everything I’m seeing is from the margins. We have a very strong alternative culture – whether it’s regional cinema or the performing arts. There’s such rich talent and it’s being showcased in innovative ways. I think it’s like our Renaissance!
From HT Brunch, April 20
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