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College fest, or multi-crore corporation?

With campus fest season on, take a look at how a college gathering of back in the day, has turned into a super-budget marketing machinery. They hire PR agencies, do press conferences, bloat up balance sheets... Even big event management companies have begun to show interest in this game.

education Updated: Sep 21, 2009 20:00 IST
Chesta Wadhwani

It was a modest, intra-hostel event when it started in 1973. Today, IIT-Bombay’s Mood Indigo is India’s biggest college festival. “The institute still talks about how in the early ’70s, the fest treasurer would fret over carrying Rs 10,000 in his bag,” says Aditya Gandhi, a third-year computer engineering student and spokesperson for the event who was diagnosed with swine flu three days ago. He is still carrying on with his responsibilities and spoke to us from his hospital bed. With guys like Gandhi, is it any wonder that, now, Mood I now in its 36th year, has a budget of well over Rs 1 crore.
International music artistes are diving into the campus and this along with the best sound and light, countless workshops and celeb appearances have made college festivals really glam.

Despite the swine flu threat this year, Umang in its 10 th year, had a budget of Rs 35 lakh, thanks to several sweet sponsorship deals. And has attracted considerable interest from many event management agencies.

Slowdown no bar
Says Raj Desai, chairperson of the NM College’s festival, ‘Despite the economic slowdown, professional agencies are offering us exorbitant sums to handle the publicity. But hey, isn’t this supposed to be the job of students?”

Most college festivals today have a PR team that coordinates with the media – sending out all necessary (and not so necessary) details, pictures, press kits – in a bid to reach out to a larger audience. HR College in its golden jubilee year, hired a communications agency for the job. Times are changing. Now contingent leaders no longer have to visit colleges to get students to register for events. Now you can log on to Facebook and register and get Twitter updates (Not too long ago, it used to be blogs.)

Turnout counts
Nearly 9,000 students attended Malhar, St Xavier’s College’s annual cultural celebration, this August. “The event gets the biggest of brands and is high on technique. It’s getting grander every year,” informs the proud chairperson, Shriya Pilgaunkar. Talk money and she instantly clams up though: “It’s not professional to reveal the figures.” Really, now?
Corporates are using festivals to reach their target audiences directly and aggressively. In 2007, a TV channel acquired the rights to air Mood Indigo’s rock competition Live Wire. Last year, a Swiss company wanted to use it as a platform to launch their drink. This December, UK-based progressive rock band, Porcupine Tree for Live Wire, will perform at the fest, promising hi-voltage fireworks and 50,000 watts of sound. In addition, a centralised registration system will be set up in the IIT-B premises. “There will be no flaws,” says a confident Gandhi.

Winners at such events win more than just awards and cash. Last year, director Jag Mundra offered a girl a role in one of his films. This year, Mood I will put winners directly in touch with bigwigs who can tap their talent.
It is not all fun and games though. Umang invited solutions to resolve the growing agriculture crisis. And Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies came up with a path-breaking idea of reaching out to the farmers via a centralised SMS system over the Internet. Let’s raise a toast to such team spirit!