Few may have seen 2007’s My Friend Ganesha, a film about a lonely young boy and his newfound friend, the Elephant God himself. But Ghatkopar-based Arjun Shankar Sawant never fails to mention it when he’s booking his ‘puneri’ dhol band, which includes over 40 percussionists from Pimpri and Talegaon regions of Maharashtra, for various pandals across the city. “Their biggest earnings, without a doubt, come in during Ganesh Chaturthi. The dhol band can earn anything between R 2-3 lakh around this time,” he reveals.
Thirty-four-year-old Suresh Mali, prominent DJ and resident of a slum located in prime real-estate of Backbay Transit Camp aka Ambedkar Nagar at Cuffe Parade, knows this all too well too. Seven years ago, he started his rudimentary DJ set-up with R 3,000, thereby getting home two speakers and an amplifier. Now, he’s amassed equipment to the tune of R 10 lakh and 14 young assistants — all eager locals who want to group up and be like him. “I simply have no time to sleep during Ganpati. I’ve got three shows today itself in and around Colaba,” Mali says. Mali’s equipment now consists of speakers that will put most nightclubs to shame. He dishes out tunes, some of which have been composed by him. “People generally like remixed old Hindi songs the most, but my tracks are also appreciated. I hope to sell CDs of my music someday,” he smiles.
At the other end of the city, the small Koli village of Moragaon on Juhu Beach has several set-ups, including an eight-member band called Jai Ambey Ma Banjo Party. The most interesting thing about these percussionists who play at local pandals in Juhu, Yari Road and Lokhandwala is that they include a 14-year-old female drummer, Pooja Mangela. “I’ve had a lot of interest in the dhol since the time I was a kid. I’d go and excitedly watch the boys play at every event,” she says. The Jai Ambey band may not make as much money through the year, but whatever is earned goes into fixing and upgrading instruments. “Last year, we played in front of 200 people at Juhu Market. It was a lot of fun,” Mangela adds.
Finally, Dharavi’s Ganapati mandal near the Leather Market, which has been managed by the Tamil community for the past 99 years, never fails to bring down the ‘naiyandi melam’ dhol all the way from Chennai. Sunder Raj, the organiser, says, “The 17-member band we bring down includes Karakkatam (ancient Tamil folk dance) dancers too. There are 15 such Tamil dhol bands in Mumbai for this season.”
We talk to various street artistes from across the city as they prepare for their biggest day in the year: Anant Chaturdashi