‘Such festivals foster arts, community’
Mumbai loves festivals, and now the city is hosting its own nine-day event called the Mumbai Festival, showcasing its diverse cultural heritage. The festival is being organized by the Maharashtra Tourism Ministry and curated by Sabbas Joseph and Wizcraft, with Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, serving as the chairman of the advisory committee. The festival aims to celebrate Mumbai's vibrancy, inclusivity, and greatness of heart, and will feature a wide range of events and performances. Mahindra believes that festivals can serve multiple purposes, including promoting the city's brand, increasing tourism, fostering arts and talents, and building a sense of community and unity.
Is there a city which loves festivals more than Mumbai?
Think about it: high-spirited, rain-washed mass abandonment, involving vigorous dancing on the streets during Ganesh Visarjan; muscular assemblages of sweat and death-defying acrobatics on Dahi Handi; unbridled mischief and hi-jinks during Holi; a droolworthy eruption of inner-city bonhomie, baida rotis and biriyani, at Id; a sky full of colourful kites at Makar Sankranti… What’s Mumbai without its festivals?
From precious lit-art and think fests, where the city’s famous culture-vultures demonstrate their enthusiasm for subversive European cinema, traditional New Orleans jazz, 14th century classical literature or ersatz Peruvian poetry (take your pick); to hyper-inclusive, all-round jamborees that clog up its thoroughfares and make the city come to a standstill, it appears that Mumbaikers love nothing more than setting aside their never-ending vexations and woes, routines and responsibilities (not to forget their challenges and challans), and hitting the collective pause button, to kick up their heels and throw themselves into the fun and fellowship of its festivals.
And from tomorrow, the city will witness the inaugural edition of what could prove to be the Mother of all festivals, the simply titled ‘Mumbai Festival,’ purported to be a celebration spanning nine days, multiple locations, multitudinous performers and multifarious events, which aims to showcase Mumbai’s diverse cultural kaleidoscope as never before and emerge as its definitive annual celebration.
Hosted by Maharashtra’s Tourism Ministry and curated and managed by Sabbas Joseph and Wizcraft, the Mumbai Festival has none other than Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group and celebrated global leader, as the chairman of its advisory committee.
Mahindra’s coming on board is significant. Besides inhabiting a prominent perch at the very pinnacle of India Inc, this alumnus of Harvard is also one of the country’s most high-profile business leaders, conferred with the Padma Bhushan and named businessman of the year by sundry august institutions, more times than you’ve probably eaten bhel puri on Chowpatty beach.
Mahindra brings to the table not only this old school business pedigree, but also his celebrated new-age approach to communications and contemporary affairs. His Twitter handle has over 11 million followers and over the years, he has lent himself to a mind-boggling expanse of initiatives and causes: from kabbadi to culture, films to food and media to mythology.
Hailing from a family steeped for generations in education, culture, ideas and nation building, Mahindra is said to have inherited his expansive, liberal and inclusive worldview from his parents, who inculcated in him a keen interest in matters way beyond the business sphere.
Evenings at the Mahindra home are said to have been more likely than not, spent in the company of the leading writers, intellectuals and artists of the day – and far from the narrow confines of a business degree, the undergrad Mahindra is known to have opted for courses in film making, cartooning while at university.
But what makes him eminently suitable for this role is that Anand has been roiled in Mumbai’s ethos and ecosystem like few others. From his youth, spent as a student at the JJ School of Arts, to attending conferences at the Press Club, in order to listen to local politicians and leaders expound their views, to having his guitar strung at Furtados, unlike most of his contemporaries, Anand’s connect with Mumbai has always been one of impassioned engagement.
Consequently, he wears his love for Mumbai unabashedly on his sleeve. “It’s the city where four generations of my family have lived and prospered, which welcomed my grandfather and grand uncle – when they’d moved here from Ludhiana, via Kolkata. It’s the city of my birth, that has taught me that with hard work, and the power of dreams, anything is possible. The least I can do it to help celebrate its vibrancy, its inclusivity and its greatness of heart.” He tells me, at his stately office at Apollo Bunder, where amidst high ceilings, deep pile carpets and extraordinary art, we meet over a cup of fragrant Araku coffee, to talk about the festival.
This is not the first time that Mahindra has brought his expertise to a city festival. In 2006, he had been approached by State authorities to spearhead a similar venture. It had been an initial success: against the background of the Gateway of India, he recalls, Mumbai had erupted in a joyful exuberance of lights, music and dance. It was an experience he would never forget, he says.
But as often happens, especially in ventures that involve public-private participation, soon, the festival which was run through a franchise model, where participants ran their own events, became mired with political and bureaucratic agendas and interference. Anand had recused himself from it, believing he could no longer contribute in any effective way to its running and after a few years, it had died a natural death.
Which is why, he says, this time around when the ministry invited him to revive the Mumbai Festival, he had been skeptical: he didn’t want the enormous effort and optimism that buoyed such an enterprise to come to naught.
But his doubts were cast aside when Tourism Minister Girish Mahajan and Director Tourism Dr BN had assured him that things would be handled differently and that the festival would have the right amount of autonomy and oversight, as a Section 8 non-profit company, free from bureaucracy, with private sector advisors as part of the setup; he’d agreed to once again come on board and suggested following what he describes as ‘a bear hug’ approach: collaborating and embracing other city festivals that had earned their spurs as part of the Mumbai Festival.
So, this time around, besides hosting dozens of events itself, from beach yoga and volleyball games, philosophy lectures, cricket clinics and neighborhood music concerts, the Mumbai festival features such popular city festivals as the Kala Ghoda Arts festival, the Mumbai Marathon and Lollapalooza, under its common umbrella.
“It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who, in 1893, hit upon the idea of making the Ganesh Utsav Festival a public affair instead of a private one, in order to serve the greater public purpose of the freedom struggle. In our modern times, a festival celebrating a city, well thought out and executed, serves many larger purposes. It promotes the city’s brand; it increases tourism; it showcases and fosters arts and talents; it pays homage to heritage and food; it fosters a feeling of community and unity. And, as a businessman, I cannot omit to mention the commercial aspect – increase in earnings for participants, and revenues for the municipality and local businesses. It can be a win-win all round,” Anand says.
But for the consummate Mumbaiker in Anand, the Mumbai Festival is more than a flash in the pan. “It’s not a one-year journey,” he says. “It’s a start and it’s going to keep growing, keep evolving. And intrinsic to its success, is a feeling of ownership and participation from the people of Mumbai,” he says, adding, “The Festival’s tag line is:‘Every one’s invited’. But more than that, I want everyone to feel they are part of the organisers. Not to sit outside and say why was this done, or not done, but to contribute, participate and truly celebrate our great city culture and people. And for that, we need every one’s encouragement and support.”
And then he adds, “Festivals are about community and commerce, but also about common purpose. And I believe, if we find common purpose, there is nothing that will prevent Mumbai from being a truly great city, which is its destiny.”