The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2012

Today is the last day of the 2012 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) in Mumbai. This much-awaited, one-of-its-kind annual festival comes like a breath of fresh air to a city that is starved of events like this. The week-long KGAF packs in programmes and performances in literature, theatre, films, music, and dance. In addition to this, there are heritage walks, street art exhibitions as well as street performances, and workshops on various topics for adults and children alike.

While I attend quite a few of the ‘cultural’ performances and participate in a heritage walk or two every year, what I really look forward to every year are people-watching and the handicraft melas. The latter brings in artisans and their art and craft from all over the country, and is an opportunity for me to stock up on gifts for friends and family. I also look forward to seeing the installation or street art at Rampart Row, the venue of the main KGAF, not because I love installation art, but because I am always amazed at the creativity that gets shown year after year. Just see a sample from this year’s KGAF.

My main observation about the 2012 KGAF is that it was very different as compared to the previous KGAFs that I have attended. This difference is not due to the large variety of or newer types of programmes offered this year, but rather something else altogether. Let me elaborate.

For the first time, I was not impressed by the handicrafts mela as I found the quality and pricing of products to be disproportionate. I came away without buying a single product—a first for me. The art installations, though interesting, did not throw up anything spectacular or different. But the biggest difference lay in the people who visited the KGAF.

The popularity of the festival has been growing over the years and if the crowds I saw on my visit yesterday are any indication, then this year has been very, very popular. Rampart Row was quite crowded when I arrived at noon yesterday, and the numbers just kept swelling and by 5.00 pm I could not even see the road that I was walking on. It seemed like the entire population of Mumbai and their cameras was at the KGAF.

It was a crowd that was rude and aggressive, a crowd that pushed and shoved its way through. It was an ill-mannered crowd, and a crowd that was not here to take in the festival, but to record it on their cameras. Sample this: I had to wait for about 10 minutes to photograph an installation art on the Buddha. When my “turn” came and I was about to take a photograph, a young man just came and stood in front of me and started taking photographs. I tapped him on his shoulder and pointed out politely that this was not done. His response? That it was my problem, not his ! Then there was another instance where an elderly man was knocked down by the tripod of a photographer, who was carelessly swinging it around. Instead of apologising, the photographer screamed at the elderly man ! I observed many such instances, but none that I would like to share here—its too depressing. People-watching actually took on an entirely new meaning, and for the first time I didn’t like being at the KGAF.

In my post on the 2011 edition of the KGAF, I had said that the festival is a metaphor for Mumbai, a reflection of what the city is in all its various shades and hues.This year too, if one can take the art installations or visual arts as a bench mark, then the city is classy, kitschy, bizarre, trite, queer, and morbid at the same time. And if one extends the same analogy to city based on the people visiting the KGAF, then I would have very unpleasant things to say about the city 😦

I almost missed the KGAF this year as I was travelling. After my visit yesterday, I wish that I had given it a miss.


Read about the other editions of the KGAF

52 thoughts on “The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2012

  1. Only a local can sense the changes in some event or place. For me it was just a few hours there and of that most went in the play. I found it a great concept, reminding me of South Bank in London without the space and the river. I guess ultimately all good things in the country comes down to the crowds. They made me think of Churchgate during peak hours and of course, I couldn’t get any good photograph, despite Archana trying her best. I could feel your angst. There are places and institutions in Delhi that make me see red too having seen them during the good old days.

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    1. Crowds can be good too, Zephyr. I attended the Leamington Peace Festival in England, an event quite similar to the KGAF, and one that was more crowded. The difference was in the crowd behaviour and and lack of aggression. I really fail to understand the need for one-upmanship in a place like this. While it is good to have a festival like this popularised all over Mumbai, I think it is high time for the organisers to do a rethink whether this is what the KGAF is all about.

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    1. Well, Shraddha, as an experience the KGAF is not to be missed as we don’t have anything like this in Mumbai. But yes, it’s OK that you missed all the shoving and pushing and the crowds.

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  2. I have never made it to the Festival for some odd reason…so hope to see it, amongst all the ‘pushy’ people next year. Though after reading your post, I don’t think I have missed much!

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  3. It is sad that such a grand fest can be still marred by ill-mannered people. Maybe Kala Ghoda should have a workshops on manners and etiquette in the next edition! The only way to live in Mumbai and enjoy what one can is to IGNORE alll that is bad. Hard to do, but well, one learns to live with things. and pls don’t let a bunch of ruffians deter you from enjoying what you like.

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    1. I don’t think workshops on manners and etiquette will work for the crowds ! Ignoring all things negative is one way, but it is difficult when you are physically shoved or watch an elderly person fall down because someone else was negligent or see two children lost in the crowds because the school in question was stupid to send the class on a culture trip on a crowded weekend !

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  4. Delighted greatly at running into you at the KGAF on Saturday. I concur totally with your observations. I too noticed the masses randomly photographing stuff without any concern for the people around, and also noticed that many of the handicrafts and stuff was outlandishly priced. The strange thing was that if you walked into the Colaba streets a bit later, so many similar handicrafts were available at better prices, particularly the jewellery and bags stuff. I guess, like Richa says, we must learn to live with the ruffians and unpleasant visitors….

    P. S Did Samovar after more than a decade. That experience remains unchanged. Thank God for that !

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    1. Thank God for Samovar. I’m sure it made your day, Suranga. I love that place which has only mellowed over the 20 years that I have been visiting Samovar. As for the KGAF experience, I’m happy that other people also felt the same as i have only been reading rave reviews of the event…

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  5. true sudha! the crowd really put me off too….. i escaped the handicrafts and the art installations before 4 and went instead to the kids events which were much more fun and needless to say, less crowded…. and in any case, i somehow seem to return from kala ghoda every year with more books than I intend to buy which was true for this year too…. even last year, the handicrafts were exhorbitantly priced and the only things i buy there are some ngo products i look out for…. and this year, i didnt even venture inside that section thanks to the crowd! but on the other hand, there actually were a lot of events this year, and we enjoyed the ones we participated in…. usually samhith doesnt find anything interesting there, but this year, he enjoyed interacting with Indu for the book making workshop and with some authors and illustrators from Pratham books… he was excited to see the people whose books he reads, which was a def plus! and also, it was better managed than last year, which was complete chaos with the kids events being held in the parking lot!!

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    1. I guess you can’t have them all, right Anu? Last year, the stalls and installations and crowds were better managed and behaved, while the children’s events were a bit of a disaster. And this year, it was the other way round. Seriously, the KGAF Managing Committee needs to do some hard thinking on how the event needs to be managed.

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  6. Having stayed in South Mumbai for 35 years (off and on, in the Navy), my wife and I have been attending KGAF for several years; except now when, after retirement, we have shifted to Kharghar. We passed through Asiatic 3 days back when Raghu Dixit was performing and I mentioned to my wife how well behaved the crowd appeared. It is sad for me to learn from you that first looks were deceptive. No wonder that the music scene is almost entoirely shifted to Pune. I wonder what can be the reason for the rowdism. We attended the Bacardi Weekender in Pune in Nov last year and the crowd was so well behaved that I made a mention of it in my blog.

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    1. I think the music, dance and theatre events are attended only by those who like them and are therefore well behaved. The handicrafts mela and the installations attract the interested, the curious, and the passerby, and of course the latest menace — photographers, which include the amateurs, the wannabes and the professionals… Nobody reads or enjoys the takes in the art and culture around them. It is the camera that does the recording. I was reading the write-up about an installation, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me to get out of the way as I was in their frame and taking too much time !

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    1. The KGAF is fairly well organised, Anubha, and the variety of programmes that they dish up year after year is very good. It was the crowds and their behaviour that got to me this year and something that I hope the KGAF organising community can address next year.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and comment. 🙂

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  7. I guess it has to do with lack of choice. Indians have very few choice except the weekend Bollywood movie feast..so such a massacre on streets in expected, whenever, wherever something different happens. Its good to learn about the KGAF 2012 through your blog.

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    1. Welcome here Nitin, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. The lack of options does explain the crowds at the KGAF, but it doesn’t explain their behaviour, does it?

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  8. Those are telling photographs. Not only of the creativity at the fair but also your indomitable spirit that clicked again and again, despite the swarm of bandits and bandicoots. I, on the other hand get depressed enough not to depress the shutter of my camera. Rather, I don’t even unzip my camera-bag. As for your reference to the Leamington Peace Festival in a comment below, Pray, who will save the Indians from the Indians now?

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    1. Well, Umashankar, after taking about 10 or so photographs, I too put away my camera. It was impossible to concentrate on photography and keep an eye out for other photographers and their equipment at the same time.

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  9. Beautiful images Sudha.

    Even I feel that digital photography and increasing numbers of photo-enthusiasts who rightfully want to show it off on their blogs and FB pages, also often results in aggressive and rude people who forget ordinary manners of politeness. Normally societies take some time to understand new behaviours and find norms to control them, so I wonder how long the regulation of “photographers” is going to take!

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    1. Thank you, Deepak.

      My first reaction on seeing the crowds at the KGAF was, “The world and their cameras are here”. While didgital photography has democratised photography to a great extent and levelled the playing ground, so to speak, it has also brought about a great deal of self-centredness. You are quite right when you say that it takes time to understand new behaviours, but I feel that this is one area where this is not going to happen too soon.

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  10. Hey Sudha,

    Loved the pictures. Looks like they were a “labor” of love. Having seen badly behaved crowds everywhere, country, race, religion, no bar, I can’t say I’m surprised. I think it’s the whole “me first” culture that’s pervaded the world 😦

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    1. Thanks, Meera. I just did not have the opportunity to read about the installations or who created them. There was just too much pushing and shoving. 😦 I feel that the Indian crowds area the worst and that too in urban areas. 😦

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  11. Never heard of the KGAF and me, an ex Mumbaikar. So glad I read your post and saw the pics. Hope to visit the fest next Feb and hope the crowds are more gracious.

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    1. Welcome here, KayEm and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. The 2012 KGAF was the 14th edition of the festival, and one that has grown bigger with every passing year. I think the trick to visiting the festival is during weekdays when it is relatively less crowded. I do hope that you enjoy your visit then.

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  12. Thanks for the photos and your views! I discovered the Kala Ghoda Festival last year and I spent 2 full days lounging around on the street people watching and taking pictures and writing. It was a lovely experience.
    I am sad it seems to have lost that ‘bliss in chaos’ feeling. Love your take on it. Wish I could have been there this time too.

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    1. I have been a regular visitor to the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival over the last 10 years or so and have seen it grow, diversify and gain in popularity. Last year, I was there practically every day. And this year, I could manage only one day and … well, you read about what I experienced. I’m sure that there are lots of people who experienced bliss in chaos this year too, but I hope that I’ll find it next year.

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  13. Oops… it seems your experience at the KGAF wasn’t too great this time round. I have never attended it and find the pictures you have put up very interesting. Perhaps, viewing them comfortably on this blog is a lot different from jostling with an unruly crowd. 🙂

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    1. Oops indeed ! I was not too surprised as the popularity of the Festival is growing and it does attract all sorts of people. Next year, I’ll take chhutti from office and go in the morning on a weekday. I may still not stock up on handicrafts, but at least I can enjoy the installations without colliding into another person ! Want to join me then? 😉

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  14. Hello folks I have been searching for a particular stall I saw in kalaghoda 2012. It was one which sold customized paintings, made from pictures etc. does anyone remember it ? or has a contact number, details etc. it would be really helpful, gotta get a painting made for a gift.

    thanks a lot

    regards

    vishal.

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