Movies, music and food are on the menu of the recently opened Cafe Papaya at Palarivattom

In 1998, American singer-songwriter Dave Matthews wrote of ‘The Dreaming Tree’, a place beneath which promises held true, fears were conquered and creativity flourished unbridled. In a large house on North Janatha Road, a similar tree exists. Pencilled onto a white wall and lit by sunlight from a skyroof, the tree is packed chock-full of words and images that stand for oneness in Japanese, Hebrew, Tamil, Malayalam and a myriad other languages. It is the epicentre of Kochi’s new creative hub for movies, music and food — Cafe Papaya — a collaborative project between filmmaker Aashiq Abu, photographer Ajay Menon and Avial’s band manager Jithu Livingstone.

Melting pot of talents

Cafe Papaya is a brainchild born of a decade-long friendship between Aashiq, Ajay and Jithu. They shared a common love for good films and music, and as Aashiq’s Salt and Pepper should tell you, they loved to eat. “For a year now, we’ve been thinking of a place where quality work in all three could come together; and that’s how Cafe Papaya came about,” says Ajay, whose team at Papaya Media Designs handles the hub’s daily functioning. The aim is to create a community of like-minded people who appreciate and promote good art within Kochi. “In most large metros, artistes across disciplines have spaces where they can exchange ideas, collaborate and exhibit their work, but in Kochi, that opportunity isn’t there just yet. So each sticks to his own. The absence of a community leads to a lack of confidence when you feature your work outside, and we want this place to help overcome that,” adds Ajay.

If the 7,000-plus ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on their Facebook page are anything to go by, Cafe Papaya is well on its way to nurturing a large artistic community in just two weeks of its opening. Their first ventures have been into the music field. With the experience of managing Avial through national and international touring circuits, Jithu hopes to tap into his wealth of knowledge about indie artistes to promote Kochi’s music scene. “There are plenty of avenues for large bands to play live performances, so we want to focus on solo acoustic acts and creative collaborations between both musicians in the city and outside,” says Jithu. The cafe therefore centres around a stage with a ready sound system for the artiste to just plug in and play. Behind the stage hides a small control room and edit suite, with monitors and mixers which can record the concerts live, as well as a recording studio and sound booth where music albums can be recorded or films dubbed.

On the movie front, Aashiq runs his production house OPM Dream Mill Cinemas, right above Cafe Papaya, with its plush sound-proofed theatre fitted with LED and 3D projectors, and walls lined with black-and-white stills painted from all his films. “The theatre is a space not just for themed film and documentary screenings but also for discussions with film artistes,” says Abhilash Kumar from OPM. Cafe Papaya’s philosophy believes in not just performances that exhibit the artistes’ work but interactions that reveal his/her creative process. “It’s not often that you get musicians and filmmakers to tell you how they make what they do. So we want to host masterclasses such as a drum or a guitar clinic so that people can learn from the people we bring. Most live shows or film screenings will also be followed by conversations with the artiste,” says Harshad Ali from Papaya Media.

Promoting art

This practice extends into Cafe Papaya’s promotion of art too. The Cafe’s interiors feature elaborate hand paintings on its walls, and the compound has large empty white walls which will be lent to graffiti artists for a few weeks at a time. Their method of painting will be videographed through that time and the resultant documentation screened alongside a discussion at the end. Framed prints of Ajay’s photo shoots emphasise that photography too finds its place at Cafe Papaya. “We hope to exhibit young and upcoming photographers here as well as eventually bring out catalogues of their work,” says Ajay.

Although literature isn’t an overstated agenda for Cafe Papaya, a small room adjacent to the entrance is dedicated to a curated library. There’s a growing collection of everything from the Pao Collective’s Anthology of Comics to Salvador Dali’s life and times. For company, there’s some fantastic coffee and a menu of short eats put together by French Toast’s Ayaz Salim. “We’ve had a lot of support from people such as Aparna Nair, Rima Kallingal, Dan Jose, Anil Johnson, John Thomas and Rex Vijayan. We don’t want to take on too many projects at once though,” says Ajay. “The ones we do, we’d like to do well.”