SONYA DUTTA CHOUDHURY

A fortnight-long festival in Mumbai brings people and place together in a unique way.

AT Carter Road, on Bandra's beachfront promenade, the crowds are celebrating. Spiffy old women with cropped hair and cotton print dresses, tank top teenagers and their families jive to a local band's rock `n' roll. A few kilometres south, at Bandstand, another sea front, more residents congregate to the sounds of Sheena and Nicole and their electric guitars. Bandra-ites, descendants of Mumbai's old Koli and Christian families and many later immigrants, are celebrating, quite literally, the ground beneath their feet.

Unlike other festivals

The fortnight-long "Celebrate Bandra" festival brings people and place together in a unique way. As Darryl D'Monte, convenor, "Celebrate Bandra" festival points out "this is different. It is unlike any other festival run by private institutions or the government. This is citizen driven." Certainly, the sense of community bonhomie at the venues bears D'Monte out. At the Lands End Amphitheatre, children perform their acts to the very vocal encouragement of friends, family and the neighbourhood aunties and uncles. D'Monte also emphasises the importance of place. "The festival has been made possible because of the citizen's creation of free space - an area one can call one's own." Five years ago, both Carter Road and the Bandstand were junky, bedraggled stretches of dumping ground. Citizen Groups consisting of Residents Associations and the ALM's (Advanced Locality Management) banded together to fight for a beachfront. Architect P.K. Das, who designed the present promenade with its neat concrete walkway and benches, describes the festival as having been "born out of this movement. The struggle for space consolidated the area's sense of community and led to a tremendous pride among the people." Das is currently working on a beach development plan for Juhu, along with the Juhu Citizen's Welfare Group (JCWG) a local residents' group committed to safeguarding public space. "Every day is a struggle," confesses P.K. Das, "with land sharks and with the apathetic bureaucracy - its many layers can bury you in its own graveyard." The Bandra project took over four years to complete. But looking at it today, it all seems worth it. Simple outdoor stages designed by Bandra-based event management group Fountainhead, with basic sound and light effects utilise these spaces for various performances. The audience sit en familie. At Bandra Bandstand some of the crowd even spills out on to large rocks on a low tide beach. There's a nip in the November air and the crowd, seated or standing, is animated and enthusiastic.

Enthusiastic crowd

Gushes middle-aged Shirley D'Souza, out with her friend Samantha for the evening festivities, "They have been having some great events. The Bandra people are just like performers." Indeed, in a star-studded neighbourhood (the three Khan's, Aishwarya Rai and the Tendulkars all live in Bandra), there's been something of an absence of stars. D'Monte does confess to having tried to "tap into star power". But, in an era where stars charge big bucks for brief appearances, a low budget local festival is hard put to compete with high profile brand ad spends. "We did have Perizaad Zorabian though," says D'Monte, "She came very gracefully and described herself as a `goondi' of Bandra." Celebrities like Gulzar, who was the subject of a tribute, also participated enthusiastically. Other notable highlights included a delightfully wacky musical "The Ballad of Bandora" performed outdoor to loud applause, an animated panel discussion on the role of the media and Cyrus Mistry's play "Legacy of Rage" played out against the spectacular backdrop of a quaint old-time Bandra bungalow. Outdoor screenings of popular films like "Taal" and "Lagaan", Paromita Vohra's delightful documentary "Sandra from Bandra", and the food festival held on the steps of the historic Mount Mary's Church kept the excitement going.

Fund raising

The festival also hopes to raise some funds. The very first 2003 festival had generated a small surplus, which was divided among the different geographical zones of Bandra for general upkeep. This time the "Celebrate Bandra" Trust hopes to utilise this surplus for projects like Rainwater and Waste Management. Absence of celebrities kept TV cameras away and a major newspaper boycotted coverage for commercial reasons. Still, everybody seems happy. Says Fountainhead Director and Festival Partner Neale Murray: "Everything we've given has been exceedingly well received. We have one hell of a lot of happy Bandra-ites who can't stop thanking us."