Serendipity Arts Festival 2019: Goa’s culture party gets bigger

A Chhau performance  

Come December, and there’s a hum in the air in Goa. The movie stars have left (after the International Film Festival of India) and the cultural stars are gathering, with the Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF) right in the middle of it all. As art critic and curator, Ranjit Hoskote, told us last year, “It is a marvellous time for contemporary culture in the state. The fortnight before SAF opens is always vibrant with activity and expectation, because the Goa Arts and Literary Festival takes place around this time.” And, let’s not forget, the countdown to Sunburn begins, too.

Why Goa?
  • “If you look at the various festivals around the world that have lasted for decades, they’re never based in big cities, but always in towns that have infrastructure for tourism. Goa was the perfect fit,” says Rajgarhia. It is a port town, with heritage to contribute to the layering of the urban with art. There is also such a feeling of camaraderie between the different sections, making it the best place to support dissent and conversations around the arts.”

Today, the hammers have fallen silent in Panjim. The artworks have been hung, the performances rehearsed, and the curators and artists are gearing up for the big day tomorrow, when the fourth edition of SAF kicks off. Though young, the festival — founded by Sunil Kant Munjal, chairman of Hero Enterprise — has made an impact in India’s art scene. Last year, it attracted over three-and-a-half lakh footfalls, with many coming down from Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. According to Smriti Rajgarhia, the festival director, the response from locals has been encouraging, too. “We got a hand-written note a few weeks ago from an 11-year-old, who wanted us to update the calendar [her birth year wasn’t marked] on the website, so she could register and get her own RFID card,” she laughs.


But what’s setting SAF apart is its multi-disciplinary approach, embracing genres like craft, theatre and dance, when most festivals don’t. “The arts in India have had shared histories, practices and terminologies. We’ve lost this sense of interconnectedness and festivals like SAF help us rediscover commonalities while celebrating distinct characteristics,” says tabla soloist Aneesh Pradhan, one of the curators. Interestingly, unlike many of its contemporaries, SAR doesn’t have an over-arching theme “because it is excluding in nature”. Instead, specific strains reveal themselves, as the 14 curators bring in their projects. “As art reflects the world view, the projects start revolving around current topics. One of the major themes in 2019 is home — be it in Rahaab Allana’s project that talks about strangers, at home or elsewhere, or Sudarshan Shetty’s Look Outside this House, which celebrates art that arises out of innovation and need.”

Money matters
  • Any large festival comes with its share of challenges. But is India a tough market? For every successful outing of the India Art Fair and Kochi-Muziris Biennale, there are reports of events pulling the plug. After three editions, JaipurPhoto did not return in 2019, and earlier this year, the Pune Biennale announced that they would be bowing out due to insufficient funds. “Internationally, a lot of the private brands understand the value of associating with a cultural brand. But that mandate is not clearly chalked out in India,” says Rajgarhia, who feels if arts were included in CSR, a lot of initiatives, big and small, would thrive. The revenue model of SAF is built on sponsorship and patronage, with names like Camlin, Havells, the cultural wing of the Spanish Embassy and Institut Francais, among them.
  • “Many of the biennials [and festivals] in other parts of the world receive most of their funding from the city and regional governments. In India this is rare and whatever is there, is [set aside] for traditional or nationalist arts,” adds Bose Krishnamachari, president of Kochi Biennale Foundation, which has received funding from the Kerala government. “We should have more government organisations coming forward to support contemporary cultural practices.”

Serendipity Arts Festival 2019: Goa’s culture party gets bigger

Through the eight days — spread across 10 venues, and with over 100-plus projects — workshops, talks and installations will also keep the buzz going. We pick craft, photography and the performing arts to explore.

Serendipity Arts Festival is on from December 15 to 22 in Panjim.

With inputs by Anurag Tagat

Performing Arts

Music: Packed between two popular constants — Music in the Park (with a variety of musicians performing everything from jazz to funk) and River Raga (the open-air Indian classical performance) — the curation straddles the traditional and the modern. The curators, tabla soloist Aneesh Pradhan and music director Sneha Khanwalkar, have ensured that the shows provide something new for the local audience. Like a collaboration between veteran jazz artists Louis Banks and Braz Gonsalves, and a “response to our times” show by art-rock band Dastaan Live. Bollywood playback singer Rekha Bhardwaj will also perform a special set on December 19, presenting Sufi music, thumris, qawwalis and film songs.

Serendipity Arts Festival 2019: Goa’s culture party gets bigger

“Alternative performance contexts can challenge musicians to revisit their repertoire and even compose afresh,” believes Pradhan, who is also bringing down multi-instrumentalist fusion artist Karsh Kale and Israeli-Rajasthani folk fusion act Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express. Must-see Goan artists include vocalist-guitarist Aviv Pereira and his Aviv Projekt, plus seasoned artist Elvis Lobo’s Earthstage.

For Khanwalkar, the live music curation is simple: “It’s music that I’d like to hear, chilling with a beer. Serendipity allows it [the music] to be more than a footnote.” This year, she has also extended, and spread out, her sound exhibitions. “Instead of putting it in a quiet corner, all of it — such as 2nd Line, an interactive percussion unit or The Long and Short of It, a durational performance installation — is going to happen where the public is,” she says.


Check out: Created as a “performance-based game”, Bandish Antaakshari introduces compositions (bandish) from Hindustani tradition through the popular game, with an aim to make traditional music accessible without diluting it. December 17, 6 pm, Parade Ground.

Once upon a time, a dance statement on the power of imagination

Once upon a time, a dance statement on the power of imagination  

Dance: Besides the regular stage, this year you’ll see dance performances held inside an old circus tent pitched on DB Grounds, and in a multi-level garage. One of the goals of such diversity: to draw in the locals and youngsters. “Marathi, Goan and western cultures co-exist here and the arts have taken off within these [individual] communities. Somehow, Goa feels culturally removed from what India has to offer,” says Chennai-based dancer Leela Samson, who, along with Bengaluru-based Mayuri Upadhya, has curated the dance projects.

This year, they will engage with as many forms of contemporary and traditional dance forms as possible. One of the biggest is with Tamil Nadu’s folk dances — from thappattam to oyilattam — and Samson hopes that it will “establish a norm, where SAF can look at one state and its folk forms each year”. Audiences can also catch Chhau — Seraikella, Mayurbhanj and Purulia — a Yakshagana performance from Karnataka, a riveting response by dancer Divya Naidu to the brutal crimes against women in Red Dress Waali Ladki, and a couple of performances that focus on identity. “The topical question of the ‘male-female’ in dance is represented by our tradition of men dressing as females, in Kuchipudi, by Kala Krishna, and [contrasted] with transgender Bharatanatyam dancer, Narthaki Nataraj. Their performances will be interlocked with a seminar on sexuality in art traditions,” says Samson.

Check out: On The Move, curated by Upadhya, recreates a street dance battle in a multi-storey car park, with hip-hop, popping and locking, krump and B-boying coming together, accompanied by a beat boxer and a DJ. December 17-18.

Eidgah ke Jinnat by Abhishek Majumdar

Eidgah ke Jinnat by Abhishek Majumdar  

Theatre: The curious, the comic and the controversial are represented in equal measure. Bengaluru theatre artistes Nimmi and Vinod Ravindran explore the former with a sound-based immersive performance that works with an all-woman choir from Goa and travels within the spaces inside a house; comedy comes through in tales like Niketan Sharma’s Photo-Copy, which looks at a family that’s lost a significant member; while Abhishek Majumdar dips into the controversial with Eidgah ke Jinnat. “The play was performed in Jaipur last year, but because its content is sensitive — it is about Kashmir and the issues that we are dealing with even today — it ran into problems. There were protests and the artistes had to flee,” says curator Atul Kumar. “So, I am proud that Goa is allowing this production and I hope, while there isn’t any trouble like 2018, that the audience is ‘troubled’ enough [to question].”

Children rehearsing The Wedding of the Frogs

Children rehearsing The Wedding of the Frogs  

Arundhati Nag, the second curator for the segment, keeps the momentum with popular productions like Hayavadana and Aurat! Aurat! Aurat! But where she will win smiles is with her work with children. Her toddlers’ theatre will engage young children, while the play The Wedding of the Frogs will bring together the kids of Camarabhat, in Panjim, using poetry, music and dance to tell the story of ecological regeneration (something they are involved actively in).

Check out: The Invisible collective game. It will send you into the public space, with a small group of eight to 12 people, to create and handle situations and carry out interventions.

Serendipity Arts Festival 2019: Goa’s culture party gets bigger

The others

Nhoi — The Big Reveal: Throughout last year, over 500 children and adults took part in a series of on-site village workshops conducted by the Bookworm Trust — to draw their river, Mandovi, and reflect on its importance, through image-making, storytelling and reminiscence. Now, the 80.6 metre collaborative drawing will be on exhibit at the Children’s (Art) Park, where visitors can add to the ongoing work of art.

Culinary arts: Curated by chef Rahul Akerkar (think Indigo and Qualia in Mumbai) and Goa-based restaurateur Prahlad Sukhtankar, a series of curated workshops, talks and tastings will focus on local produce and regional flavours. Learn how to make Goan bread, taste the mahua fruit, among others, and shop at the farmers’ market.

Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 2:48:12 AM |

Next Story