Festival Music

A heady cultural mix called Serendipity

The Sari

The Sari

What should a multi-disciplinary arts festival do? Create conversations amongst the arts and artists, foster new connections, harness local talent and offer avenues of public engagement. It was heartening to see Serendipity Arts Festival (Dec 15-22) spread across the picturesque Goan capital of Panaji deliver on these counts and also indicating many new possibilities.

An arts festival is also an incubation centre, where new ideas are conceived and nurtured. Not less than 40 projects were commissioned for the second edition of the festival. With a special focus on site, form and display, Serendipity created many new encounters for anyone who could ‘stand and stare’ and also hopefully engage. There were several highlights of my visit to Serendipity, some of which are recounted here.

A scene from the play ‘Dark Borders’

A scene from the play ‘Dark Borders’

 

River Raga, conceived by music curator, Shubha Mudgal involved live classical music performances on a sunset cruise along the Mandovi River. The setting itself lent a new context to the performances. Vocalist Indrani Mukherjee sang ‘Dariya par karo mori naiya’ (composition in Raga Yaman). Undoubtedly a befitting selection, ‘naiya’ perhaps is also metaphorical of life. It seemed Mukherjee was paying her homage to the life sustaining river also thereby making her rendition site specific. While she sang/evoked saanjh , the sky grew sombre and dusk was upon us. Music became a ‘bodily’ experience entirely enabled by the selection of a new performance space.

The dance section curated by Sanjeev Bhargava had many praiseworthy performances. Daksha Seth’s ‘Sari: The Unstitched’ received a standing ovation. Seth’s work is an admirable encounter of tradition with modernity. She builds on her Kathak training, improvises on Kalaripayattu to create a wide array of ingenious movements in her productions. Her choreography is really contemporary.

From Dark Borders

From Dark Borders

 

The sari has been a concurrent theme in choreographies of noted Indian dancers such as Sharmila Biswas, Parwati Dutta and Malavika Sarukkai to name a few. Seth illustrates the entire process of sari making and while doing that, lays bare the architecture of her choreography. Besides, the sari is a polyphonic garment and the production acknowledges weavers, dyers who often remain unseen and unsung through successful employment of visual footage beamed on the backdrop which created a parallel narrative. Her group of dancers led by Isha Sharvani were extraordinary.

Special acclaim

Anuradha Kapur and Lillete Dubey’s selection in the theatre section also merits special acclaim. Besides new voices in the field, they also featured seasoned exponents like Chandigarh based Neelam Mansingh Choudhury, who never fails to captivate with her impeccable stagecraft. ‘Dark Borders,’ her recent play with an ensemble cast of entirely new actors is a significant intervention in thinking about and representing Sadat Hasan Manto. The play looks at various dimensions of violence through a cluster of Manto’s stories which are not presented chronologically but appear as a cacophony of various kinds of suppression and violence.

Mansingh retains live folk music, includes Begum Akhtar’s iconic Ae Mohabbat and fuses elements of her favourite Naqqal in this fascinating new production. People’s Music curated by Sumangala Damodaran and created by Sudhanva Deshpande and Shaaz Ahmed was equally enthralling and perhaps captured the essence of protest music by locating it in open public space along the Mandovi promenade, site for immediate engagement and audience response.

Glimpses of Serendipity Festival

Glimpses of Serendipity Festival

 

Megaphones hanging from trees produced songs of Iqbal Bano, Bhupen Hazarika amongst many others recalling moments of resistance over the last 80 years or so. In this context, I should perhaps mention the starkly minimal works of Zarina Hashmi, which was part of Anti-Memoirs curated by Ranjit Hoskote. Forever concerned about peripheries and borders; her works grapple with memories of home. Her use of Urdu writing in some of these prints also serves as a reminder of a language in decline and the dynamics of text as image.

Another noteworthy curatorial attempt was ‘Detritus: Matter out of Place’ by Vidya Shivadas, which featured various artistic explorations around the idea of waste and the discarded. B.V. Suresh’s installation, ‘Chronicles of Silence,’ showed a dystopian landscape, a production unit in mayhem featuring murmurs of farmers’ voices registering his engagement and concerns about the people associated with cotton production. Sudharak Olwe’s photographs of manual scavenging were heartbreaking.

Olwe refrains from the proverbial romanticism that such depictions often invite and treats his subjects as people, not artefacts for anthropological enquiry. I must also mention ‘Stand on the Street,’ an immersive culinary theatre experience questioning the audience’s relationship with food. It was designed and directed by Bengaluru based Visual Respiration’s Aruna Ganesh Ram. We heard culinary stories of our streets while four performers wearing masks served jhalmuri, litti chokha, momos, Sharjah shake and Banaras Paan. Through commentaries about food, they revealed history of place and its people. The street is a repository of numerous stories, a living archive so to speak and these vendors its storytellers.

Viva Serendipity!

The writer teaches literary and cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune and regularly writes on art and culture


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 10:15:51 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/a-heady-cultural-mix-called-serendipity-fest/article22520120.ece