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The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival returns after two years of the pandemic

The 23rd edition of the festival promises many more events and newer venues while keeping its mandate of restoring the built heritage of the neighbourhood intact

Leslie Lewis and Hariharan reunite as the Colonial Cousins at the 23rd edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
Leslie Lewis and Hariharan reunite as the Colonial Cousins at the 23rd edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival

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Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) has always represented a vibe—an emotion—rather than being a mere event. Brinda Miller, artist and chairperson, Kala Ghoda Association, smiles in acknowledgement. “The festival is,” she says over a video call, “a vibrant example of what can be achieved through community collaboration.” Miller agrees that there is a lot of excitement among people, given that the festival is taking place after a gap of two years because of the covid-19 pandemic. The festival pivoted to a digital format during 2021, and had to miss out on an edition last year. 2023 marks its 23rd edition.

The team expects large crowds to attend the nine-day-long festival. Even earlier, the KGAF attracted a sizable audience, with roughly 1.5 lakh people in attendance. This year, it seems that the response shall be even more heartening. “The appreciation for the arts has grown with people having time to introspect,” elaborates Miller. The evidence of this can be found in recent surveys and research reports about people turning to art engagement with renewed interest post the pandemic waves. In an interview published in Columbia College Today, professors and curators Franco Mormando and Thomas Worcester of Boston College and Regis College respectively mentioned how “art reflects reality, and how, in reflecting that reality, it helps us to understand that reality and also helps us respond to that reality.”

The KGAF is more than just an understanding of a post-pandemic reality; rather it is about getting back that sense of community. Themed ‘Past <> Forward’ (an ode to humanity’s strength, a homage to humanity’s future), the festival will host programmes across 14 verticals, including dance, music, visual arts, theatre, literature, food, children’s literature, among others. The events will be spread across fifteen venues, including six new ones such as the YB Chavan Centre, IF.Be, which is Mumbai’s oldest ice factory-turned-art-gallery, and Cooperage Bandstand Garden, which will host a farmer’s market for the duration of the festival.

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Having been involved with the festival since its earliest editions, Miller, has been responsible for many of the murals in the area. “Our past has been glorious, though the last two years have been of silence. Now, we want to move forward towards something promising,” she says. KGAF has evolved over time, even though the ethos and mandate has remained the same—that of restoring the art deco buildings in the area of Kala Ghoda to their former glory using the funds that the festival generates.

With 28 curators on board for various segments, what started as a street festival is now a signature multicultural fiesta. The 23rd edition will feature a performance by the reunited Colonial Cousins (comprising the musical duo of Hariharan and Leslie Lewis), besides a collaboration between Shantanu Moitra and Kaushiki Chakraborty for the ‘Songs of the Himalayas’. In a special session, Devdutt Pattanaik will be contextualising Indian mythology to assess the changing world that we live in, both in terms of professional and personal relationships. 

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The festival also offers a deep dive into artist Vincent van Gogh’s iconic painting, The Starry Night, encouraging children to create their own versions of this art work. And as always, KGAF will feature a robust heritage walks segment in and around Kala Ghoda. “Bringing such a festival together is not an easy task,” explains Miller about the year-long preparation for each edition. She is hopeful that corporates will continue to join in and sponsor the festival. “It is, after all, for the people, by the people,” she adds.

The 23rd edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival will be held across multiple venues from 4 February to 12 February

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