A festival that is perhaps one of the oldest in Mumbai, The Kala Ghoda Festival goes all the way back to 1999, a year when the ‘Titanic’ was released and the art scene was slowly picking up steam after 60 years of hibernation. The drama of Mumbai was set to be captured in a wholesome event that spanned across a variety of media and places, something that invited the entire city to think beyond the power of money and instead ponder on the magic of art, dance, literature and film. The idea was to bring everyone together and let Kala Ghoda captivate minds and inspire hearts.
Even now, this festival creates a magic of its own as it weaves through the expansive labyrinth of South Mumbai spreading colour and cheer to both the people that visit and the people who know the streets so well. In this year’s edition, the festival included the Horniman Circle and the Cross Maidan as venues where events were also set to take place. The week spanned over an expansive variety of music, art, dance, workshops, films, installations, shops, eateries and even a pottery section.
The Ghoda – or the Horse was used as a theme for the initial installations at the first edition of this festival. It is still used a metaphor for the vibrancy of the area and the diverse culture that endlessly streams through Mumbai. The installations this year also included an optical illusion slide and a set of rocking horses that could perhaps belong in a psychedelic cubist painting.
Instead of observing them, I spent time dodging in and out of the “selfie” crowds that very nearly trampled over the carefully crafted installations to get a better view of themselves against a symbol of validation. The festival seemed to usher a crowd that could only watch but not buy, as spectators left the festival with little to no purchases. One would think that the 15th edition would be far more innovative towards garnering a larger crowd, as the influx was not just the Indian population. People from different parts of the world simply came as they had heard about the festival or wanted to spend time looking at something creative. This attempt, however, was a far cry from it as it simply copied the format of the past years and did not dare to attempt a slightly different approach towards the same. In fact, I found that I was spending my time at the Horniman Circle where a variety of installations were lighting up the green spaces and corners of the garden with a lovely energy of their own.
It is indeed a laudable effort on the part of Hindustan Times to have created something so expansive. Yet size and quantity perhaps did not match up to the quality expected. There was a lack of coherence with the events and too much happening at too many venues. Even as I viewed the timetable on their website, it seemed as though quite a few overlapped, giving one a choice to either leave the present one or miss the next one.
Even though the initial reception of the festival was quite enthusiastic, the crowds waned over the following days and it gave one the impression that it had not lived up to its original fame. The addition of booths, new sections and events could not make the festival a more colourful ensemble than it already was and it seemed to glow for a day or two, until the embers truly died down. The festival in its entirety was beautifully executed, and well-guarded by the Mumbai Police who were even seen to have a stall for the third year in a row. I must admit amidst the insipid crowds of the evenings, I was still able to find a certain magic in my own memories of the festival from the previous years and the one that I was currently visiting. Perhaps it was a gentle ode to the spirit of Mumbai that is truly indomitable in its pace and its people.