- Kala Ghoda Arts Festival
- Gurukul Chhau dance.
Mumbai’s annual Kala Ghoda Arts festival, which kicks off Saturday, began 15 years ago as a tiny visual arts festival, but now boasts a smorgasbord of events. These include concerts, readings, cooking workshops, and heritage walks.
The festival offers a dose of celebrities — like Bollywood music composers Salim-Sulaiman, and author Jeet Thayil, who recently won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. But the program includes many lesser-known artists and performers who bring quirkiness and novelty to the line-up.
The festival has sprawled well beyond the confines of the small south Mumbai neighborhood where it began. But the Kala Ghoda area will still showcase some art installations, as well as short street performances, said festival director Brinda Miller. So you could catch acrobats walking on a tight rope, or a short music jugalbandi, or jam session, in the middle of the street.
Here are our picks among the major event categories at this year’s festival:
1. Dance: At the Cross Maidan, opposite Bombay University, there will be a dance performance most evenings. Many of them will be by local dance academies, such as belly-dancing event, or a performance featuring ballet and jazz.
We recommend checking out “b-boying” – a combination of break-dancing and hip-hop. There are two performances: one on Feb. 6 by Indian group Freak n Stylz and another on Feb 9, by Britains’ Champloo Dance .Those looking for a more classical experience should plan for the fusion of Manipuri and Odissi dance scheduled for Feb 6.
On Feb. 10, the Mihir Khedekar group will perform Indian gymnastics, called “Mallakhamb,” standing on each other to create a series of spectacular poses.
2. Food: There will be at least one session each day on cooking, or baking, and in one case tea appreciation, all at Westside restaurant, near the Kala Ghoda area. We are looking forward to attending the session on Feb 8, with Olive Bar & Kitchen Chef Thomas Zacharias, who will demonstrate some of the high-end Mediterranean restaurant chain’s signature dishes.
3. Heritage: Make sure to register a day in advance to catch the open-air bus tour, offered almost daily, of south Mumbai Gothic landmarks like Victoria Terminus station (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji station), Mumbai University and the Asiatic Society.
On Feb. 5, learn about Mumbai’s history as a sailing city. Starting from Kala Ghoda, your guide will take you to the Royal Alfred Sailor’s Home and the Mumbai’s Yacht Club (one of the oldest in Asia), among other landmarks, during this walk.
On Feb. 8, walk along Marine Drive to learn how the city’s Victorian Gothic architecture gave way to the “largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in Asia,” according to the Kala Ghoda website.
These walks are restricted to 35 attendees, so get there early to get a pass.
4. Literature: To distinguish itself from other literature festivals, festival director Ms. Miller says Kala Ghoda has included several niche writing workshops, in addition to the expected readings and talks.
On Feb. 5, learn how to write about heritage and architecture from an architect, on Feb. 6, a Swedish author will teach a class on how to write detective stories, and there will be a travel writing workshop on Feb 9. All of these will be held at the Kala Ghoda Association Office.
5. Music: Head over to Cross Maidan on Feb. 7 to listen to India’s Rhythm Method, a band that combines drums and other instruments to create new-age music.
The following weekend is reserved for some of the bigger names. You can catch Talvin Singh Matharoo, a tabla player known for his fusion of Indian classical music drum and bass, at the steps of the Asiatic Library on Feb 9.
At the same location the next day, you can watch a performance by Salim and Sulaiman, who have composed music for Bollywood movies like ”Chak De! India.”
6. Movies: Steer clear of the mainstream Bollywood and Hollywood offerings, of which there are many, and try and find the sprinkling of documentaries and independent foreign films.
There’s “Chittagong,” on Feb. 7 and 10, a drama set in Bangladesh in the 1930s, and based on the true story of a 14-year-old boy who battles the British colonial administration. The movie received critical acclaim when it was released in India last year.
“Waltz With Bashir,” a 90-minute Israeli documentary in which the film director interviews veterans of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, looks promising. In its 2008 review, the Wall Street Journal described this documentary as “an absolute stunner.”
7. Theater: On Feb. 2, watch “Animal Farm,” based on George Orwell’s eponymous book but adapted to Indian environment, in a satire about India’s political leaders. In a review last year, Deccan Herald called the show, directed by Atul Satya Kouahik, “one of a kind.”
The play will be shown at Max Mueller Bhawan.
Events are free but the program and venues are subject to change so check before you go. The festival ends Feb. 10.