At this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival, co-founder William Dalrymple recalled how there were just a handful of people at the first edition of the fest. Today, lakhs visit Diggi Palace every day of the five-day fest, which is also a must visit on the calender of the who’s who. A place to be seen, from the serious literati to the social butterflies.
The organisers of the Serendipity Arts Festival need not have any such qualms. The first edition of India’s first multi-disciplinary festival, spread over eight days, opened with a bang in Goa on December 16, offering music, dance, photography, theatre, craft, food, science and art that truly blurred boundaries. They also got the biggest names. Shubha Mudgal, Lillete Dubey, Prashant Panjiar, Ranjit Barot, Anuradha Kapur, Ranjit Hoskote, Dinesh Khanna, Wendell Rodricks, Manu Chandra, Amin Jaffer, Tom Alter…
And, the fest is already a place to be seen. If the masses thronged the music and dance performances, several corporate biggies and socialites were seen strolling through the various rooms of Adil Shah Palace, one of the eight venues.
What also works is the venue, and the timing of the festival — Goa, in December, which is the thick of the tourist season. For a place that is associated only with beaches and shacks, the festival provides a much-needed cultural attraction. Combine that with generous patrons and sponsors that include Sunil Munjal, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Credit Suisse, Dempo, etc, and you have a show that has the potential to become a red circle on the calender.
Coming to the art, it was the unexpected that scored over the more hyped works. A 15-minute gastronomic theatrical experience titled Memory Recipe was a raging hit, and, many suspect, will be more talked about than the grand event, Talatum. A half-hour play, Dr Khanna, featuring Divya Arora and Tom Alter received a thunderous, standing ovation. The performances ranged from classical music to love ballads, Odissi to tribal dances and much more in between. What was truly unexpected, so much that it found no mention on the website even, was Entanglement, an exhibition balancing science and art. If a simple principle of magnetism found expression in a lovely arrangement of strings, the Think Tank, which enabled rain based on mere thought, was a hit.
While the exhibition, A Tale of Two Cities, had much to offer an art connoisseur, Dinesh Khanna’s The Essentials Project had immense connect with the common visitor. At fests like this, which aspire to pull crowds, it is this ability to connect with the masses that works. While the puritan works provide prestige, it is works that can pull crowds that provide the balance to make an event a complete one. Serendipity had a good mix of both.
A 15-minute amalgamation of theatre and food that evoked all senses connected with food, except taste, Memory Recipe was among the most talked about events at the festival. Curator and artiste Aruna Ganesh Ram delivered an outstanding performance, playing a chef who talks to the audience about food. The setting is unusual. Three tables are laid out in a darkened room, and 12 members of the audience can participate at one time, sitting on the tables. Their hands are placed on the supposed plate in front of them and a burner with a pan stands in the middle. What follows is a rapid stimulation of the senses as you hear sounds of a kitchen, pots and pans clanging, knifes cutting and pressure cooker whistles. The chef sprays your hands with strong-smelling essential oils, a spice box with distinct aromas is passed around. The artiste tells stories of cooking, passes instructions and asks questions. The pan in the middle sizzles with more smells. Interestingly, only the actual food is missing, which, chef Manu Chandra tells us, was deliberate. However, the audience leaves with appetites strongly stimulated.
A Tale of Two Cities
What could be common to Varanasi and Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka? Five artists from Sri Lanka and six from India provide some answers in a brilliant interpretation of history, culture, politics, religion and spirituality, in this exhibition conceptualised by Renu Modi. Deeply entrenched in myth, folklore and religion, both cities have deep histories dating back to ancient times. Sculptures, photographs, installations, paintings and pieces of art attempt to trace the connections between the two cities, divided by geography, but connected with history.
A theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tempest, Talatum was the fest’s biggest production in terms of scale, space, participation and perhaps even money. Directed by Abhilash Pillai, it was also the grandest spectacle, bringing forth the dying circus arts. Fire eating, magic, acrobatics, aerial arts and puppetry mixed smoothly with dance, music and theatre. With barely a spoken word, the play conveyed the story through the physicality and costumes of the performers. Performed in a tent, it felt like a circus performance. Aimed at reviving the circus, interestingly, it was all the elements of a circus that attracted the loudest applause. Curators Lillete Dubey and Anuradha Kapur told us about the months of practice put in by the artistes, adding that the play plans to travel across the country after opening at Serendipity.