“It’s not so much what you learn about Mumbai, it’s what you learn about yourself, really. It’s a funny old hippie thing, but it’s true as well. You find out a lot about yourself and your tolerance, and about your inclusiveness.”
Albeit easy to dismiss as a frivolous or a ‘first-world’ category, urban entertainment is one of the underrated avenues that came up from the response we received from the bevy of youngsters we reached out to as part of our ‘Youth Manifesto’ initiative, in partnership with Operation Black Dot. When we speak about urban entertainment – we mean far more than just the clubbing scene of Bombay and this weekend’s potential for pub-hopping (although we’re sure that’s fun too). We’re talking about photography and art exhibitions, book releases for upcoming authors, workshops, filmmaker interactions, the possibility of hearing your favourite tunes live or bagging rare editions of old books at second-hand sales.
Bombay is a city that has always inspired and moved artists and the prosaic alike, with its complex and multi-faceted cultural spectrum and its unrelenting charm that keeps one coming back for more. How are we to discover the next Saadat Hasan Manto or Pablo Bartholomew if we don’t even know they exist? In a city where there are perceived to be so many opportunities and folds within the cultural fabric, we find that we are yet to explore its full potential, still.
Maximum (Entertainment Tax) City
When it comes to the burgeoning independent music scene here, while there are little pockets that foster initiatives, a lot of event organisers, music festivals and artist performances still suffer the brunt of entertainment taxes that usher them out to neighbouring cities that are more accommodating of their budgets.
“Independent bands or artists that don’t have the funds or sponsors cannot perform in the city that will can them the maximum exposure – what is the point of it being called an entertainment hub, then, if entertainment taxes are too high?”
We have to admit Meher Manda, 22, from Mumbai University, has a point.
Where It’s At
Even when something cool and interesting is happening in the city, more often than not it is an exclusive event that only those active within these pockets are privy to. Why is it that we have to actively seek out niche publications like a Mumbai Boss or a Time Out Mumbai to find events listed that a lot of us would genuinely be interested in? Why isn’t social media – teeming with selfies and foodporn – better employed to promote these events?
After poring over the results that the survey yielded, Homegrown and OBD listed out a few issues that came up more consistently during the interviews and even put down a few solutions and suggestions to boot. Here’s what we could do to lend entertainment culture the elbow space it needs to flourish in a city with incredible potential:
I. Special Entertainment Zones
A) Having your cake and eating it too.
“Most of the really nice events happen during the weekends, and there’s no way I can make it to all of them in a single day.”
No matter how dedicated a patron of the arts you are, road rage and shuttling from one venue to another can really take its toll on you. Imagine arriving at a venue one weekend, instead, where you can hop from a film screening to a food festival and still manage to round off your night with tunes from your favourite independent musicians. Sounds like a plan, right?
SEZ’s or Special Entertainment Zones could be delineated areas where pubs and bars, which host artists for gigs and performances can all be located away from residential areas. Besides, other cultural activities like exhibitions, workshops, conferences can also be held here, making it a hub for the arts without preying on the privacy and peace of mind of the neighbours. This would also mean that we would never have to face heartbreak like when Zenzi, Bandra--one of the most loved venues in this city--shut down due to the frayed nerves and waning patience of the residents in the area.
B) Searching for Mid-ground
“The entertainment taxes are a pain, and a lot of the money that could go into promotion, ends up being spent there instead.”
Evolved genres and sub-cultures in India will never find a platform if they have to continue to contend with the wrath of entertainment taxes.
Discussions need to be held between the government and unions in the artist community so we can all arrive at a conclusion that’s at feasible mid-ground, and shake on it.
II. City of the Spaceless
“Do you like my new bag? It’s about the size of a 1BHK in Bandra.”
This is a city of cramped quarters, and it is quite admirable how well we all get along (on most days) considering how often one finds themselves nestled in someone else’s armpit on the local. Where do we go, even if we want to discuss a film or brainstorm or just jam?
Getting off your butt and taking initiative would be a lot easier if the government were to sponsor more recreational spaces for cultural activities. Even better – make it cheaper with subsidized fees to draw in patrons. Sometimes all you need is a place for like-minded youngsters to hang out for ideas to germinate. Co-working spaces like The Playce and cultural hubs like The Hive have really got the right idea.
A) Open-Air Goodness
Parks – which there aren’t enough of in the city to begin with - would make for great open-air venues for cosy exhibitions, fairs and workshops. A nominal entrance fee should sort out the maintenance costs, and this would also mean more of these relatively smaller events all over the city. Goodbye, road rage.
B) Action School Time
There are generally plenty of parks adjoining schools and colleges – the footfalls are just waiting to be welcomed in. Workshops, poetry slams, artist interactions and exhibitions would mean some hands-on event management work for the students... plus young, budding artists would find a legit platform to read out their earliest, most embarrassing works to.
C) Seaside Rendezvous
While developing seaside promenades like Marine Drive or Carter Road as venues might seem a little far-fetched logistically, who doesn’t like to harbour their own seaside fantasy? The youth would love to see the promenades eventually being used as makeshift venues for pop-up performances and to host exhibitions. Since the sea-scented landmarks are so popular to begin with, there’s sure to be an audience and the setting is gorgeous.
III. Revolving Art Venues
“Remember that time when Fink & The Staves performed at Liberty Cinema?”
Now these are the kinds of quotes we’d like to hear more often. The iconic Marine Lines art deco Liberty Cinema proudly announced this landmark performance with a charming old-school marquee. Having moved past pure cinema to throw open its halls to a host of cultural events like stand-up comedy, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, tribute gigs since – they have helped us stumble upon a treasure trove of potential. Mehboob Studios is another versatile haunt for culture vultures, a performing arts venue that’s a refreshing spell of good news in a flurry of mutters about exorbitant entertainment taxes.
If we start expanding our horizons of a ‘traditional’ cultural space, there’s a good chance we could navigate our way around the lack of space in the city to find a way to encourage art and culture to bring it closer to an audience that is vying to know more.
IV. Silver Screen Thrills
“My torrent’s got no seeders.”
Nothing as liberating as shrugging off torrents to watch your favourite indie film or documentary on the big screen. Plus, it’s kind of nice to watch these films with like-minded people for the intense post-film discussions, instead of finding yourself largely clueless about the commercial films in multiplexes.
Screenings of films and documentaries regarding pertinent social issues – without championing a political agenda – would be such a hands-on move towards altering regressive mindsets in the country. Constructive culture is highly underrated – hand-in-hand with the school of thought that underestimates the intelligence of audiences. Again, keeping it easy on the pocket would mean students and youngsters from all streams of education/walks of life could gain access to content that’d otherwise be a niche domain.
V. Midnight Munchies
“We could try the station but I don’t know... it’s 5AM, it might be a little shady.”
Whether it’s biryani or a quick roll - we desperately need more places to eat at night that stay open till late besides 5-star hotels.
The youth is looking for places that are inexpensive without fearing for their safety as they approach a restaurant for a midnight snack.
VI. Red Tape Alert
There are no less than 27 different permissions required to organize basic cultural events in the city; if we didn’t know better, we’d think they almost want to discourage cultural initiatives.
These permissions could be standardized in some way, such that taking initiative doesn’t feel like a gruelling quest you have to slay a dragon (or 27) for. If the procedures are digitized, better still - we can start clicking away that much sooner.
VII. Public Spaces & Palettes
“Public Art Projects don’t receive the kind of attention they should in Bombay.”
What was the last major public art project in the city that was the talk of town? That’s right – Terminal 2 at the airport. And while that was a great source of pride for the city, more of these would mean a more freqent, if casual, exposure to art to brighten up our days.
Grants and subsidies for artists are something we’re all very fond of, and if they could be used to make our city a cleaner and more colourful place to live, all the more reason to make them happen.
We have to admit we were quite impressed with some of the innovative suggestions that have come in. It makes us realize – with utter relief - that we are not all resigned to the current state of affairs; a lot of us still dare (read: bother) to envision a tomorrow that holds some promise. After talking these issues extensively, we feel like a lot of us want to inject some more colour into the cultural landscape of the city and coax it into becoming the more culturally-inclusive city, teeming with art, that it can be. A lot of these proposed solutions are actually plausible and we’re excited about incorporating these in the Urban Youth Manifesto, to get the wheels turning.
This is not the sound of self-satisfied teenagers living large without consequence. This is the sound of democratic participation, in the midst of a new awakening. We hope you feel inspired to join in the conversation too. Drop us a line with your thoughts in the comment section below or email us at email@example.com. If your suggestion is valid, we’ll be sure to include it in the final version of the manifesto too, and credit you for the same.
Stay tuned for our Homegrown X Operation Black Dot series of articles, which will be shedding light on Education tomorrow, as we move forth towards the upcoming State Elections.
Words: Aditi Dharmadhikari