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Posts by Swapna Narayanan

Pickle Jar – Community of Cinema Lovers!

Pickle Jar is a Bengaluru based community of cinema lovers, who are bound by their passion for watching movies and their commitment to social issues. This community consists of members from different walks of life who, while holding full time professional roles, come together and conduct film festivals that leave a lingering taste and some happy memories long after they are over, just like a pickle!

The community was founded by Vasanthi Hariprakash, a well-known Radio and TV personality in Bengaluru. Known for her vibrant enthusiasm and her passion for all things social, she says she thought of this group after reading an article by the well-known actress Shabana Azmi on her contemporary actress Smita Patil. While the article initially seeded only a thought to catch up on a Smita Patil movie, it eventually – on prodding by a friend – transformed into a bigger vision, why not get some more folks and see the movie together?

And, that led to creation of Pickle Jar, a community that converses, co-creates and curates cinema.

Their journey began in 2016 with a Smita Patil Film Festival, the first of its kind in Bengaluru in May last year that was inaugurated by Shyam Benegal, and it was a huge success. It managed to enliven back Smita Patil into our lives and showcased her as a classic actress to the newer generation who had only heard about her. What made the festival different though was the conversations that made people reflect and think deeper, and of course left a lingering taste and memory long after it was over, much to their liking!

Charged with the response they received, in November last year, they hosted the Hrishikesh Mukherjee Film Festival that had renowned actor Amol Palekar conversing and sharing many unknown nuggets on the one of the best film makers known for his simplicity. Much before Steve Jobs coined the phrase, Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, Hrishikesh Mukherjee had lived it while making his films!

Since its inception, the group has been progressing ahead and getting some nods, pats and applauds by some greats of Indian cinema like Shyam Benegal, Mahesh Bhatt, Amol Palekar TS Nagabharana, and some younger directors like Vikas Bahl, Raam Reddy and Suman Kittur.

The next on the card for them is Travel Talkies, a film festival scheduled to be held later this month in Chennai (16 and 17 Dec), where they will feature some travel related feature films, must-watch documentaries and, short films from across the country. As always with Pickle Jar, the festival will be unique in quite a few ways. It intends to show 7 feature films in 5 Indian languages to show case the beautiful multilingual diversity of India. This time around, they are also planning to show some short films to showcase new talent. These travel-based short films will be judged by a renowned jury. And, most importantly will encourage and inspire women to travel solo and see the world!  Entry to the show that is being held at Wandering Artist, Chennai is free.

So, if you happen to be in Chennai for that weekend and are a travel and movie buff, you know where to go!

Meanwhile I am so glad that my city Bengaluru, largely known as a Startup city in the IT industry, is transforming itself to be art, culture and literary hub too, with such fledgling initiatives like Pickle Jar.

Love you, Bengaluru!


Swapna Narayanan is an author of short stories and poems currently based in Bengaluru, India.

Tete-a-tete with Gayathri Krishna of Bhoomija

Bhoomija meaning ‘born of the earth’ is a Bengaluru based Performing Arts trust that was started in Aug 2012 with a clear mandate of making the finest performing arts accessible to all audiences. It is the brainchild of Gayathri Krishna and is a trust that includes Anjali Joshi and Archana Prasad. In a span of 5 years, Bhoomija has become a well-known name in Bengaluru and has exceeded expectations in its mission of showcasing the rich heritage and variety of performing arts from around the world in India, and taking Indian music and dance to world venues and festivals. They have done close to 125 shows with maestros like Padma Vibhushana Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, Padma Bhushana Vikku Vinayakram, Padma Bhushana Prabha Atre, Bombay Jayashri, TM Krishna, Roysten Abel, Aruna Sairam, Malavika Sarukkai, Ranjani-Gayatri, Abhishek Raghuram etc.

I caught up with Gayathri recently and she passionately spoke about, what she calls her daughter, Bhoomija. Here are some snippets of our conversation.

Swapna: I have seen you in corporate meeting rooms, then in the corridors of Ranga Shankara as Arundhati Nag’s able right hand, and now as the torch bearer of Bhoomija. You seem to have come a long way. What drove you to walk this unique, and largely unheard of path?

Gayathri: Well, it is a journey that began long back. I have always an attentive and appreciative audience. Right from a young age, I used to go and attend all possible plays and theatre shows that happened in Bengaluru. My career at that time was largely based outside India. But whenever I was in in India, I ensured I caught up on plays. And, I have this habit to go back stage after the play and appreciate the performers.

This was the time when the play Nagamandala was staged by Arundhati Nag and Shankar Nag and as always, I went up backstage and met them too.

A few years later, after Shankar Nag had passed away, I read an article by Sowmya Aji which said Arundhati Nag’s dream is crying for funds. Excited that such an initiative had been thought of for the cultural scene of my city, and appalled that the dream may not materialize because of lack of funds, I immediately reached out to Arundhati, made a little contribution and requested her to make me a part of the team. To give credit to her, she remembered me from those backstage interactions. Though my contribution was quite small to her overall vision, it was well appreciated by her. And that began my journey with Ranga Shankara.

Things eventually changed at my end and I moved back to Bengaluru for good and got further involved with Ranga Shankara. Today Ranga Shankara is the one of the leading theatres in India hosting both national and international plays of repute.

Bhoomija, on the other hand, focusses on the performing arts space. It all began with one of the children shows that we had curated at Ranga Shankara. The show was over and I had just stepped out in the lobby where I saw a few young children exclaiming in joy while interacting with artists. Those children never knew about the concept of live shows and were mesmerized by the artists and were touching and feeling them to make sure they were for real! That was my moment of truth. It dawned on me that, if let go, the roots will get uprooted and we will completely lose touch with the performing arts heritage of our country!

So, that sowed the seeds for coming up with a platform that makes the finest performing arts accessible to all audiences, remunerative for artistes and sustainable for the organizers. And Bhoomija was born to showcase the rich heritage and variety of performing arts from around the world in India, and taking Indian music and dance to world venues and festivals.

And today, I am so glad to share that we have done close to 125+ shows in a span of 5 years and all of them were very well received and appreciated.

Swapna: Apart from the diminishing focus on our culture, the passion for performing arts also seems to be the core driver for you. So where were those seeds sown? How was your childhood? Was it spent entirely in the lap of art, music, and theatre?

Gayathri: Well, yes. I hail from a family of musicians. My father, Vidwaan HN Krishna, was a musician who used to regularly perform. He would be someone who would be constantly singing and hence music ran in our lives. My home used to constantly resonate with discussions on swara, tala, shruti, raga, kriti etc. and thus music became an intrinsic part of my life. While I did not take to music as a profession, I did become a discerning listener.

Swapna: Performing arts is fairly well defined in our country, especially in the south of India. Yet Bhoomija, since its inception has made a mark. Your first show with Bombay Jayashri was a super hit. Subsequently you have done many shows. What differentiates Bhoomija?

Gayathri: My vision is to bring the best to the masses. I want best of the artists to perform for the widest of the masses, so that the art form seeps in and gets entrenched into our society and does not run the risk of uprooting! Our culture must sustain for generations to come.

That said, I also want people to listen/see, what I call in common terms – superstar artists – at an affordable price. All our shows were priced at Rs.300 per seat. While I am constantly advised that I should increase the ticket price for stalwarts who perform for Bhoomija, I do not believe in that. I cannot deny the sustenance pressures, but for them I work harder. And with now GST in play, we have further reduced our ticket price to Rs.249, but that is fine.

Another differentiator is that contrary to the normal shows, our shows always have a narration by the artist. This narrative ensures the show is holistic and the audience is involved and connected. We have experimented with unique formats that have worked very well. For example, a show titled – Different Tongues, One Heart Beat – was done by Ranjani Gayatri that had songs from 13 different languages. And the show was well received and highly appreciated. Artists like to perform for a receptive audience, and we want the audiences to experience the lyrics, story, melody, music or visuals all in a format that appeals and connects.

And finally, all the costumes used in our show are stitched in Khadi. I strongly insist on using khadi and organic textiles. Going back to the roots, back to where we all come from, back to our earth.

Swapna: Children, and motivating them to take up performing arts, seem to be another critical core in your vision for Bhoomija. Motivating children to take up classical music/art forms has never been an easy task. More so in today’s times, where gadgets take more precedence and western forms of music are more influential. At times like these, you managed to set up initiatives like JackFruit, Manganiyar, Carnatic Choir, Youth Carnatic Orchestra etc. curated by stalwarts like Jayanti Kumaresh, Bombay Jayashri, Vikku Vinayaka Ram etc. Tell us something more about it.

Gayathri: Children are my core motivators. They are the key to continue with our traditional art forms and it is our responsibility to make them aware, appreciate, experience these and eventually engrain it within their own core beings. Jackruit series, Manganiyar Class Room, Youth Orchestra are all group initiatives where artists put up a show with the children.

So now we have a largely solo pursuit, now transformed into an ensemble that is enabling the students to get a different feel of the art form. Students are generally attached very closely to their gurus, and they rarely get a chance to perform with other gurus.

Our idea is to see if we can, while the musicians are young enough to be able to, get together for an ensemble show, with a maestro who is willing to work with them. Also, we give these productions a theatre director who brings in the aesthetic and fun elements, to make the concert into a proper show.

And it also has a few more significant advantages – a) Artists are enthusiastic about a format like this. They are game and they love this format of imparting and sharing. b) We are able to identify the child prodigies. Quite a few of these kids have found pedestals to further grow. c) The children get a taste of the art form presented differently that their own guru. They also get to interact with other students of classical music, make new friends, have fun and collectively learn. Their music awareness goes beyond what they knew all the while and opens the world for them. d) Last, but not the least, the sheer joy of seeing these children perform is immeasurable.

Not to forget the fun that, I and the artists, have in teaching them, making them rehearse, planning their costumes, keeping them interested and eventually seeing them perform. Each of our performances have been highly successful and has left an impact.

Swapna: Bhoomija has just completed 5 years. We have seen a diverse set of musicians, performances, and collaborations on stage and each one of them have been successful, wonderful and most importantly mesmerizing. And our Bengaluru audience seems to be lapping it all up! Whether it is individual performances by superstar artists or collaborative shows like SamMohanam, Rajasthani Folk by Roysten Abel, or the recent Karnataka Sufi songs Manteswamy Kavya, each of them seems to be hand-picked and curated with a purpose. What is the purpose, or in corporate terms – the strategy, behind it?

Gayathri: Couple of things that have driven us at Bhoomija so far – senior artists, well thought out performances, unique themes, and wonderful collaborations. And audiences enjoy these collaborations that are deep rooted yet differently presented.

And let me also tell you, artists love to collaborate. They love to interact with other artists and work together to create beautiful pieces that not only bring out the best of both the art forms but also give an enthralling experience for the audience. Very similar to the Crème da le Crème or Hot Chocolate Fudge ice cream. While Vanilla is the core, you enjoy the add-ons to feel sheer bliss.

Each of these shows that you talk about, whether it is SamMohanam, Shabad Dhun Lagi, Rajasthani Manganiyar or Manteswamy Kavya –are all either unique collaborations or delightful rooted flavors of our country and people must listen, enjoy and revel in their beauty.

Swapna: Going global is always the mantra for all things Indian. You opened the world for Bhoomija and took it to Syndey, U.S. and even China. What have been your experiences there? Have you been able to paint an Indian narrative that is based on our rich culture and heritage to the world? And what next in the global arena?

Gayathri: We wanted to take Indian classical music to world music centres. So, the concerts in the main venues of Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall. The diaspora enjoyed these experiences immensely.
But what still holds us in awe at Bhoomija is our China experience. Bombay Jayashri was just nominated for the Academy Awards and we tied up with a festival presenter in China for a six-city tour concert tour with workshops. We ended up with 4 workshops with each workshop having about 300 participants. It is a significant feat that so many people wanted to learn the nuances of Indian Classical Music and were willing to invest that kind of time to get oriented to it. I find something like this so beautiful and touching – the fact that people are keen and lap up an opportunity that comes their way to learn about something so alien to them. And the power our music must enable something like this.

Now, we are on a mission of bringing the best of the world to Bengaluru. We are planning to build a performing arts centre that will bring together some great talent from around the world in its design and execution. Hopefully, we will be able to pull this together soon. The centre will be named after MS Subbulakshmi, as our tribute to the best known trailblazing performers of India. So, till then, enjoy our shows, and motivate Bhoomija to work towards its two-faced purpose of reconnecting with our roots, and building a world class theatre here.

Swapna Narayanan is an author of short stories and poems currently based in Bengaluru, India.

Nurturing our Roots


‘…Parda nahin jab koi khuda se, bandon se parda karna kya…’

sang a young woman passionately in love, yet strong in her head, and shook an entire sultanate with her courage, conviction and, of course, sheer love for her beloved.

Loosely translated, the verse means when there is no veil with the Supreme Lord, where does the need arise to veil up myself (my thoughts/feelings) in front of humans.

The classic love story of the beautiful courtesan Anarkali and Prince Salim, Emperor Akbar’s son, is making inroads back into our lives, in the form of a musical! A theatre production brought to life by Feroze Abbas Khan, a well-known theatre director, this musical is a live rendition of one of the iconic Hindi movies of Indian Cinema – Mughal-E-Azam.

Art and culture form the core root of our society. And any, and all, attempts to strengthen it, nurture it, and, in today’s times, reinforce it, is welcome and needs an applause.

Let me pause here and take readers back into history. Mughal-E-Azam was an all-time hit movie that was known for its magnificent sets, extravagant decor, beautiful costumes, melodious music, outstanding star cast, and memorable dialogues. It was also a writing masterpiece, with seamless dialogues and classic conversations depicting the social fabric of the times as well as giving a mesmerizing insight into the passionate love, prevalent social dogmas, unyielding elders, staunch lovers, and positions of power. Though a black and white movie, the costume, cinematography, characters, scenes, and many such aspects were thought through with great attention while making this film. The film took close to a decade to complete and cost the filmmaker an unimaginable sum of money, and resulted in a spectacular classic.

And now this iconic film is running full houses as a musical show in live theatre to great applause and appreciation! 

It is highly gratifying to see that this form of theatre is coming to life at a time when technology is sweeping across our lives and alienating us from our core roots. Ask any 20-year-old today about 3D, VR (Virtual Reality) or AI (Artificial Intelligence),  you may very well receive an instant answer from them. But prod them on Kudiyattam, Bhavai or Jatra forms of theatre, you are going to see them staring back at you.

Street plays, stage performance, puppet shows, folk plays, short skits etc. are turning alien to too many millennials. While they were once, to use a contemporary term, ‘talent base’ of actors for the Indian Cinema, today you see them moving into oblivion. Great actors like Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh have their roots in theatre from where they went on to become successful actors. Down south, actors like Rajkumar or NTR started their careers in street theatre and went on to become successful actors. They not only acted, but also directed and sang their own musical plays.

Coming back to Mughal-E-Azam, why a musical?

In 2004, a colored version of Mughal-E-Azam was released. And somewhere at that time the roots of watching a musical were sown in his mind, says the director. All for love, he adds. To quote his words, ‘Love stories are bigger when sacrifices are big. Anarkali knew the consequences of loving Salim. She was ready to die for love.’

Driven by the firm belief that a theatre is more befitting for this classic, the makers have used a cast of over 350 people and created a play that runs for about 2 hours and 15 minutes and holds a strong contemporary sensibility. The grand set, the costumes, trained dancers and more importantly the live singing on stage brings to life the immortal movie for us, and makes us relive the historical fiction. The play has already run 50+ shows in Mumbai and New Delhi and intends to go global next year. So, all you lovers of this form of art, do take your families, especially the younger ones, and see this musical when it comes to your city.

I hope this endeavour of Feroze Abbas Khan ignites other creative minds, sets the tune for more such plays, nurtures our core art forms, revives them to their full glory and enables younger generations to connect back to our roots. Not only will it enable them to get a hold on our rich culture and heritage but also empower them to connect with their own selves, and the people around through a theatrical depiction of various emotions of life like trust, love, betrayal, anger, friendship, remorse, forgiveness etc.

After all, certain things like love and happy relationships cannot be downloaded using an App on a mobile phone!


Swapna Narayanan is an author of short stories and poems currently based in Bengaluru, India.