Grey skies and frequent showers marked Saturday but nothing dampened the enthusiasm on day one of the protest festival at Red Fort. The two-day festival, which is also being held in Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru, has been organised by Delhi-based artists collective ‘Artists Unite’ as a mark of protest against the “assault on culture over the last five years”.
Referring to the near-constant drizzle, journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani said, “It seems as if this rain will wash away some of the hate that we have seen in this country in the last five years.”
The festival got off to a slow start thanks to the dismal weather, but crowds soon started filling seats at stages set up for the performances.
According to Kaustubh Naik, a JNU student at the festival, the organisers had made an effort to reach out to a more diverse audience. This, he said, was an important way of ensuring that the messages for peace and against hatred, emanating from performances, went beyond the usual echo chambers. “If this had been held at any of the usual venues like Mandi House, you would have seen many of the same faces that you always see at such events. It was a good move by the organisers to hold the event at the Fort, because now even tourists are being drawn here out of curiosity,” said Naik.
The site, in fact, was specifically chosen also for its political symbolism, said independent filmmaker Rahul Roy, who is part of ‘Artists Unite’. “We realised that the message we are sending out about the assault on art and culture has to come from a politically significant place. Red Fort, moreover, is at the heart of the city… and the audience that we get here is not the regular Delhi cultural protest crowd,” he said.
Sherwani also remarked that the Fort had become associated with the Prime Minister over the last few years. “I’m glad that ‘Artists Unite’ has reclaimed this space for all of us,” she said.
The festival continues on Sunday, and will feature performances by Shubha Mudgal, Aditi Mangaldas and Astad Deboo. It also features displays of artwork by artists such as Pushpamala N, Tushar Joag and Prabhakar Pachpute, besides screening documentaries.