Unboxing BLR Habba: Bengaluru’s citywide festival weaves threads of arts, culture, and innovation

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Festivals celebrating a city, like the famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, play a unique role. They are the threads that weave together the diverse strands — historical, cultural, artistic, social, and economic — of the city’s identity. They emerge as vibrant chronicles that celebrate the spirit of an urban community and capture its pulsating heartbeat. Unboxing BLR Habba (UBH), the inaugural edition of which will unfold from December 1 to 11, wants to be such a festival.

According to festival facilitator Ravichandar V, the goal is to create a comprehensive citywide event that celebrates Bengaluru’s multifaceted identity. With 55 partners across 12 categories, including performing arts, visual arts, literature, design, technology, food, sport, and more, the festival promises an array of 300 events — free and ticketed — distributed across the city. The 11-day gala has merged pre-existing festivals like the Bangalore Tech Summit (BTS), Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), and Bangalore Design Week (BDW) under one umbrella. Though it is a private-led initiative, it has the state government’s support. 

“Recently, there was an article pondering whether Bangalore is emerging as the new cultural capital of India, with institutions like BIC, Indian Music Experience, Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), and Science Gallery Bengaluru gaining prominence. This festival will fortify this view,” says Ravichandar, who’s also the director of Bangalore International Centre (BIC) and is part of the team that organises BLF.

The idea for UBH was born from the recently released book Unboxing Bengaluru: The City Of New Beginnings by Malini Goyal and Prashanth Prakash. 

“During the book’s writing, Prashanth, who’s active in social and civic issues, felt that Bengaluru needed its own city festival. As the book neared completion in October, he proposed launching it in December. And I volunteered to facilitate the festival,” adds Ravichandar.

Coming together

The festival collaborates with numerous cultural spaces within the city, such as BIC, IME, MAP, and Bangalore Creative Circus (BCC). Bringing together all these organisations in less than two months must have been daunting. But Ravichandar says, “It wasn’t, they readily came on board. Some of the big festivals like BLF and BDW were already on board and there’s a chance for spaces like BIC or IME to get a new audience through this collaboration. For instance, someone who is signing up for a golf event might check out MAP since everything is under one tent. So, it’s a win-win scenario for the festival and the participating organisations.” 

Collaboration of cultural spaces will strengthen the city’s cultural identity, believes Kamini Sawhney, the director of MAP.

“I believe cultural institutions should collaborate more and share a common goal. We are all integral parts of the city, contributing to a shared cultural community. But no single institution can achieve this alone. Working collectively is far more impactful. So, I see this as a significant shift, especially considering that such collaboration has been limited in the past,” she says.

Mansee Shah Thard, the co-founder of Lahe Lahe, an alternative arts and culture space in Indiranagar, concurs with Kamini. 

“This festival addresses a pressing need for the city’s cultural spaces to form a network. I believe that art and culture play pivotal roles in community building,” she says, “The ongoing collaboration marks a positive beginning. And I hope it facilitates more such partnerships (between cultural spaces) in the future. Because, it will allow artists, irrespective of their stature, to showcase their talents to diverse audiences. For example, if Lahe Lahe isn’t available, I can help them to connect with Atta Galatta. So, I would like a broader synergy beyond the festival, where cross-promotion and collaboration between artistic spaces become integral.” 

Prashanth, who came up with the idea for a citywide festival, is understandably chuffed at these different private institutions readily willing to join UBH. “This is just our debut edition. It is so encouraging to see such overwhelming support from everyone to make this festival a huge success,” he says.

Something for everyone

What sets Unboxing BLR Habba apart, according to Ravichandar, is its widespread events — free and ticketed — across multiple locations in the city, making it inclusive, geographically and financially.

“It’s not tailored for a specific demographic, such as the tech or start-up community. We aim to provide something for everyone. For example, we are organising open streets on six roads, closing off about half a kilometre of each road. These streets will host a diverse array of activities, including a flea market, performances, theatre, singing, and music.”

“We’re also keen on showcasing the rich cultural diversity of the region. This includes hosting Kannada plays, music sessions, and Yakshagana performances. Importantly, these cultural events are not exclusive to the Kannada-speaking audience. We want to ensure that individuals who may not be familiar with Kannada culture can also experience and appreciate the traditions of this land,” he adds.

Not every citizen of Bengaluru will be interested in every event of the festival, given the diverse range of choices offered —whether it is drama, theatre, music, or literature. But the organisers hope they will check out at least three of the 300-plus events. “Even if they participate in one per cent of the events, we’ll consider that a success,” says Ravichandar.

For more information, schedule, and registrations, visit habba.unboxingblr.com



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