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Bhangra with bagpipers


FRINGE BENEFITS: The festivals offer a prestigious platform to both known and unknown artistes

The fiery colours of Kolkata's pandal-makers, the seductive strokes of Indian painters, and the mad energy of our traditional theatre may soon cheer up the dreary landscape of Edinburgh in Scotland. The famous Edinburgh Festivals will have an India theme for the years 2012 to 2014 and the directors of this iconic cultural event are right now in India scouting for fresh talent

As the UK reels under cuts in government spending that are pushing up unemployment and tightening household budgets, the country's arts and culture scene, too, is feeling the pinch. Therefore, the decision of the organisers of the iconic Edinburgh festivals to collaborate with a foreign country and bring in financial support from outside seems a timely and wise one. Soon after the recent two-day visit of the British prime minister, David Cameron, a memorandum of understanding of cultural co-operation was signed which included India-focussed programming for all Edinburgh festivals from 2012 to 2014.

The idea is to value-add the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games by hosting India-centric festivals alongside. The directors envisage an impressive collaboration with some new and some well-established Indian artistes.

Hailed as the biggest festival worldwide, the Edinburgh Festivals is the mecca of the creative fraternity. Anarchic, exhilarating and celebratory in spirit - it is thronged each year by nearly 20, 000 artistes from across the world. Consisting of 12 major festivals - namely the jazz and blues festival, the fringe festival, the science festival, mela festival, Hogmanay festival and many others - it is an umbrella unit which brings together ingenious minds and bodies to showcase a cultural extravaganza unlike any other.

First curated in 1947, historically the festivals provided a great opportunity for the post-War generation to reunite and foster Scotland's vibrant cultural scene. Today, not only has the event grown exponentially, moving away from being merely a nationwide phenomenon, it is also visited by four million people each year, thereby generating an economic impact of 184 million pounds.

Joanna Baker, the managing director of the Edinburgh international festival that presents classical music, opera, theatre and dance, says: "We devise a theme or a structure for most of our programmes and then scout for artistes whose work is in direct relation to our theme. Jonathan Mills, our chief executive and artistic director, decides the overall content. While the procedure of selection is complex and daunting, great care is taken that we choose an artiste who has a body of work that is befitting the mood and the template of our festivals. "

Baker, who is new to India and its artistic vibrancy, believes that narrowing on a set of criteria for selection and representation of upcoming and well-established talents from India is going to be a Herculean task. "While we look at very high standards of entertainment from the participant, one really needs to gauge how best to assimilate those who aren't yet recognised performers. In such situations, we have to rely on something called an international gossip network - a word of mouth channel - that taps into debates and discussions relating to upcoming and underground artists. " Comedian Russell Brand and singing sensation Susan Boyle participated in the festivals before attaining world-wide fame.

Stephen Stenning, director of the Edinburgh mela festival that profiles Scotland's minority ethnic communities through the "mela" concept of socialising, is hopeful of finding original work from India. "I will be travelling to Kolkata to meet pandal-makers of West Bengal. They are also artistes and I want to see if their work can be appropriated in a secular and innovative setting. " Stenning's vision is unique and also fraught with administrative challenges. "I fear that it is going to be a tricky situation to get these artisans' visas and paperwork in order as they are not well-established or backed by any organisation. Yet, I am certain that we can get past these teething troubles and collaborate with the pandal makers. "

Sorcha Carey, who heads the Edinburgh art festival, is keen on capitalising her short stay in India by networking at the Art Summit currently being held in Delhi. "It's a real pity that we have so far not even had one Indian artist in the Edinburgh art festival. I want to change that. " Nick Barley, on the contrary, is more than happy with the response she's received so far from Indian writers in the Edinburgh international book festival. "At the book festival we hold every writer in equal respect. We have had Vikram Seth, Anita Desai and many other bright Indian writers come to the book festival. Our programme not just looks at work by fiction writers but also by philosophers, poets, scientists, politicians and historians. "

Within the gamut of festivals, the one event that stands out each year is the fringe festival. It traces its origin back to 1947 when a group of eight theatrical companies gatecrashed the Edinburgh International Festival and showcased their own productions outside the official premises meant for the festival. Attended by loyalists and newcomers alike in hoards, the fringe festival caters to everyone - from the biggest names in showbiz to even street performers.

Kath Mainland, the festival director, unabashedly says that fringe is the largest open access festival that boasts of a huge reach in terms of industry coverage. "We have something or the other going on from dawn to dusk during festival time. In 2010, in a span of 25 days we had 40, 000 performances in 259 venues and we issued almost 1. 9 million tickets. " Armed with the aim of increasing the visibility of international performers, especially Indian performers, in the coming years, Mainland believes that attracting Indian audiences to Edinburgh will only happen once there is greater participation from the Indian artistic contingent. "We need to focus on getting Indian artistes to work with Scottish artistes. "

From vaudeville to orchestra, to burlesque, to jazz, to even science and innovation, Edinburgh brims with excitement every year during the summer months - bringing light to some exemplary never-seen-before acts and some truly poignant spectacles. And, while the Indian chapter is yet to unfurl, hope floats that India will make its presence felt and take a bow.

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