The Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF) is one of the largest Literary Festivals to be held in the City of Joy each year. Spanning 5 days, with more than 180 speakers, the AKLF is eagerly awaited by many in Kolkata, especially bibliophiles. AKLF18 which was held from the 11th to 15th January saw the coming together of some of the brilliant minds in the spheres of journalism, literature, environment, and education. It was also ruled by famous Bollywood personalities who turned recent authors. The best part of the event was the chance to personally interact with one’s inspirations and well, get your books signed! Notably, there have been numerous sessions but I would highlight some of my favorite ones through this blog post.
Day 1: The Oxford Junior Literature Festival (OJLF) was inaugurated by Usha Uthup and Nandana Sen. Her lovely song ‘Kolkata Kolkata Don’t Worry Kolkata’ still reverberates in the atmosphere. It was followed by a dramatized presentation of a very interesting story by ace writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen. Nandana Sen presented her new book to the children- ‘Talky Tumble at Jumble Farm’. She even asked the children from the audience to join her during her act. Anita Agnihotri’s performance of the very famous story of the Monkey and the Crocodile and other stories was a pleasure to watch. The fluidity in her movements defined the epitome of performing arts and was an inspiration for people to earn how storytelling can be adapted into dance forms. Bookwise was a Quiz organized for the children of the various schools who had come for the event. It was followed by Metajingle- a multidisciplinary theatrical event. The OJLF is one of the few literary festivals which cater to the young minds. The habit of reading, thinking, analyzing and performing needs to be inculcated in the children from their school lives. Thus, the OJLF is just the right platform to give them the ‘food for thought’ and the right exposure to activating their grey cells.
The highlight event of the first day was that of acclaimed director, Mira Nair in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury. Nair who has completed over thirty years in International Cinema spoke about her experiences in filmmaking and answered a variety of questions from the audience. Her much-loved movie Monsoon Wedding was also discussed. The dark wintry evening with a packed audience under the shamiana seemed to her like the perfect setting for the Monsoon Wedding.
Day 2: Seventeen sessions were held on the 12th of January across two main venues- St Paul’s Cathedral Church and The Tollygunge Golf Club. The highlights of the day were:
- Akla Chalo Re: this performance theatre answered a very crucial question- what can Tagore’s women teach today’s women? Tagore, in his writings, have often portrayed very strong female characters. His farsightedness had actually laid the foundations of what we define as women empowerment in contemporary times. It was conceptualized by Isheeta Ganguly.
- Joy Bangla, which explored Sudeep Chakraverti’s new book The Bengalis: A Portrait of a Community, had an outstanding panel comprising- Kalyan Ray, Mr. Ashis Nandy, Sudeep Chakravarti and Sudeep Sen. A fruitful conversation followed regarding the Bengali Community and their existence in the modern world. The concept of Probashi Bangali (NRI) was also touched upon.
- Out of the Woods? Last Girl First was performed by Tishani Doshi. Based on her poem was followed a conversation with Ruchira Gupta, Paromita Chakravarti, and Juhi Khatoon. The conversation highlighted the need of the hour which is to fight for women’s rights and withdraw- legally, aggressively, socially- from the clutches of the malpractices against women.
- Crossing the Line: This was one of the two most revered sessions of the day. With an ace panel consisting of Vishal Bharadwaj, Aparna Sen, Mira Nair, Ratna Pathak Shah, Nandana Sen and moderated by Modhurima Sinha, the session highlighted the portrayal of women on the Big Screen. Each of the panelists had a firm view of the projection of women and how it had evolved over the ages. The perspectives and experiences were many and each of them shared it with the audience with much glee.
- India @ 70: Held at Tollygunge Club, the session had eminent speakers like Sir Mark Tully, Bittu Sahgal, Salil Tripathi, Mira Nair and Advaita Kala. Some prominent questions regarding the Indian Democracy and the principles on which it stands today were discussed. An essential statement made by Sir Mark during the session echoed in the minds of the audience for long. They were,
‘Your belief is your belief,
My belief is my belief.
You let me believe my belief;
And I let you believe in your belief. ‘
Day 3: This day had three of the most sought-after sessions.
- The Big Brother Syndrome: With the ongoing files against Padmavaati/ Padmavaat, it is only understandable that the need of the hour is to openly talk about Censorship. Pertinent questions like is it necessary? To what extent should there be censorship in writing; were asked and answered by the panelists. Censorship has in fact made writers so vulnerable that statements like Censorship are the suicide of a good writer has also been made public.
- Nude: Vishal Bharadwaj in conversation with Pushpesh Pant while unveiling his latest book of poems. His movies have been creating magic on-screen for years and this time, he has created magic through his words.
- Moderately Famous? Actor and recently turned author Soha Ali Khan made her debut in the field of literature through ‘The Perils of Being Moderately Famous’. In it, she pens down her life as the daughter of Pataudi and Sharmila; the sister of Saif; and the sister-in-law of Kareena. She was in conversation with Jayant Kripalani, who has numerous movies and books to his credits. She even obliged the listeners with a few lines in fluent Bengali.
Day 4: 14th of January was a packed day with several sessions running simultaneously at the Max Mueller Bhavan, St Pauls Cathedral and the concluding event at the Indian Museum. The highlights of the day were:
- Nature Nurture: The degrading environment is very much a concern for our contemporary society. This session put forward the theory that one need not join long walks or give a lecture about the environment to instill the perception of saving the environment in people. It can be very subtle yet effectively done with the help of words.
- Sports and Governance: The Way Forward was an enriching session by Boria Majumdar, Justice Mukul Mudgal and Mr. Ashis Nandy. Sport is a field which cannot ever be looked beyond. Various sports-related essays, books, biopics have been written and thus it is inevitable that a session o Sports would not find a space at the AKLF.
- India @ 70: Towards Peace: a panel containing Mr. Ashis Nandy, Nayantara Sahgal, Kishwar Desai and Meghnad Desai; and moderated by Mr. Sanjeev Chopra marked the perfect conclusion to this much-awaited event. Held at the Indian Museum, it was the perfect setting to discuss India- its culture, heritage, peace resolutions, and policies. The concluding session began with an inspiring performance by Usha Uthup. This was followed by the panel and ended with a classical music performance.
AKLF18 was the perfect blend of environment, sports, theatre, social issues, and politics with literature. The literary world has a variety of genre, each pertaining to a specific audience or trying to convey its own thoughts. As they say, Pen is mightier than the Sword; the world of literature has the ability to shape minds and nurture the minds of the young. This is exactly what was upheld by the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival.
The fifth and the final day of the event pertained to the young minds who wanted to enter the field of entrepreneurship, journalism or event management. A series of enriching workshops organized at The Lalit Great Eastern Hotel was a boon for the young minds who are yet undecided about their careers. I will go into details about the workshops in my next post. For more details about the Festival, you can check out the official website here.