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Published on: Jan. 24, 2022, 11:22 a.m.
Northeast, at a new venue
  • Performances of local cultural expressions were very popular with the audiences

By Suman Tarafdar

In a world where change has been more constant than usual, shifting an entire festival from one city to another well over a thousand kilometres away barely broke the headlines. Yet, for Delhi’s popular Northeast Festival, which had to postpone its ninth edition from December to January, and then move to Assam’s capital Guwahati, it was no mean feat, especially as the event was put up literally overnight.

“Every year, we do the festival in Delhi, and this festival is for Delhi,” stressed Shyamkanu Mahanta, Founder, The Northeast Festival. The festival, which began with the aim to addressing the attacks against people from the North eastern states and create awareness about the bountiful region of the East by presenting the diverse culture on one platform, and has been held annually in the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in the midst of Lutyens Delhi – which incidentally was out of bounds due to the ongoing Central Vista renovation.  While an alternate venue was booked, and then changed at seven days’ notice once the latest variant of Covid-19 began spreading, even permission for the latter venue was later withdrawn.

 “On 31 December, I came back to Guwahati and spoke to my team, and booked a venue called Veterinary Ground,” Mahanta added. “Assam was not Omicron impacted then. However, on the fifth, even that venue was changed to a hotel as Omicron cases showed up here too. A lot of people backed out as they never wanted a place where lots of people could come. A lot of sponsors backed out. The biggest challenge became to get financial closure and to do the programme. Not being in Delhi was a big setback, our audience is there.”

However, despite all the challenges, the festival went ahead, with a lot of live streaming becoming a new way to reach out. Sessions on tourism saw stakeholders from across India address how to augment the sector in the region. Attendees included several tourism ministers from the region’s states. Several federal ministers joined sessions digitally, including the minister for the Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), G Kishan Reddy, while the former chief minister of Assam and current Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal made it to the event in person, addressing an enclave on the Brahmaputra basin.  The festival, which provides a platform for entrepreneurs, investors, and business to connect, brought in new audiences via online. “Digital is good for policy and investment sessions, but for food and crafts, physical presence is a must,” Mahanta said.

It wasn’t all about policy and investment though. The festival’s chief currency has been its showcasing of the region’s cultural wealth and diversity, and that was again the cynosure with a range of participants, including the presence of Olympic medallist Lovlina Borgohain, who walked the runway wearing an Assamese traditional mekhela chador part of the wedding collection designed by Bidyut & Rakesh. Some of the region’s best known cultural icons, such as Adil Hussain and the music brand Rhythms of Manipur, besides a host of traditional performers, were on hand to enthral the audiences.

Mahanta promised that the next edition – scheduled for November in Delhi – would be bigger and better, though he does not rule out a festival in the northeast. “The aim is to showcase the northeast, and the media can communicate our message, and Delhi is very important for that.”

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