The common area of the Zostel was buzzing with anticipation. Outside, a steady drizzle picked up, dancing its way across the lush, green valley. A few sought comfort in a hot brew, while others simply soaked in the verdant setting.

This could well have been a gathering of backpackers and travellers up in the hills of Panchgani. But this lot was driven by a different hunger when it hit the road to the Maharashtra town on a glorious Friday morning earlier this month. Over the next couple of days, the arts took centre stage.

The idea of a myriad group — most of whom did not know each other till then — was conceived by an organisation called Platform For Artists (PFA) a little over a year ago. Its purpose was spelt out in its name, but the roots and thoughts were unconventional.

The PFA is run by a group of young people passionate about the arts — and working to create a chain of artistes from across the country. Among those behind it was Pawan Rochwani (24). Rochwani graduated in metallurgy and material science from the College of Engineering Pune in May 2016 and landed a job in Satara, but discovered soon enough that the daily grind of a conventional 9-to-5 job had turned monotonous, with little time to explore what he truly loved.

“He is a theatre person, writer, contemporary dancer, voice-over artiste and photographer. But because of his job, he was forced to chase his real calling only after hours,” says 22-year-old PFA co-founder and CEO Kshitija Sarda, Rochwani’s junior from college.

Rochwani quit his job in January 2017, travelled across India for two months and, on his return, reunited with a few buddies — including Sarda — who had similar dreams. The group decided that what it had to do was unite the arts with travel. “We had already collaborated in the past — he as a photographer and I as a writer. However, when we sought full-time or part-time opportunities to chase similar work, it proved really difficult to find any. So we decided to set up a platform which would allow artistes like us to get together and work,” Sarda says.

PFA hosted its first event in Pune on April 9 last year. Since then, similar sessions were held in eight cities — Mumbai, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Indore, Bengaluru, Delhi and Chennai. Among those who took part in the camps were painters, graphic designers, dancers, writers and musicians.

“One of our first exercises was to conduct a weekend meet-up, an informal event where artistes could network and discuss ideas and opportunities. It didn’t matter if you were a full-time artiste; you had to be interested in the arts. Collaboration is at the crux of PFA, so all our projects are based on that,” Sarda says.

The art getaways, such as the one held in Panchgani from August 10 to 12, were an extension of the same thought. Artistes came together to discuss a spectrum of ideas. Each one brought a different perspective to the table that would only add to their collective knowledge base, eventually creating what PFA hoped would be an atmosphere of growth and learning. The ideas could eventually also lead to projects.

The camp in Panchgani was in association with Zostel, a hostel chain for backpackers. One of the first sessions was an impromptu one, where two participants threaded their thoughts and worked hand-in-hand to create an art piece.


Hear me out: A feedback session helped participants understand their work better



The fine arts merged with music or dance. Freelance graphic designer and dancer Amrietaa Arun brought poet Yatharth Roy Vibhakar’s work to life with an impromptu yet moving dance piece.

“The possibilities are endless when you are in an environment like this where nature inspires you. Besides, you can just be yourself when you are around people who don’t know you or your work,” says Mumbai resident Arun, who quit her job to be able to follow her many interests.

Arun points out that this kind of a camp is vastly different from the usual art events. “When you are at an event for a few hours, you don’t interact much with the other artists; besides, you go in rehearsed since you know what you’re going to do. You get a few claps of appreciation and that’s where it ends. But what you create during an event like this could be just the start of a long-term collaboration,” she adds.

The Panchgani camp hosted 18 artistes. Most of them were from Mumbai and Pune, in their early 20s and had heard about the camp through word of mouth or social media. The PFA, in turn, had done a background check on the participants and their work. Once cleared, the artiste had to pay an entry fee — ₹4,500 for the two-night, three-day event. Participants were made to undergo various exercises, which eventually led to some unique artwork.

Most of the participants were full-time artistes — visual and graphic artists, musicians, dancers, writers and tattoo artists, to name a few. Some were officegoers. Pune resident Anirudh Das, for instance, chases art as a hobby alongside a full-time job.

“When I moved to Pune to pursue my consultancy job, I was looking for an avenue to practise and explore art. PFA’s all-night event, where artists work from 10pm to 10am, triggered that drive in me to take up art again, and I’ve been a part of all their events ever since,” Das says.

Vibhakar is a regular at PFA events. A student of graphic design and a music composer for the last eight years, Vibhakar says he is now open to stepping outside his comfort zone.

“During an interactive session in Pune, a singer came up to me and said he was into Bollywood music, which I don’t listen to. My work is usually instrumental pieces, so it was very different working with a guy who sings a different genre of music. We were poles apart but we still found something to relate to,” he says.

For most first-timers, the public platform can be intimidating to begin with. But a receptive audience and constructive criticism help instil confidence, they say. Tattoo artist Narendra Hiralal Patil, for instance, didn’t know what to expect at the camp, but it took all of one session to break the ice, reaffirming his belief in treading the unconventional path. “When I dropped out of engineering, there were a lot of question marks on my future. I had doubts when I picked up the art of tattooing. But a platform like this makes me realise that there are a number of people out there who are chasing their dreams just like I did. And to share space with them and understand the thought behind their artwork make me more sure of what I hope to achieve through my work,” Patil says.



Create an image: Participants were made to undergo various exercises, which led to some unique artwork


Besides meet-ups and getaways, PFA conducted its first exhibition in Pune last year. Titled ‘Unlearn’, it was set up in the basement of a furniture mall. Each section of a dark tunnel was occupied by a creative mind — graphic designers, installation artists, rappers, poets and inkers — who collaborated on a common theme: the journey of an idea.

“We wanted to connect the artiste with the audience — they were so close during the performance that they could see them sweating, sense them breathing. It helped them connect with art,” Sarda says.

Though PFA recovered some of the production cost for the Pune exhibition through ticket sales, it is still paying off the loans. The three-member team — Neetika Rochwani, Pawan’s 27-year-old sister, joined them earlier this year to handle the finances — currently works on a self-sustaining model, though they hope to start looking for funding soon. That hasn’t stopped them from planning the next exhibition — ‘Unseen’ — which will be hosted in Pune in September.

Being passionate about the arts themselves, the team sees PFA’s events as an extension of what they themselves would like to do. For now, they say, they are simply trying to spread the word and will look to monetise the venture in the future. “The only effort that we put in is while generating the idea,” Sarda says.

Another key project is the launch of their website, which will connect artistes to projects, making art both affordable and lucrative. “We simplify artistic services and link you with the right artist for your brand/personal requirements. Website will be out soon!” PFA says on Facebook.

The camps, meanwhile, will carry on amid the glory of nature. Ideas will always ricochet, leading to more thought — and a fair bit of art.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based writer