Guess what is occupying the energies of Sunil Kant Munjal, Chairman of Hero Enterprise these days? Well, among other things, he is all keyed up about the 6th edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival, a cultural extravaganza of arts, crafts, performances, food, and more that he founded in 2016. This is held annually in Goa between December 15 and 24. It’s Munjal’s belief that even as India races to become an economic powerhouse, and a major geopolitical player, and ramps up its defence capabilities, we also need to re-focus on our soft power. SAF is born of that belief. Excerpts from a conversation:
What motivated you to start the Serendipity Arts Festival?
Since India became independent, it has been working on an economic turnaround, developing our defence capability, focussing on becoming a key geopolitical player. But we need to focus on our soft power. As a nation India needs to demonstrate its strengths to work with the world at a cultural domain too. And also, arts for some strange reason had become the exclusive domain of a few. So we wanted to change that and democratise it. If you look at an arts event, only few get an invite. Our festival is open to everyone. There is no fee.
Also the old Indian style of interdisciplinarity of arts was changed when we got colonised. The Indian style was that all the art forms were taught and practised together. But it became siloed. Theatre became separate, dance separate, arts separate. So we have three or four focus areas: One is interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity. We work with all art forms.
Second is working on inclusion. We create programmes for the deaf, mute, blind, those with learning disabilities and so on. At the festival every morning, we bring in busloads of kids from orphanages, transgenders, elderly, differently abled - those who are normally not part of our everyday lives.
We work with many schools, we work with street kids, we work with orphanages. Goa as a society also benefits. We do at least 20 to 30 programmes in people’s homes. We encourage people to get involved.
Why have you not used the Hero branding for the festival?
Using the Hero Brand would have been the easiest thing to do. But the moment you do that , then it becomes only ours. The very purpose of starting an open platform gets defeated. I have encouraged many of my friends in industry and otherwise to get involved – whether as their CSR or brand building.
But hosting in Goa, is it truly inclusive? It’s costly for people to take a ticket and go to Goa during peak season.
Our numbers speak for themselves. It is the largest interdisciplinary festival in Asia. We have a daily footfall of 100,000 and it’s a nine- day event. People come from at least 40 countries. This year we have 50 countries represented.
Also, we take bits and pieces of the festival to different places – Mumbai. Delhi, London, Dubai. And we are continuing to expand those activities. If you scale something, it becomes more effective and the ability to give a message becomes better.
How did you personally develop a passion for the arts?
We all have it. It’s just a question of lighting a spark. I started early, when I was in 9th standard. We had a great arts and music department in School (Doon School). We had a superb opportunity to do woodwork, metal work. I didn’t become an artist myself, but became engaged enough to get interested in buying art. In those days you could buy a piece of art and tell the artist, I will pay later.
After school, I did some research on Indian artists who had an impact on history, or whose work got impacted by ongoing events. Then, I set out to acquire some of their works, which I would like to look at. That was an important criteria for me. Many of them who were part of the Bombay Progressives went on to become the biggest names in Indian art. Whether it is Gaitonde, Ramkumar, Tyeb Mehta, Souza…. Because I started early, I was lucky to get the works of big artists when they were still affordable.
Globally, Indian art is still underpriced. So the expectation is that the price of Indian art will go up. Although my advice to art buyers is not to buy it as an investment.