A weekend well spent, if we must add. 

For quite a few years now, the term ‘festival’, in India, has stood for two things – the age-old traditions the we celebrate every year, and a gathering of music lovers who come in hoards to witness their favourite performers live. But we got to be a part of something special this weekend. It was the first time, in Mumbai, that storytellers, writers and poets (both established and aspiring), got the chance to display their talent in front of the masses. This was the very first edition of Spoken Fest.

This weekend, the 28th and 29th of October, JioGarden Mumbai was the place to be. Right from 3pm in the afternoon till a little post 10pm, admirers of the spoken word got the sit around four aesthetically constructed platforms while a lucky few managed to find a seat within the two masterclass sessions that were organised within tents, just so the right amount of people who took the effort to reach early, were rewarded for their dedication. But, we would not like to sum things up so easily. So read all about the Sherp’s lovely weekend at the Spoken Fest, right here:

Getting there

This bit was really easy for those who opted to drive or hitch an Uber/Ola/Taxi to the venue. JioGarden is located in the heart of Bandra-Kurla complex, making it convenient for people from either suburbs of the city (townies too) to reach the venue. Those who opted to take the train also did not face a problem hitching a rickshaw to the venue. So, things were smooth sailing in this department.

The venue and F&B

JioGarden has always been a favourite with event organisers, thanks to its convenient location, clean set-up, faux lawn and the perfect ambience for an intimate gathering. Spoken Fest gave the arena an open-air bookshop feel. It was filled with cozy corners within jute tents, khatiyas with crisp white sheets and bolster pillows, and installations inspired by books. This was probably one of those rare few festivals where people preferred to sit down rather than stand-up.

The organisers even took things a notch higher when they offered mats on hire for a comfortable experience, ofcourse at a small price. Once the sun went down, fairylights lit up the venue, making it a magical experience. Now coming to the Food and Beverage. There was no way to buy alcohol at the venue, though Bira were generous enough to give out 2 pints of beer to every attendee. The beer tokens were provided along with the wristbands at the box office.

Coffee (both hot and cold) along with interesting mocktail concoctions were available at a reasonable price. Woodside Inn catered to our food needs. The first day was absolutely chaotic, with orders taking as long as 45 minutes. This was the only inconveniencing aspect of the festival. However, they had everything in control on the second day. Otherwise, we had no complaints on the quality of the food. It was lip-smacking delicious!

The stages

Five stages adorned the venue, each hosting a different experience. Mehfil, the main stage and the biggest of the lot, hosted speakers and musicians from 5.30 pm right up to the end. Nukkad was another big attraction, hosting poetry collectives by upcoming as well as established orators, and other variety speakers. UK’s popular troupe ‘The Handlebards’ also gave us a delightfully hilarious take on Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ at the Nukkad stage.

The Aangan stage was a more intimate setting, hosting musical acts like Easy Wanderlings, Sidd Coutto, Ankur Tewari and more. The Adda stage was all about diversity, as it appealed to spoken word in different form – rap and multi-lingual. The last stage, though it cannot be defined as a stage literally, were Gurukul-1 and Gurukul-2. These were tented platforms that hosted masterclasses, one each every day.

The performances

It would be difficult to pick a favourite day. Both days had so much in store for attendees, that missing even one would mean missing a lot. Infact, there were very few who opted to purchases passes only for a single day. Most had a season pass on them, and we’re sure the line-up had everything to do with that.

Day 1 started off right on schedule. The masterclasses – by Diane Ferlatte and Kommune stars Shamir Reuben and Shantanu Anand, were filled up in no time.

The Adda, Aangan and Nukkad stages enthralled audiences with delightful poetry, music and rap verses. It was so difficult to choose which stage to park ourselves by, but we managed to get a taste and feel of each. For a burst of inspiration, we took a seat at Nukkad and watched the poetry collective in action; when the sun set and the mood called for something light, we found ourselves tuning in to soulful performances by musical guests at the Aangan stage; when we wanted to experience something out of our comfort zone, we listened hard as different rap stars showed us a different form of spoken word.

Once we were called to attention at the Mehfil stage, we were greeted by Roshan Abbas and Gaurav Kapur. They went on to talk about Kommune and how Spoken Fest finally found its wings. Post this, the big acts of the evening hit the stage, starting with Kommune’s very own superstars who were greeted with the loudest applause possible. They were followed by a soulful performance by Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe. Margot Leitman, 5-time champion of The Moth Storyslam, followed and lyricist Swanand Kirkire took the stage after her. Up next was Kalki Koechlin, with a very interesting story and even more interesting performance to go with it.

Tanmay Bhat gave us a hilarious take of what life was like after the fiasco following their Roast. Loop station artist, Saro, gave us a taste of his beatboxing skills, although many were confused why this act was a part of a festival like Spoken Fest. Concluding the night was the very fun performance by the very fun group – Raghu Dixit Project.

Day 2 brought renewed energy and fervour in the attendees. Once again, the masterclasses conducted by Margot Leitman and the Handlebards, were a hit.

Infact, there were people sitting outside Gurukul-1 during Margot’s session, undeterred by the lack of space available inside the tent. It was quite something.

The Handlebards workshop was a fun interactive session. Nukkad stage once again brought on the poets, but there is a special mention that needs to be made here. An aspiring storyteller (we unfortunately could not get his name), found the strength to tell his story about being a slum dweller and facing the perils of having your home razed down any second. While his story was touching, what was even more touching was how supportive the crowd was while edging him on, every time he fumbled or had a momentary attack of stage fright. It goes to show how a little encouragement from an audience can go a long way.

After an insightful and jovial talk session with lyricists and music composers from the Bollywood industry giving us the beyond the curtains story of what goes on in the Bollywood music industry, it was time to gear up for the main proceedings at the main stage at Spoken Fest.

Priya Malik delivered an honest and powerful account of her struggles with fitting in while having a fake accent, as everyone around her put it. Voicing out on the same stride, Kubbra Sait came in to share a heartbreaking story of how she and her family dealt with a dismissive & deceiving father, and how when the choice came she had to make the heartbreaking choice of turning him away for the good of the family. Rakesh Tiwari had a lighter-hearted set prepared with him connecting with the Hindi poetry aficionados in the audience. Sid Coutto from the Sid Coutto Experience and more, had a number of groovy tunes up his sleeve. A heart-warming recital by the young and brave Suraj & Supriya from Delhi, had totally won our hearts over.

Tajdar Junaid had the audience mesmerised by tunes off their first album. Piyush Mishra along with Ballimaaraan delivered some rather insightful poems and music that could make the heart weep. World-renowned and award-winning storyteller, Diana Ferlatte, was enticingly powerful as she reminisced the past of her ancestors’ and going on to tell the fun tale of ‘Jamacanda’. Yet another crowd favourite and the rather inspiring Zakir Khan had a number of witty jokes, inspiring life experiences, and some tasteful poems that he shared. It was quite a change from the usual The night was ended with local rapper/music producer, Naezy, coming in with his hard-hitting and rhythmic rap verses.

All in all, Spoken Fest was every bit spirit lifting, inspiring and magical as the festival promised to be. We are really looking forward to more editions in the future, and definitely more editions in different cities across India as well. Why should Mumbaikars have all the fun?

(Image credits: Spoken Word & Festival Sherpa)

(Video Credits: Festival Sherpa)