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Sanjeev Bhargava: The man with a mission to democratise India’s rich legacy of culture

Sanjeev Bhargava, director of Udaipur World Music Festival, also the founder of Seher, elaborates on his painstaking efforts to democratise rich legacy of music and culture in India. He tells Karan Bhardwaj that our culture can effectively sensitise people to become responsible citizens 

Sanjeev Bhargava

Sanjeev Bhargava, Founder, Seher India

Seher has come a long way with almost 25 years of its existence. Your goal at Seher is to democratise culture and present it to a wide range of audience. How much have you scored so far?
It’s a long road ahead. Like Seher, there are many people who are doing their bit and so are we. We need many more Sehers and many more Sanjeevs to stand up and say ‘YES WE CAN’, and even then we might be short. Such is the vastness and depth and diversity of culture in India. As for Seher and me there is a satisfaction that we have achieved at least something, made some difference in the way our city looks at culture. We have been able to create a marketing brand of culture in Delhi and India and people seem to wait for our cultural festivals. We announce a new event and there is a buzz all over. Not so long ago Indian classical dance could barely fill an auditorium with 300 or 500 people, but today our events at Purana Qila draws 2,500 people for our ‘Ananya’ fest. Thematic festivals such as Bhakti Utsav in Nehru Park developed a following and over 5,000 people cutting across age and class barriers congregate peacefully to listen to devotional music from different faiths. Young people in their teens bring their grandparents on wheel chairs and sit through pure devotional music hitherto a preserve only of the old retired lot of people. Yes, we has made a difference and we are proud that we are not just known as “event managers” but as an imaginative creative company that puts up world class thematic events with a great following over the last two decades.

How do you look at Udaipur, being a melting pot for various fests.
​Udaipur has great weather, great infrastructure, hotels and roads, connectivity and ideal place for an annual world class event. And the administration and the Govt. of Rajasthan are standing with open arms for “creativity “. The chief minister is open minded and encouraging, so this is an ideal place. India is full of EDMs and other festivals but it lacked an international class world music destination festival which happens at the same time every year. UWMF filled the void in the ‘Indian Tourism Calendar’. It was the right place at the right time and people are hungry for sensitively produced culture here. It’s only two years old but the festival seems to have touched the cords of the local people and tourists alike. People of Udaipur have taken to it and now own this festival — close to their hearts they feel that it’s their own. I believe during the festival local restaurants and cafes give percentage off on the bill if you are a visitor to UWMF. I am told jewelers and ​handicrafts sellers and outlets offer ten per cent off as UWMF discount. Where do such things happen in India like this for any cultural festival?

Being a cultural ambassador yourself, what is your vision for the rich legacy of culture and music in this country?
​Indian culture is a way you approach life. It makes you more sensitive and the way you think, and impacts behavioural issues as well. It changes your outlook towards gender issues, violence or even the way you treat the animals, pets and nature. Indian culture is a game changer and changer of psyche. If you spread it all around and in a way it’s consumed well by the general public and the young generation and be witnessing Bhakti Utsavs in open parks, I can assure the society that there would be less horror and aggression on Indian roads and Nirbhaya kind of horrible incidents.

What are the creative issues that you generally grapple with as a festival director?
​I stick to my guns and instinct. I work with a young team who inspire me. I learn a lot and I imbibe a lot from people in my team. I keep the windows of my mind open to new and fresher ideas and do my own research. I keep this motto that there is somewhere who can do my job better. I know and believe that person is within my team only. I know that if it’s a good concept and you are the first with it and you present it well with attention to details, most likely, it will click.

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Sanjeev Bhargava

Nojazz from France to perform at Udaipur World Music Festival 2018

Rajasthan is brimming with cultural festivals. We have rustic dos like Shekhawati Utsav on one hand while luxe affairs like Jodhpur RIFF on the other hand, leave alone Sufi and flamenco festivals. What new brand of programming and audience experience does Udaipur’s festival promise?
​Seher is a brand we have our own way of doing a festival. I have a strong belief that our festival stands out and that’s why people in all cities love to attend our thematic festivals be it in Delhi, Bangalore, Goa or a small town like Diu. Our programming is not copied, we don’t do a cut and paste job but thinking and research go into it. Every festival has a thought process behind it and every artists in the line up is there not for the sake of being present but because he or she fits in like hand in a glove. We don’t repeat artists and they are coming to Udaipur and India perhaps for the first time. ​

How does economics work?
Classical fests in India gets relatively less takers from the corporate world as according to them footfalls are less. Although popular genre gets reasonably encouraging response. For classical genre the world over the State supports it and so we in India depend on either the Central or the State Governments. But it is a struggle. But outstanding work will receive better response from all sides.  ​

Are youth connecting with classical programmes?
When presented well, youth get really interested in Indian classical shows. Our dance festivals and thematic music festivals are full of young people in the audience. Boys and girls of 15 and 16 hear Nirguna Bhajans of Pt Kumar Gandharva which is so nice.

Do you also organise workshops to share knowledge?
​We always have a school workshop with our events be it a BBC Scottish Symphony from Glasgow, where we did two special shows with Lec Dems and animated films on Western Classical music and invited NDMC school children or Ananya, where we have a seminar and school workshops with children interested in dance. They do have a great impact on the minds of the children and grown ups. Even at UWMF, we are taking Dominique Vellard and Aruna Sairam to MMPS school to do a workshop only to leave a little bit in the minds of the young.


Sanjeev Bhargava

Shankar, Ehsaan & Loy (SEL) to perform at Udaipur World Music Festival 2018

Seher is organising the third edition of Udaipur World Music Festival during February 9-11. To be held across multiple venues, the festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, USA, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music.

With regality and beauty blended into one, music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the much lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival also promises to provide platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.
Sanjeev Bhargava

Txarango from Spain to perform at Udaipur World Music Festival 2018

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