Bollywood fans have not been forgotten. A festival highlight is “Bollywood Love Story – A Musical Theatrical Extravaganza”, in which song and dance from the screen have been reinterpreted in a vibrant stage spectacle that will light up the Xiqu Centre in the West Kowloon Cultural District on October 14.
“This musical has been performed all around the world: Austria, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, Russia, Japan,” says Roy, the show’s director, via Zoom from Delhi. “It’s the first time we’re bringing it to Hong Kong, so we’re very excited.”
While the storyline will ring a bell with those familiar with the Bollywood genre – “boy meets girl, they fall in love, there’s a baddy in the picture,” says Roy – there is a twist.
“In this case the story is from the girl’s point of view,” says Roy, who will moderate a conversation about the film genre, “Bollywood Spotlight”, at the Asia Society on October 13.
The colourful, high-energy show – Hong Kong’s first Broadway-style Bollywood musical – could be just what the city needs after years of stagnation caused by Covid-19 restrictions.
The pandemic inflicted much economic pain – and affected residents’ mental health, something not overlooked by festival organisers, who have introduced a wellness segment to this year’s programme.
“Wellness Sunday – A Full Day of Events That Nourish the Mind, Body & Soul” – takes place at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre in Admiralty on October 8 and shines a spotlight on mental health.
Iyengar yoga teacher Devika Virmani, vice-chairman of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Hong Kong, who left a 10-year career in banking for yoga, will also hold a session, as will Icy Lee of the Iyengar Yoga Assessment Committee of Southeast Asia, who will conduct a family-friendly session in Chinese and English.
Talks on holistic living will come from Ramkumar Kutty, founder of Punarnava Ayurveda, a medical spa in Coimbatore, India; Falguni Mather, a psychotherapist and counsellor; and Rachel Smith from Hong Kong Stories – a community-focused organisation that brings together people with a passion for storytelling.
Alice Mong, executive director of Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, says the festival is the perfect post-pandemic antidote.
“Although India by the Bay continued through unique online programming these past few years, nothing beats the live in-person interaction and connection between the artists and audience,” says Mong. “We need this connection now more than ever.”
A festival focusing on Indian culture would not be complete without a celebration of its diverse cuisine. Enter “Food – Spice Story – Culinary Trails – A Gala Dinner”, a feast for the senses at the Asia Society on October 15, with a menu prepared by rising star Rahul Gomes Pereira, better known as Chef Picu, of New Delhi hotspot Jamun.
For the Hong Kong gala dinner, he has selected dishes from across India – Bengal, Goa, Kashmir, Kerala and Rajasthan.
“India’s style of cooking and ingredients, brought together in one thali [a platter made up of several different dishes], is a celebration of our cultural diversity,” he says. The dishes served include a ghee podi hummus and a simple lentil khichdi – a type of stew.
Titled “Music – The Musical Bridge”, the performance takes place at the Asia Society on October 11 and includes guitarist Tjoe Man Cheung and pipa player Belle Shiu of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra.
“People immediately identify the sound of the sitar with India,” Rao tells the Post. “Of course, this is because of the pioneering work by my guru, maestro Ravi Shankar, who popularised Indian music around the world.”
“People often say that they hear a full orchestra when they hear the beautiful sounds of the sitar,” says Rao.
Festivals such as India by the Bay not only raise the profile of a country’s culture but dispel some of the myths associated with it, he adds. “When people get to know, see and experience cultures from other countries, many preconceived notions are erased and one sees that we are all one human race.”
Festival-goers keen to learn about the rich history of Indian textiles are also catered for, with a talk on October 9 at the Asia Society by Hong Kong-based private collector Romi Lamba.
“Growing up, these shawls were worn by my grandmother – everyone in India is familiar with them but we didn’t always appreciate the historical significance of these textiles,” says Lamba.
Brickell’s talk – at the Asia Society on October 7 – explores her decade-long research into her family’s history and her travels to India, where she met members of its royal families.
Joining the conversation is the Maharani of Baroda, Radhikaraje Gaekwad, who is researching the history of India’s royal families as well as her family’s famed Gaekwad jewels.
A common thread running through all the varied events of India by the Bay is creating cultural understanding through conversation and collaboration.
“Over the last seven years, India by the Bay has successfully expanded the space for Indian art and culture in Hong Kong,” says the Consul General of India in Hong Kong, Satwant Khanalia.
“The 2023 edition promises to showcase the best of Indian culture, and we invite all Hongkongers to participate in this exciting festival.”
For festival details and to book tickets, visit the Asia Society Hong Kong website.