The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Clash of crorepati pujas
- Cash to celebs, Mumbai organisers try to outgun each other

Mumbai, Oct. 19: Roopam dehi, dhanam dehi, yasho dehi (give me beauty, give me wealth, give me fame)'

It's time for the familiar chant to ring out across Bengal but the prayer has taken on an edge in Mumbai. The financial capital is flaunting its puja purse and making a contest out of it this time.

'We have a budget of Rs 1.5 crore,' says Asit Ghosh of New Bombay Bengali Association in Navi Mumbai's Vashi, where the 25-year-old puja is being organised at the Exhibition Ground near the station. 'Ours is the biggest puja,' he hastens to add.

Try telling that to singer Abhijeet, a Bengali who made it big in Bollywood. The organiser of the Puja in Lokhandwala in western Mumbai is miffed with the Vashi organisers for stealing his thunder.

Abhijeet's puja was considered the 'biggest' till Vashi came along ' and the singer still considers it so. 'My puja is the mother of all events,' he says.

The singer, who was previously quoted as saying his puja cost around Rs 1.5 crore, is reluctant to put a figure this time but repeats: 'My puja, started in 1996, is the mother of all events.'

Others associated with the pujas accused each other of inflating the figures. Some of the bigger pujas in Calcutta officially put their cost between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 20 lakh but nowhere near the Mumbai claim of Rs 1.5 crore.

Abhijeet overcomes the fear of figures when it comes to other statistics. 'About 6,000 people eat bhog every day. And the bhog is made of Kohinoor basmati rice cooked in Saffola Gold.'

If the food isn't appealing enough, there will be enough eye candy, too. 'About 400 celebs from the entertainment industry will be here. They consider it an honour to be present at my puja,' Abhijeet points out.

Vashi, too, is not short on statistics.

New Bombay Bengali Association's Ghosh says he has lined up all of Hema Malini's ballet troupe, singer Alka Yagnik, music director Bappi Lahiri and singers Shaan and Sunidhi for cultural events at his puja.

That's not all, Ghosh adds and reels off more figures. 'The idol is 25-foot high. The pandal is a replica of the Meenakshi temple. About 30 people from Midnapore came to put it up. Artisans from Kumartuli camped here for two months working on the idol. We have 100 stalls, 30 food stalls, 30 'non-food' and 40 corporate.'

'Corporate' is another keyword. According to the Vashi organiser, 'we have corporate sponsors ranging from Reliance to Shaw Wallace.'

But not enough to impress Abhijeet, who claims that there is no one who is not sponsoring his puja. 'The whole mobile industry is there as sponsors ' Hutch, Reliance, Airtel and Tata Infocomm. There's Samsung, there's Hero Honda, there's everybody,' he says.

The Mumbai puja circuit is not limited to the two rivals. Other big pujas are being held in Shivaji Park, Bandra and Thane.

The oldest and most prestigious Durga Puja, held at Tejpal Auditorium and organised by the Durga Bari Samiti -- where Bengali CEOs, MDs and GMs rub shoulders (some of them retired), does not stress so much on the budget as on the quality of the event.

Last year, as part of its 'cultural events', there was singer Rashid Khan. The year before, there was Bhimsen Joshi. This year it's Kumar Sanu, but there is also Manna Dey and Haimanti Shukla. An insider said that even for a not-so-high-budget puja, the expenses would be around Rs 25 lakh.

The puja on the Shiv Sena ground in Borivli by a Bengali association, Sanskriti, is organised on a 'shoe-string budget' ' around Rs 10 lakh.

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