The countdown has begun, and frenzied preparations are on for The CCU Festival. Days before the curtains go up on the event at Taal Kutir Convention Centre on October 29, My Kolkata caught up with the minds behind all the buzz — Meghdut Roychowdhury and Pauline Laravoire — who conceived the festival for their initiative, Make Calcutta Relevant Again (MCRA).
My Kolkata is the digital media partner for the event, which has a design convention, live music, dance performances, sustainability convention, innovation, start-ups, networking, a flea market and more in store. Tickets are available here.
My Kolkata: MCRA has planned The CCU Festival for months — how are the nerves?
Meghdut: I was a bit more jittery last week, a lot of things were not planned, but this week it’s better. I finally got a full night’s sleep! I think I’m trying to take lessons from this experience. It feels like being back in college, planning a fest with a production and media team and so on, but on a much larger scale.
Pauline: This event is very different because it requires a lot of trust. It is extremely collaborative… a lot of different partners are taking care of a lot of different parts of the event. You have to trust the partners you have taken on board to deliver on their responsibilities.
Meghdut: You have to trust and you have to have backups. At this point, we don’t just have a Plan B but also a Plan D. (laughs)
What was the entire planning process like?
Meghdut: Honestly, the last couple of weeks have been hectic and crazy — we’re actually taking a break for this interview, as a team meeting is happening simultaneously! We’re trying to prove a point for Kolkata and that makes it easier to get support from people. We’re so grateful for that.
Pauline: People can relate a lot to the key message — which is to make Kolkata relevant again. This grassroots movement that is backing the festival has been able to mobilise so many different energies and people. I think without that vision The CCU Festival wouldn’t have happened.
What has been going on behind the scenes of this 16-hour-long fest?
Meghdut: It’s not just about the 16 hours. There are a lot of people who are coming to the city for this event, so it’s up to us to ensure they have a good time. Making the arrangement has been absolute madness. I am filled with equal parts dread and excitement.
Pauline: The best example I can give you is that we have a WhatsApp group with around 35 people (event partners) talking about project management, planning, logistics and more every day. On top of this, we need to meet in person as well, so there is a lot of coordination so that our schedules are aligned. The synchronisation and harmony is very important to deliver event after event.
This project is quite ambitious — where did the concept come from?
Pauline: The original premise was to launch a project, which is under Y-East called the Moving Kolkata Kolkata Moving project (MKKM), funded by an European Union programme. We wanted to make the launch platform relatively big with Make Calcutta Relevant Again (MCRA) and the MKKM project being aligned with the thought of moving the city forward. The conversation with like-minded people grew, grew and grew and turned into what we now have as The CCU Festival.
Meghdut: The biggest challenge has been to explain to people what the festival is about. So, now I am just asking them to come and experience it. It’s difficult to explain what to expect because everyone will have a very unique experience here. It’s just like the soul of a city — every person is unique, so their experiences are also unique. There are pockets of people who do things passionately that energy is restricted to those spaces. If people have to learn and grow, my aim is to have them break out of those silos and meet.
From having an open mic to a flea market, entrepreneurial convention to a fitness convention, The CCU fest seems to have something for everyone — what did you envision while outlining the events of the fest?
Meghdut: This was very complicated. Since it is the first edition and we're not answerable to anybody except the people who come in, we want to make sure that everybody who is attending has a great time!
Pauline: It happened very organically. Initially, it was supposed to be from 2pm to 6pm and then as the partners and collaborators came on board it just kept growing. With WEB3, Sustainability and Innovation being the first three conventions, the electronic music festival became a part of it and so on.
Meghdut, you are a flag-bearer of the electronic music scene in the city, with so many artistes performing on the day at the fest, what was the vibe you wanted to create?
Meghdut: What we wanted to do in collaboration with Faraz Ehsan (DJ 8-Bit Culprit) was to create an intimate dance festival where people can come, vibe and just dance. It’s very immersive and the DJ console is in the middle of the room and people can dance and connect around that. There will be no screens and no flashy set-ups, just lights around the console and strobe lights to build the ambiance. This will be visually very indulgent in a very intimate setting. The sound quality is going to be absolutely brilliant and we have Vinay Daswani (Nuclei’s sound engineer) handling the sound.
Pauline, you recently went on a 24-hour cleanliness drive around the city to promote awareness. Could you tell us a bit about the experience?
Pauline: It was an idea that originated from Nirit Dutta’s initiative called ButtRush, where he goes to different cities of the country and picks up cigarette butts. Our initiative relates directly to the sustainability convention we have at the event. It is physically exhausting, so it needs a lot of mental preparation. We walked around 25 kilometres and picked up 200kg of plastic waste.
MCRA has collaborated with 145 East for the event to create unique merch, how did that happen? Could you tell us what one can expect from the sustainability fashion march?
Pauline: For me, it was mostly because there is the realm of fast fashion and then there are brands like this that keep things real. The kind of clothing they are producing has limited collections, local artisans, fabric, patterns and are clothing that last for a lifetime and are also comfortable. They’re colourful and well-designed too. It was a very organic and natural collaboration.
Lastly, why did you pick Taal Kutir Convention Centre as the venue for this event?
Meghdut: It was difficult trying to find a venue that would fit our aspirations. I am very picky when it comes to these things. We spoke to a few properties in the city, but they didn’t support our vision infrastructurally. This property is new and has so much potential. We wanted to make it accessible to the people of the city.
Pauline: We also had logistical constraints. With conventions happening parallel to a music festival, the venue needed to be able to support that. This place now feels like home.
My Kolkata also had a chat with social media content creator Priyam Ghose, who is the official event ambassador for The CCU Festival.
How does it feel to be the event ambassador for an event that is first of its kind?
I’m glad to be on board. We keep seeing events happening in the city, but rarely do we come across an event that brings together so many disciplines at the same venue at the same time. It is an exciting opportunity for not only the participants, but also for me.
What are you expecting from this event?
The first thing would be absolute madness! So many things happening at the same time will definitely be amazing. Secondly, a new voice to come out from the city, for the city. Thirdly, I feel a platform where the youth of the city can look forward to new avenues, opportunities and experiences is much needed. It’s a very new concept and I am sure in the years to come, it is only going to grow. Being the first year, it will surely be special. I want the youth of the city to come and experience it for themselves!