"India by the Nile" - A Festival of Performing and Visual Arts - is the first festival organized in Egypt dedicated to Indian arts and culture.
The festival will run between 13 April and 13 May, bringing Egyptian audiences a sample of the many artistic riches of this fascinating country, from events showcasing Bollywood, to film screenings and meetings with Indian authors, to Indian crafts exhibition along with music and dance performances. The festival will also have a presentation of elements from Indian cuisine.
"India by the Nile is a collaboration between the Embassy of India in Egypt and India Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) working with the Team Work Productions India," explained Bijay Selvaraj, Second Secretary for Press and Political Affairs from the Embassy of India.
Founded in 1950, the ICCR works within the frame of boosting India's external cultural relations in order to foster better understanding between India and other countries. Among a number of activities, ICCR organizes a large scale festivals across the world, which aim to showcase the best of India art.
"Navdeep Suri, the Ambassador of India in Egypt witnessed the creation of the similar festival during his term in South Africa a few years back," Selvaraj said, adding that this experience has inspired the ambassador to follow the model and bring the festival to Egypt.
In Egypt, there has always been an obvious interest in India. Indian clothes and fabrics, jewellery and art crafts have always been popular in the Egyptian market while almost everyone knows about Bollywood productions. However, according to Selvaraj, the festival hopes to go beyond all cliché elements imported to Egypt from India.
"Though preliminary interest in India is undeniably present in Egypt, we want to tackle a much broader spectrum of culture. With this festival we hope to widen the cultural image of our country. This is why we were very careful with the choice of elements that will be presented during the festive month," Selvaraj continued.
One of the opening events in "India by the Nile" festival is a music and dance Bollywood fusion (14 and 15 April). The performance is a show of typical Bollywood arts; choreographed by Gilles Chuyen.
"Chuyen is a very interesting personality. Born in France and coming from a classical ballet background, he became fascinated by Indian dance. Now he lives and works in India. As for the show, it does not revolve only around dance. There is a story in it," Selvaraj reveals to Ahram Online.
"Bollywood fusion should include 42 dancers from India, but when planning for this festival, there was an uncertainty about the situation in Egypt. We decided to make a modest version of the project. We approached the Cairo Opera Ballet Company and its artistic director Erminia Kamel, kindly supported us with the smaller number, Egyptian dancers. Hopefully next year we will be able to bring to Egypt a full scale production of Bollywood fusion," he comments.
Among the many interesting elements of "India by the Nile", it is also important to highlight Indian classical music performances with Shubha Mudgal (23 and 25 April), renowned scholar, musician and composer, who according to Selvaraj is a "Prima Donna of North Indian classical singing."
The programme notes reads that "the evening will begin with alaap, a non-rhythmic preface that is a step-by-step introduction to the raag or melodic scheme, then the artist introduces the chiz or bandish, which is the composition. The bandish encompasses text (sahitya), tune (raag) and metre (taal)."
On the other hand, Mrigya band will offer a different musical flavour to the audience of El-Sawy Culturewheel on 4 May (and 3 May in Alexandria).
According to the programme notes, Mrigya is "a rich blend of classical Indian music, blues, funk, folk, Latin, rock and jazz."
"There is a strong emergence of young Indian people experimenting with different kind of music," Selvaraj commented on Mrigya. "Independent Indian musicians touch on many genres, including pop, rock etc, then fuse them with their own musical backgrounds. I would call this kind of experimentation as world music. Mrigya has a very soulful Indian touch, while they reach to Western musical elements."
Selvaraj also points to Sriyah, Nrityagram Dance Ensemble performing on 6 and 9 May, explaining that the troupe represents one of the seven classical dance forms of India.
He goes on explaining that "Nrityagram means a 'dance village'; and it is one of the first India's schools for classical dance. Nrityagram Dance Ensemble encompasses very characteristic Indian flavour in terms of costumes and movement. The show is usually well received by the audiences due to its dynamic fast pace beat throughout the whole evening."
Apart of performing arts, "India by the Nile" will feature contemporary Indian writers (5 and 7 May): Amish Tripathi, Mushiru Hasan and Namita Gokhale. "The authors will join a discussion panel with other Egyptian prominent writers and public figures, such as Galal Amin, economist and commentator as well as Kamilia Sobhy, professor and former director of the National Centre of Translation."
"We also hope that Amr Hamzawy and Ahdaf Soueif will be able to join the panel which theme will be democracy, but this will have to be reconfirmed."
Selvaraj underscores very careful choice organizers had to make when bringing authors from India, putting in mind that the aim is to present a scope of the contemporary literary trends in the country.
"Professor Mushiru Hasan is an authority on Muslim Indians and his works are considered as text books in the field of Islam in India. Amish Tripathi is a young and extremely popular writer, due to his trilogy, The Shiva Trilogy, representing contemporary mythological fiction of India. Finally, Namita Gokhale tackles many issues of India contemporary life and role of women."
Not only literature, but also film screenings will bring yet another contemporary fresh perspective to the festival. Selvaraj says that choice of films aim to showcase Indian cinema that is not limited to love stories from Bollywood. "We want to look beyond those known concepts and present different, down to earth stories. The films tell stories transcribing important societal issues."
Between 15 and 21 April, an exhibition of calligraphy in arts will present art crafts. Organized by Jaya Jaitly, the exhibition aims at promoting Indian crafts around the world. "Jaitly is known for her work in empowerment of local artists; profits from the exhibitions always go back to those artists," Selvaraj explained.
With a multitude of activities spanning over one month in a variety of venues, "India by the Nile" is the festival that will definitely reposition the image of India in the minds of Egyptian audiences. Selvaraj expects a high interest in the many elements of the festival, from the Egyptians topped with Indian community which according to him counts 4000 and live mainly in Cairo. In order to reach the widest audience possible, most of the events have free entry.
The festival is one of the first big events bringing Indian culture to Egypt. While Selvaraj underlines that "India by the Nile" will be held annually, he also reveals that the Embassy will be involved in organizing another large scale festival in October this year, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Indian cinema.
For more details about "India by the Nile", check the festival's programme here.