Monday, 1 July 2013

Supriya Sobti Talks To Winnowed About Ragasthan

My friend Supriya Sobti, a fellow alumnus of the London School of Economics and a freelance journalist who has in the past worked for International television and radio networks including Al Jazeera English and the BBC now runs her own media house and content generation company called MOW Productions in Mumbai. An ardent traveller and music fan, she is also one of the organizers of Ragasthan, a musical extravaganza set in the sands of the Thar Desert. Having seen through the first edition, Surpriya and Co are now busy planning Ragasthan’s second edition, scheduled to be held sometime in November 2013. I managed to persuade Supriya to tell me how Ragasthan came into being and her experiences while organising it.

Winnowed: How long have you lived in Mumbai? Are you a Mumbaikar?

I was born in Mumbai so yes in that respect there’s no place else that’s more home to me than this city. Travel has always been at the core of all my activities and I’ve lived outside of Mumbai and the country for a few years. I adapt to places rather easily, so if you ask me, I’d like to call myself a true citizen of the globe.

Winnowed: How did the idea of Ragasthan come to you?

I was a festival virgin until Glastonbury happened in 2008- which till date I rate as one of my best music festival experiences ever!! I’ve been lucky because my journey into this space started off with a bang and until then, although had attended a host of concerts in halls, at parks, on the streets and by rivers, I had no idea that something like a music festival could spell a whole new world of unrestrained joy. Being at a festival with 250,000+ people was like being at an institution of some sort where music education was the main subject on offer with not only new and emerging bands but also unheard of music genres making an entry.

The spirit of camping, adventure, sharing, smiling, dancing and running from stage to stage with old friends and new to catch the next best act listed in the programme schedule cannot be explained, only felt.

I became a festival bunny, saving every penny I could to attend music festivals across England. I’ve been to festivals such as Benic├ássim in Spain, Exit in Serbia, WOMAD in the UK and many more and knew someday I had to take a little more than just memories and memorabilia back home. One summer, when I was back in Mumbai on a short break, I bumped into my old college friend Keith who has similar plans and dreams and what’s better is he had a lot of Ragasthan mapped out in his head and voila….the party kicked off!

Winnowed: How did you organize the inaugural edition?

We organized the first edition of Ragasthan from the 16th- 18th of November, 2012. Well, you could call it a house party thrown in the desert for starters! But we had the most stunning location, a terrain that was probably the toughest to work with but magical to say the least. Those who made it to the first edition would know! Nothing beats sunrise in the dunes or a night’s sleep under a blanket of stars. The simplest things made for the most memorable experiences at Ragasthan.

Although we had a very small team, our friends and family have been really supportive and we are very grateful to them. A whole lot of the artists’ – local and international supported us as well and it’s that spirit of community participation that Ragasthan imbibes and thrives on. Our marketing was done guerilla style and although it was a long way off, we are grateful that people actually made the effort to get there. There certainly were times of despair, a lot of oh no moments but nothing can come in the way of an A-team.

Winnowed: Other than Keith, who are your fellow organizers?

A free spirited Anshuman Jeswal, who is into film and television production for over a decade now and a very meticulous Smriti Ahuja who has a PR and marketing background and is also Keith’s partner in their company Spiro Spero Pvt. Ltd. that designs and conceptualizes turnkey projects across the country.

Winnowed: How was Ragasthan different from the existing destination music festivals?

On many counts - Ragasthan drew people to an exotic location, was global in sensibility and design, was the largest camp out festival in India, was eco-friendly in a more proactive manner and a whole lot more.

The intention was to bring together like minded people to form a community to savor both stillness and immense energy in a magical setting with some great music, art and culture from within India and across the globe. The festival has been planned very meticulously factoring in local sensibilities, environmental concerns, rural development and a strong desire to put India on the chart of the top music festival destinations across the globe.

In our first year, we banned the use of plastic so all beverages were served in flasks (provided by Eagle Home) and not glasses thereby setting us on our path of being an eco-friendly festival. Also, given that Chai-Pani is the most basic form of Indian hospitality offerings, we ensured that tea and water were free for all on the festival site at all times. Over the next few years we plan to make optimum use of alternate energy technology to power our festival and plan to work closely with local organisations to help add to the on-going sustainable development programmes and efforts.

Winnowed: How many people attended Ragasthan’s first edition in 2012?

We saw a little over 2,000 people of which a larger chunk stayed on the festival site. We’d like to grow organically and make sure we’re logistically prepared to comfortably host everyone we have on site. So this year, we’re easily looking to double up.

Winnowed: How and why are the destination music festivals getting popular in India?

India has finally come of age with regards to music festivals and suddenly there is a lot out there which is a good thing for festival-goers and music lovers. But festivals are very different from concerts and the experience of a music festival is something that is very unique to Ragasthan.

With so many scenic locations across the country, any place can be turned into wonderland! Urban centres have only that much to offer and destination festivals give people a good enough reason to plan a get-away which will give them an experience different from the mundane. Also the fact that it brings together like-minded people in a completely new setting makes it an attractive get away for those who are looking for something out of the box to do. With a booming youth population, growth in employment, growing internet outreach, exposure to an option to conventional bollywood and a teeming indie industry - all add to the sudden burst of festivals in the scene.

Hopefully in the next few years, India will have established some great festivals of its own which will compete with the likes of Glastonbury, Coachella, Burning Man, Tomorrowland and many others that are often talked about.

Winnowed: What is the USP of your festival?

Ragasthan offers a true complete festival experience. Festivals require you to rough it out anywhere in the world - not because that’s the intention, but you're there for the music, the journey, the art, the experience.

For the artists, other than giving them a surreal setting of starry open skies and the expansive Thar desert, with the most breath-taking sunrises and sunsets from within the dunes, the festival seeks to bring talent (established and emerging) from all corners of the world and have them showcase their skills and collaborate on projects that take them beyond minds and across borders. Did you know that for the first time in India 240 artists lived together in tents in an artist village, with random jam sessions happening all through the day and night? Many artists who are friends played to each other for the first time.

The journey to the destination is a fundamental part of the RAGASTHAN experience. People car-pooling, using social media to hitchhike to the festival, plotting bike-rides, hopping on to the festival bus and then forming a convoy to RAGASTHAN is what spells the start. Camping at the festival is a big novelty as it gives all adventure enthusiasts and outdoor thrill seekers a chance to bring out their own tents and come enjoy with others in the vastness of nature. Also, with the option of luxury camping in swiss tents (with en suite bathrooms) in the desert, at a relatively affordable price, RAGASTHAN has opened the door of a music festival experience to all those who would have otherwise had to travel outside the country to try.

Above it all we believe that the vibe, the energy and the positivity is exclusive to RAGASTHAN and hard to replicate.

Winnowed: What is the experience that your music festival offers?

The experience is only limited by the legs of the festival goer. There were 4 music stages playing over 16 genres of music for a total of 70+ hours, a film screen under the stars, amidst the dunes, with mattresses laid out playing movies until the wee hours, an adventure sports zone with dune rides, hot air balloons, paintball, zorbing etc, workshops, markets, camp sites that extend a kilometer, workshops, bars, beer games, football, sand sliding, long walks, peace and quiet, all night parties for camp residents, open jam sessions the experience is endless.

RAGASTHAN brought together a whole community of people from across India and the world and had them unite for one big reason - the love of festivals.

The state of Rajasthan has long been known for its rich royal cultural heritage and ancient traditions and Ragasthan manages to capture the essence and turn it into an experience of a lifetime - something that each attendee can be proud of.

German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche, also one of the most influential of all modern thinkers once said: "You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star". In keeping with that, we have just gone on to unveil our 2013 campaign #hellocrazy

Winnowed: You are bound to have made a few mistakes while organizing Ragasthan and learnt a few lessons.

Oh yes, you live and learn. We have a lot of take home pointers from last years edition but to be fair you’re bound to have teething problems when you go out to do something of this scale, in the middle of the desert – not something ever done in this country. We didn’t have a success formula. We didn't have a how-to-do manual. We’ve made one, so this year will be a step up for sure.

Winnowed: In what ways will Ragasthan II be better than Ragasthan I?

Flow of events, logistical convenience, ease in getting around across the festival site, finger licking good food with many more happy people!

Winnowed: Is there anything you wish you could do in Ragasthan but can’t, because this is India?

We’re taking baby steps. Right now, we’re as dreamy, confident and driven as we were when we started out a few years ago albeit with a better business sense and know how. I think there’s a lot to get done and get done right before we start hitting the can’t do note.

Winnowed: Would you like to receive any help from the government in organizing Ragasthan?

Oh most definitely. Last year, we had the ICCR, the Ministry of Tourism as well as the Narcotics Control Bureau on board and hope that they’ll be a constant support.

Music, the arts and culture make for a great platform to bring people together from across the country and the globe. They transcend borders. Artists are the custodians of culture and the government must throw its weight behind festivals and events that promote the rich cultural heritage of India whilst giving everyone in the chain a platform and an opportunity to prosper.

Winnowed: How many people do you expect to attend Ragasthan II?

We’re looking at accommodating close to 5000 people in the city of Ragasthan this year! In addition to that, we’ll be doing mini festivals and run up events across the country.

Winnowed: Before we conclude, please tell me, where do you see Ragasthan in five years from now?

We’d like Ragasthan to be the buzz word amongst India’s young and festival goers world over. It’s where corporate India will meet creative India. We have so many spectacular locations within the country that we need to promote. Talent oozes from every corner and so in 5 years we’d like to see Ragasthan and India on the global map of music festivals!

Since you mustn’t believe it till you see it, here’s a little glimpse of what was….Here’s a MUST WATCH!!! Our 2012 after-trailer

The 2nd edition of Ragasthan will once again be held over a wintery November weekend with a little something for every one in the Thar Desert. You can follow more at

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