Blockbuster draws at this year's Indian festival of arts

Best-selling Indian authors Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi, known for their sharp, fast and page-turning novels, are headlining Esplanade's popular Indian Festival of the Arts - Kalaa Utsavam.

Both are former bankers who graduated from India's top business schools before making the transition to writing.

Their books are more Bollywood than Booker and their inclusion in the festival line-up this year is a refreshing shift, one which is a nod to the changing face of India.

It also shows how the festival is adding on more popular elements in its programme.

Last year, a joint concert between Indian and Pakistani bands Indian Ocean and Strings was a highlight. The Esplanade said these two offerings with a twist are meant to appeal to a wider audience.

Into its 12th edition, this festival, which has featured literary authors such as historian William Dalrymple and editor and novelist Tarun Tejpal in previous line-ups, has significantly expanded on its dance and music elements by bringing in cutting-edge theatre and music acts.

With 64 ticketed and non-ticketed performances this year, up from 60 last year, there is plenty to choose from.

Ms Sarita Alurkar-Sriram, 46, a marketing professional and a regular festivalgoer, calls the event "a veritable kaleidoscope of the best of contemporary and traditional Indian arts".

She says literary arts have been a more recent inclusion and "a welcome one at that".

"From a book reading by Dalrymple to poetry reading by Oscar-winning Indian lyricist and poet Gulzar, the festival has beautifully showcased the richness of Indian literary work in the recent past.

"Both authors featured this year have been game-changers in today's literary scene, pushing boundaries with their varied but equally engaging writing styles. I look forward to a first-hand account of the story of their phenomenal success."

Words are being presented together with annual offerings of music, dance and theatre from India and Singapore.

Highlights this year include Fusion Beats by the Indian band Agam and the theatrical production Flowers based on Indian actor and playwright Girish Karnad's first play penned in English (see other story).

But true to its roots, the festival also features traditional offerings such as classical Indian dance and music recitals to appeal to purists.

This includes the dance-theatre production Angkor - Dance Of The Apsaras by dancer Priyadarshani Govind and the classical music performance Samarupa featuring an all-female ensemble.

Ticket prices range from $15 to $100. Concession tickets and savings packages are available for all shows. There are also free performances at the Esplanade's outdoor theatre and concourse.

The festival, which started as a three-day event in 2002, runs for 10 days this year. Last year's festival drew 40,000 people. Long-time Kalaa Utsavam watchers are looking forward to the event.

Event organiser Jyoti Rajagopalan Ramesh, who runs her own events company Jade Group International, has been attending the festival since she moved to Singapore from Hong Kong six years ago.

"I find that over the years, the programming has expanded to have something for everyone. In particular, the literary and theatre elements have become must-sees on my calendar," says the 43-year-old. "I find this year's classical dance programming is also fresh and innovative."

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