On May 22, 2010, Paras Sharma attended Blow Up Bombay – a photo exhibition on the streets of Bandra, where after viewing the photographs, he was allowed to take them home for no cost at all. Blow Up Bombay was organised by a duo called BLINDBOYS which had already organised such events in Bangalore, Paris and Delhi. Paras loved the idea which eventually coupled with a few others germinated into an art appreciation and sharing society of sorts – Madness Mandali.
Paras mentions that it wasn’t his idea alone. He was also inspired by the Wall Project 3 and encouraged by his friends who had similar ideas. Thus was born Madness Mandali – “a maha mash-up of creative minds, each of whom express themselves uniquely. But when their powers combine- the results are bound to be crazy!”
So what does Madness Mandali do? Paras responds that their book of visual poetry comes out in November followed by book readings. They also intend to start their own line of t-shirts, and although they have not planned anything concrete for their next project, they do have photography and music in mind.
But Paras and his group did not start Madness Mandali with any intention of making it huge. “For me it was about meeting like-minded creative individuals and having the opportunity to work with them,” asserts Paras, but also assures that the Mandali can really grow in two to five years as it helps unearth a lot of “under-the-radar” talent.
Keeping that in mind, all the Mandali members’ efforts are now poured into the Visual Poetry project, a compilation of poems and illustrations, by artists, that represent the poem. But who pays for the cost incurred, considering that most of the core group members are students?
Paras informs that the Visual Poetry book will be a self-published print-on-demand one. And as they already have the creative capital to produce the book, they won’t be spending any money in designing it.
But how worthwhile can this idea be? After all, many campaigns begin through Facebook and fizzle out later. Their Facebook page has 347 members as of now and the numbers are growing day by day. One look at the group’s wall on Facebook shows the vibrancy of its inhabitants. Photographs, paintings and poems make for a perfect blend of uninhibited chaos. But will people participate? As Proshant Chakraborty, a first year Arts student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai affirms, “This group is very unorthodox when it comes to something like publishing; it’s more like a writer-artist initiative and it’ll continue to be a great platform for creative individuals.”
But were they, themselves, not afraid of failure? Paras refutes the notion of failure saying that one couldn’t define success or failure in their context. “I am aware our book won't give Chetan Bhagat a run for his money but I also know that it will find its own audience,” says Paras confidently. “The only thing we care about at this point is acclaim for our ideas. And at the risk of sounding cocky, with the kind of talent we have in our ranks, I've never been afraid that our ideas won't be appreciated,” contends Paras.
Madness Mandali made tremendous use of the internet to promote themselves and their ideas. Although it started off with just Facebook, it eventually spread to Twitter as well as Blogger. Word of mouth too helped in the long run. As Paras puts it, “We love seeing the numbers grow on our Facebook page, but we don't want to be another group with thousands of people on it that finally produces nothing. The numbers really grew once five-ten of us met in person and then went back and shared our ideas with our friends both online and offline. I guess no matter how internet savvy you are, word of mouth still remains a very effective way of promoting an idea.”
Another impressive strategy adopted by the Mandali is their advertising tactics. The language and style used in their posters, blog or even while conversing on the group wall on Facebook grabs your attention. Indian English is the norm of the Mandali; and their posters, created by Mira Malhotra, a fellow talented Mandali member, are a “celebration of kitsch”. Bold in colour and striking in style, the Mandali-esque posters have struck a chord with everyone. For Paras, a fan of Nissim Ezekiel, “Very Indian English” is something that he indulges in everyday. “When we converse in English, grammar goes for a toss and no one bats an eyelid, so why shy away from writing exactly in that way? Writing our posters or mailers in any other style would be just plain pretentious according to me,” upholds Paras.
The longlist for the Visual Poetry project was out recently and the book releases in November, something that Paras can’t wait for. “Once the book is out, it’s going to keep growing and I can't wait to see that happen.” And grow it will, because as Zena Yarde, a participant in the Mandali says, “There are many people who are waiting for their opinions and work to be appreciated. Madness Mandali gives them that platform.”
This November doesn’t seem like the usual cold and dreary month for the arts circle.