Monday, November 29, 2010

'Thanks Kerala for a wonderful welcome'

Sanjoy K. Roy, the MD of Teamwork Productions, talks about the highs and lows of organising the Hay Festival at Thiruvananthapuram

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sanjoy K. Roy stood out with his shoulder-length silver hair and vibrant voice at the Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram. The managing director of Teamwork Productions, which was organising the festival, was all over the place, greeting authors, visitors, and long-time friends. He shared a hug with author William Dalrymple.

During lunch, he would suddenly stand up and announce, “The next session will start at 2.30 p.m. And the speakers include...” He rattled out the names precisely.

Of course, it was all carefully planned. And the work began in May, 2009. “It took us a year to find the money, do the programming, get our authors on board, find our partners, get official permissions, and launch our marketing,” he says. “Nothing is easy, but as long as you have a plan and it is not done at the last minute, it is never difficult.”

Incidentally, the other places in contention were Goa, Pondicherry, and Chennai. “We finally zeroed in on Thiruvananthapuram, because of the location,” says Sanjoy. “The Kanakakunnu Palace gives you the option of having different sessions in different places at the same venue. It allows you to cordon off an area in the garden to organise a book exhibition and it also has an amphitheater, where cultural shows can be staged.”

However, what came as a shock for the organisers was how badly Thiruvananthapuram was connected to other parts of India. It was also prohibitively expensive. “There are so few direct flights,” says Sanjoy. “You will not believe this, but a one-way first-class ticket from Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram cost Rs 70,000. It made a dent in our budget.”

The budget was around Rs 1.7 crore, and there was a shortfall of Rs 35 lakh. “But I am confident we will make a profit in three years,” says Sanjoy, with a smile. “The festival is definitely going to be an annual fixture at Thiruvananthapuram.”

Initially, the organisers were worried about crowd participation, because, during the Kovalam Festival held in October there were hardly two hundred people present. But in the end, there were around 4,000 registered participants for the Hay Festival. “There were three sessions, every hour on the hour,” says Sanjoy. “So we needed people to fill up all the halls, and that happened all the time.”

Sanjoy has an easy-going personality, and that probably helped him to deal with all kinds of writers. “You have the sulky writers who always have a problem with everything,” he says. “You have the writers who just love being part of the festival. And lastly, you have the cranky writers who will act rudely and refuse to answer questions.”

But the ones who behave well, like the best-selling British historian Simon Schama and Malayalam writer K. Satchidanandan are friendly, kind, and cooperative. “They will shine at any festival anywhere in the world,” says Sanjoy.

Teamwork Productions also handles the well-known Jaipur Literature festival, as well as an astonishing 16 book festivals worldwide. That includes shows in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hongkong, India, Italy, Israel, Indonesia, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Britain, South Africa, Canada, and North America.

Among the most interesting for Sanjoy is the Jaipur festival, as well as the festival in South Africa. “It has become the largest on the African continent,” he says. “There are thousands of visitors, and such a wide variety of authors.”

But Sanjoy will not easily forget the festival held in Indonesia in 2002. Bali was one of the venues. One evening, Sanjoy and a colleague, Rahul, decided to go to the Sari Club on Kuta Beach.

“The taxi driver, for some reason, instead of taking us to Kuta, led us to a restaurant in Denpasar, the capital, and said the suckling pig is famous,” says Sanjoy. So they ate that, and then got onto motorbike scooters and headed towards Kuta Beach. Halfway through the drivers stopped and asked for more money.

A frustrated Sanjoy decided to head back to the hotel. The next morning he took a flight to Melbourne. It was only when he landed there that he got a frantic call from his wife. She told him that there was a bomb blast at the Sari Club in Bali and 202 people had been killed.

“It was a miracle that I was alive,” says Sanjoy. “Because of that near escape, I have learnt to appreciate and enjoy moment of my life. I had a great deal of fun at the Hay Festival. It was a very successful event. Thanks Kerala for a wonderful welcome.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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