World Agenda

Last updated: 28 january, 2011 - 15:23 GMT

The Forum visits India

The audience at a recording of The Forum at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India

The audience at a recording of The Forum at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India

The Forum’s Executive Producer Emily Kasriel describes the hectic experience of recording a panel discussion programme in front of an exuberant crowd of 1,500 Indians.

Before we came to Jaipur for the world's biggest free literature festival I had been warned by previous visitors how wonderfully chaotic it was.

But when the producer, Sanjoy Roy, himself spoke proudly of its charmingly chaotic character, I became a little concerned.

I was excited about putting on our show for an audience of 1,500 on their largest stage – our biggest yet – but also felt that it could leave us exposed.

Safety concerns

About The Forum

Bridget Kendall has presented The Forum, the show which brings together three innovative thinkers from different cultures and perspectives to put forward new ideas, since 2008.

Each week one of the guests is invited to present an idea in just 60 seconds which they believe will make the world a better place. Once the idea has been proposed, all the guests discuss its merit.

Bridget is also a BBC diplomatic correspondent and has been since 1998, previously working as a foreign correspondent in Moscow (1989-94) and Washington (1994-98).

Speaking fluent Russian and French, she was the first woman to win the James Cameron Award for distinguished Journalism (1992) and in 1994 was made an MBE.

There are no tickets for the Jaipur Literature Festival, it’s operated on a first come first served basic for a seat.

Anyone else has to cram in wherever they can find an inch to stand or sit.

Had we recorded a discussion on a smaller stage we’d have been offered a beautiful chandelier-filled, ornate, historical monument.

But there was no way we could limit the numbers and I didn’t warm to the possibility of having to hurriedly evacuate people stuffed into aisles or cramped at the back.

Power issues

When we had arrived at the venue the previous evening, a huge army of workers were transforming the palace lawn into a wedding setting.

Scampering up metal scaffolding constructed under their feet, they were putting up swathes of yellow fabric into a billowing roof and garlanding the sides with striped, garish yellow, pink, orange and green.

The stage surface looked somewhat uneven, but wonderfully carved and coloured wooden chairs and a table were being placed on top.

The production team backstage, including Executive Producer Emily Kasriel (left)

The production team backstage, including Executive Producer Emily Kasriel (left)

However more vital to our recording was a steady power supply and this proved more problematic.

The main generator was putting out power at the wrong frequency, not ideal for the sensitive technical equipment we’d brought from London.

Senior Producer Radek Boschetty had spent many hours since we touched down in Jaipur negotiating with a host of external power companies, many of whom didn’t speak English.

Theatrical edge

We’ve taken the Forum to many other literary festivals and conferences, but the Jaipur Literature Festival is more exuberant, raw and vibrant than any we’ve participated in so far.

Presenter Bridget Kendall (left) with panel members

Presenter Bridget Kendall (left) with panel members

There are no privileged areas for the stars, everyone mingles together.

While most of the sessions are in English - with globally celebrated authors such as Orhan Pamuk or Kiran Desai, as well as Bollywood stars - many are also in Hindi, Urdu or Rajistani.

Aside from the actual events on four stages, an assortment of richly attired Indian bagpipe players, spicy tea makers, leaflet hawkers and a host of student volunteers bring to the festival a creative, theatrical edge.

Fusion of ideas

The recordings went smoothly, aside from an occasional burst of music from the stage next door wafting in.

A member of the audience having their say

A member of the audience having their say

In the end, the power supply arrived with minutes to spare.

Our host Bridget Kendall and her guests – Nepali writer Manjushree Thapa; Kavery Nambisan, a doctor from rural India; and Gurcharan Das, a former CEO of a large multinational who’s gone back to his roots and become a Sanskrit scholar – tackled everything from the challenges of being good in modern India to the continued attractions of star signs.

The audience were lively and keen to add their comments.

It felt exactly the sort of festival that The Forum should be part of – an intellectual fusion of ideas and cultures with a local flavour.

Part two of the recording, featuring photographer Dayanita Singh and writers Abha Dawesar and Jaishree Misra, will be broadcast on 5 February. To listen to The Forum from the Jaipur Literature Festival, click click here

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