Social entrepreneur Madhu Neotia discovered new ways to share stories during the pandemic
When it comes to creating a melting pot of fashion, culture, intellect and food, none could come close to what Madhu Neotia has given to the City of Joy. The India Story has been synonymous with the city’s culture scape and has been consistently bringing together and connecting the country’s leading designers, artists, retailers, handicraftsmen, performers, thinkers and gourmet food creators for the past five years while showcasing their work to a wider audience through workshops, conversations and performances.
The passion for finer things in her life runs so deep that the social entrepreneur and sartorial visionary couldn’t be held back even by the pandemic. ThoughThe India Story had to be given a miss this year, for logistical issues and overall health risks, Madhu channelised all her endeavours to come up with a remarkable digital series focussing more on conversations around anything from fashion, music, books to culture and food to keep the story going. We had a chat with our 2019 Devi Award winner about how she charted her course in 2020 and what she looks forward to. Excerpts:
How did you negotiate the journey during the pandemic?
It was complete lockdown for me and I enjoyed it thoroughly since certain areas in my life that were locked away for years suddenly got unlocked during this time. I thoroughly enjoyed eating food especially desserts without any guilt pangs and realised how burnt out I felt due to 20 years of working at a stretch. I always had this guilt that I never could devote enough time towards my children, husband or mother-in-law due to work commitments and I simply loved compensating for that during the lockdown period. There was no hurry to go to the office, there were no deadlines and I gave all my energy to my home. Everything changed around me and everyone calmed down since I was calm and that really made me happy because I saw them happy.
But as the saying goes, productive minds can’t rest idle for long. So when I came across certain lovely live discussions on social media platforms, I thought what a fantastic platform it is to explore. And since The India Story was out of the question this year, I meditated on celebrating it through a live series and reached out to four-five close friends and associates of mine for help. All my friends helped out and became a part of it in one way or the other but journalist friend Jamal Sheikh simply held my hand throughout by structuring the whole idea and giving it a shape.
We finalised 10 episodes and wanted to call it season one like a live web series, which would stream every Saturday for 45 minutes. I conceived The India Story as an exclusive property of Kolkata and never wanted to take it out of Kolkata physically. But the digital platform probably was the best way to take the brand out of Kolkata non-physically.
Also, we could explore topics and delve deep into discussions, which would have never been possible in a physical venue since people who visit India Story are so busy doing or seeing or enjoying so many things at the same time that they don’t want to hear anyone talking for long. So, we had this wonderful line-up including designer Sandeep Khosla, singer Prateek Kuhad, Maharani of Baroda Radhika Gaekwad and Masaba Gupta among others and each episode was so engrossing. We wanted it to be an insightful gaze into the minds of the speakers.
What was the lesson you picked up from this digital interface?
The flexibility and mobility of the platform are the two most important factors. You can actually make anyone available at their own comfort no matter where they are. Also, you get a huge audience across the world if your content is good and it stays there for posterity for anyone to view or hear later. We wanted the conversations to be like a live magazine, a salon conversation where people, otherwise not connected, are brought together for a free-flowing conversation.
Besides editing and putting up the videos on YouTube and our website, we have also collaborated with a radio channel and turned them into podcasts, which further increased our reach. In fact, it has been so exhilarating an experience that I intend to go for a second season sometime next year.
What are some of the challenges facing the fashion scene going forward?
All this time, people realised they have too many clothes with nowhere to go and that they really have more than enough to take care of their sartorial needs. Of course, barring wedding and other such special occasions. I think fashion will now be more need-based and responsible rather than seasonal and trend-based since buyers don’t want to spend amidst such uncertainties.
Going ahead, what are your plans around The India Story?
If things go well, we will do The India Story in 2021 for sure. Also, I wanted to bring out a coffee-table book to celebrate the fifth year of The India Story and finally, the draft is complete and ready for publication. Titled India Story, this book will celebrate designers who highlight Indianness in their work and make a difference by being sustainable and green conscious. The book will be available for sale at all the bookstores and especially at the airports so that people can take back a different India with them.
Pictures: Siladitya Dutta