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May 30, 2018

Call Of The Quirk: Alok Nanda On Filter, Its USP, And His Unusual Picks From The Kala Ghoda Store

Text by Huzan Tata. Photographs by Shubham Lodha and Devika Swarup

Ad man and creator of Kala Ghoda’s Filter, Alok Nanda talks about his eclectic design store

Right in the heart of Mumbai’s cultural hub of Kala Ghoda lies a small store that you could almost miss and walk past if you aren’t paying attention. But, in its seven years of existence, Filter store, located in SoBo, has become a prominent mainstay of the art district, and a favourite of tourists looking to take home offbeat products — from quirky Mughal-inspired greeting cards and Bollywood-themed stationery to zany T-shirts and books about the city. Whether it’s a toothbrush you’re looking for or a funny card, Filter’s collection — created by graphic designers, photographers, illustrators and innovators and curated by the brand’s creative director Ajoy Advani — promises only the most unusual. The brainchild of Alok Nanda, who runs the advertising and design firm Alok Nanda & Company (ANC), the brand makes sure that its products are not kitsch. Verve talks to Nanda about the Kala Ghoda store, its USP, and his picks from Filter….

Driving Philosophy
“There are so many talented designers working for clients in the advertising and design industry. Filter started as a platform to encourage them to bring their personal projects to life. The store plays many roles. It is a gallery for designers and artists to display their work, a design lab that allows us to prototype products and packaging, and it’s now a neighbourhood catalyst as well — a popular fixture in Kala Ghoda.”

No place for kitsch
“The aesthetic is largely defined by who we are as an agency and design firm. Word gets around and designers and craftsmen who are working in the same line approach us. Besides, we are privileged to have Ajoy Advani, Filter’s creative director, keeping an eagle eye on us. While we have a core set of products, a lot is constantly changing — we keep discovering new designers and inviting them to retail with us. Many of our customers are regulars — Filter junkies — they keep pushing us to do new stuff so we have to be on our toes.”

Surprise Sellers
“Chocolates! That’s not a design store staple, but we end up selling quite a bit of them. It’s motivated us to explore the space where food and design meet. But there has been stuff we’ve had to pull off shelves too — being a lab, we do not expect everything to succeed. We launched the world’s first black soda, for no other reason than ‘Why should soda be white?’ I regret that we couldn’t sustain the production. I hope to bring it back.”

Going to Press
“Filter Press’ mandate is to do small print runs. Either the content is quirky or the physical design of the book is — preferably both. Coming out soon is a monograph on the BEST bus ticket design and how it’s changed over the years. And writer and cartoonist Cyrus Daruwalla is a mainstay here. We’re looking forward to publishing his next book.”

A Dark Horse
“We were the first one or among the first two shops to open in Kala Ghoda. I’d give credit to Kala Ghoda Café for being the pioneer. The street is right behind my office, and I sensed this place could turn out to be interesting. It was a bit of a punt because there were only textile-machinery-part shops and a Sabyasachi store around before. I’ve always wanted to open a shop that could sit comfortably in any design centre of the world. It’s great to now be recognised internationally by Monocle, Wallpaper* and New York Magazine among others. Would we open in other cities? Cautiously — only if we find the right environment and partner.”

Personal Faves
“A signed Sameer Kulavoor print, a grain leather bag and a ‘South Bombay Snob’ T-shirt are three things from Filter that I have at home.”

On the changing face of Indian design
“Thankfully, we’re seeing the last of Mumbai auto and cutting chai graphics. Indian design is showing tremendous confidence in itself and finding its voice. When you have confidence, you can nuance. Clients and business persons are recognising its value. There’s investment flowing into the sector, and the design fraternity’s response is a lot more mature.”

On the importance of aesthetic
“Design is the last frontier. It’s the thing that adds value to an otherwise ubiquitous product. If you can create something that brings a little joy or a smile to the face, it’s worth it.”

Why visit Filter…
“This is a store that sells nothing that is essential to life. Freed of that burden, there can only be joyful surprise in every corner you look!”

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