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January 14, 2017

What Does Curator Asad Lalljee Have In Mind For The Royal Opera House?

Text by Huzan Tata

The CEO of arts-based public platform Avid Learning tells us what drives him in the creative field

With more like-minded organisations coming up, how does avid differentiate itself?
“When we started (in 2009), there weren’t so many players in the field. I don’t see others as competition, but as complimentary organisations. We do events only in South Mumbai, and there are so many great platforms in the north. We collaborate with everybody — we’ll do series at Max Mueller Bhavan, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, art galleries that reach out to partner with us, and now we also have the Opera House. The idea is to be more inclusive, to take programmes outside. For me, it’s not just about putting my logo there. You build an ecosystem
of friendship when you work with different people. I look for synergies and where I can add value.”

What are your plans for Royal Opera House?
“The space formally launched with the inauguration of MAMI last year. We started off with an operatic performance in keeping with its legacy. Essentially it’s a private rental space owned by the royal family of Gondal. My goal is to bring about innovative collaborations and partnerships. So we’ve had discussions, operas and private events, and we’re going to have conferences, stand-up comedy and theatre.”

Has the lack of an arts background been a hindrance?
“I think it’s an advantage because I look at things objectively, from a marketing point of view. I was in advertising and used to work on Madison Avenue in New York City. When I came here, I had the opportunity to help build Avid. I look at each initiative and question, ‘Who’s the target audience?’, ‘What’s the event all about?’, ‘How do you market it?’, ‘How do you talk to them?’, ‘How do you customise things as per people’s preferences?’ Everyone can learn — you just have to talk to the right people and ask the right questions.”

The term ‘curator’ is used often and loosely. How do you define it?
“I know academics are very territorial towards this term, which is
fine. It’s a word that can be interpreted in any way. I look at it more as being a producer or conceptualizer. In marketing terms, it’s called a strategy or a brief. In the arts, you’re the curator — you came up with the idea. I’m a firm believer in not undermining anything. No one has a monopoly on ideas, they remain ideas unless you can make something happen.”

What are some of the events in the country that one shouldn’t miss?
“This is like choosing your favourite child! Kala Ghoda Arts Festival — though everyone says it’s become a crazy mela — has some superlative programmes buried inside. You can find lots of exciting sessions within the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival too. Where else do you get to interact with authors you can actually hang out with later? I think anything that is of interest to you is the way to go.”

View our photo essay of the newly reopened Royal Opera House here.

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