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Hyderabad's Lamakaan turns 7 and goes digital: Founder Ashhar Farhan discusses this 'critical space'

“There are accidents which propel you in a certain way.” says Ashhar Farhan when asked to recount the beginnings of the vibrant culture space “Lamakaan” that he along with his wife Humera Ahmed and friends Elahe Hiptoola and Biju Matthew started in 2010. Farhan, who always wanted to start a cultural space in the city converted the house belonging to his late uncle into a throbbing enter for creativity, culture, arts and theater adding a much needed aesthetic dimension to the city of Charminar, Hi-tech city and Biryani. The inaugural events, seven years back were a qawwali performance by Warsi Brothers and a play, Main Raahi Masoom by Hyderabad based artist Vinay Verma.

The most distinctive feature of the space is that it has used its natural rocks as a prop for the setting. The area spread over 500 square yards and two levels has an outdoor stage and seating area, a very reasonably priced canteen and is always choc-a- block with teeming crowds to attend a workshop, unwind over a play or simply to engage in some heated discussion over garam chai and Odia styled samosas!

Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

Humera says that the the initial idea was to create place like the Prithvi theatre in Mumbai. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

On an average day, the place witness a diverse range of activities – plays, concerts, screenings, talks, books launches, workshops of every imaginable kind, music classes and even an organic bazaar. The weekends are jam packed affairs, with multiple sessions held simultaneously. While space is limited, they have little freed pockets over the years (like the terrace) and ensured an open and accessible arena for multifarious creative pursuits.

Why Lamakaan matters is that it charges a nominal rent giving voice to events lost in overheads of rent and marketing in other places while the tickets are priced at a modest Rs 100 usually, in the wherewithal of college goers and youngsters. Humera says that while the initial idea was to create place like the Prithvi theatre in Mumbai, which she and Farhan used to frequent, they later drew inspiration from the premises in the famous Vidyaranya school in Hyderabad which kept the natural rocks intact and built around the place.

Ashar Farhan and his wife Humera. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

Ashar Farhan and his wife Humera. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

Farhan says that Lamakaan is a liberal political space. He elaborates and says, “When I say it is a political space, I don’t mean it as a podium for parties like BJP or AAP. It means politics in its most primitive form where it gives people a platform be it gender politics, tribal rights groups or to raise questions LGBT rights. Even our cultural events are focused, we don’t have stand-up comedy nights anymore as we realised that much of the humor was directed at women in poor taste or was homophobic. We think of this as a critical space which raises pertinent questions.”

Political is a word which has been bandied about a lot here as the space allowed many events which would have not found a platform anywhere else. It was the venue of Rana Ayyub’s book launch for Gujarat Files, a play Agnes of God which was slammed by the Catholic church for misinterpreting Christianity and even provided a platform for DU professor Saibaba, now jailed for his link to Maoists.

Farhan says:

“Culture is always political. It is the epitome of politics.”

He adds, “During the Telangana movement, we were criticised by the government for showcasing Telangana culture. Recently, we were called anti national for allowing Kabir Kala Manch to hold an event in support of Rohit Vemula. But then we are criticised by both ends of the spectrum, like it happened when we allowed a play which spoke favorably of Godse. We allow freedom of speech as long as it isn’t divisive or casteist. It’s never been easy as people get harassed to accept that points of view differ.”

Lamakaan is a space that gives a voice to alt politics. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

Lamakaan is a space that gives a voice to alt politics. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

Lamakaan has a clear policy regarding sponsorship though and does not accept liquor, tobacco, corporate or government sponsorship. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the cultural titan. In 2015, there was a tussle with GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) over parking issues and complaints from neighbors. (It is in an upmarket residential area, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad’s answer to south Mumbai) which died a quick death thanks to immense public outrage.

Humera says that reasons for complaints could be anything and recounts a cop who dropped in to check out the “bad place where women smoked.” Farhan adds, “This is an orthodox neighborhood and a lot f questions were raised when we held a queer festival. Now, protests don’t get our blood pressure up. We tweaked it around a bit, we have bolted down sound systems and lights instead of speakers so that it is not too loud. Parking has now been moved to a nearby park.”

The delicious samosas of Lamakaan in the making. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

The delicious samosas of Lamakaan in the making. Image Courtesy: Akshay Kokala/Lamakaan

The canteen is an integral part of the folkfore of the place. Right from the Irani Chai and Osmania Biscuit to the Deccani Khatti Dal and Mutton Qeema, it is a hit even with all groups — from students looking to save a buck to young executives from the five star hotels in the vicinity gorging on their breakfast.

Humera says she fends off constant queries to host birthday and kitty parties and adds, “There is a new set of crowd ever year so we try and introduce new varieties which sometimes work, but sometimes don’t like the shammi kebabs we tried. Also, we consciously price the food to under Rs 150 so that it is accessible to everyone.”

An intangible offshoot of Lamakaan has been that of similar spaces sprouting in the city – Our Sacred Space in Secunderabad and the newly launched Phoenix Arena in Hi-tech city, both offering creative and intellectual respite to a city always on the move. Today it attracts people from all walks of life – students and elderly crowd, tyros and professionals as well as the struggling and famous.

As a part of its seventh anniversary, they have started a new digital initiative which the founders hope to build into a place for serious content. With Farhan claiming that the most they account for future is to make quarterly plans (of which getting more samosas from the kitchen is of supreme importance), what they have managed to create is a place where free will reigns supreme and provide a bustling metropolis, a place to pause and ponder.

Staying true to its name (Lamakaan means boundless in Arabic), this place has managed to transform itself from a sleepy old bungalow into a potpourri of dialogue, discussion and debate.

You can also listen to the interview:

Updated Date: Mar 19, 2017 11:33 AM

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