In a city like Mumbai, where there is as much noise inside your head as in your surroundings, creativity is covered in the soot and sweat that the city saps out of you. This is exactly why you would be mildly surprised to find a quaint, quiet spot right in the middle of a lane you wouldn’t care to explore otherwise. After making my way through the meandering lanes in Khar, I am welcomed into ‘The Hive’; a cheery, orange door which leads the way into a space which could be counted as a luxury in Mumbai. Sharin Bhatti, the co-founder of the immensely bright and summery space greets me with a big smile and a comforting cup of chai.
As I sit down and look around in wonder, trying to take in the vibe of the place, Sharin explains the origin of the name of the place. “It doesn’t mean a beehive in essence but generally like a structure. The hive is basically a hexagon with multiple sides and dimensions. Similarly, we do a lot of events, workshops and seminars. We encourage conversations across alternative topics which no one is talking about, we do community festivals, a full-fledged LGBT community festival called the ‘Queer Fest’. We’re also an organic café and have a co-working space. My partner Sudeep Nair is very good with names and he always had this concept in his head for many years that he wanted to start a place like this,” she smiles.
I first came across ‘The Hive’ recently when actress Kalki Koechlin participated in a spoken poetry session in the year-old establishment. The place is home to musicians, comedians, writers and even people who want to read a book and sip on some lemonade. Naturally, I was curious to know if the motivation to start ‘The Hive’ came from the need to revive niche and fast disappearing forms of art and set a trend of sorts. To this, Sharin replies, “Not just art forms that are dying but the point is to discover new mediums and finding new formats. We started doing open mics in bars where our motivation was a shot. Giving artistes that sort of an intimate platform and an audience along with the assurance that people will buy tickets to watch them perform their original works is what we aim to do. We have come to a stage where there are curated poetry clubs that have started giving artistes the courage that people will spend money for an evening of poetry. Kalki wanted to do a half hour showcase where she performed for an audience of 150 people the very poems she penned and we gave her that open space. She has already dabbled in films and theatre and when she performed here, she must have felt that she could do this as well. Like her, there are many celebrities who may have wanted to explore their creativity a little more but didn’t know where to start, that’s where we come in.”
That the space Sharin has created is gaining appreciation is known; but how much of it was she exposed to as a kid? “I come from a small town called Chandigarh which is best known for its reality stars. Not many people know that Chandigarh also has a rich theatre culture where prominent personalities are taking old folk tales and presenting them with a contemporary format and that’s where my inspiration comes from. My main aim is to create this space to give artistes the platform to help the future generation archive Indian pop culture; there is no such thing as pop culture in India. America has archived its pop culture beautifully. But what happens when people like you and me want to explore that? Sudeep would do comedy on open mics and watch American television shows and wonder why we couldn’t do something similar. So, I think it subconsciously translated into what you see today”, she quips.
She goes on further to elaborate the need for youngsters to be more aware of unique art forms by saying, “I think, poetry, like story telling is a very personal process because someone is putting their emotions in front of you and its up to you what you take from it which is why its one of the fastest growing mediums after comedy. Each person gets four minutes in a ninety minute session where there some good ones, average ones and some in-between, but each bit is equally engaging.”
Talking about her personal favourite form of art which is comedy, she believes that the form is at a stage where Indie music in India was back in the late 90s and early 2000s. “We have had the most fun doing it (comedy) where we have three nights of comedy at ‘The Hive’ in a week. Every alternate Monday is an open mic. When I was starting out as a journalist in the 2000s, Indie artistes would go for I-Rock and Campus Rock Idol for that stadium experience. Now it’s a little more professional with so many venues encouraging new music so at some level there is a distance between the musician and the fan. Comedy is where music was at the time and the artistes are very accessible and open to feedback because it’s an up and coming art form. I think, 10 years from now, they would be ruling the roost”, she gushes. She lists Kaushik Shrivastav, Dhruv Deshpande, Jaideep Singh Juneja and senior comedian Azeem Banatwala as some of her favourite acts at ‘The Hive’.
She dismisses the thought of commercializing the space and emphasises on collaborating with different artistes. Adding to that, she says, “The whole idea of this place is collaboration. This is for the community and the place sustains itself. The larger picture is to identify, curate and create art forms to tell people that there are alternative forms of entertainment. One of the better comedy clubs in the city is Canvas Laugh Club where an average ticket would cost anywhere between 350-700 Rupees for a sixty minute performance. On an average weekday, people are now picking a live act over a movie which is in the same space physically which is why sustenance is easy now. As I said before, the goal has been to incubate talent, help them realise it and take it further to the next level”, she smiles.
Lastly, like anyone with a bucket list, Sharin hopes that Shah Rukh Khan should perform a stand up comedy act and Kalki should come back again with more poems. Similarly, she goes on to say, “This place thrives on the energy of the artistes and everyone who has performed here, has left a part of them here. On that note, Nandita Das must perform one of her plays maybe. Smriti Irani should give a talk on being an actress; I think she’s talented but people don’t give her credit for it. Mukesh Bhatt should also try his hand at spoken word poetry if he could.” And before I am ready to wrap up the interview, I ask her about the possibility of a dull day at the Hive to which she signs off saying, “There is never a dull day at the Hive. Today is maybe a calm day but there is never a dull moment.”