India by the Nile: cultural festival aims to strengthen Egypt-India ties

In recent years, Indian culture has strongly made its way into Egypt. From Bollywood movies to Bollywood extravaganza theatre shows, Egyptian people have got a virtual tour of Indian life, and fell in love with their most idolized actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Sridevi. Even when Bollywood movies did not fully hold up, Egyptians continued to love them and follow them, to the extent that a channel that specializes in dubbing Indian films to Arabic was created to appease the growing fan base.

However, this year, promises to take Egyptian-Indian cultural exchange made it to a whole new level as the sixth edition of the “India by the Nile” festival will be taking place between March 6 and 17 in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. The festival hopes to further immerse Egyptians into the rich Indian culture.

The festival celebrates India’s 70th anniversary of independence as well as 70 years of diplomatic relations between India and Egypt and is organized by the Maulana Azad Center for Indian Culture (MACIC) in Partnership with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Civilizations.

But all big things come from small beginnings, Sanjoy Roy, director of the festival, told Egypt Independent. “Six years ago when we set up the festival, the idea was to show that Egypt was back to normal and that people could come here and feel safe and we were very excited and delighted to be in this festival,” he said.

“For us, it is really [about] exploring each other’s culture and understanding the similarities and the differences between Egypt and India and we have seen that so many people from Egypt love Indian culture in the same way that many people from India love Egyptian culture.”

“We started very small and we tried to do a lot of collaboration with the opera house and the dance companies.”

However, the festival kept growing, says Sanjay Bhattacharyy, the Indian ambassador in Egypt. “India by the Nile has become the biggest foreign festival in Egypt. […] India has been staging this festival for the last five years and we are now in its 6th edition, we are very proud of the opportunity to share with our Egyptian friends India’s cultural heritage as well as contemporary developments.”

The festival is truly defined by its diversity and aims to help Egyptians explore various aspects of Indian culture. “So this year we have Bollywood workshops in different cities, there is lovely food and a new change we brought design and fashion so we have our big designer Tarun Tahiliani who will be doing a big fashion show here in Egypt in addition to a dance production. We see that every year when we bring music to Egypt people get excited especially young people and students,” Roy points out.

Not only will the festival screen the most successful Indian films for Egyptian audiences for the first time, it will also include Indian contemporary and classical music shows, dance shows, a puppet theatre, visual arts, food and Yoga, according to a press release.

Starting with the beloved Bollywood cinema, the festival will be screening two films at the Hanager Cinema and one in the Karim Cinema in Downtown Cairo. On March 15, Hanager cinema will begin its Indian journey by screening the children’s film HawaHawaai. On March 16, audiences can enjoy “Bahubali: The Conclusion” at the Karim Cinema to learn about India’s diverse history.

The festival will not only aim to entertain Egyptians but also to teach them something. A series of seminars on Indian-Egyptian economic ties will take place aiming to demonstrate that ties between both countries go beyond cultural festivities. Most notably, IBN will host an economic seminar titled “India-Egypt Economic Engagement Poised for Transformation” at the InterContinental Cairo on March 11. The seminar will offer an opportunity for prospective investors to meet with stakeholders from India and discuss investment opportunities.

Considering that India is seen as perhaps the leading country in the world in meditation, the festival will also address Egypt’s growing interest in Yoga by having Egyptian and Indian Yoga instructors share their experiences in several venues in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said.

The highlight of the festival will be a musical one though, as India’s most adored conductor Amjad Ali Khan will be leading a magical classical Indian music performance in both the Cairo Opera House and Alexandria’s Sayed Darwish Theatre on March 8 and 10 respectively. The musical master is credited with the reinvention of a musical technique called “sarod.” He has won various awards including a Grammy Nomination and a Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum.

“So we have what I would say three or four marquee events, the top events,” says Indian ambassador Battacharyy, adding, “The top most by far is a classical music concert by Ustaz Amjad Ali Khan. He is India’s greatest sarod player he will be performing at the Arab Music Institute at 8 o’clock on the eighth of March. He is extremely well known internationally and we are very, very excited about this performance.”

“The second very big event is a classical dance performance by MalavikaSarukkai and her troop they will be performing in the  Bharatantyam style and beautiful patterns and I’m sure the people of Egypt will love it. They will perform at the Gumhoryia theatre at the 9th of March at 8 o’clock.” continues Battacharyy.

“The third really big event and something that is happening for the first time is an Indian fashion show. I know that Indian fashion has made some enters into the elite society of Egypt particularly into the bridal customs. For the first time we have India’s greatest fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani. Tarun will be showcasing his bridal collection as well as the contemporary everyday wear. Apart from the two models from India, all models will be Egyptians.”

He went on to say that “the fourth big item that we are looking forward to is the Indian cinema festival. I knew that Indian cinema is very popular in Egypt but it is only seen on TV and Indian cinema must be seen on the big screen. So we have Bahu Bali which is by far the biggest box office grosser of all time. It grossed 150 million dollars in its global release in India last year and it is coming to Egypt for the first time. It is a story of fantasy and love and romance and bravery and I’m sure people of Egypt will love it,” he concluded.

Of course, delicious Indian food cannot be overlooked in the festival as it is one of the rising cuisines in Egypt. An Indian Food Fiesta will take place between March 10 and 16 at the Semiramis InterContinental Hotel. Acclaimed Indian celebrity chef Vikram Udayrgiri will be curating, so visitors can expect a phenomenal gastronomical journey.

“I think the festival is extremely important as it reflects the growing and ongoing ties between Egypt and India. Every year we are keen to improve it by adding new elements to it and trying to display it to a wider audience. ” Roy said.

Finally, Hisham Mourad, head of the Cultural Exchange Sector in Egypt’s Ministry of Culture, believes collaboration between Egypt and India is not going to slow down anytime soon,

“We’ve been hoping year after year that Egypt would have its festival in India and we have been taking groups from Egypt out to India every year now, so we are hoping this will continue to happen this year.”

So Egyptians, are you ready for your own real-life Bollywood extravaganza?

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