A Review of Masala Family Festival – 2013
By: Afrah Jamal
When a festival proclaiming the biggest food court with 150+ dishes and the largest ‘Kids Mela’ comes to town, it tends to get people’s attention. It also sends a polite little message about Karachi’s resilience. Because Karachi Expo Centre suddenly gets packed to the rafters by die-hard foodies and doe-eyed fans.
Some are simply responding to the call of their favorite Masala or HUM Chefs featured on numerous banners, who beamed down from their lofty perch and extended invitations from the comfort of the studios.
Masala Family Festival 2013 opened its doors on 30th March 2013.
The two day event organized by HUM Masala Tv and EC Gateway promised a mixed platter of food, fun and famous faces under one roof. And for the most part it delivered on that promise.
The super-sized festival had reportedly brought in three lac people. Perhaps it was the ‘free entry’ sign with the ‘shop till you drop’ clause, or the hope of crossing paths with a celebrity chef - or the word mini golf. Families came in droves to splurge on brands, select from a variety of cuisine, gape at the gigantic T-Rex and watch ‘the masters’ cook up a storm.
There was food aplenty with music and laughter to spare. The trick was getting close to the action which, given the swirling wave of devotees, proved to be quite a feat.
The festival used tempting offers of ‘Live cooking demos’ by Zakir, Zubaida or Zarnak as its ‘pièce de résistance’. Though the purported meet-cute with cooking giants remained a pipe dream for many and sheepish looking chefs spent the next few days apologizing to broken hearted fans on air.
Every FMCG company was represented with a smorgasbord of activities laid out to appease all tastes. Inside, un-obtrusive bouncers had been stationed to keep the peace while dazzling displays of fireworks lit the skies, & talent scouts roamed the halls. The lucky ones came away with signed copies of magazines or a nice little makeover. A carnival like atmosphere pervaded the Expo.
It may have looked perfect from afar, but the festival is also on a steep learning curve; there were shortcomings that need to be pointed out to help organizers, who got a monumental project off the ground, keep it afloat.
The Expo Centre is the venue of choice for exhibitors and can easily hold a large crowd in its massive halls and enormous grounds. The noise pollution and navigation woes go with the territory. The awaam, though packed like sad sardines was observed bargaining away before running off to catch a breather outside. A chef later confessed to being overwhelmed by the numbers and driven to a corner.
That ‘free entry’ clause highlighted the challenges of crowd control. It is an ambitious undertaking that requires a top-notch management team on their toes. The legion of mostly polite volunteers deployed all over the venue were on hand to direct the surge of humanity that flowed from 10am to 10pm but the sheer number of people present made their job that much harder.
With the inevitable security checks, come slow moving lines and long waiting periods. Ensuring that Entry and Exit points do not end up as bottlenecks will improve festival’s image, and make the experience a little less intimidating.
The event is in its second run and judging from the turn-out and the feverish energy on the first day, it had hit its intended mark.
Masala Family Festival has become an annual feature that needs to work out the kinks and adjust its dimensions to cater to the needs of a city of 18 million; or in this case - three lac. The social media commentary seemed fixated on the considerable crowd and little else. From a business standpoint this calls for a dance of joy. Such statistics cannot be the sole determinants of success.
Making celebrities accessible, while appealing in theory, could become tricky in the presence of mob mentality and requires crisp planning. Although, at a literary festival held earlier, celebrities and mortals shared the same space with nary a protocol in sight. On the flip side, it speaks for the immense popularity of these stars and their cult like status that sent half of Karachi scrambling towards chef central.
For now, the concept of a star studded family extravaganza has captured the imagination of the nation. Plans to extend the ‘Maza, Masti and Fun’ to other parts of Pakistan are reportedly on the cards.