Sheryn Mulla – a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres

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Up to two hundred recipients are conferred the honour of the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France every year.  This award was established to honour individuals who have made exceptional contributions in the fields of Arts and Literature or to the propagation of these fields. One of the recipients of this year’s award was Alliance Française de Bombay‘s very own Sheryn Mulla. An interview with her is reproduced below :

Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I would describe myself as someone who loves pleasure. Ever since I joined the organisation in 1984, AF Bombay has allowed me to indulge in the pleasure that I derive from art, music, and theatre. It has also nurtured my organisational skills and provided an avenue to inculcate my passion for all things well done. Every event that we organised has been an adventure between the Director and the Cultural Team. This is not an easy task as these events often call for diplomacy whilst negotiating with governmental bodies (Mantralaya, ICCR etc.),  other cultural organisations (NCPA, Prithvi Theatre etc.) and even people who handle the sound and lighting for the event – I remember that there used to be only a handful of such technicians in the early days. Diplomacy is also needed while dealing with suppliers – once we had to call for 100 kg of sand on short notice!

Sheryn Mulla (right) with Alain Zayan (Director, AF Bombay) and Laurent Elisio Bordier (Academic Director, AF Bombay)

Sheryn Mulla (right) with Alain Zayan (Director, AF Bombay) and Laurent Elisio Bordier (Academic Director, AF Bombay)

When did you first hear about Alliance Française de Bombay and why did you decide to join the same?

I would say that I chose the organisation because of France. I had always associated the word French with glamour, fashion and legendary names like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent , Givenchy etc. To be associated with this culture, no matter how remotely, was a powerful attraction. Within months of joining AF Bombay, I had coined a little slogan for myself “Il se passe toujours quelque chose à l’Alliance Française” (“Something or the other is always happening at the Alliance Française“). I find that this slogan is still true …

You have been the Executive and Cultural Assistant at AF Bombay for a long time.  How has the cultural scene in Mumbai changed during your tenure?

Change is the only constant and Mumbai’s cultural scene is no exception. However, I would say that during some years, it changes more dramatically than others and overall it is very exciting. Over the years, new spaces have opened up which go beyond your typical auditoriums with their prim rows of seats. It gives me a thrill to explore these spaces – I often find myself immediately thinking How can we use this space? In my opinion, informality is appealing – which is why street art and workshops gather crowds and bars abound. We have seen this with our AF students as well. Everybody has become adventurous and wants to do things that are out of the box. Prithvi Theatre is a good example and we love to collaborate with them. The Kala Ghoda Festival is another example!

Sheryn Mulla with some of her coleagues at AF Bombay

Sheryn Mulla with some of her colleagues at AF Bombay

In an ideal world, there would be many more initiatives like these but the apathy of the Government is a bit discouraging. The one exception I can think of though was their willing participation in the exhibition Earth from above by Yann-Arthus Bertrand that was displayed along Marine Drive – a unique achievement during Bonjour India 2009. AF Bombay also brought one of the first hip hop shows to Mumbai with Kader Attou. It was a moment of triumph for us when the entire audience surged up as one to applaud this wonderful new expression of human movement!

During the informal celebration of your nomination you had thanked AF Bombay for “letting me do what I love best”. What aspects of your work do you appreciate the most?

Art , theatre,  music, and dance – we definitely don’t get enought of dance! At the recent dance performance of Yama, I was riveted from the get-go and was overwhelmed with emotion. Of course, meeting these artists after their performance and talking to them about their craft is a humbling experience. I feel a deep sense of gratitute that I have had the privilege of meeting gifted artists including Ballet Preljocaj, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Pierre Thilloy amongst others and organising their performances. However, the best is yet to come…I am waiting for the stunned reaction of Mumbai audiences when they get to watch Maudits Sonnants at Kala Ghoda 2018.

Where do you see AF Bombay ten years from now?

Expanding of course – especially digitally – in all corners of Mumbai which itself is expanding so rapidly. On the other hand, who knows what the future holds. For all we know, we might have virtual classrooms which would make concrete spaces redundant. Culturally, virtual art exhibitions are already a reality but personally I’m a bit attached to the initial ‘wow’ when you physically enter a gallery. Of course, such human reactions mean a lot to the artist.

Siddharth Bhatt

Rédaction, AF Magazine Inde-Népal

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...