Festember – The Beginnings
Festember began as an inter-hostel festival in 1974 and went beyond the college boundaries in 1976. The name Festember was short for “A Festival in September”, a term that was coined by Dr G. Kalyanaraman, a student of the 1978 batch. Festember was inspired by Mardi Gras, the cultural festival of IIT, Madras, which was the forerunner of the present Saarang. Apparently, these two fests were the first of their kind in South India and paved the way for many more cultural fests in the same vein. What started off with a modest participation of 5 colleges and a budget of INR 5000 has now become one of the most anticipated events in all of India. Interestingly, it became an instantaneous hit, before even its second year, after going national. Colleges from as far as Kolkata came down to participate. What really set Festember apart from Mardi Gras was the hospitality it offered. Festember was not just about in-house entertainment but acted as a carnival for everyone and everything in the vicinity.
The magnitude of events was such that more often than not, they stretched to days. A day’s events sometimes ended at 5 A.M. the next morning. The A-Mess by itself was a major draw for the crowds to attend Festember. The simple reason for this was that they provided free quality food to anyone and everyone who entered the campus.
A feature of previous editions of Festember has an interesting story. Students would form teams and bid for the food and beverage stalls, and conduct the sales themselves. Record has it that the bids received were often as high as INR 16,000, way back in the ‘80s. Sponsors were approached by the principal himself, apart from the students. A 10% collection bonus was added to the budget from the institute’s treasury. Festember has drawn quite a few reputed sponsors like Airtel, Pepsi, MTV, Adobe etc. in the past.
In the earlier editions of Festember, the events were distributed among the Mechanical Engineering department, the erstwhile cinema hall (rechristened EEE Audi) and the free space behind the Admin buildings (presently the Barn). The Mechanical Engineering Department hosted all the music-related events. Cinema hall witnessed the valediction and the NSO ground was used for the fireworks display. That was until the barn was constructed.
Ever wonder how the barn hall got its name? The stage originally constructed was nothing but a thatched roof structure which resembled a barn… and rightly so, the name stuck. An interesting thing to note is that, even with the college’s modest population of 750, the barn’s capacity would frequently be exceeded. Those unable to get into the barn were in for a treat at several of the informal stages setup by the sponsors.
The best part of the whole fest is that each and every aspect of the three-day gala is taken care of by the students themselves. The different teams (Organizing Committee, Marketing, Events, Publicity, etc) carry out their responsibilities in a very meticulous manner and make sure that nothing goes wrong in the festival. This inculcates the skill of managing each aspect, team spirit and the mental ability to face any kind of crisis which might arise during the festival.
Innovations at Festember
Festember was traditionally a three-day event, with each day being dedicated to Drama, Western Music and Classical Music respectively. It also featured literary events in English, Hindi and Tamil, some of which take place even today. The Audio-Visual Quiz was a novel feature that attracted lots of participants in the 80s when the television was a rarity. In those days, Trichy did not have the sophisticated audio equipment necessary to support these events. It was at this time that Mr Venkatasubramaniam a.k.a. Katni, a student at REC-T, designed and constructed the audio systems himself. To date, his name can be seen in the OCTA Sun Lab plaques as the sponsor of the Lab. Model making, soap carving, clay modelling and sculpting were popular art events that garnered huge participation. The backdrops for the stages were put together using individual chart papers by the Institute’s Architecture students. Each day of Festember featured a different backdrop and a different sponsor.
Highlights of previous Festembers include ‘Miss Festember’ which was a major attraction and had a whopping INR 10000 as prize money, even in those days.
One innovative concept that was in place during the ‘80s in Festember was the ‘Buggy’. Introduced in 1981, it was a three-wheeler designed by the students of then RECTians and powered by a scooter’s engine. One of the busiest entities of Festember, it served as the ship of the REC campus during Festember, plying in and around the campus carrying students and goods alike. It formed a vital component of the OC and Festember itself.
Making Heads Turn
Over the years, there have been participants who have shot to fame overnight with Naveen Iyer being a classic example. Naveen, a performer in A. R. Rahman’s troupe is a flautist par excellence in both western and classical music. Hailing from the Hindustan College, his scintillating performance in Festember won him the first place in light music five years back.
Completing the picture are the notable alumni of NITT. Ramani, a famed guitarist, who was invited by Ilayaraja to join his troupe, was a student of the Chemical Engineering Department during his college days here. In the same league is Deepak Narayanaswamy, a multifaceted individual who acted in the film ‘Alaigal Oiyvadhillai’ before joining college. He was also proficient in harmonium and drums. Shoba Radhakrishnan, a renowned dancer running a dance the USchool in US now, was a part of the 1985 batch. One more prominent alumnus is K.Rajaraman from the Metallurgy Department, who was the convener of Festember and was instrumental in making Festember an inter-college event. Now settled in the US, all of them were good in academics during their period in RECT (now NITT).
A Lakshman Shruthi pro-show is still known for the intense performance, lasting till 2 AM. At one point, the troupe started playing songs of the audience’s choice.
In the late ‘90s, pro shows took on prominence with noted celebrities coming down to perform in front of the students. Lakshman Shruti(1997), Unni Menon(1992), Harish Raghavendra(2002), etc. were some of the instant crowd pullers.
The pro night was a fully sponsored event with Pepsico being the lead sponsors for some years. From Pushapavanam Kuppusami, Kadri Gopalnath, Drums Sivamani and Ghatam Karthick to the current crop of singers like Naresh Iyer, Benny Dayal, Anuradha Sriram, Suraj Jagan, Salim-Sulaiman have all set the stage on fire with their performances. Eminent yesteryear actors Nagesh, S. Ve. Shekhar and Major Sundararajan have also graced Festember with their presence. The Tamizh debate has seen stalwarts like Solomon Paapaiya, Dinidugal I. Leoni, Raja and Barathi Bhaskar as judges.
Apart from being a host to such stars, Festember has also provided numerous stars – Unnikrishnan, the famous playback singer, chose singing as a career over cricket when he won the classical music competition here in Festember. Latha Rajinikanth, Sivakarthikeyan, Ghatam Karthick, Haricharan are the other notable personalities who have made it big after their successes in Festember.
All in all, Festember is a festival where people lose themselves for a span of three days and have the maximum fun participating and enjoying the cultural events. Truly a significant part of the college, Festember moves into every new year tackling difficulties and making each edition a bigger and better one. This festival is definitely a fest to remember.