Kollywood comes to korat
A regional Thai festival celebrates the local performance culture
If Los Angeles is home to Hollywood, the world's most famous movie industry, and India's Mumbai brags Bollywood, its booming regional hub of film-making, now it's time for Nakhon Ratchasima, also known as Korat, to establish its very own Kollywood, a new cultural hub in Isan.
The term was recently coined during a major art and cultural event, Fuen Silp Thin Korat (Korat Art And Culture in Retrospective), recently organised by CSR Korat, a network of Nakhon Ratchasima civic groups. The programme of the three-day event was rich with folk performances such as likay (a traditional Thai performance featuring extravagant costumes and headgear) and Pleng Korat (a performance featuring lyrical dialogue between male and female artists), youth art classes, short film screenings, a vintage photo exhibition and theatre workshops given by top contemporary artists including Patravadi "Khru Lek" Mejhudhon and Janaprakal "Khru Chang" Chandruang.
Also, artist/writer Somtow Sucharitkul performed an experimental musical composition, blending indigenous Pleng Korat with his string quartet. The event also showcased some signature Korat dishes, such as Korat-style fried noodles, turning Thanon Mookmontri or Sawai Riang into a walking street, with all the residents removing their fences to help make Fuen Silp a community event.
Cultural shows, including Phra Apai Manee's performance of Sinsamut's Petition by Khru Chang's Moradok Mai troupe, and a performance of Sudsakhon and Nin Mangkorn Horse by Patravadi Theatre, took place at Suan Samran on a vacant lot.
Paradee Kiatpinyochai, a CSR Korat co-ordinator, said the decision to hold the event was made during a CSR workshop.
"It began with a humble goal: To create happiness for Korat people," she said. "The next step was to look for the so-called 'Korat-ness' or the Korat good, something that we as people of Korat are proud of.
"It may be beyond the imagination of some people how the CSR concept is connected to art and culture," said Ms Paradee, who is also a leading businesswoman in the province, adding that all staff members took part in the event as volunteers.
Korat hosts various indigenous cultural shows, including Ram Thon (traditional Thai dance), Pleng Korat and likay, she said.
She accredits civic leader Chaiwat Thiraphan of Bangkok Forum with encouraging and inspiring the event during a CSR meeting.
Before Kollywood, the network warmed up with a smaller-scale walking street event titled "Doen Khon Doen" early last year at Nong Langka in Kok Kruad district, which featured various cultural activities that helped strengthen ties within the community.
The Nong Lanka event was a turning point for the local community, Ms Paradee recalled. "We brainstormed and decided to run activities that help connect people. It was a big success. Now, people who use to wait for the government to do things for them are taking the initiative to get things done themselves."
This year, Kollywood was redesigned in a larger format.
She expressed gratitude to the three artists from Bangkok for their support.
"When we first approached them, they simply turned us down as they thought we were just another show. It was not until we discussed the project in detail with them to assure our intent to restore Korat art and culture and when they heard of our long-term commitment they changed their minds," she said.
Somtow, in particular, showed an interest in the beautiful National Theatre in Korat. "Unfortunately the theatre, located in Sung Noen district, is barely used. With Somtow's interest, we may be able to bring the theatre to life once again," she said.
Ms Paradee said the artist was astounded to know that Western music students in the province had never attended a live orchestral concert.
Fuen Silp is a golden opportunity for such students to meet the famous artist and his students, she said.
Ms Paradee said the event was initially planned to feature workshops given by professional likay performers. But the timing did not allow it and the focus was shifted to the youth.
She noted that Mookmontri Street was selected for the event because of its historical importance.
"This was once known as the Likay district, as the whole street was occupied by over 200 likay troupes in its peak. The legendary Gatekong brothers [National Artist Boonyong Gatekong and his brother Boonyang] came to the neighbourhood and laid a strong foundation for likay. But the folk performance became less competitive and the number declined rapidly, now standing at under 20."
In the long run, Fuen Silp will benefit the likay community, she said.
To her delight, the landlady who possesses Suan Samran was happy with the event and agreed to allow the organisers to hold activities at the venue on a regular basis.
Ms Paradee said the landlady is a descendant of Luang Pairee Pairith, one of the first mayors of Korat.
"Actually, we intended to rebuild the [demolished] fences of the homeowners after the event. But I am not so sure if they really want their fences back. It seems they like to open up," she said.