Mumbai: Star-studded Durga Puja festivities are set to begin in Mumbai and its suburbs at 100 marquees this year, with themes ranging from Anna Hazare`s anti-corruption movement to Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda. Some organisers are splurging as much as Rs.20 million.
Up from last year`s 85 venues, 98 pandals will celebrate Durga Puja with pomp, where commoners will get a chance to rub shoulders with Bollywood personalities, this city being home to India`s entertainment industry.
"The puja organised by Rani Mukherji and Kajol, with a 15-ft idol, is air-conditioned and the stars and common devotees join together for the afternoon `prasad` in its cool comforts," said a smiling Prashant Kundu, a social worker running medical camps at various venues.
Playback singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya will host a star-studded mega-budget event at his Durga pandal in Andheri with a 21-ft tall idol, Kundu said, while Rani`s and Kajol`s celebrations are at Santacruz West.
Ace director Basu Chatterjee continues to be the moving force behind the Bandra Durga Puja, started many decades ago by legendary filmmaker Shakti Samanta.
Besides, yesteryear superstars Joy Mukherjee and Biswajeet also have their own Durga Puja mandals, or organising committees, in the western suburbs.
Puja will begin for five days Sunday and will see 1.2 million Bengalis in Mumbai and adjoining Thane plunge into religious and cultural festivities.
Major venues in Mumbai include Charni Road, Kalbadevi, Shivaji Park, Bandra, Kandivali, Chembur and Powai.
Nearly a dozen of them are organised on extensive budgets, ranging from Rs.5 million to Rs.20 million, while the rest are modestly estimated, ranging from Rs.400,000 to Rs.2 million, Kundu added.
Durga Puja by the Indian Air Force staff in their housing colony at Sion is on a shoe-string budget, with a 5-feet tall idol of Goddess Durga and home-cooked `prasad`.
The Pragati Club, Vasai, will showcase the life, times and works of Tagore at its marquee while its souvenir would be dedicated to Hazare and his recent anti-graft movement, said its president Dipak Biswas.
"This year, the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore draws to an end while Hazare has fired the imagination of the nation`s youth. After paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi on Oct 2, we shall begin our celebrations," Biswas, a retired scientist, told reporters.
While this year, most pandals in south Mumbai will display themes on Swami Vivekananda whose 150th birth anniversary begins next year, those in the north shall feature tableaux on the Nobel laureate Tagore.
All Durga Puja mandals organise free community lunches - `prasad` - in which all are welcome, while a host of cultural and entertainment programmes mark the evenings, said Biswas.
Only the Bengal Club`s Durga celebration at Shivaji Park will have all functions during the day, adhering to the noise pollution restrictions recommended by the Bombay High Court.
A large group of serving and retired commercial pilots will hold a modest puja, near Amitabh Bachchan`s bungalow at Juhu while Bengalis serving in the Indian Navy will celebrate at Navy Nagar, Colaba, south Mumbai.
The Ramkrishna Mission at Khar is the only venue where a pre-puberty girl is worshipped as Goddess Durga in a "Kumari Puja" on Ashtami Day, according to Kundu.
Thane district has major Durga Puja venues in Thane city, Vasai, Nalasopara, Bhayander and Navi Mumbai.
A few Bengali goldsmiths initiated the Durga Puja tradition here 91 years ago in 1920 and now it has become a major calendar event here in the country`s commercial capital.
Tight security measures have been implemented at all the marquees.