Through Bollywood to Mumbai past and present
The transformation of the urban landscape of Mumbai has been tied to the growth of cinematic arts for the last 100 years. The megapolis changed from a port outpost to a city of technicolour dreams, hosting a multi-million dollar movie industry.
The evolution of cinema and related arts into a cutting-edge entertainment machine has seeped into the city's built landscape and lifestyle. And as the old made way for the new, heaps of concrete remain as relics, evoking nostalgia.
Art curator Madhusree Dutta of Majlis, a Mumbai-based centre for multi-disciplinary art initiatives, says that as Mumbai has physically changed, cinema has diligently chronicled the changes in the nation's movie capital.
"Physical change in Mumbai has been accompanied by infrastructural change and aesthetic change. The way we are watching cinema is changing the city. We do not go to the stand-alone theatre to watch movies anymore; people avoid multiplexes and even DVDs. Movies are now downloaded on personal computer systems or on Ipads," Dutta explained.
The invasion of hi-technology has left stand-alone theatres, once landmarks, to fall to ruin. Small production houses and even neighbourhood DVD shops lie derelict, mute testimony to a city on the move.
A new media art initiative, "Project Cinema City", a collaboration between Majlis and Kriva, (Karnia Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environment Studies), explores the interface between cinema, art, architecture and urban heritage, linking the past to the present and using Mumbai cinema to forge that link.
The travelling project premiered in Mumbai early this year. It opened at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in the capital Aug 17-23. Supported by the ministry of culture, the project was inaugurated by Secretary of Culture Sangeeta Gairola and presided over by member of parliament and poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar.
Co-curated by Madhusree Dutta and Archana Hande, the project has brought together 60 visual artists, filmmakers, sound artists and architects to make solo and collaborative art.
Archana Hande maps Mumbai's landscape through a multi-media interactive installation, "Of Panorama: A Riding Exercise". Hande brings alive again the 1970-style film shooting, with painted landscapes; the viewer can be a part of the landscape on a virtual bicycle.
The installation, a digital "Mumbai Darshan," mixes a "composite image culture relating to studio technology and contemporary animation art practice".
"I was probing the politics of the landscape; its migration and replacement. The landscape could be of any place - Kashmir or even Switzerland, but you have make yourself believe that it was Mumbai. That was how the painted landscapes of the movies of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s generated curiosity about Mumbai as a tourist destination. It is a look at Mumbai through the fantasy of cinema," Hande said.
Rajeev Lochan, the director of NGMA who was approached by Majlis two years ago to help with the project, said: "Media, material and sensibilities come together to create conceptual thought in new media art."
In capturing the essence of a film city like Mumbai, the diversity of media plays an important role, he said.
Aspirations of odd "cinema extras" like a cinema waste dealer, a Ukrainian dancer and a body-double come alive in a series of transparent light boxes which use superimposed text to narrate their stories.
New wave artist Atul Dodiya gives Mumbai an identity through its iconic villains in "Fourteen Stations" - a series of oil and acrylic paintings of suburban rail halts around the city between Ghatkopar and CST (Victoria Terminus). Ghatkopar is identified by Pran, while the face of Kurla is Gulshan Grover. Amrish Puri calls the shot in Sion.
According to the curators, both the city (Mumbai) and its cinema have mobilised collective public notions of what urbanism means to the people and the city.
From the Suchetana starrer, "Wildcats of Bombay" of the silent era where urbanity meant women in public action, to "Shri 420" in 1955 where the city is synonymous with homelessness to "Deewar" in 1975 which depicted the grimy underbelly of the city, to "Rangeela" (1995), in which the depiction of Bollywood dreams exposed the citizens' collective desires, the curators demonstrate how people's understanding of Mumbai has been continuously altered by cinema.