Book Review: Silent Cinema in India

Watson Hotel, Historic Hotel, Mumbai

Watson’s Hotel / Esplanade Mansion

In the busy Kala Ghoda area of South Mumbai is a run down, decrepit building called Esplanade Mansion. Once upon a time, it was known as Watson’s Hotel and is India’s oldest surviving cast-iron building today. Fabricated in England and assembled on site between 1867–1869, Watson’s has quite a bit of a history attached to it.

There are many stories about Watson’s, but the one I’m going to share here is in the context of the book being reviewed here — Silent Cinema in India: A Pictorial Journey (Harper Collins, 2012, Price: Rs.4,999/-) by B.D. Garga. It was at Watson’s Hotel that the Lumeire Brothers’ Cinematographie was screened on July 7, 1896, to an all-white audience for an admission fee of one rupee.

“Cinema arrived in India like an itinerant traveller, unannounced” (pg.15).

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Bandra’s street art: A fantasy world at Chapel Road

The dragon was wearing a red fez and carrying a flower almost as big as himself.

“Where are you off to?” I asked him.

“To meet my lady love, who lives across the road,” the dragon replied.

“Have a great date,” I smiled.

“And you have a great time here at Chapel Road. I’m sorry I can’t take you around myself and introduce you to the others,” said the dragon as he hurried off with a backward glance and a ‘fangy’ smile.

Street Art, Chapel Road, Bandra, Mumbai

Yes, I did meet a dragon in a red fez and with a flower.

No, dear reader. I’m perfectly alright. No, I’m not lying.

Yes, the dragon in a red fez and with a flower was quite real. As real as art can be. :)

Welcome to Bandra’s Chapel Road. It is a road that connects Mount Carmel Church to Hill Road. It is narrow, winding road that runs through what was once the independent Runwar Village but is now part of Bandra. It is a road that is used as a short-cut by many residents of Bandra travelling to or from the Bandra-Worli Sealink. But most importantly, and in the context of this post, it is also a road that is world-famous, thanks to the graffiti and street  art there.

Street Art, Chapel Road, Bandra, MumbaiUnlike the street art that I have written about in my previous posts (the links are given at the end of this post) where only one artist’s work was in focus, the street art on Chapel Road is by multiple artists from all over the world; some of them are pretty famous artists too ! This has resulted in a pot pourri of styles and art that is quirky, whimsical, comical, serious, nostalgic, fantastical… but always designed to engage with the viewer.

Come with me as I take you to meet some of my favourites and overhear the (entirely imaginary) conversations I had with some of them. :)

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Bandra’s street art: Bollywood on the walls

Mumbai and Bollywood are synonymous with one another for many people. I have lost track of the number of times people have only wanted to talk about films and Bollywood with me, once they found out I was from Mumbai.

Yes, Mumbai is the birthplace of Indian cinema, all Hindi film production houses and studios are located here, all Hindi film stars live in Mumbai, etc…  And yet, there is a remarkable lack of initiatives to document its journey. Sure, there are books, some half-hearted attempts at tours of the Film City, product designs with Bollywood as the theme, and so on… but these are only individual, isolated efforts.

One such effort is the Bollywood Art Project (B.A.P), “an urban art initiative that aims to transform the walls in Mumbai into a living memorial to Bollywood”. Founded in 2012 by artist Ranjit Dahiya, B.A.P aims to “pay tribute to Indian cinema through street art”.

I saw my first B.A.P artwork about a year back late one evening on an organised walk around Bandra. All the light in the dimly lit Chapel Road area came from this smile. I know, I sound clichéd like many of the paeans sung about her. But it is true. Madhubala is gorgeous and there can be no one like her.

Bollywood Art Project, Bandra, Mumbai

For some reason or the other, I never wrote about that excellent walk I went on, though I kept meaning to. And when I saw more Bollywood-based murals recently during one of my visits to Bandra last month, I knew I couldn’t delay writing about them any longer.

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Bandra’s street art: Nagrana Lane’s secrets

Discovering this set of street art was sheer luck. Serendipity indeed .

It was around 10 am on a Saturday morning last month. I had just finished seeing and photographing the set of artwork on the theme of child sex ratio and sex selection on the compound wall of St. Peter’s Church on Hill Road in Bandra. I still had the images on my  mind when I stopped near a roadside tea stall to put away my camera gear.

On noticing my camera, one of the men standing there said in Hindi, “Don’t put your camera away. There is a lane full of ‘paintings’ like this a little further down the road.”

“Do you mean the ‘paintings’ on Chapel Road?”, I asked.

“No, no. There is another chhota road here which has paintings. Very beautiful paintings.”

“Thanks. I’ll have a look.” I didn’t tell him, but I was a little dubious about this piece of information. I had walked down the road many times and never come across any lane like the one he had mentioned. Also, my good friend Google had never mentioned it, in the sense that all image searches would lead one to wall art on Chapel Road (blog post on that coming up soon!)

Still… as I walked down the road, I kept an eye out. And then I saw it — if I had not noticed a flash of turquoise blue and red and then looked again. I would have missed it. What I had always assumed was the entrance to a housing society was actually a lane so narrow that if I had stood with my arms akimbo, I could have touched the walls on either side.

Nagrana Lane, Street Art, Graffiti  Art, Bandra, Mumbai Ink Brush N Me

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The Sion Fort

The Sion Fort is one of the eight existing forts in Mumbai.

My brothers tell me that I visited the Fort as a 4-year old in 1975. Our family had just shifted to Mumbai from Bhopal that year and the first few months were spent in settling down and of course, exploring a new city. I have absolutely no recollection of that visit, though I remember other visits made at that time to the Gateway of India, the zoo, the shoe house at Malabar Hill,  etc.

Over the years, hearing my brothers talk about the visit to the Sion Fort has always made me want to visit it. But somehow, every planned trip to the Sion Fort has never worked out for one reason or the other as if jinxed. There was one instance when I had gotten off the bus at Sion and had just started walking towards the Fort when I got a call from office asking me to report to work for a work-related emergency! That was about 4 years back and my last attempt to visit the Sion Fort.

Till earlier this month, that is. When I casually mentioned about wanting to visit the Sion Fort to Rushikesh Kulkarni, a fellow blogger and the guy who runs Breakfree Journeys, he said, “Let’s go.” Before I knew it, a date and a time had been fixed for the visit. And just like that it worked out. So on a weekday, about an hour before sunset, Rushikesh, my friend Neena and I met at the entrance of one of the lanes leading to the Fort from from the Eastern Express Highway at Sion.

Sion Fort, Forts of Mumbai, Sion

The Sion Fort

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The Mahim Fort

“And this is the view from the bedroom,” says Rama, throwing open the window and gesturing at me to look out. “It’s not the same as the view of the sea from the living room, but it’s lovely in the evenings, when the sun is setting and the whole place takes on a soft orange glow.”

Rama is a friend (and also a fellow travel blogger) who has just shifted to Mumbai from Delhi, and she is giving me a tour of her apartment on the 15th floor of a building in Bandra, and also the accompanying views from the various windows.

“Hmm…,” I reply, as I look at the view. The sun is a long way from setting and the light is quite harsh on the buildings, slums, the Mahim bay, and… then, something else. Something I had not expected to see. Was it what I thought it was?

“My camera ! I need my camera. Where’s my bag?” I rushed to the living room to retrieve my bag.

“Why? What happened?”, asked Rama in a slightly alarmed voice. “What is it?”

“Wait. I’ll show you,” I said as I switched on my camera and zoomed in to show her this.

Mahim Fort, Mahim Bay, Mumbai, 7 forts of Mumbai

“Rama,” I announce rather grandly, “meet Mahim Fort, one of the 8 existing forts of Mumbai.”

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