Bombay to Mumbai- thrilling fables
Gajendra S Shrotriya is a Jaipur based Engineer-turned-filmmaker. He can be contacted at gshrotriya[at]yahoo.com.
Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash, Harper Collins/2011, pp. 408 Pages (PB), Price: Rs 425.
A lovely read it is, as Gyan Prakash‘s Mumbai Fables painstakingly takes us through coming into existence of Bombay by Portuguese invasion, being acquired by British in due course, dismantling of the fort’s ramparts and its expansion beyond the precincts, evolution of the city as a modern industrial centre with Gothic Revival architecture opted for buildings in the areas for the elite and cramped up chawls in the mill district, Back Bay Reclamation fiasco, bringing the city back on sea through Art Deco style of buildings along the Marine Drive on lines with Miami, rise of the red in the mill district and its near obliteration by the saffron, death of the textile mills, upsurge of real estate mafia, breeding of crime along with the un-flagging spirit of entrepreneurship in Dharavi – the biggest slums in Asia, formation of Navi Mumbai and failure of the whole idea of the twin city despite all efforts by Charles Correa and his team to stop the growth along the North South axis – thanks to the builder-politico nexus to revive Back Bay reclamation again and again, rise and fall of Blitz, introduction of Jazz for the elite in 30s – its heydays – and its almost complete replacement by Bollywood Hindi music by 70s and so on… but this is not all. In parts, the book reads like a thriller, and at most times interesting, though occasionally, it bores you somewhat with excessive detailing.
The book further tells us about what contributed to the evolution of the city into a metropolis, and bestowed it with the intriguing mystique and charm. Since Portuguese took control of the area and drove the Koli fishermen community out, the city has never ceased to grow, first within the fort built by them, and later outside the ramparts. Bombay always had the modernity and urbanity which no other Indian city can ever boast of. The culture and the social fabric was always driven by the invaders with British playing an important role in deciding the destiny of the city and that of its people. The claiming of the sea to develop the most precious ever commodity in Bombay, the land, began with the Back Bay Reclamation plans by British government and the greedy builders, and still continue to lure the politico-builder lobby. The book delves in detail about the case Nariman fought against the British government to expose the nexus and got the plan shelved. Ironically, the Air India building built on the reclaimed land later stated at its inauguration that “Nariman had a point and we are right on it.”
Another interesting part of the book explains how cinema got developed in Bombay and how Wadia Brothers made blockbusters like Hunterwali etc. with Fearless Nadia. The most recent connection of the book with Indian cinema happens with Anurag Kashyap. Some major incidents in the book attracted his attention, of which major one was Nanavati’s trial / Prem Ahuja murder case. My guess is based on what I have read in some newspapers, and now it is well known that he is making a film titled Bombay Velvet which depicts Bombay of 50s through 70s. Anyways, Nanavati, a naval commander, whose British wife cheated on him while he was away on ship, got upset with the revelation and shot Prem Ahuja, a casanova and her enticer. Commander Nanavati subsequently surrendered to the police and the trial that ensued was long and trying for him, but Blitz made a hero out of the handsome commander – who according to their report was only trying to save his honour. Ahuja was thoroughly established as a villain.
Another of Kashyap’s attraction (for film) is Doga, a comic book superhero, who fought the crime of Bombay city. I don’t know whether Anurag came to know of Doga through this book or had he read the comics himself, only he can tell. I always wondered why I never got to read this comic being an avid reader myself, I got the answer here. The character was introduced in 1993, by when I wasn’t reading comic books and was in the early stage of my engineering career. A film on Doga could well be in line with Batman (Bruce Wayne) as they have a lot in common in terms of character. And yes, Doga could call his city “Botham” in the film.