Celluloid Nostalgia

It could very well be a microcosm of Mumbai,where distinct social and architectural identities are constantly fighting a losing battle against the onslaught of development.

Written by Shalini Nair | Published: March 4, 2012 3:02 am

A group of ten students have captured the essence of the urban village in a film,Khotachiwadi- Not Just an Address

It could very well be a microcosm of Mumbai,where distinct social and architectural identities are constantly fighting a losing battle against the onslaught of development. And yet Khotachiwadi,with its few remaining traces of quaint old Portuguese-style houses and some chawls,seems like an anachronism right in the heart of the bustling metropolis.

“I don’t know what Mumbai looked like 20 years ago,but I would imagine it to be exactly the way Khotachiwadi is today,” said V Varsha,a student of Social Communications Media at Sophia College. Varsha is part of a group of ten students who have over the past few months captured this sepia-tinted essence of the urban village in a film titled Khotachiwadi- Not Just an Address. The film chronicles how the heritage precinct in Girgaum is forced down the road of gentrification by virtue of being prime real estate today. It also highlights the ambivalence of its residents,mainly from the East Indian and Pathare Prabhu communities,as they are caught between the opposing forces of conservation and redevelopment.

The film is woven together through the narratives of its locals,mostly tenants who pay a paltry sum as rents under the pagdi system common to most cessed buildings of South Mumbai. There is designer James Pereira,who has managed to preserve his 220-year-old cottage and creatively spruce up its interiors. His is one of the 20-odd bungalows that have survived of the original 60. Then,there is Yatin Khot,whose ancestor was once the landlord of entire Khotachiwadi. He admits that redevelopment has been a boon for his family,for it has meant moving out of a tenanted chawl into an apartment of his own. There are several others who lament the strain exerted by the many highrises mushrooming along the narrow bylanes in the pedestrian-only locality. The verdant enclave was stripped of the protection that its Grade III heritage precinct status bestowed upon it once the government decided to allow unbridled development in such areas.

“Unlike most other wadis of Mumbai,which are commercial in nature,Khotachiwadi is home to several communities and their culture. It has managed to retain much of its old fabric in its low lying structures,wooden exteriors,verandas and spiral stairs,” said student Dhara Kanani. Triparna Rout,another student,says the only way to save this slice of old world charm from the brink of extinction is by encouraging the residents with incentives for their conservation efforts. “In the course of our research,we realised that many locals are forced to opt for redevelopment only because they are unable to maintain the place. But they have put up a passionate fight to retain their homes in its original state,” said Varsha.

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