City’s Art Heart Beats Again

Kala Ghoda is set to regain its spot under the sun as the city’s cultural hub.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published:November 19, 2013 12:26 am

Leave behind the beautiful precinct of Rampart Row and into the labyrinthine lanes of Kala Ghoda,and a sense of order tends to reign over the chaos. The ungainly sight of shops with their wares spilling out on to the streets is muted by the beautiful (chiefly) Indo-Saracenic architecture of the buildings where they are housed. Walking the back alleys,with dripping air conditioning systems and cramped rear exits,is made interesting by the use of stone and cast-iron grilles in the buildings,dating back to early 20th century.

Amid the shops and offices however,new establishments now dot the neighbourhood,slowly transforming its character,bringing it in tandem with what Kala Ghoda has stood for — Mumbai’s cultural heartbeat. In the vicinity of Gallery 7,Hacienda Gallery and Artisans,is the recently opened the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) — spread over four floors it is the largest gallery space in the city. Several restaurants have popped up in the area after the tiny but cosy Kala Ghoda Cafe set up shop in one of the bylanes four years ago — the French-inspired The Pantry,the pan-Asian Chao Ban,the Mediterranean Nico Bombay and dim sum house Mamagoto,pubs such as Cerevesa,The Irish House and TLD and the yet-to-open French patisserie La Folie. Apart from design stores such as Filter and Obataimu,there’s also a host of fashion designers including Sabyasachi Mukherjee (who also plans to open an art gallery in the area),Varun Bahl and Masaba Gupta who is in the process of setting up shop.

“The face of the neighbourhood is changing,” acknowledges Karthiayani Menon,secretary,Jehangir Art Gallery,which,along with its famous restaurant Cafe Samovar,became a converging point for the city’s artistes from the late ’50s to the ’80s. Menon views it as a step up in the evolution of Kala Ghoda,earlier defined by landmarks which include the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya,Mumbai University,the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) and the David Sassoon Library. “Known as Mumbai’s art district,Kala Ghoda has attracted tourists as well as artistes and the aesthetically inclined. A surge in the establishments that have the same energy will help everyone.”

This energy is what has drawn most entrepreneurs to Kala Ghoda. “Although it can be viewed as an extension of Colaba,where we own the pub Woodside Inn,Kala Ghoda has a more quiet and artistic vibe,” says Pankil Shah,who found the place perfect for the idyllic cafe,The Pantry. Just across,in the lane to the right,design company Filter has its store. Its creative director Ajoy Advani says their decision to open the store here two years ago was based on the kind of visitors that the neighbourhood attracted. “The annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) brought this place back into focus after its popularity waned in the early ’90s,” he says.

Kala Ghoda has always been a cultural hotspot. Located across from the docks,during per-Independence days,it was where the sailors would assemble and shop on the streets before heading to the Army and Navy Building,which currently houses Westside. Next door,the then-luxurious Watson’s Hotel — today the derelict Esplanade Mansion — was visited by the cream of British society. The Lumiere Brothers famously showed their cinematographe at the hotel.

This legacy and history works as an added attraction to those who visit Kala Ghoda. “For those on a leisure trip to this part of the city — be it tourists or locals — find it irresistible to walk into the lane because there is so much architecture and heritage to look at. Here,they can discover in each bylane a gem of its own. This is also how so many people have walked into DAG ever since it opened a few weeks ago,” says Vineet Kakcer who was responsible for setting up the gallery in Mumbai. Similarly,Nico Goghavala and wife Kamal Sidhu admit that customers are often taken in by the high ceilings,architecture of the near century-old building that houses their Nico Bombay.

As Kala Ghoda gains its spot back under the sun,it helps that the state government has in principle passed the ambitious Museum Plaza project to develop Kala Ghoda into an entertainment and cultural district. Word is that a pedestrian walkway connecting Kala Ghoda all the way to the museum has been proposed where no traffic or cars will be allowed. The space created by this will be thrown open to amateur and professional artists,including painters and sculptors. Spots will be earmarked for live performances. “It’s an ambitious project and can take time to come through. But it will do justice to the spirit of the neighbourhood,” says Shah. He hopes other like-minded entrepreneurs who are looking to promote the neighbourhood and take responsibility for its upkeep will come together to form a lobby for

the project.

dipti.nagpaul@mumbainewsline.com

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