Look Beyond the Border

Mumbai is seen through the eyes of Pakistani photographers as part of a cultural exchange between the two countries

Written by Radhika Singh | Published: July 5, 2016 12:18:10 am
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Separated by geography and politics, Mumbai and Karachi, however, appear to be identical twins when seen through the lenses of a photographer. Karachi-based photographer Amean J realised this recently. “Both cities are the commercial centres of their respective countries, with a large migrant population, and both are situated on the coast. The pre-Partition architecture is the same, too,” he adds.

So, when Amean took to the streets of Mumbai to capture the city’s daily humdrum, the experience felt more than a tad familiar.

A fashion and street photographer, Amean was recently in Mumbai for 10 days as part of the Mumbai-Karachi Friendship Forum, an initiative by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), to contribute to a friendly relationship between India and Pakistan. Called “Tasveer-e-Mumbai”, it is the first of a two-part cultural exchange; the second, “Tasveer-e-Karachi”, will take place when Mumbai-based photographers visit Pakistan in July.

Amean, with four other Pakistan-based photographers — Malika Abbas, Farah Mahbub, Malcolm Hutcheson and Mobeen Ansari — had explored various parts of the city while they were here.

This wasn’t Amean’s first time in Mumbai. He first photographed the city 15 years ago. “It’s difficult to figure out how to do something new in Mumbai, where every street corner has already been heavily photographed. But I’ve realised that freezing any moment has value when you look back at the photograph 20 or 30 years later,” he says.

Amean’s current series thus captures pretty much the same scenes as his previous one from 15 years ago — pedestrians in their daily routine, rushing towards train station, buying groceries, getting on a bus, or even just hanging out at Marine Drive — providing the photographer with a perspective on how much the city has changed in the time since. “I am also very aware of people’s body language and, because I’m a fashion photographer, I am especially attuned to what they are wearing,” he adds.

As part of the project, the photographers visited Fashion Street and Crawford Market, celebrated iftar at Bhendi Bazaar, and attended a shoot at Mehboob Studios. Not everything was peaches and cream, however. Shiv Sena activists disrupted a press conference earlier this week, protesting against ORF chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni and Pakistan for supporting terrorism.

The photographers are unwilling to let the incident disturb them. “We artistes are initiating a visceral dialogue,” says Amean. “We have so much in common, such as musicians we love, cricketers and Bollywood.” He is planning to encourage photography students in Pakistan to exchange images with their Indian counterparts. “Imagine, if a Karachi resident posted an image of what he had for dinner and a Mumbaikar responds with a similar photograph. Photography is becoming such a popular medium, especially on social media sites like Instagram, and it pays no attention to boundaries,” he says.

The resulting photographs from the “Tasveer-e-Mumbai” and “Tasveer-e-Karachi” programmes will be exhibited simultaneously in both cities during the Pakistani and Indian Independence days on August 14 and 15, respectively. “We are even thinking about making the collection into a book,” says Amean.

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