Mumbai as Her Muse

Sooni Taraporevala on five photographs of Mumbai from her ongoing exhibition.

Written by Vandana Kalra | Updated: January 20, 2018 5:02:57 pm
It’s the Gateway of India, seen from The Taj Mahal Hotel’s Sea Lounge.

Sooni Taraporevala began photographing Mumbai 40 years ago, when it was Bombay and when she had taken a semester off as a student at Harvard University. Over the years, she continued to walk the streets of the ever-evolving city with her camera, to capture its culture, people and the ethos, which best describes the metropolis. Last year, the screenwriter-photographer brought together some of these monochromes in the book Home In The City: Bombay 1977-Mumbai 2017.

Curated works from the pictorial book are now a part of an exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi. We asked the Mumbai-based photographer to select five images that represent the spirit of the exhibition.

The Gateway of India from the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, 1977

This is the first photograph that I ever took that I like. It was taken with a Nikkormat camera that I had bought in Boston in 1977, with money I borrowed from my roommate. I had taken off a semester from Harvard, where I was majoring in literature. It’s the Gateway of India, seen from The Taj Mahal Hotel’s Sea Lounge. For me, it evokes a certain era. There is light streaming in, empty chairs that might have been occupied by someone — it tells a story.

It is also a photograph that cannot be replicated because of the heightened security after the terror attacks. These windows always remain shut.

Nurse and poster of Indira Gandhi at the Congress Centenary Session, Bombay, 1985

I grew up next to Gowalia Tank Maidan, where Mahatma Gandhi gave the call to Quit India. It’s also close to Tejpal Auditorium, where the Congress was founded. So it’s a historic area. It’s also a very Parsi neighbourhood. Rajiv Gandhi was at Gowalia Tank for the Congress centenary and this photograph was taken then. He is considered very Parsi by the community, since his father was Parsi. I think I was the only women photographing him during this visit, I have a photo of him looking straight into my lens. This photograph, to me, evokes what happened to Indira Gandhi, how she died, with the ambulance and the nurse below her painted portrait.

Mumbai by Night, 2016

This photograph has been taken from my apartment building in South Mumbai. All the other lights were off, and she seemed to be the only one awake, reading. You can see the details, the pipes running up, parts of the building damaged by heavy rain. Graphically, I feel, Kolkata comes closest to Mumbai, with its street lights, four-five storey buildings. In the exhibition, I have juxtaposed this photograph with another night view, titled Bombay by Night, 1977. That has the Worli Sea Face, and you can literally count 24 factory chimneys. The old mill area is right at the centre of the city, but most factories have shut and have been replaced by malls. Architect Charles Correa had a well thought-out plan for the area but no one really took heed. Together, these two photographs also present the two aspects of the city: public and private.

Companions, Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai, 2016

The sea is my favourite part of the city and I feel Mumbai would be incomplete without it. Whenever I am in Mumbai during the Ganapati festival, I visit Chowpatty for the visarjan. It’s a wonderful public event, a perfect opportunity for me to photograph. However, I avoid the final day, when the mega Ganeshas come out and there is a mad rush. I usually don’t tell people that I am taking their picture, unless it is a portrait.

This is a photograph of two men at the beach that I took two years back. I don’t know why are they holding their ears like that but they did seem comfortable with each other — they could be friends, brothers, lovers. I also love that the dhoti of the gentleman behind there is flying. We can see the Mumbai skyline as well, tall buildings whose number increases every year.

Crow at Marine Drive, Mumbai, 2017 

This photograph was taken at the beach on Marine Drive, where there are steps leading down to the sea. In Mumbai, crows and stray dogs are the smartest creatures around. There are so many stories of crows — how they come to the window for their daily treat, or how they leave horrible things behind as loving gifts.

The exhibition is at Vadehra Art Gallery till January 27

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