This month, citizens of Mumbai conducted series of workshops with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to voice their concerns on issues of housing, health, environment, transportation and other issues. The workshops were conducted with the intent to address the preparation of the Mumbai Development Plan and place specific demands for policies and reservation of space in the city for amenities.
What remained conspicuous with its absence was the demand for cultural space; namely theaters, libraries, auditoriums and other spaces that become a platform for representation, dialogue and performance. This is because MCGM has dropped the responsibility for provision of auditoriums, theaters and libraries from its legal mandate. The 2014-2034 Mumbai development plan does not have the obligation to provide or reserve land for cultural spaces. India is no more in the “Nation Building” stage, so unlike in the post independence era, the government does not feel the need to invest in cultural spaces for broadcasting propaganda. The neoliberal city expects the market to fulfill the demand for cultural spaces. However the huge dearth of such spaces shows that the market has failed. The newly developed northern suburbs feel the pinch a lot more than the historic island city. While there may exist an “art or music scene” in the city, the lack of dedicated space for performance and display scales down its felt presence.
So what fills the void for expression in the city? – Cinema. Cinema is the dominant form of art and cultural representation in Mumbai. Here is where the market succeeds. Movie theaters are where people go for entertainment, unwinding and recreation. A population as large as Mumbai’s makes the medium commercially viable. Each year, as single theater cinemas shut and multiplexes take over, people shell out more and more for this pleasure. People consume images of the city through film and live in these spaces. The city space becomes enriched with myth that cinema weaves into it. Mumbai becomes the classic Cinema City.
But it isn’t just the multiplexes, I would like to highlight that films are being screened as well as being produced within slums themselves.
Films are screened in Mumbai’s slums through local slum theaters. The theater is usually a small rented room with a DVD player, projector and a screen. The entrance door is a simple curtain surrounded by movie posters that advertise its presence. The movies played in slum theaters are not the latest hits of mainstream hindi/english cinema. They are usually older Hindi films that did well or regional films catering to the dominant migrant population in the slums. There is often no seating. People sit on the ground. The repeatable nature of the medium allows theaters to do well enough to run the show.
Given below are Sameers Tawde’s photographs, of slum cinemas in the city. They are a part of Project Cinema City, a Research Art and Documentary Practices Collaborative by Majlis and the Design Cell at KRVIA. These photos capture the daily life of slum theaters and its audiences.
But it isn’t just the display; films/ Internet based shows are being produced within slums themselves. Recently I came across one such show named “Govandi CID”. I tried to get an interview with the producer but couldn’t. So here is what I have managed to glean from the Internet about the show. As the YouTube site tells us, the show is a Shivaji Nagar boyz production in association with Rajiv Gandhi Medical Center & Galaxy Infotech. The show is student project not meant for commercial purposes. The intent is to help local boys improve they acting skills and fight back addiction and criminal activities in Govandi, a large slum in the east of Mumbai. The show has a mystery plot. The protagonists are a group of self-proclaimed detectives, who go around solving murders and thefts taking place in the slum. The root cause of all this criminal activity usually turns out to be drugs and lack of amenities. The story line seems conscious of the outside gaze but the space in the film is deeply embedded. The show has a Facebook page that it uses to network with new actors who want to join the group and announce new episodes. Govandi CID is one of many films that are based out of slums.
A couple of years back, I was escorting a group of German students through slums and chawls in Mumbai we reached a courtyard within a chawl and as students began to photograph the space and its residents, the residents came back with their cameras and began photographing the German students. There was a sudden moment of realization – The camera was now present in the “other spaces”, looking inward and telling us embedded stories and looking outward asking the city questions through its cinematic gaze.