The first instinct with something old in Mumbai is either to tag it as heritage and therefore immobilise it for posterity or to break it down and build something shiny and new in its place. Actually, the first happens usually when the old thing is a structure from the colonial times and the second happens to everything else.
Which is why the use of Mehboob Studios in Bandra for a variety of purposes — other than film-making — is significant and maybe even salutary. Cities get their identity — even their soul if you want to get fanciful — by growing with the times and using spaces to suit different times and needs. It is not always necessary to tear everything down and start again (especially if all you can think of is one more shopping mall or office complex).
Let’s go back to Mehboob Studios. As film shooting has shifted to Goregaon’s Film City, most old and historic studios in Mumbai have closed down and just vanished. It’s as if they never existed at all and this means that we have lost our connection to something which is intrinsically Mumbai. We parade Bollywood to the world as a major factor in the ‘India Story” but ignore what’s happening to its history in our backyard.
The last few months have seen Mehboob Studios being used as venue for renowned artist Anish Kapoor’s works and this weekend for a music festival. It is a charming place and the use of the existing infrastructure for varied uses is innovative and exemplary. Using the space for art and performances allows it to remain alive and also keeps us grounded in our history at the same time. How about if the history of the studio is also displayed along with whatever is going on. As it happens, the Dev Anand 1961 starrer Hum Dono’s new “rangeen” version which is currently showing in the city was shot at Mehboob Studios, so the connections are all around us.
And in these times when we are all so exercised about our entitlement to our sense of identity, it is refreshing to just focus instead on our sense of connection.
However, if Mehboob Studios is to develop further as a cultural meeting point, it needs to upgrade with a cafeteria, a souvenir shop and more spaces for public use. Accessibility is also a factor and here I mean social not geographical. An observation on the blues festival which finished this weekend might help. The tickets were not cheap — Rs2,000 a night for two and a half acts and Rs3,000 for both night. At the venue, the bar sold only expensive alcohol, averaging at Rs300 for a small shot. No wine or beer. So already, you have eliminated a section of the population which might have wanted to appreciate, savour or even learn about a form of music — originally sung by poor African-Americans incidentally — and impoverished the rest.
Oddly, the only food available was from a coffee shop chain, which didn’t quite blend with single malt. Not so oddly, the rich and famous of Mumbai who will not leave their houses unless they are “invited” to “events” got free food and booze.
If Mumbai is to think of growing and becoming “world class” (what a sad mantra), we need more such venues but we need to think more inclusively and publicly.