In a zine launched by Storycity, Mumbai's Art Deco buildings have been captured for posterity.
As you rush to catch the local train from Churchgate station, behind the backdrop of an evening sky, a brightly lit ‘EROS’ sign on the magnificent Art Deco structure of the cinema hall demands your attention. Mustansir Dalvi, Professor at Sir JJ College of Architecture says, “It is one of the defining buildings of Bombay.” In a zine comprising of such iconic scenes and art deco structures, Ruchita Madhok and Aditya Palsule of Storycity have launched Bombay Deco: Hidden In Plain Sight, an ode to the Art Deco architecture of Mumbai.
The duo launched the zine at Tarq art gallery, which is housed in Colaba’s other famed Art Deco structure — Dhanraj Mahal. The launch also saw a guest lecture by Mustansir. For him, the book’s title Hidden In Plain Sight reflects the current status of the buildings. He says, “It is truly ubiquitous to the point that we don’t see it. We have grown up in a city where Art Deco was the predominant background to our lives. It is in many ways the fabric of the city in the way we recognize Bombay in our memories and our imagination.”
The book is a visual introduction to the Art Deco architecture in Mumbai and contains illustrations showing people interacting with the buildings. “All of the vistas that we have chosen to illustrate are street scenes and urban scenes that an ordinary Mumbaikar would have come across in their daily commute. So it is very experiential,” says Ruchita.
With illustrations from Tanushka Karad, the zine takes you on an immersive one-day tour of the Deco buildings; starting with the ones owned by three brothers: Keval Mahal, Kapoor Mahal, and Zaver Mahal on Marine Drive in the backdrop of dawn, and ending with the curtains coming down on an evening show at the Liberty cinema.
Although, these buildings sprouted in the last two to three decades of the colonial rule, the Art Deco in Mumbai is anything but colonial. Mustansir says, “You may think of Art Deco as a colonial style, I think that’s a first notion that needs to be disabused. As far as the colonial style is concerned after the Gateway of India, there have not been really any imperial buildings. To fill that vaccum, a lot of architecture came up, which were used by citizens and designed by citizens themselves.” These citizen pioneers were architects such as G B Mhatre, C.M Master, Sathe and Bhut, Bhedwar & Bhedwar and many more.
Now that their creations have been recognised as the World Heritage Site by the UNESCO Heritage Committee on June 30, the importance of these buildings in the architectural and cultural history of the city is being gradually acknowledged. The Art Deco buildings are present mostly in South Bombay, with some even found in Dadar and Matunga.