January - March 2009



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Bombay to Mumbai

By O P Dutta

Film-maker and writer O P Dutta has lived in Mumbai for 60 years. He has seen it change from Bombay to Mumbai – in many different ways. The journey of six decades, as seen through his eyes, is swathed in nostalgia – for all that was simple and innocent. In 2006 O P Dutta was honoured with IIFA’s Lifetime Achievement award – for a lifetime of association with Bombay’s film industry –he directed his first film ‘Pyar ki Jeet’ in 1948. Apart from directing films and writing screenplays, OP Dutta has also written the dialogues for his son J P Dutta’s films – among them, Border, Refugee, and Umrao Jaan.

In early 40s of the last century a young boy came to Bombay, the land of opportunities. He was innocent, simple, loving, and lovable, trusting and trustworthy.

Ever since then I have been looking for him but to no avail. I must have crossed paths with him but probably could not recognise him. Bombay must have changed him completely. His name was O P Dutta.

If Bombay changed him and the likes of him even she has not escaped the law of nature – change - because nothing is permanent, so much so that the very name of the city has changed to Mumbai. The sons of the soil and the Arabian Sea thought the city was always known as Mumbai, so Mumbai it shall be.

Even monuments like Victoria Terminus and the Crawford Market have been renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Jyotiba Phule Market. The Jehangir Art Gallery’s popularity has been usurped by painted faces on the ramp who have fired the imagination of the citizens in place of paintings of Masters. The Public Library and the University Library are hardly visited because information comes packaged on the internet. Fifty years ago girls used to adorn their ears with earrings and studs - now only the mobile phones hang from the ears. An audio-visuaL monstrosity. There were times when the ‘To Let’ hoards were on every third building and the landlord would offer you a cup of tea before starting the negotiations. Today ‘To Let’ is extinct and the tenant is the scum of earth.

In those days the good old tram was the main transport for public – charging an anna (1/16th of a rupee) from Dadar to Victoria terminus. One could buy peanuts for another anna and see Bombay at leisure, enjoying its sights and smells. Today the trains and buses have replaced the good old tram and ghoda garis (horse carriages). If you can manage to get into a train compartment you can be sure you won’t be allowed to alight at your destination.

Those days one could find a Lakshmi Vishram Grah every few hundred yards, offering ‘piyush’ and batata vada – they are extinct now. It’s coke and a burger now. The ‘Bar and Billiards’, is replaced by ‘Bar and bar-girls’. The popular sports clubs have given way to ‘night clubs’.

Before Bombay was renamed Mumbai there was a huge struggle for her custody between Maharashtra and Gujarat – and the most astounding scene during those turbulent days was that of Sikh youths in Dhan-Puthwar colony shouting ‘Bombay kunachi, saadi’ (Who does Bombay belong to? – to us). That truly reflects the character of Mumbai or Bombay – a complete cosmopolitan city – a miniature India that is Bharat.

Not that the voices of the so-called sons of the soil have been silenced forever. You can hear the diatribe against north Indians, especially Biharis, from time to time but Mumbai just absorbs the mild shock that it generates. The terrorist attacks over the few years have been terrifying and horrendous. They have shattered the peace of Bombay but not her spirit. Bombay even today is like a sleeping giant that is vibrating, pulsating and all-embracing.

The charm of Irani restaurants has vanished from the scene. They left in time or – maybe they were made to leave. If they were still around, the aroma of their Victorian cup of tea might have undergone a change, like all other things of good old Bombay.

I hope the boy of early 40s is still around. I am more than hopeful because, even the original inhabitants of Bombay are still around. The ‘Thakurs’ and ‘Kolis’ inhabited this island city originally. Even today the Thakurs are scattered from Mahim to Worli while the Kolis (fisherfolk) live in small villages along the beaches of Colaba, Juhu, Silver Beach, Madh, Marve, Versova, all the way to Vasai. Their attire is the same, profession remains the same and their worship of the Sea is the same. The fisher women still wear the good old kashta that comes in rainbow colours and helps accentuate the curves of their lissom figures. They still help their menfolk in building boats, weaving, casting nets and sorting out the catch. The only difference is that now the net is made of nylon instead of good old cotton yarn. Inspite of the introduction of fishing trawlers, the Kolis like to go out to sea in their small boats, casting nets, catching fish and thinking of their womenfolk waiting on the beach for their return. If the sea gets stormy and turbulent the faces of their womenfolk turn ashen, their lips moving in prayer and eyes staring into the huge waves. Some spend day and night sitting on the same spot with a fire burning on the side to attract the incoming boats.

These simple fishing-folk still revel in community bonfire, homemade booze and folk dances late into the night. Their music has a beat matched only by the music made by sea waves breaking against the shore. To romanticise their evenings they have named their homemade liquor ‘Bombay Dew’.

Bombay was the Mecca of cinema and so is Mumbai. The moving pictures turned into talking pictures and it was no less than a miracle and with the advent of playback machines, the whole concept of cinema was revolutionised.

Cinema in its infancy attracted people to cinema halls just for the sake of looking at the miracle. In its adolescence cinema was not only beautiful but desirable, and music made it divine.

Bombay boasted of dozens of film studios completely equipped and backed by infrastructure. To name a few - Bombay Talkies, Minerva Movietone, Ranjit Studios, Sagar Movietone, Paramount Studios, Central Studios, and Jyoti Studios which produced India’s first talking film ‘Alam Ara’. ‘Mumbai’ today has only a few of them left – Filmistan, Kamalistan and Film City. All others have given way to multi-storeyed residential or office buildings -simply because the love for money was greater than that for cinema.

I still miss the moustached Pathan guarding the gate of a film studio and his prohibitive look. In Bombay of yore only the studio owners produced films. The actors and the technicians were all employees of the studio with monthly salaries. Even the great singer and star K L Saigal was on a salary of 1600 rupees per month at New Theatres, Calcutta. The highest paid actor was Motilal who was getting 2000 rupees per month at Sagar Movietone.

Then came the independent producer and influx of money - a bonanza for all . Along came cinema with a purpose and social awareness. People like Satyajit Ray did a great service to cinema.

Today Mumbai boasts of twinkling stars of the silver screen. She turns out record number of films per year, has a turnover of billions shared by all from the star to the spot boy who cleans the floor and serves tea and coffee. The only thing missing is the feeling of a family of film folks as it existed when Mumbai was Bombay.

I miss the ethereal beauty of Madhubala, the sensitivity of Nargis, the vivacity of Suraiya. I miss filmmakers of the calibre of Bimal Roy, P C Barua and Raj Kapoor. I miss the soul stirring poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi, Alok Shahir and Rajinder Kishan. I miss the pens of Krishan Chander and Rajinder Singh Bedi. The likes of Kanhaiyalal and Yaqub are not there and equally missing are the gracious ladies like Durga Khote and Waheeda Rehman.

In spite of it all, I am more thankful to Mumbai for giving me more than I could ever give her. She was a darling as Bombay and she is a darling as Mumbai.



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