Stardust vs Raj Thackeray
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The very existence of Bollywood, magical and self-renewing, keeps chauvinistic forces at bay
As an outsider to begin with, and somewhat of an insider later courtesy my job, I've had a few dalliances with Bombay-Mumbai. As a student, I lived for a year in the toniest part of Bombay (it wasn't Mumbai then). The building was right on top of Malabar Hill. It had a swimming pool, and the alarmingly well-heeled residents would troop down in different costumes every day, lest anyone thought they had only one. As a trainee journalist, I went to work in Nariman Point, and at one stage, stayed briefly in Sassoon Docks, which smelt of fish and salty air. I chose not to stay back in Bombay; I chose to come back to Delhi. I like the concentric circles Delhi moves in, more than the straight line on which Mumbai-Bombay crawls. And I like the fact there is distance between me and those who make and act in the films I write about.
But if you ask me which city makes it easiest to dream, I'd be a liar if I named any other than Bombay-Mumbai. No other city has as much stardust. It's everywhere, that shiny, seductive, spellbinding sprinkle — in the most hellishly crowded local, in a quiet, leafy Bandra corner, in a gulli full of namkeen in Lower Parel, in a small restaurant at Kemps Corner, in noisy Crawford Market, even in the staid patches of Navi Mumbai. And always, always, on any stretch of Marine Drive, where the sight and sound of the infinite sea washes everything away. Even "seditious" cartoonists being hauled off to jail, frequent communal riots and the horrendous increase in regional chauvinism and parochialism.
Like many others who had a relationship with Bombay before it became Mumbai, my reaction to it is bifurcated: before I became a film critic, and that is something I have been for a long time now, I viewed Bombay as scores have before me. A city which was, in the truest senses, a city, not a cluster of villages trying to forge an identity, a city that spoke of mercantile might and overarching business acumen that made it the financial capital of the country. But over the years, I have come to look upon the city as a place where movies are made, where craft is manufactured, and where magic is created, on an industrial scale. This is the Bombay-Mumbai of Bollywood, which pre-liberalisation could properly have been called the Hindi cinema belt. But now gets its heft from the reviled-but-aptly named Bollywood, which is not just a physical space like its western counterpart, Hollywood. It is an idea made flesh, which gives the city its special air. And its special power. The Bombay-Mumbai that exists today has been shaped and defined by Bollywood. If there were no Bollywood, there would be no Bombay-Mumbai. Or at least not the city we know now.
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