Mumbai with the money sucked out of it almost seems nicer.
Maybe it’s because it’s Valentine’s Day but the drive from the airport to south Mumbai, past scores of empty billboards—a clear sign of the cash drain—is actually quite magical. The lights on the Bandra-Worli Sealink tower twinkle over the horizon; a shadowy Godzilla-sized image of a construction worker bent over under the weight of a sack of cement appears on the side of a building under construction and the fancy new shops where you can buy bathtubs that talk look so deserted you know the only conversation the bathtubs have had in a long time is with themselves. Ditto for the three Porsches that stand forlornly in their glass cage en route to Marine Drive.
Free space: The city exercises, romances and celebrates on Marine Drive. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
At the city’s perfect windy hangout, that great equalizer where Mumbai unspools all its ghettos weekend after crowded weekend, the vantage point from where you can best take in the goldstandard skyline, I finally exhale. Mumbai rocks.
The next day, on a walk along the sea, we spot the boys from Jharkhand (or so says the husband) laughing at the Bombay girl with the Lhasa Apso tucked firmly under her arm. A woman in a nauvari (nine-yard) sari walks faster than us. They’re still taking photos outside the Trident, but wait, it’s not disaster tourism. One young man wants a photo of himself “opening” the door of the silver Mercedes that’s parked across the hotel’s entrance.
At the husband’s favourite Chinese restaurant, Royal China, where table upon table of Sindhis devour the dumplings, there is zero evidence of the slowdown. Later that afternoon though, at a screening of Shah Rukh Khan’s latest release, Billu Censored, the theatre is half-empty. Is this because nobody wants to pay Rs240 a ticket? Or because they won’t pay it to see SRK enact himself?
I haven’t seen the original Malayalam hit Katha Parayumpol but the Hindi version is bizarre. The film tells the story of a childhood friendship and a village that goes crazy when Khan decides to shoot his film on their home ground. Only in India would a film-maker think a feature-length promotion of Khan could be the next big hit.
The film showcases all things SRK—T-shirts with his photos, posters of all his movies past, SRK haircuts, a montage of scenes from his films, even a jacket with King Khan imprinted in gold. Yet, it’s worth thinking about. For most of India, Khan is the first citizen of Mumbai.
Coincidentally, Mumbai plays muse in the book I’m reading too. In The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, author Siddharth Dhanvant Sanghvi makes his characters experience the city’s riots, floods and moral police. He even sets the Jessica Lal murder in this city (such imagination).
Delhi may have got its own anthem Yeh Dilli hai mere yaar, bas ishq mohabbat pyaar courtesy Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra but— money or not—Mumbai will always inspire more of us.
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