Text and images: Sarita Manu
When a friend asked me why was I traversing half-way across the city only to look at a wall-painting, I had to admit that it was because (in no specific order) a) there is only much I can stand in Mumbai these days, so I need to move around and find things that can make me like the city again and b) my boss asked me to.
Bollywood Art Project (BAP), a public art project celebrating hundred years of Bollywood, has reiterated for me that Bollywood is indeed larger than life. Conceptualised and executed by young professionals and artists, Ranjit Dahiya, Mallika Chabra and Swati Rao from Chandigarh Art School, together with Tony Peters and Sruti Viswesaran,the BAP aims to create several works of street art across various Indian cities. Their first venture is a mural created on a wall on Chapel Road. When Ranjit said we could meet at the mural, I was hoping I didn’t miss finding it on Chapel Road, the narrow street connecting Mount Carmel Church with Hill Road in Bandra, Mumbai. It was, of course, impossible to miss this enormous hand-painted poster screaming ‘Anarkali’. The pretty Bina Rai and the handsome Pradeep Kumar with a thin moustache lost in her gaze (yes, I think moustaches are handsome) epitomise ‘love’ – the single most popular emotion in Bollywood ruling the viewers’ hearts and minds. Keeping in line with the spirit of Bollywood it should really have been called the ‘BA(a)P’ (with “baap” meaning father), and not just B A P.
The setting for the poster itself is absolutely marvellous: the wall of a two story building across the Lala Lane compound that serves as a fantastic viewing gallery. I could totally imagine myself spending hours staring at the lovely poster and dreaming. In Mumbai, where millions eat and breathe only ‘Bollywood’, this poster is their chance of owning Bollywood. I could almost hear myself say, ‘This is my/our Bollywood’. After all what is Bollywood without its billions of fans, and what are stars without the stardom bestowed upon them? The poster offers every viewer a sense of ownership – of the city and its cinema.
Based on a still of the film Anarkali, the poster made passersby wonder aloud, ‘Hmmmm, Looks like from Mughal – e – Azam …’ Anarkali, starring Bina Rai and Pradeep Kumar, was released in 1953 and based on the legendary love between Salim (Akbar’s son) and Anarkali, the beautiful court-dancer. Mughal –e – Azam was a film made in 1960 based on the same theme. Both the films were commercially and critically acclaimed and remain popular to date. It was not until the letters A N A R K A L I were painted that people realised this poster was not from Mughal-e-Azam but from Anarkali. One gentleman did insist that Bina Rai’s smile was similar to that of Madhubala, says Sruti.
Dahiya (as Ranjit is affectionately known), with his 18 years of experience in hand painting posters in varied sizes and scales, finished this mural in just 14 days. Tony recollects that it was not easy for Dahiya to be perched on this high ladder on a busy street; credit goes to the city and the local residents for their undying support and enthusiasm: the affectionate chai-wala who was ready with the chai all the time; the panipuri wala who was so overwhelmed with the poster that he offered the B A P team, a life-long supply of free pani-puri at his stall; the passerby who stood smoking a beedi and comparing the still image to the painting only to point out that a particular spot needed more light and many such others.
B A P also held a screening of Anarkali at the venue. The response to it was outstanding. Kids from the neighbourhood landed with big bottles of water and a packet of chips, an old woman stood for more than an hour watching the film from a shy corner despite being offered a seat and told that the screening was for free, another gentleman travelled from a distant suburb only to look at how things were being set up. The team had a blast organising the screening despite running around frantically to put it together. The kudos pouring in from all corners has given B A P the much needed momentum to realise their dream of completing many such murals until next year and in many cities.
A fully-self funded initiative, the B A P is now pitching in for funding and hopes to receive maximum financial support. Also, the team is slowly expanding and soon there will be more hands holding up the ladder and setting up the screens. B A P is open to receiving exciting ideas and collaborating with more artists. While the B A P is about celebrating Bollywood cinema’s hundred years, it is important to note that it takes art to the streets and into the public domain. Sruti recounted an experience of working with an artist at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where patrons paid 20 dollars each to watch art. Any art becomes ‘high-art’ when patrons have to pay or when they are screened in closed spaces, she says. And it is this idea that they want to challenge in letting every viewer on the street enjoy art.
Coming up soon: an even bigger mural of Bollywood’s eternal dancing queen, Helen.