Exchanging Looks: 'Art Dekho' Movie Theatres in Bombay
|Published in:||Architectural History, 2009, v. 52|
Bombay of the interwar years was a city in transition. TheUrbs Prima in Indus, and second city of the British Empire, became increasingly both a site of nationalist sentiment and a conduit of cosmopolitan cultural and economic currents. Its urban fabric witnessed the shift from colonial, Victorian city tomodernemetropolis. Captured in A. R. Haseler's dramatic aerial photograph from the mid-1930S (Fig. 1), the Regal Cinema stands out against the Indo-Saracenic monuments of late imperial Bombay — notably George Wittet's Gateway of India (1924) seen at the top of the photograph, his Prince of Wales Museum (1923) — its gardens on the bottom left — and, on the right, his Royal Institute of Science (1920). Although not a government-commissioned building, to the right of the Gateway, on the waterside, is the Taj Mahal Hotel (1903), a luxurious structure intended by the Parsi industrialist, Jamsetji N. Tata, to be a location for inter-cultural relations. Extending this type of space to some degree, the Regal was built by another Parsi, Framji Sidhwa, in 1933. The cinema marked the beginning of a decade-long building boom that corresponded with a significant population increase, as more and more migrants joined the city's growing industrial workforce.
The Art Deco styling of the new financial, residential, and commercial buildings, like the Regal, celebrated and framed a modern public culture which responded to the unique socio-political realities of interwar Bombay. ‘Public culture', a term developed by Arjun Appadurai and Carol Breckenridge, is conceptualized here as a dynamic process of indigenization, one that takes into account the global flow of ideologies through human migration and especially by mass media, one that destabilizes the ‘high-low' binary and avoids the homogenizing terminology of ‘westernization' or ‘Americanization'. The Art Deco cinema might be considered a crossroads where the often interpenetrating and sometimes competing narratives of commerce, nation, empire and formations of modern subjectivities intermingled: a nexus of cultural, economic, technological and political flow. The use of Art Deco is important in the context of Bombay as the style signified modernity and a particular sense of cosmopolitanism on the one hand, and yet resonated with or extended pre-existing cultural traditions in a distinctly local manner on the other.
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