“I came here to find my dreams”, he tells me as he pours me another cup of tea.
“And, did you find them? I ask.
“Not yet, but I’m still looking” he says smiling, turning his attention back to the tea.
That was a glimpse of my conversation with Jagan, a chaiwallah who is a regular feature on Carter Road. It is a well-known area in Mumbai made up of cafes, restaurants and a seaside walking path. Jagan, like millions of others, has left behind his family and farms in his ancestral village so he could come to Mumbai and become a professional dancer. Just like millions of dreams floating in Mumbai, his dream too is on the Bollywood waiting list.
The city that never sleeps
Mumbai breathes Bollywood: that is how intricately the city and the industry are connected. It thrives on the energy of the people that dwell there and it never ever sleeps. You can put that statement to test: get out at two in the morning and go to Marine Drive. Perpetually bustling with life, Marine Drive is an iconic 4.3 km coastal boulevard running along the Arabian Sea. Plenty of Bollywood movies have been shot here with each one of them trying to capture the love Mumbaikars feel for Mumbai and the sea.
Things are changing rapidly within the Hindi Film Industry and by consequence, within Mumbai itself. For instance, for the longest time every promotional movie poster in India would be painstakingly hand painted. In today’s digitised world, however, multiple flex prints are a lot more cost effective than works of art by real artists.
The third generation of Dresswallas
Alam Shah is one such artist. He has been in the industry for nearly 25 years and his father was a poster artist before him. When I asked him how he managed to survive the industry when it quite conveniently forgot its artists, he tells me, “If you stay true to your art, god provides.” Today, thanks to massive revival efforts by Mumbai locals and lovers of art and Hindi films in general, he continues to stay loyal to the industry by selling and painting vintage Bollywood paraphernalia. Should you be interested in finding him and purchasing some truly Bollywood-esque art, his studio is located in the crowded and lively alleyways of Mahim.
There was a time when costumes, props and sets would be hired from third parties and subsequently used repeatedly over the years. Nowadays, most production houses have a big enough budget to produce their own sets and costumes. Maganlal Dresswala, one of the oldest suppliers of costumes to films has been in the business since 1926. When Alam Ara, the first Indian film with sound was released, the costumes were made by Maganlal Dresswala. Today, Maganlal Dresswala’s shop is run by the third generation of Dresswalas. This is a place that has seen its fair share of glory days and if you fancy yourself some dressy Bollywood style outfits, pay them a visit.
Film City continues to thrive
If real action is what you seek, then you’ll find it all in Mumbai’s film studios. Film City, with its nearly 520 acres of land, 42 outdoor and 16 indoor locations is one such studio. Several iconic movies and TV shows have been shot and continue to be shot there to this day. It is particularly in such studios where you truly get a sense of how large scale things are in Bollywood.
Other popular studios are Mehoob and Filmistan, both of which have been working closely with the Hindi Film and Television Industry over the past few decades. Getting into the premises of these studios can be tricky and prior permission is usually required. The easiest way to pay them a visit is to go through a tour.
No Footprints with its Mumbai Dreams Tour is one such company that makes these studio visits possible. They are one of the most genuine tour operators in Mumbai and are led by Eesha Singh, a passionate and well-informed guide who’ll never rush you as you stand in awe–mouth slightly open–at the charm and opulence of Bollywood. Her tour takes you on a shoot, to a vintage poster gallery, past the homes of Bollywood icons and to the Bollywood Walk of Fame. The cost of the tour includes lunch and the guide fees as well. As part of the tour, you also receive the opportunity to interact with actors and directors. If you’re keen on immersing yourself more into this experience, Eesha can even organise Bollywood dance sessions or mock auditions for you.
Soak in the city’s sights, smells and sounds
Want to go a step further and be an extra on a set? With a little luck and patience–that are prerequisites in this industry–it is entirely possible. All you need to do is head to Colaba Causeway, a popular area in South Mumbai and you might just get asked to be an extra in a movie. It is an increasing trend in Bollywood to use foreigners as extras and it is not uncommon to be approached by casting directors in this part of Mumbai. Lots of people have been ‘spotted’ in and around Leopold Café, a legendry eatery located in Colaba. The monetary exposure is minimal and long waits are involved. However, you will get to visit a real studio, your meals will be included and if you’re really lucky, you’ll even get to wear a gorgeous costume.
Somewhere in the middle of all the glitz, glamour and the constant reality checks, you’ll find the real Mumbai. Take a book or two with you, sit by Marine Drive and have your cup of chai as you take in the sights, smells and sounds of the city. In the billboards around you, the conversations next to you and in talking to the boy who hands you your chai, maybe you’ll understand the Bollywood dream a little bit better.
Other things to do in Mumbai
No Footprints: The parent company of the Mumbai Dreams Tour, No Footprints, does an excellent and offbeat Early Morning Tour led by owner of the company, Harshvardhan Tanwar.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nofootprintsmumbai
Shopping in Colaba Causeway: Mumbai is filled with markets but Colaba Causeway not only for its stores but also for its vibe, cafes and bars is high on everyone’s list.
Take the ferry to nearby islands: From Mumbai you have the option to getaway to lots of little nearbly islands. Ferries leave regularly from the iconic Gateway of India
Where to stay:
Four Seasons: The Four Seasons Hotel, with its rooftop bar Aer, remains one of the finest properties in Mumbai. .
Taj Hotel: The historically relevant Taj Hotel has a loyal and dedicated following made up of locals, expats and travelers.
Le Sutra: With its aesthetics rooted in Hindu Tradition, this boutique hotel in the suburbs is touted as India’s first art hotel.
AirBnB: There are some extremely comfortable and extensively reviewed home-stays listed on this website.
Maganlal Dresswala: 95/A, Ground Floor, Shanti Niketan, Marine Drive, Near Flyover Bridge, Marine Lines, Mumbai – 400020
Alam Shah: Bollywood Posters Studio, Plot no: 646, old Kolsawadi, Kapad Bazar road, Mahim, Mumbai-400016 (w) www.bollywoodpostersstudio.com
Film City: Film City Rd, Inside Dadasaheb Phalke Chitranagri, Post Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon East, Mumbai, MH, 400065 (w) www.filmcitymumbai.org
This article was originally published in Royal Wings, Royal Jordanian Airlines’ in-flight magazine.