Mumbai’s latest endangered species: its art deco heritage

What is the common thread between buildings at the Parsi and Hindu colony in Dadar, single screen theatres in the island city and a handful of palatial bungalows in south Mumbai? Besides the fact that these are fading fast from the city’s skyline, it is the last remaining vestiges of Mumbai’s art deco heritage.

In their recently published book Bombay Deco, historian Sharada Dwivedi and architect Rahul Mehrotra have made a plea to preserve the vanishing tribe of this modern style of architecture in Mumbai. The authors have traced the proliferation and decline of art deco in Mumbai — from its arrival in the city in the 30’s to its various interpretations and manifestations in the cityscape.

The book talks about the clash between Gandhian and Westernised styles as evident in art deco architecture — themes from Western theatres, industrial symbols and Western zigzags fused with opulent India motifs like lotuses, elephants and the charkha. Most importantly art deco, as the book puts it, “transformed Bombay’s image from a gothic to an international modern city”, it points out.

“Bombay has the second largest number of art deco buildings after Miami. However, unlike Miami where an entire precinct was restored making it an international tourist attraction, here we do little to preserve our heritage.”

Barring the Oval Maidan where residents have gone to great lengths to restore the detailing in their art deco buildings, several art deco residential buildings are being mowed down to make way for towering high-rises as is the case in the Hindu and Parsi colony at Dadar. At Marine Drive the BMC, in violation of the strict lease regulations by the collector, has allowed housing societies to rent ground floors to commercial establishments.

In case of the deco theatres, those like Metro and Sterling have converted to multiplexes to avail of the tax exemptions and incentives offered to multiplexes. Other art deco single screens like Eros, New Excelsior, New Empire and Liberty are in deficit while Strand has shut down.

Stately private residences and luxury flats at Altamount Road, Carmichael Road, Hughes Road, Napean Sea Road, Peddar Road and Walkeshwar, which were once built in art deco style by Maharajas and industrialists, are fast becoming casualties of real estate greed. Similarly, the watered down versions of art deco in Colaba, Chowpatty, Sandhurst road, Girgaum, Gamdevi, Mohammad Ali Road, Dadar, Wadala and Mahim have all been obscured by neglect.

“The only way that existing art deco structures can be salvaged is if the State government takes proactive steps like tenant ownership of these buildings or providing them incentives for preservation,” says Dwivedi. The UDRI has already suggested that the state government apply to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status for the art deco structures along the Oval Maidan.

Original article here.

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