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Capturing a Citys Soul

Andre J. Fanthome

By Raghu Rai
The Book Review, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 190.00, 0.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 8-9 August-September 2011

Raghu Rai is one of India's most celebrated photographers and his 29th book of photographs on Mumbai is yet another visual treat. Aimed at capturing the essence of Mumbai, it is almost a study of contrasts and very evocatively captures slices of what Mumbai as the city really is. It starts off with an introduction of Vir Sanghvi on the origin and evolution of Mumbai. It is fairly well written, except that it starts off sounding like a history lesson and ends like an anti-Shiv sena rant, but that is besides the point. This book is primarily about people, their dreams, aspirations, frustrations, hope, despair, love, faith and joy. It is about the mad rush and the constant transformation going on in Mumbai. It is about the space and lack of it. It is about frames of history frozen in time. It is about the masses of Mumbai who give it its very distinct identity. Split into two sections of B&W and colour, the book begins with some period photographs from the 1900's during the British Raj. Interspersed with Raghu Rai's own works, they paint a stark contrast between the gentile city of Bombay to the throbbing rush of humanity in current day Mumbai. The B&W section also seems to symbolize 'power' with portraits of some of the leading denizens of Bombay from different walks of life: the Ambanis, Birlas, various Parsi families and other eminent personalities. It provides a tiny glimpse into their private space while simultaneously contrasting with very powerful images of a completely different strata of society including a haggling Koli fisherwoman to Tina Munim's wedding day. Browsing through the book almost in a surreal sense feels like travelling from the posh towers of South Mumbai to middle class suburbia. The colour prints capture the daily life and ruminations of 'ordinary' citizens, the myriad cultures and social intersection of the ordinary with the extra ordinary. It is all about people, people and people. Every single photograph in the book has people in it with the exception of one which happens to be one of my favourites. Page 124 has an almost B&W photograph with a ground up view of the newly built Bandra-Worli sea link bridge, the cables of the bridge criss-crossing the windscreen of the car, the interior of which this photograph was taken from. It almost gives it a very Manhattenesque feel (you ...

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