I love Art Deco. But I had no idea that Bombay – Mumbai in the 21st century – has probably the largest number of Art Deco buildings in the world. Or, second to Miami but who’s counting? So what’s so special about Art Deco in Bombay?
Some say Art Deco here has taken the back seat to the more prevalent and flamboyant neo-Gothic architecture in the city. The massively decorated neo-Gothic structures combine features of antiquity with those of India’s own Moghul splendour. Easy to notice these decorated masterpieces, that is true. Art Deco is more modern and subtle – intricate designs are often featured on wall reliefs, as frozen water fountains, door frames or in the exterior wall mouldings or in interior spaces of cinemas. Noticing Art Deco requires more effort; some say because it is the more quiet style.
City of Bombay historian Sharada Dwivedi and architect Rahul Mehrotra write in their book Bombay Deco, “Few know that Bombay has one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the world.” Apparently, this style was so prevalent at one time that there are actually two Art Deco precincts in Bombay. One is beside Oval Maidan and the other is along Marine Drive.
Indian “Deco” is known as a subset called Deco-Saracenic. It incorporates elements from Hindu architecture, particularly images of Lakshmi, the goddess, and the animals which are often seen in the decorative carvings on the facades of Art Deco buildings. Perhaps these specifically Indian features of the Deco buildings are what makes them stand out on the street. Nowhere is this visibility more evident than on Marine Drive. Taking a walk along the sea wall next to the Drive is one of my fondest memories of visiting the modern-day Mumbai.
This distinctive quality of the often white exterior of large buildings and the many interior designs are considered the hallmark of Deco-Saracenic.The colours and decorations nor the building materials are the same as in other world cities. Having seen the Radio City Building and the Rockefeller Center in New York a couple of years ago, I know I was looking at very different Deco in Bombay.
It is to their credit that the Indian architects transformed what was in the mainstream Art Deco into their own distinctive Indian style. And left us the myriad treasures to look at and visit decades later. What’s there NOT to like?
I even managed to see a flat inside this Deco apartment building from the 1930’s….the high ceiling rooms, wide windows and open balconies. No longer that special by modern standards, but back in the 30’s, I can imagine how hip and cool it was to live in this address.
Deco apartment building