Its Walls in Ruins, a Mumbai Suburb Turned to Art and Was Reborn - Atlas Obscura
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Its Walls in Ruins, a Mumbai Suburb Turned to Art and Was Reborn

A mural of a scene from Mughal-E-Azam in Mumbai, created for the Bollywood Art Project (all photographs by the author)

Walls in India are hardly ever bare; it’s a difficult task to find a wall in the country that isn’t covered in fly-posters, paan spittle, or colorful graffiti. But one Indian suburb is taking this latter example to an extreme.

Bandra, a suburb located in West Mumbai, was originally developed as a trading post for the Portuguese in the 16th century, but today is known for its diverse street art. In the streets surrounding its array of unique restaurants and hip cafes, it is impossible to visit without stumbling across the work of talented artists living and working within the area. However, Bandra hasn’t always been Mumbai’s street art capital.

In 2008, four artists from the National Institute of Design started the Wall Project. The initiative aimed to add a bit of color to Bandra by turning its dull and vacant walls into vibrant pieces of art, thereby rejuvenating several areas that had long been in ruin. Over the last few years they have given the suburb a terrific makeover — one that reflects the diverse range of people and perspectives within the community, whilst transforming its damaged and decrepit walls.

Creators from all over the world are coming to Bandra to paint, as shown by this piece by French artist “Rock”

The project has helped develop unused walls into canvasses for aspiring artists, and also promoted Mumbai as a city for foreigners to create and curate their own work. This has led to artists from all over the world having their work on the walls within the suburb, putting Bandra on the map for its street art. One example of this “art tourism” is the above eye-catching piece by the French artist “Rock,” which can be found on Chapel Road. Just around the corner from this piece visitors can find another mural portraying two Bollywood actors embracing. The scene (shown at the top of this post) is taken from the film Mughal-E-Azam and is joined by another mural paying homage to the legendary Bollywood actress Madhubala nearby.

These were created by Ranjit Dahiya as part of the Bollywood Art Project, which aims to turn Mumbai’s walls into a living memorial to classic Indian cinema. This project has a particular significance for Bandra, as the suburb is home to the famous Mehboob Studio, a Bollywood production company responsible for several successful Indian films.

A more recent addition to Bandra’s walls of late is a collection of murals developed for Polaris 2014, Wilson College’s media festival. These are situated on Hill Road and cover topics like social change and environmentalism. They extend alongside a major road that dissects the suburb, meaning they are almost unavoidable to any persons who may pass by.

Detail of the Polaris wall

Section of the Polaris wall

In many cases, the places being redecorated belong to small businesses and homeowners. It is these individuals who grant permission to have their walls painted, often encouraging the artists by supplying basic equipment, such as ladders, for them to work with. This exchange has helped over the last few years to repair numerous walls within the suburb, including those that residents couldn’t afford to maintain themselves. 

But perhaps the most impressive element to the street art scene in Bandra is its inclusivity. Both young and old are getting involved, developing ideas, and executing their plans to improve the suburb. Street art in India is booming, with many exceptional artists producing extraordinary work within several different Indian cities, including Bangalore, and parts of Uttar Pradesh, such as Delhi and Varanasi.While the Wall Project started with humble aspirations, it’s clear it has started something tremendous in the country, contributing inspiration and color to many major cities in India. With similar initiatives such as the Bollywood Art Project also gathering support and press attention, India’s future is certainly bright.


 Image of Madhubala on Chapel Road, produced as part of the Bollywood Art Project