Arts: Mumbai's art scene, then and now

SUNDAY MID DAY 32nd Anniverary Special, Mumbai

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2005: State-of-the-art museum

The Bhau Daji Lad Museum replete with gothic interiors and vibrant colours. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

In 2004, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and the Bajaj Foundation come together in the country’s first public-private tripartite partnership to manage and renovate the Bhau Daji Lad Museum located in the precincts of the Byculla Zoo. In 2005 the museum bags the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

1991: First Indian play at Edinburgh Festival

History is made when adman and playwright-director Rahul da Cunha’s production of Gurcharan Das’ Larins Sahib becomes the first Indian play to be performed at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The prize-winning play about Sir Henry Lawrence and the British in India also stars Nisha Singh and Rajit Kapur in pivotal roles.

1996: NGMA gets a facelift

Formerly known as Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) is renovated and opened to the public. It encases five-exhibition galleries, along with a lecture auditorium, a library, cafeteria, office and a storage area. The renovation took 12 years and cost R 3.5 crore but finally, Mumbai has a space that meets international standards.

2002:The great Indian art boom

A new chapter in the history of Indian art is written by Tyeb Mehta when his triptych (a painting divided into three parts) titled Celebration is sold for Rs 1.5 crore ($317,500) at a Christie’s auction. Later on, the works of artists such as MF Husain and S H Raza go on to fetch extraordinary prices at Sotheby’s and Christie’s etc. They are the pioneers of the great Indian art boom.

Then & Now: Change is the only constant
Shanta Gokhale, theatre critic

Over the last three decades, there have been major changes in the fields of dance, music, visual arts, theatre and advertising. In the early ’80s, the dance scene was dominated by Indian classical dance. The East-West Dance Encounter, organised by Georg Lechner, the director of Max Mueller Bhavan, at the same venue in 1984, was a watershed moment in the history of Indian dance. Many dancers got a chance to meet other like-minded individuals and this led to a lot of collaborations. Likewise, earlier classical musicians such as Pandit Ravi Shankar collaborated with international musicians such as the Beatles but even then Panditji would make his kind of music with the sitar. Today, however, classical musicians are creating fusion music with percussionists and instrumentalists. In terms of art, artists began experimenting with installations in the ’80s. They moved away from displaying their works on walls as paintings and started assembling installations. This gradually led to video art. The 1980s also heralded the entry of original Indian writing in English theatre. Till then, usually adaptations were staged. Writers such as Gieve Patel and Cyrus Mistry wrote English plays but had to rely on others to produce their works. Mahesh Dattani was the first playwright to write and direct an original Indian English production. Today, there is a plethora of English playwrights on the theatre scene.

Sepia memory: Shrikant Rao
During my decade-long tenure at MiD DAY through the ’90s, several significant incidents redefined the city’s and the country’s character. The turning points were the 1993 blasts that rocked Bombay, the renaming of Bombay as Mumbai in 1996, the nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998 and the Kargil war in 1999.

Personally even today, I find it difficult to refer to Bombay as Mumbai. Some of the memorable stories I did for SUNDAY MiD DAY were on the blasts, the wasteful cost of war during the Kargil crisis and the hijacking of IC 814 from Tribhuvan International to Kandahar. The blasts were a catalyst in changing the mindset of the people. They sadly brought ‘Us versus Them’ schisms to the fore. They also dramatically altered the face of Indian politics. With the Pokhran II blasts, India was seen as an aggressively assertive nation. Over all, the ’90s heralded liberalisation and introduced an economically gung ho India to the world. I consider myself very fortunate to have chronicled those and other remarkable stories for SMD.

Shrikant Rao worked with MiD DAY and SUNDAY MiD DAY from 1990 to 2000 

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