Why else would two non-Bandraites, one, a filmmaker, another, heiress to one of the country's biggest auto companies, ditch their homes and set up office in the suburb to make it the subject of a documentary film? Beautiful Portuguese bungalows, and a creative vibe are just two of many reasons

IN the cosy ground floor area of a quaint Bandra bungalow decorated with festive kites and kitschy film posters, a sexy new project is brewing. Armed with a borrowed video camera and the desire to capture the flavour of life in the Queen of the Suburbs, Aalika Mahindra and Anjali Bhushan are documenting the lives and stories of people and places that make Bandra what it is.

Aalika Mahindra and Anjali Bhushan prepare for a shot on Turner Road.
Pics/ Santosh agwekar

Ironically, neither of them belongs to the area. So what are they doing, making a film called The Bandra Project? Mahindra, seated in a study decked up with a cheery string of fairy lights, laughs. "I literally woke up one morning and decided to do it." But there's more to it than that, as there normally is, with all great stories. In 2009, after completing a degree in filmmaking from the New York Film Academy, Mahindra returned to her South Mumbai family home, wanting to make a feature film. "But I realised that the industry was based out of the suburbs, so I started scouting for office space in Bandra because that was as far North as I wanted to go." Bhushan, a filmmaker by profession and a Madh Island resident, chips in, "I met her mom at a book launch, and we got talking about how I was looking for an office space too. That's when we met and started hunting together, and eventually settled for this."

It was a few weeks later that it hit Mahindra, who had, in the course of working on her film script, experienced the suburb in a completely new fashion -- "I met so many interesting people and experienced the character that Bandra holds. That's when I the idea of making the suburb the subject of our film came to me, and Anjali and I started work," she recalls.

Today, almost 10 months into the project, the duo is revelling in the personality of the suburb, reflected in interviews that make up 20-odd hours of footage. While a short version of the film will be screened at the Celebrate Bandra festival in November this year, a festival release of the finished project is planned next year.
During the course of filming, Mahindra figured how she was slipping deeper into the spell that the location was casting on her. It's the little details that have made an impression on her, like a tiny blue house with red latticed windows that  wowed her during a random jaunt to one of Bandra's gaothan areas.

Bhushan agrees. "This is our first time in Bandra, and we've experienced it as outsiders. It has a cultural milieu very different from the rest of the city, and the country," she says. Having lived in Delhi before she moved here, for Bhushan, Bandra offers an alternate, exciting world that goes beyond it being a hotbed in this megalopolis.

That alternate world includes opposing-yet-enmeshed worlds -- a bustling, young, creative space jostling with the worldview of its oldest inhabitants, homes and establishments. "One one hand, you have spaces like The Art Loft and the Hub, and then you have living heritage and a project to preserve it, like the Save Ranwar initiative. Bandra has it's own newspaper, it's own radio station, and everything from queer accessories stores to fine-dining restaurants. The suburb is at its peak right now -- it's got old world charm mixing with the energy of an artistic centre -- and that's what we want to capture," shares 28 year-old Mahindra.

The ladies have spoken to a series of interviewees, who vouch for Bandra's laidback vibe. For expats, it's simply the opportunity to be able to dress the way they want to, while older inhabitants can still live a slice of the life they are used to, in bungalows like the one Mahindra and Bhushan work in. "Maybe it's the East Indian influence, but Bandra lets you be, it doesn't judge you for your tastes. Your alternative choices can be mainstream, without any qualifying quotation marks," laughs Bhushan.

"I've grown up in South Mumbai and love it, but on the flip side, there's a snoot value and an obsession with social dos and celebrity-spotting, which isn't the case here. Bandra's celebrities share space with you at coffee shops and no one bats an eyelid. People here are connected to each other and the suburb, which probably comes from the fact that a lot of those who first migrated here on account of cheaper rent were single, and made the effort to reach out to the community. Today, that bond is visible, and it fosters an atmosphere where random strangers can chat with each other at a bagel shop or say hello to each other on the road," smiles Mahindra.

As we wrap up, Bhushan, regretting her choice of a silk kurta on a hot day, offers, "It's a community project, both, in front and behind the camera. Everyone we've spoken to has been so welcoming -- we've had interviewees offer their skills, friends who have agreed to edit, while still others have patiently answered our panic-stricken calls when a difficult sound situation means we don't know what button to press while recording."

Fitting, for a place that seems to have a sense of community built into its ethos. Read more about the film on www.thebandraproject.com and follow the project on Twitter at @bandraproject