Fiona Fernandez: Make heritage cool again

Updated: Nov 21, 2016, 10:18 IST | Fiona Fernandez |

Mumbai’s entertainment icons must be roped in to promote and support our heritage and make history more than a yawn for the youth

In 2013, city planner and architect Augusto Villalon told this writer how The Philippines had roped in popular entertainers to promote the country’s iconic landmarks. File pic
In 2013, city planner and architect Augusto Villalon told this writer how The Philippines had roped in popular entertainers to promote the country’s iconic landmarks. File pic

World Beer Day. Check. International Network Week. Check. World Heritage Week. Say, what?

In fact, we were more surprised than relieved when we came across a faint buzz on the social media as a few heritage evangelists (it’s the new cool term, apparently) and heritage associations posted their itineraries as part of the ongoing World Heritage Week. These days, the response to any news — good, bad or ludicrous — on certain platforms ends up being gauged by ‘likes’, and so heritage nerds that we are, managed a smile buoyed by the virtual enthusiasm that followed these posts. We even quipped a silent ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’, a la Dylan, in the head. Everyone’s hooked on to the cult track these days, after all. Ahem.

Back to our city wanderings. And in light of the weekend’s mega gig (Coldplay rocked, we hear you) that shook Mumbai — music is on our mind. Entertainment and heritage: where’s the connect, you’d ask. We found our answer in 2013, when we met with a leading city planner and architect from The Philippines, Augusto Villalon. He was in the city to endorse Mumbai’s proposal for UNESCO World Heritage Site status to the Victorian and Art Deco ensemble of buildings that line Oval Maidan. During our hour-long chat around the stretch, he introduced me to a country and its people; a passionate bunch, I add, after hearing fascinating examples of how its youth icons work closely with the authorities to bridge the gap between past and present. And in this attempt, heritage is right on top. The Philippines is a chaotic, heady mix of traditional and modern — just like India. Their architecture is diverse — an inspiring fusion of local, Oriental, Pacific, Spanish and migrant influences.

Villalon recalled how the government had identified some of its biggest musicians, actors and entertainers to promote and support its iconic landmarks. We were privy to an inspirational mini revolution that was taking place in his country. Familiar celebrities were often spotted in ads on TV and social media, egging people to take pride in their history, protect and donate generously for its upkeep. They were even involved in on-ground activities for its betterment.

The overriding, sustained intent was to make history a cool word, not a yawn. In late 2015, and once again, backed by its youth and familiar faces, we learnt that common Filipinos had put their weight behind an interactive app that celebrated some of their most important heritage sites as an aid for tourists and locals alike.

“You have your Bollywood stars and cricketers here, don’t you?” he prodded, adding, “Why not invite them to take a similar role with your government?” We managed a half-grin. “It’s simple – put a familiar face to a national concern, and watch how the next generation is wooed by it,” he reasoned. We loved the sound of it.

Start out young, they say. And play it loud, we say. Heritage can be cool too. We’ll wait for the day when the message is blared out at a blockbuster gig. Happy World Heritage Week!

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to

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