Interactive space at Cross Maidan aims to transport you to France this winter

Dec 14, 2017, 11:03 IST | Shunashir Sen

Since JRD Tata's mother was French, a part of the visionary Indian industrialist's childhood was spent in Paris. Now, it so happened that the family's neighbour in their holiday home was a celebrity aviator who the young Tata looked at with awe

Since JRD Tata's mother was French, a part of the visionary Indian industrialist's childhood was spent in Paris. Now, it so happened that the family's neighbour in their holiday home was a celebrity aviator who the young Tata looked at with awe. That man noticed the child's enthusiasm for planes, and so one day, he gifted the 14-year-old a treat and told his pilot to take Tata out for a spin. One can only imagine the wide-eyed wonder with which the boy must have viewed the world from above (remember, this was only 1918). But presumably, it had a lasting impression since Tata later became the first Indian to be issued a pilot's licence, before he founded Tata Airlines, which was re-christened as Air India and despite its challenges, remains the country's national carrier.

Bonjour India Experience

Amritha Ballal, the founding partner of Space Matters, tells us this story sitting on a bench at Cross Maidan. In front of us, labourers work at breakneck speed under the overhead sun. They are completing a structure called Bonjour India Experience (BIE), which Ballal's firm has designed for Bonjour India, a platform for Indo-French collaboration. The idea behind BIE is to bring out those exchanges between the two countries that lie buried in their parallel histories. And the interactive space at the Churchgate garden will thus employ LED displays, installations and virtual reality shows to showcase the relevant associations, like that of Tata's.

Bonjour India Experience being assembled in Mumbai on Wednesday; (top) a photo of a VR show from the Delhi leg of the exhibition. pics/shadab khan and hemant chawla
Bonjour India Experience being assembled in Mumbai on Wednesday; (top) a photo of a VR show from the Delhi leg of the exhibition. Pics/shadab khan and hemant chawla

Ballal gives us an idea of what to expect when she says, "In the first of the three pavilions, we have recreated a slightly surrealistic streetscape of Paris. So, the literature section comprises a bookstore, where we've put publications that may be in English and Bengali but were written originally in French, such as Asterix and The Three Musketeers." She continues, "Then there is this thing called a 'flip book' where you have an actual graphic novel placed in front of you, but when you flip it, there is stuff about the novel projected on a screen, with the [projected] animation changing at every turn."

Pierre Laburthe and Amritha Ballan
Pierre Laburthe and Amritha Ballan 

She proceeds to give us a tour of the unfinished space, where Pierre Laburthe from the French Embassy joins us. But it stretches our imagination to picture what the completed interiors will look like once the labourers are done with their work. Laburthe makes it easier when he explains what each of the three pavilions is meant for. He says, "The first one is meant to showcase our shared culture and philosophies. The second is about innovation, for example about aerospace and how a French firm helped with the Kochi Metro. And the last one is about how we can work and study together, how, you know, we can learn French here and Hindi in France."

Ballal helps further when she shows us photographs on her phone from the Delhi leg of BIE, which is where the travelling exhibition was last assembled. The images give the impression of a full-blown immersive experience that promises to take the Mumbai audience on a French sojourn. Ballal also says that the curtains will be raised today for a select audience, with a screening of 10 films and Karan Johar as the chief guest. But truth be told, we'll have to wait till the space is opened to the public tomorrow before we can truly see the bigger picture, though it does look promising indeed if our visit acts like a trailer.

On : December 15 to 26, 10.30 am to 8.30 pm
At : Cross Maidan, Churchgate.

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