"Mumbai is most receptive to ideas"

Aug 01, 2015, 08:15 IST | Suprita Mitter and Dhara Vora

In the third part of our series on resident non-Indians living in Mumbai, we speak with two Americans from diverse backgrounds architect and photographer Robert Stephens and Daniel Weber, manager/husband of adult film-actress-turned-Bollywood-star Sunny Leone

When architect Robert Stephens came to Mumbai for the first time, to visit friends that he had made at a university in America, he had no idea that the city would become his home. “This was December 2006. I stayed with friends in Thane and Mulund. I went back that year to finish my last year in school.

An aerial view of north Mumbai shot by Robert Stephens
An aerial view of north Mumbai shot by Robert Stephens

I decided I wanted to come back to Bombay and look for a job here. I looked for a long time and had almost lost hope when I found an architectural firm I liked. I met them, and they said you are totally crazy let’s try and work together,” laughs Stephens, during our chat with the architect and photographer at The Pantry in Kala Ghoda.

Getting local
He made a humble start, living as a paying guest in Tardeo. “I stayed in Tardeo. I was a paying guest with a Parsi man. I used to walk a lot. Now, I take the local train. I love the train and find it peaceful. I use that time to think.

Robert Stephens. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Robert Stephens. Pic/Bipin Kokate

It is much faster. Bombay (Mumbai) allows you to function with various budgets,” he explains, adding, “The train empties out at Dadar. Currently I live in Bandra and take the train from there to Churchgate, every day.” Confessing his love for the suburb Stephens reveals, “In Bandra, I love that there are so many trees; Tardeo had none.

The quality of life in Bandra is better. From my experience, Mumbai has the best ideas and is most receptive to ideas. earlier, it had a lot more international communities settled here. Now, it’s lesser. There are a few ghettos now but in terms of pan-India, it is fabulous. I didn’t see too many foreigners in Tardeo; Bandra has a lot more,” he shares.

Aerial Mumbai
In November 2014, Stephens had exhibited a few stunning aerial photographs of South Mumbai in black and white that he had shot. “I was always an artist; photography is a way to express myself.

It takes lesser time, unlike painting and sculpture where you can spend years in a piece. For a Mumbai resident who has a full-time job it becomes difficult. I will also be exhibiting some aerial photographs of north Mumbai soon,” he reveals.

“Before I came to Mumbai I took a language class in the US, which was mainly alphabets like ‘Ka kha Ga’ and I thought this knowledge is useless, they should teach us words and sentences. After coming here, I realised that it was the best thing I could have done. It made it so much easier to listen and learn. I am almost fluent now.

When I was a paying guest I was staying in the living room. I didn’t have a room to myself, so every weekend I would leave the house get on a train and go to an area where I didn’t know any people, get off the train and roam the streets; it was the best way to learn the language. I have to at work as we deal with construction workers and none of them speak any english,” he explains.

Comfort zone
“South Bombay never appealed to me as a residence, it always seemed more commercial. It is also deserted after evening. I like to see people, families after work. My favourite place to hang out is at home, very boring I know,” he laughs. “My wife and I love the Farmers Market in Mahim. It’s the best thing that happened to the city.

The Maharashtra Nature Park is phenomenal; you can’t believe that you are in the middle of the city. It’s under-publicized,” he adds. After confessing that he is not much of a foodie, he tells us, “Cafe Tardeo was an Irani cafe; it was my favourite restaurant.

It has shut down now, they sold out. Yoga House in Bandra is lovely too,” he says adding that he feels that there are very few public spaces to simply hang out, free of cost. “I don’t live in Mumbai for its restaurants, art and culture.

That is a value-add. I stay in Mumbai because my interests and passions find expression here and that is the most important thing for me. That’s a powerful thing for a city to be able to inspire. I get to do what I love and not every city provides that opportunity,” he reminds us.

“Bombay also shows me what not to do in terms of being architects. As a profession we should provide spaces for others. Here, 90 percent of what is built is based on self interest. So instead of complaining we try and do something better,” he concludes.

Behind every famous wife...

Not many would accept, but several people in India already knew who Sunny Leone was even before she came to India to be a part of Bollywood for good. And Mumbai became the un-negotiable home for the actress, and her husband/manager Daniel Weber.

Daniel Weber (standing centre, in a black T-shirt) with members of his band The Disparrows, along with a few kids from Yari Road
Daniel Weber (standing centre, in a black T-shirt) with members of his band The Disparrows, along with a few kids from Yari Road

Weber was born in New York and shifted base later to Los Angeles. “We started coming to India four years back; I always thought that it would be a short-term situation, and that we would move back. But after Ragini (MMS 2, the film that starred Leone) happened, we realised that we would now have to live here,” confides Weber, from his home in Juhu.

For the initial years Weber tells us that they were living out of a suitcase where five-star hotels served as homes for almost a year and a half; it was surprisingly great. The couple later moved to Andheri, which they weren’t too happy with. Things settled down when they moved into a home in Juhu. “Juhu is convenient for people in the industry, and it is close to work,” he admits.

Two films starring Leone have already released this year, and the actress has three films in the pipeline, all of which makes Weber’s itinerary choc-o-bloc with meetings. “When we moved to Mumbai I wasn’t too excited as I had friends, family, my music (his band is called The Disparrows), all back in LA.

But the fast-paced life of Mumbai helped. It helps you achieve and get things done; you don’t have to wait for a week. The only thing that would slow you down is Mumbai’s traffic,” he tells us of the city’s ever-cumbersome problem.

Let’s talk about food
The good bit about all his meetings, Weber tells us is that he gets to eat at good restaurants. “I love going to Olive and Asilo for French and Italian food. I recently went to Todi Social and loved it. The whole Todi Mills locality is buzzing with good restaurants. We spend a lot of time at hotels; Four Seasons and Palladium are my favourites,” he tells us. With his interest in music, Weber also loves attending gigs at Hard Rock Cafe in Andheri.

Old town, new people
While Weber has not had a chance to explore the city much, he loves walking down Colaba near Gateway and Colaba Causeway when he is in the Southern part of the town. “Like everyone who comes here, I was recommended to check that area out. It is so different. I love Leopold Cafe. I have also shopped for gifts like trinkets and curios from Causeway for friends and family back in LA,” he reveals.

For newbies in the city, Weber recommends visiting the different garment districts of Mumbai. “People in Mumbai are very friendly. If you go to a top restaurant people will respect our privacy, and leave us alone; it depends where you go. It’s a part of fame though,” he tells us before getting back to work.

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