As a kid who was born and brought up in Delhi, whenever I heard the terms ‘Bollywood’ or ‘Indian Film Industry’, I imagined, as I’m sure many before me did too, a larger-than-life mystical land, the gates to which were perhaps golden and a red carpet that led to various film sets that I had by then grown familiar with, and film stars living in one continuous row of sprawling palaces and directors just a little ahead of them. A utopian, self-contained community of all things film, all things perfect, buzzing with activity day and night. All of this, of course, had to be kept privy from the public eye since only the chosen ones were allowed inside. I am beginning to realise now, how close this description sounds to Hogwarts.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I set foot in Aram Nagar three years ago, on my first visit to a production house, for work. The word ‘Aram’ in Hindi literally means ‘leisure’, and the quaint little world of Aram Nagar, tucked away into the coastal side of the western suburbs is as far from the hustle and bustle people have come to expect from the city of Mumbai as it possibly can be. Suffice it to say, then, that the place has earned its name.
The ground that Aram Nagar is built on served as barracks during British Rule. Since Independence, it has housed scores of Sindhi refugees and government employees. The time I speak of, though, was when Aram Nagar wasn’t a part of Andheri and Andheri not a part of Bombay. There were barely any roads that connected one part of the area to another, and its proximity to the sea and heavy rainfall meant it was prone to flooding, making traversing through the uneven, swampy dirt tracks even harder than it usually was.
Today, Andheri has not only become a vital part of Mumbai, and Aram Nagar a vital part of Andheri, but a substantial part of the film industry now exists and functions solely from its inside of various old, moss-covered bungalows that have been painted in punchy colours of yellow, green and red, no doubt to reflect on the outside what goes on inside.
And while the dirt tracks and confusingly numbered plots still remain (the place is a delivery boy’s nightmare), its most common inhabitants are now production interns and assistant directors with a coffee in one hand and a smartphone in another, ensuring that the extremely complex machinery that forms the entertainment industry continues to run smoothly. The doors of their offices are forever adorned with audition notices, for which thousands of hopefuls turn up from all over the country.
Alongside this world though, there still continues to exist an Aram Nagar inhabited by those who were born, have lived and raised families there. And the co-existence of these two worlds — at first glance at least — seems like a peaceful one. You shouldn’t be surprised, then, to find a bunch of local kids playing football right outside one of the biggest indie film production houses in the country. Or a man talking his dog out for a walk outside a studio that churned out the ad-film he seemed to have really liked on TV recently. Turns out, the township is as mystical as I first imagined it to be, albeit a different kind.
’61, Leisure Street’ is a photo series by Ansh Ranvir Vohra which brings out the various facets of Aram Nagar, the place where life is breathed into most of the film industry’s biggest productions.