Architecture is an integral ingredient in the flavourful stew of an urbanscape. From Gothic minarets to modern high-rises, Mumbai’s landscape is eclectic and fascinating. Just as one can be sure they’ve made their way into Bandra when they see two-storied bungalows painted in shades of baby blue and mustard yellow, one can ogle at the necklace of Marine Drive gleaming with its central jewel, Oval Maidan, flanked by Art deco on one side.
Art Deco is an interesting style of architecture. Peshaan Khajotia writes that “Bombay Deco” originated in the 1930s and ‘40s as a reflection of the city’s rising prosperity. Hence, the art deco scene of Bombay is limited to Marine Drive, Malabar Hills, and other South Mumbai. What is most interesting about Bombay’s art deco architecture is that the designs are specific to Bombay’s history as an agricultural and port town. So, the buildings adorn characteristic agricultural imagery like sun rays, nautical designs like port windows, and patterns like vertical lines that mimic themes of futuristic speed and travel. Here is a list of iconic art deco buildings in the Mumbai skyline that you can tour:
I. New India Assurance Building
Location: Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort
Constructed in 1936, this building has an air of stateliness and imposition, the kind one would expect from the pyramids of Egypt. Now used for commercial purposes, this gorgeous heritage building boasts of the Art Deco’s characteristic vertical line design and gargantuan figurines, inspired by Egyptian aesthetics. However, the most interesting elements of this structure are its relief details: showcasing carvings of scenes from Indian agriculture and industrialism on the left and right of the entrance, respectively, making this a feature in Art Deco history with a uniquely Indian flavour. Another aspect of this building that makes it a gem in Bombay’s history is that it now houses the New India Assurance Company, an Indian-owned business established by Sir Dorab Tata in 1919, during the peak of British colonialism in India.
II. Empress Court
Location: Dinshaw Vacha Road, near Oval Maidan
Although plain upon first glance, Empress Court is a wonderful introduction to the Art deco scene of Bombay. From bearing the style’s traditional motif carvings on its metal entrance gate and window grills to showcasing its typical vertical line design along balconies, Empress Court, built in 1938, is an iconic and timeless landmark in a city whose landscape is ever changing.
III. Bombay Mutual Building
Location: Sir P M Road, Fort
Like other features on this list, the Bombay Mutual Building is prized for more than its outward appearance. At a time when insurance companies were only catering to the British and Europeans, Bombay Mutual Life Assurance Society, founded in 1971, began taking Indian customers at premiums similar to those charged to their European counterparts- not higher as many other insurance companies would. Its curved turret with thick lines running around it is the main attraction of this structure. Along with its traditional Art deco style, the building adorns circles that look like radiating suns- a tribute to Mumbai’s industrialism and sense of commercial business.
IV. Eros Cinema
Ringing in the Back Bay reclamation of 1938, Eros Cinema is an Art Deco hotspot. Other than having a significant seating capacity of 1,200, this building also has a ballroom, restaurant, and shops. Created with a mix of red sandstone from Agra and cream paint, the building rises from the ground in several tiers and has a marvelling staircases decorated with intricate handrails. Another special aspect of Bombay’s art deco design is its nautical theme, evidence of which you can find at Eros Cinema with its large porthole-like ceiling.
V. Liberty Cinema
Location: Marine Lines
This stunning independent theatre is a true testament to Bombay’s art deco architectural design. Oozing regality and glamour within, Liberty Cinema is a single-screen theatre founded in 1947 by Habib Hoosein, a cotton tradesman, who named it to commemorate India’s fight for independence and liberation. The hall is flushed with golden light bouncing off red interiors punctuated with large, teak furniture, holding the charm of old-school Bollywood retro culture fused with new age aspirations of Art deco. Although Mumbai residents tend to favour more technologically advanced multiplex screening halls, Liberty Cinema is a necessary stop for those touring Mumbai’s art deco scene.
Feature image source: Architectural Digest
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