The iconic Kaali-Peeli taxis of Mumbai, with their distinctive black-and-yellow hues, have long been more than just a mode of transportation. They are woven into the fabric of the city's identity, serving as silent witnesses to the bustling streets, the monsoon rains, and the everyday hustle of Mumbaikars. From the post-Partition era, where the majority of taxi drivers were newly migrated men from the Sikh community to the introduction of the reliable Premier Padmini in 1964, these taxis have carried the ethos of perseverance and the spirit of a rapidly evolving city.
At the end of October, as the Maharashtra government enforced a 20-year age limit for taxis to combat pollution, the long impending and now implemented farewell of the Kaali-Peeli taxis stirred a wave of nostalgia and reflection. These taxis, with their musty scent of Mumbai rains and the sweat of a hard day's work, are sentimental emblems of generations gone by. They represent not just a means of getting from point A to point B, but a tangible link to simpler times and a testament to the social, cultural, and political transitions that have shaped Mumbai and India.
The phasing out of the Kaali-Peeli taxis marked the end of an era, prompting Mumbaikars to reminisce about the bygone days when these taxis were an integral part of their daily lives. From its popular portrayals in countless Bollywood films to uncountable blurry nights out with friends, these taxis have etched themselves into the collective memory of the city. As they make way for newer, cleaner models and app-based taxis, the legacy of the Kaali-Peeli taxis lives on in the hearts of Mumbaikars, carrying with it the memories of strife, hustle, failure, and success that define the streets of Mumbai.
To pay tribute to this tangible cultural heritage, visual artist Shoyeb Farooqi, born in and nurtured by the City of Dreams, has created a wonderful vignette tapping into the city’s ethos reflected through the Kaali-Peelis. With an iconic Kishore Kumar track, Zindagi Ek Safar Hai Suhana accompanying the short video, Shoyeb has frozen in time the iconic four-wheelers in their natural elements — from the teeming streets of Colaba to the pleasant lanes of Bandra.
In a candid interview with Homegrown, Shoyeb delved deeper into his artistry, his inspirations and the making of this video:
Describe your creative process and the purpose with which you create.
As a professional photographer, my creative process is inspired by the desire to capture moments and convey stories. I carefully plan each shoot and capture decisive moments. My purpose is to create emotional connections, communicate messages, and inspire appreciation for the world through my art. It's a continuous journey of self-discovery and growth, as I seek to evolve and improve in my craft.
Tell us about your project.
I came to know in 2019 that Mumbai’s iconic Padmini also known as Kaali Peeli was going to fade away in 2023. Only 5-6 gems were running through the streets of Mumbai when I began this project. The heartwarming memories related to these taxis inspired me to start shooting more.
What are some things you learned while putting this project together?
Creating a video project on Mumbai's iconic Kaali Peeli taxis was quite an adventure. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. Cultural Significance: Kaali Peelis represent Mumbai's culture.
2. Patience: Capturing amidst Mumbai's traffic requires patience.
3. Local Connection: Building relationships with drivers and locals adds authenticity.
4. Storytelling: Focus on small details for a compelling narrative.
Overall, this project was a testament to the rich stories that can be uncovered by exploring the seemingly ordinary aspects of a city's life.
Who have been some of your biggest inspirations and influences over the years of your artistic career?
I’ve drawn inspiration from various sources that have had a profound impact on my work like human emotions, travel experiences, other photographers, collaborations with artists and influencers. To name those who’ve inspired me the most, I would say, Steve Mc Curry, Fred Herzog, Vivian Maier and Joe Greer.
Who are some artists who are currently on your radar?
Lately, I've been keeping an eye on the work of Alex Strohl for his breathtaking landscapes and Pie Aerts for his captivating portraits. Their creativity and technique continue to inspire my own photography.
What is one project you wish you were a part of?
Being part of the IPPA awards would be incredible. I imagine capturing moments that tell meaningful stories through photos, sharing emotions and experiences. It's a celebration of photography that I'd love to be part of.
Follow Shoyeb Farooqi here.
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