The various moods of Mumbai's Irani cafés are on display at Worli’s Cool Chef Café, which is hosting an exhibition of 24 paintings by author and illustrator Gautam Benegal.
Painted in acrylic and crayon colours, the exhibition captures familiar scenes of waiters, customers, owners and even the cats that frequent these iconic and now-fading eateries.
“I came to Mumbai from Kolkata in 1989 and, back then, I used to have all my meals at Irani cafes. The food was inexpensive and delicious. I can honestly say that these cafes sustained me during my first few years in the city,” says Benegal.
His current exhibition traces the changes in these cafés over the two decades since he first stepped into one. “These eateries are fast disappearing and with them, the cosmopolitan culture of Mumbai, of which these places are a metaphor,” says Benegal. “They feed good, affordable food to people from all walks of life and different communities.”
The paintings, which feature iconic cafés such as Kayani in Dhobi Talao, Café City in Worli, and Cafe Cadell in Mahim, are priced between Rs10,000 and Rs1.3 lakh. Benegal studied comparative literature in Kolkata and then illustration at the National School of Design, Ahmedabad.
His first illustrated book, written by Bengali poet Arun De, was released when Benegal was only 14. Two years later, film-maker Satyajit Ray invited him to provide illustrations for children's magazine Sandesh.
After completing his studies, Benegal moved to Mumbai in 1989, at the age of 22, and worked for an animation company, Ram Mohan Biographics.
A few years later, he began working as a freelance illustrator and animator and pursuing his passion for painting.