Mumbaiwale: Rediscover the Bombay of your grandparents with this free video archive
I’m going to let the pictures do the talking, for a change. They’re blurry and pixelated. But they pack in more stories than you can immediately see. These are screenshots taken from films and newsreels from as far back as 1946, before Bombay was part of Maharashtra, even before there was a Maharashtra or an independent India.
The footage is from the archives of British Pathé, possibly the best of its kind, with 85,000 films from across the world. And unusually for a treasure trove this size, all their material – from 1896 to 1978 – is available on their website for free.
Look up videos of Bombay. There are historical moments like royal visits and Independence Day celebrations in the city. There are short films covering elections, Ganpati visarjan celebrations (featuring the deity in a leaner avatar), riots, the inauguration of the ISKCON temple, plane crashes, and men at work and on strike.
But there are also scenes from everyday life. Silent footage from 1947 of a fair at the Azad Maidan offers a Ferris wheel-view of the Fort area and municipal headquarters. Everyone’s smiling – even as season tickets cost a princely Rs 10. There are stalls too – you’ll recognise Larsen & Tubro and the still-standing Colaba store, Kalapi, from its signage.
A reel from 1962, around the time of the Sino-Indian war, looks at how Bombay’s citizens supported their troops. The film shows an unusual “Votes for Victory” campaign, in which the city’s 4 million people contributed a minimum of Rs 1 towards defence efforts. There’s no political wrangling, no tension and no displays of anger, just a determined public (Bandra features prominently) offering encouragement.
Everyone in the ‘40s videos seems to be wearing white. But some things haven’t changed. Even in 1949, everyone attending the Derby at the Mahalakshmi Race Couse was impossibly chic. Films covering the monsoon, talk about waterlogging. There are nakabandis on historic days. There’s a stark difference between Bombay’s middle-class and its poor. Not everyone’s thrilled with a camera following their movements. And when the Queen visits in 1961, there are crowds waiting for a glimpse of her just as they do for celebrities visiting today.
Bombay does look cleaner, roomier and quieter. And as with any good footage, there’s a lot more on view than the title suggests.