Mumbaiwale: Four local Islamic landmarks to check out – each with its own colourful history
An adult cinema turned mosque, a Muslim home turned film museum, a gorgeous blue masjid & a dargah cops love.
The one that now houses a film museum
National Museum of Indian Cinema, Pedder Road
On Pedder Road, one Muslim-owned mansion has been converted in a someday-to-be-opened museum for the movies. Gulshan Abad, the Victorian-Gothic villa, was built in the mid-1800s (a time when the main entrance itself offered a view of the Arabian sea) and was home to the Gujarati businessman Peerbhoy Khalakdina. The five-acre estate was eventually inherited by a relative Cassamally Jairazbhoy, whose third wife, Khurshid Rajabally, hosted cultural gatherings at the home in the 1920s.
Rajabally’s filming of a Haj pilgrimage makes her one of India’s earliest documentary filmmakers. Her son Nazir Ali made documentaries about Indian classical and folk music.
The home served as a hospital for WWII soldiers and in 1949 was briefly rented out to Jai Hind College before the institution found a permanent campus in Churchgate in 1952. But in 1950, the government confiscated the estate, declaring it an evacuee property after Partition.
The home, now restored, holds artefacts from India’s rich cinematic history. Alas, the launch has been tied up in bureaucratic red tape, and you can only get as far as the entrance.
The one that used to be an adult movie theatre
Deeniyat centre, Mumbai Central
The Deeniyat educational and charitable trust couldn’t be more wholesome. It aims to educate children, men and women in basic Islamic tenets and moral teachings related to the Koran and Sunnah. But the institution and mosque are housed in a building that once screened films of less salubrious taste.
In 1914, Ardeshir Irani and Abdulally Esoofally, both instrumental businessmen in early Indian cinema, bought a theatre near Nagpada junction on Bellasis Road. By 1918, they’d named it Alexandra Cinema and converted it into a movie hall, screening films from India and abroad. The single-screen movie hall screened films through the decades – silent films, new talkies, Technicolor hits, epics, Amitabh’s angry-young-man phase and blockbusters. But by the 80s, it was largely where you’d go to watch a B-grade or adult film.
In 2011, a developer bought the 15,000sqft property, turning it over to the non-profit. Deeniyat has spruced up the interiors, and even added a mosque inside. But the exterior – tiled roofs, wraparound verandahs – stays largely the same.
The one where the cops go to worship
Hazrat Makhdum Fakih Ali Mahimi dargah, Mahim
The scholar-saint who lived between 1372 and 1431, was the first commentator of the Koran in India. His books have focus on the philosophy of time and space. He was the Qazi or judge for the Muslims of Thana district.
But what makes him the patron saint of the Mumbai Police? Because he lived at a time when the Portuguese had possession of Salsette, the islands north of Mahim. A Portuguese sergeant would seek his advice and help on many cases. Many also believe that the site at which the Mahim police station stands is said to have been the saint’s home.
Until today, during the annual urs or fair held in his honour, it’s the policemen who lay the first ornamental sheet over his tomb at the dargah. On the urs days, devotees can also walk into the police station premises to pay their respects.
The blue one that catches the moonlight
I first saw what is locally called the Mughal Masjid on a local-history tour of Bhendi Bazaar back in 2005 (Yes, I was a nerd before it was fashionable). I was lucky. It was a cool full-moon night and the blue tiles seemed to glow in the dark. For a minute, this tiny corner of Mumbai seemed like Morocco.
The mosque is 158 years old, built by a wealthy Iranian merchant, Haji Mohammad Hussain Shirazi, in 1860 and is maintained by a trust set up by his descendants. It has no dome, but two minarets, and a mosaic of blue tiles of every hue and pattern.
Inside, if you do get permission to enter is a lawn, a pond, a fountain, crystal chandeliers in the inner sanctum and Koran verses inscribed on the walls.