Mumbai, Aug. 8: Salaam, Mumbai!
No, that’s not a mistake in the name of Mira Nair’s award-winning 1988 film. It’s a salute to the city the world knows as the cradle of Bollywood.
Mumbai has found a place in the World Cities Culture Report as one of a dozen cities in the world named as the “leaders in culture”, alongside Paris, New York, London, Shanghai, Sydney, Berlin, Tokyo, Singapore, Istanbul, Sao Paulo and Johannesburg.
The survey report, commissioned by London mayor Boris Johnson and the Greater London Authority, does not dub them the world’s 12 “most culturally important cities” or rank them in any order.
What gave Mumbai the “cultural edge” in comparison to other Indian cities is its being home to Bollywood, the report said. The city also aced the film category among the 11 “leaders of culture”, with the largest number of theatrical releases a year.
“Mumbai is a poorly but rapidly growing and energetic city. Its current cultural offer is weak in a conventional sense — there is a shortage of cultural infrastructure, for instance — but the huge success of Bollywood shows what might be possible,” the report said.
An ironical statistic culled from the report is that despite the largest number of film releases in 2010 — 3,781, with Tokyo following at 799 — the number of cinema screens in Mumbai is not even one-fourth that in Paris. Paris has 1,003, the largest number among the “leaders of culture”, and Mumbai 232, the fewest. Shanghai comes in between, with 670.
A related statistic would heighten the irony: while Paris has 61 cinema screens per million, Mumbai has only 19 and Shanghai 28.
“Mumbai emerged as a major cultural centre in South Asia and West Asia mainly because of Bollywood,” said Abdul Shaban of the Centre for Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, who has been involved with the project since January.
“Bollywood has played a very significant role in promoting regional and national culture. There is an appeal of multi-culturalism that it generates, also creating an ‘idea of India’.
“It binds people together in India and at the regional level, from South Asia, South East Asia, West Asia and the Indian diaspora elsewhere.”
He said Mumbai’s cultural diversity plus Bollywood gave it the edge over Calcutta, which would have been his preferred choice among Indian cities.
The cities were, however, shortlisted by a team appointed by the London mayor, academics from King’s College London and the University of Leeds and members of a research consultancy.
The criteria the survey focused on included cultural heritage, literary culture, film and games, performing arts, people and talent, cultural vitality and diversity.
Mumbai showed up poorly in a comparative estimate of museums, art galleries, libraries, bookshops and public green space. It also has the fewest number of night clubs, discos and dance halls — 29 — compared to 2,000 in Sao Paulo and 1,865 in Shanghai, the city the Maharashtra government wants to metamorphose Mumbai into.
“Despite the success of Bollywood, and Mumbai having many of the ‘ingredients’ of a world city, the city has struggled so far to achieve a comparable cultural impact (outside the film industry),” the report said.
“Partly this is due to the low profile of the creative and cultural sector in the city... but it also reflects the low priority the government has attached to the creative and cultural sector in Mumbai.”
Shaban described the culture survey as a “status report, putting together the commonality of the 12 cities, not including aspects of culture unique to the cities”.
“It is a first attempt at generating interest among academicians, policy-makers and people at getting attention towards culture and work on it.”