web analytics

World Travel

By Pablo Ganguli

Letter from Mumbai


Mumbai was termed 'Maximum City' by the acclaimed Indian author Suketu Mehta not so long ago. It is not hard to see why. The mind boggling metropolis has gone through a considerable degree of both glamorous and economic transformation in recent years. The world's largest film industry Bollywood calls the city home. Fashion labels Gucci, Chanel and Dior have opened shops there, while world renowned stars such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Madonna have set foot into it enabling the city to gain status of a world stylish city. Not stylish a la Paris or Rome sense but as a place of unstoppable magic, pollution, complexities; and the most essential ingredient that sets Mumbai apart from other cities: chaos.

Whilst the juxtaposition between poverty and wealth makes foreign visitors to the city feel uneasy, the new money population is no longer shy of revealing their obsession with foreign brands. What would once have been a display of obscene spending is now celebrated as money well spent. For the affluent society, it is common to flaunt their wealth in public by displaying luxury goods as if to announce 'we have made it'. Fendi handbags, Longines watches and Chanel sunglasses are owned by the successful corporate woman today. Gone are the days when coloured contact lenses and dyed hair were met with disapproval. Now L'Oreal is the preffered brand at new cutting edge hair salons. And very often, you will spot a woman with green or turquoise eyes. Surreal.

Since its launch last year, Vogue India has gained a large readership in Mumbai. But the magazine is only the beginning for Conde Nast's Indian empire. GQ is to follow shortly including several other titles. Vogue's success story in India is not surprising. A couple of international magazines have produced their Indian edition for many years now. Elle and Marie Claire won the hearts of the nation's housewives and younger independent women when they first arrived at newstands. It served as a boon to the majority who couldn't afford buying foreign editions of those magazines at a steep price. No more mere glancing at them at a bookshop. Now they could own a copy and read at home. The magazines introduced Indian women to an alluring world of luxury, fashion photography, unaffordable brands (also unavailable in India six years ago), supermodels and glossy features. The international content was very much in demand.

They also introduced contemporary India to icons such as Valentino, Jean-Paul Gaultier and newer institutions namely Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. Today Mumbaikars are spoilt for choice. They want instant satisfaction. From numerous fashion magazines (L'Officiel, Beautiful People, Brides Now) to countless luxury goods stores, Mumbai has given birth to a new family of trendy establishments. Fashionable malls, stylish restaurants, hip hotels have emerged all at once. According to a survey last year, Mumbai was named one of the fastest growing hotel markets in the world. The average cost for a room in an upper end hotel is about £130 per night. Restaurants such as Salt Water Grill, Indigo, Olive and Zenzi serve as the most recommended gourmet temples. Smart, neat, stylish with international menus - they appeal highly to the young IT and banking crowd as well celebrities and Bollywood professionals.

When I asked the acclaimed Mumbai based author Siddharth Dhanvant Shangvi his views on 'hip and stylish' Mumbai, he revealed he had never thought of Bombay as either stylish or hip as much as resilient and hard. He added ''But I do like the emerging design sensibilities of Bombay, which are elegant and angry and beautiful; studios like Design Temple are taking a typically Bombay aesthetic and using it on matchboxes, bags, toilet paper and more. The resourcefulness of this city always manages to find its voice, its intellectual graffiti.''

India's love affair with Western fashion is reciprocal. The West has become increasingly hypnotised with homegrown Indian brands. Indian fashion designers receive adulation as they provide exotic, colourful and seductive oriental themes. The traditional style of old India married with modern fabric and designs mesmerise foreign buyers. Ritu Mathur, Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani are among those designers who enjoy their reign as gods of Indian fashion today. They have changed the face of Indian fashion, and the common man's perspective on it. They have played a formidable role in promoting a new image of Indian style in the wider world.

Entrepreneurial flair has embraced the city's young minds. Maithili Ahluwalia used to work for a consulting firm in New York but her true passion was always her parents' land. She returned to Mumbai to start her interior design store 'Bungalow Eight' at the age of twenty four. Six years later, she is still thriving on her creative venture today. Home design stores are popular among an ever increasing savvy crowd in Mumbai. They cater to the late twenties/thirty something families who work in a corporate environment and want their home to reflect an elegant Western cum modern Indian decor.

Good Earth was set up in 1996 with the aim to provide Mumbaikars with a contemporary range of low-key furniture, products for dining and home décor. Its popularity is a testament to the rise of the Indian demand for Eastern style with Western flair. Dining and entertaining have always been an important part of Indian lifestyle no matter how well-off the person may be. Be it an impoverished family in an obscure village or a millionaire airline company owner in Mumbai's most upmarket area, Indians adore inviting guests for a meal. The hospitality in Mumbai still remains genuine today. It is deeply embedded in their culture. Before the fridge consisted of Coca Cola and Scotch. Now Moet, Veuve Cliquot and Absolut have replaced them. These brands cater to the artsy and corporate crowd in the city. Other international liquor companies entered the market predicting Indians' strong determination for consuming foreign alcohol. Beautifully designed funky bars are more popular than ever. So is the hookah.

European DJs can be seen playing at trendy nightclubs all over the city. The music ranges from hip-hop, Bollywood, Bhangra to Rihanna and trance. Leading entertainers and popstars from the West are no longer hesitant to include Mumbai as a venue for their performance these days. The likes of Rolling Stones, Nelly Furtado and Shakira performed not too long ago before a mammoth crowd of screaming youngsters. These youngsters collect striking mobile phones thanks to the growing number of mobile phone companies springing up everywhere offering a large selection of models and attractive prices. Vodafone now operates in India. It is among the top mobile service providers in the country. The latest Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Apple iPhone products sell like hotcakes as they enhance Mumbaikars' lifestyle.

But what is it that makes Mumbai so distinct compared to three other main cities in India? Shefalee Vasudev, editor of Marie Claire India believes that Mumbai has always had a style prerogative among Indian metros. She pointed out ''Now, with the booming entry of international brands and a vibrant domestic fashion market, Mumbai's reciprocal style consciousness is a story by itself. It reflects an effortless glocal personality without an obligation to be 'Indian' in an ethnic way.''

It is evident that Mumbai's youth are enjoying the fruits of glocalisation. I always found Delhi somewhat lifeless and static whereas Mumbai brings life colourfully on every corner of the street. Mumbaikers have a strong sense of individuality, and they are not shy to show their savvy personalities. Vasudev asgreed ''Unlike's Delhi's ongoing affair with bling, Bangalore's self-conscious attempt to be "modern", Chennai's grounding to the roots of South Indian traditionality and Kolkata's reverence for the Bengal school of dressing up in embroidery and excessive detail, Mumbai, is well, about personality. You can see the global and local trends walking in Mumbai, sharply accessorised by individuality. What makes them interesting is the absence of deliberate conformity. The flair Mumbaites have for urbane mix and match not only translates into personal style but reflects an irreverence towareds the slavery of narrow seasonal trends--I would call that freespiritedness, the key to good fashion.''

This city of extreme contrasts is never dormant. A thoroughly addictive world where the traffic is truly insane, yet one forgives it on a daily basis. The place is clearly not known for its subtlety.