A look at the blueprint of a Bollywood museum in the making.

It was a hundred years ago, in 1912, that the first Indian movie Shree Pundalik (Marathi) was released by Dadasaheb Tome at the Coronation Cinematograph in India. A full-length silent motion picture followed a year later, produced by Dadasaheb Phalke, drawing on the epic Raja Harishchandra.

With affordable movie tickets costing a paltry four paise, audiences thronged for entertainment and a new experience in emerging India. With the release of Ardeshir Irani’s Alam Ara in 1931, the Indian talking film had arrived, with production studios sprouting in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.

From the gripping neo-realism of newly independent India in the late 1940s, cinema combined drama, music, artistry, poetry and imagery, offering people a narrative laced in novelty that was increasingly becoming addictive and engaging at the same time. Legendary contributions of Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ritwik Ghatak, Mani Kaul, Bimal Roy, and many others, shaped the potential and raised the bar for Indian cinema.

The ensuing 50 years have seen the rise of superstars, experimental art directors, cross-cultural influences, international film crews, and sophistication in cinematography, special effects, stunts, editing, marketing, and the branding prowess of the massive juggernaut that has the world’s largest cine-going audience.

Churning out over 1,000 movies a year, the $3.3 billion business revenues of Bollywood are projected to grow by 18-20 per cent a year in the coming decade. Selling a staggering 3.6 billion tickets, Bollywood outpaced Hollywood by nearly 2.3 billion in 2010. Aided by the Government of India’s recognition of movies as an industry in 2001 that allowed for the influx of institutional financing, the pandemic popularity of Indian films is here to stay.

Intersection of art and technology

Yet when it comes to visual historical documentation and experiential presentations, Indian cinema has seldom transcended award ceremonies, magazine interviews and television junkets. Contemporary culture is often deemed unworthy of a spatial celebration and contemporary museums are indeed an alien concept, though heritage museums are handed worse treatment, with notoriously overwhelming neglect. This is all the more reason to explore the power of a contemporary exhibit experience that has not only influenced millions of viewers in India and the Indian diaspora around the world, but also entertained and inspired a growing mainstream viewership.

The notion of a Bollywood museum has emerged numerous times in the conversations of private collectors of movie memorabilia, erstwhile movie celebrities and the surviving kin of superstars who have passed away into permanent stardom in recent years.

With the conception of a Bollywood Museum, Film City in Mumbai presents the opportunity to establish a comprehensive, visually stunning experiential exhibit experience. It is a location where the art, technology and craft of Indian cinema intersect to electrify millions across generations, transcending conventional geo-political boundaries.

Los Angeles-based Yazdani Architects of the Cannon Design Group have proposed a wave-based (leher) theme for the Bollywood Museum, drawing from an old movie song that compares waves of memory to the rising tides of emotive expressions. As with the ebb and flow of emotions, their design explores the lyrical spatial movement of the narrative from cinematic openings, the body, and the climactic culmination of a motion picture. The building design is akin to a rolling strip of celluloid. It curves and folds across imaginary pivots that holds the projected content within. The rising and curving ribbons of the shell engage the sun and clouds in a shimmering dance of colour, line, form and function, allowing an interplay of the mundane and the ethereal.

Punctuated with a typical motion-picture plot, the exhibit experience moves from opening to closing scenes, coupled with locational shooting. Long before the linguistic barriers posed a challenge, the language of love had permeated the Indian psyche through song and sonnet, through drama and dogma, through character metamorphosis to the sheer magic of life itself..

Competition winner

Verner Johnson’s design led by Brad Nederhoff was selected the winner of an international competition. Their project team included Mumbai based Shashi Prabhu Associates, Boston-based ZNA, and former exhibit designers Christopher Chadbourne Associates, and Bollywood film expert Pravin Nadkar. The dynamic complex includes a theatre, an amphitheater and a conference center, in addition to the 110,000 sq.ft. museum with 45,000 sq.ft. of exhibit galleries, a 300-seat auditorium, a library, retail and dining outlets. Metaphoric film-strip-like roof treatments are interlaced with terraced pools, adding to the fluidity of metaphoric motion pictures floating into light-filled spaces.

The immersive exhibit experience in the museum would provide for audience entertainment and education coupled with a behind-the-scenes look at technology, special effects and life in tinsel town. Photo opportunities with movie stars, memorabilia, live auditioning and teaser-trailers of upcoming flicks are all part of the content development plans proposed by the Yazdani team. They draw from the theatrical foundation of cinematic arts in India — the nav rasas — the nine moods of sringaram (love), hasyam (laughter), raudrum (fury), karunyam (compassion), bibhatsam (disgust), bhayanakam (fear), adbhutam (wonder), veeram (valour) and shantam (peace).

In addition to retail and restaurant space, the museum complex offers venues for outdoor performances, a theatre that could host award ceremonies, sound-music mixing studios, a Bollywood wall of fame that acknowledges performances, technical contributions, creativity, innovation, stellar moments, pivotal points that influenced and transformed movie-making, and a research library that documents tangible and intangible heritage

The Bollywood Museum will be a celebration of life itself that acknowledges our societal ingenuity, individual creativity and collective aspirations.