Spotlight | Mumbai

‘Bambaiyya’: A magic carpet tour of Mumbai

Journey map of the complete VR experience.   | Photo Credit: Bambaiyya VR

India Art Fair, which takes place each year at the NSIC grounds in Okhla, Delhi, is one of India’s biggest commercial events for contemporary and modern art from South Asia. It attracts art enthusiasts, fashion bloggers, celebrities, wannabe celebrities, and gawkers.

Then in 2018, pushing back against this juggernaut, came The Irregulars Art Fair (TIRAF) at Khirki Village. Co-founded by Tarini Sethi and Anant Ahuja, it was just the ‘anti-art fair’ art fair that Delhi needed. One of the main attractions of TIRAF was a virtual reality show called ‘Bambaiyya’. A long line had snaked in front of the enclosure and it was clear that the show was attracting a lot of attention. Earlier in May, there was a similar long line when ‘Bambaiyya’ was shown at Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

Feel transported

‘Bambaiyya’ is a joint creation of Archit Vaze, Salil Parekh, Tejas Nair, Alap Parikh and Jyoti Narayan, conceived in 2017 at the Eyemyth New Media Arts Festival when the quintet had gotten together to create an encounter with Mumbai through the eyes of three communities — the Kolis, the Parsis and the mill workers — who form the core of the city. And how did they recreate it? By driving the viewer around virtually in a kaali-peeli, the ubiquitous black-and-yellow taxi. It gives the viewer a 360 degree view that makes her feel transported to the heart of the country’s financial capital.

Each of the five artists is from a different background. Vaze is a visual artist and storyteller. Parekh’s background is in design.

Chawls of Mumbai.

Chawls of Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: Bambaiyya VR

Nair is a music producer and DJ. Parikh is an artist focusing on immersive experiences. Narayan has worked in the design industry for the last decade and has a keen interest in Indian history, culture and mythology.

The group wanted to make the experience a stylised one — using both 360-degree videos and graphic stylisation — but due to resource constraints, had to make do with 2D and 3D animation and illustrations.

They chose virtual reality, they say, because it is a unique and niche medium. “It lets you experience places like you might not have before. It’s a very magical experience. You get to be in someone else’s shoes while still having a sense of your reality. This kind of storytelling is unique, and the younger audience relates to it well,” says Narayan.

And because VR is expensive, the group decided that a Samsung Gear VR along with a Samsung Galaxy Note was the ideal set-up to give the audience a comfortable viewing experience — while still being affordable. “Making a good VR experience requires a good team working behind it. This is the case with a lot of things in life. Finding the right people to collaborate with is the key,” Narayan says. Once that is done, the rest of the journey does not seem that difficult.

The phase after the research was a really difficult period for the group. Each community has its own unique narratives. To whittle them down to just three wasn’t easy. Furthermore, during the making of the VR experience, the stories had to be made shorter to create more suitable viewing times, so that as many people as possible get the chance to see it.

At home in a taxi

“The three communities were chosen keeping in mind the time and resources as well as the scope the medium allows. We plan to explore other communities as well, provided we get more funds for it,” Narayan says. “We focus on the contribution of these communities to building the city of Mumbai. Each of the three communities has contributed in different ways — the Kolis gave land, the Parsis gave money and administrative skills, and the mill workers gave labour.”

A 360 degree view of the mill workers’ community

A 360 degree view of the mill workers’ community   | Photo Credit: Bambaiyya VR

Why did they choose to take the viewer around in a kaali-peeli? Narayan says that the kaali-peelis have been an integral part of the city ever since they replaced the horse-driven carriages or victorias. “The taxi, its interiors, its meter, its rolled-up windows, the driver talking throughout the journey, the radio playing in the background while the city’s commotion plays outside… it has a unique character. This is the spirit of Mumbai, which always makes you feel at home.”

Late in 2018, when the project was first displayed in Mumbai, the group came across many people who shared their own stories and experiences of living in chawls. “It was special when people felt connected to their past when experiencing our project,” Narayan says. “In Delhi, it was a completely different experience. Many knew the political history of Mumbai but were really fascinated to know the stories of these various communities that helped build it.”

Sharing stories

Narayan summaries what she has learnt from working on the project, “There are so many stories to tell. Each of us has something to narrate. And when we want to express these stories, we should find the right medium to do so. By sharing our stories with others, we make them a part of it and our stories live with them. The more people pass on this knowledge, the more of these stories will survive. But the physical spaces and the traditional occupations of these communities might not survive the test of time.”

VR as a medium is very exciting, even in its nascent stages. And it opens up a whole new dimension when it is used in art, a sort of merging of the real with the surreal that lets you interact with and experience “reality” on a different plane altogether. For a project and a concept like ‘Bambaiyya’, VR proved to be perfect.

The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 12:41:28 PM |

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