India’s ‘Miami:’ Putting Mumbai’s Art Deco on the map

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This photo taken on Nov. 8, 2017 shows an Art Deco building in Mumbai. (AFP)
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This photo taken on Nov. 8, 2017 shows an Art Deco building in Mumbai. (AFP)
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This photo taken on Nov. 8, 2017 shows an Art Deco building in Mumbai. (AFP)
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This photo taken on Nov. 8, 2017 shows an Art Deco building in Mumbai. (AFP)
Updated 26 November 2017
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India’s ‘Miami:’ Putting Mumbai’s Art Deco on the map

MUMBAI: The seafront is lined with brightly colored buildings boasting curved corners, stylish balconies and exotic motifs but this isn’t Miami’s famous Art Deco district — it’s Mumbai.
Bombay, as the Indian city was formerly called, is known more for its Victorian Gothic edifices than the sleeker architectural designs that swept Europe and America during the 1920s and ‘30s.
But now, a group of enthusiasts are making Mumbai’s hundreds of Deco structures, which include residential properties, commercial offices, cinemas and even hospitals, as famous as their 19th century counterparts.
The ambitious Art Deco Mumbai project aims to document every single one and educate residents about the buildings’ origins to ensure the “style moderne” architectural legacy of India’s financial capital is preserved.
“Bombay has one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the world. It’s an incredible heritage,” Atul Kumar, keen conservationist and founder of Art Deco Mumbai, tells AFP.
Palm trees blow gently along the three-kilometer Marine Drive promenade where Soona Mahal, a symmetrical, yellow-painted building with orange vertical lines and elaborate turret, sits proudly on the street corner.
“It’s an iconic building that looks like a ship pushing through waves,” says 70-year-old Mehernosh Sidhwa proudly. He is the third generation of his family to live in it after his grandfather had it built in 1937.
Around the corner, five-story buildings sporting elegant Deco fonts, marble floors and spiral staircases line the Oval Maidan playing field while nearby are the popular Eros and Regal cinemas.
The areas make up the heart of Mumbai’s Art Deco precinct which in 2012 was submitted to UNESCO for world heritage recognition. A short distance up the coast is Breach Candy hospital, also in Deco style.
“There’s an interesting amalgamation of classical European Art Deco and Bombay Deco. You have ziggurats, rounded locomotive balconies, tropical images, streamlining, speed lines and Egyptian motifs as well as Indian designs,” enthuses Kumar.
The buildings were constructed between the early 1930s and early 1950s after wealthy Indians sent their architects to Europe to come up with modern designs different to those of their colonial rulers.
They visited as Deco was taking the West by storm following the 1925 Paris exposition.
“Mumbai’s Deco buildings have always lived in the shadow of the Victorian Gothic structures built by the British,” such as the main railway station, museum and high court, says Kumar.
“But Art Deco is no less. It’s a colorful, vibrant, free, sophisticated style that represented the aspirations of a whole new class. India was under oppressive colonial rule and this was a very unique statement through architecture.”
Tour guides are fond of telling foreign visitors to Mumbai that only Miami has more Deco structures internationally. Local legend says the coastal Indian city has 200 such buildings.
Kumar and his small team, which is not-for-profit, are working hard to come up with a precise tally for the first time by documenting the entire city and adding all the Deco buildings to a Google map on their website.
“We want to establish the accurate number and therefore position Bombay’s relevance correctly across the world,” explains Kumar, who says they’ve already counted 136 in 18 months, with several neighborhoods left to investigate.
“It’s definitely going to be way more than 200,” adds the finance professional confidently, before cautiously speculating that the final number could be around 300.
The team talk to owners to establish which structures are Deco. They record building and architect names, dates of construction, coordinates and Deco features.
Key specifics and photos are then uploaded to an inventory on www.artdecomumbai.com. Images with captions are also published on Twitter and Instagram.
“We have 100 percent accuracy. If we are doubtful then we don’t include the building,” says Kumar, who also organizes walking tours to spread the word.
He laments that a lack of awareness has led many Deco buildings to be demolished or compromised by alterations. Property developers offering lucrative sums to replace them with luxury apartments have also caused destruction.
“Ultimately our objective is to conserve this tremendous collection. As we talk to people they become fiercely proud and that translates into a desire to preserve,” concludes Kumar.


Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

Updated 14 November 2018
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Stan Lee’s work was introduced to the Arab World in the 70s — and his fanbase has grown ever since

  • The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books died on Monday, aged 95
  • I’ve been in this business so long dealing with fans that I can really tell within a couple of days of receiving the fan mail whether or not we're on the right track: Lee

Stan Lee, Marvel Comics’ legendary creator of super heroes and super villains, has left behind an enduring legacy for all ages — including for fans in the Middle East.

The wise-cracking, smart-mouthed godfather of contemporary comic books, who died aged 95 on Monday, created outcasts, misfits, super heroes and extraordinary characters from all walks of life, who found their way into almost every home in the world.

Lee wanted his characters to be “real,” have problems, girlfriends, children, alter-egos, crushes, and to fight with each other; all the while trying to find a place in society like everyone else. In doing so, he won the comic genre success among children, teens and adults alike.

“They’d be fallible and feisty and, most important of all, inside their colorful-costumed booties, they’d still have feet of clay,” Lee once said of his creations.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Arab world was introduced to some of the comics published by Marvel through Behind the Universe (Ma Wara’a Al-Kawn), an initiative by Bizat Al-Rih in Lebanon. With a passion for visual tales and storytelling, editor-in-chief and Lebanese author Henry Mathews oversaw the translation process.

The magazine began with tales of science fiction, bringing in stills from “Star Trek” to tell the story to readers, before moving on to bigger Marvelverse characters that were thriving at the time such as “Spider-Man,” “The Hulk,” “Spider-Woman” and “Fantastic Four.” Later, an additional story was added to the collection, Japanese manga “Grendizer,” which was then animated and became a classic for Arab generations in the 1970s and 1980s.

@huda4comics is an Instagram account that has become a home for comic lovers who wish to relive their childhood by acquiring pieces from the past. They provide customers with collections of translated comics in Arabic and make it easier for people to find them by simply visiting their page rather than looking for stories that have ceased production, such as Behind the Universe.

Huda spoke to Arab News about her collection: “I’ve been collecting these specific publications (Behind the Universe) through many sources. Some I’ve gathered while traveling, others I’ve acquired through sellers online throughout the Arab world.”

Asked whether these rare publications’ value will rise with the death of Lee, Huda said: “I don’t think Arab fans will be affected by it. I think pieces that have been signed by Stan Lee himself, first and limited editions, and original art collections, will be affected by his passing, but not Arabic publications.”

Growing up, Huda had no interest in such collections, but as an adult she became passionate about providing fans with a place where they could get their hands on these rare treasures.

Riyadh-based Naif Alkhairallah, author of “Black Bonds,” got to know about super heroes through “Sesame Street,” which used to feature a sketch of “Spider-Man,” while the first comic book he read was a translated version of “Grendizer” on Behind the Universe.

“Since then, I have become fascinated by the world of super heroes and comic books,” he told Arab News in Jeddah’s first Comic Con in 2017, where he had a book launch.

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of “The 99” and an award-winning entrepreneur and clinical psychologist, shared his memories and thoughts on the influence Stan Lee had on the world of comics in the Middle East. “I had lunch with Lee in the summer of 2007 in Beverly Hills, and had a really nice discussion about the work I was doing and the influence of ‘X-Men’ on ‘The 99’,” he said.

“I could connect with him because I had hired the former head of marketing, the former publisher, and the former editor-in-chief of Marvel — they were all working for me at the time. It was my way of attracting Western talents and my passport into the world of Stan Lee and former Marvel executives,” he said.

Having a team that had worked alongside Lee in some of Marvel’s most successful comics surely had an invaluable influence on helping to create and realize the grand vision of Al-Mutawa’s “The 99?”

Stan Lee made a number of movie cameos in the Marvel universe, including Spider-Man: Homecoming. He has also featured in the X-Men world.

“Absolutely. These are the writers that I used for ‘The 99.’ They’d worked on ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘X-Men.’ One of them was involved in the creation of ‘Deadpool.’ One of my original artists who created the first iteration of the character guide of
‘The 99’ was the same person who did the original ‘X-Men.’ So I would
say definitely the influence was there — both stylistically in the creation of the characters, as well as ideologically,” he said.

With a career that spanned decades, he was instrumental in creating some of the most iconic TV and movie characters. Marvel movies conquered Hollywood, with more than $12 billion in global sales. The witty creator took any chance he could to make cameo appearances in every Marvel movie until his death.

Lee’s influence on the comic scene in the Arab region is very evident.

With more up-and-coming comic creators than ever, Lee’s work has shown that it can stand the test of time. Na3am, a new media company, launched a comic “Saudi Girls Revolution” and “Latifa,” Saudi Arabia’s first female comic super hero game.

In an interview earlier this year, Lee told Arab News that he was pleased by the number of fans that had flocked to the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai. Although he never visited the Middle East, he said that his fanbase was beyond his expectations.

“It’s incredible that they have one out there,” he told Arab News. “They’ve always treated me kindly and with the utmost respect. They are an A-class show.”

When asked whether Marvel would introduce a Middle Eastern super hero on the big screen, Lee had no doubt it would happen. “It’s only a matter of time,” he said.

Abdulrahman Alhaidari, comic fanatic and instructor at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah, said that he got into comics when he was very young, before he learned to read. He found the details of the drawing and the epic events that took place in the stories mesmerizing.

“Stan Lee was a legend among all fans of pop culture. We all loved his short appearances in all late Marvel movies, and he really showed us how humble and funny he is in his appearances in ‘The Big Bang Theory’  show. 

“It takes a special character to have all that fame, power, glory, wealth, and yet to remain a down-to-earth, friendly person. I guess he showed us what a super hero he was. He will surely be missed by his fans all over the globe.”

Excelsior!