Book Review: Home in the City

Sooni Taraporevala is famously known for her photography, screenwriting, and film-making. Harper Collins has published a book full of Sooni’s photographs that capture the very zeitgeist of Bombay that slowly turns into Mumbai, and her own journey in photography.

The book curated by Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is a comforting, matt-finished black hardbound with a very minimalist design–a sure eye-catcher. The title of the book, Home in the City: Bombay 1977 – Mumbai 2017 reveals to us that the bedrock of the city’s ethos is still intact.

Naseeruddin Shah and Stellan Skarsgard on the sets of The Perfect Murder, Bombay 1987.

Sooni’s penchant with her Parsi heritage takes a creative outlet through her love for photography. She uses her curiosity about her own roots and documents the private moments of people in their intimate and vulnerable moments. Her portrait photographs have a refreshing spontaneity that makes most other portrait photography look contrived. She captures tender, nuanced emotions and juxtaposes binaries in a unified harmony. It could be a baby in the arms of an aging aunt, two actors enjoying a well-earned break and tea, a film star surrounded by awestruck fans, or even a lone boy in a sky-high apartment staring down at a street that is packed with thousands of people. Sooni has the ability to capture sights that provoke trains of thought.

Mumbai by night, 2016.

Instinctive by nature when it comes to handling the camera, Sooni, very much like Raghu Rai, is also someone who makes “eyeblink choices” as Salman Rushdie has so succinctly put forth in the essay that precedes the photos. She captures the moment in its peak, just the way it blossoms like a flower before withering away. Her portraits impart a palpable wealth of culture and tradition, and the general sense of a place. She is a master at evoking moods and the spirit of people and places.

What I really like about the photographs that comprise the book is that Sooni has captured home not in the usual sense, but she’s gone out to the streets to capture home outside. To her, just like migrants and travellers, home is not just a space, home is something that is carried with oneself across space and time. Her choice to capture moments in black and white is a well-informed one, for it helps eliminate unnecessary distractions of a burgeoning metropolitan city and leads the viewer to the object(s) of focus and the particular feelings the scene evokes.

Security guard, Juhu Airport, Bombay 1982.

I personally believe that the images from the 70s and 80s have more impact and more to ruminate on, perhaps because they are steeped in nostalgia. Home in the City is a noteworthy record of street photography in India, especially because it is viewed from the eyes of a female photographer, which was a rarity in the past. The book definitely invites the reader to journey into an expansive city with ever-changing perspectives. Sooni shows perseverance and conviction through her decades-long affair with the city. For Sooni Taraporevala, Mumbai has always been tolerant, cosmopolitan, and gracious. The organic and the instinctive nature of her images reflect that in abundance.

Home in the City: Bombay 1977 – Mumbai 2017  by Sooni Taraporevala is a must-have for photography enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

Images: © Sooni Taraporevala

Photos used with permission.