I remember stepping off the train at V.T. (now C.S.T.), nearly 30 years ago, and being overwhelmed by the number of people I saw at the station. I had come from Datia, Madhya Pradesh, and although I had been to Mumbai before, I was completely unprepared for what I saw then. I spent much of my early years roaming around the city, especially south Mumbai or ‘town side’, watching movies and plays while pursuing a diploma in acting from Filmalaya Academy.
Mumbai’s costliness and rising living expenses are some things that alarm me. I remember eating at a restaurant called Hotel Bhagat at Kalbadevi, which used to offer a delicious, wholesome meal for the sum of Rs.2.25. These kinds of places are a boon to those people who come to Mumbai to struggle, especially for theatre or the film industry. Today, however, it is very expensive. Newcomers who come for my acting workshops live in cramped Paying Guest quarters in far-flung areas like Mira Road, with 4-5 people often sharing a one-bedroom apartment. I remember paying Rs.100 a month while staying at Hotel Manali, Malad for a room with an attached bathroom, balcony and a telephone on each floor; today, unfortunately, these newcomers have to shell out thousands of rupees for much worse.
The theatre scene in Mumbai is the best in the country and has thrived solely because of the tradition of paying to see performances. Theatre performances cannot always be free of cost; how will artistes sustain themselves? This is the reason why, for example, Bengali theatre hasn’t thrived because of the high taxes levied by the government there. Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi and English theatre all coexist together here and this is why we’ve all been able to sustain ourselves. For example, the Gujarati theatre people come to see our plays; similarly we go to see the Marathi and Gujarati plays without language being a barrier. All of this occurs because of this tradition and because of the multiculturalism which, in my opinion, is offered only by Mumbai.