Bombay (Mumbai) has played the backdrop of thousands of movies since the time movies have been made. This bustling megalopolis has been a character herself in a number of movies, has been an inspiration to many a plots, has been used in the title of many movies and continues to be the muse of many film-makers, old and new. While on a recent long distance flight, I caught a glimpse of the fantastically picturised and composed number from Slumdog Millionaire – O Saya. It is such a shame that for all the love Bombay receives on screen, very few cinematographers (and their directors) can truly capture the colors and boisterousness of the city – Anthony Dodd Mantle and Danny Boyle manage to literally throw you in the midst of the streets of Bombay like no other cameraman-director duo has been able to. Too bad, I could not find the original video online. Aside from this on screen depiction of Bombay, here are a few of my personal favorites in no particular order of liking.

Title Sequence, Bombay Talkie, 1970, Merchant-Ivory Productions

Bombay is synonymous to the Hindi Film Industry (or Bollywood). This opening sequence shot with an haunting composition by Shankar-Jaikishan makes use of hand painted cinema posters against the backdrop of Bombay’s street-scapes. (Trivia: the same composition was recently used in Wes Anderson’s  The Darjeeling Limited). On a side note, the hand painted posters is a dying art, replaced by the digitally created and printed versions which in my opinion are no match to their hand-painted ancestors. But that’s me, who still likes the single screen theaters over the multiplexes.

Rim Jhim Gire Sawan, Manzil, 1979, Basu Chatterjee

Bombay has two seasons – a hot/humid season and a wet season. Every year, millions of her citizens await the monsoons to cool down their hot and sweaty bodies from the long summer months. The monsoons bring with them a much needed cleansing and cooling to the city and her residents. This song from the 1979 film captures the spirit of the rains in Bombay with raw abandon and a simplicity which belies the experience of the rains in this city. Amitabh and Moushmi Chatterjee seem oblivious to the camera and their actions seem unscripted. Add to this Lata’s voice and it’s as close you can come to soaking the torrential downpours of a Bombay Monsoon with your eyes and ears.

Badalon se Kaat Kaat Ke, Satya, 1998, Ram Gopal Verma

Just like the monsoons are a constant in the life of Bombay, so is the underworld. It is an “industry” which provides occupation to millions and Satya is a story of one such outsider who works for the Bombay underworld and falls in love with a Mumbai girl who lives next door to him. The song (and the entire movie) is shot in a muted color palette giving the Bombay landscape a touch of romanticism and a rawness which was rarely seen in Hindi movies before Satya. Satya was a game-changer and as any Hindi movie buff knows by now, thousands of other directors and cameramen followed suite. In the song, the evening and night shots seem to have been shot without external lighting and those frames evoke a kind of nostalgia which anyone who has wandered on Indian city streets at night can identify with. Gulzar’s words, Vishal’s music and Bhupinder’s vocals make this a timeless song.

Tumhein Ho Na Ho, Gharonda, 1977, Bhimsain Khurana

Two lovers doing all the cliched things that all people in love in Bombay do (rich or poor) – a stroll on the Juhu Beach, sipping nariyal-paani , eating chaat at the Chowpatty, watching the skyline with a million dreams of someday being in one of thos buildings watching over others who are watching them and such. This little movie is about the dreams of a couple on making a home of their own in this mega-city. Runa Laila sings one of her few Hindi film songs to Jaidev’s music weaved around Gulzar’s words. See, this man could write such soulful words in 1977 and also in 1998 (Satya song above) and continues to this date – can anyone else in any other field claim such consistent superlative work over these many years? But I digress, where’s my nariyal-paani, I got some skyline watching to do.

Yeh Hain Bombay Meri Jaan, C.I.D., 1956, O.P.Nayyar

No other song about Bombay has achieved such an iconic status has this one from the 1956 film C.I.D.  “yeh hain bambai meri jaan”  is still used on the streets to brush off the many annoyances of this city. Mohammed Rafi and Geeta Dutt sings Majrooh Sultanpuri’s memorable words to O.P.Nayyar’s wonderfully simple tune. Although, the streets of Bombay are much more crowded, the air more polluted than when this song was shot more than sixty years ago, and “Milta hain yahan sab kuch ik milta nahi dil” still rings true, the magnetism of this city continues to attract millions towards her.