It’s a community that makes up a tiny fraction of the country’s population, yet has had an immense impact on the cultural and industrial landscape of India in general, and Bombay in particular. Driving through South Bombay, the Parsi presence is pervasive- streets, museums, libraries bear the names, legacies and stories.
A group of people that has maintained it’s own distinct and strong cultural identity despite the small numbers. One that has led to a stereotyping of sorts- the typical ‘Parsi Uncle’ is idiosyncratic, eccentric and nostalgic.
Exploring this distinction, lingering on the stereotype and then pushing beyond is Sooni Taraporevala’s collection of photographs, ‘Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India’, currently on display at the Chemould Prescott gallery. Spanning a course of decades, her photographs are an insider’s perspective of her people, presenting both black and white photos from the eighties and more recent colour prints from the last decade.
A rickety wood-paneled elevator takes you up three stories in an old-school colonial style building to enter the gallery – a beautiful and spacious venue, especially for Bombay! The photos range from portraits of family members to intimate scenes from the everyday lives of the many Parsis that Sooni has shot over the years, especially in Bombay but also in Gujarat and Pune.
Interspersed in these daily moments are snapshots from special ceremonies that few outside the community are witness to. While preserving the air of nostaglia that has come to represent Parsi culture and personality, there are also a few glimpses into the future- the direction the new generation is taking.
A special red room in the gallery is dedicated to portraits of famous Parsis in the field of art, culture and science. It’s a room that Sooni would fit right in, being one of the stalwarts of the Parsi art scene, writer of several renowned film scripts apart from her photography (including Little Zizous which she directed as well).
The entire collection is available in the form of a book, a mandatory addition to the bookshelves of those curious for insights into one of the many fascinating groups of peoples that make up the city of Bombay.
The exhibition is on till May 4 at Chemould Prescott. Check it out Bombay peeps! Easily one of the best photo exhibits we’ve seen in the city!