How do you even begin to understand a city of 21 million people where life encompasses every human extreme? Embrace its chaos before you arrive.
What to watch
Made in Mumbai, Shor in the City (2011) is, technically, a Bollywood film – the “B” in Bollywood comes from the city’s former name, Bombay. But don’t expect technicolour musical numbers. Instead, imagine a Tarantino-esque black comedy (albeit with a PG rating) in which the characters, including a publisher of pirated books and a young would-be professional cricketer, have their plans complicated by guns, money and kidnapping. The city plays a starring role.
- The Lunchbox (2014): A misdelivered meal kicks off correspondence between an unappreciated wife and a closed-off widower in this gentle romantic comedy that’s unusual for its middle-class focus and the lack of shared screen time between the two leads.
What to read
In the 13 years since Suketu Mehta published the narrative nonfiction Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, “the gateway to India” has continued to change and grow. But Mehta’s riveting take on the inner life of this city of swirling chaos and startling contrasts remains unsurpassed.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012): This is another nonfiction work but with a very different feel. Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo spent 3.5 years in the Annawadi slum, earning the trust of its people. She repaid them with a book that has the power and drama of a great novel.
- The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995): Salman Rushdie’s comically surreal fictional family saga.
- Family Matters (2002): Rohinton Mistry’s serious, 19th-century-style novel about surviving the city.
What to listen to
Songwriter, pop star, composer and producer A. R. Rahman was already a huge star in India when film director Danny Boyle asked him to create the soundtrack for the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire. The result not only earned Rahman two Oscars, two Grammys and many other awards, it also brought his music to a whole new audience. Drawing on eclectic styles, from 1980s Hindi tunes to reggae and contemporary rap, his Slumdog Millionaire: Music from the Motion Picture album captures Mumbai’s vibrancy in a pacy 35 minutes and includes the international hit Jai Ho.
- Maed in India: Broadcaster Mae Thomas’s free podcast is a great place to discover local indie music by rising artists across the spectrum. ￼