A film on architecture, by architects, addresses the lack of discourse around urban, physical and ‘interstitial’ spaces of a city

If electorates get the leaders they deserve, then cities are arguably only as progressive as the architectural practices they employ. This is precisely the hypothesis that Reading Architecture Practice Mumbai, a new 37-minute documentary, seeks to propagate. Made by a team of Mumbai-based architects—Rajeev Thakker, Shreyank Khemalapure and Samarth Das—it explores Mumbai’s urban development by examining the role, scope and definition of architecture in the city today through a number of techniques. 

First, visually. Just like any architect, the film negotiates multiple scales. Sweeping aerial views of Mumbai’s built environment are paired alongside street-level shots. Everyday urban life is thus captured from a distance and up close. Mumbai’s colonial heritage, natural history and contemporary life are acknowledged in equal measure. Images of railways, heritage districts, gaothans (urban villages), former mill areas, the coastline, mangroves, high-rises, by-lanes, street markets, skywalks, slums and low-income housing capture Mumbai’s urban complexity and multiplicity, highlighting its inherent design challenges. 

This visual montage is accompanied by a vivid and differentiated soundscape. Yes, Mumbai honks, its trains trundle, it can deafen all day long. But it also hisses, scrapes and squeaks—all sounds of industrial manufacturing. The film’s audio track specifically draws attention to the grime and grit of Mumbai’s many makers, from printing presses to metalworks, that exist in the heart of the city. 

The parallels between local, small-scale manufacturing and contemporary architectural practice, as urban “makers and producers”, are clear. “One can look at the city as a cumulative of all (architectural) practices, so practices produce the city, and cities produce practices.... So irrespective of whether you want or not, you are getting produced by the city and you are contributing to the production of the city,” says Prasad Shetty, an architect and associate professor at the School of Environment and Architecture (SEA).

The film’s biggest success is its ability to expand and define what it means to “produce”.