Experiencing India’s cinematic past at the National Museum of Indian Cinema

Mumbai, the cinema capital of India has a new museum. Here, explore the diversity of Indian storytelling over the years, be amazed by the technology and advancements in the industry and finally, experience what it feels like to be on a Director's Chair!

In July 1896, the Lumiere Brothers first arrived in the city of Mumbai (then Bombay), to host the subcontinent’s first ever movie screenings. The venue was the iconic Watson’s Hotel. This, and many other milestone moments in the motion-picture industry have been retold beautifully at the National Museum of Indian Cinema [NMIC] – Mumbai’s newest museum.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai
Watson’s Hotel, Mumbai | © Castle Carrock / Wikimedia Commons

Mumbai has always been a commercial and cultural hub; cosmopolitan, vibrant and dynamic, the city welcomes everyone. It is thus, probably fitting that the National Museum of Indian Cinema is housed in this city.

Indian cinema is however, neither Mumbai-centric nor only about Bollywood. Due to the enormous size of the country, it’s ethnic diversity and the bewildering cultural geography, keeping track of India’s cinematic excellence is a gargantuan task. The museum is thus, a novel effort to achieve this seemingly unachievable feat. While the idea for the museum was conceived in 1997, it was opened to the public only on January, 2019.

During my recent visit to Mumbai, I could not resist experiencing the NMIC, first-hand. As a museum professional and a cinema enthusiast, personal and professional curiosity warranted this visit.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

First things first : Public relations and productive interaction with the visitors are often lacking in Indian museums. I found NMIC to be a refreshing departure from this banality.

The first thing one notices after entering the museum, is the welcoming and co-operative attitude of staff, and the brief but detailed orientation they provide. The initial warm reception is a definitive ice-breaker and is the first step towards ensuring a productive dialogue within the museum space.

The museum, located in South Mumbai’s Film Division campus, is housed in two buildings: Gulshan Mahal and the ‘New Museum Building’.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

Gulshan Mahal is a 19th century Victorian heritage bungalow with a striking Neo-Gothic architecture. In the days of the Raj, it was renowned for musical events and social gatherings. While converting it into a museum, its aesthetic grandeur has been tastefully and holistically incorporated into the museum design. The decorated pillars, high ceilings, tall windows and spiral staircases accentuate its visual allure and add to the visitor experience. The building has two floors and provides a vivid insight into the evolution of Indian cinema from the early silent movies to the advent of talkies.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai
The New Museum Building | Photo: Namrata Sarmah

In stark contrast to Gulshan Mahal, the New Museum Building is a state-of-the-art structure with five floors, two mezzanine floors and cutting edge digital apparatuses. This juxtaposition, whether intended or not, is a node to the collective ethos of Indian cinema-rooted in heritage but always forward looking.

Indian cinema comes is as diverse as the country:

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

At the museum, there is an extensive coverage on cinema in the major regional languages of India, often clubbed under the category of Parallel Cinema. As someone born and raised in Assam, my excitement rose at the mention of Halodhiya Choraye Baodhan Khai (1987). The social commentary directed by Jahnu Barua was the first Assamese film to bag the National Award.

Additionally, the museum also provides for thematic diversity, exhibiting topical films on wide-ranging subjects such as Gandhi and World War II.

Behind the Scenes: what makes the world of cinema come alive:

To the public, the different background processes involved in the production of cinema remain invisible due to the larger than life on-screen and off-screen presence of actors and directors.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

NMIC showcases the entire edifice on which the success of cinema is based: housing a huge collection of costumes, equipment, posters, leaflets, soundtracks, old magazines and copies of major films. They even have a poster of the classic ‘Pather Panchali’ designed by Satyajit Ray himself !

Apart from being a genuine cause of audience curiosity, this is definitely a treasure trove for researchers, critics and budding directors.

The museum, reflecting the spirit of inclusivity of the new millennium, has something for everyone:

As a visitor, one is exposed to the different experiences of cinema production; the simulation studio for children that offers them an experience of the director’s chair is quite an interesting experience! Even for those not into cinema, there are vivid and detailed displays. Likewise, academicians and researchers will find enriching bits of information.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

By embracing digital disruption, the museum offers cutting edge interactive displays and touch-screen apparatuses that add to the experience. The well-preserved collection and a thematic approach make for a coherent, and engaging narrative.

At the very first glance, National Museum of Indian Cinema [NMIC] can be an overwhelming sensory overload of colours, themes and visuals. Yet, when the initial awe settles in, it can be a rewarding experience. It can be a family day-out on the weekends, a creative stimulus or simply remain a celebration of India’s cinematic past. Regardless of the intent, NMIC is a refreshing treat for every visitor.

experience national museum indian cinema mumbai

Museum Timings:
Tuesday  to  Sunday (11 AM to 6 PM)
Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays. 

Entry Fee
Adults: 20/- INR
Foreign Nationals: 500/- INR
Children (upto 12 years) and students with IDs : Free

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