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Mumbai refuses to keep mum

Four ex-IITians help Mumbaikars hold up wish placards for their country this Republic Day. Team member Vamsi Krishna Peri tells JAM all about it

What is the idea behind this project?
Mumbai UnMute is an attempt to capture what people dream, wish and think about their nation and the society. The project is a tribute to the free boundless spirit present in each one of us living in Mumbai and elsewhere. We started with Mumbai because the three of us live here. We are lucky to meet such diverse people with glaring differences in their priorities, needs in life and aspirations for their country. We plan to make more editions of Mumbai UnMute, but will held be only in the city.

Who is the brain behind this idea?
I came up with this idea when I stumbled upon New York Resolution, where just after the New Year’s, people wrote their resolutions on paper and posed with them. I wanted to do something similar, but with an Indian context and Republic Day being the nearest provided the perfect opportunity. I approached Amar because he’d done an amazing job with his earlier photo shoot and I knew he would be interested in the project. I also talked to Deependra, my friend and colleague, as he is the best ice-breaker and we needed a person like him to talk to strangers and convincethem!

Why the name Mumbai UnMute? Who designed the website?
I decided to name the project Mumbai UnMute. I came up with some other names as well, but this one was picked by the group. Farooq, our awesome manager and classmate at IIT Bombay, immediately registered the website www.mumbaiunmute.com. The logo and the website were designed by Amar and the website was coded by me. The content was written by Deependra. So everything in the project was completely done by the core team.

How did you fund the project?
The major expenses for this project were time, energy and the passion to walk around the streets of Mumbai, not knowing how people would react. The financial expenses involved were minimum – we bought chart paper and markers for Rs. 325. Two of our friends, Zishaan and Jassi lent us their cameras, so we did not have any expenses related to the equipment. Also, since we worked on the website by ourselves, there was no design or coding cost involved.

Mention the highs and lows you faced during the project?
One of the biggest highs of the project was meeting Ustad Zakir Hussain and getting him to write a message for India. That happened on the first day of our project, towards the end of the day. It was also the last picture we clicked. It instilled the enthusiasm to continue the project in the coming weeks. Also, there were a couple of occasions when we were able to successfully convince people to pose for a photograph even though they were reluctant and skeptical in the beginning. Those were high moments. We hit a low in Bandra where we misjudged the crowd – it was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We could not shoot a single photograph that day, and were utterly disappointed and dejected.

Do you wish to take this project further? If yes, then how?
Yes, we do have plans to make new editions of Mumbai UnMute. Most of these plans revolve around Mumbai and the culture, heritage and diversity of India. We have not thought about expanding the project to other cities. Mumbai is loud enough to be heard for a long time. Meanwhile, we are having an exhibition of our photographs at the Industrial Design Center (IDC) at IIT Bombay this month.

What advice do you have for students who plan to start such a project?
Have clarity in what you are doing. It’s okay when the project doesn’t go exactly as planned, but a plan is always necessary. It’s easy to lose focus in the crowd and the rush. For example, we were looking for diversity – so once we had two pictures of foreigners writing their thoughts about India. But we never attempted to talk to more foreigners, which meant ignoring the scores of foreigners walking around South Bombay who might have radical thoughts about India. The next thing is to have a lot of perseverance and determination. There will be bad days and good days. We treated our bad days as an experience we gained to make the project better. In a team, make sure your diverse skills complement each other.

What do you take back from this project?
We’ll never forget the people that we interacted with during the making of this project. Each and every one of them left an impact on us in a special way. Meeting them widened our perspective and we realised the different priorities of different people in the society; this perspective is easy to lose when we are caught up in our own rat race in life. Also, this project helped us identify and hone our existing skills and learn new ones. While we were executing this project, we sort of went into our own areas and started operating in them. Deependra was the one talking to complete strangers, explaining them the concept – which proved to be quite a task at times. Amar was behind the camera looking for the best shot, while I had the big picture in mind. However, we did exchange roles at times.

Are you satisfied with the outcome?
Yes, very much. But there were a few disappointments – a few people refused to participate and we missed a few opportunities. The diversity in the messages was not what I had in mind, as I was going for a unified theme. But everything came together in the end. The way this project made people think about India and Indians is the icing on
the cake.

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