Vachani, Lalit

Research Project
Maidan Histories: A Visual Ethnography and Archive of Shivaji Park, Mumbai

My current research, Maidan Histories, is conceived as a multimedia documentation project on transformations in India’s urban public spaces, specifically maidans or public parks.

What makes a maidan a “public space?” What are its histories and mythologies? What are the formal laws and informal customs governing its existence and use? Who claims it, who uses it, who is excluded? How do the practices, politics, aesthetics, and meanings of these urban public spaces change over time, and what do these tell us about urban transformations and aspirations in a more general sense? Addressing these questions through an initial focus on the transformations of one exemplary maidan, Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, this project is an archival and creative initiative that aims to document and archive the histories and contemporary experiences of changing urban public spaces, lives, and aspirations, in contemporary India.

I approach Shivaji Park as a site where different groups (Hindu nationalist political parties and their rivals, cricket and football clubs, resident welfare associations and citizens groups, to describe a few) coalesce and clash over competing definitions of the ideal maidan, and ultimately, of the ideal city and citizen. It is a microcosm of urban social relations in the city of Mumbai, where the intersections of business, politics, religion, recreation and sport shape the expanding city and its shrinking public spaces. I aim to trace and document these intersections and relations through a visual ethnography of the park, supplemented by historical research. I am interested both in the visible, organized groups that stake claims to the park, and the everyday lives and practices of ordinary people who do not have a conscious organized project, but who claim the park as a place of their own: the itinerant vendors and hawkers, the migrant laborers and young people who frequent this space for reasons of leisure, longing and livelihood.

The Maidan Histories project reflects my longstanding and continuing interest in understanding organized ideological movements through the lens of ordinary lives, and in the links and disconnections between the historical past and the present. It also weaves together the different strands of my filmmaking experience and interests. Over the past twenty years, I have made documentary films on issues like the reproduction of Hindu nationalism and political activism in public spaces; the effects of globalization on ordinary lives and livelihoods; and the changing aspirations of the working classes. Each of these themes is central to the story of Shivaji Park, and the project offers me the opportunity to engage with them together, in a common framework.


Vachani, L. 2010. Tales from Napa (Video; 26 min.), PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING TRUST.

Vachani, L. 2008. The Salt Stories (Video; 84 min.), A WIDE EYE FILM.

Vachani, L. 2007. In Search of Gandhi (Video; 52 min.), STEPS INTERNATIONAL.

Vachani, L. 2005. The Play Goes On (Video; 83 min.), A WIDE EYE FILM.

Vachani, L. 2002. The Men in the Tree (Video; 98 min), A WIDE EYE FILM.

Vachani, L. 1997. The Starmaker (Video; 74 min.), A WIDE EYE FILM.

Vachani, L. 1995. The Academy (Video; 52 min.), BUSINESS INDIA TELEVISION.

Vachani, L. 1993. The Boy in the Branch (16mm; 27 min.), CHANNEL 4 TV.

Selected Publications

Vachani, L. 2011. “The Gandhi March.” Book review of Graham Turner’s “Catching up with Gandhi”. Outlook Traveler, February.

Vachani, L. / Shah, J. 2007. Political Theatre Today and Yesterday. Arts Connect, July.

Vachani, L. 1999. «Bachchan-alias: the many faces of a film icon» in C. Brosius / M. Butcher (eds.): Image Journeys. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Vachani, L. 1999. Book review of Partha Banerjee, “In the Belly of the Beast: The Hindu supremacist RSS and BJP of India”. Himal South Asian, July.

Vachani, L. 1993. The RSS Indoctrination of Young Minds. Times of India (New Delhi), October 23.