Big Dreams and Bollywood: Mumbai as an Epicenter of Creativity

Inside one of the world's premier supercities

Mumbai is the seventh in a new series, "Creative Cities," which highlights markets that have been growing in strength as creative hot spots.

For sheer creativity, all the way up and all the way down, you have to go a long way to beat Mumbai. This densely populated city of 22 million buzzes day and night with fast-paced creative energy, from the entrepreneurial denizens of the world-famous Dharavi slum thinking up inventive ways to make a living, through the Bollywood movie industry turning out dazzling productions shown around the world, all the way up to billionaires with their global empires and skyscraper homes.

Like New York and Los Angeles, Mumbai is a magnet for dynamic people with big dreams and the determination to realize them. Some make it big in the movies, some make it big in business, and millions of others work hard at finding their own way of creating a dream life on a more modest scale. It truly is one of the world's supercities in a supercountry that has population of 1.38 billion and counting.

Built on seven islands long since joined together by land reclamation, Mumbai is the capital city of Maharashtra, India's second-largest state in terms of population and the largest in terms of economy, accounting for 14.9 percent of India's GDP last year. The city is the acknowledged business, industrial, financial and entertainment capital of India, boasting a large concentration of corporate HQs and advertising agencies. Always keen to get more investment, the city and state have been busy with initiatives such as "Magnetic Maharashtra" and moves to improve the ease of doing business. They are the locomotive of a train that's gathering momentum.

Bollywood and its production and post-production facilities provide a ready-made ecosystem for advertising and marketing creatives to draw on. Established agencies tend to cluster in the city center near the marketing functions of multi-billion dollar conglomerates, such as Unilever, Tata and Godrej. Ambitious new bootstrapped agencies are mushrooming in the western suburbs, where leases and rents are less expensive.

Mumbai isn't only about pursuing dreams of wealth—there are plenty of other pleasures on hand. For food lovers, the whole sumptuous breadth of India's famed cuisine is constantly available at every level, from street vendors through simple cafés up to high-end fine dining. Likewise, with shopping, there are bustling bazaars selling low-priced traditional products just a short walk from exclusive boutiques with eye-watering prices. For lovers of architecture, the city offers a surprising range of styles spanning Colonial, Gothic, Mughal, Indo-Saracenic, Neo-Baroque, Art Deco and Indian Modernist—not forgetting carved caves and the massive Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the northern part of the city. Among its other claims to superlatives, Mumbai is reckoned to have the best night life in India, as well as a great range of beaches on its Indian Ocean seafront.

As more of Mumbai moves up the value chain, the city has placed creativity and the creative economy at the core of its urban development plans to make cities safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable. It has two premier art schools—the Sir JJ School of Art and LS Raheja School of Art—and as well as the movies of Bollywood, graphic design is a growing manifestation of the city's appetite for creativity.

Projecting India's rapid economic growth of 7.5 percent a year, around 500 million Indians are forecast to enter the middle class over the coming decade. Consequently, the country's advertising revenue is projected to double by 2023, reaching US$18.39 billion. Growing even faster will be digital advertising, thanks to affordable data and rising smartphone penetration. 

Like anything else written about cities now in 2020, the massive imponderable of Covid-19 throws deep shadows of doubt over any projections and forecasts. There is no way of knowing how the crisis will affect local business nor international trade. Big, densely populated cities have proved to be particularly vulnerable. Looking to the medium term and long term, however, the factors that have made Mumbai so successful over the centuries are likely to pertain: its location, its appetite for business, and the resilience of so many people determined to make their dreams come true.

Profile picture for user Naomi Troni
Naomi Troni
Naomi Troni is global chief marketing and growth officer at Wunderman Thompson.

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