Once upon a time in Mumbai: The intriguing history of SRK’s Mannat
SRK’s bungalow Mannat in Mumbai’s Bandra is now as iconic as the star himself, and the property has a history as interesting as many of his blockbusters
With two blockbuster hits this year in the form of Pathaan and now Jawan, Shah Rukh Khan is back with a bang at the centre of media attention after a few years of lull. His bungalow Mannat in Mumbai’s Bandra is now as iconic as the star himself, with fans thronging the area on several occasions, most notably on Khan’s birthday. The Paperclip, a digital media house, in a series of X posts on Monday (September 11), shared the interesting history of the property that is now Mannat.
The posts start with pointing out that there is “a strange connection between the superstar and a group of people who helped shape the world of art for modern India. It included a man who had escaped Nazi-occupied Austria”.
A tale of two houses
The posts then go on to talk about two houses, standing on the Bandstand in Bandra, one named Villa Vienna and the other Kekee Manzil. This Villa Vienna was apparently built in the latter part of the 19th century by the 16th Raja of Mandi, Bijai Sen, for his wife.
After Sen’s death, Villa Vienna was reportedly sold to a Parsi man named Maneckji Batliwala. Batliwala’s grandson Kaikhushru Minochair Gandhy, fondly called Kekoo Gandhy, would go on to play a key role in the world of modern Indian art.
The story now comes to the 1930s, when Jews were being ruthlessly persecuted by the Nazis. In 1938, Walter Langhammer, a painter from Austria, who had anti-Nazi leanings and a Jewish wife, fled to what was then Bombay. His connections and expertise quickly took him to the position of the Art Director of the Times of India.
Soon, Langhammer met Kekoo through the art circle and the two bonded at once. In the early 1940s, Kekoo also met a Belgian named Roger Van Damme whose father was a traditional frame-maker. Roger gave Kekoo the idea that India would be a great market to sell frames, and, in 1941, Kekoo and his brother Russy set up a company for manufacturing painting frames. It was named Chemical Moulding Manufacturing Company, which later became just Chemould.
A lifelong quest
But Kekoo’s intention was not mere profiteering. He wanted to do something for Indian artists to help them sell their art and make a decent living, which became his lifelong work. He would scout for the best young artists all over the country, make exhibition spaces for them, and lobby at various institutes to open their doors to more Indian artists.
Käthe Langhammer, Walter’s wife, became his collaborator in this endeavour. They would often organize solo exhibitions for young artists at the salon of the Bombay Art Society of which Kekoo was the joint honorary secretary from 1948 to 1952. Kekoo was also instrumental in setting up the Jehangir Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Lalit Kala Academy.
Not only that, Kekoo made sure that his framing company, Chemould, had the latest artwork from these artists. He and Walter would help these artists get buyers for their artwork, too, and most of them were from the Parsi and Jewish communities of then Bombay. One of them was Naval Tata, Ratan Tata’s father, says the posts.
With Villa Vienna belonging to his in-laws, Kekoo’s father bought the plot next to it and built a huge sprawling mansion that he named after Kekoo: Kekee Manzil. During his quest to provide space to buddings artists, Kekoo even went on to open the doors of Kekee Manzil for them. One of those who benefitted was MF Hussain.Villa Vienna, however, did not remain in the family for long. It was passed down to Maneckji Batliwala’s sister — Kekoo’s maternal aunt — who finally sold it to a promoter. Many years later, a superstar named Shah Rukh Khan would go on to buy the property and turn it into an icon of Mumbai — Mannat.