What does romance in Mumbai look like?

For couples — young and old — it might mean sneaking a few moments of privacy amid some very public spaces.

Mumbai is not always kind to its lovers; perhaps it doesn't intend to be cruel, but romance must navigate tricky terrain here nonetheless. Intimacy in public places — exalted in Bollywood movies but frequently frowned upon in real life — requires some delicate maneuvering on the part of couples.

A recent exhibition at the Godrej Urban Lens festival, titled ‘Love In The City’ tries to capture these different vignettes. Curated by the Photography Promotion Trust, it includes the works of a number of photographers.

Love — in these photos — is not just the expression of an emotion, but also an act of resistance.

The embrace by the sea, the caress in the park, the silent contemplation of the skyline — these photos capture them all.

The photographers explain what moved them to capture these images:

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Akash Mahendra Jadhav believes true love can be discerned by anyone and that it can be found anywhere in the city of Mumbai.

“I wanted to show how people take time out for their loved ones. For me, the images of love would mean both — the love between grandparents as well as that between the grandchildren. With this composition, I wanted to pay an honest tribute to love,” says 21-year-old Jadhav, who works as a freelance photographer.

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“While working on this project I had one thing in mind: to maintain the privacy of my subjects. I rejected many photos that had far better frames, because it compromised the couple's privacy in some way. Maintaining their dignity was of utmost importance to me,” says 31-year-old freelance photographer Hemal Jagdish Patel.

He adds, “If you see the picture with the car and the couple, you will notice how the car is acting as a frame while also shielding this couple lost in their own world.”

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“People say love is evergreen… I framed this image with the leaves and grass in the foreground, the couple in the middle, and the skyline of the city in the background. I have been brought up in South Bombay and I have seen couples sitting by the seafront for years. Earlier there were rules where police wouldn’t allow couples to linger, but now we can see them in the morning, in the broad daylight, evening and even during the night… Over the years, I have seen love growing in the city.”

“One thing that I noticed while shooting these pictures was that love doesn't discriminate on the basis of caste, religion, class….People are in love, that’s it,” adds Patel.

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Mexy Xavier, Forbes India's editor of photography, says, “I saw this couple sitting at Nariman Point on Marine Drive. In one composition I got the Mumbai skyline in the background and the greenery in the foreground. The framing of this single image shows how we Mumbaikars, in this crowded city, long for solitude. We go to these spaces and make them our very own private zone to spend a few precious moments with our close ones.”

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“Hailing from a small town like Akola I have never seen people suffering this space crunch. Living in a one-room kitchen apartment by myself made me realise privacy is a privilege not everyone enjoys in this city. But love finds a way in every situation and I have tried to capture these moments of love people steal from their busy day-to-day lives here in Mumbai,” says 29-year-old documentary and lifestyle photographer Mohit Agrawal.

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Agrawal adds, “Their love is a rebellion. It's above any rule, age or social stigma. It's pure. These people struggle for love not only at home but outside too. They enjoy and embrace every small moment whenever they can.”

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Prachi Dinesh Dodia, 20, has been working with PPT’s founder and noted photographer Sudharak Olwe for the past three-and-a-half years. “I love this picture because of the posture of the couple against the vast sea in the background. We can see the whole of nature [in the form of the sea] and just this couple — it inspires a different feeling.”

Dodhia says, “While shooting this picture, the police was out on patrol and were catching couples sitting together and scolding them. There are so many problems couples face in Mumbai.”

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Twenty one-year-old freelance photographer Rahul Mahadik focuses on the unabashed attitude of lovers in general. “In my pictures, you will see couples sitting out there in the sun with people all around and yet they don’t pay any heed to all of this. They remain unaffected by any such distraction.”

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“I saw these two girls hug each other very intimately. Even though I am not sure of whether or not they were a couple, I found them completely inseparable, much like the hands of the sculpture in the foreground,” says Mahadik.

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20-year-old Rohan Dattaram Rao has a fascination for frames that have nature as an element. “These branches made for a perfect natural frame and I love this. However, the thing that drew me to shoot this photograph is the love between the couple.”

Rao is currently pursuing a BCom degree in Mumbai's Sathaye College.

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“I was sure that I wanted to shoot a very uncommon place in the city to give the viewers a visual break from the usual or expected settings. The idea to show how amidst the fast pace of the city, love finds itself somewhere in the middle of it,” says 24-year-old Siddhi Chandra.

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Chandra works with the Communications and Photography department of the Photography Promotion Trust. “I waited for a long time on the bridge to capture this moment. The wide frame was set to show a larger perspective as well as to show the contrast between the mad rush of the city and the couple,” she adds.

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Swapnil Sakhare, chief photographer, Lokmat Media Pvt Ltd, says, “In Mumbai, everyone’s very busy with their daily lives. They need some peace... we can't disturb them (lovers) in these stolen moments of intimacy.” His picture against the backdrop of the Bandra-Worli sealink identifies the city while encapsulating its spirit. “The moment you see the photo, you know it is Mumbai and here couples do not feel shy to express their love,” he adds.

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— These images have been drawn from among the collection of photographs that comprise the ‘Love In The City’ exhibition.

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