top of page

Constructed Reality of Slums

Ashwini Deshpande, M.Arch. Thesis, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India


Post-1950s, the representation of slums in cinema gained popularity. Among many other reasons, the continuous portrayal of life in slums in movies and other visual media glorified these settlements. It made them one of the most attractive tourist places worldwide. This thesis examines the „constructed reality‟ of slum emerging in the last two decades because of the popular culture of slum tourism and cinematic representation. It evaluates the created image of one specific slum, Dharavi. By first exploring the history of cinematic representation of slums and the complex geography of Dharavi, the thesis lays its foundation on arguing that any representation of the reality of this place is highly subjective and conditional. Mainly through the archival data and interviews with the tour guides, the thesis analyses the constructed image of Dharavi by the tourism industry. The theoretical framework of analysis is derived from the cultural theories, mainly by Dean MacCannell and John Urry. Based on their concepts on leisure class and tourist gaze, the representation of selected sites in Dharavi that the tour agencies target is analysed. The thesis concludes that even though tourism does have the capacity to change the negative perception of the slums, it continues to portray the spatial characters of Dharavi that reinforces the extreme poverty. While investigating the virtual reality of the place and unpacking the staged tours, the thesis re-evaluates the spatial transformation of Dharavi from real to reel.


Key words

Slum, Dharavi, slum tourism, cinematic representation, constructed reality, tourist gaze, staged authenticity, spatial transformation, slumming, and poverty


The thesis divides the research and analysis in the following stages:

1. Literature study identifies and classifies the books, journal articles, papers, reports, and documents that are relevant to the study.

2. Identification of cultural theories of leisure class, tourism, and spatial analysis of popular media.

3. Identifying terminology and developing a theoretical framework for the analysis

4. Selection of specific examples of popular media and curated slum tours.

5. Analysis of the case studies developed based on the theoretical framework


Literature Study

The literature study identifies a wide range of sources and divide  them into eight categories: 1) Slums on screen 2) Architecture in virtual spaces 3) Slums and architecture 4) Dharavi 5) Dharavi on screen 6) Tourism literature 7) Slum tourism, and 8) Redevelopment of Dharavi (figure 2).

The categorization of these readings is to identify how the topics of tourism, popular media, architecture, and spatial analysis of slum are interconnected. After the categorization of the literature, the study identifies important theories, concepts and terminologies. The thesis situates itself in the theories conceptualized in the following references:

1. Baudrillard, J. (1981). Simulacra and Simulation. Editions Galilee.

2. Pallasmaa, J. (2001). The Existential Image: Lived Space in Cinema and Architecture. In J. Pallasmaa, The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema (pp. 157-174). Rakennustieto.

3. Frenzel, F. (2016). Slumming It: The Tourist Valorisation of Urban Poverty. London: Zed Books.

4. MacCannell, D. (1976). The Tourist: A New Theory of Leisure Class. Berkeley: University of California Press.

5. Urry, J. (1990). The Tourist Gaze. London: SAGE Publication.

6. Pallasmaa, J. (2011). The Embodied Image: Imagination and Imagery in Architecture. Wiley.


Source: author

Figure 2: Categorization of the references


Source: author

Figure 3: Timeline: Dharavi, Indian Cinema, and Slum Tourism

From creating timeline across different topics to targeting specific tour agencies and activities related to them, the thesis explored how tourism and popular media affected the everyday life of Dharavi. 


Source: author

Figure 4: Locations of the tour agency offices in Dharavi

Source: author

Figure 4: Locations of the tour agency offices in Dharavi


Source: author

Figure 5: Famous locations for the Dharavi Tours

bottom of page