Expat Voice: Life in Maximum City

Portuguese fashion photographer Nuno Oliveira took a shot at working in Mumbai, and realized that India has the power to wake people up from their slumber.


When Nuno Oliveira’s agent contacted him in 2016 with an offer to work in India, the Portuguese photographer took the opportunity with both hands. Oliveira knew it was a rare chance to explore the “interesting and diverse” nation.

“I was always curious about the country. I always wanted to visit India especially after I watched this movie called The Fall, which has mostly been shot in India,” says the 39-year-old fashion photographer and director.

Having lived in several cities, including London, Vancouver, Los Angeles and Cairo, Oliveira is someone who gets used to living in a new country pretty fast. “I have done it many times,” he says.

He tells Little India about his life in Mumbai:

Dealing With Mumbai Traffic
Coming from a small country like Portugal, I was naive to think that I would go to India, spend 2-3 months there and see the whole country. After having lived here for one and a half years, I know that it’s impossible.

India, especially Mumbai, is not for everybody. Mumbai is a big city and extremely busy. I have lived in countries that are not as developed or organized as Mumbai, which is why adjusting to life here was not that difficult.

Moreover, I like living in cities that have a lot of movement, else I get bored.

However, getting used to the traffic and the insane number of people living here was difficult. If I need to go to a certain place within the city, it takes me at least one hour to reach despite it being only 10 km away. If I drive for an hour in Lisbon, I will be halfway across the country.

I cannot be spontaneous here, which is something I could do in Portugal. I have to plan everything as there is a lot of traffic and it is normal for a person to be a couple of hours late.

Fully-Packed Local Trains
I haven’t been able to travel in local trains yet because they are fully packed. I will start panicking. Besides, travelling to work in the local trains amid such a massive rush could damage the photography equipment.

If I have to go somewhere, I take a rickshaw or a cab because it’s more comfortable and I can control my environment.

I wish to travel in the local train at some point though just to experience it, but maybe not during the rush hours.

Religious Celebrations
Religion does not have as much weight in Portugal as it does here. The entire city comes together to celebrate their respective festivals.

However, I don’t understand what they are for or why shops are closed on certain days. So I ask my Indian friends.

There is a huge cultural and religious difference between India and other countries, but I feel as many differences exist among cities and states within the country because it is so diverse and complex.

Nuno Oliveira during a campaign shoot in Mumbai.

Bollywood Movies
I interact with a lot of film celebrities here due to the nature of my work. I have watched a few Hindi movies like Dangal, Piku, Pink and Lipstick Under My Burkha, among others. I thought they were all really nice films.

Like most foreigners, I thought Bollywood movies were all about everyone breaking into a song and dance sequence for no reason. After having watched some Hindi films, I realized that not all of them are the same. There are a lot of different movies that are made here similar to the ones in Hollywood.

Travelling Across India
I have traveled to a few cities in India and also watched a cricket match for the first time at the stadium in Pune. I would like to visit Ladakh, Kerala, the Havelock Islands and the palaces in Rajasthan.

However, I was surprised when I came to know that I would have to fly to Srinagar or Kullu, and then make a car journey for well over 10 hours to reach Leh, if I wanted to travel by road to Ladakh.

I come from a small country of 10 million people. For me, the idea of travelling in a car for even 10 hours is unbelievable. If I drive for 10 hours from Lisbon, I would have already crossed Spain and entered France.

Being a Beach Person
I want to revisit Goa as I am a beach person. My life in Lisbon mostly revolved around being at or close to the beach because that is the kind of culture and environment I grew up in.

I could surf or play different kinds of sport on the beaches in Lisbon, which is something I miss here. It would have been great if I could just go to Juhu Beach and swim in the waters. But I cannot do that.

I like Juhu because of its proximity to the beach. Even if I am unable to go into the water, just being able to look at the ocean makes me feel a bit more at home.

Mumbai – A Happening City
I like the fact that there is always something happening in Mumbai, be it during the holidays or in the form of cultural events. It’s not a boring city at all. Sometimes, I find out about an event after it has happened and regret not having been able to see it.

This constant discovery of new things is interesting. I could be talking to someone who has a way of life that I never thought would be possible and be amazed just listening to them talk about their experiences.

I made a lot of friends, most of whom are from the entertainment world since we share common interests. My agent Alex is my confidante here. He supports and helps me with everything.

Important to Visit India
It should be mandatory for some people to travel to India at least once in their life because the country has the power to wake them up from their slumber and show them that there are a lot of different things going on in the world and if you live in your small corner, you will not be able to see them.

I have a lot of friends who, I’m sure, if they spend one year in India, will come out as much better people than they are today. Many foreigners get scared of a country like India and never experience it. But they should. The fact that it scares them is exactly the reason why they should live here.

My curiosity about the country has not been satisfied yet. There are still a lot of things that I wish to see and do in India. I want to stay here longer and experience things that people visiting the country on vacation would not be able to experience.

Expat Voice is regular column on expats in India. Email us at to nominate yourself or another expat for the column.

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