Thursday, February 16, 2012

The studio empire

Once upon a time Mumbai was dotted with film studios from Tardeo to Nana Chowk to Mahakali and Chembur. The recent hullabaloo about the sale and closure of Kamal Amrohi’s studio followed by Natraj, Filmistan shows the malady in the system. If agreements are not honoured, litigation crops up, amounts kept on credit are not paid up, successors or sons cannot cope with running studios or making films, then disintegration is inevitable. There are high stakes in redevelopment of land, studios becoming easy baits like other old buildings.

The three big giants of the 30’s talkie era – Prabhat (Pune), Bombay Talkies (Malad, Mumbai), New Theatres (Kolkata) made memorable classics and were epic pieces of direction, acting, singing, composing and technical finesse. V. Shantaram was at his peak at Prabhat while Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai did wonders at Bombay Talkies. The brainy Bengali lot threw their literary weight behind New Theatres under B.N. Sircar. Bombay Talkies later was converted to a rubber factory. It later broke to Filmistan and Filmalaya under S. Mukherjee.

The Wadia studio at Parel was rebuilt as Rajkamal Kalamandir by Shantaram. Wadia brothers went to Chembur with Basant studios, a lab, even a theatre. At Rajkamal two shooting floors became commercial complexes. At Sewri, Sohrab Modi’s Minerva Movietone became a factory-cum-godown. The first talkie Alam Ara was shot at Imperial studios by pioneer Ardeshir Irani in the 20’s. by the end of the 30’s they declared, “We have stopped production.” In later years, the low-grade Jyoti studios housed a number of offices including that of Shyam Benegal. Mehboob Khan who was an assistant with Irani at Majestic cinema went ahead to establish National studios at Tardeo making Aurat and Roti with corporate aid. At the other extreme of Chembur, alongwith Wadias and Basant, there came up R.K Studios, the dream world of Raj Kapoor. When it was under construction without a telephone line, one saw Raj come down to Basant to make phone calls. Next to it was Bhagwan Dada’s little studio making ‘B’ and ‘C’ grade action films.

The first nail was the new wave trend that used real spots - interior and exterior. Commercial film-makers soon took the cue of avoiding hot, stuffy studios with heavy equipment. The last nail in the coffin came with the vast film city brought by the State Government in Goregaon, Mumbai having studio floors, extensive natural locations and all up-to-date facilities. Another factor was the arrival Arriflex with zoom and steady cam movements as well as syneground mikes hidden inside dresses. To think Irani made Alam Ara near Grant Road Station against the disturbing noise of local trains!

Future generations may forget that films were once made in studios. That these very studios lent a defiant status to the movie and affected viewer’s perceptions. That people once looked up to the banner, its emblem and the studio team as a hallmark for films that had a certain standard, class, quality and sense of purpose. There were more than thirty studios functioning at the same time apart from recording-dubbing halls and labs. Now hardly half a dozen survive, that too mostly for shooting TV serials, ad commercials, music videos and trailers.  The culture of the studio empire is evidently dying.

With inputs from: Mr. Firoze Rangoonwala 

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