Sunday, November 02, 2008

Movie Factory

From masterpieces to legendary actors, these studios gave the film industry of Mumbai a
kick-start any film industry would envy. Here are a handful of studios associated with some of the most important names in the film industry. It took K Asif and his studio 10 years to complete Mughal-e-Azam with a huge cast of thousands, opulent sets like the Hall of Mirrors, intricately designed costumes and extravagantly staged battle scenes thatcost approximately Rs 15 million. K Asif thought on an epic scale, which is perhaps why he made only four films in a career that spanned more than 30 years. He left the set intact for more than a year after the movie was churning out completed for the public to see his grand creation.

Studios such as Bombay Talkies, along with Prabhat Film Company in Pune and New Theatres in Kolkata dominated Indian filmmaking since the beginning of the talkie era. Men and women like Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani (Bombay Talkies), Chimanlal B Desai and Dr Ambalal Patel (Sagar Movietone), Khan Bahadur and Ardeshir Irani (Jyoti Studios), Sardar Chandulal Shah (Ranjit Movietone), Jayant Desai (Jupiter Studios) Sohrab Modi (Minerva Movietone), A R Kardar (Kardar Studios), Mehboob Khan (Central and later Mehboob Studios), and Vijay Bhatt (Prakash Pictures) who came to be known as the star makers and breakers that belonged to an era of the 1920s to 1950s.

These all-time movie moguls churned out classics with Dilip Kumar, Noor Jehan, Ashok Kumar, Nargis, V Shantaram, Prithviraj Kapoor, Jairaj, Sheikh Mukhtiar, Madhubala, and others, whose careers were launched and many who went on to become legends. They also had many firsts to their names, as this was the beginning of an industry which would come to be known as the Film Industry. Studios like Vishnu Movietone Studio made over a 100 mythological and historical movies. But it was Kohinoor Studios that takes the credit of making Mumbai the centre of films. Jyoti Studios was the first to make a talkie as well as to introduce colour.

The personalities behind these studios were the driving force and left an indelible mark in the history of cinema in India. Mehboob Khan was the creator of Central Studios in Tardeo and later Mehboob Studios in Bandra in 1952. He chose dark themes and made them entertaining. He lavished them with emotions and created great works like Devdas (1935), Ek Hi Raasta (1939), Roti (1942), Aan (1952), Anmol Ghadi, Andaaz, Amar and Mother India. Though Mehboob Studios was partially destroyed in the year 2000, it was rebuilt and today the space is rented out to directors that churn out movies like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kuch Na Kaho, Munna Bhai MBBS, Musafir and many others.

The flamboyant V Shantaram brought a lot of chutzpah into movie making. He acted in and directed several movies. He used to blend different genres and forms to evolve an aesthetic form of his own, which challenged one with something different and subtle. He used films as an instrument of social change, to advocate humanism on one hand and expose bigotry and injustice on the other. He directed Duniya Na Mane (1937), Aadmi (1939) and Padosi (1941) from Prabhat Studios in Pune, and Shakunatala, Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Do Ankhen Barah Haath and Navrang from Rajkamal Studios. But that was not all. He made entertaining movies too, like Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje for his third wife and Geet Gaaya Patharon Ne for his daughter Rajshree; and that too with melodious songs that are hummed even today.

The first talkie

Alam Ara(1931), the first talkie with around 70 songs, was directed by Ardeshir Irani. He founded Majestic Films and Jyoti Studios in 1924 and directed Razia Begum, a major success despite attracting censor’s ire, and Kisan Kanya(1937). It was his studio that withstood the onslaught of the sound and talking movies by providing continuity, and later he would be the first to introduce colour into movies. Dwarkadas N Sampat, along with Jamsetji .ramji Madan tackled every genre possible and resorted to every trick to ensure success, including getting dancers, singers and actors onto the stage at intermission. They became important producers of silent cinema, and in 1919 they founded Kohinoor Studios. Sampat acquired the reputation of a daring financier. Within ten years he had made a 100 films, and he personally selected the costumes, jewellery, fabrics and sets with no expense spared. He made movies like Murder of Narayan Rao Peshwa(1915), Handsome Blackguard(1925) and Gunsundari (1927). They had acquired
the most accomplished scene artist, Mohanlal Dave, who used to boast that his script could be directed by anybody – so detailed were the scenes and directions that emerged from his pen.

Kohinoor also launched the career of many directors like Homi Master, Manilal Joshi (the first one to start the practice of giving a full list of credits, in the film Sukanya , Savitri), Chandulal Shah (Ranjit Studios), and actors like Sulochana, Gauhar Jan, Zebrunissa and Zubeida, to name a few. A painter and a sculptor by profession, Baburao Mistry, or Painter, as he was known, and the Kolhapur .ilm Company became synonymous with set designing. Wood cutting, sculpting, impromptu stage design, costume design, drawing, painting, printing – nothing was beneath his touch. He was the first Indian director to introduce artificial lighting and solid multi-dimensional sets. Known as a labourious director, he laid out in detail each scene and frame he would shoot
and conducted extensive rehearsals with his actors. He made movies like Krishna played by a then studio hand, V Shantaram; Sinhagad, another historical movie which was shot at the Kolhapur Maharaja’s palace with all the luxuries present in it, and Savkari Pash (1925), based on the character Shylock from Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice. He was faithful to reality, but with the advent of sound, he faced financial loss after launching just one talkie.

Decline of the studio

It has been quite some time since the clapper-boy clapped the board at these studios. A few reasons have been attributed to the studios’ closure: the falling value of the rupee and the escalation of land price. Many filmmakers who had created these studios were dead. .ilm financing had also changed with people like Haji Mastan having been credited with financing gangster movies like Deewar and Don; and actors who worked for a monthly salary, like Nargis who got Rs 35,000 for her role in Andaazand Dilip Kumar Rs 15, 000, now started to work for independent filmmakers. They lost many a good actor and director who were earlier on the studios’ payroll.

Unable to compete with independent filmmakers, the studios started renting out their premises. By the 1950s most of these star-studded studios –Mohan, K Asif, M & T, Prabhat, Ranjit, Bombay Talkies, Asha, Srikant, Basant, Ashok, Minerva, Shree Sound, Roop Tara, Kardar, Chandu, Guru Dutt, Prakash, .amous, Central and Eastern Studio – had downed their shutters. They were converted into business, commercial and residential premises. The survivors had to cut down to size – Rajkamal, with three stages, now has one, and the rest have been converted into residential buildings; RK Studios, Chembur, has cut down to two from four. Only Mehboob Studios has clung to its floor space, though in the early 60s most of the directors were told to move out from their premises by Mehboob Khan’s sons. Film City at Goregaon, with its 350 acres of land for outdoor shoots and ten floors in its premises, is always fully booked. This is the result of TV serial makers having booked stages for months or a year at a stretch to avoid re-erecting a set and even advertising filmmakers have begun doling out bigger sums for
smarter sets to provide a better look for their campaigns.

The cost of maintaining studios has gone up, the numbers of studios available are dwindling. Building of new studios is not considered a viable option due to non-availability of land, high rates charged by the BMC for water supply, and the BSES’s yearly increase in the rates of electricity. A representation to recognise film studios as an industrial activity is still pending with the government of Maharashtra. What remains are the memories that actors and studio hands have of those days when they were hired, paid a monthly salary, and had to report to work daily. Discipline was strict and no one was excluded from it. “A shabby dress or a flamboyant shirt could attract a reprimand. Recalling the atmosphere of the studio several years later, Dilip (Kumar) said, ‘As a young actor attached to Bombay Talkies I found that I was required to read extensively from the institution’s library which comprised 14,000 books. I had to conform to certain norms of dress and behaviour. Over and above this, we were in the company of the best literary minds of that era’.” – Dilip Kumar reminisces in Sanjit Narwekar’s book The Last Emperor. The perfect metaphor of the death of the studio is represented in the movie Kagaz Ke Phool, directed and enacted by Guru Dutt. It was a story of a director’s life, the ups and downs in his personal and professional career. His studio, which lies in ruin, empty and desolate, with the haunting melody of Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam, tum rahe na tum, hum rahe na hum in the background. He walks back to an empty set, sits on the director’s chair, and quietly passes away.

(Sources: The final Fade-Out by Bunny Reuben, Jetwings magazine May 1997, and