Unlike Hollywood — which is a neighbourhood in Los Angeles — Bollywood is not a place. It doesn’t have any physical presence or a pin code. It’s an idea, an industry of creative people, a representation of Hindi Cinema, which produces the largest number of films in the world. But, where do you go when you want to visit Bollywood? Of course, there are some patent pilgrimage spots like Shah Rukh Khan’s palatial home, Mannat in the Lands End, or the abodes of the Bachchans, like Jalsa and Pratiksha in Juhu. There is also Galaxy apartments on Bandstand, in front of which Salman Khan’s fans line up for bhai sightings.
But, the true totems of Bollywood in the real world, the places that make Mumbai synonymous with Bollywood, are the film studios, where shoots happen, actors learn to become stars, and movies and magic are manufactured. That is where Bollywood exist in the truest sense, in the physical realm.
Mumbai is the home to some of the most iconic film studios in the country, several of which date back to the time when the Indian movie industry first came into existence. However, with each passing year, the old studios of Mumbai are either slipping into oblivion or being reduced to venues of weddings, events, TV or ad shoots, or worst still, becoming defunct and eventually being sold.
Recently, RK Studio — which the Kapoors had put up for sale last year in August — was bought by Godrej Properties. Reportedly, after Godrej Properties takes over, they will construct residential complexes on one part of the 2.2-acre studio land, and on the other part build a retail property. The Kapoors, as well as Godrej Properties, are very happy with the deal, which was made for an undisclosed sum.
Talking to News18, Randhir Kapoor said, “They (Godrej Properties) are a very prestigious name, that’s is why I gave it (RK Studio) to them. I am very glad that they are doing something with it.” Godrej Properties Executive Chairman, Pirojsha Godrej, told media outlets that they will seek to ensure that they celebrate the remarkable legacy of RK Studio with the goal of delivering an outstanding lifestyle for its residents.
In a few years, the highrise residential complexes that Godrej Properties plan to build will take over the studio space where iconic films like Bobby, Mera Naam Joker, and Satyam Shivam Sundaram were once shot. From a venue where epic and unforgettable reel romances were made for the film lovers of India, it will become a place of banal domesticity of few families who inhabit flats in those residential complexes. It will also, in all likelihood, be forgotten like Malad’s Bombay Talkies is a thing of stories and urban legends now.
While it has been some time that Bollywood fans are lamenting the closure of RK Studios, it is a strange sense of loss indeed, when places like this, where memories of Bollywood were not only made but also stored, become memory themselves. Until 2017, RK Studio housed all the memorabilia of RK Films, including costumes used in various movies, Raj Kapoor’s trophies, rare photos and posters and many such novelty items. However, a big fire that year gutted down a major part of the studio and burnt all the precious knick-knacks stored inside.
It does make one nostalgic to think that studios such as RK are disappearing altogether, or are in very different shapes then they used to be in their glory days. But, what is more alarming is the fact that these places were a big part of Bollywood’s history, and as they disappear or slip into a state of perineal neglect, the history of Bollywood, and the historicity of various events, anecdotes, and happenings that took place in these studios and were neither archived formally, nor documented for posterity, will disappear too.
While the Kapoors couldn’t revive the RK Studios after the fire in 2017 and finally decided to sell, there are other studios in Mumbai too, whose management is or was embroiled in ownership battles in courts. There was an ownership battle over Mehboob studio — which was founded in 1954 and made some memorable films like Mother India — among the family members of the late founder of the studio, Mehboob Khan. Parts of the estate of Kamal Amrohi Studios, where the majestic sets of films like Pakeezah, and Razia Sultan were once constructed, reportedly were sold by the three children of Amrohi. A Times of India report states that the 37-acre estate which was once a no-development zone was recently declared an industrial zone.
Believe it or not, the glory day of studios in India was actually more than 60 years ago. In the ’30s and 40’s, 50’s there were hordes of new and upcoming studios in India, and each of them served as a one-stop destination for a movie manufacturing. These days though even big production houses only have offices, and their films are mostly shot in real locations. With astronomical budgets, no location is off limits, and sets are often constructed in already existing studios.
Also, equipments are mostly hired, and technicians come on board on a contractual basis. The production houses change teams for each film depending on the need of the films, so the studio template of filmmaking, as it existed back in the day, has completely become obsolete. In fact, most old studios now serve only as locations and have little to do with the films that are being shot in them. Like everything else, Bollywood’s nature of filmmaking is ephemeral, and the sale of RK studio perhaps only reinstate the fact, that Bollywood’s filmmaking style and practices are evolving with time. It also tells us that there may be a time in future when studios will become residential complexes like RK will, or exist as ruins of the past, like Bombay Talkies but, in Raj Kapoor’s inimitable words, “the show must go on” and whether studios continue to exist or not, it will.