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RK Studio: The Renaissance Kingdom

कविराज कहे, न ये ताज रहे,
न ये राज रहे, न ये राज घराना;
प्रीत और प्रीत का गीत रहे,
कभी लूट सका न कोई ये ख़ज़ाना।

The magnificent monolith is gone;
The myriad memories will linger on!

RK Studio’s tryst with cinematic creativity is now a part of folklore. The studio built assiduously by the charismatic ‘Kapoor Khandaan’, Filmdom’s First Family at the outskirts of Bombay at Chembur ~ Deonar was truly a baptism of fire post his directorial debut with “Aag” in 1948! It is indeed reflective of the fire in the belly that the scion of the ‘Kapoor Khandaan’ possessed. है आग हमारे सीने में, हम आग से खेलते जाते हैं …

Aag” backfired at the box office! And, Raj Kapoor extinguished the catastrophic ‘Aag‘ with the making of “Barsaat” in the following year. The romantic musical went on to become a torrential तक धि न धीं rage.

Raj Kapoor was not one to sit complacently; he had grand schemes and he aimed at greater success. आंख हमारी मंज़िल पर है, दिल में ख़ुशी की मस्त लहर है …

Like his character in “Aag”, he dreamed of building his own film studio where he could give concrete visage to his creative vision. लाख लुभाये महल पराये, अपना घर फिर अपना घर है … 

And, he bought some acres of land in Chembur, which was then a sleepy, distant jungle suburb of Bombay and where land was available at incredibly low or throwaway prices.

In September 1950, Raj Kapoor and his family members and relatives and team of technicians, friends, well wishers conducted a ‘pooja‘; the ‘pooja‘ was performed by the patriarch Prithviraj Kapoor. ॐ नमः शिवाय!

There were no proper approach roads and access to the site was time consuming; one had to wait for a long time at the closed gates of the railway level crossing to reach the place. मैं देर करता नहीं, देर हो जाती है …

Awara” was on the floors when the studio work was initiated. The Muhurat of “Awara” was performed on 14 December 1949 (on the birthday of Raj Kapoor) at the Roop Tara Studio (then known as Rang Mahal) in Dadar. But the shooting location was soon shifted to Shrikant Studio, Chembur near the land that Raj Kapoor had purchased so that he could shoot for the film as well as supervise the construction work of his dream studio simultaneously. तुम्हारी भी जय जय, हमारी भी जय जय … That showed the effortless ease of the man and his mission.

Raj Kapoor shot the spectacular dream sequence song ‘Tere bina aag ye chandni ~ Ghar aaya mera pardesi‘ in the under construction studio. Only the studio walls of six to eight feet height had come up; there were no other enclosures and no roof too. Set designing, lighting and shooting were all done under severe constraints.

Vishwa Mehra, a first cousin of Raj Kapoor’s mother and a close associate from his inner circle of friends, advised him about the hassles of shooting under such difficult conditions. But, Raj Kapoor was not one to give up easily; हार मानी नहीं ज़िंदगी से, हंसके  मिलते रहे हर किसीसे … he shot back, ‘We will shoot the dream sequence in OUR studio’. Undeterred, he went ahead and, with all his showmanship, he shot the immortal ‘dream song on the stark reality of life’ the way he had visualised it. बढ़ते जायें हम सैलानी, जैसे एक दरिया तूफ़ानी …

Time has not diluted the impact and popularity of the song. Even after so many years, when one watches the song, it triggers the same question: whether the spectacular sets and surreal scenes, throbbing with unequalled intensity and unadulterated oomph and passion, were actually shot in the studio which was then under construction? The answer remains ‘Yes’ for all times to come. देखलो क्या असर कर दिया प्यार के नाम ने …

Several friends of Raj Kapoor came to be associated with the studio from its inception in different capacities:

K V S Raman worked initially as Raj Kapoor’s accountant and was elevated later to the post of Controller of Finance and General Manager; he continued with the studio till his last;

Om Prakash Mehra, a childhood friend of Raj Kapoor from the days in Peshawar, was designated the Controller of Production and Factory Manager;

Vishwa Mehra, fondly known as ‘Mama’, was all pervading and he also did cameo roles in most of the films of Raj Kapoor. Yours Truly had a chance meeting with him about 20 years back when Randhir Kapoor was invited to grace a ‘Keep Alive‘ tribute dedicated to Shankar~Jaikishan who were introduced by Raj Kapoor as composers of “Barsaat”;

Alauddin Qureshi, cousin of actor Yakub, worked as a junior sound recordist in Eastern Studios where Raj Kapoor performed the Muhurat of “Aag”. Raj Kapoor befriended him and Alauddin joined RK Studio as the Chief Sound Recordist; M R Acharekar (art director) and Radhu Karmakar (cinematographer) were the other major pillars in the technical team of RK Studio.

These people became the close creative colleagues of Raj Kapoor and they pitched in with a sincerity and pledged loyalty to the studio and the scion even after his death. ज़िंदगानी के सफ़र में, तू अकेला ही नहीं है, हम भी तेरे हमसफ़र हैं … In his lifetime, there never came a moment when Raj Kapoor had to lament: दोस्त दोस्त ना रहा, प्यार प्यार ना रहा because theirs’ was a रिश्ता दिल से दिल के एतबार का …

The RK Studios was one of the best equipped and most modern motion picture studios of the country. The studio remained the focal point in the making of all the films of Raj Kapoor from “Awara”, “Aah”, “Boot Polish”, “Shree 420“, “Jagte Raho” to “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai“, “Sangam” to his most ambitious semi autobiographical film “Mera Naam Joker” and even thereafter. जीना यहां मारना यहां, इसके सिवा जाना कहां …

Mera Naam Joker” was a classic and arguably, the best creation of Raj Kapoor but its failure at the box office landed him in a colossal loss of Rs 56 lacs. Raj Kapoor had lost all his resources but not his resolve to make films. He needed a massive hit to resurrect the fading glory of his RK banner. But, it was not an easy task. कोई ये चाहे माने न माने, बहुत है मुश्किल गिरके संभालना …

Like a phoenix he rose and with an undying faith in himself as a filmmaker and keeping in mind the sensibilities of the emerging audience of the 70s, he made “Bobby” with a fresh young lead pair (his second son Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia) and a different musical team (Laxmikant-Pyarelal ~ Shailendra Singh ~ Anand Bakshi ~ Indrajit Singh Tulsi ~ Vithhalbhai Patel). His conviction paid off and the film went on to become one of the biggest hits of its time. The rest is history. दुनिया के साथ जो बदलता जाये, दुनिया उसीकी है जो चलता जाये …

An aging but agile Raj Kapoor and the awe inspiring RK Studio were back in action with new vim and vigour to entertain and enlighten.  फिर भी दिल की चोट छुपाकर, हमने आपका दिल बहलाया.

Major portion of the indoor shooting of films from “Awara” to “Bobby” particularly the evergreen songs were shot in the expansive sets of the RK Studio. However, for his next film “Satyam Shivam Sundaram“, Raj Kapoor did most of the shooting in and around his sprawling farm house ‘Raj Baug’ in Loni, near Poona.

Though everything outside ‘Raj Baug’ (the cluster of cottages, the engineer’s bungalow, the workers’ colonies, the village huts, the temple, the dam site) looked like another dream world, the interior looked every inch a part of his RK Studio in Chembur, Bombay. आधी हक़ीक़त, आधा फ़साना …

I presume most of the indoor shooting of the films that followed like “Prem Rog”, “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” and “Henna” was done in the RK Studio.

The monumental monolith RK Studio got ignited with “Aag”, was nurtured with “Barsaat”, attained trampish totality with “Awara” and found fulfillment and free flow in “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai”. The “Sangam” of setback and success in the form of “Joker” and “Bobby” ushered Raj Kapoor to the path of enlightenment of the Trinity: “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”. The master auteur went further to perceive and purify his passion for film making through “Prem Rog” and “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”. There was no stopping Raj Kapoor. मंज़िल कहां, कहां रुकना है, ऊपरवाला जाने …

The studio worked round the clock and witnessed the unfolding of several drama and hurly burly from screen tests, muhurats, story sessions, film shooting, music sittings to hosting cultural delegations from Russia and other nations, celebration of major festivals (the riotous cascade of colours associated with the Holi bash and a good dip in the pond filled with coloured water was the most talked about), jamborees, parties and revelries… right up to grieving and mourning the adieu of the Showman! हम तो जाते अपने गाम, सबको राम राम राम …

Mr. Bunny Reuben handled the publicity work of Raj Kapoor and he too was in the ‘close inner circle’ (a phrase coined by him) of the showman. To quote him from his book “Raj Kapoor: The Fabulous Showman”,  “Whenever a foreign dignitary or any trade delegation was in town, the Government made it a point to include a visit to the RK Studion on their official itinerary. Moreover, the RK Studio had over the years acquired the reputation of a Workers’ Studio and December 14,  Raj Kapoor’s birthday, was always celebrated there as a Workers’ Holiday.

On this day every year, Prithviraj Kapoor when he was alive used to visit the studio and preside over the distribution of bonuses to the workers and staff. Games were played and expensive prizes such as wrist watches, transistor radios and bicycles were distributed to the workers…. There was a Workers’ Lunch at which the wives and children of the staff were also invited and …….”. 

Raj Kapoor died on 2 June 1988. At around 3.00 pm, his body was taken to the studio for his last ‘darshan’ by his admirers, fans, friends and other mourners who thronged the studio in thousands. The studio was jam packed with over 1,000 policemen to control and regulate the surging crowd. At around 5.30 pm, the procession left the studio for the Chembur crematorium. जोश-ए-जवानी हाये रे हाये, निकले जिधर से धूम मचाये …

The hustle bustle at the RK Studio was never the same after the Showman died. Shooting of films at the studio declined and were far and few. The celebrations, parties, revelries had all virtually come to a halt. The studio seemed to be losing its past glory and was getting gradually confined to the annals of history.

कल खेल में हम हों न हों, गर्दिश में तारे रहेंगे सदा,

भूलोगे तुम, भूलेंगे वो, पर हम तुम्हारे रहेंगे सदा …

In the last 30 years, after the passing away of the Showman, the studio stood perilously as a testimony to his multifaceted creative outpourings during its heydays!! जाने कहां गये वो दिन!

There were several plans of resurrecting the studio and keeping alive the cinematic legacy by continuing to make films or converting it into a museum or school for the benefit of those emotionally connected to it.

All ambitious plans were thwarted when a massive fire broke out in September 2017 which destroyed most of the memorabilia, costumes and other things of nostalgic and sentimental value. The recent heart wrenching decision of the family to dispose off the iconic studio comes as the last nail in the coffin!! इक दिन बिक जायेगा माटी के मोल, जग में रह जायेंगे प्यारे तेरे बोल …

It was in and around the grand image and identity of the RK orbit, the lives and careers of members of the illustrious Raj Gharana, their filial bonding, their joys and sorrows revolved! दो जिस्म मगर एक जान हैं हम, एक दिल के दो अरमान हैं हम …

On an emotional note, one just can’t think of the Chembur suburb without the RK Studio where all time hit romantic and classic films were made, evergreen music was created, talent was nurtured, stars were born and their destinies written. With the curtains coming down on the studio, one gets a feeling of some part of one’s childhood and youth, days of roses and romance getting lost somewhere in the wilderness! Only sweet n sad  memories linger on. भूली बिसरी यादें मेरी हंसते गाते बचपन की, रात बेरात चली आती है नींद चुराने नैनन की …

Soon a huge mall or a multiplex or a tall skyscraper will spring up there leaving no traces of the studio. The generations to come will scarce believe that such an imposing and impressive edifice existed there once which exuded creativity, life, freedom and pure passion!

In a way, we have actually seen and been a mute witness to the slow death of the studio which once was an awe inspiring magnificent monument. What a cathartic end to a grand beginning with ‘Fire’!! One who flourishes by Fire, perishes by Fire; yet to be cherished by the ever increasing newer ‘nishaniyaan‘ of the ‘Kapoor Khandaan’…

और उसके बाद,
मां नहीं, बाप नहीं, बेटा नहीं, बेटी नहीं,
तू नहीं, मैं नहीं, ये नहीं, वो नहीं,
कुछ भी नहीं रहता है;
रहता है जो कुछ वो,
खाली खाली कुर्सियां हैं,
खाली खाली तम्बू है,
खाली खाली घेरा है,
बिना चिड़िया का बसेरा है,
न तेरा है, न मेरा है।

As an ode to himself, Raj Kapoor sang famously:

ये मेरा गीत, जीवन संगीत, कल भी कोई दोहरायेगा;
जग को हंसाने बहरूपिया, रूप बदल फिर आयेगा।

One wonders, what form will he take now, what role will he play now and what song will he sing now…

खेल भी कैसा है ये जिसमें कोई Joker नहीं 🤡,
वो घराना भी है क्या जिसका अभी वो घर नहीं
🏠

Manohar Iyer

Cover Page Photo Courtesy: Gurujeet Singh

Other Photos Courtesy: Google

Manohar Iyer

The author Manohar Iyer

Manohar Iyer breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps, walks and talks nothing but music. Through his brain-child Keep Alive and the recent offsprings thereof, he has been striving to resurrect the Golden Era of Hindi Films and Film Music and perpetuate the great cinematic and musical works of the legendary filmmakers, maestros. lyricists, singers, actors and others. For more details, kindly see 'About Us'.

9 Comments

  1. Manoharbhai’s article on R.K.Studio is nothing but a great tribute to Rajaab. For me sell of this studio is second death of Rajsaab.Manoharbhai has carefully put in all the rememberrance of golden days of R.K.Studio.&Rajsaab. I hope&request Kapoor family to reserve some prominent place for a museum with screening facilty of R.K.Movies for future generation.I can not imagine Chembur without R.K.Studio.
    “aabad nahi barbadnahi gata hu kgushike geet magar ye must nazar.
    HARISH.RAWAL.

  2. Great narration, ur research is incredible and the depiction of RKStudio from its birth to end is so engrossing that one is left with no words but to say RIP….. RKS.

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