Magic, Movies and Romance: Why RK Studio is the Memory Keeper of Bollywood’s Golden Days

Raj Kapoor,

reportedly

, had once stood on stage 1 of RK studio and wondered, “What is a studio? Granite, cement, bricks or walls?”

Raj Kapoor is no more, and stage 1 was devoured by a fire that broke out in 2017. However, it seems like an extremely pertinent question to ask today, because Rishi Kapoor just made the sad announcement that the studio is up for sale. For more than 70 years, RK Studio has been a witness to many iconic moments that have gone down in Indian movie history, and in its brick walls are etched those moments that perhaps never made it to the papers of film magazines and gossip columns.


It all began with a love story:

The onscreen romance of Raj Kapoor and Nargis has been immortalised in over a dozen Bollywood films. However, their off-screen love story was nothing short of a Yash Chopra’s film script. It was, in fact, in the RK Studio that their tragic romance is said to have blossomed. According to a PTI report in Rishi Kapoor’s autobiography, Khullam Khulla: Rishi Kapoor Uncensored, he too had opened up about his father’s love affair with Nargis.

“He was also a man in love – at the time, unfortunately, with someone other than my mother. His girlfriend was the leading lady of some of his biggest hits of the time, including Aag (1948), Barsaat (1949) and Awara (1951).” the actor was quoted as saying.

In Mihir Bose’s book, Bollywood : A History, the author observed that visitors who came to RK Studio saw Kapoor and Nargis behaving like a couple, with Nargis cutting mangoes for him and clipping his nails. According to the book, Raj Kapoor would always tell her that Krishna is the mother of his children but she is the mother of his films.

The love Kapoor could not give her in real life he gave her in films like Shree 420, Awaara, Anari and Aag. However, another lesser known gesture of his love for her was the RK Films logo. The second movie produced by RK Films, and shot in RK Studio was Barsaat, which became an instant hit. Apparently, the poster of the film was also loved by the public, which prompted Kapoor to use the picture on the poster as an inspiration for RK Studio’s logo. In the poster of Barsaat, we see Kapoor standing with a violin in one hand, and holding Nargis in another, as she sways back her head. It is this image that later became the logo of RK Films. It is the same embalm that is carved out on the gate of RK Studio even today, and it is the same logo that pops up at the beginning of every RK film.

The Memory Keeper & treasure house of most iconic Bollywood memorabilia
RK studio, however, is not only the memory keeper of Kapoor’s tragic love story but also of many behind-the-scenes moments of iconic Bollywood films. Apparently, Kapoor would often go about the studio trying to make friends with the shopkeepers who owned shops around. Mihir Bose’s book, Bollywood: A History, says that after recording the songs for Barsaat Lata Mangeshkar had sat on the pavement outside RK Studio with Raj Kapoor and wondered how the songs would do in the market.

The most famous events that were hosted in RK Studio compound on a nondescript street in Chembur were Raj Kapoor’s Holi parties. There are several sepia-tinted, and black-and-white photos of a then young Bollywood crowd –from Amitabh Bachchan to Manna Dey– doused in color, intoxicated with happiness, playing Holi.

In fact, it isn’t just behind-the-scenes, some of the most glorious moments of Bollywood films — the dream sequence of Awara, the magical Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua song sequence of Shree 420, Rishi Kapoor dancing to Om Shanti Om on a revolving stage in Karz and of course, the iconic scene of Mera Naam Joker in which Kapoor wore a clown costume were all picturised in RK Studio. The hallowed halls of the RK Studio was once a part of the lives of many Bollywood stalwarts, not just of the Kapoor family. Perhaps that is the reason why the fire of September 2017 that gutted a big part of the studio was lamented by several Bollywood biggies.

The fire not only caused huge monetary losses compelling the Kapoor family to finally sell the property now but also gutted some precious Bollywood memorabilia that had immense archival value. Reportedly, Raj Kapoor would keep all his clothes and shoes from his movies in the Studio. Also, all the props and knick-knacks used in various RK Films were stowed there and chances are they were devoured by the fire as well. However, all was still not lost. The prints of RK Films that were not preserved in the vicinity of stage 1  are still there.

Not just a personal but a national loss
When Rishi Kapoor announced that RK Studio is being sold there were many questions that were left unanswered: What will happen to the production house, RK Films after the studio is sold? Will it shut shop or operate out of somewhere else? What will happen to those valuable memorabilia that were being archived at the studio? Will it be given to a museum? Which one? However, the only question that lingered with me was the one that Kapoor had asked on stage 1 of RK Studio long ago, “What is a studio?” More specifically, what is RK Studio to us film buffs and members of the industry?

The selling of RK studio feels as much of a loss for the film industry as it is for the Kapoor family. A local landmark at Chembur, one could not visit the compound of the studio and leave without a helpful extra or an assistant director or a guard offering a Bollywood anecdote. In a way, that studio has been a mausoleum of 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s Bollywood films, a real marker of the magic that we have seen onscreen in the golden days of cinema. Yes, there were many new films as well as television shows that were shot on that hallowed ground, but it is the nostalgia that makes RK Studio so special. To say in Raj Kapoor’s own words, “What is important is not the studio, but what is being made there by the people”. The rest is just brick, granite and cement– dispensable, and of course sell-able.

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