In order to join the glorious celebration of the 93rd anniversary of The Free Press Journal, it is really heartening to share my observation and experiences of this Tinsel Town (what the Hindi film industry used to be called earlier before the word Bollywood came into being) called Mumbai. The town where I entered as an outsider and became an insider in my journey of 55 years, where the city Bombay turned to Mumbai and Subhash to Subhash Ghai as a filmmaker and the founder of world class film and media arts institute known as Whistling Woods International in Mumbai. A place which has my nostalgic memories of the places I grew up, places which became milestones in my growth from the hardest of struggles to the most blessed achievements, whatever so far.
As a young lad of 20 years who was born in Nagpur, brought up in Delhi and graduated in commerce in Rohtak, where I was developing my passions in dramatics at university level. I went to FTII Pune to graduate myself in cinema — my first learning academy where I had to change my perspectives to learn the art of cinema with international vision rather than just being a boy from the north with aspirations for Hindi cinema. I witnessed and respected all kinds of cinema ranging from the Marathi, Bengali to world cinema, French cinema and meeting the best of filmmakers. I had a wonderful guru like Ritwik Ghatak, who introduced me to the definition of artistic cinema too.
I entered tinsel town with a FTII diploma in cinema with a lot of confidence, only to realize that Bombay was a totally different place internally, externally, commercially and aesthetically. Though a place of opportunities but with the hardest of competition, the dream place for every Indian because of cinema. Again, I had to change my perspectives in the land of competition.
I remember when I entered a huge railway station called VT station, to reach the TOI building to give my audition to big producers in the United Producers Talent Contest and was nominated among the top three, along with Rajesh Khanna. Where Rajesh Khanna got the film Raaz overnight and I got a long struggle of waiting for opportunities to showcase my talents.
All the alumni of FTII used to gather in Churchgate and meet outside the restaurants there like the Asiatic, Gaylord or Irani Cafe, with little money in our pockets and wait for cine celebrities and stars to visit those places. There is a place where I met Jagjit Singh, an aspiring playback singer, and actors, such as Shatrughan Sinha, Naveen Nishchal, Vijay Arora, Prem Chopra who got opportunities and became stars. We strugglers, like Asrani, Paintal, Baldev Khosa and Dheeraj Kumar used to stroll around marine drive pathways and talk about our dreams.
The whole film industry was established from Cuffe Parade to Mahalaxmi. Mahalaxmi studio had more than 200 producer offices, where we used to go with photographs and merits that I had earned through the United Producers Talent Contest. So, I am very well versed with Jehangir Art Gallery, Asiatic Town library, Radio Club, Colaba Market. My most preferred places were my regular visits to cinema halls like Regal, Metro, New Excelsior, which is now Mukta A2 Cinema Excelsior. I always thought I would establish there but that never happened. The place was dominated by Parsi and rich businessmen.
When I got a little recognition, it was as an actor in Umang and Aradhana (Flight Lieutenant Prakash). I got a few films as a hero and started living in a rented place in Bandra, which was then considered as the outside suburb of Bombay. I used to travel by train, 84 limited bus double-deckers, there were no rickshaws and taxis were too expensive, but I could see the other side of tinsel town in – five gardens in Matunga, where I met many celebrities. Matunga was a hub for all filmmakers to stay. Stars like Prithviraj Kapoor, Manmohan Kishan and many music producers lived there. During this period, industry moved to Dadar, Shivaji Park that was a more open place with the scenic view of the beach.
I remember I used take the train to reach Raj Kamal Studio, Ranjit Studio in Dadar and Parel. I would drop in at Mr. B R Chopra’s office, who was very fond of me and introduced me to his brother, Yash Chopra, and other stars who would visit him. I decided to learn from the seniors and no matter what the distance was, I travelled all around in Tinsel Town. I was very well- versed with the roads, buses, and trains. There was the energy of the stockbrokers, cloth merchants, textile mills which later transformed into shooting places, film brokers and the hub of film business, Naaz Building, Lamington Road.
In Tardeo, there was a music-recording studio and film centre. When I visited there for the first time, a recording session of the song 'Phoolon ke rang se, dil ke kalam se’ (from Kati Patang) was happening. Dev Anand and Kishore Kumar were there. I used to wonder if I would also be there one day. I learnt from each and every place that I visited. Wherever I went, I learnt one line or a quote from there and noted it and understood how the industry worked.
There were studios like Mohan Studios and Guru Dutt Studios in Andheri, practically the outskirts of Bombay. When I tried to enter Guru Dutt Studio, I was stopped because I didn’t know anyone there. Three years later, I was shooting in the very same place for my film called Umang produced by Guru Dutt Films itself. At that time, I had met all the seniors who promised me my next movie, but sent me back with love and affection. It was the time I knew I wanted to make some real contacts and I found the exact place I was looking for. It was a meeting joint for writers, directors, actors and working chief assistants and managers and that joint was a country liquor joint, which was under prohibition under the Moraji Desai government. That is where I met the big league film celebrities like Javed Akhtar, Amit Khanna, Shatrugan Sinha and few more then rising stars.
Bandra became a hub for strugglers — A place with villas and bungalows, which are turned into multi-storey colonies today. I still reside at the top of the hill near Mount Mary church from where I look at Bombay from 360 degrees.
Later, the industry moved to Juhu and Vile Parle with Laxmikant Pyarelal and many top producers and actors, which was again considered as an outskirts suburb.
And that was the last end of Bombay’s Tinsel Town.
During the struggle time, we used to celebrate on Juhu beach till 6 am with many talents who are big stars and celebs now.
The story doesn’t end there. Now the film industry has moved to Andheri with all top production houses there, and the strugglers have gone to Virar and Veera Nagar. Such is life…
There is huge warmth in every part of Bombay. The only part you have to decide for yourself is to stay with passion and determination, to be better every day and to practice your talent every day, till your last breath. I still feel like a student and I am learning much more from the younger generation, making them my friends. With new technology and the new Tinsel Town, I have forgotten the old Subhash. Now I find myself as the founder and chairman of the international film school – Whistling Woods and corporate production house – Mukta Arts. Because I always wanted to give back to Bombay, I thought of giving all my money, experience, knowledge… back to the strugglers of Bombay, like the struggle I saw for the first three years.
I am very obliged to the government of Maharashtra who supported me by giving me a land on lease where the future generation of filmmakers is being trained and new skills are being developed. I feel grateful to all and everyone who has contributed to my life.
And lastly, thank you, Mumbai — I love you.
As told to Upala KBR
(If you have a story in and around Mumbai, you have our ears, be a citizen journalist and send us your story here. )