Meet Anand Kumar Bhowmick, a businessman and a cinema buff, who displays photos of actors and national leaders from his vast collection at his shop every day

“Inga paaru, MGR!” a passer-by stops in her tracks in front of B.K. Vasantha Plastics on Kasi Chetty street. MGR smiles from black-and-white photos displayed on a board by the shop — in police uniform, in white and white, in a king’s robes, with a chequered scarf, in his trademark cap and dark glasses…there are photos of him from movies such as Anbe Vaa, Kaaval Kaaran, Nadodi Mannan… We walk into the shop through a narrow pathway lined with plastic pots, bowls and mugs and into a tiny room where there are more photos on the walls — of Nehru, Kennedy, Indira Gandhi and Churchill. There are boxes with movie stills of actors Sivaji, Nagesh, ‘Gemini’ Ganesan, Jaishankar, Rajini and Kamal among others. There are over 1000 photos in the room alone. All of which belong to one man — Anand Kumar Bhowmick.

Anand has collected over 70,000 photos — of which 40,000 are from the world of movies. He has photos of important moments in history, including those of Gandhi (10,000), the World Wars (5,000) and his favourite leader Subhash Chandra Bose (2,000). Every day, for the past five years, he has been exhibiting them in front of his shop.

The 48-year-old is madly in love with cinema; MGR in particular. He started collecting photos ever since he saw MGR in 1977 on Anna Salai. MGR was leading a parade after he became Chief Minster. He was walking with his party’s flag. Anand, who was barely 12 years old then, swam across an ocean of men and women to see him. “Ayyo! naan semaya ‘upset’ agitten,” he says in typical Madras baashai — “I became very ‘upset’ (stirred)” He bribed a press photographer into giving him a photo of MGR. It was the first photo of his collection.

“I dropped out of college after the first year,” says Anand. “I loved watching movies. I stole money from my father’s kalla petti to go to the cinema.” Anand used a safety pin to pick the lock of the safe. One day, his father caught him in the act — he beat him black and blue. His reaction? “Nothing much,” laughs Anand. “I had a thick skin.”

Anand watched movies like one possessed. He was also interested in history and current affairs and started adding photos of national leaders to his album. He attended party meetings, visited libraries, homes of leaders such as Bose…Anand added photo after photo to his collection. He has some 20 suitcases of them at home.

Cinema has seeped into his every action — he mimics Rajini, Sivaji, MGR, breaks into a song and dance without inhibition. Anand themes the displays in front of his shop based on the importance of the day. “I display photos of leaders on their birthdays,” he explains. Of course, it’s MGR on all other occasions.

The man has watched every movie of the actor, some of them over 50 times. However, there’s one MGR movie he’s not watched and doesn’t want to — Madurai Veeran. “His limbs are cut off in the movie’s climax,” he says. “I can’t bear to watch it.”