RK studios fire: more than a monetary loss

The tramp’s shoes:  The fate of the shoes worn by Raj Kapoor in the song ‘ Mera Joota Hai Japani ’ is unknown. Seen above is a still from  Shree 420,  of which the song was a part.

The tramp’s shoes: The fate of the shoes worn by Raj Kapoor in the song ‘ Mera Joota Hai Japani ’ is unknown. Seen above is a still from Shree 420, of which the song was a part.

A day after fire gutted Stage 1 of RK Studios, the area was cordoned off and the Kapoor brothers were busy with the police, fire department and the insurance agencies, making an inventory and doing the valuation of the losses incurred. “The details will be available only after three-four days and we can’t take any more questions at this moment,” said a family spokesperson.

While the family cannot speak to the media because of legal and insurance issues, Rishi Kapoor’s tweet on Saturday, about the “loss of irreplaceable memorabilia and costumes of all RK Films” had film buffs, researchers and historians anxious. “Raj Kapoor was in the habit of safekeeping the costumes of all his films: the shoes, the jackets and coats, even the undershirts and underwear,” remembers veteran journalist Jaiprakash Chowksee.

Speculation has been rife about which of these prized objects could have been turned to ashes and which may have survived the blaze. Has Nadira’s dress in “ Mud mud ke na dekh mud mud ke ” escaped the tragedy? Are the clown puppets of Mera Naam Joker still safe and sound? What about the tramp’s coat and the “ Mera Joota Hai Japani ” shoes? These were last seen in Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s documentary, The Immortals , which retells the story of Indian cinema through a visual exploration of physical artefacts and memorabilia. The store adjacent to the now-in-ruins Studio 1 is said to have housed these costumes. A senior Mumbai film journalist, Ajay Brahmatmaj, recalls seeing hangar upon hangar of them, as though they were stacked in some “drycleaner’s shop.”

It’s not just memorabilia: Stage 1 itself is of immense historic value.

Mr. Chowksee says it is one of the largest shooting floors in Asia, at 120 ft x 80 ft. It housed the revolving stage where the Karz song “ Om Shanti Om ” was shot. It was separated from Stage 2 by a collapsible wall, which could be removed to make an even bigger set, he recalls. A classic RK set — the interior of a mansion, with twin staircases winding upwards on both sides — seen in film after film, is also feared lost in the fire.

Though not as sought after anymore (it was being used for TV than film shoots) RK Studios is an indelible part of Bollywood lore. Mihir Bose, in his book Bollywood: A History , describes how the Nargis-Raj Kapoor romance bloomed there, how she was a partner in RK Films initially, how she had a room of her own in the studio, how Raj Kapoor used to strike friendship with workers of the restaurants nearby, and how Lata Mangeshkar, after recording the Barsaat songs, sat on the pavement outside RK Studios with Raj Kapoor and others, wondering how the album would fare.

What is evident is that it’s not just the monetary so much as archival value of cinematic spaces, objects and artefacts that has been scorched in the fire. It’s a slice of Indian cinema’s history and nostalgia that has taken a big blow here.

The only silver lining: the negatives of the RK films, housed in another building, are unscathed.

It would be terribly sad if the archival material is lost: Simi Garewal

People have been talking as though the whole of the studio is lost. The fire affected a part of it. The future of RK Studios still remains proud.

The photographs and costumes were laid out beautifully in a portion of Stage 1. It would be terribly sad if that archival material is also lost. You can’t count that in money. It is priceless.

I shot my best film in RK Studios: Mera Naam Joker . It’s where my dreams began, I learnt the craft of filmmaking. It was an institution for me, not just a studio. I used to spend hours watching, discussing and learning editing. It’s the reason why I consider myself a good editor.

Stage 1 is where I shot with Raj Kapoor for my documentary Living Legend Raj Kapoor for Channel 4, UK. I recall him asking, while standing there at Stage 1, what is a studio? Is it granite, cement, bricks or walls? “What is important is not the studio but what is made there by the people,” he said. That statement has kept flashing back to me since this news [of Stage 1 going up in flames] came up.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 4:51:09 am |