What will happen to the RK Studios, which has just wrapped up what may be its last Ganpati celebrations? Nobody knows, but it’s worth debating whether suggestions that the government must buy it and turn it into a film school for posterity, are viable.
In August, when Rishi Kapoor revealed the family’s collective decision to sell the 70-year-old studio, which was gutted in a fire last year, the news sent several Indian cinephiles on a nostalgia trip. But then came another question — is heritage all about a building?
“For movie lovers, RK Studios was a temple of cinema and one never imagines that the temple will go away from the map. But it is happening… It is saddening. It’s a place that captured an important time of Indian cinema, documented the changing times through storytelling on celluloid… It’s a place that came from the vision of a man like Raj Kapoor, and it will not be there for the future cinema lovers. This is a big loss of heritage,” Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Director, Film Heritage Foundation, told IANS.
On the contrary, film industry veteran Amit Khanna says, “Raj Kapoor’s heritage is his cinema, his talented family, his music and creativity, and not merely a building.”
The studio, with its red logo flanking the white gates, sprawls across two acres. The headquarters of the film production company R.K. Films, was founded and named after the “Great Showman”, Raj Kapoor, in 1948.
Its inaugural banner film “Aag” that year crashed at the box office. But its production “Barsaat” (1949) was a super hit, following which the studio rolled out a string of successful black-and-white releases like “Awaara” (1951), “Boot Polish” (1954), “Shri 420” (1955) and “Jaagte Raho” (1956).
Later, several other big ticket films like “Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hain”, “Mera Naam Joker”, “Bobby”, “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, “Prem Rog” and “Ram Teri Ganga Maili”, which was the founder-actor’s last film before his death in June 1988, were shot at RK Studios.
Popular filmmaker Anees Bazmee, who assisted Raj Kapoor on “Prem Rog”, has fond memories of spending four years of his life in and out of RK Studios.
“I am sure the sale of the property is a well-thought and painful decision for the family. But it will be great if what is known by the name of RK, continues to have the RK stamp in some way or another,” Bazmee told IANS.
For film historian S.M.M. Ausaja, however, the decision was “heartbreaking”.
“The studio has been an iconic landmark of the film industry. So many classics were shot there besides R.K. Films’ own ventures and it represented the labour of love associated with Raj Saab, inherited from his talented father Prithviraj Kapoor,” he told IANS.
The family’s legacy in the Hindi film industry can’t be ignored. Prithviraj’s sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi had flourishing careers in showbiz. Raj’s sons Randhir and Rishi became well-known actors, while his third son Rajiv couldn’t make it as big. Shashi’s daughter Sanjana contributed to the theatre scene.
Randhir’s daughters with actress Babita — Karisma and Kareena — both achieved success as actresses, and Rishi and actress Neetu Singh’s son Ranbir Kapoor is one of Bollywood’s most popular stars today.
Rishi, on behalf of the family, had in August said they initially wanted to renovate the studio with state-of-the-art technology, but the investment in rebuilding the studio would just not have yielded sufficient revenue to keep it going. Its condition worsened after the fire incident, which caused a huge loss in terms of costumes and memorabilia.
Dungarpur, who recently visited the studio, said “almost nothing was left”.
“Economically, it is really tough to rebuild it… It was not in the right condition and many historical documents of the films that the studio has given to Indian cinema, are gone,” he said, adding that it is wrong to expect the government to protect the studio as cinema heritage because it it was private property and a commercial institution.
Ausaja has a different view.
“Such monuments are vanishing because there’s no respect for cinema heritage in the eyes of the ruling regime and the corporates. They won’t bat an eyelid in erecting giant multi-million dollar statues complementing their political ideology, but even if you propose something on the dwindling cinema heritage, the file would gather dust in the corridor cupboards,” he said.
“Upkeep of such cinema heritage structures is the responsibility of the government and corporates as well to some extent. The R.K. family would be positive if any such proposal reaches them,” he said.
Filmmaker Rahul Dholakia said: “Wouldn’t it be a great idea for the government to buy R.K. Studio and convert it into a film school? After all, it was home to one of India’s best storytellers — and then imagine the young talents exploring cinema on Raj Kapoor’s playground… better than a high rise.”
In a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam too urged the government to acquire the studio at the prevailing market rates and convert it into a full-fledged museum.