Mapping Seven Decades of Mumbai’s Film Industry

Just as the city’s grown, so has the film industry that would come to be nicknamed Bollywood
Mapping Seven Decades of Mumbai’s Film Industry

Film scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha cites a scene from Taxi Driver (1954), starring Dev Anandin which Juhu is a place so far from town that the film's heroine, played by Kalpana Kartik, thinks it's another city. When we arrive there, all we see is forest, and not a soul in sight. It's a cinematic moment that serves both as a time capsule but also offers perspective: What we think of today as Mumbai wasn't part of Bombay back then.

If you were to go back in time to the 1940s, this is how the film industry in Bombay would look: Stretching from Grant Road all the way up to Malad, with such off-centre suburbs as Sewri and Chembur serving as important hubs. It's difficult to imagine today. There were studios in Tardeo and Dadar because the studio barons, film stars, directors and composers lived in places like Napean Sea Road and Peddar Road. At the same time, other parts of the city offered nature and open spaces that allowed outdoor shooting. True to the spirit of a city that prides itself for its adaptability, Bollywood shaped and reshaped itself as unstoppable urbanisation devoured Mumbai and real estate prices went up. 

The centrality of Andheri to the city's film industry over the last four decades has contributed to the idea of the industry belonging to its own bubble, but in its own way, it's mirrored the ever-expanding definition of an ever-growing city, bursting at its seams and surging forward. Here's a journey of the film industry from the Forties to present day, as told through maps.  

In the beginning… 

The Grant Road-Tardeo area formed the southernmost cluster of film studios in the city in 1940, known as the original studio road. Jyoti Studios in Nana Chowk is the stuff of legend: Alam Ara (1931), India's first talkie, was shot here; as was — wait for it — the first Iranian sound film, in which the central couple flee their lawless homeland to find refuge in Bombay. Both were made by the studio founder Ardeshir Irani. 

Dream factories in Harbour-Line

As absurd as it may seem today, the Parel-Sewri areas offered a fair bit of open space and landscape for film studios to set up shop. When film scholar, curator and historian Amrit Gangar visited the premises of Kardar in 2018 — created by the Lahore-born Abdul Rashid Kardar — all he found was a motor-repair garage. A stone's throw away from it stood Minerva Movietone, where Sorabh Modi made such mammoth epics as Sikander (1941). Not far away, in Parel, used to be the V. Shantaram-founded Rajkamal Studios, where he would go on to make films like Do Aankhein Barah Haath (1957). 

Hollywood of Bombay

There's a reason why a part of Dadar is called Dadasaheb Phalke Marg, once dubbed the Hollywood of Bombay. There were studios like Roop Tara and Shree Sound, but standing taller than the rest was Ranjit Movietone, one of the few ones that made a successful transition from silent to talkie, and continued making films till the Seventies.  

Eastside Story

When Shantaram founded Rajkamal Studios in Parel, he took over the Wadia brothers' Wadia Movietone premises and converted it into his own studio. Wadia Movietone had produced the Fearless Nadia films in the Thirties, including Hunterwali (1935), but as the fantasy genre ran out of steam, their business fell into debt. When one of the brothers, Homi (who was married to Nadia) went on to begin his own studio, he found the ideal place in the eastern suburb of Chembur, with its "open spaces and not so many residences," as Gangar put it. It was 1947. A year later, Raj Kapoor would launch RK Studios, an icon for decades before it was gutted by a fire in 2017. Last checked, it has been converted into a premium residential high-rise. 

The Queen of Suburbs

When Mehboob Khan was looking for an area for his studio — not as far as Malad, closer to south Mumbai — he found it in a pre-reclamation Bandra. The rest is history. Films like Mother India (1957), Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and a number of Navketan films were shot here. Films are still shot at Mehboob, which has kept itself relevant by opening up to events such as an Anish Kapoor exhibition and the Mahindra Blues Festival. 

Northward Bound

You would think that the film industry gradually moved northward. But Andheri and beyond, with its bountiful nature and open vistas on offer, was always a part of the its scheme of things. An active cluster was formed in Andheri (East), led by Mohan Studios, where the sets of Mughal-E-Azam (1960) were built and Bimal Roy preferred shooting. Close enough, in Jogeshwari, stood Kamalistan, its 15-acre land now being converted into the country's largest corporate park.  

Film Industry's Final Frontier

Further north in Malad was the storied Bombay Talkies. Stars (Dilip Kumar, Madhubala) were launched, state of the art technology was introduced (bringing with it employment for European technicians), scandals broke out (Devika Rani, who was married to the studio founder Himanshu Rai, eloped with the actor Najm-ul-Hassan). When Ashok Kumar, one of the major stars on the studio's bankroll in the early Forties, started his own studio, Filmistan, he chose the Ghod Bunder area in Borivali. 

A New Film City

By the end of the Seventies, the studio era was pretty much over. And the game changer was Film City, established by the Government of Maharashtra in 1977 as a one-stop shop for film shoots and constructed in Aarey forest in Goregaon on 520 acres of land. "Studios became more spaces for equipment hire, offices and things like that, rather than floors," said Rajadhyaksha. "Television took over. TV serials started booking studios for months, building sets."

Andheri Central

With the development of Film City, the film industry was now concentrated in and around Andheri. New clusters were formed. Studios were no more studios but production houses — perhaps with the exception of Yash Raj Films, which has its own floors and facilities. Formed in 2005 in Veera Desai Road, it has for company Balaji Telefilms, Dharma Productions and Eros International.

A number of production houses, like Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Production and Farhan Akhtar-Ritesh Sidhwani's Excel Entertainment, are in Khar.  

Hustler District

The Aaramnagar compound in Versova has come to signify a new filmmaking culture that has coincided with digital filmmaking taking over celluloid in the 2010s. It's a world unto itself, where bungalows have been converted into film offices and casting agencies, and coffee shops double as working spaces. Director and producer Anurag Kashyap — who could be the patron saint of Aaramnagar — has an office here, as do web series pioneers, The Viral Fever.

The film industry's shift to the north of the city was now complete.

Yash Tambe did the infographics for this article

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