New Delhi: Last month, filmmaker Raj Kapoor’s sons announced their decision to sell the iconic RK Studios that their father had established in 1948. A loss-making proposition for many years, the studio headquartered in Mumbai’s Chembur area, however, is one of many Indian film studio spaces that have run out of business after a glorious history. The list is long—from V Shantaram’s Rajkamal Studios, Basant Studios owned by the Wadia Brothers and filmmaker AR Kardar’s Kardar Studios down to Kamal Amrohi’s Kamalistan Studios that remains embroiled in legal trouble for years.
Apart from family dispute as in case of Kamalistan, reasons for the decline of Bollywood studios are many. Most importantly, it’s just unviable to run one.
“There are no old studios left because it doesn’t make sense," said filmmaker and writer Amit Khanna who worked closely with Dev Anand’s Navketan Films in the 1970s and 80s. Out of the 2,000 odd films made in India per year, hardly 200-400 can afford to shoot in a studio and pay the rental, Khanna said. The rest, small projects made on budgets of less than a crore can barely cough up the minimum of ₹ 5-7 lakh required per day to rent a good studio facility. Further, among the decently-budgeted films, more and more prefer to either shoot abroad or on real location, as in the case of several recent films set in small towns or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat that had sets constructed in Rajasthan.
On the other hand, maintaining the studio is an added expense that doesn’t pay back enough in returns on investment. Tajdar Amrohi, son of late filmmaker Kamal Amrohi said studio rentals from Kamalistan would bring them ₹ 90 lakh or less per month and running it, including staff salaries, upkeep, electricity and licenses would leave him and his two siblings with barely ₹ 10-15 lakh per month. The only way for a studio to survive, Amrohi said, is to be an active production house, like in the case of Yash Raj Films where the two businesses can supplement and feed off each other.
“It sounds fancy to say that we have property worth crores. But we aren’t making crores. It’s just land, we can make money only when we sell it," Amrohi explained.
Further, over the years, the Mumbai filmmaking industry has increasingly moved away from Chembur and other suburbs to more centrally located parts of the city, reducing the number of filmmakers who may want to go and shoot in these remote locations.
Importantly, Utpal Acharya, founder of film company Indian Film Studios, pointed out that the constantly evolving technology has rendered most of these old studio spaces redundant. There is no dubbing in films, for example, so dubbing studios aren’t much in demand. The biggest game changer has been virtual reality which allows you to create real-looking locations on a computer, eliminating the need to shoot in specific places. Upgrading a studio with the latest technology and infrastructure would take up anywhere between ₹ 18-20 crore, an investment that doesn’t always make sense for the second or third generation succeeding a renowned filmmaker.
“It’s interesting to be romantic and nostalgic on social media but how many people have made the effort to go and visit any of these studios in the last 20 years?" Khanna pointed out. “And to think of it, what is the heritage of Raj Kapoor? Is it a dilapidated building or is it his cinema and music?"