When circumstances compel us to narrate tales of tragedy and mishap, even news developments can demoralize us or make us anxious. The subject I’ve chosen to write on this time may not affect the country or the world, but it sure moves my heart. In the times of vitiated public discourse, this is a rare event.
News has it that the sons of the late Raj Kapoor have decided to sell R.K. Studios. They say the film studio has turned into a loss-making unit. It was gutted when the sets of a reality show caught fire last year and they incurred huge losses. Attempts to modernize it may run into difficulties. Parking space is scarce and, since it is in a densely populated neighbourhood, expanding the built-up area is impossible. It is a historical truth that whoever flourishes inevitably collapses one day, but since when have such philosophical proverbs helped reduce the pain that one feels?
Two generations of independent India have a deep emotional connect with the studio. Let me begin with my family. Both my father and I watched Awara at a special stage in our lives.
When the film released, my father was a student of BA and it left a profound impact on him. Similarly, when I was pursuing my graduation, Awara was back at one of the cinemas in Agra just for a week. I rushed to watch the first show and, even today, Raj Kapoor’s mood in the song Hum tujhse mohabbat kar ke sanam, hanste bhi rahe, rote bhi rahe, is fresh in my memories.
It appears the background music at the beginning of the song and the visuals of a knife stuck into a tree trunk have registered on the hard-disk of my mind this very moment. A hand pulls the knife out of the tree trunk and then the camera closes in on Raj Kapoor’s melancholic face.
Kapoor’s character notices the name of Rita, the leading lady, engraved on the trunk of another tree. Unconsciously, he begins to carve out the last letter of the name with the Rampuri knife, as if he is stabbing at his heart instead of the tree.
The words in the backdrop reach our ears: Hai dil ki lagi kya tujhko khabar, yeh dard utha bhar aaayi nazar (Do you know what has injured my heart? A pain is rising and tears have welled up).
As the song moves towards its crescendo, a breathless Nargis emerges and stands behind Kapoor. By this time the lights have dimmed. A gripping darkness and reckless wind embrace the protagonists. This inimitable fusion of camera work, music, lyrics and acting managed to tug at the heart-strings of everybody sitting in the cinema. One doesn’t know how much Krishna Cottage contributed to this song, but it is clear that the venue inspired Raj Kapoor to create some immortal work, energised him and helped him take great creative strides. The juiciest love stories of famous actresses also originated here. It was here that Ganesh Chaturthi and Holi were celebrated with gusto and spirit by Raj Kapoor.
The biggest names in the film industry longed to get an invitation from him, but it would be a mistake to assume it was just a playground for the great showman.
Contrary to this, R.K. Studios was a gurukul (learning ground), where Hindi cinema came into its own and acquired the strength to become world-class. The popularity of Mera joota hai Jaapani and Awara hoon is still alive in people’s minds. In a world that changes loyalties every day, which institution can stay timeless and eternal? RK and his studio managed to achieve this. That’s why the news of its sale makes me sad.
I remember a lively evening in Bonn, when many years ago, along with a famous danseuse from India, I visited the residence of Beethoven, the creator of the Ninth Symphony.
I was thinking: why can’t we Indians conserve the memories of our artistes? Today, years later, the news about the sale of R.K. Studios has again made me restive. The fire in 2017 wreaked havoc.
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The mask used in Mera Naam Joker, the piano that featured in a number of songs, the dress worn by Dimple Kapadia in Bobby and, along with it, many other articles, were charred. But the fire could not burn R.K. Studios. Even after that, people passing through Chembur would ask the taxi driver: “Please tell me when we reach R.K. Studios."
Conserving this heritage is the responsibility of not just his sons, but the Indian film industry and the government. If Raj Kapoor was alive, he would have said in his inimitable style: “Hum Hindustanion ko virasat sanjone ki aadat nahin hai, Mrs Disa" (We Indians don’t have a habit of conserving our heritage Mrs Disa).
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin