Vintage Bollywood studio faces uncertain future

Mehboob Khan has carried equipment at the Filmistan Studio for the last 40 years, rubbing shoulders with some of the greatest names in Bollywood and playing a small role in the making of hit movies.

The ageing, slightly-built labourer is happy to show visitors around the complex in Mumbai and glows with pride as he pushes open the high, wooden gates to get to the studio's very own prison.

"Every actor, be it Dilip Kumar or even Shah Rukh Khan, has been imprisoned in this jail while shooting their films," he told AFP. "If there's a jail scene in any Bollywood film, there's no better place to shoot in Mumbai."

In a modern-day world of big budgets and jet-setting film stars, the Filmistan Studio in the Mumbai suburb of Goregaon is as much a part of Bollywood's past as Pinewood Studios is to British cinema or Warner Bros to Hollywood.

The studio began life in 1943 as a production house and went on to make nearly 60 hit films in the golden age of Bollywood in the 1940s and 1950s, including "Nagin" (Snake), "Anarkali", "Shaheed" (Martyr) and "Shabnam".

The 14-set studio was sold to a mill owner in the 1950s and has been rented out ever since to filmmakers.

But doubts were recently raised about its future amid reports that the 4.5-acre (1.8-hectare) site could be sold for up to six billion rupees ($131 million) and turned into a residential or commercial complex.

The Times of India newspaper said the studio's landowners - a real estate firm - had decided to sell because it was no longer financially viable.

"This is just a rumour that the studio is not doing well," insisted Anil Kumar Jalan, one of seven brothers who owns the film set location that is a world away from the modern cinema of special effects and exotic foreign locales.

"We have overbooking many times. In fact, we are thinking of expanding because there is too much demand.

"My father, Tolaram Jalan, has been associated with this studio from 1944 and we have emotional ties with it. He produced 72 films and we will see to it that shooting will never stop here. We don't want to sell this studio."

With Indian property law stating that landlord and tenant have to agree to any sale, the studio is looking to the future and is keen to show what they can still offer.

In an area of Mumbai now known for gleaming call centre offices, the studio provides a slice of traditional India, including a small garden for shooting romantic songs, a temple for heroes to worship at and even an authentic village.

Its web site - filmistanstudio.com - boasts of its place in Bollywood history as well as its ability to service the growing Indian television and film industries at competitive rates.

Recent productions shot in the studio include the 2009 comedy drama "Delhi-6" starring Abhishek Bachchan and the comedy "Horn 'OK' Pleassss", the website says.

Like Mehboob Khan, Filmistan manager Jasraj S. Purohit is particularly proud of the prison.

"We have renovated the jail recently. We have got extra rooms that can fit into cells. There is also a torture room that gives you a real feeling of the jail," he said.

"If you notice the bars, you'll see that they're made of rubber and can be stretched. The audience thinks they're made of steel and clap in theatres when the hero bends them.

"We have then also furnished our old police station and given it a completely modern look. (The actor) Dev Anand just shot his film 'Chargesheet' over there recently."

Older filmmakers have an attachment to Filmistan Studio and are keen for it not to go the same way as two other vintage studios - Kamalistan and Natraj Studio - which closed down in recent years.

"I've been coming to this studio for the last 25 years. It has the best facilities that one could think of," said unit production manager Inderjit Chadha, who recently worked on the animated film "Toonpur Ka Superrhero" (Toontown Superhero).

"I've got a long association with the studio and emotional ties. One of my first films, 'Vardi' (Uniform) was shot here in the 1980s."

Mehboob Khan also has fond memories for the past, taking out a photograph of himself with Dilip Kumar from his pocket.

"I'm a big fan of Dilip. This picture is very precious to me. Those days it was a different world. Actors were friendly and their pictures used to run for months.

"But today the films don't even run for more than a week at the box office and there is no passion in actors while they act."

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