Veteran Actor Anwar Ali On Iconic Bombay Talkies Studio Turning 90: Pride And Prestige Of Indian Cinema | EXCLUSIVE

Bombay Talkies, the iconic film studio, is celebrating its 90th anniversary today. In an exclusive chat with Zoom, veteran actor Anwar Ali reflects on his close ties to the studio and recalls its vibrant history and influence on Indian cinema. Read on!
Veteran Actor Anwar Ali On Iconic Bombay Talkies Studio Turning 90: Pride And Prestige Of Indian Cinema | EXCLUSIVE

Veteran Actor Anwar Ali On Iconic Bombay Talkies Studio Turning 90: Pride And Prestige Of Indian Cinema | EXCLUSIVE

The iconic Bombay Talkies studios, which gave us legendary stars like Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar, and Madhubala and also triggered a recent series Amazon’s Jubilee, completes 90 years today (June 22). On this beautiful occasion, Zoom sat down with the veteran actor Anwar Ali, who was a firsthand witness to the rise and fall of Bombay Talkies.

Excerpts from the interview

Anwar Saab, what are your thoughts on this day as we celebrate 90 years of the famed Bombay Talkies studios?
As I revisit Bombay Talkies 90 years after its inception, I relive the era, the magic and grandeur of which I can largely visualise, overwhelmed with imagination, memories and thoughts of the creative world that once was. It may seem today that brick, mortar and memory are buried under the rubble and with it the magnificent work of some of the greatest artistic thinkers, philosophers and visionaries, namely the founders and crew of Bombay Talkies. However, one can see the elements of Roman architecture from the remaining arches of the studio, one can sense the sights of frantic film activity from the mere expanse of the compound, and one can almost hear the sounds of foot-tapping melodies, dance and more. Fortunately, what was housed in that magical realm called Bombay Talkies can still be experienced through the many films made at the time and preserved through the years
Where would you place the Bombay Talkies studios in the history of Indian cinema?
Bombay Talkies has undoubtedly been the pride and prestige of Indian cinema.
How and when were you associated with Bombay Talkies, and what are your early remembrances of the way the studio worked?
My strongest, unbreakable bond with Bombay Talkies would undoubtedly be through my father, Mumtaz Ali. The renowned editor of the newspaper Bombay Chronicle B.G. Horniman was my father’s local guardian and extremely fond of my father. He once invited Himanshu Rai, co-founder of Bombay Talkies, to one of my father’s stage musicals. Rai remarked that he was highly impressed by the performance of a particular girl in the musical and expressed a desire to meet her. Horniman took him backstage and introduced the girl, who was none other than my father Mumtaz Ali, in a wig!
This is like a sequence from a movie! What happened next?
Father was instantly offered the responsibility of dance director of Bombay Talkies on a handsome monthly stipend of Rs 1000 at the nascent stage itself, when the foundation stone of the studio was being laid. Not only was he solely instrumental in how song and dance were enhanced to entertain by his signature steps with classic Kathak undertones, choreographing every Bombay Talkies song, he also went on to become an actor and enact many a dance in almost all their films, his songs being roaring hits, the enthralled audience demanding to halt the film to replay the said songs “Aana Meri Jaan Meri Jaan Sunday ke Sunday”, “ Main to Dilli Se Dulhan Laaya Re”, “Jawaani ki Rail Chali Jaaye Re” and many more…Father made history by being the first male dancer of Hindi cinema!
Bombay Talkies nurtured directors, actors, dancers, technicians?
Yes, the studio was a one-stop shop. It supported the making of the entire film, including every process of production. It is believed that shops were built around the perimeter of the premises so that they could source filming materials and camera equipment from traders around the city and supply them to the studio without any delay. There was a convergence of artistic and technical talent from international and Indian shores. Himanshu Rai and Devika Rani had migrated to India with an international set-up, strong ambitions and vast visions. The studio was the source of livelihood for about 400 employees.
How close were you to the Bombay Talkies studios?
We stayed close to the studio in Malad and afforded a luxurious lifestyle. Father shared an undivided loyalty to Bombay Talkies all through its existence, giving his unstinted support, leaving only when Devika Rani decided to leave.
They gave us major stars like Devika Rani, Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, Dilip Kumar and of course, Mehmood Saab. Tell me about your association with these stars and what can you share about them that moviegoers don’t know.
Whilst I was a young lad visiting the sets at the studio, my elder brother Mehmood had the good fortune of bagging a role in Bombay Talkies’ Kismet….the rest is history! Many of us were fortunate down the years to share screen space with those who had been groomed to excel in the environs of Bombay Talkies. A couple of scenes with Yusuf Bhai ( Dilip Kumar) in Ram Aur Shyam were a boon for me. Ashok Kumar’s brother the great singer Kishore Kumar shared his days of hunting for work with his best friend my brother Mehmood, both visiting studios together, sharing a camaraderie that lasted as long as they lived.
Later, when you turned producer Kishore Kumar sang in all your films.
Yes, that Kishore da would be the playback singer in all the films, I produced when I grew up was set in stone way back then! His rendition of Mach Gaya Shor Sari Nagri re from my film Khud-Daar has played all over the city pandals every Janmashtami for the past forty years!!! Many of us in the industry, in some shape or form are thus reaping the rewards of the toil and vision of a genius syndicate called Bombay Talkies.
In your opinion, how influential was Bombay Talkies in the shaping and evolving of Indian cinema as we know it today?
Bombay Talkies most certainly set the tone for making movies with social messages, movies that were a reflection of society. Achhut Kanya, made in the early years, highlighted the issue of untouchability, a malady depicted on screen often in the years that followed. Entertainment was the core element of every Bombay Talkies film, evident from the fact that they boasted silver and golden jubilees, an essential requirement of every film to date. The first film to achieve a golden jubilee was a Bombay Talkies film! Films were the nucleus of entertainment for the Indian audience and continue to be, even today. Needless to say, music and dance as my dear father conceived it, evolved and became the backbone of every film through the decades.
Do you think the studio system in Hindi cinema is dying?
Bombay Talkies was a unique, one-of-a-kind concept. It gave impetus to the formation of other studios, but as the world became more accessible, films were shot in varied locations, outsourcing and complex collaborations took centre stage and reaching out to a wider audience meant stepping out of the four walls. So studios have evolved, and production houses seem to be the new norm.
Your closing thoughts?
Independent India’s first Indian film happened to be Bombay Talkies’ Shehnai, released on August 15, 1947, directed by the great P.L. Santoshi(Raj Kumar Santoshi’s father), setting a precedent for thousands to follow…Legends emerged out of the mentorship of Bombay Talkies. Systems and processes put in place by the studio way back then have stood us in good stead as an industry throughout. A revival of the studio displaying and recognising the contribution of its greats, generating a sense of belonging amongst contemporaries, albeit as a film museum, would be a fitting tribute to the very foundation that spearheaded the marriage of dreams and reality on celluloid.
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