Subhash Ghai on Tinseltown of India

"When Bandra was considered as an outskirt of Bombay"

To join the glorious celebration of the 90th anniversary of Free Press Journal, it is really heartening to share my observation and experiences of this Tinsel town called Mumbai.

The town where, after a 55-year journey, I entered as an outsider and became an insider, where Bombay became Mumbai and Subhash became Subhash Ghai, a filmmaker, and the founder of Whistling Woods International, a world-class film and media art college in Mumbai. A place that served as a turning point in my growth, from the most difficult struggles to the most blessed accomplishments, whatever they may have been.

As a 20-year-old man, I was born in NAGPUR, raised in Delhi, and earned a bachelor's degree in business in Rohtak, where I was pursuing my passion for dramatics at the university level. I went to FTII PUNE to get my bachelor's degree in cinema – my first learning institution where I had to broaden my horizons to master the art of filmmaking with an international viewpoint rather than just being a guy from the north with a desire to work in Hindi movie. I've seen and respected a wide range of films, from Marathi and Bengali to World and French cinema, as well as meeting some of the best filmmakers. I had a wonderful Guru like Ritwik Ghatak, who introduced me to the definition of artistic cinema too. I went to Bombay with a lot of confidence and an FTII diploma in cinema, only to discover that it was a very different place internally, outwardly, commercially, and aesthetically. Despite the fact that it is a place of opportunities with the toughest competition, it is the dream destination for every Indian because of movies. In the arena of competitiveness, I had to adjust my viewpoint once more. I recall going to the TOI building from a gigantic railway station called VT station to give my audition to big producers in the United Producers Talent Contest, where I was nominated as one of the top three, along with Rajesh Khanna. Whereas Rajesh Khanna received the film Raaz almost instantly, I had to wait a long time for opportunities to show off my skills.

With little money in our pockets, all the FTII alumni used to assemble in Churchgate and meet at Asiatic restaurant Irani, the restaurant at Churchgate, where we would wait outside the Gaylord mansion, which was being visited by cine superstars and stars. I met Jagjit Singh, a turbaned aspiring playback singer, and actors like Shatrughan Sinha, Naveen Nishchal, Vijay Arora, and Prem Chopra, who got opportunities and became stars. Asrani, Pental, Baldev Khosla, Dheeraj Kumar, and I used to go around the marine drive pathways talking about our dreams. From the Cuffe Parade to Mahalaxmi, the entire industry was built. Mahalaxmi studio had over 200 producer offices, where we used to go with photos and awards, I'd won in the United Producers Talent Contest. Asrani, Pental, Baldev Khosla, Dheeraj Kumar, and I used to go around the marine drive pathways talking about our dreams. From the Cuffe Parade to Mahalaxmi, the entire industry was built. Mahalaxmi studio had over 200 producer offices, where we used to go with photos and awards, I'd won in the United Producers Talent Contest.

As a result, I am well familiar with the Jehangir Art Gallery, the Asiatic Town Library, India Gate, Radio City, and the Colaba Market. My favorite locations to visit were movie theatres like Regal, Metro, and New Excelsior, which is now Mukta A2 Cinema Excelsior.

I always thought I would settle there but that never happened. The place was dominated by Parsi and rich businessmen. In Umang and Aradhna, I received little acclaim as an actor. I received a few roles as a hero and moved into a rented apartment in Bandra, which was then considered Bombay's outskirts.I used to travel by train, 84 limited bus double-deckers, no rickshaws, and taxis were too costly, but I was able to explore the other side of tinsel town - Matunga's Five Gardens, where I met many celebrities. Matunga served as a gathering point for all filmmakers. Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Manmohan Kishan, and a number of music producers are among the celebrities who have attended. The industry relocated to Dadar, Shivaji Park — a more open area with a lovely view of the beach – during this time. I recall taking the train to Dadar and Parel to visit the Raj Kamal and Ranjit Studios. I'd go to Mr B R Chopra's office, where he was quite fond of me and introduced me to his brother, Yash Chopra, and other celebrities who came to see him. I decided to learn from the seniors and no matter what the distance was I travelled all around Tinsel town, I was very well versed with the road, buses, and trains. I chose to learn from the seniors, and regardless of the distance, I travelled all across Tinseltown, becoming quite familiar with the roads, buses, and trains.

The stockbrokers, cloth merchants, and textile mills that eventually converted into filming locations, film brokers, and a film business centre, Naaz Building, Lamington Road, radiated energy. There was a music recording studio and a film center in Tardeo. When I initially went there, a recording session for the song "Phoolon ke ring se, dil ke umang se" was in progress. There were Dev Anand and Kishore Kumar in attendance. I used to wonder if I'd end up there as well. Every place I went taught me something. Everywhere I visited, I picked up one line or a quote and wrote it down to better understand how the industry worked.

In Andheri, on the fringes of Bombay, there were studios like Mohan Studios and Guru Dutt Studios. I was turned away when I wanted to enter Guru Dutt Studio since I didn't know anyone there. Three years later, I was shooting in the same location for my feature Umang, which was produced by Guru Dutt Films. At that time, I had met all the seniors who promised me my next but sent me back with love and affection. It was at this time I knew I wanted to make earthy contacts and I found the exact place I was looking for. It was a meeting joint for writers, directors, actors and working chief assistants and managers. The joint was a Country Liquor Joint that was prohibited under the Moraji Desai government. That is where I met the big leagues – Javed Akhtar, Amit Khanna, Shatrugan Sinha and a few of the rising stars.

Bandra became a hub for strugglers – with villas and bungalows that have since been converted into multi-story colonies. I still live at the top of the hill near Mount Mary church, where I get a 360-degree view over Bombay. Later, with Laxmikant Pyarelal and many other renowned producers and actors, the business migrated to Juhu and Vile Parle, which was once again considered an outlying neighbourhood.

And that was the last end of Bombay’s Tinseltown. During the struggle time, we used to celebrate on Juhu beach till 6 am with many talents who are big stars and celebs now. The story doesn’t end here. The film business has now relocated to Andheri, with all of the major production firms based there, while the struggling filmmakers have relocated to Virar and Veera Nagar. Such is life! There is a huge warmth in every part of Bombay.

The only part you have to decide for yourself is to have passion and determination, to be better every day and to practice your talent every day, till your last breath. I still feel like a student, and I am learning much more from the younger generation, making them my friends. With new technology and the new Tinseltown, I have forgotten the old Subhash. Now I find myself as the founder and chairman of the international film school – Whistling Woods and corporate production house – Mukta Arts. Because I always wanted to give back to Bombay, I thought of giving all my money, experience, knowledge back to the strugglers of Bombay, like the struggle I saw for the first 5 years.

I am very obliged to the government of Maharashtra who supported me by giving me land on lease where the future generation of filmmakers are being trained and new skills are being developed. I feel grateful to all and everyone who has contributed to my life.

And lastly, thank you Mumbai I love you.

Subhash Ghai

Date : 24th July, 2021