A colourised version of a photograph that shows a wedding scene being shot in Famous Studios in 1948
It was in the early 1900s that Juharmal Roongta decided to leave Rajasthan and head to Mumbai to discover what business opportunities the city held for him. He worked in the jute and cotton industry, and even dabbled in stock trading before he came into possession of a piece of land in Mahalaxmi, where Famous Studios stands today. "A Muslim gentleman owed my great-great grandfather some money, and when he was unable to repay, he transferred this land*s ownership to him. We retained the name Famous, as the original property was called that," says Anant Roongta, the proprietor of one of Mumbai*s most famous studios, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary year. "Construction," says, Anant, began in the 1940s, and "by June 1946, Asia*s first air-conditioned studio was open for business". It was headed by JB Roongta , who was also the founding president of The Indian Motion Picture Producers* Association, before his son Arun Roongta took over.
Much like Bandra*s Mehboob Studios, Famous become a city landmark. Spread across 1,10,000 sq ft, it grew as the go-to destination for film and advertising shoots, music recordings, events and concerts. It now also houses a co-working space. This writer has spent many an evening at Famous. Once, 12 years ago, we watched a raw MMA fight there, and then in 2019, caught international pop star Lauv in concert here.
It would seem that Famous has always been ahead of the curve. "In the *50s and *60s, we introduced new technology. We had the American Mitchell Cameras. Then we got into set design, collaborated with Bollywood cinematographer Fali Mistry and even entered production," says Anant of the studio which has been the location for legendary movies such as Sita aur Gita, and Mr India. Add to that, in the 1980s, when Arun Roongta took over, it also received the first licence for video services from the I&B Ministry. It then became the first studio in India to introduce video and audio production. "World-leading acoustics expert Andy Munroe, who has worked as an engineer at Shure where he designed systems for venues, and where he worked with Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, also designed the recording studio," says Anant.
Anant, who was a student at Campion High School, and later Cathedral and John Connon School, before heading to the UK to earn a degree in international business, says that he grew up in a home that knew everyone in the movie business, but weren*t star struck. "I used to walk in on my dad sitting around with celebrities, and he was never affected or fazed. He was also great friends with Mehboob Khan, the founder of Mehboob Studios." He did, however, take some time to find his own passion for the family business. And since 2018, he has resurrected the place by adding a co-working space, and making it wholly tech enabled. "Owing to its location [stone*s throw from Mahalaxmi station], we had many a developer reach out. It has a certain nostalgic value, and an even bigger brand value," Anant feels. It could be this that led to State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray inaugurating the revamped bus stop dedicated to Famous Studio under the tactical urbanism initiative.
Ask him what*s the defining moment for Famous, and Anant names shooting for the song, Koi kahe from Dil Chahta Hai in 2001. "Creating that club ambience was something we did well. We have also restored the Sholay print. And thanks to the technology we have, which now includes a Dolby Atmos studio, we have been the centre of many big advertisements."
But for the Roongtas, the goal is to bring together the best of old-world feel and new-age technology. If Anant has to list one factor that differentiates Famous from the studios that dot Mumbai, he says it is flexibility. "The whole aim was to retain the charm of the place, and keep it as modern as possible, offering all levels of comfort."