Vintage Treasures & Polaroid Films – Mumbai’s Camera Gully Is A Photographer’s Paradise

TLR Rolleiflex 6X6 (L) and Mr.  Sultan Sheikh (R)
TLR Rolleiflex 6X6 (L) and Mr. Sultan Sheikh (R)Paroma Soni

Old scrapbooks with collages of black and white portraits coming loose, polaroids tucked away in wallets and in between pages or hell, it could very well be your last post on Instagram — photographs seem to have an unusual, almost magical charm. Photographs are probably the closest we’ve gotten to time-travel — one look at an old picture and you’re back on that rickety stage dressed as a tree for your first ever annual day. We also cannot disregard how mobile phones have completely revolutionised documenting moments and preserving memories. But can boomerangs and all the filters in the world ever replace the thrill of finally holding prints of photos in your hands after waiting (for what felt like forever) for film rolls to develop?

This is something I realised when I visited one of Mumbai’s better-kept secrets — the camera gully. Tucked away in a network of lanes in Ballard Estate, camera gully has been the go-to spot for photographers for close to 40 years now. “40 years ago, you could only find cameras or photography related equipment in only two stores in all of Mumbai,” said Mr. Zuber, owner of Ultra Photo Stores, which has catered to Mumbai’s photography enthusiast for almost 25 years. These two stores laid the foundation for what is now a street bustling with people in search of everything ranging from vintage treasures to polaroid films for their Instax minis. Initially, cameras weren’t officially imported to India and all that was sold at camera gully were smuggled goods. Today, this narrow lane houses over 15 stores selling all kinds of photography equipment that you can think of — DSLRs, digital cameras, Go-Pros, vintage analog cameras, handycams and the list goes on.

Many head to camera gully in search of vintage analog cameras.

With the sudden surge of Youtubers and influencers, and people taking up vlogging as a full time career, camera and camera accessories are in demand like never before. 75 percent of camera gully’s customers are comprised of youngsters. “They (the youth) have a ‘let’s spend today and we’ll figure the rest out later’ attitude, which increases the amount they spend. Bhaut paisa hai public ke pass (The public has a lot of money),” said Mr. Zuber when asked about why most customers are students or people in the same age-group.

“I first heard about Camera Gully about eight years ago when I was researching about places I could buy reliable cameras from in and around Bombay. I’d only just studied my first course in photography and was keen on buying a camera that fit my needs. A professor mentioned Vibgyor Photos to me and I went there in person to enquire about the same. Ever since then my love affair with camera gully began,” said Shreya Shetty, who is a professional photographer and a regular at camera gully. Shetty talks about how even getting to camera gully is an adventure in itself, “This place has existed for ages now and yet most of the taxiwalas don’t know of its whereabouts, the only way to get there is if you tell them to get to fountain. Even after many years of visiting the place I still accidentally stumble upon new stores.”

Despite the numerous stores that camera gully houses, Shetty remains loyal to the one store that introduced her to this haven for photographers. “Vibgyor Photos has been my most reliable source for getting all my photography gear because Raju Bhai, the owner of the place, really knows his trade well and gives the best possible options available. I know he’d never overcharge for anything and won’t dupe me and that’s nice to know,” said Shetty. Shetty goes on to talk about how camera gully never disappoints “This one time my old tripod lost one screw. I couldn’t shoot much with it because it would swivel a lot. I walked around the gully for a bit, found a raste wala (road side) shop which seemed to have all these small knickknacks and sure enough he found a makeshift screw that would fit just right. Also, I recently started shooting on an instax mini and the film pack can be quite expensive to purchase online, but sure enough camera gully has a solution that’s not so hard on my pocket. I just head over there when I need to get a few films for half the price of the original.”

Like Vibgyor Photography to Shetty, camera gully has a plethora of stores, which have hordes of regulars pouring in from across the country every single day. Homegrown has put together a list of stores you can drop by to fully discover the treasure trove that is camera gully.

Mr. Manik hard at work.

Walk into any store in camera gully asking them if they would be willing to give you an interview and all of them will respond with paraphrased versions of “Go speak with Manik Bhai.” Mr. M. Manik is the owner of Popular Electronics and set-up shop in camera gully almost 30 years ago. Going by everyone else’s “Go speak with Manik Bhai” responses, you walk into Popular Electronics expecting Manik Bhai to be the most talkative person you’ve ever come across, but he is as different from that expectation as could be. Bent over some piece of equipment with utmost concentration, Manik Bhai doesn’t look up from a table that is about 8 feet by 2 feet, every inch of which is covered in camera parts. All he does is point to towards Mr. Sanjay Patil, who runs Digi Care, a camera service centre in camera gully, and is one of the people who gather at Manik Bhai’s shop to catch-up, joke around and indulge in some gossip every evening.

A camera repair shop, Popular Electronics repairs everything from a flash gun to a video camera and on occasions can also be a good spot lay your hands on some vintage cameras like the TLR Rolleiflex 6X6, we got to see.

A photography enthusiast himself, Sultan Sheikh has spent a considerable amount of his childhood in camera gully. Bunty Camera Parts was started by his uncle close to 40 years ago.

Sheikh talks about how he continues to buy vintage camera just because it allows him to help people hang on to memories through heirlooms. “A lot of people come in with cameras their parents or grandparents have given them and want to hold on to these pieces for their sentimental values. This profession helps me be a part of that,” said Sheikh. Sheikh travels to various parts of the world and proudly claims that he can fix any camera that there is. Sheikh has a camera collection of his own and boasts, like a kid showing off his new toy,about his Leica Camera with a diamond coated lens. Sheikh throws light on how the internet including websites like ebay and OLX have become huge platforms for camera trade.

Chirag Vasu

Relatively new to camera gully, Camtronics was started by Chirag Vasu seven years ago. Always having been interested in electronics, 30-year-old Vasu’s Camera store has a range of products from old pieces like the Nikon FM2 to the latest camera gear. The products are sourced from the U.S. and Germany and majority of the clientele is comprised of Youtubers in search of affordable equipment.

Ultra Photo Stores is a one-stop shop for all camera fanatics. From reflectors to go-pros and DSLRs. Ultra Photo Store will never disappoint. Ultra Photo Store has a loyal client base. “Through our business we get to meet people from parts of India that we’ve never even heard of,” says Mr. Zuber, who is extremely shy to be photographed, unusual for someone who deals in cameras and camera gear. If you’re looking to trade in your old camera for a new one, Ultra Photo Stores is the place for you.

Click here to know more about the various stores in camera gully.

All photographs taken by Paroma Soni for Homegrown.

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