Bombaywalla Historical Works is often called the custodian of Mumbai's history. Founded by historian, Dr. Simin Patel, it is a project that documents Mumbai’s various aspects, especially of South Mumbai and the Parsi community. Through her blog and walking heritage tours of the city, Simin pays respect to the city's heritage monuments and the patrons that constructed them.
One of their precious stories is of the Vanguard Studios founded by Jayantilal Chhabildas Sanghavi who established it in 1928 on a sound foundation — a broadly nationalistic outlook, business acumen, aesthetic appeal and up-to-date equipment. He was a social worker and freedom fighter, and enjoyed a rapport with political leaders.
On his insistence, national icons including Khan Abdul Gafar Khan and Babu Genu, Jawaharlal Nehru, wife Kamla and daughter Indira Gandhi came by to get themselves photographed. The day Subhash Chandra Bose came to the studio in 1930s, the crowd of his supporters was so large outside the studio that they had to shut its doors while Netaji sat inside for a portrait.
In 1930, when Babu Genu was martyred on Kalbadevi Road, under a truck he was trying to stop that was carrying foreign cloth, Vanguard was the only studio selected to photograph the Congress martyr. Not just that, the picture of Mahatma Gandhi that was officially selected in 1949 by the then Government of Bombay for display at all government offices was taken by one of the studio's photographers.
Acording to Bombaywalla, girls from the Gujarati community would come to Vanguard Studios with flowers in their hair and dangle their feet over a paper moon while sitting on a chair. A photograph in this type of a setting was a must after they had just completed a one-week fast called Mora Kat for their future good luck. If they wanted to become heroines, Vanguard Studios had a 'pictures division' since 1947 who prepared them to lead on the silver screen or the cover of a Diwali magazine. The studio also supplied the convocation photos, with a gown and hood for free when they completed their higher education degree.
Jayantilal who hailed from Morvi in Kathiawar, was fascinated with art and set up the studio against his family's wishes. At a time that was pivotal in India's history, Vanguard Studios was right at the crossroads of political and cultural revolution in the country. Yet years later its legacy has been buried under the landslides of technological advancement with its historical footprint only recently revived by Bombaywalla. Today, he studio runs sans artists and photographers with Jayantilal's sons shifting focus to printing ID and visiting cards, lamination and digital mixing of photographs, to keep the business afloat. Photos of leaders and men and women from the era still hang in the studio like faint echoes of the past.
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