Matunga – abode of yesteryear stars
Today when we think of homes of Bollywood stars we think of Bandra, Juhu and Versova. But in the 1930s and 40s most of these areas were not as urban as they are today. And most people who worked in Bombay preferred to live in the island city. And so was the case with yesteryear’s movie stars, quite a few of whom lived in Matunga.
Earlier, Hindi films were made not just in Bombay but in Calcutta and Lahore as well. However, by the early 1940s many film personalities made their way to Bombay realising its growing importance.
Prithviraj Kapoor who had arrived in Bombay 1928 lived at Matunga's Punjabi Galli situated between Adenwala Road and VJTI and, a stone's throw away from Five Gardens. Though the official name of the street is R. P. Masani Marg, the name Punjabi Galli was apt as most of these actors were Punjabis. Besides Prithviraj Kapoor, there were Kundan Lal Saigal, villain Madan Puri and director Lekh Tandon, to name a few.
Prithviraj Kapoor lived with his extended family which included his father, his siblings and of course his own family that included future stars of Hindi Cinema – Raj, Shamsher Raj (Shammi) and Balbir Raj (Shashi). His home was open to many young men who had come to Bombay to seek their fortune in Hindi films. One of them was Lekh Tandon who went on to become a well-known film maker. Whilst Prithviraj Kapoor's younger brother Trilok Kapoor made a name for himself often playing the role of Lord Shiva.
The other famous resident of Punjabi Galli was Swar Samrat Kundan Lal Saigal. His voice had won him stardom at New Theaters, Calcutta in their Hindi and Bengali movies, and he later moved to Bombay in 1941 / 42 to join Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit Movietone. He stayed in a building called Radha Kunj (now renamed Amar Kunj) with his wife Asha Rani and their children. Saigal would often host family and friends for a movie on the terrace of his building.
Well known actor-writer-director J. K. Nanda also resided in Punjabi Gully. He is credited with writing the script of Mirza Ghalib which was the first film to win the President’s Gold Medal. Naturally, his house was often visited by beautiful heroines such as Suraiya, Nargis, Madhubala and Nimmi which was quite an attraction for the other residents in the lane. Another attraction was Shammi Kapoor dressed in his shorts, walking his Alsatian dog in the lane which brought out the galli’s girls to their balconies. The galli was also used for lane cricket which the Kapoors, the Tandons and others played in their spare time, using the fire hydrant as stumps.
Punjabi Galli was also home to popular actor–director Manmohan Krishna, himself a physics professor, and Jagdish Sethi who co-acted with Prithviraj Kapoor in India's first talkie, Alam Ara. In the next lane lived K. N. Singh known for his “gentleman-villain” roles, often seen onscreen smoking a pipe whilst dressed in fine suits. His hallmark style was his menacing look whilst delivering dialogues in a cold, calm manner.
There was a lot of bonhomie between the families of these film personalities. They would frequently visit each others homes whilst their children played together. Manmohan Krishna who had done his M.A. in Physics would also teach the children. And, they were ready to lend a helping hand when the need arose.
There were others like actor Jayant (Amjad Khan's father), music composer Anil Biswas, actors P. Jairaj, Kanaiyalal & Bharat Kapoor, singer Manna Dey, danseuse Sitara Devi as well as the noted director and screen writer Phani Majumdar all of whom lived in Punjabi Galli. Many are not aware that P. Jairaj who starred in movies of the 40's & 50's and a winner of Dadasaheb Phalke Award, was a nephew to Sarojini Naidu. Whilst Phani Majumdar had made a name for himself in New Theaters, Calcutta before shifting to Bombay.
Later, Mithun Chakravarty lived in a building neighbouring K. N. Singh's, whilst Dr. Sinha who was a film producer and uncle to "sweet girl next door" Vidya Sinha also lived close-by.
Over time as Bombay expanded many actors in the mid-1950s made Bandra and Juhu, their new home. Availability of open plots meant they could build their own spacious and luxurious bungalows there. Members of the Kapoor family too moved on with Raj Kapoor setting up his studio and residence in Chembur and, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor shifting to the Malabar Hill area of South Bombay. However, the aura of Punjabi Galli, also known as Actor’s Lane or Hollywood Lane will continue to live on, especially in the memory of many senior citizens as well as in the children of those who began their 'filmy career' in this nondescript lane.