Ludhiana, that is today known for its hosiery market, could well be Northern India’s cinematic hub if an ambitious project started six decades ago had survived.
Spread around the modern day Kartan Bhawan, adjoining Punjab Agricultural University’s Gate no 1, existed a film studio in early fifties. Unfortunately, the venture that held the potential to be home to several film productions fell to bad times. Today, few are aware of its existence but the old timers recall nostalgically the buzz it had created then.
It was 1956 when a local transport company owner Ujagar Singh, a resident of village Dhandra, decided to take a plunge in cinema that had caught the fancy of the masses as the popular source of entertainment. Buoyed up by the potential that this part of the state threw, Ujagar Singh, along with a partner, built a studio named ‘Vishva Vijay Kalamandir’ in an area spreading over to three acres. “The studio was replete with all the modern facilities. There were camera equipment, 12 rooms and a hall constructed in the basement, fancy sets and buses at the ready. Spot boys and cameramen were especially called in from Mumbai,” says Tejpal Singh, Ujagar’s son and resident of Dhandra.
Until a few years ago, the family had preserved rare photos dating back to that time when the studio was inaugurated. But, finding no use for them, the family eventually gave away some to relatives and threw away the rest. “Well-known actress Kuldeep Kaur, hailing from a rich Sikh family of Attari, had come to the city to formally open the studio,” shares Tejpal, who was born in the studio and was only nine when it eventually closed down in 1966. Notably, the visit of Kuldeep, who had acted in films like Kaneez (1949), Afsana (1951), Baiju Bawra (1952) and Anarkali (1953), had spread excitement among the denizens.
Ujagar singh had great plans for the studio and had even arranged for the company to go public. To promote it, budding actors and singers were called to the city. Jagdev Singh Jassowal, noted culture personality of the state, recalls the starry event held the same year. “Popular names from the film industry such as Dharmendra, Sunil Dutt, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Mahendra Kapoor and Inderjeet Hassanpuri had performed at the studio. It was a niche gathering from the city to which I had been invited,” recalls Jassowal. “Had the concept worked out, the city would have been a different place today,” he says.
Ujagar’s wife Gurdeb Kaur, an octogenarian, remembers her seven-year stay at the studio fondly. “Initially, there was quite a buzz around as the shooting of a film ‘Maa ki God’ started there. It starred Kuldeep Kaur as the lead actress,” she recalls.
The film never released as the owner Ujagar Singh developed illness. This combined with poor management of finances slowly ensured that the studio stopped functioning in a matter of years. The funds ran out soon and it shut down eventually.
Ujagar’s children were still very young and none could carry forward the venture.