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As you step inside the Indian Art Studio from the narrow bylanes of Kalbadevi, it feels like you have travelled several years back in time. The wooden-panel interiors, chandeliers filling the room with soft yellow light and walls adorned with old photographs of joint families, Maharajas, freedom fighters and old Bombay lend the place a quaint charm. Located at the junction of Princess Street and Kalbadevi Road in south Mumbai, the 95-year-old studio is one of the oldest surviving photo studios in the city.
It was only recently that a man came to the studio with his two-year-old son and an unusual request, says owner Rajesh Chaddha. The man had brought with him a photograph of his taken at the studio when he was two years old. Thirty years on, he wanted the photographer to click a picture of his son — seated on the same 'stool' for children and against the same background. He did not leave the studio disappointed, Chaddha adds.
The stool was once an indispensable piece of furniture in family portraits framed at the studio. Other prized possessions include century-old glass plate cameras, large-sized wooden cameras, daylight photograph enlargers, mounting machines and fully functional dark-room facilities. Most of the equipment dates to the time the studio was set up. The oldest photograph, which dates back to 1920, is that of the Jewish Division in Bombay of the colonial St. John's Ambulance Brigade.
Brothers Rajesh, Anil and Sanjay feel that they are the custodians of the heritage passed on to them by their forefathers. The studio sprawls 3,000 sq ft. Their family has been in the business for the past four generations. In February 2009, the junction where the studio stands was renamed as Chhayachitrakar Chaddha Chowk by municipal authorities.
The insides of a wooden-framed glass cabinet — against which Anil sits — are lined up with double lens cameras, roll cameras, an 80-year-old spy camera and the first ever panoramic camera that used to take 'cut pictures', which would be physically joined later. "Today, you can create a panoramic view with a click on your i-Phone," says Anil.