Along with New Theatres, Prabhat and Bombay Talkies, Chandulal Shah’s Ranjit Studios was one of the four great institutions of the studio era. With stars like Gohar, E Billimoria, Madhuri, Motilal, Khurshid and Saigal on its payroll, the studio’s boast was: ‘There are more stars in Ranjit than in the heavens’.
Shah first won attention while directing films for Kohinoor Studios in the mid-20s. The Gujarati director became famous for inaugurating a new genre, the social melodrama, with Gunsundari (’27). This silent film about a dowdy housewife who loses her husband to another woman but wins him back after transforming herself, was a record-breaking success. Its story became a staple of Hindi cinema and has been retold over the years with slight variations.
Gunsundaris heroine, Gohar, now came to be known as Glorious Gohar. She became the married Shah’s consort. Within two years Shah started his own studio, Ranjit, and Gohar starred as the heroine of his first film, Rajputani (’29). Through much of the 30s and the 40s, Shah’s dream factory churned out memorable films like Pati Patni, Toofani Toli, Holi, Acchut, Shaadi and Tansen.
But by the mid-40s, the studio system was fast disintegrating and Ranjit’s list of flops had grown long. Shah tried unsuccessfully to achieve a comeback with the Raj Kapoor-Nargis starrer, Paapi (’53).
Finally, faced with massive losses on the stock exchange and the race course, Shah was left with no option but to allow the takeover of his famous studio. In later years, the much revered big boss of Ranjit was reduced to travelling by Bombay’s public transport. Through five decades of ups and downs, Glorious Gohar stood steadfastly by his side — in glory as well as in eclipse.