The number of movies shot at Sophia College for Women on Peddar Road in Mumbai is so lengthy that the administration doesn’t have a master list.
Ananda Amritmahal, the principal of one of Mumbai’s prettiest educational institutions, does remember some titles: “Sushil Majumdar’s Lal Patthar from 1971 was shot here. Raaj Kumar was seen galloping on a horse into the college. While the tradition began a long time ago, there was a gap in between where they stopped. And then they started again in the ’90s.”
Some recent productions include Ishq Vishq (2003), Murder (2004), Socha Na Tha (2005), Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006) and the Marathi film Classmates (2015). “But there are plenty more to the list of which we don’t have a record,” Amritmahal told Scroll.in.
The college that was set up for the education of women by the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1940 hasn’t always been used as a place of learning. It can be a love nest, a gangster’s lair, and even a palatial residence, depending on the demands of the script.
For instance, in the opening sequence of Shekhar Kapur’s Mr India (1987), a group of government officers alight down from heavily armoured vehicles into what is described in the superhero adventure as a top-secret bureau.
Sometimes, the college is used in the movies for the role it plays in real life. In Ken Ghosh’s Ishq Vishq, the institution gets a new name: Spencer College. The movie provides a fabulous visual tour of some of the campus’s most camera-friendly spots. “The triangular terrace, multi-purpose halls and lawns are some of the most filmed areas,” Amritmahal said.
In Lage Raho Munna Bhai, the triangular terrace is converted into a college canteen where Munna (Sanjay Dutt) hilariously stalls Janhavi (Vidya Balan) from meeting the principal to keep up his act of being a reformed man.
The corridors, with their gorgeous tile work, arches and latticework doors, are another favourite hunting ground for filmmakers.
The structure was constructed in the last quarter of the 19th century. “Originally called Somerset House and owned by the East India Company with rich Parsi families, it was first purchased by the Holkar royal family of Indore in 1923 and was owned later by the Maharaja of Bhavnagar until it became a college in 1940,” Vimla Patil writes. “Today, the college, with its winding staircases, regal arches, decorative porticos and windows, is an outstanding example of Victorian architecture in Mumbai.”
The Bhavnagar king didn’t initially want to sell the land. “The sisters were looking for a space suitable for college and this was perfect, but it wasn’t for sale,” Amritmahal said. “But the very evening they were going to sign another building down the street, somebody rang them and informed that this place was available. The Maharaja’s son was getting married, and they wanted some resources. The deal was clinched the next day.”
The frequent shoots are a source of income for the University of Mumbai-affiliated institution. “Somewhere we have to manage to generate funds and this is one such source,” Amritmahal said. “It is not just for fun that we are tying up almost every Sunday for these shoots. It comes in waves. Suddenly there would be regular shoots, but then there would also be dry spells. Like last year we had nothing because it was a good monsoon. So it’s a tossup.”
In order to get shooting permission, location scouts need to hand in the storyline or the script to the college authorities. Permission is given after mandatory police verification.
Not every film sails through. “Sophia being an educational women’s campus, we do not want certain things advertised here,” Amritmahal said. “Advertisements for alcohol, cigarettes, and concepts that are terribly derogatory toward women are not encouraged. The location might not appear as Sophia in their films as but it is very recognisably Sophia college.”