Feroze Rangoonwalla: Collector for all seasons

Well-known film chronicler Feroze Rangoonwalla has passed away.

A remembrance by Khalid Mohamed

Suddenly the brownstone colony he lived in, bang opposite the Mumbai Central Railway station, was demolished. A tower was to loom up, displacing the concatenation of rooms occupied since the days of the British Raj, by Parsi families.


That’s where Feroze Rangoonwalla lives, I’d be told, time and again, by senior journalists in the course of taxi rides through the city’s throbbing artery. Oh really? Must visit him, I’d up-and-down my head, a Noddy in Wonderland, curious for a dekko of his legendary collection of movie stills, stretching from the silent era to the anger-strewn 1970s.

The archivist-collector-writer, who most often turned out in a cotton black jacket over a white shirt, was dial-a-photograph.You need a rare picture, call him, and he’d remind you to mail the cheque (a pittance) for the photo loan. Fair enough. Abroad vintage photos made a cult of the Hollywoodphile John Kobal.

Why not Rangoonwalla here? His surname presumably alluded to the origins of his ancestors, who migrated to Bombay. His persona was that of a retentive High Court lawyer, he moved briskly, he talked scantly, and smiled rarely. When he did flash a hello, it was out of protocol. After all his best buddies were the movies, not the Johnnies come lately in his beat.

Feroze Rangoonwalla would nod curtly at the film previews organised at the Blaze auditorium in Colaba. He wouldn’t chatter over samosas in the interval, preferring to jot notes in a pad which added to the bulk of papers stuffed in a black rexine briefcase.

Inevitably, his reviews which would appear in a weekly trade paper, were elaborate but never vitriolic. He was gentle. An unusually trenchant review has stayed with me though. He was critical about a fruit bowl kept on a police inspector’s table in one of those revenge sagas. Why was it there? Was this inspector bananas or what?

Feroze sir, as we would address him, unbeknownst to many, began directing a film funded by the FFC (now NFDC). The technicians and the actors, developed some serious differences with sir. The film, featuring the Film Institute graduate Rameshwari, was scrapped after a board meeting. As it happened, I saw him, leaving the boardroom that day, silent. He didn’t say a word, and instead of waiting for the elevator, he walked down a steep flight of stairs.

Post his retirement, I did ‘phone him for a conversation. He responded, yes, sure come over, but he was not well, he would call me back in a week, maybe two weeks.

He didn’t.

I just hope that his collection of those luminous photographs will survive, like the memory in my eyes of sir, who smiled ever so rarely.