“400 New Eskaton Road” was once a haunt for celebrities, journalists and budding youngsters. As studios rapidly disappear in the digital age, Studio Padma owner Akkas Mahmood clings to this unique part of Dhaka’s history

November 10, 2022, 09:00

Last modification: November 10, 2022, 09:08

Akkas Mahmood, who is also one of Bangladesh’s most prominent photographers, opened Studio Padma nearly four decades ago. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Akkas Mahmood, who is also one of Bangladesh’s most prominent photographers, opened Studio Padma nearly four decades ago. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

In the 1980s, “400 New Eskaton Road” was a posh address, housing a two-story market with 10 stores in total. Among these were two popular stores: actor Amirul Haque Chowdhury’s Dhaka Coffee House and Studio Padma.

“All the leading actors, singers, journalists and politicians in the country used to congregate at the cafe. Their chatter spread to the adjacent Studio Padma. At that time, the studio was not just a place to take photos – it was more of a hub for stars and celebrities,” recalls studio owner Akkas Mahmood.

On the way from Banglamotor to Moghbazar intersection, the studio always attracts the attention of many pedestrians. A portrait of late North Dhaka Mayor Anisul Haque hangs in the front. Upon entering the studio, one will find portraits of celebrities like Jaya Ahsan, Chanchal Chowdhury, Sabina Yasmin, Munni Saha, Shakib Al Hasan and many more – many of whom are regular clients of the studio.

Akkas Mahmood, who is also one of Bangladesh’s most prominent photographers, shared how his studio has maintained its popularity even after 37 years.

More than just a place to take pictures

After graduating from the University of Dhaka, Akkas Mahmood was involved in journalism for some time. He worked in the youth magazine Saptahik Bichinta. By then he had developed a passion for photography.

The idea of ​​a new type of photo studio came to her mind while browsing through various fashion photography magazines. In the meantime, he received his diploma from the Begart Institute of Photography, the institute founded by the famous photographer Manjur Alam Baig.

“Baig sir asked me one day what I wanted to do. I told him of my desire to build a photo studio. Surprised, he said that no one had come to this institution to train in the construction of photo “a studio. a place to take pictures. People will come here to discuss and study photography. He was very impressed with my project,” said Akkas Mahmood, who in the early 1980s dreamed of becoming a famous portrait photographer .

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

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Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Photo: Noor-A-Alam

Later, he also received a diploma from the Global Press Agency in Kolkata. In 1985 he opened Studio Padma in a 20ft by 6ft store at Eskaton’s Khursheed Mahal market.

Eskaton, at the time, was one of the notable diplomatic areas of Dhaka housing the embassies of China, Pakistan, Italy and France. Foreign ambassadors, government officials, the country’s best actors, intellectuals and journalists lived here.

And many used to congregate at 400 Eskaton Road – lovers of Studio Padma’s photos and Dhaka Coffee House’s famous cutlets and potato cutlets. Famous names such as actors Golam Mustafa, Hasan Imam, Asaduzzaman Noor, Ali Zaker, Afzal Hossain, journalist Minar Mahmud, writer Taslima Nasreen, actor Salman Shah and singer Abdul Jabbar have frequented this hub.

According to Akkas Mahmood, journalist Minar Mahmud would almost never miss a day visiting the studio and actor Golam Mustafa came from Banani making time between his filming schedule.

“Producers would follow him [Golam Mustafa] at the workshop. Movie contracts, taking advances, were unfolding during our conversations,” Akkas said, adding, “as we drove past the market in rickshaws, the girls turned their heads to see their favorite stars.”

It was business as usual to find crowds gathering outside the market hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous stars.

Some time later, “Muktijudda and Lalitkala Granth Kendra” was launched with a rented room on the second floor of the market. “Before, there were talks, disputes and stories about the liberation war. We used to eat muri bharta and watch TV together,” Akkas said.

The studio’s phone number (412070) was popular among many young people at that time. DU or Buet students would advertise tuition services using this number.

Many of them even spoke to loved ones on the studio phone. The phone also witnessed the romance between journalist Minar Mahmood and writer Taslima Nasreen.

After the demolition of the two-storey “Khurshid Mahal Market” and its transformation into a multi-storey building, Studio Padma and Coffee House went through a period of decline. While the glory days of yesteryear are long gone, the studio hasn’t been forgotten just yet.

Journalists still flock to this place. Conversations about politics, society, music, trade unions, journalists’ union and many other country topics are still ongoing. For senior journalist Sukanth Gupta Alok, who came to take photos of the studio during the interview, it is a place of emotions.

Stars born from Studio Padma

“It was around 1986 or 1987. The FDC issued a circular looking for new faces, requiring applicants to submit three poster-size portraits from three angles. Budding stars like Sohail Chowdhury, Manna and Diti came to take photos, alongside many others And when they were selected, they visited the studio and met me”, recalls Akkas Mahmood.

He recalled another interesting memory.

Actor Manoj Sengupta and artist Ashraful Alam at the studio. Photo: courtesy

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Actor Manoj Sengupta and artist Ashraful Alam at the studio.  Photo: courtesy

Actor Manoj Sengupta and artist Ashraful Alam at the studio. Photo: courtesy

“The cost of each poster size photo was Tk 30 – a huge sum at the time. Most people were thrifty and didn’t take more than five or six photos. But one day, Sohail Chowdhury [film star] came to ask me not to worry about the money.

After taking two rolls of photos, I was tired and said, “Sohail bhai, you don’t need photos anymore. One of them will do. Then he pulled out an audio player. He said, “I will dance and you will take pictures. I had to take his dance poses. I remember that incident very well,” Akkas said.

Later, he created a modeling agency where personalities like Mou, Nobel, Tania and Pallab were instructors.

Things were different with analog cameras in the 1980s. Akkas Mahmood remembered when he had to shoot in the studio with bowl lights, which generated extreme heat. In the summer, he would bring an extra set of panjabi to change into after half a day’s work and sweating profusely in the heat.

Mounting styles were completely different from today. Modern tools like Photoshop would belong to a much later era. A film consisted of 12 frames, and finesse of the hand was required when creating the negative images.

He used a thin pencil to cover up various flaws in an image. In front of a 100 watt bulb, details of an image were first examined by holding the two and a half inch negative.

Areas that needed to be changed were marked with a pencil. But the pencil marks weren’t completely smooth. Therefore, the pencil stain was removed using a fine brush. After washing, the image would be quite smooth.

The festival meant taking group photos in the studio.

“Today, studio photography is far from having known its heyday. Twenty years ago, I would hardly have had time for you for this conversation. Back then, the studio was all time filled with customers.

Every Eid, people would come here and take family photos after their prayers. A scene with fountains, boats and plants was painted in the background. People were taking pictures in front of the board,” Akkas Mahmood said.

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