Islamic Voice
Rabi-ul-Awwal 1422H
June 2001
Volume 15-06 No:174

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The Man and his Magic Machine

The panoramic view of the buildings on the Mumbai seafront was captured by photographer Ghulam Muntaqa on his Circuit Camera in 1994. 
Captured on a six feet by one feet bromide, the picture has been reduced to 11.5 inches by two inches on this website version.

The Man and his Magic Machine

An innovative lensman in the small town of Bidar in Karnataka is using his century old camera to produce dramatic effects on the bromide

Maqbool Ahmed Siraj in Bidar

06Ghulam MuntaqaLook at the above photograph . It evokes wondrous gasps. This could be the nation’s ritziest address. After all, who does not recognize the Gateway of India on Mumbai’s seafront and the buildings around. But could a camera capture this view in one shot. Or this is a patchwork of photographs. No, the view was captured on a single revolving film by a nearly century-old Circuit Camera owned by cameraman and, let us call him ‘photo-engineer’ Ghulam Muntaqa from Bidar, a remote town in North Karnataka.

For its looks, Muntaqa’s Circuit Camera can be dismissed as a junk box, a contraption worth nothing. But take a hard look at the machine. It still revolves flawlessly on a copper gear mounted over a tripod, pans over a wide area and captures a panoramic view of the surroundings. Even more surprisingly, the nearly century old camera transfers the view on a film capable of being enlarged into wall-sized photographs, a size mostly reserved for murals. And the details are perfect, capturing even the veins of leaves, or glistening beads of sweat rolling down faces or the wrinkles of skin. And if it happens to be a group of, say 400 people, each face is distinctly recognizable.

Yet the question whether one should marvel at the man or the machine remains unanswered? Looking at the deadly combine the answer is perhaps both, for the credit must be equally shared by Ghulam Muntaqua. But for this shutterbug, this old camera would, in all likelihood, been consigned to junkyard. Muntaqua virtually salvaged it from a scrape lot up for sale in Mumbai’s Chor Bazar at the cost of metal some 15 years ago. Today after putting it back into use, Muntaqua refuses to part with it even at a price of rupees two lakhs. Believe it, the offer came from a photography museum in Mumbai.

What sets this camera and the cameraman apart? The very fact that this antique of a camera still functions, capable of absorbing a 180 degree view of the horizon and transferring scenery onto bromides that are well worth decorating drawing rooms is in itself something very rare. Says Muntaqua, the proud owner: “I had picked up the box camera from the Chor Bazar merely for its unique lens which can be simultaneously used as normal, tele and wide lens for rupees 1500. Records showed that it had been earlier used in Oxford University for group photographs. “I had never imagined that it could be a circuit camera capable of revolving and capturing a 180 degree view. I first used it for a group photograph of the 100-member staff of the Bidar District Central Cooperative Bank. The clearly distinguishable faces on the nine feet by one feet photograph boosted my confidence. It has never failed me since then. Next photograph covered a group of 300 students of an outgoing batch of a college in Bidar.” The only time he demonstrated his skills publicly in Bangalore was in 1994 when chief minister Veerappa Moily was snapped along with nearly 300 legislators in the backdrop of the estately Vidhana Soudha. But more than his photography, he and his relic camera aroused the curiosity of the lensmen in the state capital. He was himself the object of many a photographs the next day.

A turning point came when Muntaqua’s antique camera produced a panoramic view of the famous Gateway of India and its surroundings and his principals, Architect Baghban and Baghban Associates asked him to come out with the panorama on the colour film. Since then Muntaqua has been working on transferring his skill onto the colour film and says “the breakthrough is imminent”.

Son of a police photographer of the erstwhile Nizam state, Muntaqua took to photography very early in life. Says he reminiscing the olden days: “Those were the days when the negatives were taken on glass coated with silver nitrate. Today Muntaqua can boast of nearly 50 cameras in his collection. Most of these came through tough haggling at the Bombay’s Chor Bazar known for rich pickings by ace photographers.

Shy of publicity, Muntaqa keeps a low profile. Though quick to capture on lens several events such as Latur’s quake and the bizarre gas tanker accident at Tarola near Bidar (killing 100 persons), he has been totally averse to encashing his skills. Bidar journalist Quazi Arshad Ali, editor Bidar ki Awaz, a Hindi daily, says copyright for Muntaqua’s Gateway of India photograph could have been bought against lakhs of rupees, but Muntaqua was pursuing altogether different dreams, i.e., of inducting colour into his skills on the old camera. Already 60, Muntaqua however is determined to carry on with his mission. 

Ghulam Muntaqa can be contacted at: C/o Bidar ki Awaz Hindi Daily, Near Information Office, Z. N. Road, Bidar-584 001 or at Hyderabad on Phone 0091-040-3236977.


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