Bab’s Flash, The One Man Army Photographer of Coimbatore

Europeans travelled all the way to India in order to create portraits and sceneries. Many of them specialized in street life. The rich and the powerful commissioned them to produce enduring pieces. A lot of facts and fiction have been spun around the lives of these creators. Movies and novels have been made on this subject. In fact, the author Gayathri Prabhu in her book ‘Untitled’ has strung together a fine story based on the times of Tipu Sultan. The story is based on the life of a painter who is caught in the web of events leading to the fall of Tipu Sultan. Photography began to come into the country during the nineteenth century. The equipment for shooting pictures and processing them had to be brought in from overseas. Photography became a new obsession and many professional photographers began to bud in India.
Coimbatore had its own share of photographers and also studios. Ramu Studio, Raju’s Electric Studio, City Camera House, IAB (India Arts Bureau) specialized in photography. IAB continues to be a pioneering studio and today RK Photo Centre is also famous for its work. A number of amateur and professional photographers have sprung in Coimbatore. K.Marudachalam, V.Ramnarayanan, Vikram Sathyanathan, Saravanan Chandrashekaran, Gaurav Ramnarayanan etc., are among the famous photographers who are well known for their work. Quite a few freelance photographers literally function like one man armies these days. Candid photography, wedding photography, creation of portfolios for people who are aspiring to be models, product and corporate photography have come to stay. It has become a new profession and these photographers can be called photopreneurs for their ability can turn them towards entrepreneurship. One more START UP vertical will happen in the city. Entrepreneurship results in employment.
R.Pethu Naidu aka Babu (1932 – 1997) of Bab’s Flash on Venkataramana Road in R.S.Puram in Coimbatore was a one man army photographer who excelled in his profession. He had taken the pictures at the time of the wedding of Dr.S.Srihari about 50 years ago. Dr.S.Srihari happens to be the son of the Movie Moghul S.M.Sriramulu Naidu. This assignment gave him the opportunity to shoot the pictures of eminent movie stars. Pethu Naidu was known as Babu and hence his firm was called Bab’s Flash. He started off as an amateur photographer first and later became a professional. He had his own lab equipment at home and he took care of the processing from his own dark room. Babu used to click pictures, process them, make albums and deliver it to his clients. The people of Ramnagar were among his major clients and he was a household name in the locality.
Ramaswamy Naidu, the father of Babu, had been into ‘Pathira Vyaparam’ (vessel business) on Big Bazaar Street and the family used to own quite a few properties in R.S.Puram and a farm in Telugupalayam during the past. His mother was Dhanalakshmi. Babu had studied in Trichy for some time also done a bit of his education at the City Municipal School and the R.S.Puram Boys High school in Coimbatore. His uncle Nagarajulu Naidu had been a successful person and he used to visit Switzerland for business. He had got Babu a camera and motivated him to become a photographer.
Babu used to be dressed in a prim and proper manner. He tucked his full sleeve shirt and was always found wearing his shoes. Friends used to call him A.Nageswara Rao. The clean shaven photographer was famous with his Lambretta scooter. The phone number used to be 7331. His good friends were Engineer Siddhian and Narasimhan of Savithri Photos. Babu had helped a number of studio people. N.Parthasarathy used to be his advocate. He used ORWO film and his cameras were Yashica and Rolliflex. Babu used ‘Bunny Flash’. He was a busy photographer. Babu used to be like a family member of his clients during the wedding shoots for the two days. Negatives were given to the customers. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Rotary Mid Town were among his regular institutional clients.
Babu had been a good football player during his school days and he was known for his sincere food habits. He used like dosa and kuruma. Fruits were his favourite. The editor of ‘Pesumpadam’ had requested him to join the world of cinema but the offer was declined. He was also partner of a knitting factory in Tirupur. Businessman, Kumarapalayam S.Padmanabhan was a good friend of his. Padmanabhan’s daughter Vijayalakshmi had been a good friend of Babu’s daughter Rangalatha. The nice photographer was a nice man and his spoken English used to be good. Writer Vimala Ramani had been a close friend. He had always worked from his home ‘Sarojini Nivas’. Once he had photographed Pandit Nehru from a spot near the Coimbatore Spinning & Weaving Mills.
Babu had been married to Lakshmikantham and the couple were blessed with Ramesh and Latha (Rangalatha). The kuladeivam (family deity) is Karamadai Ranganathar.
Babu was one of eight children. “Father used to own a 16 mm projector and he used to show medical films and educational films in schools like Kikani Higher Secondary School. The projector used to be transported with the aid of an autorickshaw. World Cup Cricket Finals, Man on the Moon (Neil Armstrong ) etc., were shown by him alongside movies in schools, colleges and clubs.
This kept him busy and successful during his non muhurtham days. Otherwise he was extremely busy. Often, father used to screen movies at home, in our compound and it used to be free of cost for the viewers. He used to screen Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and English movies. Even now people remember watching those movies.
The Coimbatore Institute of Technology (CIT) was among his clients. Most of the educational movies were got from the embassy. He was the pioneer in this regard. We had our own prints of the movies ‘Edhir Neechal’ and ‘Saraswathi Sabatham’.
My mother and myself used to help father in his work. He was a hard worker who was popular, “stated the son Ramesh Babu. Publicity had been through word of mouth and Babu had his own letter pad plus visiting card.
The son Ramesh Babu is closely associated with an Ashram of Ramalinga Adigalar – Aruljothi Sanmarga Gnanasabhai which functions under the leadership of Guru Annai Nagammai.
Bab’s Flash had been a popular one man army set up in the field of photography for a few decades in Coimbatore.
—Rajesh Govindarajulu

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