Of all the heritage buildings in the Dalhousie Square area, The Chartered Bank Building is unique for two reasons. First, its red and white stripe pattern is not created by paint, but by materials used. Second, it was the building where Amitabh Bachchan once used to work!
This 1908 Building Once Owned By The Burdwan Maharaja Has A 110-Ft Tall Clock Tower
Resplendent In Red And Whiite
The Chartered Bank was founded by James Wilson in 1853. The earliest branches were in Mumbai, Kolkata and Shanghai. Today’s Standard Chartered Bank was formed in 1969 when Standard Bank of British South Africa merged with The Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China. The building was designed by Calcutta-based architect Edward Thornton who was working for Sir Rajen Mookerjee’s firm, Martin& Co. The architecture has a theme of domes and arches, with a ‘Byzantine’ flavour.
Located at the crossing of N.S. Road and India Exchange Place, it is one of the most easily spotted buildings in the area.
The distinctive red and white colour combination is created by the use of exposed brick and Porbunder stone from Mumbai. A 110-foot tall clock tower may be seen on the India Exchange Place side of the building, while another 135-foot tower faces N.S. Road. The building was constructed in 1908, and the cost of construction was INR 9,62,000.
The building was originally owned by the Maharaja of Burdwan, and was leased to the Chartered Bank. Today, it is stuck in legal wrangles, with only the National Jute Manufacturers Corporation Ltd having offices in the building.
The Amitabh Bachchan Connection
Among the many firms that had offices in the Chartered Bank Building, was Bird & Co. Founded in 1904, Bird & Co. had a variety of commercial interests, including paper, jute and shipping. Sometime in the 1960’s, the British firm hired a tall young man, named Amitabh Bachchan to work for their N.S. Road office. In 2011, Amitabh tweeted, “Kolkata… Calcutta then… first job as executive in Bird and Co… salary Rs 500 per month, after cuts etc Rs 460!!”.
From here, Amitabh would go on to work for Mackinnon Mackenzie, Shaw Wallace and Blacker & Co. before making his debut in Saat Hindustani in 1969. Amitabh still remembers his colleagues in Kolkata and tries to connect with them when he is in the city.
The building is still in use and cannot be entered without permission. Morning light hits the India Exchange Place side, while afternoon light hits the N.S. Road side. For the best photos, ask for permission from the folks in the surrounding offices and climb to the rooftops. The regular 18-55 or 18-135 kit lenses should be more than enough to get the whole building in one frame. Bring along a telephoto lens as well, such as a 55-250 or a 70-300 to get some close ups of the beautiful arches around the windows.
You must also check out the Royal Exchange next door which houses the Bengal Chamber of Commerce. Some great street food is available in the area on weekdays as well, including some excellent litti-chokha near Gillander House, down the road.