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Where there is a wheel there is a way

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Posted: 25 October 2004 at 11:00pm | IP Logged

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Where there is a wheel there is a way - Dilip Chhabria


Talk cars and you talk to Dilip Chhabria. Not only is he the country's foremost designer of custom-built cars, he's also the man the film industry turns to whenever it wants some car seva. He's designed state-of-the-art vans for Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Yash Chopra, Manisha Koirala and Juhi Chawla and Fardeen Khan, created swanky cars for films like Dil To Pagal Hai, Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Chal Mere Bhai and, more recently, Dobaara and Taarzan-The Wonder Car.
We get behind the wheel with DC, as he's popularly known, for a chit-chat:

Stars spend a lot of time in their make-up vans. When you customise one for a star, what extras do you throw in?
When it comes to the stars, we go an extra mile to ensure that we over-deliver.
Stars use these vehicles mainly for comfort and are very clear about what they want in that space. All the vans are built with the ambience of a private aircraft-audio-video electronics, high-end communication facilities, a large area with a big captain's chair, cushy sofas and a table, and a toilet of course. Basically, the vans will have enough space to sleep, lounge around and entertain eight to ten people, if required.

What has your personal interaction with the stars been like?
I have been particularly enamoured and humbled by the interaction I've had with Amitji. His humility, modesty and depth of knowledge are amazing. The fact that he loves cars is well-known. Look at his collection-a BMW 6 series, Essel, Mercedes X-5, Mercedes ML, Range Rover, Land Cruiser, S-Class Mercedes, E-Class Mercedes... obviously the man has a passion and taste for cars. When he wanted us to create a van for him, he visited us and I was really surprised by his hunger for knowledge about cars.

How involved was he in the design of his van?
Oh, all the time! He thought of every single detail himself-down to the textures and colours he wanted. And the plans went through many changes. He confessed that he's a bit of a fence-sitter when it came to cars and couldn't make up his mind too easily. We would give him a layout, he would say okay, fine, and then the next day we would get a call saying, please wait a minute, we need to rethink.
So in that sense he put in a lot of effort. I don't think anyone from the film world or anywhere else, would take the kind of trouble that he did. I was very heartened by the fact that though he had the world at his feet and could buy anything under the sun, he chose to create something for himself. Moreover, he made sure he gave it the required time and energy. There's a lesson-either you do something perfectly or you don't.

Was Shah Rukh Khan as curious?

No, he didn't take much of an interest himself. His assistants would tell us his requirements. Only after we delivered the vehicle did he speak with me to compliment me on a job well done and said he should have got the van designed by us much earlier.
We also designed a car for him in Dil To Pagal Hai. It had to look sporty, youthful and sophisticated, so it was a red convertible.

When you design a car for a movie, how closely do you work with the director or producer in the creative process?
They are usually very clear about what they want from the point of view of the script- the shape and size of the car, whether it should be an SUV or a sports car. But they leave the creative bit and the process to us.
Besides, we reserve the right to change the final product, deviating if necessary from the original drawing. We do that when required, because we are the specialists, not them. Luckily for us, they come from a creative medium too, so they know it's best to leave us alone once they've given us the brief.
Is there a pressure to deliver in impossible time frames?
Yes, there is. We receive calls every day from people in the film industry who want a readymade car in 20 days or one month. Obviously, we can't deliver in that time frame. So we let it go because we don't want our credibility to be affected by doing a rush job.
But the five film-makers we've worked for gave us a more reasonable time frame, so we took up the challenge. A typical car takes anywhere from three to four months to build. We were given less than that but rose to the occasion because exposure in films does a lot to publicise to our brand. One cannot deny the power of the Hindi film world.

Were they professional to deal with?
Yes, absolutely. One often perceives the Hindi film industry as less than professional but it was a revelation to discover that the people I worked with were complete professionals. One had heard stories of actors coming late, about payments and tantrums. But I have had none of that. In fact, I would say my experience with the film industry, whether film-makers or stars, has been better than that with the corporate world.

Mad about Madhuri
Madhuri Dixit is irresistible. Everything about her- her smile, her facial proportions, the way she carries herself-is so Indian, so elegant and so perfect. She looks beautiful from any angle.
If I designed a car for this exotic star, it would have an understated, discreet and feline beauty. Madhuri is so beautiful that the car should not compete with her. It should be subjugated to her. She can't have a sports car, where one has to crouch and get into. I can't have her doing that.
Let's see... it would have to be a very practical car with an acute sensitivity to form. So I would take a very functional and reliable Audi because it is discreet, high-tech and high quality. A Mercedes is more egalitarian and a BMW very clichd and obvious. So a four-door Audi it would be.
I would knock off two doors to make it individualistic without being impractical. Also, Madhuri won't need four doors because I presume it would be she and not the driver behind the wheel!
I'd give it a charcoal grey colour to keep it understated. The whole purpose would be to reshape the car so it has the most beautiful proportions, befitting Madhuri's beauty.

Freewheeling with DC
Dilip Chhabria was game for a bit of pop psychology when we asked him to match cars with stars

Amitabh Bachchan
I would associate Amitabh with an Aston Martin because it's the ultimate car- the most privileged and most powerful, highly distinctive, highly sought-after and exquisitely made.

Shah Rukh Khan
Shah Rukh would be a Porsche 911 Turbo. It goes well with him-sporty and distinctive, serious and dependable, innocent and childlike all together.

Sanjay Dutt
Sanjay Dutt is simple, tough, impulsive and childlike at heart. . I would associate him with the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Salman Khan
Salman Khan would be the Lamborghini Gallardo because he is young, muscular, and wants to tell the world, 'Look, I'm hot-headed, get out of my way.'

Hrithik Roshan
I would put him on the same desirability level as a James Dean. So it would be a Porsche 356 Convertible Roadster, rakish and sporty but reflecting a lot of maturity and taste. It's young but not as young as a Ferrari, crying for attention. A Porsche 356 is full of youth and invigorating too, a car for the man who's proved himself.

Kareena Kapoor
Kareena is extremely young, svelte, a little tomboyish maybe. I'd pick the Chevrolet Corvette-very young and highly curvaceous.

Preity Zinta
Preity is chirpy, vivacious, full of life, and petite. It would be the BMW 6 series convertible for her.

Rani Mukerji
Rani doesn't have drop-dead gorgeous looks but pretty eyes, typical Indian features and a warmth that makes you feel she'd be a good friend. I'd say she's like the Chevy, the sweetheart of America, which is homegrown, not exotic but very likeable, lovable and comfortable to be with.

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