Rock 'n' roll Ricks

While the autorickshaw fracas continues to simmer, Bollywood says swish SUVs and luxury cars notwithstanding; we have no qualms hopping into the humble auto for a bumpy commute, or a joy ride

Bollywood loves a joy ride, especially if it is noisy, bumpy and unpredictable. Filmmakers Imtiaz Ali and Rohit Jugraj prefer the auto to the car. Imtiaz loves to hop into an autorickshaw rather than get into his swish car.

Kat, the bike chick: Katrina Kaif on a two-wheeler, but she could hop
on to those numerous auto rickshaws buzzing around her, too

He says it is easier to manoeuvre one's way through Mumbai on a three-wheeler instead of a two-wheeler.

Imtiaz, who is working on Rockstar with Ranbir Kapoor, has also introduced the star to the dubious joys of the autorickshaw. The two are sometimes seen zipping around in three-wheelers these days.

Stars, as a rule, are unable to slip unnoticed into autos for obvious reasons. Sometimes though, when you gotta go - you gotta go to your destination in a rickshaw. Recently, Katrina Kaif who had to reach the airport in time simply hopped into an autorickshaw. The autowallah nearly fainted in his tracks. Recalling the incident Katrina says, "I had an early morning flight to catch. And my driver did not show up on time. So I flagged down an auto and jumped in. My staff arrived later. What's the big deal?" Katrina says she enjoyed the ride and wouldn't mind doing it again.

Move over mercs, get lost limos: Ranbir  Kapoor (l) with Imtiaz Ali
travelling by auto while returning from a movie premiere early this year

Mumbai's traffic snarls being what they are, autorickshaws serve B-town stars well considering most of them live and commute extensively in the Western suburbs. Mercedes and BMWs notwithstanding, they certainly do not think they are above commuting in a three-wheeler. Says Bheja Fry actor Vinay Pathak, "I use the rickshaw very often. I travelled by autorickshaw very recently, just the other night. I needed to reach my movie theatre fast and I did not feel like driving." One wonders whether Vinay keeps auto drivers regaled with his endless storehouse of old songs from Bheja Fry.

Filmmaker Tigmanshu Dhulia says he likes to commute by autorickshaws. "I love commuting by autos. I get to observe people from close quarters and also get time to think."  Actor Shazahn Padamsee says, "I used to travel by autos for the longest time. When my driver doesn't show up I still use the auto to commute in Bandra." Actor Sonu Sood thinks Mumbai life would be paralysed without autos. "The other day, I went to the airport in an auto when my driver didn't show up on time. I am no stranger to autorickshaws."

In fact, producers are now using the three-wheeler as a down-to-earth vehicle for film promotion because it resonates with the masses. Recently, producer Sunil Bohra flew down to his hometown of Jodhpur and hired a fleet of autorickshaws to promote his new film, Sahib Bibi Aur Gangster.  "When you get on a three-wheeler there is an immediate connection with the masses. I found local people responded immediately to my marketing on autos," says Bohra.  Mahie Gill who was seen commuting in an autorickshaw in her most recent release Not A Love Story, is no stranger to the three-wheeler.  Says the actor, "In fact I always used to travel by auto, until I bought my car some three years ago. I still grab an auto sometimes when there's a lot of traffic and I need to reach my workplace on time. I find it convenient and a liberating means of transport. And it somehow keeps one rooted to reality."

Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh still prefers the auto to his car. "In fact, he went to his office in an auto, when this writer interviewed him.  Udaan's young protagonist, Rajat Bharmecha who is from Delhi says, "I do travel by autos. In fact so many people use autos. They get handicapped when there's a strike like the ones we have seen recently. I personally love speeding in autos late at night. So much more fun than the car."

Theatre and film actor Lilette Dubey gets nostalgic about the three-wheeler. "Hai, woh bhi ek zamana tha in Delhi in college... haggling with the autorickshaw-wallah. Those days the meter for some mysterious reason never worked! I did get a chance to use an auto recently, when my flight got cancelled and I had to rush from one terminal to another. Would you believe it, the driver charged me a 100 bucks. Some things never change!"

Actor Nikhil Diwedi travels by autorickshaw. "But I see a huge difference in the attitude of the auto drivers in the last decade. Earlier they were more professional and disciplined. Recently, I hopped into an auto when I could not locate my car in a car park, lost my bearings somehow. I don't support their strike though." Actors sometimes have a tough time dealing with temperamental drivers and paucity of parking space. They are mortals too after all. Says actor Aditi Rao (of Delhi 6 and Yeh Saali Zindagi fame), "Considering the scarcity of parking space in the city and hardly any pavements to walk on, it is more convenient taking an auto, especially in Bandra where my car gets towed quite frequently. I had to travel by auto very recently."

Minissha Lamba feels the auto strike is justified to a point. "Their livelihood is at stake. But at the same time the people are being inconvenienced as their daily mode of transport to work is disrupted." Filmmaker Onir says, "I still travel by auto. I don't think they fudge meters that much. For a fare of Rs 100 they might maximum cheat Rs 10 whereas cops take bribes in hundreds from autorickshaw-wallahs." Singer Sunidhi Chauhan took an auto recently to a recording. "It was fun, as usual," she signs off.

Ready for a morcha
The Mumbai Autorickshaw Union along with other unions has called for a morcha on Monday October 3, to press for certain demands. Their demands are titled rather combatively: Hamein Jeene Do or
Let us Live.

Some of those demands are:
>> There should be a rise in fares so as to facilitate rickshaw drivers to earn at least Rs 25,000 a month.
>> Autorickshaws should be allowed to ply within the city.
>> Given the rise in price of spare parts and other accessories of autorickshaws, rickshaws should be allowed to raise their fares every January.

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