Celebrities are not just used to fame but to a certain level of luxury and comfort too. While maintaining a certain ‘standard of living’ is a norm, so is keeping up with the Joneses, or in this case, with the rest of the colleagues in the industry. And so, from luxury homes to sleek cars, celebrities are constantly trying to one-up the other. It is the same with recreational vehicles (RV) or vanity vans too. Although the production unit arranges caravans in most cases, top stars, to soothe their vanity, and to cater to their standards of comforts, have started bringing in their own vans to the sets.
If Priyanka Chopra’s van’s interiors are a blend of music and comfort, Ajay Devgan’s has a mobile gym. Tollywood Allu Arjun’s Rs 7 crore vanity van features his initials on the outside as well as inside. The interior of Allu’s van, which has a cool silver and black colour tone, has a recliner, television, bed, sofa…
With caravans now becoming a home away from home to most celebrities, Mollywood actors too are spotted flaunting their plush vans.
If Mohanlal’s van offers the comforts of home, with a satellite dish, massage chair, fridge, music system, microwave oven, touch screen operated toilet… Suresh Gopi owns a plush Eicher Caravan with a good amount of comfort too.
A Malayalam daily recently shared images of Mammootty’s new caravan, which caters to all of the megastar’s needs. The 12-meter long vehicle, which is mounted on the chassis of Bharat Benz, has air balloons in the front and back for smooth riding. Developed by Kothamangalam-based Ojes Automobiles, which is said to be the only company in the country to have the license for manufacturing caravans in India, Ojes rolls out not just recreational vehicles but mobile clinics, luxury coaches and school buses as well.
Says Biju Markose, the managing director of Ojes, “Our Company has developed the vanity vans for most of Kerala’s celebrities. Actor Suresh Gopi was our first client. When we look at celebrities, we see the glamour, the glitz, the money... What we don’t see is the hard lives they lead. The 4 am make-up calls, the long shoots, the constant healthy eating and working out, being followed everywhere and not a moment of privacy. So these celebrities invest in something called vanity vans, or their homes away from home.”
According to Biju, in earlier times, revamped tempo travellers with basic amenities were what was passed off as “caravans. However, dust from the roads would often seep in through the windows. Journey through the roads lacked comfort, too, as space was confined. Those were some of the reasons why Suresh Gopi was keen on a caravan of his own.” And although Suresh had purchased the chassis for the caravan, he had second thoughts regarding building one. “He heard a superstition attached to owning a caravan in the film industry. Apparently, the actor’s star value would diminish if he/she owned one.”
Suresh, who reached out to Biju to sell the chassis, soon handed Biju the keys to the vehicle and the green signal to build a caravan, however. “I managed to convince him that it was an unfounded superstition. In fact, celebrities now consider owning a caravan a lucky charm as many a celebrity saw either their career or the movie they were working on, taking off with leaps and bounds,” says Biju, the youngest son of school teacher parents.
His father ran a bus service and owned two small garages. “And so I grew up among cars and buses. I began servicing vehicles in my dad’s garage when I was in class 11.
According to Biju, who was always fascinated by vehicles, modifying vehicles was popular during the late 1980s and 1990s as motor vehicle rules weren’t stringent. “And so I was able to alter a few RVs and cars. I am physically challenged, having been afflicted by polio on my left leg. I had designed and built a car for myself while in college and had a flourishing business by the time I graduated from college. All these experiences helped me to design RVS for not just Suresh Gopi but for Mammootty, Prithviraj, Anoop Menon and Priyadarshan as well,” says Biju.
According to Biju, there are certain must-haves a star needs in their van.
For instance, a hygienic toilet is essential for celebrities as often the artists travel to remote areas for shoots. “Earlier, at shooting locations, a shared portable toilet was what was available for all. In our caravans, we use imported European closets that use touch screen technology”
A pantry, which has a microwave oven and an induction cooker, a mini make up studio and space for them to relax and rest during intervals are the next on the list.
“Celebrities such as Mammootty, for instance, enjoy watching movies and so his RVS have home theatres. He is also the kind of person who enjoys looking out the window when he is not hooked to a movie. So, the television set can be downed when he needs to,” says Biju, who designed Kannada actor Nikhil Kumaraswamy’s caravan that has, apart from a swanky gymnasium, a modernized bathroom, two LCD TVs, a bass sound system…
Much like the actors trust their directors, the star clients he says leave most of the designing to him. “At the most, we will discuss the floor layout,” says the 49-year-old.
He adds: “A reason why they leave it all up to me could be because they know I will meet their expectations and more. For Mammooty’s latest vehicle, I gave sky roofing. He can see the sky from his bedroom. He did not expect that.”
Biju is, however, quick to the point that designing RVs for the stars isn’t a lucrative job. “I don’t do it to earn a profit. I do it out of passion,” says Biju, who attends RV workshops, fetes et al. to stay up-to-date on the latest trends.
Asked if any women celebrities own their own caravan and Biju says no. However, he adds that a businesswoman has recently asked him to design a caravan that includes a bar counter and a space for her motorbike and bicycle. “I recently designed a special vehicle for a woman called Chandini, who has muscular dystrophy. The vehicle has a hydraulic wheelchair ramp. Altering vehicles is my passion, and I hope to continue doing it for a long time.”