Stars on Wheels

Pradeep Gooptu

There are film personalities and there are stars. People adore them, stare at them even when they are passing by and tried to emulate them. Kolkata had more than its fair share of glamorous stars and the lovely vehicles they rode often completed their image Gauhar Jaan A wildly popular singer who spent most of her working life in Kolkata, Gauhar Jaan recorded the first ever song, sung by an Asian at a studio here and attained international fame. Daughter of a man of foreign origin and his Indian lady, she lived in a mansion near Nakhoda Masjid. She created a sensation by driving round in an open 7-seater car built by Nash, one of the best known American car makers set up by former General Motors president Charles Nash. The cars were “sold out before they left the factory floor” owing to their great reputation for quality and speed. One such Nash has still survived in Kolkata. The Nash Company is now known as Kelvinator and it makes household equipment! Gauhar Jaan created a stir by going for a ride daily in her open limousine in the Maidan area. It was her first car; she had earlier been reprimanded by the police for using a six-horse carriage, which only the Viceroy was allowed to use!   Pramathesh Barua The first Indian movie superstar, Barua hailed from a zamindari family and was unique in being equally successful in silent and talking movies. His ride – in keeping with his image as a playboy prince – was a Hispano-Suiza, a supercar built in Spain and the preferred transport of kings and millionaires. A resident of Ballygunge, his parties at home and his ‘shikaar’ invitations attracted the biggest names of the time. Sisir Kumar Bhaduri A great actor who preferred not to be a star, Bhaduri used a Ford V8, a car immortalised for bringing V8 motoring to the masses and offering excellent performance and dynamics. In keeping with his conservative image, he preferred not to go in for larger vehicles though his car was well known in the city. At that time, the bars in the Esplanade and Bentinck Street area were the well known haunts of great stars. Chhabi Biswas The evergreen actor of Bengali cinema (with some cameo Hindi roles to his credit too), Biswas was famous for his Buick Super. A post-war luxury barge that offered top class quality, comfort and performance with a straight-eight-cylinder engine, his Buick was a daily visitor to the Maidan-Esplanade area every afternoon. Though a resident of the Tollygunj area (where all the film studios were also located), Biswas was an enthusiastic driver and amateur speedster who made it a point to drive extensively around town for leisure or to visit theatre and other performences in North Kolkata theatre para. Pahari Sanyal One of the country’s finest actors (and a brilliant singer), Sanyal was a clever motorist who bought vehicles with special features. He also appeared to prefer German cars as he felt they represented top-end technology. After initially using a front wheel drive Adler, Sanyal went on to buy a very rare rear engined Mercedes-Benz saloon. Though a commercially unsuccessful model, it represented his fascination for uniquely designed cars. This car is still in Kolkata and beautifully maintained. Stars & cars Celebrities and film stars have to live up to a standard - the general public expects them to. Motor cars quickly emerged as one of the status symbols of the era. In later years, this association was transformed with the use of stars as brand ambassadors for cars.

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