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A young art initiative is giving Mumbai’s taxis and autorickshaws a sassy makeover
A one-of-its-kind art project is bringing together talented designers and giving them a canvas in the most unlikely of places — the interiors of taxis and autoriskshaws.
Mumbai-based Taxi Fabric, captained by Sanket Avlani, is upholstering the city’s taxis and autorickshaws with cheerful, kitschy, Mumbai-inspired designs.
The Taxi Fabric project, says its website, “is about creating a space for designers to show off their ideas and talent.” Taxis in India, and particularly in Mumbai, as anyone will vouch, are not only the most convenient form of transport but are also an iconic part of the city’s culture. Seeing this, Taxi Fabric decided to connect designers with taxi drivers.
“We wanted to up the taxi-driver’s image. Drivers loved the project. It started with the guys who would ferry me around, then extended to their friends and family. We are now encouraging our designers to bring their own guys (drivers), some of whom are quite opinionated, like about colour. One cabby wanted his favourite yellow everywhere, for instance,” says Avlani.
And how have Mumbaikars taken to the revamped taxis? “People are drawn to the cabs the minute they spot them. Some designs, like the Bollywood taxi, for instance, are outright more successful than the others. We dressed up the driver as Shahenshah. People loved it. When you meet this driver, he has so many stories to tell. Often, passengers make our drivers wait so they can call their friends, take pictures, do repeat rides,” says Avlani.
Taxis have always been woven into the fabric of Avlani’s life. “We did taxis because I am all about them; have always been very closely attached to them — they are part of my childhood. My dad still takes taxis, he doesn’t drive much.
Avlani talks of how Coldplay’s music video set in India brought Taxi Fabric fame. When lead singer Chris Martin sat inside one of their taxis to make the kaleidoscopic music video, critics fumed about Coldplay’s cultural appropriation. “It is sad that it took a Coldplay to bring us attention. The only good thing is people recognised us,” says Avlani.
Turns out they very nearly didn’t make it into the video. “One of my team members had to remind me about replying to a request for a shoot in one of our taxis,” says Avlani.
But it was Instagram, as a matter of fact, that brought them initial recognition. “Instagram changed the game for us — they have been featuring and recommending us,” says Avlani. “We have more followers globally than here. It’s the same with Kickstarter. We were one of their projects and the company began interacting with us, and kept pushing us. It’s funny how a lot of American companies, like Refinery 29, showed interest (in our vision).”
Recently, Avlani was featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. “People look at us differently now, write emails differently; they are coming to us with ideas that are financially engaging. Up until now, we were a non-profit, but we are trying to change that. A lot of big brands have been approaching us, and not merely to collaborate.”
Is Taxi Fabric open to working on private vehicles? “We are doing it. We are experimenting.
Speaking about his inspiration, Avlani says, “Daft Punk is my biggest influence. They are so visual, so particular about their representation.” But does all work and no play make Avlani a dull boy? Apparently not. “I make sure I leave work by 6.00 p.m. or 7.00 p.m., and then meet people for drinks. It’s a post-London hangover. I am trying to get out of that. I like poetry a lot. I run, play football. I like to shoot empty spaces. I waste a lot of time, to be honest.”
Meher Mirza is an independent writer and editor, with a focus on food, travel and death metal.