DAY 1471 Amitabh Bachchan Blog
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DAY 1471 Amitabh Bachchan Blog

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At the studios these days, the largest space is taken up by the vanity vans for artists, talent, directors, writers .. It was never like this in our time .. ok .. like earlier days ! There were make up rooms if you were important enough, sharing an office space with two others if you had just started off, and did your changing and make up in the production bus that transported the staff and crew .. At times for an all night shoot, you just dozed off on the floor of the set – getting a room was a luxury ! But Man Mohan Desai, the master, was different. He had a back problem and needed to lie down as he travelled to the sets, so he built himself a van where a bed could be placed and put up a television set inside, something that was unheard of, and wait … put a mirror at the back of the sleeping area, to watch the tv lying the wrong way round !! Why so ? Because he said the imagery is better when it reflects off a mirror !!! Its laterally inverted but so what he would say ! And then within a few days presented me with one. It was not what vanity vans are like today. It had a bed, a bathroom, and seating with a fold out table on one of them. I put in a pull out make up tray with mirror, to do my make up in there and desperately tried to fix a music system within. It took several pioneering efforts to be able to achieve that, but finally it all came around, and because I had a general license for it, I moved around the city in it. Gave me privacy. Gave me a bed to rest on for the hour long drives and a ready wash room ! Ecstasy and delight !! Ok … so lying on the bed during movement was somewhat arduous – at every bump or turn, you slid off to the floor. Nothing I could do about it. But the great innovator Mr Man Mohan Desai did have a solution. Seat belts that strapped him up as he lay !! At times it looked like contraptions used to pin down a violent patient in hospitals.

Talk of this in todays times may seem archaic, but, if I am not wrong, the whole concept of your seats turning into beds in first class flying machines of reputed airlines, and the tying up of seat belts as you lay, came much after Mr Desai thought of it !! Now of course most airline First Class have sophisticated contraptions for passenger comfort. Comfortable beds, personal HD Tv, music, your own little pantry with cooler full of drinks and … a door that cocoons you into your own little private room !! Some exclusive airlines in the USA, Regent Air, had planes of normal size, but carrying only 20-30 passengers. Particularly between New York and Los Angeles. The rest of the space was converted into slick lounges, an elegant bar and your own private room, to watch movies. I travelled on it a few times – and felt regal ! ha ha ! A stretch limo would pick you up from your residence and drive you straight through the tarmac to the door of the plane. And when you landed, it received you at the door and drove you to your destination, often a Hotel, where, as you stepped into your room, your luggage was already in and placed. After some years of service it stopped !! Most of the normal commercial airlines began giving all that these special flights were giving at almost half the cost.

The Concord was the next revolution ! Often described as the ‘flying pencil’, it flew at twice the speed of sound, was most cramped in seating, but before you could realize that your feet were in for a bout of ‘cramps’, you were on the other side of the Atlantic. Breakfast in London at 9 am and in New York the same time, for another breakfast. Cut the 6 hr flying time in half – 3 hrs !! All seats seating and rating was the same with just two sections. A forward and an aft ! The Captain would give printed certificates to kids that flew on it, as a souvenir. Shweta and Abhishek have one, from one of our trips to New York, when they were small.

There were so many questions and exciting queries about this aircraft and its speed, that it gave rise to many quips about the Concord. A lady passenger who was seated in the aft of the aircraft on one of its earlier flights, not happy with the air hostess serving their meals to the front rows first, in the upper section, summoned her and and grunted ” You know ! I have paid the same amount of fare as that lady in front that you are serving. How come you do not serve me first ! ” The hostess put on her most charming smile and retorted ” Because the’re moving faster lady !! ”

But the best came from that master of the tongue, Mohammed Ali. He wondered if he were travelling on the highway in his car, and a Concord overtook him, would he be able to see it ! I believe they are still finding an appropriate answer to that one !!

But it was an amazing aircraft. Flew at 55, 000 feet and at Mach 2, twice the speed of sound, the sky at that height was the color purple and not blue, and you could see the curvature of the Earth. The drooped nose of the aircraft was a wonder development – gave the pilot a better view for landing and takeoffs, before straightening out in full flight to cut wind speed against it ! This super sonic baby was an attraction even to those that were conversant with almost every day flying. Landing on a normal flight into London or New York, the Captain of the flight would often come on the public address system and say : ” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow, or JFK International – Concorde taking off to your left ! ”

Concord now of course out of service. The crash in Paris and costs, bringing it down. Most of its routes, indeed all of them, were over the Atlantic – whether to London, NYC, Washington DC, or Paris. I believe it did some routes to Rio de Janeiro as well. Why only over water, sea and oceans ? Because at Mach 2 speed it would have the capacity to break all the windows over land, with its sound – the historic ‘sound barrier’. The first time an aircraft broke this barrier was a most important achievement. Huge disputes range as to who did it first. A German WW II pilot during the war, or an American in 1947. Whatever … it did not take away from the enormous ‘boom’ sound every time an aircraft broke the sound barrier. There are some reports that a Britisher first designed an aircraft that would achieve this feat, shared it with the Americans, as allies in war, with the promise that the Americans would never use it. Apparently they did. A bone of contention here !!


But where have we landed up ? From vanity vans to supersonic aircraft. Though I must admit, that some of the private ‘vanities’ of the big stars, do look in design and shape, as though they would be able to achieve this, on ground !!


My vanity van ? The one that Man ji gave me ? Now lying in a disheveled scrapped condition at DC – the designer manufacturer of most of these super vehicles, among his many other pursuits. He designed the British Jaguar sports car !!

Dear me ! Such a male dominated subject tonight. The ladies would be most upset. Ok … tomorrow maybe, a mention of cats perhaps …??



Amitabh Bachchan