Accidental love

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Bollywood movie, Chalte Chalte, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherji features a Ashok Leyland truck. Released in 2003, the movie is a romantic drama with Shahrukh Khan playing the role of a small truck fleet owner, and Mukherji playing the role of an aspiring fashion designer. From Greece, Mukherji stays with her aunt in India, and has her life well organised. In comparison, Khan’s character is of a person who lives a happy, albeit carefree life. Living life on his own terms, Khan and Mukherji meet quite by accident in the movie. Mukherji nearly crashes her car into Khan’s truck, a Ashok Leyland Comet Gold truck. The two get off to a rocky start. Shahrukh tows Mukherji’s car as it lands in a ditch. As she gets down to shout at Khan, she forgets to pull the parking brake! Past many twists and turns, and a bit of romance and a ride in the truck, the two get married. They don’t stay happily ever after however. Instead, they get into a habit of arguing. Things get bad as Khan sees his business suffer. A happy ending is eventually arrived at, but not without reflecting upon the ups and downs in the life of a truck fleet operator.

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The Ashok Leyland Comet Gold truck that features in the movie was launched in 2001. A 4×2 haulage truck in the 16-tonne GVW segment, the truck is powered by a six-cylinder, 6.5-litre AL 402 H series turbo diesel engine. The engine produces a maximum power of 136 PS at 2400 rpm, and is mated to a five-speed synchromesh manual transmission. Employing pressed steel G45 FES without reinforcement, which helped to keep the kerb weight low, the Comet Gold came to be known for the higher payload it could offer. The suspension of the truck consisted of semi elliptical multi leaf springs all round. Power steering was offered as an option. Equipped with a fully floating single-speed hypoid gear at the rear axle, the front axle of the truck was made up of a forged ‘I’ section reverse elliot type beam. Built robust, the Comet Gold found use in cement and road construction segments.

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The Plot

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A young and affluent girl from Delhi is abducted by a man when she steps out with her fiance one late evening. The two drive into a deserted petrol pump. The girl, whose character is portrayed by Alia Bhatt, steps out of the car and is nabbed by a person called Mahabir Bhati. Bhati dumps the girl into his Tata 407 LCV parked close by even as the girl’s fiance, convulsed in fear, gets into the car and sits there. Bhati drives away with Veera Tripathi (played by Alia Bhatt). For Veera, it is a blessing in disguise. It was to step out and breathe some fresh air that she persuaded her fiance to take her out for a drive. Veera was finding it difficult to come to terms with her marriage; the social and emotional change it would entail. Released in 2014, the Hindi movie, Highway, directed by Imtiaz Ali, saw Bhati driving across the highways of Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir with Veera onboard. Claimed to look at Stockholm Syndrome, the movie drew attention to the issue of child exploitation. In the film, over time, Veera develops feelings for Bhati, played by Randeep Hooda. Things get to a level where Bhati tries to get rid of Veera, but she does not give up on him. The two travel to Kashmir, all the while dodging cops searching for Veera. Veera gets to live her dream as the two begin staying together at Bhati’s house in a mountainous terrain away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

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Across the various highways, and the treacherous himalayan region, the Tata 407 is shown to do its job sincerely. It plays a catalyst, and helps to reveal the plot. Introduced in 1986 by Tata Motors, the 407 has turned out be an iconic LCV in India. Indigenously developed to take on Japanese competition in the form of DCM toyota, Eicher Mitsubishi and Swaraj Mazda, the Tata 407 has sold over 600,000 since the time it was launched. If this underlines the truck’s popularity and success, the fact is, the Tata 407 is synonymous with LCVs in India. Springing no less than 10 variants, including a smaller and lighter 302 pick-up truck, the Tata 407 is found at every nook and corner of the vast country that India is; it is also found to ferry fruits, vegetables, construction material, milk and dairy products, garments, industrial equipment and bits, and much more. Also used by paramilitary forces, the Tata 407, offering a payload capacity in the range of 2.2-tonne to 4.2-tonne, depending on which of the 10 variants one chooses, is also exported to about 15 countries in South Asia and Africa. Also found in a semi-forward bus guise, called the Cityride, which can seat 12 to 24 people, the 407 is powered by a four-cylinder, turbo-diesel engine that produces 73 hp. The G-380 synchromesh transmission is a five-speed unit. Suspension is made up of semi-elliptical leaf springs and hydraulic double acting shock absorbers. An anti-roll bar at front provides good stability.

Excitement and adventure on a Tata bus

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Released in 1972, the Hindi movie ‘Bombay to Goa’ is about adventure as much as it is about comedy. Believed to be a remake of 1966 Tamil Nadu movie, Madras to Pondicherry, “Bombay to Goa’ epitomises a road journey to an exotic location that throws many surprises and revelations at the viewers, glueing them to their seats in a bout of laughter and anxiety. The movie begins with the tourists boarding a seemingly customised Tata LP 1210 bus at Bombay (now Mumbai). One of them is a young lady ‘Mala, played by Aruna Irani. She boards the bus as it is about to leave for Goa. Facing stiff opposition from home, Mala has fled from home, and stealing cash in the process. Influenced by Sharma (played by Manmohan) and Verma.(played by Shatrughan Sinha), to who she hands over the stolen cash in return for finding work in the film industry, Mala is on the run. Sharma has been murdered and Mala has witnessed it. Fearing Verma will eliminate her, she is running for her dear life. Mala finds a protector in young Ravi (played by Amitabh Bachchan). Ravi falls for Mala as the journey progresses. Apart from Mala and Ravi, there is an assortment of some very interesting characters that make the travelling crowd on the bus. Equally interesting are the driver of the bus, Anwar Ali, and the conductor, played by comedian Mehmood. The LP 1210 is witness to fun, excitement and moments of trepidation that roll one after the other in quick succession. The movie ends with all the travellers on the bus uniting to overpower Verma and his crooks, and handing them over to the cops.

Painted in an attractive shade of red and white, the LP 1210 looks modern and classy for its time. The interiors look comfortable and a cut above the market. The pleated curtains, the comfortable seats, the hat racks, all add to the ambience; help create the right atmosphere. A forward control design, the LP 1210 went on to be a popular choice for various types of bus operators after it was launched in the late 50s. It shared the chassis and engine with the L1210 truck, and also the assembly line at Telco’s Jamshedpur plant. The OM312 4580 cc four-cylinder diesel engine produced 110 bhp of power. It was mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Brakes were service hydraulic assisted by a single chamber air pressure booster. Steering was recirculating ball type. Suspension was made up of semi-elliptic silico-manganese leaf springs with hydraulic shock absorbers.

Trusted companion, the Tata L1210

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A Hindi movie, Namkeen was released in 1982. Touching up some sensitive but untouched aspects of the Indian society, especially found in rural areas, Namkeen has Sanjeev Kumar playing a central character as a truck driver called Gerulal. Gerulal is taken as a tenant by an old lady and her three daughters. During his stay at their place Gerulal comes to respect the four for their ability to tackle challenges and live a respectable life despite a hand-to-mouth existence. He comes to like the elder daughter, and proposes her before he has to move to another location for business. Gerulal’s job is to ferry produce between the remote, hilly location of Himachal Pradesh to the city and back. He drives the legendary Tata L1210 truck. Turning down Gerulal’s proposal, the elder daughter of the landlady suggests that he marry her younger sister. Gerulal declines and moves on. Much to his shock, Gerulal, some years later, during his travels, finds the youngest of three daughters dancing in a local show. She is part of a local troupe, which does not bode well in terms of values. He finds out from her that her elder sister lost her mental balance and committed suicide after he left. Her mother died of shock. Gerulal rushes to the house to find the elder sister played by Sharmila Tagore. She looks elder than she actually is. He takes her with him. All along the movie, and through out the emotional journey of Gerulal – the truck driver, the Tata L1210 makes a trusted companion.

Introduced in the mid-60s in collaboration with Daimler-Benz AG of Germany, the L1210 became very popular with truckers. Its unique design of the truck had the round headlights placed in their shells ahead of the wheel mudguard. Between the two mudguards was a long bonnet with the OM 312 engine under it. Located longitudinally, the 4.6-litre four-cylinder diesel engine produced 110 hp of power, and was mated to a five-speed transmission. Brakes were service hydraulic assisted by single chamber air pressure booster. Steering was of the recirculating ball type. Suspension was made up of semi-elliptic silicon-manganese leaf springs with hydraulic telescopic shock absorbers. The front had 12 leaves; rear had wider and thicker 10 main leaves and seven auxiliary leaves.

Mafia Lord’s trusted transporter

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In March 1956, the first Bullis (Volkswagen bus) came off the production line plant at Hanover in Germany. Celebrating 60 years of existence this year, the Bullis turned out to be so popular that it also found its way to India. Also known as Volkswagen (VW) Transporter, the bus also found a way to feature in a cameo role in hit Bollywood movies ‘Don’ and ‘Deewar’; featuring none other than Amitabh Bachchan. In ‘Deewar’, released in 1975, Amitabh Bachchan, acting as a Mafia lord ferries himself in a mid-1960s Transporter to the hospital where his mother is terribly ill. With his own brother, a cop played by Shashi Kapoor, hot on his heel, the Transporter plays a safe mode of travel for Bachchan with curtains drawn across its ample glass area. Opening the sliding rear door in an attempt to swiftly get out and go check on his ill mother, the mafia lord does allow the audience a glimpse of what is inside. The interior of the Transporter looks fairly lavish in its appointments. Enough to give a clue that this bus is not an ordinary automobile. At a time when the Indian economy was ‘closed’, an automobile like the Volkswagen Transporter made a contemporary set of wheels for the famous mafia lord character. Unable to breach the police cordon, the mafia lord turns back and goes to a temple instead to pray for the good health of his mother.

 

The Transporter that featured in ‘Deewar’ is the same that D5 copyewas featured in ‘Don’ as well. It is a first generation transporter – the Type 2 (T2) Kombi with the turn indicators located below the inset head lamps. Losing the split windscreen of the earlier generation model, the T2 flaunted an aerodynamically curved front with inset lamps and a big Volkswagen logo at the centre. In fact, the front was a little carved out to present it with an amount of visual weight. A small pseudo-grille under the windscreen helped with the ventilation of the cabin. Featuring rear sliding doors, the bus was powered by a 47 hp, 1.6-litre four-cylinder ‘boxer’ petrol engine located at the rear. The T2 also did away with the swing axle rear suspension and transfer boxes used earlier to raise the ride height. Half axles were instead fitted with constant velocity joints. This avoided the wild changes in camber of the Beetle-based swing axle suspension. The Kombi, it is no secret, was born out of the Beetle. Like the Beetle it went to become as iconic, and continues to be much sought after even today. Production of the Transporter moved to Brazil in 1967.