The King’s Last Stop

As Hindustan Motors hits the brakes on the Ambassador car, artists gear up to visit memory lane through their installations, paintings and parties.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: June 4, 2014 8:32 am
talk The poster ‘The Ambassador of India’ shows the iconic car in its many avatars.

Paul Fernandes, Cartoonist, Bangalore

Paul Fernandes’ cartoons capture the quaint charm of Bangalore in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His poster The Ambassador of India shows the iconic car in its many avatars.

My brother and I were envious of our uncle who owned an Ambassador, while our father loved his old American model car and wouldn’t cast a second glance on this sleek car. Long before SUVs, it became the quintessential Indian car, a Multi Utility Vehicle; there was no limit to how many it could accommodate or the many uses it had. Any rendition of a city was incomplete without it. I have even seen families who made homes in these abandoned cars. I bought one later and found that it was difficult to drive it after my Maruti, but it was a fulfillment of a long held dream.”

Subodh Gupta, Artist, Delhi

Subodh Gupta’s penchant for everyday objects and the old-world steered him towards the one commodity that symbolises the ordinary in India — the Ambassador.

It has always been such an iconic car and had special symbolism for India as the official vehicle. When a cow comes in front of you on the road, it commands your attention, the Ambassador also had the same effect. I have used the car for two of my installations, in one (Everything is Inside, 2004), I cut away the bottom half of it and had painted it black and yellow. The other (Doot, 2003) was a life-sized aluminium cast of the car.”

Mahbubur Rahman, Artist, Bangladesh

At the 2013 edition of India Art Fair, artist Mahbubur Rahman’s Replacement, a multi-media installation, had the Ambassador covered in black leather with a swarm of leather boots tumbling out of its boot.

In 1988, my early student life, I went to Kolkata for the first time. When we reached Shialda station, there were several cars in Kolkata but realised there was only one brand running on the street. It was the Ambassador. The next morning, I saw life in Kolkata through the window of the hotel washroom and I was surprised to see many Ambassador cars parked in the queue on that particular street. If I erased people from the site, at a glimpse, Kolkata seemed like London. Since then I fell in love with the car and always wished to own one. Unfortunately,
in Bangladesh, you can’t find this brand.”

Hetal Shukla, Artist, Mumbai

Hetal Shukla has been working on the Ambassador for the last seven years, with installations such as Polar Bear, Ambey-Se-Darr or Make Me Famous at art festivals in and outside the country.

My first Ambassador installation was Polar Bear, six years ago at the Kala Ghoda festival. I had just started out; I didn’t really want to go with a brand, I wanted something more local. The Ambassador was a natural choice. It was also considered aspirational to own one. When I include it in my works, I comment on the brand entering fields such as religion or art.”

Sunil Sethi, President, Fashion Design Council of India, Delhi

Sunil Sethi’s love for the Ambassador car is no secret. After buying and selling a few Ambassadors over decades, he settled for a limited retro edition of the car called Avigo.

The number plate of this car reads DIO3. About three years ago, I hosted a party at the Taj Mansingh Hotel in Delhi called “DIO3”. My car was put on a pedestal and I invited Manish Tripathi, a caricature artist, to draw scenes from the party on the car while it was going on. My daughter, Tanira, assisted him. The party had about 300 people — designers as well as artists. This was a project for Sunil Sethi Design Alliance. I also commissioned 11 art pieces on the Ambassador to Khemchand, an artist who used to teach Tanira drawing; I still have them in my office. My grandfather used to drive an Ambassador; and it was also my first car in college. In fact, I was waiting for them to announce an upgrade.”

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