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Bollywood A-listers’ status symbol: vanity vans that include gyms, bars, party zones

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Shah Rukh Khan’s van was designed by car designer Dilip Chhabria. Photo: Mr. Track/Captured from Youtube

New Delhi: Glamorous vehicles owned by Bollywood stars – the closest thing to royalty in the nation of 1.38 billion – are often of great interest to the Indian public.

Fancy wheels often make headlines, and evoke awe among fans: Aamir Khan’s Mercedes-Benz Maybach S600 to Akshay Kumar’s Rolls-Royce Phantom, Ranveer Singh’s Aston Martin Rapide S and Amitabh Bachchan’s Bentley Continental GT, to name a few.

Lately, their “vanity vans” have also crept into the limelight.

Owned by leading film stars, these are basically spacious vehicles – occasionally repurposed buses or coaches – used by stars as retreats during long shooting schedules. They function as a home away from home, where stars can relax, conduct business meetings, and do so much more within their cosy confines.

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Bollywood A-lister Kareena Kapoor is a proud owner of a vanity van, whose cost may run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kareena’s van also serves as a greenroom where she and her team get glammed up in preparation for shoots. Photo: Kareena Kapoor Khan/Captured from Facebook

Many have theirs specially designed and custom made, and may include bars, lavish restrooms, party zones along with well-equipped gyms.

From Shah Rukh Khan to Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif to Ranvir Singh, Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor, most Bollywood A-listers are proud owners of vanity vans whose cost may run upwards of US$130,000.

Mumbai: Maximum van city

Sachin Vishwakarma, co-owner of Mumbai-based SRK Vanity Vans, which manufactures and customises these vehicles for film stars and production companies, says the demand is “huge”.

“Vanity vans have become a necessity in a star’s life today and also a symbol of their status,” he explains. “The stars earn mega bucks and like to spend their off duty hours in luxury.”

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Salman Khan’s van was decorated by Dilip Chhabria. Photo: @indialaunch/Captured from Instagram

Shahrukh Khan is rumoured to own one of the most expensive vanity vans in Bollywood, nicknamed “Palace on Wheels”.

According to the owner of an event management company, who prefers to remain anonymous, Khan has a Volvo BR9 designed and customised by celebrity Indian car designer Dilip Chhabria.

“It is a state-of-the-art vehicle that can be controlled simply by an iPad. It is done up with designer furniture, oversized mirrors, and can also be converted into a party zone with special light effects,” says the source.

With a price tag of US$524,573, Salman Khan’s charcoal grey vanity van can leave many green with envy. It boasts of smart LED lighting, a relaxation couch, a plasma TV that runs along an entire wall, a bed and a pantry. Designed and reimagined to suit the 54-year-old’s lifestyle, its walls flaunt paintings done by the actor himself.

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Salman Khan’s vanity van boasts of smart LED lighting, a relaxation couch, a plasma TV that runs along an entire wall, a bed and a pantry. Designed and reimagined to suit the 54-year-old’s lifestyle, its walls flaunt paintings done by the actor himself. File Photo: @SalmanFC_com/Twitter

Meanwhile, Hrithik Roshan’s posh Mercedes V-Class is sectioned into a makeup area, a lounge, an office cubicle as well as a bedroom and power recliners for de-stressing.

Bollywood female actors are no less ostentatious. Alia Bhatt has hers outfitted with reflective glass panels, purple lights and vintage books. Katrina Kaif’s vanity van sports pastel hues, patterned textiles, and wooden accents. There’s also a well-stocked pantry and a bench-style sofa to boot.

From vanity to necessity

Before the trend of these fancy four wheels hit India, actors recall facing challenges during outdoor shoots, volleying between their hotels and film sets looking for privacy.

“I remember once I had to change my costume behind a big umbrella held up my assistant because our hotel was really far from the shooting location and the rain was pouring,” recalls an erstwhile Bollywood actor who prefers to remain anonymous.

Actor Poonam Dhillon, who starred in more than 60 films in the 1980s and claims to be the pioneer of the vanity van business in India, said in a TV interview recently that female actors had it really tough without the facility of vanity vans. “I even avoided having water for hours just so I didn’t have to use the loo!” she recalled.

Dhillon first saw the vanity van concept in Los Angeles, and said she was “so impressed with it that I decided to bring it to India”.

In 1991, the 60-year-old partnered with a company to launch 25 vanity vans.

She also recently posted throwback pictures on Instagram of some of her vanity vans used by movie stars with the caption: “I didn’t realise I was making film history when I launched my first mobile makeup van “Vanity”. Today, vanity has become a generic word to describe a makeup van. Most artists thank me for introducing the concept to the film industry!”

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Bollywood celebrities retreat to their vanity vans on long shoots. Anushka Sharma’s van is perfect for any glam moment, with a fully decked out vanity mirror. File Photo: @anushkasharma/Captured from Instagram

Since the earliest vans, many other players too, have jumped onto the bandwagon, drawn to a good business opportunity.

Trade analysts say that roughly 70 vanity van companies have mushroomed across India today from a handful that existed in the 1990s. Most are concentrated in and around Mumbai – “India’s cinema capital” – and manufacture customised vans for movie stars and production companies, undertake maintenance work, even rent them out.

“Our rates vary between US$300 per day for 12 hours for renting our smallest van to $700 for the 47-feet trailer that is hired by top stars,” said Sachin Vishwakarma, co-owner of Mumbai-based SRK Vanity Vans.

To manufacture a vanity van, the entrepreneur explains, he buys the chassis from reputed automobile companies and builds on them as per the client’s specifications. “Various parameters are kept in mind like fuel-efficiency, decor, The Star’s lifestyle etc. Sometimes we also buy a bus or coach to repurpose it as a vanity van.”

The surging demand for such vehicles is hardly surprising, given that India is one of the world’s leading film entertainment markets, with the overall revenue raised by the Indian film industry exceeding 90 billion Indian rupees (US$1.17 billion) in 2021 according to Statista, a data aggregating company.

A top Bollywood producer told this correspondent on the condition of anonymity that while there’s no denying the utility of vanity vans during long shooting schedules, “it often turns into a game of one upmanship among leading stars to see who has the most expensive one”.

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Alia Bhatt’s vanity van is spacious. Photo: @aliaabhatt/Instagram

Often, added the source, “even those actors who have their own vans, expect the producer to foot the bill of a rented one which throws our budgets off kilter. This is especially painful as we’re all just struggling to get things going after a devastating pandemic”.

Although many companies went belly up during the pandemic because film shoots ground to a halt, business looks set to pick up again.

“We had a fleet of 15 vans, but had to get rid of 10 due to a demand deficit. But now business is reviving again with lockdowns easing and the fear of the deadly virus diminishing. We’re looking forward to good times,” says Kiran More of Baba Enterprises.