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The Midas touch!

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His baby! Bobby Mukherji at the The One, the coffee shop of New Delhi’s Le Meridien
His baby! Bobby Mukherji at the The One, the coffee shop of New Delhi’s Le Meridien

Architect Bobby Mukherji walks Anuj Kumar through the alleys of luxury

He is deft at designing luxury. Casting the past in the present is his signature style. A layman won’t find anything similar to a Chaitya in the redesigned lobby of Delhi’s Le Meridien hotel but for Bobby Mukherji, the inspiration did come from the Buddhist architecture. The young and happening architect, who has just renovated the coffee shop of the hotel, can bamboozle you with words like bleached wood and biomorphic forms. But as he charms you with his practical wisdom, you soon discover that he is not all about technical polemics.

Bobby says till date only international companies used to handle the interior designing of luxury spaces in the hospitality and real estate sectors. “I am among the select few Indian architects in the sector.” In a country which is yet to make sense of its teeming millions, luxury is still a bad word. “I take it this way: If I won’t, an international company will get the project. Also, one must not forget, our numbers are often misleading because research shows India has more millionaires than countries which are perceived to be rich.”

Bobby, who is working on prestigious projects with brands like Bharat Hotels (now The Lalit) and Radisson group in locations ranging from Srinagar to Jaipur and Chandigarh to Hampi says design has taken a big leap in the luxury segment. “A mere change in the design can get one a better return on investments. People say renovation is costly but in most of the places I have worked, rooms rates have gone up after renovation. Interior design can no longer be taken casually.” It is evident in his work, which he outsources to places ranging from Barcelona to Tokyo.

Bobby feels futuristic designs are in demand but at the same time time-tested values like optimum use of natural light continue to be valid. “I believe in the synergy of the past and the present and Delhi is the city which has the right mix of the traditional and the latest. It is also one of the rare cities in the country which has not grown haphazardly, at least, a large chunk of it.” He insists location is crucial to the design. “In Srinagar glass could be used because of the climate but in Delhi too much of glass means lots of expenditure on air conditioning. Similarly, I am working on a modern design for the Jaipur hotel because the local populace has enough of Rajasthan’s royal experience. We are creating a tropical mood but in Srinagar as we are turning a palace into a hotel we are maintaining its old-world charm but at the same, making it functional for the modern-day tourist.”

Business of creativity

From childhood Bobby wanted to be in the business of creativity. His parents were associated with theatre and appreciated his creative instincts. “I was good at painting but I wanted to do something which is permanent! I also thought of fashion designing but at that time fashion and art had not become a lucrative business so I kept it as a hobby. I still paint. In fact, in most of the hotel lounges I have designed you will find my work,” says Bobby, who nurtured his talent at the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai. By final year he established his company Bobby Mukherji and Associates and started working for that big break. “I worked with the famous interior design firm, Gruen Associates in New York. I got most of my practical knowledge there.” The big break came when his company won the master planning of Sahara Lake City at Ambey Valley in association with Gruen Associates. The renovation of Hotel Sahara Star followed and the rest they say is, quite clichéd!

But what is not is that he decided to stay on in the country, which had just begun to break free from the shackles of licence raj at that time. “Most of the Indian talent goes abroad because they feel Indian companies won’t get selected for the luxury segment. I have changed this perception to a large extent. There is a lot that can be done in the design and lighting patterns of night clubs which are fast emerging as clones of each other. Similarly, hospitals and laboratories can be made a lot more appealing,” says Bobby, who has given new look to the Metropolis Laboratory. But what about the State infrastructure? “It is not that I didn’t want to do government projects. I also wanted to contribute to the nation’s progress but I soon realised such projects are not always awarded on merit. Anyway, privatisation is the way forward.”

‘It pinches’

Of late, his talent has taken a backseat and Bobby is referred to as the husband of actress Mahima Choudhary in the news pages. “Till it was in the news pages it was still fine but when they made me a part of gossip columns, it began to pinch! Mahima knew how they make a mountain out of molehill, but for me it was a new experience and it took me some time to recover. I want to be known because of my work and not because I am a celebrity’s husband.”

( anuj@thehindu.co.in)

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