As we walk through Madh Island’s Poonawala bungalow, Vandana Asija, 22, can’t believe this is indeed her home. An army of workers is setting up the bungalow for an ad shoot that is to begin the next day, and staircases, fake walls and windows have sprung up in just 24 hours. Two days hence, after the shoot is over, the bungalow will go back to its whitewashed austerity.
“They spend three days setting it up, just one day shooting and then they’ll destroy everything,” says Vandana, daughter of Hong Kong-based businessman Ashok Asija, the owner of the bungalow.
“Shoots have been happening here for 30 years and we’ve heard it was the first bungalow to come up in the area,” says Raju Rangwani, a family friend of the Asijas and the bungalow’s manager.
But Poonawala bungalow’s rise to super-stardom very nearly didn’t happen. Ashok Asija bought the bungalow unaware of its Bollywood legacy and turned down filming offers for nearly six months; he wasn’t interested in the income. But he was finally moved when he was told why the bungalow was so important to an industry that thrives on superstitions and lucky charms. “Apparently it’s very lucky since Shah Rukh Khan’s first film, Deewaana and Salman’s first film, Maine Pyar Kiya were both made here,” says Vandana. The Asijas also decided to keep the bungalow’s original name, since it is such a landmark in the area.
The Asijas don’t live in Mumbai, but Bollywood’s global presence helps. “When Munnabhai MBBS came out, I was very excited and told all my friends back home that Mr Khurana’s ‘home’ was actually mine,” says Vandana. The family is also willing to admit that they get star-struck every once in a while. Rangwani lets on that he visited the bungalow just to meet Sanjay Dutt during the filming of the as-yet-unreleased Sanjay Gadhvi film, Kidnap. And Vandana will happily admit to being “very excited” after talking to Hrithik Roshan on the phone when he was at the bungalow to shoot for Aap Mujhe Acchhe Lagne Lage.
The family lives in a private estate next to the bungalow and if they happen to be present during a shoot, it’s not surprising to see them lunching or dining with the film unit. “We used to eat with the cast of the television serial Khichdi. The industry has given this bungalow so much respect that we like to treat them like family,” says Vandana.