For actor Arshad Warsi and director Sanjay Gupta, riding is a form of meditation
Growing up, actor Arshad Warsi knew that girls love boys on bikes, which is why he joined a bikers’ gang in school. But the interest remained even after school, and soon Arshad was motor-racing in Pune.
"Biking is my passion. It’s a guy thing – to have a beast beneath you and feel the wind in your hair," says Arshad. "There are two aspects of biking: when you’re a kid you love bikes because girls love bikes.
And then you love bikes because you want to emulate the guy you admire. For me, that started with the movie Grease 2. I felt like a cool dude on my bike."
For many guys, biking is about speed, but Arshad prefers cruising. "The only time I have driven fast is on a track," he says. "Otherwise, for me, riding a bike is similar to having a drink.
I drink slowly and ride slowly. But this doesn’t imply that I have grown old or something. A really active person can also enjoy meditation and that’s how I feel about biking." That’s why Arshad customised his Harley-Davidson Diana Series to include speakers: so he can cruise to music.
He likes long distance riding either alone or with friends, though the nature of his work means he sometimes has to cancel tours at the last minute. "But I quite enjoy doing the Bombay-Goa sector as the road is beautiful.
I love taking the Harley there. The more you ride, the better it gets. If there isn’t much time, then I just go for a quick trip to Kamshet where I have a farm," says Arshad.
However, his all-time favourite biking sector is Leh-Ladakh. It’s the ultimate for any biker – but it can also be the most tedious, because many bikes are unable to withstand the extreme terrain.
"Even the Harley, a 300 kg bike, is not able to withstand the rough conditions there," says Arshad. "The Harley needs a flat road rather than the dangerous curves of Leh-Ladakh.
The Bullet works best there. At that high altitude, with the lack of oxygen, most bikes lose their power. But the Bullet works as well as it does in the city. I usually go with a close friend of mine who lives in Canada."
Leh-Ladakh is far from an easy route, but Arshad is very particular about safety issues. "Tyres can be a big problem and there are not many service stations or mechanics.
So whenever I ride the Ladakh sector, whether alone or with my friend, I take an SUV with tools, spare tyres and a mechanic. I never try to be a hero in such matters," he says.
This good sense comes from an incident when, biking between Khardungla and Leh, Arshad skidded on a patch of gravel and couldn’t control his bike for a while. "After that, I have always made sure to stay safe," says Arshad.
Safety considerations have their upside: Arshad has a huge collection of helmets, ranging from the protective to the offbeat. "Some have funky spikes, and some are old German helmets," he says. The helmets also help keep him unrecognisable on Mumbai roads .
Though perhaps this need for privacy isn’t entirely necessary. On one trip to Leh with a friend, Arshad dismounted, took off his helmet, and was informed by a passing stranger that he looked like Arshad Warsi.
"The man suggested that I make money by doing lookalike roles, and I found it so funny that I kept quiet about my real identity," laughs Arshad.
"But my friend couldn’t take it and gave the game away, and then it was fun meeting people and chatting with them. They’ve become friends – I make it a point to meet them when I go there."
Biking is a passion for Arshad, and so is his wife, Maria Goretti. So when they married and Maria told him to stay away from bikes, Arshad quietly gave them up.
"Then when I was shooting for Kabul Express with John Abraham [also an avid biker], he convinced Maria to let me
buy a bike for myself," says Arshad. "Immediately, I bought a Harley."
He’s been in love with bikes since he was a child, and the romance of the road has lived all these years for filmmaker Sanjay Gupta.
“I was lucky to be gifted my first bike, a Hero Honda CB 100, when I was in class 12,” he recalls. “A few years later, I managed to buy my own bike and was on cloud nine after that.”
The filmmaker, best known for making Kaante (2002), was never attracted to bikes for their speed. “On a sports bike, you spend more time trying to control it than enjoying the ride.
On a tourer, on the other hand, you can tell the bike what to do,” says Sanjay. “The feeling is unique – a feeling of oneness between man and machine. And you share a bond with fellow bikers, whether you know them or not.”
At times, like many other avid bikers, Sanjay does face some constraints. For example, city traffic is hardly pleasurable for a biker, and then there’s his work that calls for long and unpredictable hours.
“The Mumbai climate is either very hot or very wet,” he says. “It is impossible to ride my precious bikes in these conditions. So only the period between November and March (the winter months) are conducive for riding.”
In those happy months, rather than riding solo, Sanjay prefers to make a party of his rides. "I enjoy going in a group of eight or more people, who are either my close friends or are part of my crew," he says.
"So whether it’s my cameraman or my production designer, we all try and sneak out for a trip whenever it’s possible."
His favourite route is the Mumbai-Goa sector via Pune and Mahabaleshwar. "I also want to ride south to Kerala via Bangalore and Mangalore, and one day, ride the whole of Rajasthan as well," he says.
This year, however, Sanjay hasn’t been able to ride the way he likes to. He has been shooting for his new film Jazbaa, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s comeback movie.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been on his bike. "As we are shooting a little away from Mumbai, I need to leave at six in the morning and come back only after ten at night," he says. "So I ride my Thunderbird LT (light tourer)."
Recently, he, along with his crew, decided to scout locations around Mumbai on their bikes.
"It was great fun to look for locations while enjoying our passion for riding. However, since the Triumph Thunderbird is majorly made of chrome, I will have to move it inside by June," says Sanjay.
Since his house is pretty close to the sea, the weather will not be very conducive for riding. "I will have to keep the bike inside my home theatre where I used to keep my Harley before I sold it," explains the filmmaker.
Sanjay makes it a point to be a safe rider. "Every rider has either fallen or is ready to fall," he says. "But there is no point being reckless. I am absolutely organised when I go for a trip, with the right gear and even the right shoes.
That’s why I’ve never had an accident on my bike – though I did have one in my jeep some years ago when my film Kaante was about to release, and I had to spend 11 weeks in hospital."
Aged two and four, Sanjay’s children are too young to share his love for biking, and his wife isn’t fond of bikes either, though she has nothing against them.
So Sanjay is the only bike lover in the family as of now. That doesn’t stop him from checking out new bikes. He is on the lookout for new objects of desire.
A couple of years ago, John Abraham, an avid biker himself, gifted him a Yamaha VMax. "I am interested in the Indian Scout and the Thunderbird Storm," he says. "Let’s see how early I get them."
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From HT Brunch, May 10
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