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Zooming into the spotlight

On the outside, Shri Shivaji Talkies in Talegaon, 135 km south-east of Mumbai, looks no better than a grimy grindhouse theatre, writes Purva Mehra.

mumbai Updated: Oct 01, 2009 00:17 IST
Purva Mehra

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It’s no multiplex, but it has had to try.

On the outside, Shri Shivaji Talkies in Talegaon, 135 km south-east of Mumbai, looks no better than a grimy grindhouse theatre.

About two years ago, though, the cinema’s interiors were refurbished with reclining seats, air coolers and a satellite feed system that allows Talegaon to watch the latest Bollywood releases on the same day as Pune and Mumbai.

“We have some of the world’s leading automobile and auto component manufacturers in our backyard. A sophisticated theatre was the least of our expectations from Talegaon,” says Jinal Visharia (21), a student of the Maharashtra Institute of Medical Education and Research.

Visharia has lived here three years and is not familiar with Talegaon’s former ‘pensioners’ town’ image. Her newfound Talegaon has upstaged Lonavla as the state’s coveted luxury home destination. It’s where she rents a furnished 2-BHK apartment for Rs 5,000 a month.

The tale of ‘Shivnox’ (Shivaji Talkies, as re-christened by Talegaon’s youth) embracing change is only an excerpt from a larger narrative of Talegaon’s accelerated development.

A narrative that began to unravel about two years ago, when General Motors set up its Rs 1,300-crore plant here. A move followed by Mercedes Benz, JCB, Audi and Volkswagen, auto giants that set up plants in Chakan, about 15 km away.

“The spotlight on Pune as Maharashtra’s auto hub has been slightly refracted and part of that attention is now on Talegaon,” says estate agent Shrikant Kulkarni. “In 1982, property rates were at Rs 150 per square foot and Rs 650 in 1997. This year, they have soared to Rs 1,850 per square foot.”

This emerging hub for small car manufacturing has not only increased the demand for commercial space but also generated interest in residential properties.

“When I relocated here from Pune five years ago, an apartment was available at a throwaway price of Rs 6 lakh. The same now costs up to Rs 18 lakh,” says Ritu Dubey (43), principal of The Heritage School, one of two CBSE schools in Talegaon. “It’s not such a surprise. We expected this to happen once GM set up shop here.”

Price hikes notwithstanding, Talegaon is cluttered with billboards advertising luxury housing complexes that offer independent bungalows and modern amenities such as clubhouses and 24-hour security systems.

Kulkarni’s building firm is working on the simultaneous completion of 60 housing projects in the area.

“Talegaon has a lot working in its favour. To draw corporations here, the state has worked on improving infrastructure, widening roads. Its proximity to Pune, Lonavla and Mumbai is a big draw. And weather is perhaps the other most compelling factor… it’s the Switzerland of Maharashtra,” he says.

There is some truth to Kulkarni’s sales pitch. Talegaon has for a fringe the lush Sahyadri range and enjoys perennially congenial weather. It is thus a popular holiday-home destination for Mumbai and Pune’s middle-class and also the preferred residential retreat for workers employed in Pimpri and Pune.

Soon after the multinationals set foot in Talegaon, the town became more self-sustained.

“Earlier, one had to visit Pune thrice a week to stock up on simple resources like oats and cereals or even to watch films. Now Talegaon has supermarkets and a revamped cinema hall. I don’t travel to Pune as often,” says Dubey.

Talegaon’s property boom is still gaining momentum — prices are expected to soar further. But the residents aren’t complaining.

They say that if the government lays better roads within the hamlets, focuses on the proposed plan for an international airport in Chakan and increases connectivity to Talegaon, then Pune may just have a contender in this tiny force emerging in its shadow.