New Delhi: Tales of mechanical dinosaurs sharing living space with hotelier Anupam Poddar are not greatly exaggerated. Much has been written about his eclectic art pursuits over the last few years. In August 2008, Poddar and his mother Lekha—who are together acknowledged to have the largest private collection of contemporary art from the Indian subcontinent—set up the not-for-profit Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, which has since received much critical praise.
Meanwhile, Boutique Hotels India Pvt. Ltd, which Poddar is the director of, is expanding. Ten years after his first venture, an award-winning heritage resort called Devi Garh near Udaipur, Rajasthan, he is set to launch two new properties in Jaipur in August, with a joint investment of Rs120 crore.
In an interview, Poddar speaks about his upcoming hotels and how he compartmentalizes the hotel business and art. Edited excerpts:
Devi Ratn and Rasa come 10 years after your first boutique hotel—Devi Garh. Why launch two hotels simultaneously, and why launch them now?
Jaipur is a large market that allows for multiple tourist segments. These two hotels have very different price points. Devi Ratn is a 63-suite luxury resort with rooms and villas overlooking the Aravalli range, priced upwards of Rs30,000. Rasa is a modern rendition of the nomadic tent, with 40 tents priced at Rs15,000.
There’s a gap in the Indian hospitality sector, with hotels catering to the top end and the budget segment. With Rasa, we hope to address the upwardly mobile middle segment that is starved for choice.
Is the August-September launch intended to coincide with the Commonwealth Games?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a huge incentive for the hospitality sector. I suspect we’re going to be the busiest the week before the games. This is why we want to get things up and running in the next couple of months. We’ll have a formal opening later.
What are your plans after this?
We’re going to launch a hotel in the backwaters of Kerala, south of Kochi, sometime in the next few years. But that’s for a later conversation.
So far, the design influences for your hotels have been largely heritage-based. Do you believe the strength of the Indian hospitality sector still lies in capitalizing on this aspect?
Heritage isn’t synonymous with stagnation. It’s about taking things forward while still retaining a local flavour. We’ve used local materials and colours to give visitors a feel of the place—one shouldn’t go away thinking they came somewhere generic.
Devi Ratn is actually inspired by the 18th century astronomical structure of the Jantar Mantar. There are the jharokhas and jaalis of Rajasthan, too, but these have been created using cutting-edge materials such as glass-reinforced concrete (GRC). The cuboid tents in Rasa were created using a three-layered fabric that blocks UV (ultraviolet) rays. So really, we’re into forward-looking heritage.
You’re evidently an aesthete. How involved are you in the design aspect of your hotels?
A little too much! I came back from a Jaipur site visit yesterday and went straight to Lajpat Nagar looking for upholstery. But I’d think architects prefer clients who’re opinionated at the design stage.
Tell us about the art you’re going to have in these hotels.
At Devi Ratn, we’re working with Kapil Sharma, a fifth-generation artist from a family of miniature painters in Udaipur. He’s created lenticular prints for each room. They’re illusionary, so a banana tree appears to sway in the breeze when you walk past it. We’ve even worked in Rajasthan’s ubiquitous lehariya pattern into the landscaping.
Are there any plans to merge your interest in art and the hotel business in the future?
I’ve been asked this before and they’re two very different things. We want to use our hotels to promote local arts and crafts, and that’s far removed from my personal interest in contemporary art. It’s also very different from what we do at the Devi Art Foundation, where we’re trying to promote avant-garde art.
But how do your roles as a dedicated art collector and hotelier play off against each other?
Art is not a business for me. My mother and I have always steered clear from any business trappings while dealing with art. My role as a businessman definitely helps the way I run the foundation, and in approaching it seriously and systematically. Beyond just collecting contemporary art, I’m now looking at archiving practices at the foundation.
Are you worried that your image as an art collector might soften the way you’re perceived vis-a-vis the hotel industry?
I’m not worried about my image per se, but I don’t like it when the media makes it the focal point. I’m lucky to live with the art I have, but the hotel business is how I make my living.