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When an Indian real estate developer says it is going to recreate Paris in Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex, your first reaction is that this must be some sort of metaphor. Perhaps they are going to take the underlying principles used while planning the city of Paris and apply them to an Indian setting, you think. Until you are standing in front of a 30ft iron replica of the Eiffel Tower.
The sculpture, which cost upwards of Rs.70 lakh to build, will be placed near the swimming pool in Kanakia Paris, the Kanakia group’s recently unveiled luxury residential complex in Mumbai’s new commercial hub. The pool comes complete with water jets, just like the ones in the pool near the real Eiffel Tower. At the moment, Mumbai’s Eiffel Tower is just inside the gate of the Kanakia Paris construction site. A few metres away is a replica of the Louvre pyramid, currently serving as the entrance to the property’s sales office. The pyramid will be shifted to the common terrace and be a mini art gallery of sorts once the project is complete in two-four years.
If you have travelled anywhere in Mumbai in the past three weeks, you’ll know about Kanakia Paris. Zinedine Zidane, the French footballing great and current manager of the Real Madrid FC, is the project’s wellness ambassador and has been on dozens of advertising hoardings across the city—the latest ones announce how 10 June, when he attends a press conference in Mumbai, will “go down in history”.
The project captures your attention immediately, partly because the pairing of an international footballing legend and an Indian real estate project is striking, but also because in this time of hyper-nationalism, when we seem to be trying to convince the world and ourselves that we need do no more than look back at our glorious past to move forward, Kanakia Paris is an unabashed manifestation of an Indian desire that no amount of patriotic chest-beating can subdue: We all want a slice of the West.
And the Kanakia group is not trying to dress up its offering as anything but a complete ode to a Western city either. There are no claims here of fusion, no stories of how local Indian handicrafts are going to be woven into the overarching Parisian theme. The architect, Olivier Vecchierini, is Parisian; all the interiors will be French-themed; the walkway will be designed to look like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées; the café will be called Maxim’s; the garden will be a replica of the Tuileries Garden; the planters used for trees will be Versailles planters; and even the barricades and signage will be Parisian style.
Themes based on countries or neighbourhoods are common in restaurants and bars. But would anyone want to actually live in a space that so intricately resembles a foreign land, waking up every morning to the sight of a faux monument? The answer is in the numbers.
Kanakia Paris has already sold 55% of the two- and three-bedroom flats it is offering. And it is not the only project of its type. In 2012, Puranik Builders launched a residential project called Rumah Bali, in Thane, which aims to create the atmosphere of the eponymous Indonesian island with cabanas, eco ponds and a floating clubhouse. When Nirmal Lifestyle decided to build a residential complex that focused on sports and wellness amenities in Mulund (West), it tied up with the organizers of the US Open tennis tournament and called it US Open Apartments. Up north, there are the Jaypee group’s Kensington Park apartments, with landscaped gardens based on London’s Kensington Gardens, in Noida, near Delhi; The Nile, by Omaxe, in Gurgaon, adjacent to the Capital—this combines Egyptian architecture with modern amenities; and the TDI group’s Tuscan City, in Kundli, Haryana.
The 30-year-old Kanakia group seems to be trying to develop a reputation for building residential complexes based on Western places. “The idea is to make people feel proud of the place they work or live in,” says Himanshu Kanakia, the group’s managing director, who founded the company along with his brother, Rasesh, who is the chairman. Apart from Kanakia Paris, the group has launched Kanakia Rainforest, a residential complex based on the Brazilian Amazon, in Mumbai’s Andheri (East); Kanakia Miami, a beach-themed project in Mahim (West); and Kanakia Wall Street, a commercial space in Andheri (East).
Each of the projects is being executed with the same unwavering commitment to the theme as the Paris one. “I went to the Amazon myself to study the forests and brought back an archaeologist and a landscape designer from there,” Himanshu says of the rainforest project. Mumbai’s own Wall Street will have sleeping pods from the US that he tested himself—“I slept for 20 minutes and felt like I had had 2 hours of rest.” And Mahim’s Miami will have an infinity pool; a graffiti-filled wall, a riff on the Wynwood Walls, Miami’s famous street art project; aquariums in the lobbies; and surfboards hanging on walls.
This last feature encapsulates everything one might find perplexing about these themed real estate projects. While an Eiffel Tower replica seems like an awfully literal way of creating a Parisian atmosphere, one might still argue that a mere reminder of the monument may inspire one to be creative. But not even the biggest optimist would hope that the surf culture would make its way to Mumbai’s beaches, which leaves surfboards on a wall feeling awfully like a tacky gimmick.
It would be cynical to dismiss projects such as Kanakia Paris and Miami and the like as gaudy imitations of the West. Keep in mind that their buyers are paying upwards of Rs.20,000 per sq. ft for the apartments and are probably well-travelled professionals or businessmen who have sat in real Parisian cafés and held their own in offices on the actual Wall Street.
Part of why they find replicas of those experiences attractive is because a project with an international name and theme usually denotes quality, says Nikhil Bhatia, western region head of real estate services firm CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd. “People aren’t going to expect Bombay to become Paris,” he says. “But they like that they are looking at international design, international concepts and international master planning. They know that a project such as Kanakia Paris is going to be a fashionable, Indo-Western product.”
The popularity of themed projects tells us a lot about ourselves that we might like to deny. Ultimately, status and prestige still matter to all classes of society, and a Western name and theme confer these instantly. Also, while we might like to think of our generation as having evolved beyond Kesari Tour sightseeing trips to well-researched travel, we still sometimes want explicit connections to the West. “Not everyone is well travelled and well exposed, so there has to be an easily recognizable element in the project,” says Bhatia, while explaining why the Kanakia group may have created an Eiffel Tower replica.
As Himanshu explains, it comes down to buyers wanting to own and live in a piece of real estate that makes them feel proud. And right now, living in an apartment with Parisian interiors or walking past a wall with surfboards seems to give them that.