Fans whistled and clapped, and some even skipped a heartbeat when the actor, Ranveer Singh’s character, ‘Varun Srivastav’, in the film ‘Lootera’, first saw ‘Pakhi’, played by Sonakshi Sinha, in the bucolic setting of Hooghly. In the scene, he was riding past her vehicle on a vintage British Ariel motorcycle but soon was bumped off the road, struck with love at first sight.
The movie went on to rock the box office but not many know that the Ariel bike was borrowed from a vintage restorer, who quietly in his small workshop in the heart of North Kolkata, has restored historic motorcycles, building them from scratch.
In Tiretta Bazar, also known as Old Chinatown, an early morning visit will greet one with the aroma of oriental cuisine food, sold by a motley of vendors who prepare items such as momos, bao, fish ball soup etc. in their homes, and a bite of which is soothing to the soul. However, a little walk towards the Pouchong Stores may well land one in an alley leading to the garage of Mr Harjit Singh Dhianjal who has been restoring vintage motorcycles for years.
“It’s been more than a decade that I have been restoring bikes dating back to pre and post-World War era. Many have their affection towards vintage cars but mine lies in these two-wheeler beauties” remarked the vintage restorer.
Mr Dhianjal, spends his time lending his helping hand to the family. His favourite time of the day is when he picks up his grandchildren from school, unlike in his heydays when it was difficult to bring him out of his workshop where day and night he worked on his bikes with meticulous attention. One often found his garage lights on, and shutters up, at midnight. His crepuscular shifts have but paid off as his customers vouch for the fact that the handover was never delayed even if the delivery was to take in the early hours.
Among his collection of vintage motorcycles, such as Lambrettas and Vespas, his favourite is his Ariel motorbike. He proudly recalls being contacted by the team of ‘Lootera’ for buying it off but he finally decided to lend it for the shooting since he was not ready to part with it forever. “I drove to the location on the days of the shoot.
“The Ariel, however, had a fiery red tank but the film needed a black one. Mr Dhianjal replaced the red with a black tank. He beams with pride when he proudly flaunts Ariel’s number plate (APF 405) that was zoomed into during the scene in the movie. He also owns a Norton motorcycle. The British Ariel Motorcycle was based in Birmingham and was reportedly turned into military production during the Second World War.
It was later sold to Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd (BSA) which manufactured military vehicles and firearms. Mr Dhianjal, a few years back had regretted that vintage bike restorers are rare to find in Kolkata, now felt encouraged, claiming the numbers are now more than adequate as the love for motorcycles of the byegone era has finally found its place in the hearts of Kolkata people, unlike in his native state, Punjab, where almost everyone has a motorcycle.
He, however, feels that bike owners must be careful about where he is getting it restored since chances of adding cheap parts that wear away in no time are high. Unlike, some vintage collectors who refuse to add any parts which are not original, and go to the extent of importing them at high costs, Mr Dhianjal has manufactured several of these, making perfect copies of the original with finesse. One may say he takes the ‘Atmanirbharta’ to the next level. He admits that his passion for motorcycles, is in the DNA of his family. His father and brothers are also restorers of old two-wheelers.