Jenny November 16, 2012

Road culture is something fascinating. In my native Sweden, no trucker worth the name would around without a Wunderbaum tree swaying in the front window; in Lebanon, drivers hang little baby shoes under their cars for good luck.

Indian roads display a whole range of interesting ways and manners – from the ubiquitous “Horn OK Please” phrase written across the rear of most trucks to colorful paintings of deities, flowers, animals and charms (find a fantastic post on those and other road-related art forms here).

Then, there are the mudflap Bollywood stars. I hadn’t noticed them until one day when I was in the back of an auto-rickshaw in the small town of Dungarpur, in the southernmost corner of Rajasthan. Something suddenly catches my attention – on the mudflap of the auto in front of us is a bright and colorful portrait of a woman. Black features and an orange sari, painted with thick, elegant strokes.

The auto with the mudflap lady disappears in the distance, but soon, I spot these portraits everywhere. Don’t know how I had missed them before! Dungarpur, as any same-sized Rajasthan city, must have at least one or two hundred rickshaws, and a fair amount of them sport these paintings.

Ignorant of the Indian film industry as I am, I didn’t understand at the beginning that these are all Bollywood stars. It was only after a Google search (which took me to this fantastic gallery) and a few chats with auto-drivers that I learned: they are all homages to the great heroes of Bollywood.

The portraits are painted by artists specialized in the art, who decorate the mudflaps of auto-rickshaws in cities across the region (or country? maybe this can be found throughout the subcontinent?). Their art is pretty impressive: the movie personas get an almost magnetic aura as their faces are imprinted on the thick rubber flaps.

These are some of the stars I spotted in Dungarpur: