A House from Mr Zizou

From the developers who gave Mira Road a slice of Eden, comes a residential project that puts the con in connaître. Kanakia Spaces Pvt Ltd has brought “Paris” to Mumbai, in a French-themed complex in Bandra Kurla Complex. As if this slice of croissant was not sufficient to promote their project, Kanakia has roped in Algerian footballer Zinedine Zidane to play “wellness ambassador” and consultant. (Zidane’s been in Mumbai a whole 24 hours and no one is sure what wellness he’s promoting, or what his role as consultant actually is.)

According to Kanakia’s director Ashish Kanakia, who manages to insert the word “wellness” into any sentence, it is for the first time in India that an international footballer has conceptualised an integrated wellness service under one roof. “Zidane, being a leader in fitness and wellness, has created different zones within the wellness centre on aspects of mind, body, and soul.” Which does quite a poor job of clearing the air in my opinion.

The road leading to the complex gives no impression of said wellness – shanties line the streets, kids fling their cricket bats at one another at the entrance, and rickshaws play chicken with pedestrians. Once you get there, you’ll realise the monuments are underwhelming, to say the least. Telephone pylons and construction sites tower over Kanakia’s “Tour Eiffel”, that stands at a not so high 40 feet. Sitting sadly next to it, as if an afterthought in the architect’s plan, is a tiny Louvre, that doesn’t hold any priceless Egyptian artefact, but a boring office. In comparison, Monkey Bar in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj that sits in a similar pyramid-like structure does a much better job of imitating Le Musee. If not, at least they have sliders and alcohol there.

Kanakia Paris has only stuck to the tried-and-tested formula of using an international celebrity, hoping their fame will shore up the brand’s sales – no matter what the product. Diego Maradona endorsed a Kerala-based jewellery firm in 2013, World Cup winner Alessandro del Piero endorsed scooters, and most recently, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi sold cars.

To give Kanakia credit, their brainwave seems to have worked. We now know that Kanakia Paris exists, and that it is a residential complex, and that it is generating great excitement. This was evident at the National Sports Club of India, in Worli, where Zidane made his public appearance on Friday.

Fans lined up at the gates on the most humid day in the world (we assume), their blood vessels bursting, and tripping all over themselves, trying to get a glimpse of their idol. Apparently, Zidane has a massive fan following in Mumbai, presumably because he just led Real Madrid to a victory in the UEFA Champions League. Inside the auditorium, an emcee said “Kanakia”, “wellness”, “holistic”, and “building” a few times before announcing Zidane’s appearance close to sixteen times.

Finally, the legend actually came on stage, wearing Narendra Modi’s clothes. Zidane couldn’t speak any English other than “my English bad”, so he came with a translator, who we’ll just have to believe was telling the truth. Apparently, Zidane loves India with his “mind, body, and soul”, and other such generic statements. He also loves the food, but finds it a bit spicy (surprise, surprise). He then waved to a few fans, who yelled at him through their mobile phone cameras, before plonking himself on a seat.

For the next hour or so, he sat there with a pleasant expression watching Baichung Bhutia’s “Kanankia Blues” take on Sunil Chhetri’s “Kanakia Whites”, probably doing some quick calculations in his head to figure out how much money he made just taking a plane to Mumbai to smile at some fans.

Earlier at the presser, he reportedly spoke at length about his actual job. He said he regretted the entire headbutt incident of 2006, and that he thought France had a fighting chance at the Euros. But he sidetracked questions on the corruption scandal, or racism in international football, like a professional politician. (The Modi jacket has powers we do not understand.)

You’re probably wondering at this point where Kanakia fits into this whole damn thing, and how Zidane has done his job endorsing the Paris of BKC. Maybe I went to the wrong school, but it’s hard to imagine that 14-year-old boy jumping up and down at the event, going out and buying a Kanakia Paris flat, shelling out anywhere between ₹2.37 to ₹5.56 crore. So what’s the point of flying down a legendary footballer then?

But Zizou is a mere patsy in this game of one-upmanship. Mumbai’s real estate mavens have never shied away from pretence. Luxury high-rises have names like Le Palazzo (a 41-storey monstrosity in Kemps Corner named after a resort in Las Vegas, where apartments could cost anywhere from ₹15 crore to ₹Rs 50 crore). Jogeshwari has an Acme Boulevard, where the Road Runner dare not tread. Panvel has a Mega Fortune Good Morning building, which any resident will attest brings you no fortune whatsoever. In Marol, by 2018, Kanakia Rainforest is set to be the first forest in the world with a serious traffic problem.

Real estate tycoons would like to think that giving buildings grand names that really mean nothing, and flying down international celebrities who have no clue what’s going on, will make you forget about the layers of garbage piled up outside your house and the smell of piss hanging in the air. Why can’t they instead make structures that we can be proud of, with sensible and appealing architecture? Right, because putting Zizou on a flight is so much easier.

These builders aren’t selling homes; they’re selling aspiration. For some reason the idea of living next to the Eiffel Tower’s little brother and a pyramid your children can climb, while stuck in a mismanaged urban sprawl has its appeal. How else could you explain the Royal Orange County of Ghaziabad, or Bhumiraj Costa Rica in Sanpada, Navi Mumbai?

One thing’s evident though; our aspiration has no tangible limits. Real estate tycoons in Hyderabad don’t have time to just wait around letting ISRO do it’s thing – they’ve already built you an Aliens Space Station housing society.