CHENNAI: Hidden in plain sight on the traffic busy Thiruvottiyur High Road in Korukkupet, is a garage that is a vintage car enthusiast's dream. Raji Nayakar stands outside, leaning on the bright red Chevrolet ’58 model that seems starkly out of place in the neighbourhood. Curious to know more, we approach him and a few minutes later are rather awe-struck to realise that this very car was the one in which MGR wooed K R Vijaya in the song Agattumda Thambi in the 1972 classic Nalla Neram.
Squeezing our way into the shed, we see more cars at the back, as the tiny TV has old 70s melodies crooning in the background. All walls are filled with faded black and white photographs of various celebrities like Sathya Raj, Rajinikanth, Kamal Hassan and others who are sitting, posing or in action with a classic car.
“My dad, Manicka Nayakar and his partner, C Vishwan bought these cars one by one, and rented it for movie shootings. We’ve been in this business for the past 40 years,” says Raji Nayakar. Now his son, Vijayakumar, also helps managing these cars. The shop was initially in T Nagar (close to Kodambakkam), where movie shootings used to predominantly take place, and was shifted to its current location only two years ago.
They own some enviable classics — Chevrolet ’58, ’63, ’64 models as well as the popular Mercedes Benz Gazelle ’74 and Triumph Herald ’68. “These cars have been used in many movies in all languages — Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi!” grins a proud Raji, explaining that the number plate is changed whenever needed. He lists the names of films that span over 40 years from Rajini’s Pollathavan (1980) to Arya’s Bangalore Natkal (2016).
“Our cars have starred in movies across generations of actors! Sivakumar in Raman Parasuram (1980), then his son Suriya’s flash-back scenes in Vaaranam Aaiyram (2008) with Simran and his other son Karthi’s scene in Aayirthil Oruvan (2010), with the top down,” gushes Raji. Pointing to one of the photographs, we ask if that’s a younger Raji we see standing next to actor Ramarajan, and he gushes saying, “Yes, I have acted in some minor roles in movies as well, like Karakaatakaran (1989), alongside heroes.”
The rentals for these cars are highly unpredictable, with some month’s being dry, but Raji is proud to have still maintained the cars over these years. “Maintenance and getting parts for these models is quite impossible. We need to alter and tinker the parts and fit it into this,” he says.
Does he have any thought of selling these vintage models? “No! Many people have approached us to buy it, but they already have many branded cars and just want this as a collector’s showpiece. This is our livelihood and we won’t be selling them, ever!” he assures.
As we leave his garage, he shows us a newspaper clipping of an upcoming film titled Gulebakavali with Prabhu Deva sitting menacingly atop the Chevrolet ’58, and asks us to watch out for more posters with his star model across the city.