Sunday, August 17, 2014

This realty tycoon dreams of a Hyde Park in Mumbai


This realty tycoon dreams of a Hyde Park in Mumbai 

Oberoi holds forth on a variety of subjects - like Mumbai's outdated laws, the so-called North and South Mumbai divide and his marriage with actress Gayatri Joshi.

Oberoi holds forth on a variety of subjects - like Mumbai's outdated laws, the so-called North and South Mumbai divide and his marriage with actress Gayatri Joshi. 

Vikas Oberoi may say his life does not change being on or off the Big Boys Billionaire list, but ask us. It took over eight weeks of chasing the realtor while he was busy poring over the details of mega projects and deals, some of them in the Rs 1,000 crore vicinity.

Oberoi does apologise profusely for being elusive, saying a definite sign of how busy he has been is the fact that he, a fitness freak, had not hit the gym for two weeks, not even for a 20-minute run. 

Eventually, the pursuit ends, and Oberoi holds forth on a variety of subjects - like Mumbai's outdated laws, the so-called North and South Mumbai divide and his marriage with actress Gayatri Joshi. Excerpts from an interview:

You have built famous properties in North Mumbai, not considered a fashionable part of the city. As a part of the social elite, how do you view the South-North divide in the city? 

This divide between North Mumbai and South Mumbai is a big myth or at best, overrated. Many of us have economic and social interests in both parts of Mumbai. According to me, North Mumbai is as fashionable.

The city centre is in fact shifting from Nariman Point to Bandra and you can see that real estate prices of both commercial and residential spaces in North Mumbai are at par, in some cases, if not higher, than South Mumbai. 

Swades, the film in which your wife Gayatri played the female lead, is about a successful NRI giving back after being gobsmacked by the realities of his home country. Are there things about Mumbai that hit you, which make you, want to give back? 

Mumbai is the melting pot of India. It has so much potential, so much energy... all we need is a focused CEO for Mumbai and we will see dramatic change. We are bogged down by archaic laws. I am not saying that there should be no rules, (but) we need rules that can fulfil the dreams and aspirations of people.

At one end we speak about CRZ regulations and on the other, we dump untreated sewage and industrial waste into the sea. My dream for Mumbai is to see it get the best form of public education, housing, health, and transport, a park like Hyde Park of London or Central Park, New York. 

We have the space and can do it. We just need well meaning visionaries to do it. I have real estate experience and would be very keen to contribute. If the government were to ask me to do something in the housing and infrastructure domain, like what Nandan Nilekani was asked to do, I will do it in a heartbeat.

How did you and Gayatri meet? 

I had known Gayatri for a long time before we got married. We were just friends, more like acquaintances. Luckily, we kept bumping into each other and I strongly felt she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Inventory is a constant in the realty business, especially in the niche sphere of luxury. Is this an increasing worry with slow sales? 

According to me, any project that has not started cannot be taken as inventory. It takes a lot of time, regulatory approvals, finance and effort to build a project. Also, none of the developers have any ready-to-occupy flats as inventory. I am not at all worried.

After Mumbai, you moved to the NCR region. Will those also be luxury projects? 

We primarily want to do projects only in Mumbai. But we are open to JVs (Joint Ventures) in other parts of India. Our focus is Mumbai and NCR for now. We may look at Bangalore also. There is a quality benchmark which we want to do. Even if I do low cost housing, the quality of life must not get compromised. Take our Borivali project, which is midmarket high-rise. The ticket size may be small but will be the best in its class.
What does money mean to you? What does being on and off the billionaire list mean to you? 

Money is like fuel. It depends on how you use it. Money can be used as energy and be productive or it can go up in smoke and be a disaster. As for the List, it does not change anything, neither me as a person nor my attitude to society. It just brings the spotlight unnecessarily on you. Which is unwanted. 

As someone building a prestigious hotel in the city (Ritz Carlton), what makes a great luxury hotel? Which are some of your favourite hotels in the world? 

Hotels that look after its customers well are great. Among my favourites where I have stayed are Hotel Du Cap in Antibes, Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, the George V in Paris, Villa D'este Lake Como and Udai Vilas in Udaipur. 

Fitness is a way of life with you. What are the food and fitness rules you follow? 

As kids we were athletic and played a lot sport. I used to regularly run, play squash and go cycling. But once I got into work this took a backseat. Luckily, a very dear friend of mine, who himself is super fit, got me to regularly work out. Then on it's a way of life. (I do) A short run, and functional training with TRX, Rib trainer, Viper workout five days a week. Eat light, sleep well. The trick to remaining fit is 50 per cent workout and rest and 50 per cent is to watch what you eat. 

Sourrce : Nandini Raghavendra, ET Bureau 

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