Rishi Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia & A Cute L’il Bike

Images: Deepanjan Sarkar

Even though interesting and exciting automobiles always figured in many Bollywood films, two-wheelers rarely played an important enough role until the blockbuster Bobby arrived in 1973. Produced and directed by Raj Kapoor, Bobby’s storyline was hardly any different from that of scores of other Indian popular movies that had preceded it.

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Small wheels and pert size made the Rajdoot GTS 175 a brand new concept

Once again, a love story between Raj (the son of a rich man) and Bobby (a young girl from a poor family), with the two fighting against all odds to make their love possible, despite the social differences. What made the movie special was the way the story was treated, the freshness of the two protagonists, and the amusing little motorcycle that Raj used, the yet-to-be-launched Rajdoot GTS 175.

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But then, the market was not ready for such an idea despite the success of the Honda monkey bike elsewhere

The story is about how the 18-year-old Raj Nath (Rishi Kapoor in his very first role), son of the rich industrialist Mr Nath, falls in love with 16-year-old Bobby (Dimple Kapadia, also in her first role). She is the granddaughter of his former housekeeper and educator, and the daughter of a poor Goan fisherman, Jack Braganza.

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Arindam Auddy rides his recently restored baby

When Raj is visiting his old housekeeper, he sees Bobby for the first time. Of course, it is love at first sight. Raj realizes that his temperamental father will not easily accept his relationship with the daughter of a poor fisherman. But Raj does not give up, is very persistent, and eventually his father gives in and visits Jack.

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Of course the success of the movie really helped make a legend of the GTS 175

The visit by Raj’s father, though, is to convince Jack to disagree with the wedding, accusing him of being greedy for his son’s money. He even offers Jack money, but Bobby's father is so humiliated by the allegation that he even locks up Bobby, in anger. Raj is engaged to another girl, but as Raj and Bobby cannot live without each other, Raj escapes from his home to marry Bobby. Of course, all is eventually well, as Raj’s father admits his mistake, and accepts Bobby as his daughter-in-law.

Moviegoers in India took to the refreshing charm and demeanour of the baby-faced Rishi Kapoor and sheer gorgeousness of Dimple Kapadia, as well as the symbolism of the cute and accessible motorcycle, which transported the two to their trysts for all the song-and-dance sequences.

Reflecting an optimistic, young teenage sense of romance and adventure, the Rajdoot GTS 175 became synonymous with the movie, and has since been referred to as the ‘Bobby bike’, a moniker which stuck on, even if that was not the official one.

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Isn't it cute?

The success of the Rajdoot ‘Bobby’ GTS 175 though, was short-lived, unlike the movie which was rated by Indiatimes Movies as the ‘Top 25 Must See Bollywood Films.’ Not only was Bobby one of the top 20 grossers in the realm of Bollywood, but it was also an astounding success in the Soviet Union, where more than 62 million saw the film.

The use of the film Bobby to promote Rajdoot’s new motorcycle, the GTS 175, was not coincidental. The moviemaker Raj Kapoor’s elder daughter Ritu Kapoor was married to Rajan Nanda, the son of the founder of Escorts Limited, H P Nanda. The Rajdoot GTS 175 was an Escorts product. In fact, this was perhaps one of the first cases of a product placement in an Indian movie.

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The engine came from the Rajdoot 175 Excel T

The product came more out of the failure of two of Escorts India’s recently launched products, the Rajhans, a Lambretta-like scooter, and the Ranger, a more modern-looking motorcycle derived from their classic 175. Saddled with an inventory of parts, the engineers at Escorts put together the wheels and suspension from the Rajhans, and the engine, tank, and lamp from the Ranger, cobbling together India’s first ‘monkey bike’.

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The wheels came from the Rajhans scooter

It was in the 1960s that Honda had come up with these ‘monkey bikes’—as most riders sitting on these small-wheeled bikes looked like monkeys astride a two-wheeler—with these compact runabouts becoming runaway successes in the US and Europe. Inspired by the Hondas, the boffins at Escorts developed the GTS, an acronym for Grand Turismo Sports!

With a disproportionately large engine (the Hondas were mostly 50cc), developing 9.1bhp, the bike was a hoot to ride. And with the Bobby movie association, the GTS 175 saw very good initial sales, although mostly amongst college going kids. Others preferred serious machines, and, in time, the sales of the GTS 175/Bobby bike tanked and most of the ones that were made, disappeared.

The GTS 175 today is a rarity, and thus the few that survive are being picked up by collectors attracted to its cheeky looks and agile riding character. That’s why 29-year-old Arindam Auddy from Kolkata convinced a distant relative to part with the GTS 175 that the latter had acquired decades back, but which was rotting away.

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From the front, the bike is diminutive

“The Bobby bike used to be with a family connection who bought it many years ago but had done nothing about it,” explained Auddy, adding, “I had to really restore the bike extensively. I acquired the bike in 2018 but was able to get to work on it only after a couple of years. It took me a year to have it fully restored. Sourcing the parts initially took a while, until I came across a couple of good sources, one in Karol Bagh in Delhi, and another in Kolhapur.”

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Just the right helmet and mask to go with the bike

Painted the original shade of red that this 1975 model year GTS 175 came in, the bike is a veritable success wherever it shows up, bringing back memories of the swinging Seventies for a generation of people much older than Arindam Auddy himself.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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