Monday, May 14, 2012


What rises 27 stories above Mumbai but is dwelled in by only six residents? What single-family-dwelling has a six-floor garage, an auto-repair shop, beauty parlor, restaurants and three helipads and needs 600 staffers to look after? What would the Taj Mahal look like if it were re-designed for the set of Blade Runner? What modern building combines both quintessential Indian cultural elements of palatial grandeur and spiritual asceticism like no other? If you answered “Mukesh and Nita Ambani’s Antilia”, then you could be the next winner on Slumdog’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” This private home of India’s richest man (and wife) was first brought to the attention of the global media when the New York Times profiled it in October 2011, and asked whether the family actually lived in it given its potentially bad “Vastu Shastra” (a geomancy philosophy similar to Chinese feng shui) characteristics. This month’s issue of Vanity Fair (an excerpt is provided through the link below) updates the story and provides a few stunning pictures. In a word, the place looks quite “wow”.

Estimates on how much Antilia cost to build vary wildly. Representatives of Reliance Industries (the Mukesh Ambani's conglomerate) say $50 million (yeah, right), and media sources cite as high as $2 billion (equally implausible). Forbes magazine refers to Antilla as the world’s first $1 billion home. Whatever the real number, few observers would disagree that it is the most expensive private residence (Buckingham Palace is public) in the world.

No one can justifyingly fault the Ambanis for wanting to live in a palace. As the world’s 19th richest person and with a net worth of c. $27 billion, Mukesh Ambani is entitled to claim his share of luxury. He certainly would not be the first ultra-rich dude to indulge in a living space that God himself would have a tough time furnishing. Still, this property is dogged with its share of controversy. Much of critics’ qualms focus on its height, and therefore, visibility. If you were to lay the structure on its side and surround it with trees and a tall stone wall and iron gate, fewer people would feel like the place is a glittering poke in the collective eye. However, as it is, the structure can be seen from miles around, too often reminding Mumbai residents how puny their lives are in comparison.

As referenced earlier, it is natural to compare Antilia with that other Indian monument to spousal love – the Taj Mahal. Antilia is very much identified with wife Nita Ambani, who is widely respected for her wits and philanthropic efforts as well as her beauty. Antilia was designed and built largely at her direction rather than her husband’s. But how long the comparison between the two buildings survives remains to be seen. History has borne out the enduring legacy of Shah Jahan and the most beautiful tomb in the world. Reliance Industries’ story is still being written, and India’s economic revival has a ways to go before proving permanent. One Mughal emperor’s history is sealed in marble. Time has yet to determine whether the more contemporary mogul (bad pun intended) emperor’s influence will be as lasting.

Read the full Vanity Fair article in the June 2012 issue.