The CR Taxi

Our very own Mumbai taxi. Watch an interview with the designers here
For any design-aware visitor, Mumbai’s yellow and black taxis, which constitute a major part of the city’s horrendous traffic, are a wondrous sight. The majority are richly decorated with a litany of the driver’s favourite things: like a MySpace page on wheels. The sacred and profane rub along on rear windscreens, wings and bumpers as visual references to gods mingle with film titles, western brand logos and complex geometric patterns. At night, these vivid forms dazzle under street lights and car headlamps. For our April issue, we commissioned our own Mumbai taxi


Our very own Mumbai taxi. Watch an interview with the designers here

For any design-aware visitor, Mumbai’s yellow and black taxis, which constitute a major part of the city’s horrendous traffic, are a wondrous sight. The majority are richly decorated with a litany of the driver’s favourite things: like a MySpace page on wheels. The sacred and profane rub along on rear windscreens, wings and bumpers as visual references to gods mingle with film titles, western brand logos and complex geometric patterns. At night, these vivid forms dazzle under street lights and car headlamps. For our April issue, we commissioned our own Mumbai taxi

April is our type and typography issue, so we wanted to do something special for the cover. I had visited Mumbai last year and, while there, met with Grandmother India. Partner Kurnal Rawat talked, among other things, about the Typocity project that he and colleagues have set up to document Mumbai’s typography. One of their projects, which has already received some coverage in Eye magazine, is a proposal to adapt the system of wayfinding icons developed by Mumbai’s ‘dabbawallas’ (who deliver home-cooked lunches to workers in the city) to use as signage on Mumbai’s train network. Kurnal also showed us the work that the studio had been doing to document fast-disappearing handpainted shop signs in the city as well as the aforementioned taxi art.

You may have noticed that the covers we have been running recently have shared a common theme – taking a list of the issue’s content and asking a contributor to create a layout for us in their own style. We have had woodblock type from São Paulo (January) and hand-lettering from Amsterdam (February). When it came to thinking of a cover design for this, our special issue on type and typo­graphy, I immediately thought of Kurnal and the Mumbai taxi artists as I was intrigued to find out more about how they work. So, I emailed Kurnal to see if we could get a genuine taxi artist to create a cover for us. Despite his imminent wedding, Kurnal immediately agreed to help us out.

He and the team from Grandmother tracked down two of the leading (and possibly the original) taxi artists in Mumbai – Manohar Mistry and his son Samir Manohar. Initially they were not keen: time was tight and it was a lot of work. However, after a solid two hours negotiating and with the promise of several times more than their standard fee, the Mistrys agreed.

Manohar and Samir Manohar Mistry (aka Swami Art) work out of the family’s garage business in the Chinchkopli area of Mumbai. They typi­cally charge around 4000 Rupees to decorate a taxi (about £55). Grandmother India convinced a driver called Shashi to lend us his taxi for our cover. The rear window was taken out and replaced with a new glass (you can see his rear windscreen behind Manohar Mistry in the shot above).

The Mistrys then set about cutting the vinyl for text supplied by us, working with Grandmother’s Kurnal Rawat on the design. Samir is shown here drawing a grid with a chalk pencil on a piece of vinyl sticker and then sketching out the letters.


Using a blade, he then makes light cuts and peels off the waste material in the spaces in between the letters.

Extra colours are then added (blue to the word ‘typography’ and red and orange to ‘type’) using thin strips cut freehand from extra sheets of sticker material. Drop shadows are also added in this way. The pencil chalk markings on the letters are then rubbed off.

Once the lettering had been cut, it was time to apply the designs to Shashi’s taxi which was parked in the street outside the garage.


The main text was posi­tioned on the rear windscreen and the backing pulled away. Extra decorative elements were then added in situ.


Samir cut these freehand with his scalpel, positioning them as he and Kurnal saw fit, both on top of the lettering and at the sides of the screen to form a frame.

Finally, Samir designed a numberplate especially for us (proudly declaring ‘Made in Mumbai’), with the words ‘Creative Review’ on either side. Above is the Swami Art name and phone number.

Shown below with the finished taxi are (left to right) Aashim Tyagi and Kurnal Rawat from Grand­mother India, Samir Manohar Mistry, Shashi (the taxi’s owner) and Anand Tharaney from Grandmother who conducted an interview with the Mistrys about their work which is in the April issue. The interview was also filmed – watch it here.

After the shoot, the team from Grandmother took out the glass and carted it back
to their studio where it now resides.

And here’s the cover of the April issue

When I was in India, there were rumours that taxi art may be under threat as the city government sought to tighten regulations with the introduction of more modern vehicles. But, as they explain in our inter­view, the Mistrys are hopeful that their work will be allowed to carry on. It would be a shame to lose such a rich urban art form to bureaucratic conformity.

All photos: Aashim Tyagi.
Text: Anand Tharaney.
Art direction: Kurnal Rawat and Samir Manohar Mistry.
Research/production: Anand Tharaney
Thanks to everyone at Grandmother India


Samir Manohar Mistry

You can watch a film about the creation of the CR Taxi here

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