In Mast (1999), Kittu (Aftab Shivdasani) runs away from his home to come to Bombay to meet the star Malika (Urmila Matondkar). He meets a sympathetic autorickshaw driver (Snehal Dabi) who tells him his own story where he ran away from his home to meet Sridevi with whom he fell in love with after watching Himmatwala (1983). He also came to Bombay after a lot of struggle and when he did get to see Sridevi, she was with Boney Kapoor, whom he calls the villain. Kittu keeps bumping into the same autorickshaw driver where he advises him to go back and not to waste his life, else he will end up like him. While Kittu gets to meet Malika, I kept hoping that the autorickshaw driver will also get to be with Sridevi but that was not to be.
Many films have depicted stories based on the lives of autorickshaw drivers. In Hero Hiralal (1988), Naseeruddin Shah plays an autorickshaw driver Hiralal, who is obsessed with films that earns him the monicker of Hero. He meets an upcoming film star Roopa (Sanjana Kapoor) and becomes her tour guide. The two fall in love and he follows her to Bombay, but due to family pressure, she rejects him. Hero falls into depression and attempts suicide. He is saved by Sitara Devi (Deepa Sahi), who manipulates him to die in a play directed by her. The film contains the iconic dialogue ‘Phata Poster Nikla Hero‘ that marked the entry of Naseeruddin Shah in the film. In Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya (2012), Viren (Riteish Deshmukh) works as an autorickshaw driver for Bhatti (Tinnu Anand) and keeps his hard-earned money under the seat of his rickshaw. Unknown to Viren, Bhatti sells off all his rickshaws with Viren’s savings in one of them and buys a new fleet of cars. Viren is depressed by the loss of his money and after some comedy of errors, he manages to escape with Bhatti’s daughter and hatches a kidnapping plan to get back his money.
In Love And Shukla (2017), autorickshaw driver Shukla (Saharsh Kumar Shukla) stays in a one-room house with his parents in Mumbai. He has never been with a woman before and the only woman he has desired is Sonakshi Sinha whose pictures line up his autorickshaw. He gets married but due to lack of space in his house, he struggles to get some intimate moments with his wife. In Masti Express (2011), autorickshaw driver Raju (Rajpal Yadav) attempts to secure admission for his son in a good school by entering into an autorickshaw race that will get the winner about ten lakhs rupees. Raju learns that the race is fixed by a gangster. Some other circumstances lead to a situation where he is on the verge of losing his rickshaw.
In Amal (2007), Amal (Rupinder Nagra) is an honest and hardworking autorickshaw driver working in New Delhi. An eccentric millionaire named G.K. Jayaram (Naseeruddin Shah) leaves behind his entire fortune to him as he was the only honest man he ever met. However, the executor of G.K.’s will has thirty days to find him, otherwise, the money will be given to the millionaire’s rightful family. The film was directed by Richie Mehta who has recently won many accolades for the Netflix series Delhi Crime. In Ravan Raaj: A True Story (1995), the villain an autorickshaw driver named Auto Kesariya (Shakti Kapoor) who kidnaps young women and takes them to politicians. The police does not do anything to stop the crimes and former Assistant Commissioner of Police Arjun Verma (Mithun Chakraborty) is reinstated and assigned to this case. Other films, such as Billoo Badshah (1989), Insan (2005), Pyaar Ka Mandir (1988), and Udhar Ka Sindur (1974), have portrayed stories based on the lives on autorickshaw drivers.
Many action sequences in films have also involved autorickshaws. In Gunda (1998), Bulla (Mukesh Rishi) and Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty) have the final confrontation in an airport complex. Bulla is backed up by many autorickshaws that run helter-skelter. Shankar takes out a grenade launcher and takes down the auto-rickshaws. It is a sequence that has gone onto achieving cult status in recent times. In Dhoom 3 (2013), Jai (Abhishek Bachchan) makes his grand entry in an autorickshaw by breaking the wall and fighting the goons with the same. The autorickshaw has 786 written on it, presumably as a nod to Amitabh Bachchan’s badge number 786 in Coolie (1983). In Ready (2011), Prem (Salman Khan) drives a tuk-tuk in the streets of Bangkok in a chase sequence. A similar chase sequence involving autorickshaws was seen in Special 26 (2013) as well. In Aap Ka Surroor (2007), Himesh Reshammiya thanks the autorickshaw drivers who popularised his songs wherein a climactic sequence, some autorickshaw drivers come to his eponymous character’s rescue in Germany while he tries to escape from the police.
Autorickshaws have also at times been to depict subtle hints and references related to the film. In AndhaDhun (2018), Akash (Ayushmann Khurana) takes an autorickshaw that has ‘Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh‘ written behind it. This was one of the original titles of the film that the filmmakers had thought of giving the film. It is a song from the film Shree 420 (1955), where both the song and the film are quite befitting for Akash. The autorickshaw also carries many pictures of Aishwarya Rai. As eye donation plays an important part in the film, perhaps, the film is again saying something by the pictures as Aishwarya Rai has also committed to donating her eyes. In Daawat-e-Ishq (2014), the autorickshaws convey some subtle messages. When Gulrez (Parineeti Chopra) runs away, we see Good Bye written behind her autorickshaw, and when Tariq (Aditya Roy Kapur) is searching for her in Hyderabad, we see Talaash is written on the autorickshaw. In Love Per Square Foot (2018) as well, the auto rickshaws have a character of their own. One depicted Raj and Simran from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) with the mandolin; another one had Sahib Jaan from Pakeezah (1972); another one had a bride and a groom that appears at the time when Sanjay (Vicky Kaushal) and Karina (Angira Dhar) were also thinking to get married.
In Hindi films, the autorickshaws have been predominantly driven by men, but there have been some women who have driven them. In Hum Hain Kamaal Ke (1993), Shallu (Sheeba Akashdeep) drove an autorickshaw, dressed as a man, to make her ends meet. One of the men working for gangster Jebago (Raza Murad), who looks like Sir John from Ram Lakhan (1989), puts some diamonds in her autorickshaw, leading to much chaos. In Aag (2007), Ram Gopal Verma remade Sholay in which Basanti who used to drive a tanga was reinterpreted as Ghunghroo (Nisha Kothari) who drives an autorickshaw named Laila and treated it like her best friend. In Phata Poster Nikla Hero (2013), Savitri Rao (Padmini Kolhapure) is an honest autorickshaw driver who dreams that her son Vishwas (Shahid Kapoor) will grow up to become a police inspector. The film’s title is taken from the dialogue in Hero Hiralal where, as mentioned above, the lead character also drove an autorickshaw. In Singham Returns (2014), Avni (Kareena Kapoor) follows Bajirao Singham (Ajay Devgn) in an autorickshaw when she suspects him of having an affair with his friend. She keeps pestering the autorickshaw driver to drive faster who out of irritation asks her to drive herself. In Mere Brother Ki Dulhan (2011), Dimple (Katrina Kaif) and Luv (Imran Khan) have fun on the streets of Delhi before her wedding to Luv’s brother. In the song Choomantar, Dimple drives an open autorickshaw with Luv sitting behind and the traffic cops are chasing her.
Films have also used autorickshaws in interesting sequences. In The Lunchbox (2013), Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), who travels in the Mumbai local trains, treats himself to an autorickshaw ride on rare occasions. In a letter to Ila (Nimrat Kaur), he describes the autorickshaw ride that brings him back his childhood memories to him. He writes, “I think we forget the things if we have no one to tell them to.” The film shows the loneliness in the autorickshaw driver as well who meanders through the monstrous traffic of Bombay looking for chatter with his commuters. When Fernandes is sitting in an auto-rickshaw, the driver says to him, “Aap ne kuch kaha” even though he had not said anything. In Sirf Tum (1999), unknown of each other’s identity, lovers Deepak (Sanjay Kapoor) and Aarti (Priya Gill) cross each other in an autorickshaw in the city. Deepak meets Pritam (Jackie Shroff), an autorickshaw driver who becomes his friend. Unable to find a job, Deepak starts driving an autorickshaw himself which leads to his meeting with Aarti.
In Queen, Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) breaks off the wedding with Rani (Kangana Ranaut), after which she travels back to her home in an autorickshaw. The melancholic Raanjha plays in the background with tears rolling down Rani’s eyes, unable to process the uncertainty of her life ahead. In Gali Guleiyan (2018), the lost state of Khuddoos (Manoj Bajpayee) is shown in the scene when he gets to know that his mother died a few years ago in the Greater Kailash (GK) home of his brother. He stops an autorickshaw and asks the driver as to where is GK. He says, “Door hai kya (Is it far)?”, as taking that short journey itself feels like a long one for him. In Ghajini (2008), the millionaire industrialist Sanjay Singhania (Aamir Khan) is asked to travel in an autorickshaw by Kalpana (Asin) as it will make a good impression when he comes to audition for an advertisement. Sanjay experiences the heat and chaos of Mumbai for the first time when he travels in the autorickshaw. In Hasee Toh Phasee (2014), Meeta (Parineeti Chopra) escapes from her home in an autorickshaw and she asks Nikhil (Sidharth Malhotra) to come with her to Goa. He is tempted for an instant but then he declines.
In Ungli (2014), a film about a vigilante justice group named Ungli, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) threatens an autorickshaw driver who asked for double fare from his mother. He takes the autorickshaw and its driver and locks them in a goods train to Delhi. The news spreads and he gets attention from the original members of Ungli who want to recruit him in their gang. In Raanjhanaa (2013), Kundan (Dhanush) stalks Zoya (Sonam Kapoor) when she is traveling in a shared autorickshaw and blackmails her into accepting that she loves him else he will cut his nerves. In Itni Si Baat (1981), Raja (Sanjeev Kumar) and Asha (Moushumi Chatterjee) travel in an autorickshaw where they do not give any specific place where they want to go but only instruct the driver to drive straight. The autorickshaw driver takes them to the end of the road where the land ends and they end up on the beach. In Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011), Kuldeep (Arunoday Singh) is released from jail and goes to his wife Shanti (Aditi Rao Hydari) and starts kissing her when she is in the autorickshaw with their son.
In Chak De! India (2007), the aggressive personality of Balbir Kaur (Tanya Abrol) is first seen when she fights with the autorickshaw driver for overcharging while her mother calms her down. After the women win the hockey world cup, in a reversal of events, Balbir’s mother argues with the autorickshaw driver while she calms her mother down. In Aiyyaa (2012), Meenaxi (Rani Mukerji) admonishes an autorickshaw driver as he was eyeing her when she was putting her makeup while going to work. Later, when Meenaxi and her family visit the house of Maadhav (Subodh Bhave), they travel together in an autorickshaw while her grandmother is towed away in her wheelchair. In Total Dhamaal (2019), they show a helicopter made from an autorickshaw with a ceiling fan as a propeller leading to much hilarity. In Bol Radha Bol (1992), Jugnu (Kader Khan) comes to the city and finds work as an autorickshaw driver. Jugnu suffers from night blindness where he stops seeing when the clock strikes six in the evening leading to some outrageous situations.
Perhaps, my favourite autorickshaw moment is in the end credits of Om Shanti Om (2007) where director Farah Khan arrives in an autorickshaw at the premiere of the film and there is no one to receive her as it has ended. It is a hilarious moment and the autorickshaw itself is quite befitting to her cinema—glitzy, referential, mass-y, and unapologetic, with an ability to laugh at yourself.