A cab driver with his kaali peeli Premier Padmini in Mumbai
A cab driver with his kaali peeli Premier Padmini in Mumbai@mumbaitaxicompany/Instagram

This Is How Mumbai Bid Adieu To The Iconic Kaali Peeli Taxis

It is time to bid goodbye to Mumbai's legendary 'kaali-peeli' cabs. These black-and-yellow taxis have been around for six decades and are as much an icon of the city as Marine Drive and vada pav

They have appeared in some of Bollywood's most well-known film sequences. For nearly six decades, they have been an important part of Mumbai's history, offering rides in albeit cramped insides through the Maximum City. But now it is the end of the road for the iconic kaali peeli Premier Padmini taxis as their expiration date has arrived. It is a doubly poignant decision as it comes shortly on the heels of an announcement about Mumbai's iconic diesel-powered double-decker buses being removed due to the end of their 15-year operational life.

The kaali peeli taxi is an icon of Mumbai
The kaali peeli taxi is an icon of Mumbai@kaalipeelimumbai/Instagram

The Reason Behind The Phase Out

According to PTI reports, the last Premier Padmini was registered at the Tardeo RTO on October 29, 2003. This means that by October 29, 2023, all Premier Padmini taxis in Mumbai were over 20 years old and thus unable to run. The Maharashtra government had imposed a 20-year age limit on taxis in order to phase them out. In these past decades, the taxis have been part of Mumbai's fabric and way of life, from ferrying travellers on tours around the city to rides in the famous Mumbai rains.

The Origins

The kaali peeli Premier Padmini adventures began in 1964 with the Fiat-1100 Delight', a powerful 1200-cc automobile with a steering-mounted gear shifter. The model was renamed "Premier Padmini" after the famed Indian queen Padmini in the 1970s.

A kaali peeli in front of a station
A kaali peeli in front of a station@mumbaitaxicompany /Instagram

A Role In Bollywood

The kaali peeli cabs have appeared in numerous vintage Bollywood films where the Premier Padminis and double-decker buses were used to establish the city of Mumbai, much like the trams and yellow Ambassadors of Kolkata. Several well-known film songs have showcased the experience of kaali peeli rides. For instance, “Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho” from "Hanste Zakham" and “Kai Baar Yuhi Dekha Hai” from "Rajnigandha," Shah Rukh Khan’s sang parts of “Badi Mushkil Hai” in the film "Anjaam" in a black and yellow taxi. And who can forget the haunting song “Seene Mein Jalan” from "Gaman" shot in a kaali peeli driving through Mumbai.

Projects On The Kaali Peeli Taxis

Over the years, there have been several projects documenting various aspects of kaali peeli taxis. For instance, @kaalipeelimumbai and @thegreaterbombay map the beauty of the interiors of kaali peeli taxis, and the design of fabrics used in the upholstery.

Mumbai-based design studio Grandmother India documented the art of the stickers that were used on kaali peeli taxis. This genre had its own cult following. So much so that in 2009, London-based Creative Review magazine published a cover on the artistic stickers on these taxis. Read more about the project here.

The City Reminisces

Anand Mahindra talks about the experience of travelling in the kaali-peelis on X
Anand Mahindra talks about the experience of travelling in the kaali-peelis on X@anandmahindra/X

She was flooded with nostalgic replies which showcased what the Premier Padmini kaali peeli taxis meant to Mumbai. "My entire college life. Sharing a cab from Marine Lines station to college. It was the ultimate luxury to take a cab in town," said one. "My late maternal grandad was a taxi driver and had his very own Kaali Peeli Padmini, MMQ 4319. When I was born, i was brought home in the car. Both the car and my grandad are no longer with us, but I always remember them fondly," said another.

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