With Disney setting up shop in Shanghai, it seems natural to wonder when India’s time will come. Despite the nation’s massive population, Mickey has a ways to go before conquering the subcontinent. And that’s just fine with media magnate Manmohan Shetty, founder of Adlabs Imagica, the operator of India’s first theme park. The park has opened in Khopoli, between Mumbai and Pune.
“India’s current infrastructure and Disney just don’t work together,” Stefan Zwanzger, “The Theme Park Guy,” told The Diplomat. “There is an obvious inspiration from Disney and even more Universal Studios, but luckily that didn't lead to totally shameless copies as found in other new parks of the same budget. India and Bollywood are the leading themes, and that's great.”
Alongside Bollywood, wrathful Hindu deities and Mughal fortresses imbue the 110-acre park (set to grow to 300 acres) with a distinctly Indian flavor. “Mr. India: The Ride,” takes visitors on a simulated ride of the 1987 Bollywood superhero hit of the same name, which starred Anil Kapoor of Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire fame. Passengers take a simulated bumpy ride while watching Kapoor and Sridevi fight the villain Mogambo in a cartoon on a screen.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Aarti Shetty, daughter of the park’s founder, revealed Tuesday that another ride based on an iconic Bollywood film is also in the works, although details are being kept under wraps for now.
Other rides with a subcontinental flavor include “The Curse of Salimgarh,” inspired by the legendary dungeons of Delhi’s Mughal era Salimgarh Fort, and “Rajasaurus River Adventure,” in which a fictional dinosaur named the “Rajasaurus” stalks visitors. A number of exotic zones dot the park, including Via Europa, Arabia, Asiana, Americana and “Jambo Africa.” A virtual video walk-through of the park can be seen here and photos here.
“I was the first paying customer at the park yesterday morning,” Zwanzger said. “It's still totally under construction. You see people cleaning up where things are being built and fixing props in the scenes surrounding the rides. In the morning about half of the rides were not open yet, but by the afternoon more were gradually opening.”
For a nation as massive as India with a rapidly growing middle class, if anything it is surprising that a theme park is only just now coming to fruition. Shetty told The Daily Telegraph, "We've started our own theme park as an attraction for middle-class families. In the last ten years we've had shopping malls, multiplex cinemas, international brands, there has been enough disposable income in India, now we have a theme park where people can spend the whole day with their families."
Weekday tickets for adults run INR 1,200 (U.S. $22) each and INR 900 (U.S. $16) for children, but jump to INR 1,500 (U.S. $27) and INR 1,200 (U.S. $22) on the weekend. The park can accommodate up to 20,000 visitors at a time.
“India is an evolved nation with mature consumers making informed choices,” Aarti told the International Business Times. “Lifestyles are changing and the improvement in standard of living and increase in disposable incomes have enabled people to spend on leisure, entertainment and experiences that help them unwind.”
Given that disposable incomes will only continue to rise, Shetty’s ambitious plans also include a water park to be opened by June 2014 and even parks in different cities, starting with Hyderabad. At present, the park’s main competitor is Mumbai’s Essel World, which has dominated India’s amusement park scene until now. Wonderla, with parks in Bangalore and Kochi, is another rival.
Intrepid investigator that he is, Zwanzger also checked out Essel World during his current India tour. “There were a number of rusty roller coasters scattered around the park,” he said. “They’re really scary. I’ve been to over 200 amusement parks and these coasters scared me. You can literally hear them falling apart. The water park connected to it is actually quite good, though.”
He added, “Adlabs Imagica has a theme. That’s what distinguishes it. There are some quality international manufacturers and designers behind many of the rides, which raises the bar. It would honestly be a mediocre park in Europe, the U.S. or Japan. But for India, Adlabs is great.”