By the time you read this, the colossal red bus you see here would have covered a considerable portion of its 8,000km route across India’s roadways and ‘gallis’ of power. While at it, it would have also played host to some of India’s most notable or notorious (use the ballot to decide) politicians and served as an unusual backdrop for some on-the-ground debates at India’s political hotspots. What exactly is it, you ask? Well, it’s news channel Headlines Today’s one-stop shop for election coverage and it’s been christened the Election Express.
The idea for an election bus was born out of the channel’s requirement for something that would literally take the studio to where the action was unfolding. A typical news van is complex enough, and here was the need for a full-blown mobile studio. The uniqueness of the job led the team to Dilip Chhabria’s DC Design. In case you are unaware, DC’s repertoire also includes designing and building custom buses, so the project wasn’t out of the ordinary for him. Nor was the brief of creating something ‘out of this world’. What was, was the time frame for the project. It generally takes five-six months for a job like this. Here, DC and his team had all of 45 days for the mammoth task of transforming the initial sketches to the final product. No less than 72,000 man hours of work on a three-axle Mercedes O 500 RSD 2436 chassis later, the Election Express was ready to hit the road.
We got our chance to see it up close in New Delhi and one thing’s very clear — the bus conforms to the ‘out of this world’ brief, alright. Looking positively radical in the regal confines of Lutyens’ Delhi, the bus would simply look otherworldly in the hinterlands! To start with, it’s massive. It measures 14 metres from end to end and stands 3.7 metres tall. Then the design. If you think a bus is all about straight lines and perpendicular details, you need to have a look at this — it’s the bus equivalent of a futuristic concept car. There’s a nice asymmetry to the design with the unusual shapes for the large windows being the standout element. The red-and-black colour scheme adds its own share of visual drama. The aim of the design was to grab eyeballs, but who’d have thought a bus would feature in so many mobile camera shots! At places, it’s even managed to divert attention from the political rally being covered. While we don’t know how well politicians take to that, they certainly would be quite comfortable in the confines of the Election Express.
The hot seat here is an L-shaped couch in the centre of the bus. It’s where the interviews are conducted and the whole setup looks every bit the mobile studio it’s intended to be. Of course, a studio isn’t a studio without a production control room and this bus has that too. It’s located at the back, just aft of the studio, and is a place for serious business where the directors and online editors switch between multiple real-time feeds just like they would in a traditional studio. The final output from Election Express is then beamed to the master control room for onward transmission to your television screen. Oh, and apart from the cameras on ground, the feed also comes from a remote-controlled drone camera. And that’s in addition to the jib already onboard.
On the road and in between shoots, the Election Express’ small army of reporters, cameramen, editors and political experts are well taken care of. The seating area comprises 12 reclining seats that come finished in high-grade leather. And there’s constant WiFi connectivity too. A large LCD TV, refrigerator and countless power points are some of the other essentials on the Election Express. Before you wonder, there’s an aircraft-style lavatory in there as well. To keep all the additional equipment running, the bus features two onboard generators. As for the bus itself, it draws power from a 355bhp, 12-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine. With the elections being held in peak summer, it’s but obvious that the bus’ air-conditioning system will be put to full use. Of course, this would also come in handy if the debates on board get too heated.
We don’t know whether these elections will bring about change. But what we do know is that the Election Express has certainly changed the means to tap into the buzz surrounding the world’s largest democratic elections.