Business News

Ambani Shuns Mumbai Mansion

Tom Burgis in London

Towering above Mumbai’s skyline, the 27-storey new home of India’s richest man has become a symbol of both the fabulous wealth of the country’s business elite and of the gulf between them and those at the bottom.

The twenty-seven storey Antilia, the newly-built residence of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, is seen in Mumbai on October 19, 2010. The 400,000 square foot residence, named after a mythical island in the Atlantic, is expected to be occupied by Ambani, his wife and three children later in the year. The building has three helicopter pads, underground parking for 160 cars, and requires some 600 staff to run. AFP PHOTO/Indranil MUKHERJEE (Photo credit should read INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/
Indranil Mukherjee|AFP|Getty Images

Yet for all the building’s finery, there appears to be one thing still missing: Mukesh Ambani himself.

People close to the industrialist say that he and his wife entertain at their cantilevered property, known as Antilia, but they and their three children never stay the night there.

One person close to Mr Ambani’s group said he was now in residence, although a neighbour with a view of the building told the Financial Times that the lights were seldom on, and only when Mr Ambani was hosting guests.

Those who have enjoyed the tycoon’s hospitality speak of lavish parties featuring musical acts flown in from overseas. One guest said the home was divided into private and public areas, the latter of which seemed to share more in common with a large hotel than a family home. Staff at the home were trained by India’s luxury Oberoi hotel chain.

Others have been surprised to see a man renowned for his reserve and ruthlessness indulge in a project to erect what has been described as a “vertical palace” and “the Taj Mahal of the 21st century”, reportedly complete with helipads, cinema and billion-dollar pricetag.

Indeed, the entire venture has become a source of disquiet for Mr Ambani, whose fortune, estimated this year by Forbes at $27 billion, made him the ninth wealthiest man on the planet.

Controversy began even before construction, when a dispute broke out over the acquisition of the land from a Muslim charity.

People close to the family said a senior US diplomat visiting Mumbai recently had asked to meet Mr Ambani at the celebrated home but later requested a change of venue when reminded of the controversy.

The tower has also served as a lightning rod for ill-feeling about the yawning gap between India’s billionaires and its have-nots, rising as it does above the sprawling slums that are home to millions of Mumbai’s poor.

A spokesman for Reliance Industries, Mr Ambani’s oil-to-retail conglomerate, said the managing director’s living arrangements were “a private matter” and declined to comment. He categorically denied suggestions Mr Ambani, whose group recently acquired a stake in the owner of the Oberoi, might convert the building to another use, such as a hotel.

Mr Ambani’s previous home, a residence in city’s waterside Colaba district where he is still said to stay at least some of the time, is shared with other members of the extended first family of Indian commerce.

One theory as to why the family appears cool on residing at Antilia holds that the building has violated the principles of vastu shastra, a traditional Indian design rubric.

Another suggests that Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani, widow of the self-made founder of the Reliance group and mother of Mukesh and his fierce rival and younger brother Anil, would not accede to her elder son’s intention to move away from the Sea Wind home – even though the animosity between Mukesh and Anil, himself a billionaire, saw them occupying different floors there.

Shares in Reliance Industries have fallen by 22 percent this year, tracking a general decline in Indian stocks. Yet Mr Ambani’s position as the nation’s foremost tycoon appears secure. In February he was at Downing St to ink a $7.2 billion oil and gas deal with BP and the year has seen half a dozen investments as the group diversifies.