The brands that shaped pre-reforms India still live on in our national memory

  • Rachel Lopez, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jul 25, 2016 13:55 IST
Delhi University, in 1976. (KK Chawla/HT Photo)

The homegrown brands that did not survive the onslaught of liberalisation continue to live on, in our hearts, if not on our shelves

How we got around

Until the 1980s, two kinds of cars dominated Indian roads, the chubby Ambassador (a cousin of the English Morris Oxford III) and the sleeker Premier Padmini (inspired by the Italian Fiat 1100). The Amby was built like a tank, ferried government officials and offered headroom, legroom and boot space. The Pad was compact, appealed to the swish upper-class and offered air conditioning, tinted windows and better fuel efficiency. You didn’t need a driver to flaunt your status; owning a car was often enough. But for those who did get chauffeured around, life was a breeze. The roads were empty, parking spots were plentiful and you were the world’s envy.

….unless of course you were a two-wheeler family. Papa rode the family scooter, typically the Bajaj Chetak, mummy sat side-saddle behind, the kids fit on laps or stood in the front. More ambitious types rode their Rajdoots or Yezdis. Sure, they were expensive, guzzled fuel and were hard to service. But they represented the freedom a mere scooter could never give. Jackie Shroff raced his in Hero, young Indians did wheelies in the streets. And for those who couldn’t afford the plunge, there was always the trusty Kinetic Luna. Arun Firodia’s low-cost moped sold well because its ads featured everyday Indians with everyday aspirations rather than English-speaking elite. We still remember the slogan, “Chal Meri Luna”.

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Dressing up, heading out

Did you have a Ravi, Tarun or Tareeq on your wrist? Was Sona, Nutan or Kanchan part of your wedding? The watches from Hindustan Machine Tools ticked to life in 1961, in association with Japanese watch company, Citizen, and were reliable Timekeepers To The Nation. HMT pioneered hand-wound, quartz, automatic and Braille watches in India, clocking 15 million timepieces in just over half a century.

There were icons on your feet too. In its prime, Carona was second only to Bata in India’s shoe market. The brand that started in 1953 built its reputation on canvas and rubber shoes for a rapidly urbanising workforce that needed affordable Western-style footwear. Carona showrooms – at one point there were 300 across the country – were among the first to showcase separate fun ranges for kids.

Seiko and HMT wrist watches, in 1970. (KK Chawla/HT Photo)

Fashion Statement

In an age without glitzy malls, fast-fashion outlets and designer pret, fashion nonetheless thrived. The trousers started high and flared wide - all the better to accommodate platform heels. 1970s India never met a polyester print it didn’t like. checks, florals, clashing themes, it all worked on Western wear like maxi-dresses, mini skirts and fitted shirts. Tailors sewed on huge collars and spent their hours turning pre-matched fabric from Vimal, Mayur, Bombay Dyeing and Garden into safari suits. Of course, tinted sunglasses made everything look even better.

When it came to soft drinks…

Homegrown flavours and brands thrived in the absence of multinational juggernauts like Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

“Gold Spot, the zing thing” was Parle’s fizzy-tangy orange drink that had been around since 1952 and was named after their popular Gold Star mints. It stayed popular until 1993, as did Parle’s later creations, Thums Up, Limca, Citra and Maaza, after which they were sold to Coca-Cola India, only to have Gold Spot and Citra killed off and replaced with Fanta and Sprite. There was room for smaller brands too – Thrill and Sosyo had their fans and that fizzy favourite: Campa Cola. Dreamed up by the company that manufactured and distributed Coca Cola from 1949 to 1977, it was the made-in-India drink with an appropriate slogan: The Great Indian Taste.

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Getting tech savvy

Then as now, cool gadgets were things to flaunt. In the ’70s and ’80s, the lure of cheap cameras and low-cost film and colour processing was hard to resist. Abdullah Fazalbhoy’s Hot Shot cameras came out at every wedding, graduation, summer party and festival. They were easy to load with film and the point and shoot was a breeze. One model, the Mini, was no bigger than your sunglasses case, and cost less than a roll of film – all the better to document the emerging India.

That’s entertainment

For much of India, the toothpaste brands Cibaca and Binaca call to mind not the teeth but the ears. The title sponsors of Geetmala, the weekly film-music countdown radio show, enthralled audiences from 1952 to 1995. Binaca (rebranded as Cibaca in 1994) Geetmala was the first to rate Indian film songs and interspersed them with a lively, almost conversational commentary by Ameen Sayani. Cibaca still sells well in small towns, but the music ended with Tujhe Dekha To Yeh Jana Sanam, 1995’s song of the year.

A family huddled around their black and white TV, in 1973. (Babu Ram/HT Photo)

Moving images, however, were where the competition lay. Was your TV a Keltron, Uptron, Salora, Dyanora, Texla or Crown? No matter, it probably was housed in its own wooden cabinet, with extendable antennae and analog dials to show a single black-and-white channel. Neighbours would huddle around in your living room to catch the news, a TV show or a film. Streets would go empty when Hindi films played on Sunday evening.

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