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And now, brand bajao!

india Updated: Dec 23, 2007 03:21 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Pour yourself that celebratory Patiala peg of Whyte & Mackay (Scottish whisky brand bought by an Indian company). Or if you’re a teetotaler, stir your piping Tetley (British tea brand bought by an Indian company). Once you’re done with that — and done with scanning the papers for that incredibly original headline, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, in connection with the Tatas acquiring the American-owned British automobile brands, Jaguar and Land Rover — make a small pilgrimage to Shankar Market in Connaught Circus in New Delhi (British Raj brand acquired by the Indian State).

As you approach the lane wondering what colour your Jaguar XK8 coupé should be, stop your (Indo-Japanese?) car in front of the crummy looking Vidyut Bhavan. Then cast your eyes at the crummier-by-far building facing it. If you start looking for building signs, you’ll find one in the corner that dourly states, ‘Mohan Co-op Ind. Estate’. Don’t fret. You’re forgiven for thinking that Indira Gandhi is still Prime Minister; that Amitabh Bachchan can’t get worse than he is in Ram Balram; and that India becoming Prudential Cup champions deserves the headline, ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

Quickly getting out of that momentary time warp, you are bound to notice three giant letters hanging from the entrance wall of the building. But the ‘a’, ‘m’ and ‘a’ — with the ‘m’ tilting over like a badly hinged knee — are accompanied by the phantom marks of the long absent letters, ‘C’ and ‘p’. It is only after a bit that the brain registers the word ‘Campa’ on the wall of the padlocked building at Shankar Market.

And to think that a Coke-head like me was once a prime consumer of one of India’s favourite brands, Campa Cola. With George Fernandes kicking out Coca-Cola in 1977, a generation of us growing up in the 70s-80s were besotted with Campa Cola or Thums Up. As the old catchline under the ‘Campa’ sign still says, this was ‘The Great Indian Taste’. Campa Cola of the Pure Drinks Group and Parle’s Thums Up were indigenous brands taking on the big daddies. (Ok, so Coca-Cola and Pepsi were kept out, but still.) Not only were our thirsts quenched, but we also felt proud drinking ‘Indian’ fizzy drinks.

With the re-entry of the Coke boys from Atlanta in 1991, however, Campa was pretty much wiped off the face of the Earth. Many thought that Thums Up and Limca would also end up in the Great Bottling Factory in the Sky. But Parle’s ‘desi’ brands held out and have held out well in the ‘niche’ market. (I have three empty and one half-full Thums Up bottles in front of me right now.) So despite being bought by an American hyper-corporation, Thums Up and Limca today survive as two Indian brands. So who deserves the ticker-tape parade? The Indian brand that the Americans bought and continue to sell as the alternative for Coke-Pepsi junkies? Or the US company that acquired these seminal (extra-carbonated, less sweetened) brands? I say the brand, the brand!

Sony is as Japanese as Haldiram Bhujiwala is Indian. So when Sony acquired Columbia Pictures and Tristar Pictures in 1989 (incidentally from the Coca-Cola Company), did Hollywood become the repository of Samurai Westerns and Spiderman sequels in Manga style? When in 2005, Sony bought MGM, was the MGM roaring lion replaced by a yawning Sumo wrestler? If not, then who was the winner? The golden brand of Hollywood movies? Or the Godzilla-like purchasing power of Japanese corporate gents? (Clue: With the UAE paying $524 million simply to use the ‘Louvre’ brand name for a museum in Abu Dhabi, will we see culture bloom in the UAE?)

The ‘reliable’ Ambassador car is a rare example of a (British) brand being subsumed by another (Indian) brand. Despite the Maruti, the forever-updated ‘Morris Oxford’ Amby, manufactured by Hindustan Motors in its Uttarpara plant in West Bengal, remains the Indian Car. (I also grew up thinking that the Czech-Canadian-Swiss multinational shoe company Bata was a desi brand.)

So while Indian passport holders go on an acquisition spree, is any Indian company creating an Indian brand to be lusted after the world over? Can Karen in Copenhagen clamour for Fab India curtains? Is that Korean giant interested in buying Yash Raj Films? Forget all that. Will Pepsi CEO Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi do something about the dilapidated ‘Campa’ sign at Shankar Market?