1. Bajaj Scooter: Those family outings
It’s an image etched firmly in memory — a family of four on a single scooter, one kid squeezed between the parents and the other standing in front of the father. For the longest time, this was the defining image of a middle-class Indian family.
At a time when cars were an unaffordable luxury for a large section of Indian society, the Bajaj Chetak scooter, introduced in 1972, became the wind beneath people’s wings. A status symbol for many, the Chetak was derived from the Sprint model by Vespa, with whom Bajaj had a technical alliance. The two-wheeler’s popularity grew quickly and to such an extent that even with 600-odd dealers across the country, reports suggested the waiting period for the beast ran into years at a point in time.
Although the Chetak topped the popularity charts, other offerings by Bajaj — the Super and Priya — were not far behind. For many, Bajaj became buland bharat ki buland tasveer. After the Indian economy opened up in 1991, the humble scooter started losing out to the cooler, faster bikes. This first led to the demise of Chetak in 2005 and then the auto giant phasing out the scooter segment completely in 2009. That is not, however, where the story ends. The name recently made a comeback, albeit in an electric avatar.
2. Maruti 800: First accessible family car
The joint venture between Maruti Udyog Ltd and Japan’s Suzuki Motors started with the Maruti 800 — a small, box-like hatchback that was affordable and offered great mileage, launched in 1983 at a price tag of Rs 47,500. It was a small car tailor-made for tribulations on the average Indian road and the aspirations of the average Indian family.
The car proved a revolution in the Indian auto sector, eventually replacing the legendary Ambassador and much-loved Fiat Padmini as the car of first choice.
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Even as the economy opened up in 1991, the 800 remained a favourite, and Maruti Suzuki continued its hold over the auto market with the largest share, with its successive offerings. Diverse models, low-maintenance costs and availability of service stations in remote locations of the country gave the brand the edge it continues to enjoy.
3. Luna: Old-school cool
It called for some furious pedalling while still perched on its stands and then it’d come to life. And the rider would go: “Chal meri Luna!.”
The 50cc lightweight — and liberating — bike became a heavyweight of sorts in the 1970s and ’80s. It was India’s first moped, and was soon a household name as it revolutionalised commuting for the middle-class, and especially for women. Their sari pallus firmly tucked at the waist or their dupattas safely tied at the back, they’d go flying on their Luna — off to office or to ferry their kids from home to school and back. At one point, about 90 per cent of Luna’s users were women.
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Before it, there was nothing like Luna. Introduced in India in 1972 by Kinetic Engineering, the Pune-based Luna was marketed in the US as Kinetic TFR, while the original Luna was a licensed copy of Piaggio Ciao moped. Its unique ad campaign focused on ordinary Indians who were moving towards progress. As emission norms tightened in the country, Luna died a slow death. Its production ended in the 2000s, following which the Kinetic Group exited the moped market in India.
4. Nirma: Milky white outings
Named after founder Karsanbhai Patel’s daughter, Nirupama, Nirma detergent made a humble beginning in Gujarat in 1969. Competitively priced at Rs 3.50 per kg, the yellow detergent powder promised doodh si safedi — milky white clothes — and stirred up a storm in the washing tub, challenging market leaders like Surf.
The days of door-to-door selling came to an end with the brand’s super successful TV commercial, featuring the catchy Nirma jingle. From Hema to Rekha to Jaya to Sushma, Nirma’s quality offering at an unbeatable price became everyone’s choice.
Eye on competition, the disruptor acquired two production units, which became operational in 2000. This further reduced costs. The acquisition of a packaging company a few years later took down costs even more, allowing Nirma to cement its position as an affordable brand.
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Nirma went on to diversify its range, launching premium products like the Nirma sandal soap for a new, affluent class, and eventually entered the personal care market with a range of shampoos. But penetrating the premium segment remained a challenge.
5. Oberoi hotel: Checking in
Here is one rags-to-riches story to be proud of. In 1922, Mohan Singh Oberoi was all of 24 when he reached Shimla from his village in Pakistan, looking for a job. It is said he had only Rs 25 that his mother had given him before he left home. He’d lost his father when he was barely six months old.
Oberoi bagged a job as a front desk clerk at The Cecil Hotel. But he had big dreams. Twelve years on, he mortgaged all his assets and his wife’s jewellery to buy his first property, The Clarkes Hotel (then Carlton), from his mentor. With that began the journey of the Oberoi hotel chain.
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Over the next few decades, the Oberoi Group took shape. It now has over 30 luxury hotels and resorts, including brands like the Trident, and has a presence across countries like Indonesia, UAE, Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. MS Oberoi is today recognised as the father of the Indian hotel industry.
6. Odomos: Buzzzzz off
While we’re discussing brands that have become a part of our lives, is it even possible to leave Odomos out? The mosquito repellant, originally launched some 40 years ago and relaunched by Dabur in 2007, is today a dominant player in India’s Rs 1,600-crore household insecticide market.
It is one of those few brands that have managed to survive without an app or digital marketing, and relied solely on word of mouth. “Odomos lagai?,” is a standard question people ask their children during mosquito season.
That an affordable average tube of Odomos lasts the entire mosquito-breeding season is a plus. Forget urban India, the brand’s rural outreach, too, has been quite something. It is available in over 700,000 outlets across the country. Some years ago, aware of concerns that people, worried about the composition of personal care products, might have around rubbing the ointment on their skin, Odomos introduced a ‘Naturals’ category. It also launched a spray.
The reimagining and reinventing has helped Odomos stay ahead of competition in the mosquito repellent category (with a 57 per cent market share).
7. Ola: Like Cinderella’s chariot
A few taps on the phone and voila, your ride is here! Who could have imagined something like this was even possible just about over a decade ago? Why, only the moneyed could afford such chauffeur-driven luxuries.
Ola changed that. Launched in 2010, India’s first cab aggregator start-up now has users in over 250 cities and employs more than 2.5 million driver partners. It has also ventured into auto and bike services to ease last-mile connectivity and offer pocket-friendly alternatives.
The fastest Indian start-up to enter the unicorn club, Ola was born out of co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal’s personal experience. He was once left stranded by a driver over payment issues. Despite competition from Uber — “let’s Uber it” has become a thing — and controversies around the treatment of its driver partners, Ola has remained the go-to ride for many. The company has also ventured into new areas: electric scooters and bikes.
8. Old Monk: A toast to high spirits
No bar in India is quite complete without the obligatory bottle of the country’s most famous dark rum. Old Monk Rum is an iconic vatted Indian dark rum, launched in 1954. A favourite of the masses, also colloquially referred to as the ‘national drink of India’, and for the longest time, the biggest Indian-Made Foreign Liquor brand, its legacy is almost 66 years old.
The subject of Old Monk usually gets soaked with sentimentality. The rakish dark rum has a rich, dark history. What’s usually well known is that in 1855, an entrepreneurial Scotsman named Edward Dyer, quick to spot demand for cheap beer among the
British, set up a brewery in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh. In a few years, it changed hands to become a distillery by the name of Mohan Meakin and went on to produce one of India’s best-known liquor brands. What’s not well known is that Kapil Mohan, who created the third-largest selling rum of the world, was a teetotaller.
A perfect Make-in-India prototype, with infinite potential, it has been pushed to the brink because of management inertia and dense government policies.
9. Onida: Speak of the devil
Can a devil spook us into buying stuff? Yes. And how! Despite a perceived negativity around the decades-old ads starring a smiling devil, Onida TV struck the right chord. According to Y V Verma, a former CEO of the electronics company, these ads single-handedly lifted Onida’s market share from 5-6 per cent in 1981 to 19-20 per cent in 1995. Founded in 1981 by G L Mirchandani and Vijay Mansukhani, Onida managed to cash in on the 1982 Asiad in Delhi that was telecast live and introduced the colour TV experience. Its mascot and tagline (“neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride”) made Onida an iconic brand.
Onida was launched at a time BPL and Videocon were ruling the market. Its TV, also labelled as the poor man’s Sony, made inroads into the mass market. Since its IPO in 1992, it even posted profits for 19 years. But the TV and the brand lost out to foreign rivals with deep pockets like Sony and Samsung. In 2016, Onida launched a new mascot, God. No prizes for guessing which is more popular.
10. Parachute hair oil: Glad to hair that
The blue bottle came to mean healthy, nourished hair. Sunday mornings meant a Parachute coconut oil champi or else the scalp and the strands didn’t quite feel the same. There was one problem,though. Winter meant the free-flowing contents of the bottle froze and then you had to dunk it in hot water to squeeze the oil out. Parachute took care of that when it launched its wide-mouth plastic jars. Packaging, in fact, has been at the centre of Parachute’s success.
In his book, The Inheritors, Sonu Bhasin writes about the phase in the 1970s that changed the hair oil business and positioned Parachute as the top brand. Coconut hair oil used to be sold in “unattractive” tin containers, but that changed in the ’60s when plastic bottles were introduced. The idea was soon shelved as rats went for these bottles with a vengeance. Then in 1971, Marico founder Harsh Mariwala changed the shape of the containers from square to round and made them leakage-free. Soon, Parachute had dislodged its competitors, including the likes of Shalimar, to top spot.
11. Reynold: Pen pal for masses
“The pen that Sachin has.” That’s how Reynolds became a must-have for Indians. Another brand with a pan-India appeal despite foreign roots, Reynolds is an integral part of stationery stores. The Reynolds 045, named after its year of origin (1945), cut across class and made its way into the pencil boxes of users from all walks of life. The biggest draw for this mostly white-barrelled ball pen is the fact that the price (Rs 6) has remained unchanged for years now.
Reynolds has launched even cheaper alternatives but 045 remains its mainstay. Ironically, when the first pen was launched by founder Milton Reynolds, it was priced a princely $12.50 — enough for a night’s stay in a luxury hotel back then. These pens were marketed as an imperative and a gift for soldiers coming back from WWII. In 2016, GM Pens, the Indian licensee for over two decades, launched its new product Rorito and ceased production of Reynolds. Now a subsidiary of the Newell Brands, the pen continues to be a part of every child’s stationery kit.
12. Patanjali: Baba’s business
Over 25 years ago, when yoga guru Ramdev started appearing on TV to teach asanas to people, accom–panying him on these televised yoga sessions would be some Ayurvedic products. There was little to show back then how big an empire he would create on the popularity of yoga and Ayurveda.
What started in 1995 as Divya Yoga Mandir Trust in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, has since morphed into an FMCG conglomerate called Patanjali Ayurveda. While Patanjali’s CEO, Balkrishna, a close associate of the yoga guru, owns the bulk of the company and has a net worth of $2.1 billion, the politically-savvy Ramdev is its face.
Patanjali projects itself as the country’s “biggest swadeshi FMCG brand” and its products — toothpaste, honey, shampoo, skincare lotions, soaps, asafoetida, to name some — have made strong inroads into homes. Patanjali stores are now a familiar sight in marketplaces.
13. Paytm: Easy money
“Paytm kar do (Paytm it).” This crisp and oft-heard sentence speaks of the revolution a payments app called Paytm has brought. From the vegetable vendor to the neighbourhood dhobi, from the nukkad kiosk-owner to the man at the milk booth, from the kirana shop to the sprawling departmental store — everyone seems to be using it.
The first payments app to cross 100 million downloads in 2017, Paytm was, for many Indians, the first step towards a digital India through the smartphone. Founded by Vijay Shekhar Sharma in Noida in August 2010 with an initial investment of $2 million, Paytm started off as a prepaid mobile and DTH recharge platform, and three years later added data card, postpaid mobile and landline bill payments.
In November 2016, demonetisation gave further impetus to the payments app. It launched its IPO in November 2021, raising Rs 18,300 crore. Recently, though, One97 Communications, which owns Paytm, reported a consolidated loss of Rs 2,396.4 crore for FY22. Challenges from competitors aside, Paytm will remain the first online payments platform that transformed the way Indians handle money.
14. PVR: Silver lining on the screen
It started in 1990, when Ajay Bijli left the family trucking business to focus on a neglected property — a single-screen cinema called Priya in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, which his father had bought in the 1970s. Thus began a journey that transformed the movie-going experience. Until then, cinema meant squeaky, broken chairs and a bare-bone hall strewn with souvenirs left by the previous audience — popcorn, wafers, empty cola bottles. The seat of the cinema chairs had to be pulled down and required a quick spring of the body to place the derriere on it or else it sprang right back and folded up.
Bijli’s JV with the Village Roadshow created Priya Village Roadshow, now PVR Cinemas, in 1997. It triggered a multiplex revolution. The arrival of malls added momentum to it. Cinema became PVR. You no longer went to a cinema; you went to a PVR.
Now, with PVR and INOX (a multiplex chain that came afterwards) deciding to join hands, the brand is expected to become an even bigger star of the screen.
15. Rajdoot: Bike with a kick
A macho Dharmendra’s memorable lines in an ad, “Jandaar sawari, ek shandaar sawari”, have remained etched in our minds long after the Rajdoot faded away. Back in the 1980s, the film star’s words rang a bell, making the two-stroke motorcycle — a licensed copy of a Yamaha model and made in India by the Escorts group — a persuasively desi brand with a son-of-the-soil stamp.
The motorcycle division of Escorts group used to manufacture a Polish lineage bike under the Rajdoot brand from the early 1960s to 2005. The Rajdoot 350 was launched in 1983 and pitted against the likes of Royal Enfield Bullet 350 and Yezdi Roadking 250. But it did not quite taste commercial success. (Somewhere along the way, it was stereotyped as the ‘milkman’s motorcycle’.) It stopped production in 1990 and sold its last bikes in 1991.
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First Published: Thu, August 11 2022. 18:00 IST