In the fight between Shivinder Singh & Malvinder Singh of Ranbaxy and Fortis, high finance meets family izzat. There’s also a Babaji.
Everybody loves a good war.
But there’s no war as good as a war between brothers. And what’s even better than a war between brothers? A war between billionaire brothers.
The latest entrants in the arena are Shivinder Singh and Malvinder Singh of Ranbaxy and Fortis fame. Shivinder has dragged Malvinder, former CEO of Religare, to the National Company Law Tribunal for the financial mess the company is in. The brothers had built Religare after selling Ranbaxy to Daiichi, which complained facts and figures were misrepresented during the sale. Malvinder says all decisions were taken collectively. Shivinder says Malvinder is trying to pass the buck. To add a uniquely Indian touch to this edition of Cane and Abel, there is a Babaji involved. Gurinder Singh Dhillon aka Babaji, the spiritual guru of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas, was the brothers’ mentor and guide and, incidentally, beneficiary of the Ranbaxy sales. This is like Indian soap opera meets reality show. It has everything we love. Family, money, and a guruji.
It’s been a while since we had an episode of Billionaire Brother Blowout or BBB in India. The wait is over.
But for high TRP ratings, the BBB needs a few essentials.
Family honour in spades. It must all be about family honour otherwise what’s the point of this Mahabharata. “My family reputation kept me a silent spectator,” says Shivinder. But no more, thankfully, for those of us lesser mortals who must live vicariously through the superfights of the super-rich. But the lesson is that there should be much talk about family honour and values, salutations to the late patriarch, and chest-thumping love for wayward brother while stabbing each other in the back or forging an uneasy truce which might not last till the next episode.
Empires to fight over. The days of the Shah Jahan are over. So different kinds of empires have to be at stake now. Petrochemicals, telecom, big pharma, steel, and shopping malls. Storied names like Reliance, Bajaj Auto, Ranbaxy and Arcelor-Mittal. And given that the new tycoons are so much flashier than their dour Spartan khadi-clad predecessors, these days BBB is much more gaudy fun, Ektaa Kapoor rather than Doordarshan.
Some dishoom dishoom always helps. This Religare saga of Which Singh is King is admittedly not as exciting as the Brothers Chadha. The National Company Law Tribunal is not as dramatic a venue as a Chhattarpur farmhouse where liquor barons Ponty and Hardeep Chadha unloaded guns at each other. There were 40 shots from three different weapons, all licensed, from .9 mm pistols to an AK-47. There were Land Cruisers, Mercedes, a Tata 407 tempo involved. And there were members of the Punjab police force who were part of this personal security posse.
Fast cars are a must. In April 2018, brothers Gurjit and Jaspal managed to attack, and kill each other with guns and kirpans in a parking lot in New Delhi’s Model Town 2. They had been involved in a property dispute as well, but the immediate provocation according to the police was when Jaspal “accidentally” ran his Audi over Gurjit’s foot in the parking lot of their building. Gurjit damaged the car window in retaliation. Jaspal stabbed Gurjit with his kirpan in re-retaliation. Gurjit’s bouncers shot Jaspal in re-re-retaliation. You can’t make this stuff up.
Celebrity judges. The Ambanis of course are the gold standard of BBB. The Ambanis should be now the celebrity judges of the finale of every BBB show. In his recent book Billionaire Raj, James Crabtree writes that at the height of the Ambani vs Ambani feud, the brothers coordinated their entry and exit to avoid running into one another in the lift. That too, in a 14-storey residential tower with its own helipad. No wonder Mukesh Ambani built Antilla in a way that nobody needs to run into anybody if they don’t want to. There are six storeys of parking garages. If there are any feuding brothers in GenNext, they do not even have to park in the same floor and run the risk of running Aston Martin over each other’s toes.
Mere Paas Ma Hai (sort of). A family elder is always an asset. But these are modern times. So there’s no need for a modern-day Aurangzeb to literally present Dara Shikhoh’s head to Shah Jahan. But a distraught mother is always a good draw because we are sentimental people raised on Nirupa Roy’s tears. By the way, even she is not sacred. The police were called as her sons Kiran and Yogesh brawled over their mother’s Malabar Hill property, smashing window panes and hurling abuses. But a peacemaker mother is always good for the TRPs as any soap knows. Kokilaben Ambani presided over the peace accord between the warring brothers or rather cessation of open hostilities, which was concluded at the family temple with the blessings of Srinathji. Fathers play a more complex role, sometimes dealmaker, sometimes taking sides. Rahul Bajaj quietly split his empire into Bajaj Auto and Bajaj Finserv to be shared between Rajiv and Sanjiv before any feud became tabloid fodder. Lakshmi Mittal went against his father’s wishes by splitting off the international arm of the family’s steel empire, and became estranged from his younger brother Pramod.
Of course, India is not alone in this Game of Thrones. Brother against brother was the leitmotif of the American Civil War, although in England, King Lear was undone by his feuding daughters. King Richard found his throne usurped by his brother John after the Crusades. Henry I imprisoned his brother Robert in the Tower of London. Mahmud of Ghazni had to wrest the throne his father left to his brother Ismail. And here is one many of us don’t know about: When Adi and Rudi Dassler of the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory fell out, Adi formed Adidas in 1948 and his brother moved to the other end of town and formed his own company, Puma. They never reconciled.
But in family-oriented India, brother vs brother gets an extra fillip. We just do melodrama better and when high finance meets family izzat, all under the watchful eyes of the family God, in a no-holds-barred dangal, all bets are off. Move over, Big Brother. Big Billionaire Brother Blowout is here, the perfect show for aspirational India.