Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Man Who Made India Cool: Alex Kuruvilla

I had an interesting meeting with Alex Kuruvilla as I was doing some exciting research for my next book. 

Writing a book is incredible as it takes you to various places where you meet different people - all incredible in their own unique ways. And I get to learn something from each one of them. Here I share a bit of what Alex shared with me. 

So Alex now heads Vogue, GQ, Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Traveller all under Condé Nast India. 

While he and his team are doing incredible stuff, what interested me more was the incredible and revolutionary change he bought in with MTV India when he joined in 1999 and the wonderfully positive impact it had on the perception the world had of India because of him. 

I truly believe and have experienced how he made India cool and sexy for the entire world to see.  

He might be one of the biggest and most under-rated unofficial Ambassadors India has had as he went onto show a different side of India to the world. Before him, most people outside saw India as a poverty stricken third world country because of no proper media exposure, branding and marketing. Very few movies and media showed the urban youth and the 'cool' side of India as it was meant to be showed.  

I know of countless people abroad who wanted to visit India for vacations simply because they had seen MTV India - and many actually did land up here. All this added incredibly to "Brand India" as well as contributed to the local economy. 

Alex shared how it all started when he and his team simply saw a video of Cyrus Broacha goofing around and playing pranks as a fake cop. They then came up with the hugely successful MTV Bakra and went onto inspire lots of merchandising in India such as caps and toys with Mattel while making millions of people laugh. In fact it came out much before Punk'd by Ashton Kutcher. I loved the stuff Cyrus did then- and still does. I wonder if Ashton got inspired watching Cyrus? 

Or how shows like MTV Loveline with Malaika Arora that became popular with guys all over the world for obvious reasons. They went on to have branded MTV Loveline SIM cards with BPL Mots - so it was a couples SIM card where they got special discounted calling offers. 

Or the incredibly cool and fun music Nikhil Chinapa played on his shows and showed the world how cool Indian guys can be. I know of quite a few girls who ended up having crushes on me - simply because both Nikhil and I were from India. 

Or how an entire range of MTV inspired clothing and perfumes were launched - which were available only in India. I remember friends, abroad asking me to get it for them, as these weren't available even in America. 

They went on to do some incredibly wacky cards co-branded with Citibank, parties that entered the Guinness Book of World Record, got awarded by BBC for spreading awareness on leprosy by having VJs hug people suffering from it,and countless other fun things that also made economic and financial sense. So it was all about being creative and wacky - but at the same time making sure profits keep coming it by in-depth research of the market and what the consumer wants. 

India was creating new content and along with the content were incredible merchandising opportunities being created. This was all new and had never been done before. The youth had a face and this was it. 

This was also very different for MTV - because traditionally they had been used to exporting "American" content - but in India, it wasn't working. It is only when Alex and his team took over in 1999 that things started changing and they started beating other competition in the market. He rightly figured that we as Indians are proud of who we are and love having content that is meant for us. 
Even the American Ambassador to India then - Richard  Celeste proudly shared about the stuff Alex was doing this with Bill Clinton, during his India visit, and how this was a case of reverse cultural colonization where Indian content was being sent all over the world. 

He even managed to make Bill Gates (one of my favorite guys, we both are born on the same day - 28th October) wear a nice kurta and even showed me the picture. It was nice to see the richest man on the planet dressed in Indian clothes!

In that way we as Indians are unique and are immensely proud about our individual identity- we can be incredibly modern and continue to enjoy and cherish our own culture and roots - right from practicing Yoga and meditation to experiencing Ayurveda, enjoying our movies, music food and wearing the most elegant Indian clothes. 

I believe it is such stories that inspire more and more people to be proud of being Indians and at the same time believing that you can do whatever you desire - if you passionately in act on it immediately while making sure you have all the knowledge you need. 

The soft power of India is incredible and I believe Alex can do something much larger with brands like Vogue, Condé Nast, GQ and Architectural Digest. I believe these brands can be used to showcase much more of what India offers on a larger platform. So in addition the magazine - a medium that can reach millions and billions of people globally. I believe now with Digital taking over- video, audio, 360 degree filming and Virtual Reality content will be essential. 

In fact all us can. 

We can brand, market and package a beautiful image of India that is vibrant, secular, free and hungry to go out there and be the best at whatever it does. 

Now is our time to take over the world with all the incredible things we can offer and truly make the world a better place with a lot more color, dance, creativity, happiness and bliss! 

A big salute from all Happionaires to the man who made India cool: Alex Kuruvilla!

Keep doing the great work you are doing!

Yogesh Chabria 


sonia said...

A very nicely written piece that speaks so much about Alex and MTV India which I never knew. Will look forward to more such stories and listening to your talks.

Also what is your next book on? Has me curious Yogesh!

Anonymous said...

Wow superb and inspirational story Yogesh! Alex really has done a lot and will share his story with all. Love being here as I get to learn so much and it is fun and simple.


Anonymous said...

Wow superb and inspirational story Yogesh! Alex really has done a lot and will share his story with all. Love being here as I get to learn so much and it is fun and simple.


Rahul said...

I do recall all that you said. Cyrus and Nikhil and now I know the genius behind them. Kudos to Alex and you for inspiring us all!

James said...

Interesting knowing about MTV India and the unique stuff they did - and very inspirational.

Sudhir Bhosle said...

Don't agree Yogesh - MTV degraded Indian culture and values. Do you think Indian culture is about MTV? Am shocked to read this! People like Alex should not be glorified at all!!!!