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Friday, August 21, 1998

India on a T-Shirt

Sujata Assomull  
What would your first reaction be when two twentysomethings declare that they are determined to put India on the map? Disbelief? Well, it is not such a tall claim, actually -- the globe they are looking at is made on a T-shirt.

Last year, Rajiv Ramchandani and Madan Chabria -- old college chums -- decided to end their holiday abroad when they spotted the big business idea. In South East Asia and the West, they noticed that the most popular souvenir up for grabs was the T-shirt. With either a map of the country or a funny tale about the peculiarity of the holiday spot, these 100 per cent cotton tees were toppers on a tourist's list.

Yet back home, no one bothered to look at T-shirt art seriously. Neither did Rajiv and Madan. Their flagship company, Tantra (started a year ago), makes T-shirts that are far from serious. In fact they are hysterically hilarious. Says Rajiv, "We delight in taking conventional Indian images and transforming them into exotic T-shirt art. It is not what we say but how we sayit."

And they say it in a style that can only be called "desi gauche". With themes that range from political corruption to mythology to masala, the basic base of white, grey, navy and black is transformed into a riot of colours, cartoons and symbols. "I think people have had enough of fake Versace and Chanel T-shirts. They now want something different, something with a bit of attitude, which is where Tantra fits is," says Rajiv.

And take a look at some of their one-shirt-fits-all Tees: under a drawing of Lord Ganesh, they declare: "Lord Ganesha, 50% human, 50% elephant, 100% cute." Or another one of a Rajput prince, leeringly saying: "Your palace or mine?" Or a couple entwined in coitus ala Kamasutra, saying: "Just Do It" or "It's Good For the Back".

The light-hearted and irreverent creative tone is maintained by Rajiv, who used to be an associate creative director at Triton-BDDP. A seasoned cartoonist, Rajiv believes that laughter is the best medicine.

Says he, "We are not perceived as countryof humour but we have so much of it. Mumbai is a creative fountainhead and it is time for more creative people to break out and do their own thing."

The business side of Tantra is handled by Madan, who is presently trying to master the art of juggling. He works in the family business and also looks after Tantra's production and public relations. Which is why his mantra is presenting India on a platter -- particularly for tourists.

Says he, "Tourists come to India for one or two weeks and that's not enough to understand the diversity of our country. We hope that our T-shirts help."

And just doing it has proved that Nike's mantra works. In the first year of their business, sales have soared. All over India more than 50 retail outlets stock their T-shirts. Priced at Rs 240, they come in 40 designs and four sizes. Each T-shirt also carries a specially-designed tag made of recycled paper, that reads: "Tantra T-shirts are so nuttily Indian that they are cool."

And while Rajiv and Madan are everything theirT-shirts promise to be -- nutty and ultra cool -- they are willing to sweat it out to the top. They want their brand of magic to lead to the opening of their own store and at a later date, have Tantra franchises, all over India. They have already peered into their crystal ball and have a vision for their store: "The environment would seduce you into buying. And even though you may not have expected to buy anything, once you come in to a Tantra store you will not help but buy," says Rajiv. And the next stop: The rest of the world through exports.

With the mantra that a T-shirt is not just an item of clothing but a medium of message, these humour ambassadors not only want to use their Tees to make people laugh -- they want their Tees to take them, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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