Looking for Brand Chennai in idli-sambar country

By , agencyfaqs! | In | February 21, 2005
agencyfaqs! hits the streets of Chennai to get a low-down on the southern city

How would you define brand Chennai? The question was thrown at economist and Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh at the CII Brand Summit. Ramesh, without giving a definitive answer, simply said that you cannot brand yourself on what could be. & #BANNER1 & # But what is. Chennai is no Bangalore, the acknowledged IT capital of the country. Neither is it Mumbai, the entertainment hub. Nor is it Delhi, the seat of political power.

So what then is Brand Chennai? To get a feel of the city, which according to Ramesh could be the Detroit of India, agencyfaqs! hit the streets, to get a fill and feel of the sights and sounds of the city, the home to biggies such as Ford, Hyundai, Murugappa Group, Titan and Cognizant among others.

The first thing that strikes a first-time traveller is the sheer number and size of the billboards. Yes, there are enough in Mumbai, but here the giant vinyl boards dwarf everything else in comparison. Everything from a local Appam brand to state-of-the-art Bose speakers, to the housing schemes that promise impossibly green parks where happy blonde families frolic in the pools, jewellery and saree shops grab the eyeballs. The famous Tamil fascination for everything larger-than-life is obvious here.

And then, there are the film posters. Scenes of riot, the lead pair in a happy embrace, love-struck heroes and long-haired heroines look down on lesser mortals from their pedestals in mid-air. People here love their icons: religious, filmy and political. And, yes, the Madame of Poes Garden is omnipresent, waving from walls and posters, just as the young Stalin does from other walls. As a senior journalist pointed out, "What is in our lives is on the billboards."

Walk into a shop such as Nuts and Spices, and you will see rows of nutmegs and cardamoms, sharing shelf space with Pringles chips and Kraft food products. Imported tortilla chips and bars of Hershey seem to be as popular as imli goli and MTR ready-to-eat meal packs. Qwiky's and Barista seem to be on the same keel as the roadside juice shop selling pineapple, fig, watermelon and mango juice. Sachin da Dhaba is close to Aiwo, a health food joint, which is just a stone's throw away from ChicKing selling fried chicken and Mexican wraps, which is next to Anand Bhawan which serves vegetarian fast food.

Walk down Pondy Bazaar, the streets bustling with frantic shoppers, and you can buy sarees in every conceivable and inconceivable colours at shops which are like large halls with a rail of counters on either side. Visual merchandising is given a different twist here. Inside the gigantic stores, traditional kanjeevarams are as hot as Karishma sarees, which are as sizzling as Lehngas (thank you Karan Johar, thank you Manish Malhotra). One tagline even says: Experience Moksha in a lehnga!

On the streets, elegant women in silks and flowers in their hair drive through the irrepressible traffic, while dhoti-clad sadhus ride their bikes barefooted. On television, bearded and moustachioed men, serenade heavy-set women in technicolour sets spruced up with mind-boggling special effects, while children dance to their version of Boogie-Woogie.

And last but not the least, there is fusion in the air redolent with the sounds of mridamgam, ghatam, guitar and keyboards accompanied with the unmistakable Carnatic-style of singing.

As Prof Richard Harriss had remarked during the Brand Summit, "With heightened globalisation, comes a heightened sense of the local. Interconnectedness breeds individuality." Perhaps, he had Chennai on his mind.

2005 agencyfaqs!