Mumbai be right, I may be crazy

Tim Harcourt
Chief Economist
Australian Trade Commission

8 March 2006

Imagine watching Indian cricket legend, Sachin Tendulkar, batting on his home ground and then interviewing a famous Bollywood actress at the Taj Hotel the very next day! Is this as good as it gets?

Of course, Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is famous for its ‘cricket gods’ (like Tendulkar and Sunny Gavaskar) and its Bollywood stars but it is also the ‘Gateway to India’ and a thriving commercial and trading metropolis of over 19 million people. Indeed, Mumbai must be seen to be believed. A mass of poverty and desperation on the one hand, but an amazing hub of entrepreneurship and dynamic capitalism on the other, Mumbai is full of contradictions. Mumbai was one of the key centres visited by a recent trade mission to India organised by the Australia-India Business Council. The mission took in New Delhi, Mumbai and later Bangalore, covering a range of industries from software, infrastructure and medical technology to higher education. Over 1500 Australian companies export to India, but there are many more opportunities to tap into.

Of course, for a ‘cricket tragic’, Mumbai is fantastic. On the final day of the dramatic Fourth Test, Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, was a full house of Indian cricket supporters cheering on their heroes. Outside the stadium, the lure of cricket is also everywhere to be seen. On grounds next to Mumbai’s High Court, the University and all across the city, thousands of cricket fanatics are playing matches, as they do everyday all over the sub continent.

Accordingly, Australian cricketers are themselves very visible exports to India. Fast bowler, Brett Lee, was on every billboard and Matthew Hayden’s cooking tips were seemingly in every lifestyle magazine in Mumbai. Driving the Mumbai streets, I was struck by a large advertising banner for the local beer, Kingfisher, which declared to all and sundry: “One Indian the Aussies can’t beat!”

But all this cricket talk is good news for Australia is opening up opportunities for our exporters everywhere. For example, in the cricket arena itself, Sydney company, Albion is getting in on the act on the sub-continent. Albion, which manufactures the iconic Australian Test XI baggy green cap, and protective helmets, was in Mumbai for the Fourth Test in order to meet some Indian distributors. According Albion’s General Manager, Ross Barrat: “We see India as a major source of expansion for our product. We were founded in 1947 – the same year as India’s independence – and see our future wrapped up with India’s just as we have a shared history,” he explained.

Furthermore, its not just cricket companies that are doing well in India. Many other Australian companies are leveraging the cricket relationship. Whilst in New Delhi, I visited the Indian office the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC). SMEC is involved in major infrastructure involving highways, irrigation and water resource management throughout South Asia. As part of community development, SMEC sponsors young Indian cricketers and whilst I was in New Delhi, a cricket bat (donated by Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting) and scholarship was presented to Robin Bist, a young under 16 cricketer from Ghaziabad. SMEC’s Indian General manger, David Tow explained: “Whilst we are here in India to provide expertise in highways, irrigation and water resource management we also want to help the community in other ways”.

Other Australian companies also have links to charitable foundations in India  For instance, Cochlear, the famous Australian inventor of hearing implants, has a joint venture with Indian-based Medilife Technologies, which provides clinics, medical training and other health facilities to patients in India. According to Brendan Murray, Cochlear’s General Manager for the Asia Pacific (Southern Area/Australasia), “we are almost up to our 500th implant in India which is very exciting for the company and for the health and well being of the Indian community”.

Of course, in Mumbai there’s Bollywood too! According to Mr Supran Sen, the Secretary General of Film Producers Guild of India, “there are nearly 1000 films made in India each year, the majority of which are made in Mumbai. The films are made to satisfy the 20 million-plus patrons who visit the country’s 13,000 cinemas every day. The films are made mainly in Hindi but translated into 24 languages” he explained. Like Australia, India has always had a strong local film industry culture, although nowadays there has been a meshing of the traditional with the western. A brief viewing of Indian MTV gives you evidence of the Indian/Western blending along with recent features such as ‘The Guru’ starring Heather Graham and ‘Bride and Prejudice’ starring Aishwarya Rai.

Bollywood’s rise is also good news to Australia. Many India producers like to film commercials and movies in Australia, dues to our locations, the skill of our film crews, and the fact that the Bollywood stars won’t get mobbed walking the streets of Australian cities (as they do in Mumbai or Kolakata!). According to Sen: “Indian film producers like the legendary Feroz Khan love shooting in Australia. Australia has a good reputation here in Bollywood and we could do so much more together,” he said.

So watch Australian-Indian trade links start to widen and deepen. With closer ties, the Australia-India relationship will become more than ‘the 3 Cs – Cricket, Curry and Commonwealth’ but Tendulkar at Wankhede and Aishwarya Rai on a Bollywood movie set is not a bad place to start.

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