Amidst the swirl of champagne and bacon-wrapped- prunes, guests mingled in the crowded ballroom of the New York Hilton. The year was 1984 and the atmosphere was charged with the presence of many royalties from Rajasthan. Heritage polki jewellery, zardosi overdose on saris and swirling angarkhas, society smiles and Picasso lips were on full display. It was the year that designer Paloma Picasso had lauched her signature red lipstick, saying that it was the only accessory any sensual woman needed. In the sea of glamour and opulence, a small, darkand unimpressive young man was handing out business cards. Bespectacled and surrounded by two blondes, his lisp-laced speech and brash bravado caught my eye. “Who is this?”, I asked my friend, industrialist SK Modi from New Delhi. I was on duty as chief reporter for my weekly television show “Indigo-the colours of India”that captured news of Indian events in America. “That is my irrepressible nephew Lalit Modi”, chuckled SK. Edging closer to the young man, I took one of his cards which read. – HRH Lalit Modi, Prince of Modinagar.
For the benefit of readers, Modinagar is a real place, an industrial complex in NOIDA, near Delhi, established by the MODI business family. In that gated complex the Modis are royalty and Lalit Modi is a genuine prince of his family tree. However, the sheer audacity of it all, amidst the maharajahs and maharanis of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Patiala and Karputala, made me burst out laughing. Spotting the TV camera behind me, Lalit Modi walked up and took the microphone from my hand. On cue, my cameraman, a Mumbai-kar, Chris Mendes, started shooting. “I have invited all the American guests to my palace in Modinagar”, India he said, avoiding my eye and looking directly at the camera lens. “I will show them true Indian hospitality like they have never experienced”. I turned to SK Modi who looked away, shoulders shaking with mirth..
Twenty six years later, this enfant terrible of the Modi family tree has translated his brash chutzpah into a mega brand that combines sports with fashion, film, food and celebration. His super thick skin has shrugged off all the mockery, barbs and innuendos aimed at him and rocketed BRAND IPL into an enviable mega billion dollar commodity.
Good behaviour was never Lalit Modi’s credo. But then we are living in a time when bad behaviour gets rewarded. Why else would the mistresses of Tiger Woods and Jesse James (actress Sandra Bullock’s estranged husband) get their own reality TV shows?
Lalit Modi’s comments did not make the final cut of my report. Years later I feel I should have kept the rushes if only to watch them and wonder at life and fate. His estranged father now embraces him for his brand value and millions of cricket fans have become IPL groupies, endorsing his original vision of cricket, cleavage and ‘bindaas mast’ . With or without the IPL, Lalit Modi is an enigmatic icon of audacious excess.