How Lakme got its name

Aug 17, 2012, 08:04 IST | Malavika Sangghvi

While in Goa we met Anil Chopra, the recently retired head of Lakme. He told us a fascinating story of how the Tatas came to own the cosmetic giant (which they later sold to Hindustan Lever).

Malavika Sangghvi

>> While in Goa we met Anil Chopra, the recently retired head of Lakme. He told us a fascinating story of how the Tatas came to own the cosmetic giant (which they later sold to Hindustan Lever).

“In the first flush of independence, Nehru had written to JRD Tata of his concern over the loss of valuable foreign exchange due to the import of perfumes and cosmetics. He urged the industrialist to explore manufacturing these products in India,” said Chopra.

“Naturally, then Tata executives turned to France, as it was renowned for its perfumeries. Naval Tata was given the job of developing a division of TOMCO (Tata Oil Mills) that would produce perfumes and cosmetics. But what would they call this division?


At that time, there was an opera playing in Paris, which had an Indian theme and in which the Goddess Lakshmi’s name was invoked. Someone who had seen the play suggested Lakme — the French pronunciation for Lakshmi,” said Chopra with a smile and the manner of someone who had just solved a complex algebra problem. “So the company was named Lakme — as a tribute to Goddess Lakshmi!” What an extraordinary story and who would have thunk it!

JRD Tata and Anil Chopra

Mama’s girl
>> We spent Wednesday evening in the company of Laila Khan and her family: husband Farhan Furniturewala and mom Sundari Khan. It was Laila’s birthday and she was spending it in Goa where we had gone too.

Laila Khan and Farhan Furniturewala.
Laila Khan and Farhan Furniturewala.

We have known Laila’s father, the late actor Feroz and his brothers from our childhood days in Juhu. Except for Feroz, none of the others had made it in films. Abbas (Sanjay) was an aspiring model who was dating top model Zarine at that time. Ahmed (Sameer) was at Xavier’s college, Akbar (who later went on to direct a film on the Taj Mahal) was still at a boy’s convent school and Dilshad, their beautiful sister — whose distinct sartorial style was said to have been the inspiration for many an actress including Dimple Kapadia — was in her teens. “Farhan and I love Goa,” said Laila.

 Sundari Khan
Sundari Khan

“We courted here and fell in love with the place and each other. So, when we decided to build a home we decided on Goa — you must come over.” The evening, like a lot of Goa evenings, turned out to be one where ‘Sinatra met Satre’ as the night progressed and old songs were sung. Laila requested Autumn Leaves, My Way, and You’ve Got a Friend. “How come you listen to songs from two decades before your time?” she was asked. “My mom used to play all these songs for us,” responded Laila. “And I am after all, my mother’s daughter!” said the birthday girl.

Private viewing of rival’s film
>> Even in faraway Goa we couldn’t get away from the long reach of Mumbai masala. So, even as we allowed the gentle breeze to rock us to sleep and bird song to bring on a gentle afternoon reverie, we were bemused to learn that Bollywood‘s reigning superstar’s wife had disregarded her husband’s famous rivalry with his Bandra neighbour and held a private screening of the latter’s latest release on Wednesday night at her residence for her clique of girlfriends. And where was the famous husband? “Definitely not at home, we were told by an insider. “Or else we are sure the choice of film would be different.”

Old friends new discoveries
>> An evening in Goa is a great way to discover new things about old friends. Who for instance would have known that the lovely Simone Singh is a great singer? Or that her husband Fahad Samar is on the verge of completing the line edit of his much-awaited book?

Simone Singh and Fahad Samar

Or that Murad Rampur, the dapper aristocrat who had moved back to India from LA in the ‘90s has now made the seaside resort his permanent home and dabbles in real estate. It takes an evening in Goa to rediscover new things about old friends.

The Taj’s three muses
>> In Goa we met design guru Gita Simoes who with her late husband Frank, the writer adman extraordinaire had pioneered the love affair upper class India had with Goa. Gita and Frank had built a stunning beachfront home in Candolim and through their passion for Frank’s homeland, had inspired a whole generation to embrace the Goan way of life.

Frank Simoes and wife Gita Simoes
Frank Simoes and wife Gita Simoes

Of course, Goa was an important part of Simoes life, but not the only one. The couple had individually and collectively put the Taj group on the international map. Frank through the brilliant ad campaigns he dreamt up for the hotel chain after he won its advertising account, and Gita in her role as its chief graphic designer. We spoke about the time when India was young and beginning to discover its visual vocabulary. “Elizabeth Kerkar who was responsible for the interiors of every Taj property is someone you must meet,” she said. “She has a wealth of material for anyone interested in India’s design sensibility.” We agreed.

In fact, there are three women who seminally influenced the way India lived, ate and entertained — Elizabeth Kerkar, Camellia Panjabi and Gita Simoes. To think that at one time they all worked for the same company!  

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