The sprawling 4,000 square yard ‘Santushti’ mansion in the plush Tilaknagar locality in Kanpur wears a forlorn look but for the occasional coming and going of vehicles belonging to the Central Bureau of Investigation sleuths.
And each time the gates open, revealing a punctiliously maintained lawn and a bevy of luxury vehicles, anxious camera persons and reporters, camping outside the palatial residence of Vikram Kothari, jump into action hoping to catch the latest in the ongoing probe against the tycoon, embroiled in one of the biggest loan default cases to hit the banking sector.
‘Santushti’, meaning satisfaction in Hindi, till now was associated only with opulence and success. And its owner, stationery czar Vikram Kothari, creator of the ‘Rotomac’ brand of pens, figured among the who’s who of Indian business.
Neighbour Rajendra Kumar Saffar recalls that it was in 1973 that Vikram Kothari’s father Mansukhbhai Kothari laid the foundation of a ‘paan masala’ empire.
Back then Mansukhbhai, who hailed from Gujarat , lived in Nayaganj area of the city and supplied coconut oil to shops.
He, however, moved into the paan masala business.
Mansukhbhai Kothari was amongst the first ones to sell paan masala in pouches and his brand -- Pan Paraag -- became a raging success, recalls Saffar.
Leading Bollywood actors Shammi Kapoor and Ashok Kumar featured in the ubiquitous Pan Paraag ad on TV and the brand’s tagline – ‘Baraatiyon ka swaagat Pan Paraag se kijiye’- became wildly popular, recalls Saffar.
So much so that Kanpur itself became to called ‘Paan Masala city’, recalls Saffar.
At that time Vikram Kothari and his brother Deepak Kothari assisted their father Mansukhbhai in managing the ever-burgeoning paan masala empire, he adds.
As the business prospered, the group diversified and in 1992, the Rotomac Pen company was formed while ‘Yes’, a mineral water brand, was launched a couple of years later, Saffar recollects.
However, in 1999, the two brothers decided to go separate ways.
Elder brother Vikram Kothari took charge of the stationery and pens enterprise while younger brother Deepak Kothari took control of the paan masala empire, recalls Saffar.
‘Rotomac’ too had its glorious run and emerged a top player in the writing instruments market. Its promotional tag line - ‘Likhtey, likhtey, love ho jaye’, too struck a chord with many. Bollywood hearthrobs Salman Khan and Raveena Tandon were then its brand ambassadors.
Social recognition accompanied commercial success and the Lions Club named Vikram Kothari as its ‘Goodwill Ambassador’, recalls Saffar.
As time went by, Rotomac Pens Private Limited was rechristened as the Rotomac Global Private Limited while Vikram Kothari also moved into other sectors including real estate, steel and infrastructure, hoping to replicate his success.
However, what seemed like an uninterrupted story of success gave ways to a contrary reality as Vikram Kothari finds himself stands accused of a bank loan default to the tune of thousands of crores.
Locals and neighbours now can only watch in disbelief as Kothari’s name figures in one of the biggest default cases and that too at a time when the banking sector is facing the non-performing asset crisis and the issue has taken the centre stage in the political discourse.
According to neighbour Saffar, Vikram Kothari has one son and two daughters. Both his daughters are married in business families, he adds.