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Vijay Mallya dominates India’s drinks market, owns the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team of the Indian Premier League and a Formula One team
Vijay Mallya, his diamond ear studs gleaming, is in high spirits, ensconced in a leather chair in the small office of his private jet, winging its way towards Mumbai after a 34-hour whirlwind visit to New Zealand.
The Airbus is liveried in the bright red of his Kingfisher Airlines, with his initials, “VJM”, painted in gold on the engines and wingtips, embossed on the leather seats and decorating the China dinnerware. The plane’s cargo hold is filled with typical New Zealand tourist takeaways: cases of Pinot Noir and lamb chops.
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ON THIS STORY
Chinese tipple heads west
Lex Drinks companies
Scotch sales leave champagne flat
The public image Guinness
Diageo, Pernod deny smuggling
But it is the aircraft’s main passenger cabin – a thickly carpeted, faux living room with a bevelled-glass drinks cabinet, a small photo of Mr Mallya’s three children and paintings of Hindu deities by 19th-century Indian artist Raja Ravi Varma – that carries the real prize of Mr Mallya’s trip. Two bright red, padlocked temperature-controlled hampers hold three bottles of “Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Whisky”, abandoned in Antarctica more than a century ago by the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust, the body charged with preserving the legacy of early polar explorers, discovered abandoned spirits frozen in the ice under Shackleton’s base camp hut in 2007, and last year extracted a case of Mackinlay’s, labelled “1907 British Antarctic Expedition”. For the trust, these bottles are semi-sacred relics of a heroic age, when men risked their lives for the glory of conquering one of the world’s last uncharted terrains.
For Mr Mallya, whose Bangalore-based United Breweries Group acquired the Mackinlay’s brand, and another 140 venerable Scotch labels, as part of its 2007 acquisition of Whyte & Mackay, the Glasgow-based whisky producer, the vintage bottles represent an ultra-modern proposition: a chance to revitalise what he calls whisky’s “boring” image among young drinkers, who prefer trendier white spirits like vodka and tequila.
Mr Mallya talks of recreating the lost recipe for Shackleton’s whisky, and producing it for sale. “If it’s eminently drinkable, why not give people the opportunity to drink what famous explorers drank a century ago?” he says. “I’ve always felt you’ve got to put some excitement into whisky. Can you imagine the opportunity of launching Shackleton’s Mackinlay’s?”
At this point, my own head is spinning – and not from a wee dram. Four days earlier, I had boarded the jet to accompany Mr Mallya to New Zealand for the “historic” handing over of Shackleton’s bottles. Though the jet was scheduled to depart from Mumbai at 7am, a weary Mr Mallya boarded sometime after midday after working through the night. “I don’t like to leave anything unfinished on my desk before I travel,” he explained. Within an hour of take-off, he retired to his private bedroom, re-emerging shortly before landing some 16 hours later.
On the ground it was a whirl of wine-tasting and helicopter sightseeing, the handover of the whisky – now “on loan” from the heritage trust – and a final celebratory dinner with stalwarts of the trust.
“They weren’t very willing to part with this to begin with and they made it very clear they were not willing to allow these to be shipped by commercial flight,” says a sanguine Mr Mallya during the flight back to Mumbai, as he tucks into the breakfast of congee collected on a refuelling stop in Singapore. “It made more sense to go on my own private plane and collect it.”
Such grand gestures – and frenzied schedules – are typical of Mr Mallya, the bête noire of the Scottish whisky industry, who dominates India’s fast-expanding beer and spirits market while foreign rivals desperately struggle for better access to the country’s increasingly affluent consumers. He also owns the Royal Challengers Bangalore, an Indian Premier League cricket team, and Force India, a Formula One racing team.
The old-fashioned, medium-sized family business Mr Mallya inherited in 1983 at the age of 28 is now an Indian behemoth that sells 60 per cent of the spirits and half of the beer that Indians consume each year.
Day-to-day affairs of the beverage business are handled by professional managers, many of whom have been with him for decades. “I am pretty tough as a boss,” he says. “I set stiff targets, I review the progress very often, but I don’t get in their hair.”
He has taken a more hands-on approach with his six-year-old Kingfisher Airlines, whose passengers are welcomed with an in-flight video of Mr Mallya telling them, “I’ve instructed my staff to treat you as guests in my own home,” though he recently appointed a new chief executive.
As the living embodiment of his flagship Kingfisher beer’s tagline, “the King of the Good Times”, Mr Mallya, who sits in India’s appointed upper house of Parliament, is unapologetic about enjoying his wealth.
“We are not running for election, where we need to be so concerned about the common man, and what they think of our lifestyle,” he says imperiously. “If I am going into parliament, I go just like this. I am not a hypocrite.”
Mr Mallya has a sense of historical symbolism. His art collection includes the tiger-motif swords of the south Indian ruler Tipu Sultan, killed in a 1799 battle against the British East India Company. Last year, he paid $1.8m to buy the spectacles, bowl, pocket watch and leather sandals of Mahatma Gandhi for the nation, after the government failed to stop a controversial New York auction of the items.
Like his heroes, Mr Mallya also goes all-out to defend his turf. United Spirits, his group’s liquor arm, spent $857m to buy Whyte & Mackay, Scotland’s fourth largest whisky maker, not for the prestige of owning a global marque, but because the chairman sensed “a serious threat to our core Indian business” and wanted to tie-up his source of crucial raw material.
Indian whiskies are made from distilled molasses spirit, blended with imported grain or malt-based Scotch. But as India’s economy grew, foreign spirits groups were squeezing UB. “We used to buy Scotch whisky from the big boys, our competitors,” he explains. “They were slowly increasing the prices, and then they started turning down the supply tap. Our requirements were growing more and more, and they said, ‘we can supply,’ but were gradually forecasting to supply us less and less. I personally started getting a little worried.”
The Whyte & Mackay acquisition, however, put pressure on United Spirits’ balance sheet. When its share price plummeted during the global crisis, Diageo looked to buy a strategic stake, but talks collapsed over the price. “They thought they could take full advantage of our need for cash at that time,” he says. “That was something I was not prepared to allow. I know the value of this business, and there is nobody in the world who is going to get in cheap.”
Mr Mallya is now battling European Union pressure on New Delhi to reduce its 150 per cent import duty on whisky as part of a proposed India-EU free trade deal. Mr Mallya argues that the EU’s definition of whisky – as exclusively grain or malt spirits – is a non-tariff barrier against his Indian products, which he believes have good potential in Europe.
“The current definition of whisky adopted by the EU does not allow us to sell our Indian whisky brands,” he said. “That is a fundamental restriction of free trade. If Indian products are not allowed to be exported to the EU, my contention is, why should the government of India do anything about duties?”
New Delhi has so far backed his stand, and there is little indication of how the impasse will be broken. “We are quite willing to say ‘Indian whisky’ or ‘whisky from India,’ which also has not been accepted,” Mr Mallya says.
Even if tariffs fall, Mr Mallya is sitting pretty with unrivalled distribution and Whyte & Mackay’s portfolio of Scotch brands that resonate among Indians. “I will not be immodest in saying nobody can come in and penetrate this market without United Spirits.”
The jet has landed, the journey and interview are over. As I bid farewell to the group, and step down on to the tarmac, I feel like Dorothy suddenly dropped back to dull, grey Kansas.

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...Vi people.  Jake, one of the main characters in the movie, becomes more and more like them with  every encounter with the alien race. The film, Avatar, depicts the differences between  characters and their views on nature and the world. Most of the humans are portrayed  as arrogant and selfish, showing no remorce or respect for the indigenous people or  their environment. In contrast, the Na'Vi people love their mother planet, Pandora, and  live in harmony with each other and all its creatures because they respect it.                         During the first couple of scenes in the movie, you can already get the  feeling that money and greed drives the humans. Jake, the protagonist, was an  ex­Marine that got wounded in combat and is now paralyzed and discovered that his  twin brother has passed upon recovery. While attending the cremation ceremony he is  approached by two employees of Resources Development Alliance (RDA). They explain  to Jake that his brother was a part of the scientific group working with the miners on  Pandora. The two RDA workers refer to Jake's brother as a...

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