Today’s story is quite filmy. There’s struggle, theft, murder, conspiracy and so much more! But before diving into the story, we need to meet the protagonists.
Our first hero is Gulshan Kumar (the one and only, from the bhajan videos). But before becoming the media mogul he is known as today, he was but a simple fruit juice vendor in Daryaganj. It was during this stint as a “juice wale bhaiya” where he realised the inclination of people towards music.
But music back then wasn’t as easily accessible as it is today. Mainstream music back then was available in two major mediums. Vinyl discs (the black disks used in gramophones) and Cassettes. The former was not really popular as the discs themselves and the gramophones necessary to play such discs were very costly. This was because there were only two producers for both the records as well as the devices used to play these. They controlled the prices to keep gramophones as a premium level of music consumption.
The cassettes, however, were gaining popularity with Japanese companies like Panasonic, Toshiba, and others mass-producing cassette players to reach the masses.
Gulshan realised that this was a trend that could be capitalised. He convinced his father and opened Super Cassettes Industries Pvt. Ltd.
Today we find out how a simple fruit juice seller became the owner of India’s biggest media company, the life and times, trials and tribulations of Gulshan Kumar and T-series.
If Gulshan Kumar is known for creating T-Series, to ye Super Cassettes Industries Pvt, Ltd. kis chidiya ka naam hai? Well Gangadhar hi Shakti… no, that analogy is a bit overused now. Well SCI was the kid that starts running and becomes T-Series as it grows up. T-Series is the “trade name” adopted by Super Cassettes Industry, a title we shall use throughout the blog ahead.
But T-Series didn’t have such a goodie-two-shoes start. As mentioned before, vinyl records and cassettes were the famous media for music consumption. Vinyl records weren’t cheap and cassettes were gaining popularity.
But as lucrative as cassettes were, T-Series wasn’t going to sink its funds recording new songs on cassettes from scratch. T-Series very cleverly decided to start converting vinyl records into cassettes which was a cheaper process than recording and selling said cassettes at much lower prices than existing music company cassettes.
Gulshan Kumar, with T-Series in tow, was basically engaging in borderline piracy. Whoever says crime doesn’t pay, probably doesn’t know about T-Series’ “humble beginnings”.
With a cheaper production process, T-Series could afford to produce cassettes in never-before-seen quantities. This large-scale production helped them effectively reach more sellers as well as buyers as the cassettes would be available more often than competitors.
Another marketing strategy applied by T-Series was establishing positive relations with retailers. T-Series did this by taking the risk out of the equation for said retailers. Retailers would face a constant threat of cassette tapes that couldn’t sell.
T-Series eased this problem by promising to buy back any cassette tapes that wouldn’t sell.
Of course, tapes not selling wasn’t really a problem for T-Series. They had a lot more tricks up their sleeves to maintain and even grow their sales.
The Cheating Continues
While the existing business of converting vinyl records to cassettes was going well, it had its risks(you know, possible lawsuits, infringement issues, the basics🤷♂️).
So, did Gulshan make T-Series go clean? Well… yes and no. The records to cassettes business had helped grow the business exponentially. This had both positive and negative effects.
The negative was that T-Series, couldn’t continue the current business as it was likely to attract unnecessary attention in the form of legal trouble for possible copyright infringement.
The positive was that this growth in size was going to allow T-Series to start recording their own music by hiring singers.
Recording still had its costs and bigger artists were neither easily affordable nor available.
Gulshan Kumar had to switch to recording but he had already had a chaska of mischief, so he stayed true to his existing style even with recording. The solution to T-Series’ new problems came in the form of re-recording.
You see, back in the 90s, the copyright laws were a lot less strict. Under the laws prevalent during those times, if three years had passed since a song’s release, new singers could record it again with music. And this second release of an existing song would be considered as good as new in the eyes of the law.
And this was the loophole that Gulshan Kumar decided to use to his advantage. Almost any song that had done well in the past was now on Gulshan’s radar.
Hits by the greats like Md. Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle were now being re-recorded by newer artists like Sonu Nigam, Kumar Sanu, and Anuradha Paudwal. And these new songs sold really well, owing to the “new twist” that these upcoming artists and changed background music.
Not only were the new artists more economical due to their lack of fame, re-recording and releasing songs meant T-Series was also saving its costs involved in the production and composition of music.
The success of the new format brought two major benefits for T-Series.
For example, a cassette of Kishore Kumar’s original songs would cost close to ₹40-50 while a re-recording by T-Series featuring the same songs sung by Kumar Sanu would cost around ₹10-15.
Bollywood music wasn’t T-Series’ only successful venture…
Switching from the conversion business to the recording business gave T-Series an additional benefit of amassing a fleet of singers that were gaining popularity very quickly. With these new artists, Gulshan now entered the religious media market.
India is a country of great diversity but Hinduism is its most prevalent religion. A significant part of this cultural demographic consists of the elderly who consume religious media. But most of this media consumption is limited to texts. Gulshan sought to capitalise on this niche next.
Remember waking up to the sound of Anuradha Paudwal, Hariharan, and various other singers playing in the background or a neighbour or a nearby temple? Well, the songs a lot of us grew up hearing, to the point where that song became the only way we could remember a bhajan was the doing of T-Series.
Bhakti Sagar was the name of T-Series’ venture into the production of religious media. Under the Bhakti Sagar banner T-Series released many bhajan, arti, and similar songs in both audio-only and audio-video form. And these releases found great success throughout the country as well.
Bhushan goes to Bollywood: Music, Movies and Murder
Gulshan Kumar had started T-Series in 1983 and in the brief span of only five years, managed to perform the aforementioned feats. But these accomplishments only brought T-Series to the public light, to stay in, Gulshan had to do more. And more he did.
T-Series had started making forays into producing original soundtracks for Bollywood films as early as 1984. Its first successful release, however, was with the movie Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak in 1988.
Gulshan next moved to produce movies of his own and with the release of the superhit film Aashiqui in 1990, T-Series became a leading music label in India. It was through Aashiqui, that Gulshan met the music director duo, Nadeem-Shravan.
Yes, the same Nadeem-Shravan that was allegedly involved with the notorious Abu Salem of the D-Company in conspiring the assassination of Gulshan Kumar.
Piqued your interest, didn’t I? Well, let me elaborate, as the story goes and from what I’ve learned, Gulshan Kumar’s Aashiqui launched Nadeem-Shravan to new heights of fame, so much so that a rival music label, Tips wanted to work with the director-duo as well.
Of course, this change of teams didn’t favour T-Series and Gulshan protested. With T-Series’ position in the music industry, losing the label’s good graces definitely wasn’t in the best interest of Nadeem-Shravan. Thus, to save face in the industry, and not become the “music directors disliked by Gulshan Kumar”; allegedly, Ramesh Taurani of Tips Music along with Nadeem Saifi paid Abu Salem a reported amount of ₹25 lakh to have Gulshan assassinated.
Also, none of the aforementioned interactions could be proven, so take this “word of mouth” tale not too seriously.
The future, now
12 August 1997 marked a dark day for T-Series. Gulshan Kumar was assassinated outside the Jeeteshwar Mahadev Mandir. His son, Bhushan Kumar was only 19 when he was handed the reins of T-Series.
With such a young man handling the company, people didn’t have much faith in Bhushan or T-Series’ future. What could such a newbie to a business do? While Gulshan had a natural inclination towards music. Bhushan was a man of different talents.
Bhushan took the idea that “the sequel is never as good as the original”, and destroyed it. Although Bhushan was no musical genius, he was not a weak businessman. He knew where his opportunities lay.
With the growth of digitisation, Bhushan knew that the next frontier was the internet and to keep T-Series with the trend, and decided to make moves on YouTube. And we all know how that line of business is going (remember T-Series vs PewDiePie?)
The T-series YouTube channel is the largest not just in India, but in the world with over 200 million subscribers as on the date of writing this. The T-Series Youtube channel was also the first ever to reach over a hundred million subscribers in the world.
While T-Series might not have had the cleanest starts, it definitely grew into a nationwide phenomenon.
T-Series’ story definitely goes to show, that a success story is called one because of how it turns out. How it begins is not quite relevant, as every one has their “struggles”. And as long as one keeps putting in efforts, for them, Picture abhi baki hai mere dost.