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Thursday, Dec 02, 2004

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More riveting than a soap

Vinod Mathew

A BREAKING real-life story seems set to give all the popular television soaps a run for their money. The viewers are agreed that it is `riveting stuff' and this appears to be driving such shows as Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kusum and Kyonki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi out of the drawing-rooms.

As sure-fire a barometer on the new programme's popularity as anything is the conversation in the Mumbai suburban train these days. And these are no ordinary soap watchers as they are also equity holders in the product — the Reliance Group.

"Mukeshbhai and Anilbhayya cannot fight in the boardroom like this for long. Nitaben and Tinabhabhi need to make up," says one.

"Kokilaben will soon need to step in as a mediator," says the other. "Why bhayya needed to become politician when he could have bought a few with loose change," is a poser. Those who set store by divine intervention were happy that "Anilbhayya went Tirupati side," but think that a mundan (tonsuring) would have speeded up things.

With "Kokilaben also seeking Morari Bapu's guidance, it is now for Mukeshbhai to throw out the evil eye on the house." Another suggests a stopover at the Kanchi mutt but that is soon scotched given "the sorry state there".

The specialist reader-between-the-lines has a nugget: "Anilbhayya has stopped calling his bhai CMD and mentioned Mukeshbhai by name. The moment Mukeshbhai stops calling Anilbhayya vice-chairman, one can be sure problems are over."

Explanations may be strange, but on one thing all are agreed: The problems plaguing the Ambani household would soon be sorted out and that those spreading canards of serious troubles would look silly.

The more practical worshippers of Mammon, however, think slightly differently. Many wistfully remember Big Bull Harshad Mehta. "Just think what all he could have done with the shares in a situation like this."

This is followed by a quick reference to the more contemporary Ketan Parekh. "Could have expected to see RIL scrip dip to Rs 400 and then jump all the way back to the Rs 530-550 levels," the market pundit muses. The consensus is clear — there is money to be made from the ongoing crisis at Reliance.

An oblique reference to journalists giving a twist to matters and fishing in troubled waters quickly put paid to one's plans to edge in a word with these clued-in investors in the company. Especially after they crack jokes about the media now interviewing the relatives of domestic staff in the Reliance household.

Not to worry, these are busy days for the scribes. From being the focus of the media attention, the Reliance group, having developed an aura of being unapproachable, had suddenly become the fodder for TV channels and the print media alike.

And the news houses, for long starved of anything but mere press releases and "not company's policy to comment on speculation" responses, were not going to miss out on the open house.

Theories doing the rounds, that do not always find their way into print or voice-overs, range from the inane to the bizarre.

Some of the popular ones include how this boardroom battle is doubling as a statement to the politicians, that the group is not aligned to any particular dispensation despite one brother aligning himself with one.

Another refers to how the whole issue can trace its origin to the kitchen of what is the richest Hindu Undivided Family.

Meanwhile, the mother of all corporate-sibling battles continues to draw mixed response from other business houses. While the obvious response one hears is `sad' and `unfortunate', there are also the pregnant smiles.

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