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G Manohar Naidu, founder of Lahari

The cosmetics man
who made
cassettes affordable

G Manohar Naidu began
his career as a cosmetics salesman
and rose to become south India's biggest cassette tycoon. The Karnataka government has just honoured him

On November 1, Manohar Naidu sat on stage with writers, social workers and other distinguished Kannadigas. Chief Minister S M Krishna conferred the Rajyotsava award on each of them, and on this quiet man from the music industry.

Manohar Naidu entered the music business by accident. He had been working for a cosmetics dealer, who, happy with the young man's performance, gifted him a tape recorder. Manohar Naidu saw business potential in it: he used it to record songs from a record player, and started selling his own "pre-recorded" cassettes.

That was in 1980, when record players still held sway. But the gramophone, as it was called, was being threatened by the handier cassette player, which people had started buying even in smaller cities and towns.

With Rs 500, Manohar Naidu launched his label Lahari. He identified unconventional outlets for his tapes. Bangle stores, cigarette stalls and electronic spares shops started selling his tapes.

Today Lahari owns over 6,200 titles. Which means it is the top cassette company in the south. Film albums like Premaloka, Dalapati and Roja brought in huge revenues. Manohar Naidu ventured into film production with two Kannada films. He then produced Indira in Tamil, directed by the actress Suhasini, with music by A R Rahman.

Focus on mass market

Lahari looks for big movies and big hits and targets the mass market. But simultaneously it produces sugam sangeeta, folk and classical albums too. Balamuralikrishna has recorded for them, and so has Basavaraj Rajguru. In fact, their Rajguru vachana tape is perhaps the only recording of the master available in the market.

A Telugu by birth, and a Kannadiga by schooling, Manohar Naidu is a self-effacing businessman. Lahari's more articulate face is his brother Tulsiram Naidu. Velu, as the passionate music-lover Tulsiram is called, says, "Classical music is relatively less saleable in the short run, but yields reasonable rewards in the long run."

Since the last couple of months, Lahari has been selling all its titles at Rs 20. Which means it is cutting price to beat the pirates, something Gulshan Kumar so successfully did in the north.

Manohar Naidu recently took over a host of small recording companies. His next plan is to set up a state-of-the-art recording studio in Bangalore. His office in Chamarajpet (phone 081 80 661 0333) is packed with cassette shells, tape reels, people and machines, and he has been planning to move out to a more spacious building.

The Music Magazine Desk

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