By now, everyone and their great grandchildren would have heard of Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association. They were the Natwarlals behind the ingenious ‘Made in USA’ labels seen on many wannabe American accessories made in our country during the electric eighties.
Anyone who bought a watch, or a bag with that tag, knew it was an elaborate sham. But still the befooled masses played along because they found the charade as amusing as an ‘original’ Bappi Lahiri song! Come to think of it, the ability to induce a smile is really the charm of a well-minted counterfeit. Since China abounds with knock-offs, it’s understandably the fountainhead of some cleverly named copycats. The rip-offs are often called Shanzhai brands—Shanzhai being an allusion to the mountain pirates who defy the rule of law.
There are two types of Shanzhai brands. The deliberately dyslexic and the creatively re-engineered. Nyke, Ribok, Odidas, Penasonic, Barby and Koka-Kola are examples of the former. Rural India is famous for this variety. The second type is the stuff that mirth is made of. Here are some rib tickling samplers: Imagine naming your pizzeria as Pizza Huh. From far, it will resemble Pizza Hut and as you get closer, you’ll go ‘huh!’ A friend of mine keeps bringing up the name P Uma. Doesn’t that sound very South Indian? And yet, feels like Puma!
AR Mani, the tailor, is another name pregnant with possibilities. What if he stitches shirts and coats under his label…won’t it look like the long lost twin of Armani? When the Chinese wanted to clone Johnnie Walker Red Label, they hit upon Johnnie Worker Red Labial. Wonder why the stress on red lips. Maybe it’s for cross dressers! Talking of imitators, there are many more worth naming. Hike takes Nike to a new level. Samsing is a noteworthy reminder of Samsung. Ninetendo is a quantitative leap over Nintendo. S&M’s a sadomasochistic interpretation of M&M’s. Fony is a sincerely spurious take on Sony. And Dolce & Banana will leave you with peals of laughter vis-a-vis Dolce & Gabbana. So the bottom line is: If you can’t make it, fake it. But fake it in style.
– Anantha Narayan