From being a fruit juice vendor to becoming the cassette king, Gulshan Kumar’s life was no less than a movie
Way before T-Series was the giant film production company that it is today, it was known as the cassette company that would release imitations of old songs, and would also indulge in re-recording popular songs of the time, and selling the cover versions next to the original cassettes. With a sincere looking photo of its owner Gulshan Kumar on every cover, T-Series changed the music business in a way that no one could foresee.
Gulshan Kumar, who came from humble beginnings started the company in 1983. Kumar was the son of a fruit vendor, who eventually expanded his business to a juice shop in Daryaganj, Delhi. Soon after he took over the small business of music recording that his father had started and turned into Super Cassettes Industries Private Limited.
He sensed the need for devotional songs in the 1980s and soon, the market was flooded with cassettes with devotional music. While the company was getting a reputation for selling pirated music using the loopholes in the Copyright Act, they tasted their first legitimate success with 1988’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. The success of the film’s music album changed the company’s trajectory.
The 1980s saw T-Series producing a few TV movies, mainly with Gulshan’s brother Krishan Kumar, they tasted big success in movie production with 1990’s Aashiqui. In an earlier interview with indianexpress.com, lyric writer Sameer had mentioned that T-Series wasn’t keen on producing a film at the time and saw Aashiqui as a music album until Mahesh Bhatt took it upon himself to make this film a success. “Gulshan called me one day. He said people felt even though its music was great, it didn’t feel like it belonged to a film. It sounded more like an album,” Sameer said. The success of Aashiqui paved the path to T-Series’ eventual success. Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin was another success under their belt but they focused more on making albums.
A Rediff report from 1997 claimed that the company had a turnover of Rs 2.5 billion. At the time, Gulshan Kumar claimed that he had 65 percent share of the audio cassette market, which many believed was a result of piracy that was prevalent in the music business at the time. A lot of cassettes sold by the company were marked at just Rs 16. His aim was to replicate the success of the audio cassette business to video cassettes as well.
Not just music, the 90s saw Gulshan Kumar investing in a soap and detergent business, consumer electronics, and many other businesses. A devoutly religious man, Gulshan Kumar was known for his religious charities as well. A langar started by him at Vaishno Devi temple fed those who came in, and even years after his death, the langar continues, now run by his son Bhushan Kumar.
In less than a decade, T-Series broke the monopoly of a few companies that sold expensive cassettes and made them an affordable product. The position that was sought by a few singers and composers, now saw many players entering the market. The music of the 90s is remembered fondly today, but the business side of things was going through a massive change as T-Series entered the market like a storm, upsetting its contemporaries like HMV, and soon became the one-stop-shop for music. Gulshan Kumar pushed singers like Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Anuradha Paudwal, Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu to the forefront and music composers like Nadeem Shravan, Jatin Lalit established their presence in the film industry, all thanks to the music company.
In 1997, Gulshan Kumar shockingly passed away at the age of 41 when he was shot by assailants in the middle of the street 16 times.