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Independence Day Special: From Amul to TATA, Brands That Shaped India Pre and Post Independence

By Arushi Sakhuja

Today we celebrate India's 76th Independence Day, and I am a proud Indian. Given the current economic boom, and varied interest of international brands to venture into the country, India's foreign relations stand on solid ground. But that isn't to say that homegrown brands and now big companies have paved the way for the country since 1947. Today, there is a huge hype around made-in-India products, and this can be traced back over 70 years ago.

Some brands have become iconic given from their market to their products, and these homegrown brands have found their way into the homes and hearts of millions over the decades. In 1947, it was some of these brands that helped India become self-sufficient after the country gained independence. Indian companies had appeared even during British rule. Prominent among these are Tata Group (1868), Dabur (1884), Godrej (1897), Vadilal (1907), and Parle G (1929). The oldest joint stock bank was Allahabad Bank, established in 1865.

Whether it was the Swadeshi movement during the struggle for our Independence from foreign rule or the decades that followed as the country tried to find its economic footing, buying locally is the true essence of what it means to be Indian. In the early days, there were many firsts which have helped India become the superpower it is today. From the first Airline to Amul Butter, TATA, Maruti and even Parle G; some brands have been instrumental in putting forth India with competitive global brands. Over the years, they have shaped consumer behaviour and transformed their sectors, however, they continue to have a stronghold in the Indian market even today. As we step into the 77th year of Independence, let's look back at the most illustrious brands that shaped India and its people (literally and metaphorically). And it wouldn't be incorrect to say – You have probably used every one of them at some point in time. So have your parents. And your grandparents....

Parle G

Parle-G, a glucose biscuit brand produced by Parle Products, is one of the world's top-selling biscuit brands and is widely available in India. It was created during the Swadeshi movement as a more affordable alternative to expensive international biscuit brands. Parle G was established in Vile Parle Mumbai in 1929. They began manufacturing biscuits in 1939, and after India gained Independence, the first ad campaign of Parle G showcased the brand as an Indian Gluco brand of biscuits as opposed to the British counterparts.

Over time, Parle-G has become an essential part of the Indian diet and is commonly enjoyed with tea. In addition to its popularity as a product, it is also a cultural icon and a symbol of collective identity. The experience of enjoying a Parle-G biscuit with tea brings people together, regardless of their social status, caste, or region within India. The world’s largest-selling biscuit brand, In 2013, it was the first Indian FMCG brand to cross the Rs 5000 crore mark.


Britannia Industries Ltd is a well-known Indian company that specializes in producing ready-to-eat packaged foods, particularly biscuits. It was founded in Kolkata in 1892 and has become one of the largest companies in the industry. Despite its long history, the company only became mechanized in 1910 and installed ovens in 1921. Interestingly, the company started with a capital of INR 295, but today it has grown to become an INR 88,000 crore brand in India.


"Utterly, Butterly delicious" is an anthem that united many and to date continues to be iconic. And many even swear by the quality of Amul to date. Amul Butter has over the years become synonymous with pop culture in the country. The brand was created in the 1940s as a response to the exploitative practices of a popular dairy chain. Amul's milk products make the brand a leader in the dairy category and one of India's top 10 fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies.

It started in the western state of Gujarat as a cooperative movement, by bringing together thousands of farmers to create a thriving dairy business.

Under the leadership of Dr Verghese Kurien the brand kickstarted "India's milk revolution." In 1966, advertising executive Sylvester da Cunha and art director Eustace Fernandez made Amul a pop culture icon by creating the Amul girl. This brand frequently features a character in its billboard advertisements, and its successful marketing campaign utilized puns and wordplay to associate the brand with major events in the country. Despite facing competition from large multinational companies, Amul has maintained a strong presence in the dairy industry in India.


Established in 1884 by Dr S K Burman in Kolkata, Dabur was started as a small ayurvedic clinic in 1886 where Dr Burman used ayurveda to treat and cure his patients. He was popularly known as Daktar Burman, and that’s where Dabur got its name from. In 1919, the brand set up its first R&D unit was established. It was in the early 1900s that the production of Ayurvedic medicines Dabur began. By 1930, automation and upgradation of ayurvedic products manufacturing were initiated and in 1936 - Dabur Pvt. Ltd. came into existence.

Operating in 120 countries today, Dabur has expanded its business including personal care, skincare, hair care, oral hygiene, and Health supplement drinks. It is one of the fastest growing fast-moving consumer goods companies in India.


This brand needs no introduction. Maruti paved the automotive industry for India under the leadership of R.C. Bhargava. For a very long time, it was only the privileged few who could afford a car in India and for the middle class, it was a distant dream. Then, Maruti came along and began offering cars at a magical price point of just about 50,000 rupees. The iconic Maruti Suzuki was the first car for many Indian families. The 800 CC cars were small and efficient and less bulky than Ambassadors which was India's only luxury car from the 1960s to the mid 1990s.

Today, the company has grown to be the largest passenger car company in India and accounts for over 50% of the domestic car market in the country. Mow the company is looking forward to launching electric cars this year. Maruti Suzuki WagonR Electric was the first electric car that they planned to launch.


What started as a soda fountain in 1907 by Vadilal Gandhi, is today said to be the second largest ice-cream player in India. In the initial days, Vadilal would make ice cream with a hand-operated machine. This machine would churn milk, salt, and ice, and these ice creams were home delivered in thermos boxes. The soda fountain was then transferred to Ranchod Lal, Vadilal’s son, who set up a retail operation in 1926. Soon Vadilal began importing ice cream machines and expanded to several shops across the country. In the 1950s, they introduced their flagship cassata ice cream, which became immensely popular. By the 1970s, Vadilal had expanded to 10 outlets in Ahmedabad alone.

Today, Vadilal is India’s leading ice cream brand, offering an impressive array of 200 flavours. According to the Economic Times, Vadilal’s market capitalization stands at Rs 1933 crore. The brand has also diversified into processed foods, offering pre-cooked curries, bread, and various vegetarian products.

Air India

India’s aviation story would be like a film without a plot. One of the best-known Indian carriers, Air India was the first Indian aircraft to help Indians take to the skies. The airline can trace its history back to 1932 when JRD Tata of the Tata Group started Tata Air Services flying a weekly airmail between Karachi and Chennai. It soon became Tata Airlines before changing its name to Air India in 1946, a year before Independence. It was one of the first airlines in Asia to have a jet aircraft in its fleet. Its mascot, the Maharaja in various avatars, is familiar to all Indians.


When a lawyer quit law and took to lock-making, little did he realise he was building a global brand. Founded by Ardeshir Godrej and Pirojsha Burjorji Godrej in 1897 in erstwhile Bombay, Godrej Group is another vintage Indian brand that’s still thriving. Ardeshir Godrej soon realised that people were constantly looking for ways to upgrade their home security. That is how they pioneered manufacturing locks in India. A serial entrepreneur of those days stunned the world when he went to make toilet soap from vegetable oils. Especially after making one of the world’s best safes and security equipment.

Today Godrej is a group, which operates across various sectors, like consumer products, real estate, appliances, furniture, industrial engineering, security and agricultural products.

Mahindra & Mahindra

While the Mumbai-based brand's utilitarian, go-anywhere passenger vehicles and tractors are ubiquitous wherever you go in the country. Did you know the company started life in 1945 trading in steel under the name Mahindra and Muhammad? Mahindra and Mahindra started in 1945 trading in steel under the name Mahindra and Muhammad founded by brothers Kailash Chandra Mahindra and Jagdish Chandra Mahindra, along with Malik Ghulam Muhammad. After partition, Mohammed went to Pakistan and became the country’s first finance minister. The company was then named Mahindra and Mahindra, which is run by Jagdish Chandra Mahindra’s grandson Anand Mahindra today.

Although today the brand has diversified, the licensed versions of its WW-II era Willys Jeep are still hugely popular and its tractors are sold around the world.

The TATA Group

A young man with nine years of experience in his father's company and Rs 21,000 started a trading company in British India. With his extraordinary skills and acumen, he later purchased a bankrupt oil mill in Chinchpokli and converted it into a cotton mill. After selling the mill for a profit, he established another mill in Nagpur. This man was Jamsethji Tata, the visionary pioneer behind the global enterprise known as The Tata Group.

Jamsethji Tata had four main goals, including the establishment of a hydroelectric plant, a steel plant, a world-class educational institution, and a great hotel. While he was only able to achieve the Taj Mahal Hotel during his lifetime, his legacy and lineage fulfilled his other three dreams. The Taj Mahal Hotel was the only hotel in the country with electricity at the time. Today, The Tata Group operates in over 100 countries and exports to more than 150 countries, generating a total revenue of $108.78 billion in 2014-15.


Most Indians swear that the brand is as Indian as butter chicken but the truth is the originally-Czech shoemaker came to India back in 1931 and set up shop on the far reaches of Kolkata (then Calcutta). While it's naturalized to the point of being considered Indian, the town where the company operates, Batanagar, now bears its name. Bata became the go-to brand for our grandparents and parents and remains a popular choice for our first pair of shoes due to its affordable 99.99 paise price tag, known as the Bata rate. This helped the brand become the largest stakeholder in India's footwear market.

Rooh Afza

When Unani doctor Hakim Abdul Majeed set up his Hamdard Dawakhana in Delhi in 1907 with a view to curing heat strokes, dehydration and diarrhoea, he had no idea he was creating a product that would survive unchanged for more than a century. Even 113 years later we still can't get enough of Rooh Afza during the summer.

A recipe formulated by Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed of squash made from herbs, vegetable extracts, and fruits is what is famously called Rooh Afza in every household. This unique recipe is believed to combine natural cooling agents, thus providing the perfect remedy for the harsh north Indian summers. The name ‘Rooh Afza’ in itself is said to be a mystery.


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