As we sit down for some morning coffee with industrialist Nikhil Nanda at the Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi, it is no surprise that the conversation starts with Bollywood. Nanda is related to one of the most prominent families in tinsel town—the Kapoors—his mother, Ritu Nanda is the late Raj Kapoor's daughter. As we exchange cards, he quickly remarks that one of us shares his first name with his uncle, Rishi Kapoor. Breaking the ice further, we tell him that he resembles Shammi Kapoor (his maternal grand-uncle) quite a bit. The maternal side of his family apart, Nanda's in-laws are the Bachchans—he is married to Shweta, the daughter of Jaya and Amitabh Bachchan.
We ask him whether he ever thought of venturing into Bollywood, given that lineage carries a premium in the industry. With such connections, wouldn’t he have made it big in Bollywood, a far more glamorous living than making tractors?
Nanda says that he was never interested in films—neither in acting nor in film-making. He tells us that once, as a kid, he was with Raj Kapoor on the sets of Ram Teri Ganga Maili, and when he suggested some shots to the famed filmaker, the latter took him to task in chaste Punjabi saying that’s the kind of treatment Nanda’s paternal grandfather, HP Nanda, would mete out to him if his grandson ever so much as strayed into films. Remarkably, Nanda does not watch movies. He recalls his uncle Rishi getting upset with him, while he was on a recent visit to Mumbai when Krishna Kapoor, his maternal grandmother, had called the extended family for dinner, for knowing nothing of a recent film of his.
Nanda says he was always interested in the company his paternal family owns—Escorts. “You have to do what you know best. It is not about putting in money. In today’s environment, you have to have complete knowledge of what you are doing, otherwise you shouldn't get into it,” he says.
In fact, Nanda is busy scripting a completely different story these days at Escorts, the company co-founded by H P Nanda in Lahore (now in Pakistan), before shifting base to Delhi post-independence in the 1950s. An alumnus of the prestigious Wharton Business School and the third generation of the family to take charge after his recent appointment as the managing director, Nanda is in the midst of a major business restructuring programme.