🎙️ | Rajeev Mantri, Venture Investing and India’s Economic Prospects
Absolute banger of a podcast to start 2023!
My guest today is Rajeev Mantri. Rajeev is the founder and managing director of India-focused venture capital firm Navam Capital. Prior to founding Navam, Rajeev worked as a venture capital investor at New York-based Lux Capital, focusing on investments in deep technology ventures.
In this conversation, Rajeev talks about the current state of deep tech investing in India, including the opportunities and challenges in the region, but also some of the unique characteristics of the Indian Deep Tech market. We also discuss his important book, A New Idea of India.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Rajeev Mantri.
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favourite podcast platform.
My takeaways and lessons:
On why India is fertile ground for Deep Tech Investing
“India always had a very deep pool of technical talent. So India’s always had, for probably several decades now, very high-quality scientists, engineers, researchers, and so on. The human capital is already here. The second reason was that there were actually major challenges that were confronting the country, that were confronting the economy, in the areas of energy, healthcare agriculture, many of the so-called atoms-based industries. So I felt that need was there, the capability was there. So I always felt strongly that, you know, it would happen maybe if not in 2009, then maybe by 2014, if not in 2014, then maybe by 2019.”
Yet the deep tech market in India is also maturing
“as obviously the Indian market has evolved, the Indian ecosystem has evolved dramatically. I would say in the last three, four years, there has been a mainstreaming of deep tech companies in India across the board. Like, whether it’s hardware, whether it is biotech, whether it is space tech, whether it is drones you know, all of it is happening here, and it is happening at scale. […] we are not jumping onto a bandwagon. We’ve been here, we are committed to this, we’ve been doing it, and so we are taking it more seriously”
Three investment criteria for early-stage venture investments
“Team, technology, market. So you want to kind of assess that, can the team do what they claim they will they’re saying? The second thing is technology, that is this technology real? Like, can it work? Obviously there’s a whole technical diligence process to figure that out. And a third piece is the market. You essentially have to answer the question of where do you see this evolving? Can this expand the market? Can this get bigger in the next, let’s say, three to five years?”
[00:00:31] - [First question] - Background
[00:02:09] - How does writing and investing complement each other?
[00:03:25] - What is Deep Tech Investing
[00:04:45] - What has Rajeev learned from Josh Wolfe?
[00:08:23] - Difference in deep tech investing in the US vs India
[00:16:09] - How to find deep tech investments?
[00:20:38] - Commonalities in deep tech founders?
[00:22:55] - How to promote more people starting deep tech companies?
[00:26:45] - How did the book “A New Idea of India” come about?
[00:28:58] - What is India’s ‘North Star’ and the concept of Dharma
[00:34:52] - Will India become a cultural superpower?
Connect with Rajeev:
Kalani Scarrott (00:31): All right, how are we going? My guest today is Rajeev Mantri. Rajeev is the founder and managing director of India focused venture capital firm, Navam Capital. Prior to founding Navam, Rajeev worked as a venture capital investor at New York based Lux Capital, focusing on investments in deep technology ventures. In today’s conversation, we cover deep tech investing within India and his book, A New Idea of India. So please enjoy my conversation with Rajeev Mantri. Cool. So let’s get stuck in. Rajeev, thank you so much. I’m honored to have you on today, but for listeners who are new to you and your work, could you maybe explain a little bit about yourself, your background, and then what you’re doing today?
Rajeev Mantri (01:14): Thank you Kalani for inviting me. So I’m an investor and a writer. So I’ve been doing early stage tech investing in India now for about a decade. And alongside I’ve also been doing some public markets investing in India. And in addition to my investing focus, I’ve also been writing about different facets of Indian economy the technology sector in India, and the fast growing sort of startup ecosystem as well. And I would say these are the two principle buckets in which I work. In 2020, my first book came out. The book’s name is A New Idea of India, and that was very widely acclaimed and well received in India and abroad. So I would say I spend about 70-80% of my time on the investing side and maybe 30% or 20% on the writing side.
Kalani Scarrott (02:09): Yeah. And just curious, how do you find writing and investing complement each other?
Rajeev Mantri (02:15): So very often there are overlaps in, in the two areas for me. So let’s say if I’m researching a particular industry or kind of studying a new emerging trend in some ways, or a new policy change that the government has brought. And a lot of that is happening nowadays in India, as, as you might know. So whenever I’m researching and studying things like that, I often convert sort of whatever, whatever I’m learning whatever I’ve discovered, whatever I’ve learned into a publishable kind of op-ed or essay, which I try to kind of put out there. So it certainly helps me clarify my own thinking. It certainly kind of forces me to put down what I gathered about a particular space, about a particular industry and, and I find it very clarifying. And also, you know, when you look back after some time after months or after years on what you wrote back when something new happened it’s always interesting to see whether you are right or how long you were or how right you were. So, so in in, in that sense, as a matter of record as well, I find it very valuable.
Kalani Scarrott (03:25): Yeah. Perfect. And we’ll get into deep tech investing first and then go into your book. But maybe to start with, for the layperson and even just for me so I don’t go off the wrong track, would you mind explaining just exactly what you mean by deep tech investing and how you view that whole area?
Rajeev Mantri (03:39): So I would say deep technology investing, essentially going into companies where there is a certain technical aspect where there is a certain intellectual property aspect. So these companies tend to be at the leading edge or at the frontier of technology. Maybe the business models are not well established. Maybe the product itself is incorporating certain new advances in science. Certain recent breakthroughs which are being applied into the product for the first time. And they tend to be sort of kind of difficult to analyze for most investors because you probably need to know a certain degree of science engineering or that particular technical field from where the innovation is drawing its edge. So, so it requires that kind of analysis in terms of the intellectual property and technical piece, and I would say that differentiates deep tech companies from the more mainstream consumer tech enterprise software eCommerce marketplaces and so
Kalani Scarrott (04:45): On. Yeah. So with your history and how you learned, someone I want to touch on is Josh Wolfe. So you’ve called him the OG of Deep Tech Investing, yet also a teacher mentor and a friend of yours. So what did you learn from him?
Rajeev Mantri (04:57): So I had the privilege and good fortune of stumbling into the venture world right after college. And I and this happened at fund, a very small fund at that time called Lux Capital. And, and you know, Josh was one of the founders of that firm, and I got to work very closely with him early in my career. So I learned a lot from him in terms of how to think about technologies, how to analyze changing industries and how to select areas in which to participate because we worked closely on a few kind of investments while I was there. And so that gave me kind of a closed look at his thought process and his investing process. So that was actually a very valuable training ground for me. And I learned a lot you know, kind of seeing him in action and seeing how he thinks.
(05:51): So, so, and over the years, you know, whenever, whenever I’m visiting New York City, I try to meet him whenever I’m there and you know, he’s always obviously energetic, full of ideas. He’s been very supportive to me over my career in small ways, and very grateful to have his kind of you know time whenever I’ve reached out to him. So, and, and Josh, if, if you follow his tweets, if you follow his sort of writings and his podcasts, I mean, he’s a very valuable sort of thinker, speaker, writer, right? So, so he is very, he’s a very creative mind as well in that sense. And frankly, even before I was working for him at Lux Capital I, I used to read his essays that he wrote for Forbes. So Josh was a Forbes columnist, and when I was in college, I very closely and very kind of religiously read his writings.
(06:52): So I already knew what he did and how he thought when I met him. So, so, you know this is like 20 years ago, right? So when he was a Forbes columnist, so you can think of it as a Substack of its time or you can think of it as a newsletter of that time. so, so because of his sort of influence, not just on me, but I feel generally in the venture space as an early stage sort of fund that that he and Peter have created at Lux , which is focused on these kind of companies in deep technology, which are commercializing science, which are translating sort of technologies and getting essentially lab work into the real world almost. so, so I think, I think I called them, I called Josh the OG of Deep Tech because, because they’ve been true pioneers in that sense.
(07:50): Lux traces its history, obviously back to 2000, 2001. So they’ve been in the business for over two decades, and they got into a time when it was fashionable to be sort of focused on internet and information technology and software and so on. but luck, Lux took a tack into material science, into energy into those kind of areas early in its sort of fun life. so, so that’s why I feel they’re pioneers and feel very fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the pioneers of the field
Kalani Scarrott (08:23): Having cut your teeth at Lux, how did you go from all your learnings from Lux in New York and then taking that to India? What was similar? What changed?
Rajeev Mantri (08:32): So obviously, if you, if you look at, so I returned to India in 2008, right? So that was now 14 years ago. So if you, if you look at the Indian landscape at that time there was nothing, nothing called deep technology over here, to be honest. It was, it was all primarily focused on not essentially I would say copies or emulations of the Indian Expedia, you know, the Indian Flipkart, or sorry, the Indian Amazon had just sort of come together, which was Flipkart. I think Flipkart is founded in ’07, MakeMyTrip, which was like a clone of Expedia was founded about 7-8 years before that. So it was all essentially, you know, you look at, you look to the west, you look to the American market, you find a model that’s working, and you cannot translate that into the Indian context.
(09:27): But, but if you look at the macro picture, back in 2008-09, there were hardly any internet users in the country. There was no mobile data consumption or smartphones. I mean, there was, the smartphones had just come, right? And they were expensive. So there was literally no smartphone penetration to speak of all of India was on, you know, those feature phones. so unlike, unlike the West where Blackberries and iPhones had kind of gained traction, the Indian market was probably, I would say 97 or 98% tilted towards feature phones. And data was very expensive. So it was a very different landscape on the internet software side of things. So, and, and frankly, deep Tech was far away from anybody’s conception. so often, you know I, with my training in materials engineering in the US and then the experience at Lux Capital, I came back to India with that mindset that let’s find deep tech companies in India.
(10:28): And, and the reason I felt India was a fertile ground for it was twofold. The first was that India always had a very deep pool of technical talent. So they’ve, India’s always had for probably several decades now, very high-quality scientists, engineers, researchers, and so on. So that was the first reason that, you know, the human capital is already here. second reason was that there were actually major challenges that were confronting the country, that were confronting the economy in tongue, in the areas of energy, healthcare agriculture, you name it, you know, many of the so-called atoms-based industries. So I felt that need was there, the capability was there. So I always felt strongly that, you know, it would happen maybe if not in 2009, then maybe by 2014, if not in 2014, then maybe by 2019. But I always felt strongly that this was inevitable.
(11:25): So I, I kind of came back with the mindset that it’s gonna be a long game, but we are here to play it. So made a start back in 2008, nine, and thinking about biofuel companies or you know, electric vehicles or buy drug development companies, I, I, I often got like weird looks from investors that, you know, ERs do something normal, you know, why doing all this stuff. But but just my personal, personal bent of mine and my own sort of I guess like investor biases was such that I felt there’s mine to be made here for the two reasons that I spent out. So, so that’s why I kind of got into deep tech in India, per se. And, and obviously the ecosystem could not have been more different, right? US is an economy, and US is a, a kind of country where you have very deep linkages between industry and academia and the venture capital world.
(12:27): So this was true. This is, you know, a very, obviously true today, but even 15 years ago when venture capital was a much more niche asset class, even then, the linkages were very, very deep. So you had large corporates who were LPs and venture funds. You had university endowments who also obviously backing venture funds. And then you had research labs and university departments with their academics and researchers working alongside venture capitalists to kind of commercialize their inventions. And obviously that’s what I, that’s what I saw firsthand at Lux. but when I came to India, I did like a, you know, essentially a tour of all the top universities and research labs. I found that there were real infrastructure gaps. So in some ways I was probably ahead of the curve a bit, if I may say so. so, you know, often I found that even some really good institutions just didn’t have any IP licensing office, for example.
(13:31): but, but all of that obviously has evolved in the last decade. So, and particularly in the last five years. You know, I, in hindsight, I would say when I came back as a 23, 24-year-old to India and said, let’s do this, that was probably a bit of naivete in there. I was, I was young, and I was, you know, confident that we can do this. So I did it. maybe a wise older person would not do thing, and, rightly so, because like I said, it was probably a little too early. But at the same time, what we were able to do was, in that period, there were always people thinking like me, right? So there were others who were also thinking the same thing, that, wait a minute, why doesn’t India have this? Why can’t we build this here?
(14:16): We have the pieces around the table, and it just needs to come together. So, so I met some really high-quality people in, you know, in that four, five year period where you know, deep tech was a curiosity within a unproven asset class, essentially. so, so I think getting to sort of have that leeway early on was, was very valuable, was very I think it is usually difficult also to get that kind of traction. And in a way, it is also, it also happened because it was a contrarian thing, right? So if, if everyone believed in this, then the market would’ve been more efficient. But probably the reason a young guy like me got an opportunity to get some traction was no one else was trying to do it. So, so I guess like there was the pain, but it, it came with some of the kind of benefits and upside of that.
(15:20): And as obviously the Indian market is evolved, the Indian ecosystem has evolved dramatically I would say in the last three, four years, there has been a mainstreaming of deep tech companies in India across the board. Like, whether it’s hardware, whether it is biotech, whether it is space tech, whether it is drones you know, all of it is happening here, and it is happening at scale. So, so, so today, you know people who have been around, you know, take us more seriously probably, because, you know, we are not jumping onto a bandwagon. We’ve been here, we are committed to this, we’ve been doing it, and so we are taking more seriously,
Kalani Scarrott (15:55): Mate, that is an awesome story. Like, that’s so cool. But yeah, kudos to you for just committing to it.
Rajeev Mantri (16:00): No, I’m, I’m, yeah, we, I mean, it’s been a, it’s been a, it’s been an interesting ride in that sense, but, but yeah, I’m a lot of learnings and a lot of fun along the way.
Kalani Scarrott (16:09): Yeah. So then what does your research process look like? Because if you’re a value investor, you might just run a couple screens, or, yeah, like you said, in the US there’s much deeper connections. how is, yeah, how is your research process even just evolved over time, and what does it look like?
Rajeev Mantri (16:24): So when you’re looking at, so there are two parts, right? One is doing early-stage venture, and then within venture you’re looking at a category like deep tech. So when you are, when you’re looking at venture or specifically early-stage venture, and you know, I kind of leave out the quasi private equity kind of stuff. For the purpose of this discussion here, I’m focusing only on, let’s say, pre series a series a kind of companies. so, so there you essentially look at three things, team, technology, market. so you, you want to kind of assess that, can the team do what they claim they will they’re saying, so the second thing is technology, that is this technology real? Like, can it work obviously as a whole technical diligence process to figure that out. And a third piece is the market.
(17:15): Like, so where do you, you essentially have to answer the question where, you know, where you see this evolving. Can this expand the market? Can this get bigger in the next, let’s say, three to five years? and beyond? So, so essentially, if you are looking at things on those three vectors that to me is early-stage venture. And the second part within early-stage venture comes on the kind of peculiarities of deep tech where you are trying to assess in a more rigorous manner on the technology bit. and in some cases, you know, the answers are not clear, right? Like, so if something is truly frontier is truly almost like bordering a science project versus a, I mean, that’s the distinction one has to make, right? Is this a science project or is this actually close to the point where you can put in some risk capital and take it forward and help help business commercialize this?
(18:15): So that’s a fine line, I would say I think a lot of people do get it wrong. and, and you know, that’s something which I believe every early-stage deep tech investor would still be figuring on, because the truth is, there’s no playbook for it in the sense that something that is truly new, you don’t wanna be too early, and you always trying to avoid being too early. But at the same time, the role of a venture investor is to sort of help catalyze that help sort of get into a category early on, and then hopefully you find more people receptive to that kind of area later. So, so I would say that is a difficult bit to figure out. and we are always asking ourselves that, are we too early here? sometimes the answer is, we are too early, so we, we it out a bit in a particular sector.
(19:05): Also, what happens is sometimes the regulatory changes actually become very strong tailwinds. So what might have been early or not investible sometimes with the right policy changes and the right regulatory changes quickly becomes a very highly valuable category. So, so we’ve seen that in India in the last two, three years, where, for example, certain space tech companies, which were founded before 2020 were not, you know, they didn’t have the clarity on whether they can actually compete with like a SpaceX or someone else, for example, because the Indian government simply did not allow private participants in, in space. But then in 2020, all of that changed, so, so what was, what was a headwind actually became a tailwind. So, so that’s where it helps to have some understanding of the bigger picture in terms of what are the government’s priorities where does industrial policy play into this, and so on and so forth. So I would say it’s a, to summarize, it would be a mix of essentially looking at team technology and market and supplement that with, when, when, when looking at deep tech, you have to supplement that with a deeper technical assessment and trying to assess essentially in that where whether, whether you are too early or whether the timing is kind of getting to the point where it is investible. so that, that is the, yeah, that is, I think, where the magic happens.
Kalani Scarrott (20:38): And you mentioned there’s no playbook for deep tech investing, but is there any commonalities, especially in the founders that you see? No,
Rajeev Mantri (20:45): For sure. So, so, so like, like I said, so when you are looking at team technology and market those are the three kind of, I mean, I think most, most decisions can be made on that, right? So the second part is, and, and to be fair, not all companies would fit into that category. I mean, one of my ways to look at this is, you know, nothing should be kind of novel except in aggregate. So what I mean by that is, you know, if you are, if you’re trying to do too many unique things then, then, you know, you kind of end up with this mishmash of like a, a buzzword soup, right? Like you’re trying to create a quantum blockchain for the metaverse or some, some, something like that, which doesn’t make any sense. so, so you quickly realize that, you know, what are we solving for?
(21:37): But then if you, if you have a clear use case in mind as an entrepreneur, if you know that I’m, I’m creating XYZ for a particular customer and the reason you are using these new technologies is you are able to fulfill that particular need that the customer has in a dramatically better way. So there’s nothing novel in the end use, right? Like maybe you are manufacturing something in space, but you are, you know who that buyer is for whatever you’re manufacturing. If you look at a space tech company, or maybe, maybe you are developing a, a kind of augmented reality headset for enterprise use cases, but there is a very clear bio for that particular headset, you know, that somebody in a particular manufacturing industry will want to buy this for a particular price. So, so essentially you’re using new technologies to fulfill existing needs. I think where people tend to go wrong is they kind of tend to use technologies and end itself that, you know, let’s use this because it is new. so I think, I think that’s the error which which we try to avoid that, you know, we don’t want to obviously embrace technology only as an end in itself.
Kalani Scarrott (22:55): And my last investing question before we go onto your book, and I think this might work as a good segue too, but is there any environments or factors that you think promote people and younger generations specifically into wanting to venture in starting their own deep tech companies? Like is the trend of deep tech founders growing and what’s promoting that or yeah, your views there, I guess?
Rajeev Mantri (23:14): No, so, so I would say if you, if you look at it over a 5, 10, 15-year period, I, I, I, I think this category is really explored actually. so now you have specialist funds and practically every large venture market which is focusing on deep tech companies this certainly wasn’t the case even 10 years ago. there were the, and, and that’s the interesting thing about this world, that it’s such a small circle that you know, everyone kind of knows everyone within like a couple of degrees of separation. So I would say because of the general, you know kind of efficiency that has come into the whole software and internet space, I think many of the gains there have frankly been completed away. So a lot of the funds are now thinking of what next, and when you ask what next, you kind of tiptoe into the territory of frontier technologies.
(24:12): So for sure, I feel that this category has grown dramatically and will probably continue to grow because even governments now are recognizing how valuable some of this can be so valuable, not in terms of the pure you know, kind of market care creation or you know, the, the payoff for our fund, not, not purely in those terms, but also in strategic terms. So some of these technologies also obviously do use, right? So, so governments are all taking note of that. we all know how drones have made an impact in the ongoing war in Europe giving an advantage to a country which was, you know, expected to not be able to fight back against a much larger global power. So people are seeing that that is a strategic angle to this as well.
(25:07): And thus a lot of I would say countries are looking at the American model, how America has achieved the kind of linkages between industry, academia, finance, and they’re thinking, you know, let’s try to build something similar. Obviously it’s not easy to do that. what, what America has achieved is truly unique in that sense. but, but that, but, but the, but the recognition that it is something valuable has certainly dawned on a lot of people in the last decade. Plus, I mean, what, what makes entrepreneurs take to deep tech? I would say it’s, you know, if, if you are interested in a particular field, let’s say you’re an electrical engineer or you’re a materials engineer, or you kind of, or you are a kind of a you know, a medical technology specialist so if you’re from a particular field and you wanna work in that field, then it just naturally kind of grows out of that.
(26:02): So it, it comes from a scientific bent. what, what what has not worked very well is when you find like a, you know investment banker rushing into a particular category because it’s hot in deep tech and then building something or trying to build something out of it based on a lot of like money and hype. so, so we’ve seen some disaster stories like that in Cleantech, in particular, energy tech in particular. and, and that somehow does happen in every field, but particularly I feel in deep tech that in the founding team, like one or two people with those technical jobs are absolutely crucial to being successful.
Kalani Scarrott (26:45): Yeah. I think that’s a perfect segue into your book that you wrote with Harsh, a new idea of India. Do you wanna explain just a little how that came about and yeah, just a tiny explanation for readers who haven’t, or listeners who haven’t read it yet.
Rajeev Mantri (26:57): Sure. our book, A New Idea of India, came out in 2020, and it’s a book about the history and future of modern India, if you will. And the kind of principle case that we make is that India is a very ancient civilization. It is not a country that was born in 1947 as a lot of intellectuals have asserted, and even many Western observers tend to think that, oh, India was just created in 1947. you, you might find this kind of line of thinking in outlooks like the Economist or others. but the, the truth of the matter is that India is a very, very ancient on kind of continuous civilization, probably the only one of its kind in the world going back like several millennia. and, and those kind of cultural practices, that ethos, that philosophy still pervades the Indian nation even today.
(27:58): So that was kind of one of the big points we made in the book, along with what would such a civilization state as we called it, what would the civilization state of India once it kind of gains economic traction builds prosperity, you know, as we are seeing sustained economic growth, prosperity will come to India, I feel. So what would a prosperous successful, secure Indian civilization state offer to the world? So I think that’s a very interesting question in the 21st century. And our book attempts to answer that as well. And, and in addition to these two points in the book, we also covered length. What does India need to do to kind of stay on that growth path? What are the kind of, you know, tactical government level reforms, policy changes that the Indian economy requires? So there is a fairly granular discussion of that too, in the book.
Kalani Scarrott (28:58): Yeah, it was for me, I was like so illuminating cuz I had no idea. So I, yeah, went to zero to a hundred very quickly. It was very good. But a few pointed questions one thing I I did pick up on was, I’ll read a quote first, every important nation or civilization has its own credo, a north star, or even a nebulous idea that makes the incoherent coherent. And you give the examples of the us being the land of the free and, and the home of the brave China and John go Europe being a rules-based order, both internally, externally. So for India, what do you think their North star currently is? And maybe what do you think it should be? Would you change or amend it? yeah, just your thoughts there.
Rajeev Mantri (29:35): so I would say India’s credo India. So, so the Dharma is, as we, we write in the book, Dharma pervades like Indian society, Indian thinking, right? Like, so, like I said, so that philosophical bent that India has which has continued for so many millennia. so India, India lives and dies on Dharma. If Dharma lives, you know, as she or one of the great philosophers of India had said that if Dharma lives, you know, India or bar will live. so, you know, he had he had very evocatively described the importance of the Dharma to the Indian nation. So the credo of India is really something, I think as an nation we are still figuring out, honestly. So I don’t have a, you know one particular answer to offer, but because India is a nation in flux, there is so much changing.
(30:32): And I think people really under underappreciate how much is actually changing in the country because for the better part of our argue, you know, until the beginning of the century most of India, most of India, not all of it, but most of it was kind of untouched by modernity almost. and, and what has really changed in the last around two decades, two plus decades, would be that India has become physically and digitally connected. So, so if you go back to the India of the 1980s or 1990s, there was hardly any kind of physical linkage in our country, right? So, so, you know, there were limited airlines, there was hardly any national highways compared to what we have today. there was hardly anything of that type. I mean, the Indian railways were the only kind of connecting infrastructure across the country.
(31:25): And the rail user existed for about couple of hundred years. For example, if someone in the eastern part of the country wants to travel to the far south of India, and it’s gonna be, it is gonna be a two or three day train ride, you may not necessarily do that, right? Whether you wanna travel for leisure or for some other reason but now that we have flights going everywhere and you can crystal the country, you know, in a matter of hours. So, so that aspect of mingling, merging, you know, kind of connecting seeing the country is something quite novel. So I would argue that earlier generations while they lived in many of these people who lived in the vast country that is India, probably never saw the whole country, they would be restricted to their region or their town or the city, or most, most probably their village.
(32:18): I mean, most of India lived in villages, so they would not even venture out of their kind of immediate vicinities. But now what is happening is you’re seeing like people from everywhere kind of making the effort to fly out. And if you, if you take a flight nowadays in India, very often you might find, you know, kind of like senior citizens who are taking, who are flying for the first time. and, and you know the re the way you figure that out is sometimes they ask someone, can you help me do this? You know, I don’t know how to do it. So, so most of India is actually flying for the first time. and, and to young India, this counts naturally because obviously it’s all happening when you’re growing up, right? You’ve not seen anything else but to a senior citizen.
(33:05): This is a stark contrast to what the world was like 30 years ago. So, so I would argue that the way India is getting connected up in the last, has gotten connected up in the last 20 years is something without precedent. And thus what India, what India’s credo will be, or what India’s credo is, will be defined probably in the coming sort of decade or two because in some ways we are still figuring ourselves out that, you know, what do we really stand for? And our book was one of the, it was an offering in that direction that we think India should stand for this. and, and I’m sure there are many other reasons so Indians are an argumentative people. and, and as we write in the book, you know, there will never be one single pool star, but there will be many ideas of India.
(34:00): And the unifying credo for, for a country like India, actually I think should be, you know the idea of Dharma, the idea of live and let live the idea of do unto to others as you want others to do unto, unto you, there is a very lovely Sanskrit phase called Tai, which means you are that essentially. So the, the thought behind that is that you don’t treat others in the way you wish to be treated by them. It’s hard to translate a word like the, but I think that’s a, a wonderful sort of way to be with the world and to sort of be a part of the world. It’s gonna be interesting few decades where we will see a country like India doing something different from what the rest of the world is used to. And I hope it is in this direction.
Kalani Scarrott (34:52): So, yeah, one, one thing I’m very curious about with India’s growth and rise is around culturally. So India’s on track to become the world’s third largest economy in dollar terms by 2025, after the US and China having overtaken Japan, Germany, France, and the UK, it’s already the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parody terms. So the logical extension, at least in my eyes, is when does it become a cultural superpower? Two. So my good mate, Prada is written by 2070, India population is expected to be 1.7 billion. If English speaking rates increase in India from the current 12% to maybe a modest 30%, that means that we have a
Rajeev Mantri (35:28): Few hundred million English speakers. Yes.
Kalani Scarrott (35:30): Yeah. So do you agree with this English online culture will change because of this? Any thoughts add there? Yeah, sorry, big mouthful by, by me.
Rajeev Mantri (35:37): No undoubtedly I think this is inevitable in some ways, and especially over that same kind of timeframe I think we will see a more prosperous India emerge. So I think most visitors to India tend to visit the capitals, right? You, you, you visit like the commercial capital you visit the, which is Mumbai or nowadays something to argue Bangalore you visit Delhi and so on. So I think what, what you will find over the next two, three decades is the rest of the country becomes more like these centers. So, so that entails like, you know, unlocking a huge amount of prosperity for a lot of people and, and what those people will do with their agency, what they will do with their newfound kind of you know, time and money and everything is, is really one of the things to watch I feel in the next, next few decades.
(36:31): And even, even my friend Balaji has made this point, biology, she was, so, he’s often said that you know, as Indians come online in particular you would find that the cultural memes and conversations and motives would probably get ionized to some degree. we’ve seen that with, with you know, the influence of America and the world, obviously America with 300 million odd people, and it’s influenced across the Anglo sphere, at least, if not the rest of the world. but I think India two would, you know, while, while there will be obviously many Indian languages, which will be more widely spoken than English we will still see a very large number of English speakers in India. And thus, one could argue that India two will be, or already is a part of Anglosphere in that sense. And, and the cultural kind of cross currents we are seeing it with the success of films like RRR, for example.
(37:29): I don’t know if you’ve seen it. so if you haven’t, I would highly, highly recommended. It’s on Netflix and one of the really spectacular pieces of filmmaking that you will ever see. So, so film i r obviously, which has got so much resonance across the world, not just the West, but all over the world is just the beginning of, I feel, what Indian sort of art culture, et cetera, can contribute as, as sort of the creators in India gain more confidence and more capital. they will sort of take on bigger projects. they will take, take on projects, which are not actually just echoing what we find in western cinema or in other kinds of art forms. so, so this was actually if you, if you trace the history of cinema, there was a period in the 1990s when, you know, most movies were essentially about like, you know, the Nri family, the non-resident Indian family and or every, every, almost every major hit of that period had this angle of there’s a family in India and they have some family members outside India, and there is something happening around that bridge.
(38:57): so, so many of the successful films in that period actually built off of this theme. And it, and it speaks to, you know, where India was at that time, right? Like, there was not, if you want to kind of showcase opulence or a certain kind of lifestyle or a certain kind of urbanism that simply didn’t exist in India 30 years ago, but it did exist elsewhere. So filmmakers said, you know, fine, let’s build that into our plot lines. Let’s try to co-opt it from abroad with the angle of the nra. because obviously cinema everywhere is somewhere escapist. People want to see good things, good people, good looking people, other and, and you know, for kind of photogenic landscapes and so on. so, so a lot of filmmakers just built a career making that kind of cinema. but I think that is changing now.
(39:47): If you, if you see in the last four, five years what has worked in Indian cinema, it is more of like Indian stories. And in fact, all the Indian stories are finding great resonance outside of India. So, so I feel it’s just early days and kind of India, which is got lots of English language speakers and India, which has risk capital, and in India, which has a large consumption class will be a, to reckon with in sort of the creative industries. So that cinema, whether it is art, whether it is even fashion I think, I think these are like very large, actually categories where, you know, India today probably is not even a blip. So, so I, I feel very optimistic that India will be a very significant player in these areas.
Kalani Scarrott (40:38): Perfect. So Rajeev, thank you so much for coming on today. I appreciate it so much. This was great.
Rajeev Mantri (40:43): No, thank you for inviting Kalani, lovely to sort of be on your podcast and been reading your newsletter and seen some of your podcast as well. So great work.