And Ratan Tata sang, ‘PR kiya tho darna kya’

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: The unveiling of the Nano has fetched the kind of publicity Osama bin Laden would kill for.

Purple prose hailing the new peoples car, breathless editorials brazenly brushing aside environment and traffic concerns, mushy interviews with the man himself, over-the-top opinion polls have all greeted the “world’s cheapest car”.

But, has anybody driven the bloody car?

Welcome to the age of hype as journalism. Welcome to the age of who cares as long as we can get into their media plan journalism. Welcome to the age of the details don’t matter, the spectacle is the story journalism.

Like the iPhone in the United States last year, the Nano has been decreed a success even before the assembly line can be readied for manufacture. And like a Harry Potter book, half of whose hold depends on the secrecy its author and publishers can double from the previous instalment, we have had TV channels describing the route the car took from Poona to Delhi, and schoolboy newspapers cackling about the Z-category security that accompanied it.

But at least, thousands of buyers could touch and feel Steve Jobs‘ claims the day it was launched; thousands more could sample J.K. Rowling‘s concoction.

The Nano?

We just have to swallow and spout the manufacturer’s line hook, line and sinker. Or else, we could be out of their media plan. So we have to take Ratan Tata’s word that it lets out less fumes than a two-wheeler (oh, yes, tell me another) and that it won’t clog up our roads (oh, really?).

Sure, the Nano it looks cute, the colours are snazzy, and yes, it’s a proud moment for a desi company that has put out some of the most dangerous vehicles on our roads, like the Sumo and their godawful mini-trucks, to have stuck to a “promise” and delivered a car with a sticker price of Rs 100,000.

But, brother, how does it move? Isn’t that what a car is all about?

You scribble a line to see if a pencil (cost Rs 2) writes well. You check out a couple of vegetable wallahs before you buy kotambir (Rs 5). You try a pair of hawaii chappalls (cost Rs 200) to see if it is comfortable or not. Why, we sample sweets and savouries before declaring them tasty or not.

But you see a one lakh rupee from a safe distance and pronounce it a hit?

Hit it may well be and, for the sake of the Tata Motors stock of which I have a few, I hope it is. But where is the balance, the line between paid advertising and, well, unpaid advertising?

OK, it could accommodate Ratan dikra as he swung in for the launch. But can it carry papa, mama, chunnu and Bunty comfortably? Will its adhesive stuck parts withstand not-so-ideal conditions as the ramp at a five-star hotel? Do those very basic shock absorbers have it in them to haul you out of potholes for years on end?

And, since we are talking of a car, lest we forget, does its motor run well?

I guess we will never know till some auto magazine gets another sneak peak, and we all know what that means. But couldn’t we have been spared the instant verdict?

If an inexpensive price tag is all that matters, we’ve got it—even Tata’s PR people wouldn’t have done better.

Also read: 11 similarities between iPhone and Rajnikant

Photograph: courtesy tatapeoplescar.com