Lalit Modi: Man of Many Season

Featured image


The House of Modi

His Grandfather, Gujarmal Modi was from a trading family, having a long tradition of supplying provisions to the British army. Originally from Patiala, he first organized a sugar mill at Begamabad near Delhi. Later he ventured into vegetable oil and went on to establish the industrial town of Modinagar. Under the leadership of his father (KK Modi) business was flourishing in India as their company Godfrey Phillips went on to become India’s number two tobacco company. He joined Bishop Cotton School in Shimla in 1971. Having scored well in the SAT, he travelled to the United States where he studied Electrical Engineering and Business Administration at Pace and Duke University.

When He met her Mother’s Friend

In Nigeria, Pessu Aswani had set up a booming business, dividing his time between Lagos and London. His good friend Murli Chellaram was also part of the prospering Indian diaspora in Africa. Years later, Aswani’s daughter Minal married Jack Sagrani, who lived in Nigeria, London and finally worked in Saudi Arabia for Inlaks. While Minal was pregnant, Sagrani was caught in a scam and jailed in Saudi Arabia For several months. He was unable to visit his wife even when she delivered their daughter Karima in London. After Sagrani and Minal parted ways, she stayed in the Gulf for a few years before finally moving to Delhi, where she was a frequent resident at her friend Bina Modi’s house at A-1, Maharani Bagh.

Bina’s son Lalit had returned from the United States after being convicted in a drugs and assault charge (On March 1, 1985, Modi was arrested on charges of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. On April 2, 1985, Modi and another student were indicted on second-degree kidnapping, a misdemeanor charge of assault inflicting serious injury and conspiracy to kidnap).

This is now Minal and Lalit’s courtship began at the Maharani Bagh home, and the two sprang a surprise a few months later by expressing the desire to marry each other. Their declaration of love led to one of the biggest commotions the Modis have ever witnessed. While Bina Modi felt betrayed by her friend for allegedly luring her son, who was ten years her junior, into a profitable marriage, KK Modi told Lalit that he would not give his consent for the marriage. After days of negotiations, angry outbursts and threats, Lalit finally had his way and managed to convience everyone. Permission was granted for the wedding (which took place on October 17, 1991), a maintenance allowance was promised by the family, and Lalit was also included in the Godfrey Phillips as a director.

Bombay Calling

After their marriage had caused such a stir in the social circle in Delhi, they decided to move to Bombay. It was the early nineties when the cable and satellite broadcast business was taking root in India. Global broadcasters, even in the non-news genres, weren’t allowed a free entry.


Modi was quick to seize the opportunity and Modi Entertainment Network (MEN) was born. In 1993, MEN signed an ambitious joint venture with the US-based media conglomerate Walt Disney. WD India Pvt Ltd, the new company in which Walt Disney had 51% stake and MEN held the rest, was given the mandate to introduce Disney’s merchandise in the Indian market. The merchandise business was housed under Walt Disney Consumer Products and the broadcast venture was with Buena Vista TV India. In 1995, Walt Disney also entrusted MEN with the responsibility of distributing its popular sports channel ESPN. ESPN was one of the first channels in India to be paid. He managed to convince ESPN that with cricket in their pocket, people will readily pay a fee to see the channel. ESPN was soon one of the leading sports channels in the country. Soon, MEN signed similar deals with Paris-based Fashion TV (brought them also in India), Dubai-based sports channel Ten Sports and DD Sports. In 2002, he launched an online lottery business in Kerala called Sixo and this is when he went against Subhash Chandra, who was already running Playwin. He later went into the real estate business in Rajasthan, with a company called Amer Heritage City Construction Pvt Ltd, his wife Minal, is a director. Modi’s last attempt was the idea of launching the country’s first local travel-and-living channel, Voyages.

The Political Connections

Things started to turn around, when Lalit’s friend Vasundhara Raje took over as Chief Minister of Rajasthan in 2003. Lalit knew Raje through her school friend Bina Kilachand. Soon after he shifted to Jaipur, where he not only took over the cricket establishment using a legislation which brought the state cricket association under the purview of government, but also created a storm for his alleged involvement in the sale of some heritage havelis. In a 2006 event organised to raise money for the Elephant Fund, initiated by Mark Shand, the brother of Prince Charles’s wife Camilla Parker Bowles, Vasundhararaje was spotted with Lalit and Kavita Chellaram, wife of Suresh Chellaram, now part-owner of Rajasthan Royals. Modi’s fortune further escalated after he entered the Board of Control for Cricket in India representing Rajasthan– first as a dealer who helped the Pawar group defeat Jagmohan Dalmiya – and then as a money-making whiz kid who finally came good business-wise. The BCCI’s profits soared over a billion USD in 2006 with Modi in its midst. Two years later his brainchild, the IPL, took cricket’s economics to a different level.

How Many IPL teams he own?

Lalit Modi’s family and friends are an integral part of the IPL. Minal’s sister Kavita is married to Suresh Chellaram who owns a majority share in the Rajasthan Royals franchise which incidentally had the lowest bid amount at the auction in 2008. Lalit’s step-daughter Karima is married to Gaurav, son of Monica and Vivek Burman of the Dabur group. The marriage caused a stir in the Burman family similar to the one in the Modi family when Lalit and Minal tied the knot. Gaurav is a stakeholder in Global Cricket Venture, a firm that has the digital, mobile and internet rights of the IPL. His brother Mohit Burman is a co-owner in Kings XI Punjab, which he owns as part of the consortium consisting of his childhood friends Karan Paul and Ness Wadia, and Wadia’s ex-girlfriend Preity Zinta. One of the owners of Kolkata Knight Riders is also an old friend of Lalit Modi’s. Jay Mehta, son of Mahinder Mehta, who owned Saurashtra Cements, and Lalit are childhood buddies.