Yesterday Chris Zahner released a documentary called Chasing The Bullet, “a film documenting the love affair between a machine and a nation”. This documentary started out as a kickstarter project and it received $7,651 from 138 backers. I just watched the documentary and my heart sank deeper and deeper as every minute of the 22 minute long documentary passed.
The documentary shows snippets of interviews with owners of older Royal Enfield motorcycles. The kind of machines that their owners proudly claim to be problematic, troublesome and seem to have a mind of their own. It shows corroding motorcycles and owners struggling to get them to start. But that’s not the bad part. That’s the truth and we all know it. But then towards the end of the documentary these owners talk about the newer Royal Enfield motorcycles and how they are nowhere close to the older ones. They make it seem as if its next to impossible to have a relationship with the new bikes like the one they enjoyed with the older ones. They don’t actually say it aloud, but their body language shows the disdain for the new breed of Royal Enfield motorcycles.
And that is where my problem with the documentary lies. Personally, I don’t consider the Royal Enfield to be a British brand anymore. To me it is now an Indian brand and I want it to succeed. I believe this documentary has done a tremendous disservice to the Royal Enfield brand from a purely business point of view. After seeing the documentary, I doubt many young Indians would feel the urge to own one. I bet the folks at Royal Enfield have squirmed in their seats as I did when they watched the documentary.
Let me put things in perspective here. The old timers and hardcore Bullet fans in India are not going to buy new Royal Enfield motorcycles. That part is amply clear. The newer generation has a wide range of motorcycle brands to choose from. These people live in the age of instant gratification. They want to fill fuel in the tank and go riding. Not spend their free time and salaries fussing over a machine that could break down regularly. Royal Enfield is trying its best to break away from this negative image and this documentary does everything it can to negate the company’s efforts. This is like a bunch of hardcore Blackberry physical keypad purists talking about the newer Blackberry touchscreen devices. Guess what is going to happen to Blackberry the brand and eventually the company.
Another Indian automotive brand that has faced this exact same problem is Maruti, They have finally had to resort to create a whole new brand called Nexa for their higher end vehicles. For decades the Maruti brand name has been associated with small, cheap cars for middle class people. All the high end vehicles that Maruti has launched have ended up as spectacular failures. Very nice cars which nobody wants to own.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the point of the documentary. But I wonder if the people who backed the KickStarter project with their money and those who interviewed for the documentary truly understand what they have done.