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Meet Harish Thawani, the Nimbus CEO
Surajeet Das Gupta & Amina Shaikh in New Delhi/ Mumbai
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January 27, 2007

He may be better known as a street-savvy fighter and might have made his first million producing and marketing serials on Doordarshan.

But all that did not deter him from going to court against the public broadcaster for an alleged breach of contract while producing the immensely popular Superhit Muqabala, a film song-based countdown programme in the early 90s. And the big bad world of TV business took notice.

Harish Thawani, CEO, NimbusMeet the flamboyant Harish Thawani (46), the boss of Nimbus Communications who dons a diamond earstud. Thawani was back in the limelight last week when he blanked out millions of viewers from watching the crucial India-West Indies one-dayer through Doordarshan. Never mind if Sourav Ganguly was in full form.

Information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi called him "unpatriotic" and Prasar Bharti had to go to court which directed Thawani's Neo Sports to share the feed (with a delay of seven minutes) on Doordarshan.

But that is Thawani: hated by his rivals; one who loves to take on a fight; and a consummate deal maker.

He shocked the sports business fraternity a year ago by bidding and winning the rights to telecast all cricket matches in India for a staggering $612 million till 2012, beating the big boys to their game.

Everyone cried that he had overpaid and would be in serious financial trouble. But despite all apprehensions, this week the magic man roped in top investors like 3i, Cisco and Oman International Fund who are putting in over Rs 522 crore (Rs 5.22 billion) in his company.

The son of a development manager in the Life Insurance Corporation, this Bombay University graduate began his career in advertising and worked with firms like the erstwhile Lintas and Chaitra Leo Burnett, before he set out on his own.

A strict vegetarian and a firm believer of the Radha Soami sect, he is an accomplished chess player and plays good cricket.

During his college days, he made money fixing the wi-fi systems of his richer classmates. He hung around with friends like Vikram Kaushik, the boss of Tata Sky.

In 1987, he founded Nimbus Communications initially as an advertising agency, but it shot into prominence with the slickly produced Superhit Muqabla.

In the bland world of Doordrashan, where Chitrahaar was the best on offer, this programme became a rage. He was then forgotten. Till cricket brought him back to the fore. In 1992, the World Cup cricket rights for India were licensed to Nimbus.

And during the 2003 World Cup held in South Africa, Nimbus with its partners was back in action. But it was a chance meeting with steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal that changed his life and made him think big.

Of course, he has had his string of failures. In 2000, he made an abortive attempt to raise over Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) from an initial public offering. The lukewarm response forced him to call it all off. Industry bigwigs say that he was once a good friend of Zee boss, Subhash Chandra, and they were looking at getting into the world of cricket together -- but they fell apart.

Even now, many of his detractors say that he has bitten more than he can chew with the audacious bid for rights of cricket matches in India.

Says a senior executive of a competing channel: "Just look at the India-West Indies matches, there are hardly any advertisers. Most of them have already booked themselves either for the World cup in April or for KBC3. It's a losing preposition". But even his competitors grudgingly admit that only he can pull this through.

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