The Telegraph
Sunday , July 1 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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His wife’s man

Raj Kundra, the British Asian businessman, has no qualms about being labelled Shilpa Shetty’s husband. Neither does he shy away from praising her lavishly. “I am proud of whatever she has achieved,” he says.

He is right on time for our interview at Kinara, his palatial bungalow overlooking Juhu beach in Mumbai. The living room is littered with Swarovski crystals, wooden sculptures and M.F. Husain paintings. Wearing a black shirt teamed with blue denims and Louis Vuitton shoes, Kundra talks about how hectic things have been of late.

“The past few weeks have been pretty hectic for me,” he says. For several weeks, the Indian Premier League matches kept him busy (he and Shetty own the franchise team Rajasthan Royals). Then, in late May, Shilpa delivered a baby boy. And to top it, Kundra has just flagged off a new game, the Super Fight League.

Super Fight League (SFL) is India’s first professionally organised mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting league where the competitors can employ any martial art form or fighting style. It’s no-holds barred fighting except that you can’t gouge the eye or hit the groin of the opponent.

So how did Kundra come to invest in this sport?

When it comes to business Kundra knows a good venture when he sees one. The IPL was one such. And SFL, which he floated with Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, is another. In fact, Kundra feels that investing in sports makes good business sense. “You might lose in the initial years, but once the sport picks up, there’s no looking back. That apart, you can have spin-off ventures that will add to your turnover,” he says. “Take SFL. Here we can generate revenue from the sporting event and also set up SFL gyms, MMA training centres and so on.”

Kundra believes that it’s just a matter of time before MMA catches on in India. “Eyeballs will follow once we create Indian champions,” he says.

He approached Dutt to partner him in SFL because he felt it needed an image. “While floating SFL, I realised that we need a Bollywood face to pull in the crowds. So, I approached Sanjay Dutt. The format is simple — we have a 45-minute Bollywood concert followed by eight fights,” he reveals.

And Kundra is confident that the venture will be successful. “Be it Rajasthan Royals or SFL, I know that in a year or two we will break even. I am so happy that our cash flow is positive,” he adds.

The businessman has other plans up his sleeve. A reality show with eight male and eight female amateur MMA fighters is also in the offing. The winner gets a direct entry into the SFL. “Three general entertainment channels are willing to partner with us on this. We have had auditions in Nashik, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Chandigarh already.”

But why a fight reality show? Didn’t Ring ka King (on boxing) on Colors bomb? “It was a scripted games show and hence it flopped. Ours isn’t a scripted show. We are opting for a reality show as we want to create an audience for MMA,” he adds.

When Kundra dropped out of Wimbledon College in London at the age of 17, little did he know that he would have the Midas touch where business was concerned. “My dad had then asked me to assist him in his restaurant business. But after three months I knew that I was not cut out for it. So I was given six months to set up a business of my own. With the seed money I got I back-packed to Nepal, where I bought a lot of Pashima shawls and sold them off to shops in England. The demand was so high that soon I was purchasing the entire factory output to meet the orders.”

He claims that in the Nineties he made millions by importing Pashminas for London-based fashion houses. “But then like all good things, this business came to an end, and I got into mining and film distribution,” he says.

Right now Kundra dabbles in myriad businesses that range from trading in gold to precious metals, not to mention co-owning an IPL franchise team and kick-starting the SFL.

The big celebrity event of his life was of course his liaison with Shilpa Shetty. So, how did he meet her?

“I noticed Shilpa when she was on Big Brother. I thought she wouldn’t survive more than a week on the show. But surprisingly, she did. Her grit and never-say-die attitude attracted me to her. Being a businessman, I met her through her agent Farooque Hussain with the proposal of launching a perfume by her name. I ended up paying her more to seal the deal, as by then I was sure that she was the woman for me,” he says with a smile.

But wasn’t he married then? “Not really. Around that time I was separated from my first wife. We went through a messy divorce,” he adds with an expressionless face.

He looks down and then says, “My child was 40 days old when we separated. But Shilpa has given me the joys of fatherhood and more. And I don’t mind being labelled Shilpa Shetty’s husband.”

Shilpa, he adds, is at the top of his priority list. And now that she is a new mother, no doubt she will be even more so.