He was speaking from across the seas, but the confidence in Atlas Ramachandran’s trademark voice is unmistakable. “The turbulent times are over. I will start again,” says the 76-year-old, who is out of prison, where he served a three-year-detention after being arrested on charges of financial fraud. Sitting in his apartment in the UAE, he reveals his side of the story, “There have been a lot of rumours and false stories. I want to tell the world my version.” A household name for Malayalis world over as a leading jeweler, actor, film producer and philanthropist, M.M. Ramachandran has witnessed many highs and lows in life – he built a business empire with over 50 jewellery showrooms across the globe, ran two super-specialty hospitals in Qatar, invested in real estate, produced classic movies like Vaishali, Vasthuhara and Sukrutham, acted in several films, became the face of his brand through ads, and at one point, it all crumbled down.
It all began with a single slip. Opening up about the harrowing episode in his life in a telephonic interview, Ramachandran explains, “A small delay in paying a loan installment resulted in the crash of a 50-year-old business empire. There were many rumours spreading about Atlas Group, which had an annual turnover of 3.5 billion Dirhams. One bank cut down the loan to half and it affected the cash flow. When they submitted the security cheques, the account lacked sufficient money and I was asked to report at Bur Dubai Police Station.”
When he drove to the station, Ramachandran thought he’d walk out in a few hours, but he couldn’t. The court sentenced him for three years and what followed was utter chaos. The other banks submitted their security cheques, which too weren’t honoured. His 19 showrooms in the UAE closed down. “Everything was destroyed – my brand, goodwill, family. It was a total disaster,” he says. The only person who stood by him was his wife Indira. “Indu, who didn’t even know what a bank transaction was, ran from pillar to post to settle the debts, apply for bail and negotiate with banks. With my power of attorney, she sold off our 510-million-Dirhams-worth hospitals in Muscat to settle the full payment to our employees. She entered a standstill agreement with the 22 banks, following which I was released from jail,” Ramachandran says, stressing that it was not a release on bail and he has walked free.
The years in prison were a realisation – of friends and foes, of real colours of persons he thought he had known. “Not a single person was there to help us during the legal and financial crisis. When I was imprisoned, there was no one to run the business and my Indu had to face it all alone. I can’t recall meeting even a single member of the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, of which I was a founding member,” he says. Ramachandran stresses that he holds no malice – neither towards the banks, which had no choice at the critical hour, nor towards the people who abandoned him. He is very hopeful, “I am a self-made businessman. My business was reduced to ashes in the 1990 Kuwait War and I built it back by opening a jewellery store in Dubai later.” One grew to over 50 and Atlas soon turned into ‘the trusted firm for crores of people’, the famous tagline of the brand.
Likewise, he will rise from the ashes once again. He details, “I want to open a showroom in Dubai – whether it is under the name Atlas or a new name is not yet decided. Before that, there will be a talk with bankers on July 8 or 10, to ensure that no more cases are filed. A few banks have already offered support. With the profit from the business, I will settle my remaining debts.”
He wants to clarify that many reports are exaggerated. “I have paid off all the huge debts and there are no cases against me now. I don’t owe much now and to settle those dues, I have plans,” he says with optimism. “The share prices of Atlas are up. From as low as Rs 12 it has rose to Rs 116.35 and I hold Rs 5 crore-worth shares, which makes it worth around Rs 600 crore,” adds Ramachandran. He has started penning down his notes from prison. “I have completed one-third of my memoir. My years in jail were my time for introspection too. I learned a lot of lessons. The only support I had was from social media and my Indu. Now, out of prison, I am answerable to no other court, but the Court of God.”...