15 years ago: Three print firms in Lower Parel

Ramu Ramanathan rewinds fifteen years and reflects…

19 May 2015 | By Ramu Ramanathan

In 2000, I had met Hari Gupta of Chandra Printing Press in his office in Lower Parel. The company is a professionally managed, family-owned company which specialises in commercial offset printing since 1952.
In 1952, Chandra Printing Press had three treadle machines and three composing machines. The entire operation was letterpress. The firm printed periodicals and magazines; besides printing stationery and greeting cards, etc. The founders were: Rambalihar Gupta and Ramnivas Gupta, who were the mainstay of the organisation. It was their aspiration to serve the print buyer.
Hari Gupta was studying for his Bachelor in Arts, he used to drop-in time-and-again. Later in 1972, he was working at the press, almost full-time. In those days, the press was located at Kalbadevi and it was a different set-up. Everyone worked very hard. Everything was hands-on. There were no short-cuts or recourse to technology. Hari Gupta says, “I learnt most of the tricks of the trade on the job. Later, I handled accounts and supervised administration.”
In 1980, Chandra Printing Press became independent. Hari Gupta says, “This was primarily due to the vision of my brother, the late Kirtan Gupta. He was a technocrat and keen student of print technology. This ensures that he was very careful about quality concerns. In 1980, he oversaw our entry into fabrication of printed products on a larger scale. For this purpose, we invested in punching, stitching, folding and laminating machines. Besides this, we had a Heidelberg GTO and a computerised Polar cutting machine. All this ensured that we adhered to excellence and the norms, which were stressed by our clients.”
When I met Hari Gupta, the company had a skilled workforce of 40 on the shop-floor which operated in three shifts. This team has an eye for detail, and is supported by qualified production staff, operating on computer programmatic machines. Hari Gupta said, “We offer innumerable specialisations to our clients. We rarely print routine jobs. We can offer new technologies and short runs. This is thanks to our alignments with pre-press houses and in-house design capability. Besides this, the company has a good finishing department that can handle any job.”
His son Venu Gupta has returned from a course at the London School of Printing. Hari Gupta had identified five significant mega-trends which effected our industry. These are: growth of process colour; shorter runs, increasing use of electronics and computers, quality control and production management, innovative and synergistic use of technology. Hair Gupta says, “Under such circumstances, it will be imperative for Chandra Printing Press to be aware of the above.”
Today, the company has completed 65 years. What has changed?
It would be most interesting to meet Hari Gupta and Venu Gupta and discover what’s new after 15 years.

At the NY Times
Around that time, I interacted with Hari Gupta’s nephew and C S Agarwal’s son. This is Ashutosh Agarwal who held a job at the Quality Assurance Department of The New York Times at their Edison Printing Facility in New Jersey, USA. He graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Printing Management and Sciences with a Master’s in Printing Technology in the summer of 2001.
In 1999, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Printing Engineering from Pune University. After college, he worked with Better Communications, a digital reprographic service provider before going to RIT.
Today, he is an industry pro but he said "he got the opportunity at QA department of the New York Times through the career coordinator (for printing and packaging students) at RIT. I had focussed on colour and colour management while in RIT, and I was aware that the QA department was actively using colour management for printing the newspaper.”
Ashutosh’s father, C S Agarwal has been in the printing industry for more than fifty years and ran a press called Poornima Printers. Plus he created the PrintVision brand for the BMPA.
During those days, Ashutosh was an in-plant representative of the Quality Assurance Department. His primary responsibility was to ensure that customers receive a good quality product. He said to me, “To that end, we worked hard to obtain good colour reproduction on press. To achieve that, we generate digital proofs on the newsprint we print on, and work together with pressmen to bring as close a match as we possibly can, with the proofs. We run periodic tests on our presses, and also test our RIPs and platesetters for their reproduction consistency from time to time or as and when necessary.”
Ashutosh who likes to watch movies, listen to music, read (sometimes) and experiment with cooking; rates a centre-spread ad for IBM that ran in The New York Times. This ad was very difficult to produce, in the sense that it had dark hues and heavy tint values, and care had to be taken that the ink was just enough.
It would be most interesting to meet Ashtutosh and CS Agarwal and discover what’s new after 15 years.

Shabbir Muchchala of Silverpoint Press
Around that time I had a face-to-face with Shabbir Muchala, the director of Silverpoint Press. When he met me in a plush office in Lower Parel, he sipped black coffee and said his motto was “live a quality life … and work hard”.
Shabbir’s trump card was his course in Offset Lithographic Printing at the London College of Printing. And a Diploma Course at the Heidelberg Factory.
He believed in expanding the business at Silverpoint
I got him to answer ten questions, as we browsed through the award-winning jobs Silverpoint had printed.
One thing Shabbir wants to change about the industry: The attitude of the people within our industry.
The next biggest technological change according to Shabbir: A definite movement towards pre-press… and gradually towards digitisation.
Shabbir, if you’re on a 20-hour flight with one person from the printing industry: Ashok Nerker.
After a great day at work, Shabbir would love to … Spend time with my family. Or have cocktails with friends.
If Mani Ratnam casts Shabbir in a film, he would want to play: A really bad villain.
What would Shabbir purchase if he won a lottery: A yatch.
Favourite holiday spot: The Amazon Forests in Brazil.
What makes Shabbir laugh: Hypocrites.
Shabbir loves the music of: Kenny G.
For Shabbir life is about: Living well… and respectably.
Shabbir would love to have an one-to-one with: Narendra P of Pragati Art Printers. I genuinely look up to him and his press.

In those days, Silverpoint was head-quartered and operated out of Lower Parel. It specialised in high-quality brochures and multi-colour jobs. We stood over the Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 where the desktop Standard Charter Calendar was being printed.
Later, this was exported to 40 destinations. (Incidentally, Silverpoint printed approximately 48 tonnes of the calendar in three-and-a-half weeks. Surely, a record of sorts!!!). Another print job which was an eye-catcher was the Marwar Diary. Before Silverpoint undertook this job, it used to be printed in the UAE.
Shabbir chuckles, how he used to accompany his dad, to the press. And if Shabbir was not in the printing industry. He would perhaps have been in the hotel business.
Surely a sign of the times to come; what with Silverpoint's ambitious project in Alibaug.


Spotlight on Ashutosh Agarwal in 2015

Ramu Ramanathan (RR): Poornima Printers is primarily into commercial print? What work do you?

Ashutosh Agarwal (AA): Yes, we do advertising and marketing collaterals and a few publications. We cater to a variety of clients including media houses, retailers, branded jewellery, etc.

RR: What sort of print runs do you do?

AA: The print run is typically between 100-1000 pieces.

RR: What type of jobs do you?

AA: The regulars being gift vouchers, invites, product booklets/catalogues, instruction manuals, etc. We like to position ourselves as ‘a print services provider’ since we do not boast of a huge manufacturing base but do take pride in the service we extend to the customers.

RR: How have you implemented your colour management knowledge in the last ten years?

AA: The colour management knowledge has been an intellectual asset. It has been most useful in approving print jobs on press (usually referring a digital colour print), and being able to effectively communicate to the printer and/or customer the limitations of WYSIWYG relevant to the job and print process, etc. The knowledge serves a strong foundation to pitch for new business as many clients are relatively new/inexperienced print buyers who want to maintain their brand colours across media but don’t quite understand how it works (rather why it doesn’t work!).

RR: Is it onerous to convince clients about colour management?

AA: Once we gain the client’s confidence in this, the ride is a lot smoother because they will be more accommodating if there are any short comings in the final result. The most important implementation has been in the planning process to flag/foresee any colour issues (typically with RGB) in customer provided print-ready files.

RR: You have had a solid stint in the USA at RIT and NY Times. The print numbers are taking a bit of beating in that corner of the world. What is the future of print according to you?

AA: From my perspective, the future is definitely digital. The print runs are shrinking by the day and deadlines getting tighter. Demands of clients are increasing and so are their expectations with what we can do with a limited budget and even lesser time lines. Digital printing has become more affordable. More and more technologies are becoming increasingly available to cater to short runs with several players in each.

RR: How so?

AA: PrintWeek India's "70 under 7 lakh" anniversary special is a testimony. That is what small print houses like ours will need to brace up to, have a raft of small equipment capable of providing multiple options to clients. The client no longer wants a simple printed piece – they are gradually converting to fine papers, and with digital printing becoming a commodity, that is becoming increasingly affordable for the end user. This not to say long runs will evaporate but that will probably evolve as a niche vertical altogether. It’s like saying printer A is a short-run specialist and Printer B is a long-run guy – and their price points will vary accordingly. Of course, the margins are better with short runs but the financial turnovers are not that great. But print will continue to grow and all technologies will flourish, digital perhaps being the leader.