It started with tortilla chips, the kind that crowd the snack aisles in every American supermarket, convenience store, and bodega but, as it happens, are in extremely short supply in India. “India,” explains Arjun Lalbhai, “is a very potato chip-eating country.” Lalbhai RBS’14, who was born in Ahmedabad, India, and returned there after earning his MBA at Rutgers, was looking to start a business. Given the dearth of competition, tortilla chips sounded like just the thing.
He was also looking to differentiate himself from his entrepreneurial family, which ran one of India’s foremost textile companies. Tortilla chips were a significant departure.
Founded in 2014, All That’s Good featured international tortilla chip flavors you wouldn’t find in Indian potato chips, such as Texas Smoky Barbecue, New York Deli Cheese, and Sweet Jalapeño. By 2019, the company was able to break into the U.S. market, where it was renamed AL Chipino (“AL” being the initials of its founder) and added flavors like Thai Green Curry and Bollywood Sweet and Sour. Thanks to Rutgers, Lalbhai says, he had a strong business background and a network to help him flex his skills.
Neither asset, though, turned out to be sufficient to protect the business from the economic ravages of a pandemic. With orders dwindling or canceled altogether, says Lalbhai, “we made the very practical, but devastating, decision to pause operations.”
COVID-19 hit India particularly hard. For seven months, Lalbhai quite literally didn’t leave the home he shared with his wife and parents. To fill the void, he turned to a hobby he’d cultivated in college—filmmaking. An avid Agatha Christie fan, he and a group of friends had made a feature-length amateur adaptation of Christie’s Evil Under the Sun during his sophomore year at Babson College, near Boston. Lalbhai followed that up with a seven-minute short based on the traditional Indian epic Mahabharata, which, at 100,000-plus verses, is the world’s longest poem.
The subject of his new film, Clone Cricket Challenge, “had to be cricket because I’m passionate about it and there was no cricket on television for the first time in many years,” Lalbhai says. To understand how dire that was, consider that cricket evokes an almost religious fervor in India. “It unites people like nothing ever has and probably ever will.”
Lalbhai had played cricket growing up and at Babson and Rutgers, so he cast himself as the film’s lead—and only—actor. He was also the sole screenwriter, cinematographer, animator, graphics designer, editor, and visual and sound effects artist. Lalbhai shot the entire film on his phone and edited it with a program he learned to use through an online course.
Starting from the premise that, Lalbhai explains, during a pandemic, people would need “not just to work from home, but to play from home as well,” the film depicts a fictional match between two teams, both comprising clones of a legendary cricketer, whose name happens to be Lalbhai. The only non-Lalbhai contribution came from a college friend who was adept with accents and voiced the international commentators.
Lalbhai figured the film might garner a couple hundred views on YouTube; instead, it’s received more than 6,000, as well as scores of comments, some from professional cricketers expressing their delight at the effort.
Lalbhai’s pandemic pause brought more than a film to fruition. As a marketing consultant, he’s now drawing on the same network that helped him break into the U.S. snack market to aid other Indian brands eager to get their products on American shelves. The pause also afforded him time to plan his next entrepreneurial venture in a very different corner of the food and beverage market.
With Evolving Roots, he’s starting from the ground up—literally. Using the principles of regenerative agriculture—a method of sustainable farming that preserves soil fertility and requires a minimum of water, fertilizer, and other resources—he’s planted 50 acres near his home in India with so-called superfoods like ginger, turmeric, and moringa. He’s hoping to expand the business by partnering with governments and forming agricultural cooperatives. To help him do that, he’s already made a short promotional film and he’s working on another—both of them, not surprisingly, made entirely by Lalbhai himself.