Thursday, April 28, 2005

Raat Baki

"Indians are sleeping less" - according to a recent cover story in India Today.

A study by AC Nielsen reveals that 46% of Indians sleep less than 6 hours a day. And 64% apparently wake up prior to 7 am - among the highest in the world.

Well, I for one am part of the other 36%. I rarely wake up before 7 am. I guess I am an 'owl' who is most productive and vibrant during the night. Not as extreme as Ekta Kapoor - she apparently sleeps only agter 4 am and that too for just 5 hours. But yes, I do love my nights.

Night is when I get to watch TV/ surf the net/ read in peace. And write, too. It's when I feel a sense of space and freedom in a house - and life - I share with other people.

The late shift
When I was in school, I remember 10 o'clock was standard bedtime. 11 o'clock was considered LATE. There was an alarm clock- cum-radio next to my bed and sometimes I'd lie awake till 11.30 - till Vividh Bharati's last transmission - and feel quite cool.

Today, kids are routinely awake till 11 pm in many Indian homes. Parents come home late from work, for one. If you leave at 8 am and return at 9 pm - when will your child see you at all, if he sleeps by old English timings?

Then there's 24 hour TV - you stay awake to watch inane movies or just randomly channel surf. For young people, late night is about the only time the remote is in their independent possession. Because prime time means saas bahu serials for moms and NDTV/ CNBC for dads. And not many homes - yet - have two TVs.

If you're the kind who now works for a living, late night TV viewing is kind of like unwinding. You hope - in those 100 channels - something will seduce you, reduce the mental exhaustion of the day gone by.

Ditto for net-surfing.

Nights are for man-made pleasures like clubbing while early mornings are for natural ones like walks in parks. You may not be the partying type, but if you're a young person - chances are you prefer the buzz of the night.

This, of course, may not be a matter of choice if you are in an engineering or MBA hostel where nobody sleeps before 2 am. When I was at IIM A Rambhai's bun omlets was the stuff of legend. Try eating it in the daytime and you'd puke at the ghastly pink tomato ketchup!

Of course, we did also have a group known as the 7.30 Breakfast Club which lived up to its name and had breakfast each day at precisely 7.30. I was not, at any point of time, in the running for membership.

Bottomline: There is a mysterious, somewhat kinky pleasure to staying up late. Ask yourself, why did India awake to light and freedom at the stroke of the midnight hour... Not 6 am?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Porn Free

Did you know that 90% of cybercafe clients visit porn sites.
And, that 50% of them are minors?

That's what the Asian Age reported (issue dt April 18), quoting a survey conducted by media consultant N Ravindran which covered 65 cybercafes in Mumbai.

"Of the 350 students we interviewed, most were students between the age of 9-14."

Apparently the younger kids come in groups while those above 15 prefer to watch porn by themselves. Cybercafe owners turn a blind eye because - well, it's good business!

So much for closure of dance bars.

Girls just don't wanna...

An important point to note is that "only a handful of girls watch porn, compared to boys".

I'm not surprise, because the 'blue film' industry is primarily geared towards men.

I saw my first - and last - blue film when I was in hostel. Out of curosity, the girls all pooled in and rented a TV and VCR. And a couple of 'those' films.

What we couldn't understand is how anyone could get turned on by the stunts being performed on screen. It was so... comical.

There was no tenderness, no emotion, nothing but bump-and-grind, with XXL size anatomy.

It was the same story when, on a recent trip to Bangkok, I saw one of those 'sex shows'. The women were just performing exercises using their private parts - and props like cola bottles - as if they were circus artists.

I guess I'm too old to be disgusted... just puzzled that people (read men) will pay money (more than once) to watch this freakshow.

Strangely enough, a quote from staid old 'Readers Digest' I read last night hits the nail on the head.

Says Dr Phil (of Oprah fame): "Men fall in love with their eyes. Women fall in love with their ears." The same, I think, is true of lust!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The IIT Bubble

"An academic institution should not be know just for its undergraduates. It should be known for the kind of knowledge base we create, the quality of research that we do. We need to really pull up our socks otherwise it os not long before the IIT bubble bursts."

This is what S G Dhande, director, IIT Kanpur had to say in an interview to Tehelka, the people's paper (issue dt Apr 09). He couldn't have put it better.

Although I don't think the 'bubble will burst' - because the goodwill its graduates have earned over the last 4 decades is formidable - certainly IITs have a long way to go. IITians who go to MIT for PG courses excel as individuals but IIT as an institution is nowhere near an MIT in terms of original research.

Dhande believes the spark of creativity and originality of thinking needed for top quality research is missing because IITians are given a completely unidimensional education.

"Knowledge is increasingly becoming inter-disciplinary... Biology is the flavour of the century. We need to delve into all these areas even though we call ourselves a technology institute".

The director relates the story of a faculty member at IIT asking the first year students which novel they had read in the past one year.

There was a stunned silence.
"Where is the time to read novels?" they asked.

Dhande's answer is to start exposing students to design and art, as well as set up a TV studio on campus, a community based FM radio station and start a journalism club. Sounds like fun - with official sanction.

Curiously, in August 2004, IIT Bombay witnessed a sudden cancellation of all cultural and sports activities. JAM's Bureau chief in IIT-B then wrote: The Performing Arts festival and Socials (a theater event) were scaled down to reduce the number of man hours spent on them... The Dean expressed his concern over the the new bodies and clubs cropping up and demanded a 'vision' behind all these activities".

I don't know what the situation is right now, but obviously there is difference of opinion among the powers-that-be in the IIT family!

Jo JEEta wahi...
According to tehelka, at a March 5 meeting of the standing commitee of the IIT council, it was agreed that the present level of JEE is so high that students have to undergo strenuous coaching - which can be as long as 4 years. A proposal to change the examinations pattern is being considered.

Most likely, JEE will revert to from the current 2 stage process which was introduced a few years ago, to one examination from 2006-7. It was also felt that the exam should be 'more simple' and based on class 12 syllabus.

Well and good. However this bit is disturbing: "Performance in the Board exams may be used as criteria for determining eligibility."

Would this mean only those who score above 85 or 90% can attempt JEE? When will they give the exam - after their results are out?

No doubt the current situation sucks. A single coaching institute - Bansal classes in Kota - is sending 827 students to IIT (I kid you not - that was their success rate in the year 2004).

Getting into Bansal (which calls itself 'modern gurukul for IIT JEE) itself has become so tough that someone will need to start a coaching class for that. Maybe there already is one?

But determining eligibility via Board Exams - that can't be the answer. Maybe the JEE should be based more along the lines of the SAT - where basic aptitude/ IQ is measured. But of course in colleges abroad the SAT is used along with subjective criteria like essays, recommendations and student's past academic and extra curricular record.

Which is unlikely to happen here.

Bottomline: At least serious thought is being paid to these issues - even if there is no magic solution. Which is better than IITs just sitting back and feeling complacent about being 'world class'.

Bonus: If IIT truly gets multi-disciplinary, they may - someday- transcend the image ingrained in the public mind - that of the Ultimate Nerd!

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Bitch

Lakme India Fashion Week has become a major television event - even DD is covering it this year. Breathless reporters are swallowing every piece of crap designers are dishing out. From how their collections are inspired by everything from Jimi Hendrix to the DPS sex clip. Everything but real men and women and what they might be interested in wearing.

One of the more entertaining bits of the coverage is on 'Headlines Today', where journalist Kanika Gahlaut and p3 person Bandana Tewari rate the style sense of some of the socialites who come to watch the shows. Dissected so far : Ritu Beri, Ramona Garware and Amita 'someone' Singh.

While Bandana, as a member of the tribe, is forced to stay on the diplomatic side, Kanika is cheerfully bitchy. Author of the hilarious 'Tales from the Chaterati' (a book that inspected the page 3 phenomenon before Page 3, the movie, but never quite got its share of the limelight) Kanika has no love lost for the professional celebrity.

As she wryly observes,"If these women are here in support of Indian designers, why are they flaunting their Prada shoes and Chanel bags?"

Good question. Any answers?

Sciontology - II

If your dad owned a major Indian company, would you still travel by DTC bus to college? Well, Ranbaxy heirs Malvinder and Shivinder Singh did just that. Even when U special buses were stoned during the Mandal Commission protests, daddy didn't offer 'take the BMW instead.'

This, and more, was revealed in an interesting conversation with Shobha De on "Power Trip" aired on Sahara One - a channel I would normally not be caught dead watching.

The difference between a 'coat-tailer', as described in my previous post and inheritors who've taken the family legacy forward can be summed up in a single word: 'values'.

Those who had it too easy in life, and too comfortable, are doomed to remain dabblers. Those who were brought up to realise the value of money - despite having so much of it - are programmed to succeed.

'Modesty Blaze'
Take the example of Kumarmanglam Birla. I have, personally, experienced how lightly he wears his family name on his shoulders.

In college, I represented Sophia on the quiz circuit. One fine day, an organisation called 'Sangeet Kala Kendra' held an inter-collegiate quiz. After the elimination round I got a call from a 'Kumar' saying 'your team has qualified'. We stood second at quiz, losing by a narrow margin to St Xaviers :(

Much later, I figured Kumar - who had also been busy behind-the-scenes during the finals at Sophia Bhabha hall - was in fact Kumarmanglam. He could easily have come there as a chief guest and exerted himself only to distribute prizes ( Sangeet Kala Kendra being a Birla cultural trust) . Instead, he and his wife Neerja chose to be anonymously and actively involved.

The difference between Kumarmangalam and the son or daughter of a Johnny-come-lately is humility. When you've already arrived you don't have to throw your weight around. Or attract undue attention to yourself. You let your work speak for itself.

On the other hand, there's Yash of 'Yash and Avanti Birla' fame....

Takes all kinds - and hair colours - to make up the coat-tailer universe!

Friday, April 22, 2005


27 year old Zorawar Kalra is planning to sell paranthas and rolls from carts at shopping malls. According to Business Today, he got this brainwave after seeing cups of steamed corn selling like hotcakes at the same venue.

So Kalra has set up 'The Royal Parantha Company' and has sunk in Rs 12 lakh to set up a state-of-the-art central kitchen in Mehrauli, from where he will ship out the paranthas to franchisees in frozen form.

Zorawar's dad is the well known food consultant Jiggs Kalra and he's a graduate of Boston's Bentley Business University. Being an MBA, Kalra has ostensibly studied the market situation and thinks he has a winning idea. Definitely, I think there is a demand. Success will depend on how well can he execute the supply.

But Kalra is just one example of a new breed of young people. What I call the 'coat-tailers'.

Coat-tailers are the kids of parents who have it all. Statistically they are a small % but very visible in the media. eg Kids of actors, politicians, industrialists and the miscellaneous well-known.

They have had no pressures to perform well academically, or had to put much thought to their careers. Their career is to prepare themselves to inherit the family legacy. There is no shame in this. They are generally educated abroad but aspire to return home, not settle there permanently.

Coat tailers can go thru life doing nothing - there's already a house, car and spending money and Indian parents will support their kids for life. But it's not fashionable to sponge off your parents forever, coat tailers do aspire to make some sort of personal contribution. It's just that they can afford to think longer about what they want, and even fail at a few things.

Characteristics of coat-tailers
Kids of: Celebrities, successful Westernised professionals, Businessmen of standing

Attitude: We've always had the best, because we can afford it.

Parental expectation: Do what you want, what makes you happy. If u need a leg up, I'm around.

Aspiration in Education: Foreign Univ from undergrad level, if not definitely a Foreign MBA.
The ranking of the university is not key - Bentley for example is um, nowehere in the Businessweek top 50 but is still $ 80,000 well spent as far the coat-tailer is concerned. Who needs a placement?

What kids do: Drifting around for some time after education is OK. Eventually they know they will join the family business or profession.

However they do aspire to make a difference in the longer run, do things differently. When that does not happen they feel lack of purpose and meaning in life.

Emerging Trend
Coat tailers whose families are into the more traditional, boring businesses are striking out into more exciting areas eg nightspots, clothing stores, media, something-to-do-with-entertainment etc. These ventures are often aimed at "People Like Us", and modelled on similar concepts seen on foreign trips.

Usually the family will help fund their ideas. The new business may not contribute that much to family bottomline but keeps the young person busy and out of trouble, also may give boost to image.

Bottomline: At the very least, coat-tailers - who bring us fancy new restaurants and convert their boring mill lands into cool malls - make the world a better place for us lesser mortals.

If some of their ventures end up in the red - so be it. Call it adventures in angel investing - where the angel is actually our father, not in heaven, but yon planet earth.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Date rape

Boy and girl meet in chatroom
Boy and girl meet in real life
Girl claims boy raped her.


But this story - extremely strange.

'Net friend raped me 6 times' is the Midday headline.

'A friendship developed over the Internet went terribly wrong for a computer engineering student Snehal Gandhi (20) (name changed), when the boy she had befriended, allegedly raped and assaulted her.

In her complaint Snehal alleged that she knew Shah, a student of Guru Govind Singh Polytechnic, Nashik, since December. She said they became friends and would often chat on Net.

One day, Shah called her home on the pretext of discussing a project they had to work on and allegedly raped her. He also threatened her with dire consequences if she narrated the incident to her parents.'

The next para is what stumps me:

'Snehal also said that Shah called her to Nashik around six times thereafter and raped her at numerous occasions and demanded money.'

Why would a girl who was raped once go all the way to Nashik 6 more times to get raped again?

The girl says, out of fear of her parents finding out about the relationship - which they eventually did, anyways.

But the story brings up an important dilemma facing young women: "Date rape".

Rape is bad enough but saying you were raped by your boyfriend compounds the problem. Because as far as Snehal's family was concerned she had no business having one in the first place.

In society's eyes, from a 'victim', she suddenly becomes a 'co-accused'.

Emotional blackmail
When Snehal uses the word 'rape' - I think she means 'I had sex but did not enjoy it'.

There are many Snehals out there who end up having sex with their boyfriends under emotional duress ("If you love me, you should have sex with me").

If it doesn't feel right - you have a right to say no. Love doesn't mean surrendering your self respect.

On the other hand, there are many girls who give out mixed signals. Part of them wants to, but part of them doesn't. And this can drive the boyfriend quite crazy.

Bottomline: Clearly communicating how you feel to each other is what's key!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Do or diet

"I have not touched bread, rice or even roti for the last 4 years. I can't even remember the last time I had a roti. My diet consists mainly of fruits and vegetables. Almost throughout the day I have a glass of juice, either carrot/ orange/ watermelon or a glass of coconut water."
- Bollywood newcomer Ayesha Takia, speaking to Sunday Midday

She is 3 movies old - two duds (Taarzan, Dil Maange More) and one semi-dud (Socha na tha). But this 19 year old sure adds a new meaning to the phrase "hungry to succeed". If her diet is anything to go by...

And oh, she does 2 hours of aerobics every day.

What do we, lesser mortals, infer after reading such interviews? That we should be grateful to be ordinary and less-than-perfect .

We don't have to deprive ourselves of sev puri, pav bhaji and gooey chocolate cake.
Or atone for the sins of eating the same by vomiting it all out later.

Here's a great idea for a Reality Show:
Lock the models at Lakme India Fashion Week in a room full of real food.
Then, watch them struggle into those slinky clothes.
Should be a riot :)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bar bar dekho

"The argument that dance bars corrupt the youth is not valid. The youth have multiple avenues for corruption. Let the youth make their own choice."

That's the opinion of writer Suketu Mehta, in an interview to Sunday Mid day. The issue in question is the closure of dance bars in Mumbai - and across Maharashtra. And I certainly agree with his assessment.

Of course, my knowledge of 'dance bar culture' is nowhere near Suketubhai's. I have only had the privilege of standing outside the erstwhile 'Blue Nile' for a BEST bus. And wondering, as a child, what must go on behind the windowless, copper-plated doors always guarded by a swarthy gentleman.

Suketu, on the other hand, spent two and a half years researching dance bars and has all the gory detais in his fascinating book 'Maximum City'. A book I am curently halfway through reading and highly recommend.

The Monalisa Smile
Mehta visited a whole spectrum of bars and hung out, in particular, with a dancer called 'Monalisa' who dances at a bar he calls 'Sapphire' (probably Topaz, at Grant Rd). Mehta takes great pains to communicate the fact that these bar girls are not necessarily prostitutes. At least not the kind who do it with 'just anybody'.

Monalisa herself states, in the book, that it is her business to make men fall in love with her. Yes, she does end up sleeping with some of them but a larger part of her job, she says, is to make each man in the room believe she is dancing only for him.

Apparently, men will shower her with money simply for that one loving glance. And before they get anywhere near her the Chosen Ones will spend hours talking to her on the phone about their hopes, fears and many problems. With some of these men, she will eventually have sex.

Of course, not everyone is a 'star' like Monalisa - there are seedier dance bars where the girls do end up dancing to basically 'display their wares' and then become available for sex.

But as long as these girls are not underage and brought to dance against their wishes - I think it's OK. What's really reprehensible is the young girls kidnapped or lured from villages and sold into hard-core prostitution at brothels.

Says Mehta in the SMD interview:"The city has a lot of migrant labour, who always find an outlet, whether it is dance bars or brothels".

There are 50,000 dance bar girls in Mumbai - only because there is a demand for their services.
The smarter and prettier ones, who work at the more exclusive bars that attract a better crowd, systematically exploit the weaknesses of men and earn lots of money.

The ones who work at seedier places which attarct junta crowd face a harsher music but even they are better off than the women who walk the streets in search of customers.

The 'Corruption' Issue
Anything forbidden is hugely attractive to young people, so hormonally charged 18 year olds will be tempted to check out 'yeh dance bar kya cheez hai'. One such fella summed up the experience as 'terrifying'.

Someone even came and whispered in his ear:"Uska saat sau rupya, room ka extra" so I guess it was one of 'those' bars. No, he didn't take up the offer and hasn't been near a dance bar again. But yes, he has friends who visit regularly - despite having girlfriends.

Have dance bars 'corrupted' these young men? Will they get reformed once these bars are closed?

I think it's a kind of addiction - like tobacco, or alcohol. Some are more easily addicted, while others satisfy their curiosity and move on. But the more you try to curtail availabilty, the greater the thrill of seeking that pleasure.

Already, alternatives are being discussed. There is talk of the dancers being redeployed as waitresses serving beer. If these waitresses are scantily clad (like the famous "Hooters") and jiggle a little while walking up to the tables - then what?

Anil Thakraney in SMD: "You are OK if the bar exists, the booze is served by girls. the music is on, but the girls must not dance."

R R Patil, deputy CM and crusader against dance bars replies:" (thinks) From the reports I have (hesitates), I am told where only the above happens, there are less criminal actvities".

And the Dalai Lama is a Catholic.

Bottomline: The more pertinent corruption is not the morals of young men but the other kind. Wahi - ghoos.

This entire closure drama is just an elaborate extortion ritual. Bar owners say they were 'willing to pay' the 13 crores allegedly demanded by the NCP (12 cr for the party, 1 cr for the guy brokering the deal) in return for certain 'concessions' such as longer opening hours. The deal apparently fell through.

Wonder though, what the politicians will do with these crores of easily earned money... If there are no more dance bars to scatter the notes about!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

La la la la - no more

The channel is Star World.
The background is white.
A metrosexual type man, a foreign looking woman.
She has a blood red mirchi in her mouth.
He is licking drops of water off her back.

Instinctively, I finger-flick to another channel. It could be an ad for some fancy perfume. On the other hand, it could be a condom.

My five year old daughter Nivedita is sitting right next to me and if it's the latter I really don't want to deal with her never-ending questions.

Sex education is essential but but I don't want a child prodigy in that particular area.

A few seconds later I flick back and to my shock, it's an ad for LIRIL soap. Um, what exactly were they thinking???

Goodbye waterfall
So, the girl and the waterfall became repetitive and boring. The success of the brand became a millstone around its neck.

They tried girls dancing in deserts, on glaciers and even an orange variant. It must not have worked, so they decided to do something drastic.

"The new Liril Soft Aloe Vera and Lemon campaign will focus on naughty intimacies among married couples instead of the erstwhile iconic `waterfall' campaigns, " notes Hindu Businessline.

Why this won't work
A brand - like a city - is built on a certain heritage.
Yes, it can be tweaked to a certain extent but if you want to simply throw it ALL away, why not just launch a new brand. Why use the name Liril at all?

a) The ad look/ feel/ jingle is not Liril. There is some la la la going on in the background (I think) but not evocative of the original tune at all.

b) Selling point is no longer freshness but lemon + aloe vera ie freshness plus soft, supple skin.

As a soap, it may be quite nice actually (the packaging and shape look interesting) but it's not LIRIL.

Secondly, the 'married' couple bit does not come across. Which married couple in India looks/ behaves like THAT?

Thirdly, what is this obsession with fair skinned/ light eyed models? How is the Indian consumer supposedto identify with the situation??

Lastly, the red mirchi makes absolutely no sense. Is the soap fresh, or hot?

For all these reasons, I think the ad will bomb. Reminds me of the classic 'new Coke' fiasco which actually led to the old Coke being brought back with a vengeance! Bet the old girl under the waterfall will make a similar comeback in 6 months time...

Phir bhi
I must however commend Hindustan Lever for taking the risk of doing something different. This particular attempt may fail but some of their other advertising experiments are worth noting.

The 'do bucket paani hai bachaana' campaign for Surf and the Lifebuoy ad where kids clean up their neighbourhood are both very bold departures from conventional soap/ detergent advertising. They're in fact what you might call 'socially relevant'.

These ads are being noticed - and achieving a positive impact. An impact which should, eventually, get reflected in sales figures. But probably won't - in the short run.

Which means things will soon be back to 'safedi ki jhankaar' type advertising.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if soap/ detergent advertising was banned from television for a year. Would we stop buying and become filthy/ unhygienic cretins?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Mall Tales

Finding parking at Phoenix Mills in Mumbai on a Saturday afternoon is as tough as getting a telephone connection once used to be. Demand far exceeds supply, especially since part of the parking area has been cordoned off for concretisation.

But where is the crowd? Mostly, shopping for atta-dal-sabzi in the hypermart - Big Bazaar. Or, hanging out at the eating joints - here too McDonalds and the street-side eateries have the maximum rush. Thoda bahut crowd department stores mein bhi hai.

What's absolutely deserted is the 'Skyzone' housing an array of youth focussed clothing outlets - Killer, Spykar, SF jeans, Wrangler, Weekender. Pepe and Levi's at least had some browsers, the others had 3-4 salespeople twiddling their thumbs behind the ceiling-to-floor glass windows.

Um, so where ARE the youth? I saw a few collegians checking out the junk jewellery at Lifestyle. That's a place any girl could pick up a bauble or two without thinking twice. Quite a neat selection too.

There are probably more young people hanging out at suburuban malls like In Orbit (which gets the call centre crowd).

But even at CentreOne which is about the only 'happening' place in Vashi, the crowd is concentrates on the top floor - which has a really nice food court. Or the ground floor which has the Food Bazaar.

The two floors in between which house shop after shop stocking clothes see mainly window shoppers - except during 'sale' periods. Pantaloons is the only shop in CentreOne which seems to have some steady youth traffic.

This could have something to do with the fact that unlike other stores they rotate their stock very often. The same kapda does not hang there for the entire season - every 10-15 days there is new stuff.

And the 'teen' range UMM/ Bare is very affordable. You can pick up a pretty cool t-shirt for as little as Rs 199. Which is not possible at most 'branded' outlets.

Beyond the 'FamilyMall'
I think, as time goes by, malls catering especially to youth will have to come up.

Right now, outlets with branded clothing are quite identical to each other. You see one, you've seen them all. The same denims, checked shirts for boys, tank tops for girls.

Where's the excitement? Where's the joy of discovering something that's 'just you' - which is what you get (and at a much cheaper price) at streetside shopping on Hill Road/ Sarojini Nagar.

To attract young people we'll need malls which are less standardised and sanitised. Malls like the graffiti-rich Heeren Arcade on Orchard Rd in Singapore or MBK Centre in Bangkok.
Chaotic but interesting places which feature rows and rows of little shops run by young entrepreneurs who 'understand' their cuctomers better. The kind of shops we have in Mumbai - but currently tucked away in tiny garages in Bandra.

And, today's branded clothing players will need to put out a larger range, funkier designs and better prices, if they really want to thrive - not just survive.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

I scream, you scream


This is is one of the many hoardings for Kwality-Walls icecream dotting Bombay city right now. I'm guessing the brief which produced the ad went as follows:

"Yaar, icecream is seen as a kiddie product. Make it exciting for youth. Make it sexy."

And that, literally, is what has been done. Maybe it's an international campaign being used in India - the models are quite foreign-looking.

But it could be an Indian campaign trying to look international - 'aspirational' they call it.

As a side-bonus, the hoardings are likely to catch the eye of the Moral Police whowill file a PIL and provide the brand with lots of free space in newspaper columns.

As happened with VIP X underwear last summer.

Aakhir kyun
Something is gadbad. Young people are not eating enough ice cream, which is why advertisers are trying to shock them into noticing their product.

Here's what I think went wrong.

When I was growing up - in the mid 80s - the ice cream parlour was THE coolest place to hang out. Especially the Yankee Doodle outside Natraj hotel on Marine Drive.

It was the place you went with friends to give your birthday treat. You lolled around on the jhoolas and watched the Page 3 people of the pre-Page 3 era coming and going from RGs, the disco which the happening crowd frequented at the time.

There was also Dollops ice cream parlour - from Cadbury's which had a really good black currant ice cream I still remember vividly.

In Ahmedabad, where I studied for two years, there was a famous Vadilal parlour at Law Garden. And the inimitable 'Dairy Den'.

Cut to 2005 and you'll see the coffee shop has taken over hangout status completely. The ice cream parlour culture is dead.

Yankee Doodle was shut down when Natraj went under renovation. The hotel re-emerged in a new, swank avatar which had no space to spare for a plebian ice cream parlour.

Dollops - which I as a consumer thought was a fairly successful diversification for Cadbury - was apparently not such a good idea. It was sold to HLL, which killed off the brand.

I don't know about the Vadilal parlour but the Dairy Den in Ahmedabad's Municipal Market which I visited for old times sake recently was clearly no longer popular. Even the ice cream quality had deteriorated.

Thanda matlab ...
All that's left now is Baskin Robbins - which has good icecream but is sold from tiny, uncool shops or counters.

There's Natural "of Juhu scheme" which was once arage but has stagnated and almost become invisible of late.

And the ubiquitous paanch ya dus rupaye waala 'softy' machine.

Then there's kirana shop icecream. Here, Amul is beating HLL because it's priced lower. And because it contains 'real milk' as opposed to Kwality-Walls which is made from vegetable oil.

That's a real selling point in Amul's favour as far as parents are concerned!

The last avenue is home consumption and here too Amul appears to be more popular. They generally have some offer like "20% extra free" or buy strawberry and get a small vanilla pack free.

And a lot of junta feels their ice cream tastes creamier and better.

Still, I would be more than happy to try out Kwality Walls -if they came up with something out of the ordinary.

Sadly, their last such attempt - the Vienetta - was a disaster. The ice cream looks nowhere like the enticing picture on the pack and in fact tastes extremely ordinary.

Still, there's hope
I think ice cream is one of those things people young and old love. It just has to be packaged and sold better - as an experience.

One way to go could be Haagen Dasz - which offers really rich creamy and sinful stuff. If they actually come to India though, they are likely to be too expensive to ever make a mass impact.

So the space is wide open for a Vadilal or a Kwality Walls to upgrade themselves and corner the adult ice cream-as-a-treat market!

I think ice cream is all about flavour and Indian ice cream makers have hardly tried to invent new ones.

Vadilal once experimented with gulab jamun icecream and gajar halwa ice cream (because people apparently liked the combination at weddings). It didn't work but hey, at least they tried.

Vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch are 'killer app' ice creams. With trial and error, I'm sure many more are possible!

Creating magic
"Had a bad day? Had a good day? Either way, our four NEW Mood Magic flavors are sure to bring you emotional rescue".

That's Ben and Jerrys icecream for you - and I think the appeal is far more effective than sexual innuendo!

Of course Ben and Jerry's is the crazy company which sells Cherry Garcia and Karamel Sutra - flavours which were in fact suggested by consumers.

Ben & Jerrys is the google equivalent of the ice-cream world, and retains its uniquely cool and delicious image. Despite now being a wholly owned subsidiary of Unilever.

Hey, that means we just might see Ben & Jerry's in India in the near future. Keeping my fingers crossed! Toes too!!

Post script
According to this morning's Indian Express, the Kwality-Walls hoardings are being 'edited'.

In Gurgaon, the visual with boy and top of girl has already been replaced with a close up of only the girl. The 'course correction' comes after comments from consumers about the 'Pleasure Up' campaign being too daring.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Dating Shame

"Channels across genres are using dating shows to reach out to youth", says a report in 'The Brand Reporter, the fortnightly print magazine from

The report goes on to mention shows like 'Agent Love' on Channel [V], Har Dil jo love karega on Zoom, Humse Dosti Karoge on Star Gold and Hello Friend on Vijay TV.

Amar Deb, head honcho, Channel [V] is quoted as saying, "Everyone wants to copy a good idea. [V] Crush was one of our most successful shows and has led to a lot of other channels following the path."

Reality Check
True, there are a number of shows with the word love, dil or pyaar in them - but are they really about 'dating'? And can you honestly call them a success??

From what I remember of Crush, it was a show where lovelorn young men were assisted in tracking down some long lost "crush". They would then land up to 'surprise' the girl by landing up at her doorstep with a TV crew. Some went as far as singing besura love songs outisde the hapless girl's house.

Naturally, not all girls were overjoyed - and neither were their parents. Neither did it make for 'compelling' viewing.

Coming to 'Agent Love' - well, the idea here is for a VJ to select a random boy and girl and convince them to go on a blind date. As a bonus the couple gets a free makeover.

One young man whose friend happened to be selected as 'random boy' described the experience thus:
"We searched an entire shopping mall for some girl who would be willing to go on a blind date. No one volunteered. Finally, a young woman from the [V] PR team sat in a Barista and 'posed' as a random girl. We both got makeovers - and went on a 'date'."

This, he says, is what generally happens. While there are more than enough guys willing, girls just think it's a dumb idea/ worry what mom will say/ already have a (jealous) boyfriend.

No thanks!
Forget reality shows, take a look at Indian 'dating' sites. The guys registered generally outnumber girls by 10: 1.

There are girls who are into dating, but generally those girls are already spoilt for attention - and choice - in the real world.

A large number of girls on the other hand do not have the freedom to date. They know it would be against their family's wishes and hence consciously stay away from 'such things'.

Or they are too timid/ underconfident to think of attracting the opposite sex. They are intimidated by the 'hep' girls who dress and groom themselves better.

The net could offer them a chance to date, but they're neither net-savvy nor have unrestricted use of a home PC. Actually going to a cybercafe, alone, to chat with strange boys would be asking for too much courage on their part!

So, the available pool of 'date-able' girls remains restricted.

Guys on the other hand - even those from so called conservative families - are keen to date. But, they don't want to date behenjis. Ever hopeful, they register on dating sites where, unfortunately, few are able to even describe themselves cohenrently.

'Hi! I'm Jites and I want friendship with girls" is the standard opening line and as can be expected, it gets them nowhere!

The tide eventually turns, as girls do register in large numbers for matrimonial sites. But then the profile is older - average age being about 25.

Show me the honey
Getting back to the 'dating shows' enumerated, I would not even classify the others as such. The Zoom TV show, for example, is about a bunch of girls singing and dancing to impress a celebrity judge.

Delhi University Sociology lecturer Grace Nemching says in the article,"A lot of viewers watch these shows for pure entertainment. Some watch such shows believing they will help them in picking up some dating tips."

Singing and dancing to impress your potential mate? Sounds more like an arranged marriage to me!

Bottomline: Dating is still alien to 'Indian culture' because it implies mental and possibly physical contact with a series of people from the opposite sex. And most parents/ society at large is unable to accept this trial and error kind of sampling of 'love'.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Page 3 in motion

Page 3 people have become an undeniable fact of life on the social and media landscape. The "success" of the original page 3 concept made coverage of party people mandatory in mainline dailies.

Then, the idea crossed over to television- NDTV's 'Night Out' being the idiot box equivalent of Bombay/ Delhi Times.

Page 3 became a 'dirty word' in intellectual circles - young and old. Page 3, the movie, made it clear that not all people featured on page 3 deserved to be there for being rich, thin, beautiful - or a combination thereof. Many had bought their way into the limelight.

But like it or not, "page 3" is here to stay. Marketing has decreed that P3 sells, Editorial will comply and we - even the "I hate it" types - will at least skim through.

On the positive side, Page 3 coverage is evolving from gush-gush aap-kitne-great-hain journalism to something with more style and flair.

People do want to read about other people - but not in the BT's Doordarshan documentary style.

"When X celebrated her xxx birthday, the music flowed like wine. Blah blah blah came and the party rocked. Blah made an appearance, also seen were blah and blah."

This is the kind of reporting that does not even need a reporter. Send someone to click photos and insert selected names from guest list in the standard copy.

Celebs are happy - and turn out in full force for the annual BT party. But what about readers? It makes for a bloody dull read!

Let's Bitch
That's why I was pleasantly surprised - and happy - to see this article in today's Indian Express (Mumbai Newsline) by Namrata Sharma Zakaria. The Diary of a Socialite is a peep into the convoluted world the la-di-dah types live in.

And the writer has, for a change, dug in her claws instead of being all politically correct.

Apparently there's a letter floating around which accuses a well known 'creme puff couple' of not paying wages due to workers of a mill owned by them.

‘‘If he’s a textile tycoon and she wears the best Italian threads, how can they be broke?’’ I asked Gal Pal over post-lunch coffee. ‘‘Don’t know, but people say it’s her sister,’’ said Gal Pal... She’s also infamous for buying trousers from a European label, and then getting her Mumbai tailor to remake three more in different colours. It could definitely be her.

Quite interesting no? Especially if you've figured out who is being referred to - which is not that difficult.

The report may have appeared on page 8 but it's the best piece of page 3 reporting I've seen in a while. Might it inspire Madhurji to make a sequel?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Summer bummer

It is really really hot in Mumbai now.
And the summer has just begun.

Summer - in times gone by - meant a month in Simla or Ooty, if you happened to be from a genteel family. Or a month eating mangoes and playing with cousins, if you were the middle class type.

Now, 6 nights and 7 day trips are about the max the genteel types can afford at a hillstation. Not just in terms of money but the fact that dad/ mom may not be able to get away from the job/ business for any longer.

And, even while on vacation there are many who continue to check email or receive work related calls. Instead of concentrating on having fun and de-stressing!

Of course, if you are a student - that's not quite your problem yet...

Kya karen
I know, you are already half bored to death. A two month vacation is a rare and precious luxury. But one that even the modern young person is not quite sure how to enjoy.

Many of you will take up summer jobs, rather than 'sit at home'. Summer jobs used to be market research, fast food counters or salesgirl gigs. Now, the first choice is usually a BPO.

Of course, many who join just for summer, have to swear in the interview that they're serious about pursuing BPO as a 'career'. And HR managers who should know better, choose to believe them.

While BPO is a great place to earn some serious pocket money, there's also a small segment which has to do a summer job as part of course work. These are students of BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media) and BMS (Bachelor of Management Studies).

The most preferred place to work for this lot is an ad agency. And here the case is reverse - there is far more demand for 'jobs' than supply. So contacts have to be used - and usually the student ends up working for a pittance, or even free.

So, there are both sides of the working spectrum!

But seriously, don't discount the 'sitting at home' option.
Not doing anything is hard work.
An ancient art we just might need a refresher course in.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Muslim and MBA

My post on Sania Mirza being the face of the modern young Muslim woman drew flak from a modern young Muslim woman who commented:

Ms. Bansal, really. This is disappointing. You, as editor of JAM, believeing in stereotypes? Today, there may be a handful who aren't allowed to dream big. But that does not imply that all of us are oppressed. I do not speak because I am Muslim, but because I've seen so many Muslim women do what they want.

Everyone is dreaming, and everyone is achieving. Maybe you need to look at the situation with a little more scrutiny. Look at Negar Khan!I know alot of Muslim women. Let's just say - if you wouldn't know their names, you wouldn't think they're Muslim.

Well, Saira I wonder what you'd make of this news report. Apurv Pandit, a correspondent with The Pioneer in Bhopal filed this story recently on Tarannum Ara, a former schoolteacher from Kolkata who has just completed her MBA from IIM Indore.

I'm reproducing a couple of questions he asked - they prove my point about a Muslim woman in MBA school being unusual.

Being from a very traditional Muslim family, how did your parents react to your decision to join IIM, Indore?
Most of all, they were worried that I was going to live alone at a faraway city. It is not an accepted thing for women to do in my community. In fact, it took months of convincing to let my parents allow me to go to Indore. Now they don’t mind my going to Mumbai for the ICICI Lombard job.

Two years ago I was just another Muslim woman. Now I am a proud one at that.

Please note that last line. Being Muslim is an 'identity' thing. I can't imagine a girl called Tarana graduating from IIM Indore and saying,"2 years ago I was just another Hindu woman..."

Also, managing one's religious duties, given the pressures of modern life, is an issue for many young Muslims. Here's what Tarannum says.

How did you keep up with your religion during the two years at IIM, Indore?
Considering the tight schedule of classes, quizzes, assignments and presentations, I could not offer namaaz regularly. But I always kept a small copy of the Holy Quran with me as it gave me inner strength.

In fact, I would call upon more Muslim women as well as men from the middle-class to aspire for high-profile careers.

I hate to have to clarify this, but just because I have made these observations, there's no need to conclude I am a Hindu fanatic.

This is the tragedy of the secular vs communal debate.
There are more than two sides to every story.

Friday, April 01, 2005

MBA Women II

The 'where are the girls' question is, of course, not limited to corporations.
The gender issue crops up in just about every walk of life.

Here's another little piece I wrote for the women manager's special in Businessworld (issue dt April 4 2005).

Are women biologically different?
Why do so few women make it top level positions -- not just in corporations but in science and engineering? The president of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, recently stirred up a hornet's nest by suggesting it could be due to "innate differences in ability between girls and boys".

Perhaps there are some biological differences. But in reality, women in science drop out of the race for most of the same reasons as women in management -- lack of conducive environment and female role models; and scarcely any support to enable a woman to balance her work and family responsibilities.

Top level research requires hours in the lab equal to or longer than any corporate job. After finishing a PhD and post doc, a woman is in her early 30s may want to start a family. Male-dominated academia quickly concludes: this candidate is "not serious enough".

Five years ago, the venerated MIT admitted that it had heavily discriminated against female scientists. The scathing report noted that despite a flood of women earning PhDs, in MIT's entire history, no woman had ever headed a science department.

MIT has tried to address that issue by giving an extra year to women whose quest for tenure may get slowed down after they have had a baby. The recent appointment of 53-year-old neuroscientist Susan Hockfield as president of MIT is also being seen as a breakthrough.

Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-winning science writer, argues that early in human history "one gender gained the power position and has been really, really reluctant to share the space".

Which is why women continue to be 'hard-to-find' in just about any intense profession. Over 50 per cent of medical graduates in India are women, but barring gynaecology, every head of department in every major hospital is a man. As are most professional chefs -- despite the fact that women, going by Summers' theory, are probably innately better at cooking!

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