Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Mirror mirror on the wall

I waited for the second edition of Mumbai Mirror to hit the stands before venturing an opinion. Here it is.

The Mirror may scream itself hoarse 'we are not a tabloid, we are a compact' but the fact is it IS being benchmarked against Mid-day. In fact, Mid-day made a telling point in an ad it published on the back page yesterday which said: "This is the new idea for a paper the Times group has... We had it 25 years ago."

As for content. On day 1, both Mirror and Mid-day had the SAME story with a different headline: Ajitabh is writing a tell-all book on Amitabh.

On day 2, Mid-day - depending on which edition you pick up - has its usual tabloidy stories. The afternoon edition has a detailed graphical rendition of how a bullet entered a man's back and exited from the other side on page 1.

Mirror on the other hand has a 'serious' story on how insurance to policemen is being withdrawn because too many of them are popping off in accidents every year. I didn't think it had 'page 1 pull'.

What's the buzz
I asked a few young people what the buzz is on the Mirror and I quote:

"It has more to read than Mid-day... so good for train journeys. But Mid-day is Mid-day..."

"I picked it up today, just to see, but I am planning to stick to Mid-day".

"People are talking about Mirror because it has a lot of free stuff in it."

Yes, they do have 'lots of freebies' but considering that they have announced a 2 lakh print run, 150 free tickets at Fame Adlabs per day and 800 redemptions of iced tea at Tea Centre is not enough.

And all this can only help to get trials in the initial days - in the long run the paper has to attract loyal readers on its own steam. It also needs some kind of 'killer app'(Mid-day's growth, for many years, was fuelled by its page 3 'Mid-day Mate').

One positive point to note is that so far (except for the Planet M Rs 50 discount offer) there is no visible plugging of TOI group activities eg Radio Mirchi, Zoom, etc.

Analyse That
Personally, I think that:
a) It is amazing that Mirror has actually been launched in 3 months flat. Shows you that when the Times group wants to get something done it will not hesitate to pull out all the stops.

b) It is well designed - though I don't think the masthead is youthful enough. They could have gone for a sans serif font. (serif fonts are more old fashioned and fuddly duddy)

c) It is a good read - but not a compelling one. I don't know why - it just isn't.

Bottomline: Mid-day has a unique character which can be summed up in a single word: bindaas. Mirror, despite being competently and (quite interestingly) presented and produced will take time to develop a distinct attitude. The question is will it be given enough time - and space - to do that?

Watch this space tomorrow, for my view on that!

The Times of St Xavier's

Today's TOI (Mumbai edition) has a very intriguing advertisement on pg 6 inviting ONLY ex-students of St Xavier's college to apply for a 'career in journalism'.

OK - historically, there have been many ex-Xavierites who've served Times well. (Now you also know WHY Malhar gets so much coverage from the paper year after year).

What I found amusing was the language used in the ad - obviously it was not written or proof read by any journalist. Here is the complete and unedited copy:

"We invite applications from the alma-mater of St Xavier's College only for career in Journalism (underlined) who could well be termed as architects of change in times to come, your ambition our aspiration... we will build together, irrespective of whether you are currently a journalist or not. Candidates with Economics, International studies, Philosophical & Spiritual studies would be preferred. Passion to hammer fat-free words that digest well with the masses fit the frame and that matters more for this role.

The position will groom you for roles of reporting, editing, who knows you may be guru of journalism in years to come... come xplore."

Can't help but wonder - why would philosophy majors be preferred over English/ History/ Sociology graduates.

And should Xavierites be flattered at being singled out thus, or...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Ad world mein dhoom

Last night Sony telecast last year's megahit Dhoom. What struck me was :"If only Yashraj films had reflected on what they did right with Dhoom - and done the same with Bunty aur Babli".

Dhoom was hyped as a boys n bikes film and lived upto that promise. It was cops vs robbers story where we weren't given much time to think. No background info on WHY John Abraham is a bad guy or why Abhishek is a good one. Bas, they are what they are - you just sit back and enjoy the high speed chase sequences. And for the comic element there was Uday Chopra.

Another smart thing was the using just a few really good songs and repeating them several times through the film. The same would've worked wonders for Bunty aur Babli.

Ad-ding it all up
But what this post is really about is John Abraham. In the year since Dhoom's release this guy's star has really started shining brightly. He was, in fact, the reason the girls went to see the film (Abhishek bhi hai, par is picture mein John pretty much overshadows him). Casting him was a very good idea - he fit the role to a 'T'.

Now, John is the new hot favourite for product endorsements. He is currently featured in ads for:
a) Wrangler jeans
b) Titan Fastrack eye gear
c) Yamaha bikes

All the products are good fits with his image and personality. Especially Yamaha - because the ad he features in is promising the 'next revolution' in biking . John adds source credibility as a guy with a passion for bikes even off-screen.

Now one just hopes he does not go and sign up a dozen more commercials and ruin it all. Being an ex-advertising guy (he was a media planner with Enterprise advertising before ramp modelling and films beckoned) I think John has the right fundas on how to manage his personal positioning. And I hope that good sense prevails over greed.

Really, seeing Prerna (of Kasautii) in a B grade comemrcial for P P Design Estate or Salman Khan plugging Dollar Club banians you have to wonder... Surely certain kinds of endorsements end up costing you more in image terms than they earn you in cash!

P.S. In case you are a John Abraham fan, the latest issue of JAM - out on stands now - happens to have published his poster. Just a happy coincidence :)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Bunty aur Bubbly

One of the perks of being the editor of a youth magazine is - you get invited to preview shows of almost every major movie. And once in a while, I take the opportunity to spend three hours in an a/c away from office "doing office work". Like I did yesterday - watching Bunty and Babli.

In my review for JAM, I was rather charitable. I gave the film 3.5 stars out of 5.The thing is, I went to see BB with a very positive disposition. Given the colourful and kitschy publicity campaign, the rap song with Big B and the Bonnie and Clyde inspired premise I was expecting a fun and frothy film. Which it is - but only in parts.

Borrowing a line from Bunty's philosophical musings in the film - "Yeh jo world hai na, isme do kism ki films hoti hain - good aur verry good". Bunty aur Babli, unfortunately is merely good, not great.

Rakesh a.ka. Bunty from Fursatganj and Vimmi a.k.a Babli from Pankinagar are small town kids with bigtime dreams. While Bunty thinks he too can be a Tata-Birla or Ambani, Vimmi aspires to be a Miss India. They set out in search of fame and fortune, but end up having more fun playing 'con banega crorepati'. By the intermission, Bunty and Babli have fallen in love and marry.

Now here's the problem - from a con caper the film degenerates into pyaar-mohabbat, melodrama and unnecessary song sequences shot in Switzerland (yes, I know it's a Yashraj film but still!)

Post interval, the bidi-smoking, chana-chewing policeman Dashrath Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) is hot on their trail... Now the plot gets thicker (and I mean that not just literally but in terms of the IQ level). Bunty and Babli pull of the mother of all cons with the 'sale of the Taj mahal'.

Unfortunately the way in which it's executed is really not very interesting. It's neither intelligently funny nor slapstick funny. (Except for the bit where a pointless morcha is staged outside the tourism minister's house - that's hilarious!)

Fun + message = confusion
Actually, throughout the film the audience was merely smiling - not laughing full throatedly. Which kind of tells you something.

The makers of Bunty and Babli wanted to make something more 'meaningful' than Kya Kol hain hum kind of mindless comedy ie They wanted the film to reflect the aspirations of small town India, the clash of values - izzat and sharaafat vs quick and easy money which youngsters want today.

Yet, in attempting this duality (comedy + message) they did not end up with a product as endearing as Munnabhai MBBS (which I think can be watched again and again). Bunty aur Babli is well marketed and packaged and given the star cast (the Abhishek-Rani pair really rocks on-screen) - it will be a hit. But it won't go down in the annals of Bollywood as a 'classic'.

Highs and lows
The scene where Amitabh and Abshihek are sitting at a bar and 'Umrao Jaan' is suggestively playing in the background. Aishwarya appears in an Umrao Jaan-type outfit and shakes her booty. Really - it should be edited out!

And Rani, who looks lovely otherwise, should take care not to bare her less-than-flat tummy.

Amitabh and Abhishek on-screen together, incidentally, is one of the highlights of the film. But though Amitabh plays his role well, you can't help but feel he doesn't come across as a 'bumbling' cop. Paresh Rawal might have done the bumble bit better. Big B is part bumble, part sinister. Which is a bit confusing for the audience.

Net: net - the movie has a fair bit of flaws but is nevertheless watchable. I only wish as much imagination had gone into scripting the cons as went into Babli's clothes (which are simply amazing).

By the way, the 'disputed' outfit (which Suneet Varma accused designer Aki Narula of plagiarising) is seen on screen for all of 5 seconds.

Bottomline: I may have given the film only 2.5 stars had it not been for the last 5 minutes - when the scriptwriter redeemed himself. Just for that - an extra star. And given that Dhoom is getting a sequel - I think room has been left for a part 2 here as well.

No flavour in this koffee

My favourite RJs - Jaggu and Taraana on Go92.5 FM- hit the nail on the head this morning when they dissected what went wrong with the grand finale of Koffee with Karan.

All that happened was Shahrukh Khan sucked up to Amitabh - "aap kitne mahaan hain". Why can't he be asked some tough questions for a change?

Because in Bollywood everybody has to scratch each other's backs. Just that doing so in public does not make for interesting television.

And it goes against the spirit of the show. In contrast to the saccharine sweet "Rendezvous with Simi Garewal" Karan Johar did - to an extent - put his guests in the dock. He asked some 'tough' questions (by Bollywood standards) - but in a way that no one took offence. The rapid-fire round , for example, was rather fun.

The stars who were most comfortable with him - like Kareena, Rani, Preity, Saif, Shahrukh and Kajol - shared a little more of themselves than they normally would have. They gave more honest answers to the usual questions - and appeared more human.

Now if only the finale could have lived upto the same high standards. Instead of icing on the cake it ended up feeling like crumbs.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Jobhop, skip and jump

Jack Welch spent his entire career at GE. Like my dad, who will retire next year after a 45 year stint at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

That kind of career graph is pretty much extinct. Most young people are going to go through several jobs in their lifetime - for the right and the wrong reasons. The way I look at it...

There are two ways to grow the talent pool in your company: coach it or poach it. You achieve the first by hiring bright young men and women who earnestly seek a challenging career with your company.

The second involves cutting short the careers of bright young (and not-so-young) men and women in the neighbouring company, by offering a greater challenge at your own.

You can read the rest of my recent column on job-hopping for rediff.com here.

A comment on comments

It's a little over 4 months since I started blogging. I never knew it would be so addictive - or fun. Or that I had so much to write about!

I like people reading my blog and leaving behind comments. But - as many of you have noticed - I do not reply.

Why? Well, it was a policy decision of sorts when I started blogging. A way of limiting the amount of time and energy spent on the activity.

But policies can and do change. And hence, I have decided to reply to comments - as and when I feel it may add some value.

Also, I have decided to disallow "anonymous" comments. If I put my name with my opinion - you need to too :)

Dukh ki baat

May Sunil Dutt's soul rest in peace - despite the 'grief vultures' hovering around his cold and stiff body. I mean the TV crews who were cruising the funeral zone for soundbytes from his many famous friends.

An incoherent Dilip Kumar and sombre Saira Bano are being interviewed. A ticker on-screen flashes - "exclusive to NDTV India".

In a bid to be 'different' Star News merely announces "Sunil Dutt is dead" as the top story and then without telling you how it happened, or a brief obituary of the man - takes you straight into 5 minutes of monologue by Lata Mangeshkar (what a close friend he was, we toured Bangladesh etc etc).

And so it goes. Wonder what it must feel like to be a young reporter whose job it is to thrust a mike into the face of a mourning friend or family member. Can one really go home at night and feel good about what one does for a living?

Is this what the viewers really want? Or just because they dish it out, we watch in morbid fascination...

Considering that a lot of veteran Bollywood actors are now over 70 - and at some time or the other likely to die of natural causes - this is a trend that's here to stay. Jise jaana tha woh toh chalaa gaya. We, the ones left behind, must live with it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Let there be fight

And finally, HT. The third new paper to be launched has woken up and announced its presence in Mumbai.

Their 'Let there be light' campaign is running on hoardings and TV but I think the FM radio ads are the most impactful. Or at least amusing.

Especially the one where someone is insisting that Miss India be put on the sports page because 'kal maine usko dinner par promise kiya tha'.

Of course that is an exaggeration - even the most strident TOI basher would be unable to produce a real-life example of Miss India on the sports page. But perception is reality and the endless plugging of Miss India in almost every other part of the paper makes the HT dig a good one.

Magar karega kya?
The question however is - what is Hindustan Times promise? No coverage of glamour/ parties/ Miss India/ Bollywood?

Much as many people profess to dislike Bombay Times, its subject matter has become part of what you expect from a paper. In the capital, HT has a supplement - HT City - which competes with Delhi Times on exactly the same lines.

We do want to know what Mallika Sherawat wore at Cannes and perhaps even whose wedding lehenga weighed 10 kilos. And for the few who don't - on every front, whether local or international coverage TOI has pulled up its socks and is now actually quite a readable product.

If the imminent threat of competition can result in such a bonanza, wonder what happens when the competition actually arrives? From Rs 4 a day for our morning paper, we will probably start paying Rs 1.

An extra visit to Barista can probably be had from the money thus saved!

In an irony of fate, the giant 'let there be light' hoarding mounted on Heera Panna building at Haji Ali junction is obstructing light for several floors of residents. Of course, HT must be paying a hefty sum - so no one's complaining!

Incidentally, a tenant in London could not live with a similar situation and cut a 7ft hole in the middle of an advertising billboard put up in front of his window.

The advert he cut through was promoting Microsoft XP. It read "Surprise yourself. Surprise everyone."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Don't just 'speak to us'

When the DNA (Daily News and Analysis) campaign first hit Mumbai, I thought shucks, this is great. A lot of thought had gone into the original lines used to reflect what we, the people were thinking. It made me feel quite positively inclined towards the yet-to-be launched new paper

My three favourite DNAisms:
a) Sex is overrated
b) We live in Mumbai, but our taxes work in Delhi
c) I'm not from IIM, so?

And yeah even the old man asking "When did Page 3 move to Page 1" I think hit the nail on the head.

But as the campaign moved into the second phase - reflecting current concerns - the quality of thinking has vastly deteriorated.

My current list of most pukey DNAisms:
a) Women should wear armour to feel safe in this city
b) Who won the British elections? Bush or Blair?
c) I like Che Guevara. He makes nice t shirts

Line 1 is part of this series milking the Marine Drive rape case to death. "I want to join Mumbai police" is another in the series, featuring a moustachioed young man. "The only moral police we need is honest cops" says another.

But the 'armour' line is what really bugs me. It sounds like something a 22 year old ponytailed copywriter might use to try and impress a bunch of giggly girls at a party.

Line 2 eludes me completely. What are they trying to say?
a) That young people don't care who wins the British election - hence our paper will not cover it?
b) That young people today are dumb - and hence our paper will try to educate them by telling them who actually did win the election?
c) It just sounded like a good line to put up on a hoarding.

Ditto with the Che Guevara joke.

Bottomline: The DNA campaign has achieved what it had to - it's now running out of steam. They need to launch their paper asap and have it speak to us - instead of that bald doofus suggesting we try armour from a hoarding .

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Bennett Coleman & co (the publishers of the Times of India) would have us believe it is launching Mumbai's first "co-created newspaper". This, 2 months after DNA - Daily News and Analysis from the Zee-Bhaskar group - had plastered Bombay with its hoardings asking you to help create its soon-to-be launched newspaper.

No doubt the DNA survey is more an exercise in making people feel their opinions matter than a serious exercise in market research. But, you know it has actually taken place. You've seen the surveyers in their purple uniforms, they've rung your doorbell - or that of someone you know.

On the other hand, Bennett's 'massive direct contact program' is something I have learnt of through an article published on page 1 of today's Times of India.

This does not mean that the almost-ready-for-launch Mumbai Mirror will not live upto its claim of being the 'first paper designed for - and by - the young Mumbai reader'. You don't have to survey 11 lakh people to design such a paper.

The Mumbai Mirror has a good - and young - team in place which may well deliver on its promise of being a no-nonsense paper for the young.

But in the same spirit of no-nonsense, why this nonsense that we-too-have-done-a-survey. The 'survey' idea is owned by DNA, by trying to appropriate it you become a me-too.

Secondly, whatever survey Bennett undertook was at a scale far smaller than DNA. Hence it is likely to be viewed as a false or exaggerated claim. Which again is something young people are extremely allergic to.

To thine own self...
In actual fact, the 'Mumbai Mirror' survey is a door-to-door sales exercise. Says a student who is on the sales team," We are going to housing societies with the dummy copy and signing up subscribers. It is Re 1/- per day ie Rs 30 per month and we have to get a minimum of 8 subscriptions a day or we don't get paid for that day's work."

Bottomline: If 'Mumbai Mirror' is to truly 'cut the faff and connect with the new reader of today' - as is its stated intention - it needs to treat the young with a great deal more respect!
And it first needs to look into the mirror and be true to itself.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Slim shady?

Wondered if 'slim' jeans can really make you look thinner? The surprising answer is YES!

Of course if you're shaped like Tun-tun they won't transform you into Priyanka Chopra. But, if you're a normal human female with a few extra bulges here and there, the L591 fit will do some streamlining. And hence make you look - and feel - slimmer.

'Slim jeans' is a return to the skin-tight jeans of the early to mid 90s. The kind Urmila wore in Rangeela. The wheel turns full circle after a decade of anti-fits and flares. Though of course, those who like those styles can continue wearing them.

Kya Kool Hain Hum?

Levi's is not THE brand for young people in developed markets because they don't really want to be seen in the same jeans worn by their parents. In the 50s and 60s it was rebellious for middle class America to wear a garment associated with blue collar workers. Now it's cool to be seen in rap and hip hop clothing worn by blacks.

However in India, it's still cool to own a Levi's. Of course they had an early I-want-that-brand advantage but additionally it's strived really hard to create and maintain a trendsetter image in the youth fashion market.

Not all the trends Levi's has attempted to spark off actually caught fire. But a few did. Like cargoes. Then Levi's moved on to engineered jeans (did not take off), low rise (major hit ) and now slim-fit (looks like a winner).

Somewhere in between they also had detachables and reversibles - interesting but with more of novelty than lasting value.

The trouble with being a trend setter is you have to cash in on your trend really quick, before every other jeans manufacturer starts offering it at reduced prices.
And, you have to keep inventing new trends. Or, ressurect old ones but make them look like something new and hip.

Incidentally, the choice of Bipasha as the 'slim jeans' model is a master stroke. The once well endowed (some would say chubby!) star just lost 10 kgs (through diet and exercise). The ad every-so-subtly suggests you'll do the same. Just by wearing those jeans...

Kabhi khushi, kabhi birthday

Hum bhi agar bachche hote
Hum bhi agar bachche hote
Naam hamara hota Taplu Paplu
Khaane ko milte laddoo
Aur duniya kehti
"Happy Birthday to you"

There is a time in life when you live for your next birthday. My 5 year old daughter is in that mode. She is already excited about her 'big day', which is currently 3 months away!

This 'I-wish-I -could-grow-up-as-soon-as-possible' phase generally lasts till you're 16, or 18, or 21 - depending on whether you find being grown up a pleasant role or unpleasant responsibility. At the very outer limit, most people enjoy and look forward to their birthday until they turn 25.

After that comes a phase from 25-30 in which every advancing year brings with it a sense of foreboding. The latest teen pop sensation or upset winner at Wimbledon is a full decade younger... And where are you??

You start getting those cheeky cards reminding you to forget about your advancing age. Opticians and acquaintances on ryze network remember your birthday while your childhood friends - now living continents away- suffer from amnesia.

You don't feel like celebrating really - what is there to be happy about? But a bunch of people will call to wish you and there has to be an answer to the question: "So what's the plan for the big day?"

Finally, the 'worm turns' when you actually hit 30. You realise things are not so bad after all. In fact, you have less pimples than you did at 16 - and now have the means to undergo expensive 'skin glow' treatments, if that is still a bother.

Taking a leaf from Karan Johar's book I'd say "it's all about loving yourself". And for me at least that happened after the big Three O. The feeling of being comfortable in my own skin. Of being able to trust my own instincts. Of listening to what others have to say but not being bound by their approval.

Would not trade that to be 'sweet (and confused) 16 again'!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Star Wars (finally) does it!

Special Message From George Lucas
May 18, 2005

“In a few short hours, many of you will have the greatest cinematic experience of your lives. This movie has been over 28 years in the making. When Star Wars first became a glimmer in my eye, I knew that the final episode of the prequels would be one of the defining moments in the history of motion pictures.

Shadow and I have slaved for nearly three years on this one. Revenge of the Sith has all the darkness and foreboding of The Empire Strikes Back. It has all the escapism and excitement of Return of the Jedi and it has all the wonder and magic of the very first Star Wars film."

I have to agree there - Star Wars Episode 3 rocks. And I say this despite not being a 'true fan'. I saw the original Star Wars series years after it was released - on the small screen. And when you view a movie a decade after its time it can never have quite the same impact.

George Lucas decided to film the prequels to the sacred trilogy because in the late 90s he felt that CGI technology had finally made it possible to make a Star Wars film which fully recreated his original vision, without artistic compromises.

No doubt Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones were spectacular in terms of their graphics, special effects, action sequences - all that jazz. But they simply lacked the emotional involvement viewers felt with Luke, Hans Solo, r2d2, Yoda.

There was an array of new and some old characters but the connection with the original films was tenuous at best.

Episode 3 however changes all that. Finally you get to see how and why Anakin succumbs to the 'Dark Side'. Why he needs to wear that horrendous Darth Vader outfit with the 'Stephen Hawking' voicebox. And so on and so forth.

Old vs the new
Of course, the accompanying visual spectacle is also a treat. Yoda in a light-sabre sequence is the kind of action you could never have seen in the pre-computer era. Yet, the other night I was watching a special on 'Star Wars' on the History channel and I think perhaps the untechnological Yoda has a lot more class.

Incidentally, the person who created the 'Yoda' puppet back then used Albert Einstein's wrinkled face as a reference.

Because there were so many limitations, because there was no technology, Lucas and his team had to rely on extreme inventiveness and ingenuity in the original series. They had a will - and found the way. And that added something special to the whole effort.

That's why the film blew the socks off the world when it was first launched. It was a timeless good vs evil; father vs son story. And it created a new genre of films and a whole new way of filmmaking.

As an article in the Guardian notes:
Lucas was painstaking in his attention to special effects, and insisted the film be made in the then newly-developed Dolby Sound, giving its battles a thunderous resonance. With its opening scene, as a giant Empire battle-cruiser swooped over the audience's heads after Princess Leia's tiny spaceship, filmgoers were hooked. As one critic put it: 'No make-believe time and place had ever been created with such magnificence or microscopic attention to detail. It was mind-blowing.'

At the end of Episode 3 you really want to go back and watch the original series again in the theatres. But I don't know - they might seem tacky in the special effects department to an audience now used to better.

The only way to take care of that would be to refilm episoded 4,5 and 6 but that really makes no sense. There are some rumours about sequels being filmed though - but could be just the wish-projection of rabid fans.

Passion Pays
Star Wars is also the story of how one man who believed in what he was doing successfully rebelled against the rules of film making in Hollywood.

As one fan website recalls
Every single studio in Hollywood passed on the project except for 20th Century Fox. Fox gave Lucas $ 10 million to make what is perhaps the most influential film in the history of cinema. Fox released Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope in May 1977... By the end of its first theatrical run, Star Wars was the most successful film in North American history with a gross in excess of $ 290 million.

The amazing thing is - Lucas never doubted what HE was doing. That's why instead of money upfront he negotiated for control.

He asked for the right to the final cut of the film, 40% of the net box-office gross, all rights to future sequels and ownership of all the merchandising rights associated with Star Wars... At the time, science fiction films were not very profitable. Hence, Fox thought they were ripping Lucas off... In the end, this deal would eventually make Lucas a billionaire and cost Fox an untold fortune in lost revenues.

There's a lesson in there for all of us!

The Man behind the Magic
Not to say one must Lucas is THE ultimate in film making. He has his human weaknesses. An article in Salon magazine calls him "a man who prefers working with special effects to working with human beings".

In the past he has chosen to work with unknown actors, whom he can then fill with his own ideas... While Hollywood's other creative geniuses stake their success on writing and directing talents, Lucas' brilliance is due at least in part to his wizardry as a film editor.

Like many such genuises he paid a heavy price in his personal life. Immediately after 'Return of the Jedi' released he also went through a painful divorce. It appears that he poured all his energy and passion into his work - and his wife could not take it.

With his fortune Lucas decided to build his own Xanadu, 6,000 acres of Skywalker ranch, in Marin County, north of San Francisco, which would have its own studios and editing suites, and began development in the mid-Eighties, expecting his wife Marcia, an accomplished film editor who had worked on Star Wars, to take over its running. She rebelled. 'He was all work and no play,' she complained.

She wanted trips to Europe, he wanted to build an empire. As Biskind says: 'Success was winding Lucas tighter and tighter into a workaholic, control-driven person.' Marcia had an affair. They filed for divorce, and she took $50m of his fortune (now reckoned to be worth around $2 billion). He was crushed. Divorce was for Hollywood, not the scion of small-town America.

Behind every great work of art/ labour of love/ magnificent passion is an incredible story of success, and small and great sacrifice!

May the Force be with us all!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sense and Sensitivity

A graduation ceremony is one of the few rituals a young country like America can truly call its own. A typical American kid may go through several graduations in one lifetime - kindergarten, middle school, high school and then college (one ceremony for every degree you earn).

As rituals go. I think it's a great one. You actually feel a sense of achievement, tinged with the sorrow of leaving a well loved and familiar bunch of buildings and buddies.

Having been through two graduations (one American - from Virgil Grissom High School, Hunstville and one Indian - IIM A) I must say that it's a time when emotions run high'. And the mandatory commencement address - generally delivered by a distinguished personality - is meant to give a pat-on-the-back send-off to the graduating class.

Commencement speeches are thus designed to impart wisdom with wit. To inspire, to uplift, to exhort - go forth and conquer. Well, at least that's what the good speakers do. The rest drone on while students get hot and sweaty in their ceremonial gowns.

P V Narasimha Rao - God bless his soul - was one such dull speaker. But he was the then Prime Minister, so having him at the IIM A graduation was a kick of sorts (note: he only gave out the diploma to the gold medallists, but still).

The good, the bad and the 'ugly'
Ideally, students want a speech like the famous 'Wear sunscreen' one by 'Kurt Vonnegut' at MIT. The speech was actually an article written by Mary Schmich for the Chicago Tribune. But that's another story.

It used to be statesmen and academicians who delivered commencement speeches. Now, Bono and Oprah Winfrey also get to do the honours. As does eBay founder Pierre Omdiyar.

I think that's good. Successful from every walk of life have valuable insights to share. Nora Ephron (of 'Sleepless in Seattle' and 'You've got mail' fame), speaking at Wellesley, urged: "Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there." Good advice, I think!

Conan O'Brien dwelled on his failures because "as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed.... Because success is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way."

O Brien is a Harvard graduate - so he can say just about anything in his self deprecating style and get away with it. Indra Nooyi learnt otherwise.

What she said and what she probably didn't mean
Indra Nooyi's address focussed on the need for the graduates of Columbia Business School to be culturally sensitive, in the context of the global economy. If you read the text of the speech, which can be downloaded in pdf format from the Pepsi website, as an Indian you won't find anything offensive.

But I can understand why some Americans do. Indra may perceive herself as 'American' but the colour of her skin and country of birth still make her a 'foreigner who's done well' as far as (a section of) right-wing America is concerned.

And hence, comparing America to being the world's 'middle finger' was not the best of analogies. It was culturally insensitive of Nooyi - unintentionally so. But nevertheless.

Perhaps she was inspired by the 'paanch ungliyon se mutthi banti hai' (five fingers make a fist) which is a common Indian metaphor. But the metaphor was kind of forced (South America as the 'sensual ring finger' - kinda silly). Besides, you can't speak of 5 continents and then in North America only count the USA. That's insensitive too.

As someone commented on Sepia Mutiny , Columbia students may even take offence because of the very nature of their program - extremely cosmopolitan.

" Surely Ms. Nooyi understood, prior to accepting the engagement, that Columbia's is among the most cosmopolitan of the premier business school programs. Of the class she addressed, 28% were not even Americans to begin with, and it's likely that a majority of the American listeners have significant international experience and are multilingual. Each year, top students select Columbia for its location in the most cosmopolitan city on the planet and for the breadth and excellence of its international offerings."

The fall out
"I stand before you awed, humbled and honored to be here," is how Indra Nooyi began her speech at Wharton a couple of years ago. So I don't think it's arrogance, just bad judgement.

And bad luck that a few students who didn't like what they heard went and blogged about it. And from there the story has hit Indian headlines (the New York Times has not picked it up yet, but might!).

Meanwhile, she's put up an explanation/ apology here.

What I think happened is that Indra just got carried away. The 'five fingers' sounded like a good metaphor, and maybe coming from an all-American, white, born-and-bred in the US kind of CEO it would not have been misconstrued. Coming from Conan O Brien, for example, the 'middle finger' analogy would even have been funny.

It's like if L K Advani says, Muslim personal law needs reform - Muslims will be up in arms. If Javed Akhtar says it, many might listen. It's a question of 'source credibility'.

Like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, offence is in the ears of the listener...

Bottomline: Who are 'they' to tell us how we should think/ act/ behave? In making a point about America as an American, Indra has learnt that to some Americans she will always be a 'they'. Meanwhile, we in India - and the media especially - think and refer to her as 'one of us'. A tough situation to be in, isn't it?

But then Indra is one tough lady!

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Thirst among equals

The cola wars are an annual entertainment fixture. In April, both Coke and Pepsi launch their summer campaigns - and junta has one more topic to debate in canteens and commuter trains - kaun sa ad is better?

For years, in India, Pepsi was the more creative advertiser. Then, Coke and the Aamir-Ashutosh team came up with the 'thanda matlab' series. It was a runaway hit. Meanwhile, Pepsi struggled on, changing its winning 'dil maange more' tagline to the more literal 'yeh pyaas hai badi'.

This year, the tables turn once again. The Coke ads have lost their fizz. Aamir as Manno Bhabhi isn't getting wah-wahs. The sequel, where Aamir plays Manno bhabi AND the servant Dinu kaka is an even bigger damp squib.

Pepsi's 'Oye Bubbly' isn't winning universal accliam - but, it's got a catchy jingle. And Shahrukh Khan. In a world where celebrities wax and wane, Pepsi is lucky to have SRK on their side. A man who always seems to stay on the right side of the audience.

Does it matter?
At the end of the day, I don't think cola advertising really influences drinking habits. Based on taste, there are distinct preferences. I like Pepsi (sweeter, less fizzy), others may prefer Coke or Thums Up.

But at the end of the day if Pepsi is not available, for example at McDonald's, I'll take Coke instead. As would most cola drinkers.

What the cola wars do is keep interest alive in the category as a whole. What's more disturbing for cola companies is that their drinks are being perceived as unhealthy and/ or full of empty calories.

A recent survey conducted by JAM magazine asked junta (109 girls, 114 boys, aged 15-24) to complete the following sentence:
If I'm hot and thirsty I'll probably pick up a...

51% of the girls answered - Water!
Only 23% said 'soft drink', with nimbu pani and fruit juice coming in 3rd and 4th

On the other hand, 'soft drink' was the top choice for boys (37%) followed by water (24.6%), nimbu pani and (!) beer.

Reacting to the new wave of calorie consciousness. both Coke and Pepsi have introduced diet versions. Personally, I hate the after taste of diet drinks and would rather forgo the cola. But I know plenty of young people will be quite happy to go diet.

However, both Pepsi and Coke are getting into juice, and flavoured water - just to hedge their bets. If folks do actually shift from colas, they should shift to healthy drinks offered by them!

That's the reason Pepsi bought out Tropicana a few years ago for $ 3 billion (Coke owns Minute Maid). And they are also busy buying out juice and water companies in Europe.

In India, Pepsi and Lipton have introduced bottled ice tea. Amul has just launched 'spicy buttermilk' in a tetrapak (Rs 5 only). While Godrej has relaunched its almost-defunct XS brand with trendier packaging and exotic flavours.

The battle to quench our thirst just got hotter. Dil maange more (colas) or dil maange aur (healthier drinks) - that is the million rupee question. I think it will be a mix of both.

Variety after all is the spice of life. You know colas aren't 'good' for you but well, that's part of the attraction. All health and no fun would make Jai a dull boy, wouldn't it?

Hakim Tarachand

There are some songs you catch on the radio or while randomly flipping channels which make you stop and want to listen. 'Hakim Tarachand' is one such.

When I first heard it on 'Good Morning Bombay' the voice reminded me a bit of 'Babuji'. The singer however is Shibani Kashyap, a good looking woman with a decent voice but one who's not really made a big impact on the Indian pop scene.

Of course, 'Hakim Tarachand zaraa kothe pe aa ja' is a line which you can't really ignore. No doubt a folk song, perhaps the kind sung before weddings. It's naughty, without being cheap. And earthy as well.

A stout and moustachioed Hakimji being wooed into the world of sin is far more interesting than dance-and-prance routines of overly endowed, under-dressed girls. As is the general trend in today's remix videos. So much the norm that it no longer shocks nor titillates.

Bottomline: Just one huge song is enough to elevate a singer to a whole new status. Alisha is still living off 'Made in India', while Sunita Rao has just that one song -'Pari hoon main'. Hakim Tarachand, you just might be Shibani's ticket to the bigtime. Let's wait and watch.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A question of questions

Summer sees scores of young people trudging the length and breadth of Bombay, filling out questionnaires. With the exponential rise in B schools and courses like BMM and BMS which favour internships, every Tom , Dick and Hari is doing a summer project. And the project you're most likely to be handed is a 'survey'.

Surveys serve two important functions:
a) They get the trainee out of the boss' hair for most of the duration of the project. This is important because few companies have extra seating space or computers for trainees.

b) The survey, if sincerely done, just might reveal something of use to the client or agency which they can further investigate. The operative word is IF, because survey forms are rarely administered or completed as they should be.

This happens for two reasons:
a) Idiot questionnaires: The survey is 7 pages long and the respondents lose interest by page 2. Asking people to rank and rate 7 attributes on 5 parameters is a pointless exercise but one which the designers of surveys nevertheless insist on.

So the student has no choice but to hurry through the survey, taking down a few answers, guessing/ making up responses to a few others before capturing the most crucial data: name, address and tel no.

Crucial because based on this info, the boss may randomly conduct a back-check - to ensure that the respondents are not a figment of the imagination, and that they were actually questioned. Which is true, but does not reveal the whole story.

b) Lazy/ unethical behaviour: Where there's a will, there's a loophole. And smart (lazy) students know fully well to exploit it. Many students are given a daily 'target' of forms to fill out. Others are paid on a per form basis (this is especially true of undergrads who work directly for market research agenices for pocket money, not experience).

Hence, however decent the questionnaire may be, these students are in a situation where dil maange more.

This is what happened when the DNA people came to the colony I stay in. The 3 page, 7 minute questionnaire was reduced to a 1 1/2 page, 3 minute job. The girl simply skipped over page 2 and was brazen enough to smile and assure me, "Don't worry, I'll fill out the rest myself".

Of course, DNA is using the exercise more to collect a database of names and addresses to subsequently market their newspaper. But what about companies who consider market research to be the 'holy grail'? And there are plenty of them...

Survey strategies
As an MBA student I too went around doing a survey for my summer project. I was working at Lintas and the project was Surf Ultra vs Ariel. I learnt for the first time that there are 17 'wash attributes' - cleans whitest, cleans brightest, and so on and so forth.

I must admit I could not get housewives to rate ALL 17 attributes on 5 parameters (strongly agree.. somewhat agree... etc). That bit I had to extrapolate based on what they said to me. But I did take the trouble to trudge to Nehru Nagar and other lower middle class localities even though there were 400 flats in my colony where I could have easily filled out all the forms.

Eventually I learnt the Great Indian Survey Trick. The single most efficient way to get female respondents is in the second class compartment of the Mumbai local train. The trick is to do it at non-peak time.

First check that the lady is alighting at least 6-7 stations away. Then shoot. 99% of the time the woman is more than happy to share her thoughts with you. Beats going house to house and having doors slammed on your face - and you get a completely random sample.

Good deed for the day
Having 'been there, done that', I have on more than one occassion filled out surveys for forlorn looking trainees. Invariably, however, I find the questionanires are badly designed/ worded and administered with minimum enthusiasm.

Sure, market research is a gruelling and thankless job but treating it as a punishment only makes things worse.

If you're trudging around with a survey in hand this summer, see it as opportunity. To smile at random strangers, to connect with them for a few minutes. And also to deal with rejection, even rudeness, yet not take it personally. To live, to learn, to grow.

I know, I did.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Zig n Zag - II

When I think of a life with zig and zag the name that comes to mind is Tony Foley. This was a guy I met on a flight to London in 1998. I was going to intern with the Daily Telegraph on a scholarship, he was on the final leg of a one and a half year discovery-of-the-world trip.

Tony was from New Zealand, a country where it is not unusual to chuck a well paying job at Cadbury's to fulfil ones wanderlust. Which is what he had done. After spending a few months in Africa (where his expensive camera was stolen), and s e Asia, he travelled the length and breadth of India.

At the end of it, he was down to almost his last penny. He took a local train to Sahar airport, single bag in hand. In London, he had friends - and was to collect insurance money for the stolen equipment. And he seemed so cool, confident and unconcerned about the future - I couldn't help but envy him.

So I'll say once again, it's not about money. It's a cultural thing. I didn't take up the campus placement after my MBA - I wanted to a bunch of 'different' things. Like work with CSE (Centre for Science and Environment) for a while, then spend a month or two travelling around India (alone). Neither plan materialised.

The travel bit was shot down by my parents. (Ladki, akele? No way). Instead of CSE I joined the TOI where I was offered a job in 'brand management'. It paid peanut ka chhilkas, but allowed me to stay connected to my first love - writing.

It's your life but...

Of course, had I been more strong-willed, had I been more of a rebel... Things would have been different. But I cared for 'approval'. As most of us in India seem to.

Approval comes from following the rules laid down in society. The rewards of following these rules are that you enjoy the warm cocoon of family, which an individualist like Tony probably does not.

And of course, in their own way, parents are right. Life in India is a struggle. If you take off for 6 months someone will replace you and you may have to start from lower down the ladder again. You can't take even a basic upper middle class lifestyle for granted. You have to claw your way to a 'good job' and then hang onto it.

Family is social security - emotional too. Which is why you think a million times before doing anything which may upset the applecart.

As we get more economically secure, this may change. But cultural influences are quite deep rooted - so it will take a generation or two to strike the right balance.

The other side
On the other hand, one can argue that 'backpacking' for a firang is an activity pursued, at least partially, for approval. Everybody's doing it - you do it too.

So much so that backpackers who start out thinking they're going to 'discover' a new country and culture simply walk down the path set down by the Lonely Planet guidebook. So in Mumbai they stroll down Causeway, eat at Leo or Mondy's, visit the dhobi ghat and chor bazaar.

And in Goa or Manali, stay in 'backpacker hotels' which serve muesli and banana pancakes for breakfast. And only take in other white skinned residents.

The other point is that travel is something that a lot of young people in the Western world experiment with at some point. But then settle down to predictable lives. It's only a small minority that 'lives to travel'.

As Vicky from Tasmania puts it:
"Forget having kids, buying houses etc: travel light. So many people, not that much older than us, seem so full of regret about the things they never did and places they never went to, and now probably never will. Their lives just seem so empty.

I don't think I could wait until retirement: I could get knocked over by a bus tomorrow. In other words, carpe diem! When people tell us to settle down it seems a bit like a conspiracy: are they jealous that they're stuck with 20-year mortgages and time-consuming children?"

I'm just saying if you are born in India but would like to be a Vicky, you should have the choice. Currently, it doesn't seem like we do.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Adding some zig to your zag

BPOs are roping in foreign students to work for them in India, reports the TOI. "Sources said this was being done to overcome the accent problem faced by Indian call centres".

And especially so in case of European clients who require French or Spanish speakers.

The foreign students are paid the same salaries as their Indian counterparts. The bait: a chance to live and travel in India. "We try to attract students who are just out of college by showcasing India's rich cultural heritage," says Liam Brown, president and CEO, Intergron - a US headquartered BPO.

Live to learn
It's not clear what culture or heritage these students will experience if they're working on night shifts and sleeping off their days. But that in itself will be an experience and firangs are big on experience. They aren't as concerned with the 'destination' (as in 'yeh karne se kya fayda hoga') For them, there is a great deal of pleasure in the journey itself.

Of course, these foreign workers will round off the BPO experience with one grand 'Bharat darshan' tour in which they will see and do more than most of us have in our many long years of residence in this country.

When I was at IIM A we had a bunch of French exchange students. Their main objective was to travel the length and breadth of the country and that's what they managed - in the 3 short months they spent here. Now, students of many more nationalities come down - and they are, I'm told, actually attending classes.

Yet, I'm sure they're here mainly for 'cultural immersion' and not to get gyan and fundas from Indian b school profs.

Break ke baad
In the UK there is a concept known as 'Gap Year' - which is a 1 year break many students take between leaving school and joining college. Part of this year is often spent working - the money thus earned is used to finance a trip to India or Africa or south east Asia.

The more adventurous go further - a British girl I know spent 2 months in a Kenyan village on a water harvesting project. Just for the experience, no pay.

In India, taking a year's break is still unheard of. Folks worry about being 'left behind' as their batch from school or college gets ahead in life. 'How will I explain it on my CV' is the other big question.

The idea that random, unpurposeful experiences can result in personal growth is still a new one for Indians. David Ogilvy, after flunking out of Oxford, held a succession of jobs, from chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris to door-to-door salesman for Aga Cookers (a British oversized kitchen range) before he got his first job in advertising.

And I think all these experiences made him the creative genius we know him as today.

That's the way
Instead of a linear life path where we hop from KG class through school, college and then an MBA, you might want to consider adding a little zig to your zag.

I see a few young people doing it - there's a guy I know who's currently in Poland on an AIESEC exchange program. And a few who went to work at a BPO for a few months, just to know what the hype is all about.

But there still aren't enough such folks out there. And there are still only foreign backpackers in Rajasthan and Himachal and the rest of India.

It's not about 'not having enough money'. Because many of these firangs travel on shoestring budgets.

Perhaps Indians think they know 'enough' of India already and would rather explore foreign lands. Although villages in Bastar or Uttaranchal are more foreign to residents of Mumbai or Delhi than NY or London!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

B school interview secrets

B school interviews are a favourite topic of posting and discussion on Indian blogs. There are entire egroups dedicated to dissecting interview experiences. Then of course, there's the popular forum pagalguy where junta agonises about why Ram was selected over Shyam, for no obvious reason.

What's rare is to hear from the other side of the table. What do these interview panels really look for? A friend who was recently part of just such a panel at a well known Mumbai B school has some of the answers.

Ladkiyan na jaane kyun

The BBC reports that the University of Derby recently launched a games programming course - all 106 applicants were men. They are now holding some all-female summer schools, and exploring the options of scholarships in an attempt to persuade women that solitary hours in front of a computer screen can be good for their career prospects.

Acting programme leader, lecturer John Sear, said: "Girls do want to play games but no-one is making games for them. I'm a programmer by trade and I know probably several hundred, and I have only ever met one woman."

Car design is another such field. There was an interesting interview with Sanghamitra Datta, an NID graduate, on CNBC's Auto Show. Sanghamitra enrolled for a course in car designing at the University of Bristol where the first day was a huge shock.

There were Chinese, Japanese, Europeans, Africans - ALL boys. She was the sole female student in the class which was kind of unnnerving. But she went on to complete the course with flying colours and is now a full-fledged automobile designer.

So I guess it's multiple factors:
a) Certain fields inherently interest boys more. Action and speed (seen both in games and cars) are more exciting to Mars than Venus.
b) Derby university sees it as a "chicken and egg" problem - of boys writing games that boys liked playing, which in turn attracted boys into the industry.
c) The fact that there are no women in these fields often scares away the few women who might be interested. And so the cycle continues.

And I'm not blaming anyone here, just making an observation. If the traditionally male armed forces and the police can attract women, surely game design and car design will eventually see more female talent. And games with more use of mental skill than adrenalin rush and blood :)

Oops! Correction

What was I thinking???!! Thanks, Vivek, for pointing out that the Rs 12.96 crores I'd estimated as Kaal's opening weekend collection is the gross earnings - of which only abt 30% is likely to accrue to the distributor/ filmmaker.

So it would take abt 2 weeks at 80-90% attendance to recover the Rs 13 crores spent on the film. And that seems to have happened. I guess any film with a 2 1/2 to 3 star rating is 'timepass' enough to get folks to the theatres.

By the way, the folks at Hollywood are currently worried about a slump in movie attendance. Since 2002 movie viewing in theatres is down 10% for the month of May, which is when the first of the summer blockbusters release.

There is speculation that the home theatre boom is what's eating into movie-going - people simply wait for the DVDs to come out and watch the films at home.

Hollywood's most seasoned executives however have a simpler explanation: "The movies have not been good enough".

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Shit can go hit

Sorry, folks. Despite being almost universally trashed Kaal is officially a 'hit'. Made with a budget of Rs 13 crores, Kaal released with 400 prints and a 90% occupancy on the opening weekend.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation shows the Rs 13 crores could easily have been recovered on this one weekend alone given that:

400 screens X 9 shows over Fri-Sun X Rs 100 average ticket price (multiplexes charge more while others charge less) X 360 (assuming average hall size is 400 and there is 90% occupancy)

Bingo - you have Rs 12.96 crores.

I saw the movie on a Tuesday evening and the hall was pretty full which is great because whatever audience comes in after the first 3 days is pure profit.

Popcorn anyone?
The latest India Today calls it the 'popcorn' movie trend - films specially conceived and designed for the youth which, today, is the highest spending demographic.

'An Adlabs multiplex study says 50% if all footfalls belong to those between 18 and 30 years while a Shringar cinemas study last year showed that the 18-35 age segment is the biggest spender'.

So, films are being made to cater to this audience - right after Kaal came Kitne Kool Hain Hum which also, despite ok-ok reviews is being called a hit.

Given the sad state of Bollywood even OK movies have a chance at the box office if they can create enough hype to get in the opening weekend audience. After that, if the film is bad it will quickly tank. If it's good - like Black and Page 3 - it goes the opposite way: Up!

Young people - and even older folks, families - are going to the movies because it is 'something to do'. In this country we don't have baseball games or ice hockey or any other weekend sporting events. We don't have a large pubbing or clubbing culture. We don't take off to jet ski or go sailing on weekends.

Leave aside a few of the superrich who go to their farm houses and lie in hammocks. The only thing yuppie types can do to relax and unwind is eat, shop or watch movies. And you don't have much choice. Asked to choose between Lucky, Waqt and Kaal - I chose Kaal. At least it had John Abraham.

Young people often go to watch movies despite knowing they're bad because:
- Girlfriend ya boyfriend ke saath kahin jaana hai
- Group mein do log keh rahe hain - chalo dekh lete hain
- Even bad movies can be enjoyed by making fun of them

Either way K.Jo and SRK ain't complaining!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Of cats and underdogs

Business Today is a magazine fond of making lists. Every issue features at least one 'top 10' something or the other. This time it's India's best mutual fund managers.

The intro states: "Many are Indian Institute of Management (IIM) grads, others are Chartered Accountants (CAs) and a couple sport more esoteric degrees". I skimmed through the survey, more as an exercise in ego-surfing ("let's see how many IIM A grads are on the list") and here are the startling results.

The scorecard
FMS - 1
CAs - 2
unknown - 1
IIM Lucknow - 1

Unless the author of the intro meant "MBAs from premier institutes" - which includes FMS and JBIMS - the IIM reference is actually misleading!

The 'esoteric' degrees the magazine is referring to are basically MBAs from lesser known - actually unknown - institutes. There are 3 on the list, which is a statistically significant 30%. These include:

MBA Allahabad University
(Ashish Kumar, 35 - GM, LIC Mutual Fund)

MBA Bhopal University
( Rahul Goswami, 32 - Sr Fund Manager, Prudential ICICI AMC)

Hindu Institute of Management, Sonepat
( Sujoy Kumar Das, 32 - VP - DSP Merrill Lynch MF)

I called up a senior at DSPML and asked him, a dozen years after graduating from IIM A - how much does your institute label matter? Well, he says, at entry level - a hell of a lot. A company like DSPML does not take MBAs outside the top few institutes through campus placements, so definitely you get a headstart.

But they do take in lateral recruits based on performance - and hence success stories like Sujoy, the Sonepat MBA who started his career with Bank of Pubjab. And of course we all know this at some level - that in the end it's we as individuals who are responsible for our career graphs - regardless of which institute we graduate from.

But I'd just like to highlight this point, because I often meet young people who tried for IIMs, didn't make it and are now studying elsewhere. And feeling terrible about it. I want to say to all of you that 10 years from now it's really not going to matter. Although you may use it as an excuse to explain why you aren't doing as well as X, Y or Z.

Bottomline: It's what I call the cats and dogs theory at work in every field of life - not just MBA. The cats are the ones born with the silver spoons or who manage to enter institutes of a certain reputation. But the underdog can have his day - and often does.

Monday, May 09, 2005

There's Something about Maggi

Last night I dreamt of Maggi. Twisted yellow curlicues floating in a viscous brownish sauce. Ideally consumed without peas or carrots or other sidey attempts at adding on "nutrition". What Maggi does best is fill tummies, especially the kind that are perennially growling - in hostels.

Maggi's ads always feature mummies and bachchalog but I bet a good deal of their sales come from hostel junta tired of aloo in its nth incarnation. If you've ever been subject to the vagaries of a hostel "mess" (which is what the food tastes like!), you'd agree Maggi is a gourmet option.

It says "noodles" right next to "2 Minutes" on the jhataak yellow pack but that's not strictly true. Maggi is Maggi and dhabas outside engineering hostels take pains to specify that on their menu.

BITS Pilani makes a mean Maggi (with paneer), guaranteed to warm you up on a chilly desert night. Inmates of Sophia college hostel have been known to make Maggi on an electric iron coz that's the only instrument they have to "cook" with. So you see, Maggi is a sort of institution, despite the fact that they remind some people of what earthworms would look like swimming in garam masala!

Kuch ho gaya hai
The reason I'm inspired to write this ode is the recent introduction of Maggi "vegetable atta noodles". I tried them out recently and must say - they are surprisingly good.

I use the word 'surprisingly' because in the past the makers of Maggi have introduced several extremely sad line extensions. Such as: tomato flavour (yuck!) and chocolate flavour (yuckier!!). Brief abominations which the general public may not remember but I am alive to testify they did happen.

Both were good 'ideas' probably thrown up during focus group discussions with housewives. They just didn't taste good. Or go with the concept of noodles. The chocolate flavour, when cooked, was about twice as gross as Shefali Zariwala's post Kaanta Laga video.

Then, they introduced a 'Chinese' variant. Which was not all that bad except it was rarely available and had to be cooked differently (you boil the noodles and then add the tastemaker and some orange coloured oil).

I don't think think Maggi Chinese quite took off. It became one of those novelty products you try once but then don't like enough to keep buying.

People who really wanted 'Chinese' bought hakka noodles. And hostelers never warmed to it either.

In the interim the folks at Maggi got paranoid over rival "smoodles" and went and changed the recipe! Crores of rupees were spent to inform consumers they should use "2 cups of water" instead of "1 1/2" while cooking. Maybe the noodles even started tasting better but there was one big problem - it wasn't Maggi anymore!!!

Phir kya hua? They brought back good old as-we-know-it Maggi. Like Coke brought back its original formula. Like Kyunki Saas brought back Mihir. Like Channel [V] brought back Nonie and Trey (OK, they didn't ... but don't you wish???)

Old vs new
The new 'health bhi, taste bhi' Maggi gets my thumbs up as a mom. I'm happy to be able to send Maggi in my daughter's tiffin box once a week without feeling any guilt.

Yes, the atta noodles are more filling and they don't leave an icky yellow residue in the pan. And from a purely taste point of view - they're better.

A whole new generation will probably grow up on atta noodles. But for me, the original 'yellow' Maggi will always be special. Maggi as comfort food. Maggi as a taste and smell which brings back many moods and memories. Maggi when you are starving - and there are no interesting leftovers - at 2 am.

May both continue to prevail!

End of (unpaid) promo.

Friday, May 06, 2005

India Fashion Weak II

The argument that fashion shows are all about showcasing creativity is similar to the what advertising types argue about the Cannes awards.

The challenge is to marry creativity and commercialism. To achieve impact in terms of sales, or at least influence thinking / behaviour.

Not produce 'creative' ads to enter for awards - one-off efforts which appear in obscure publications in the last week of December which the ad agency pays for, not the 'client'. Preferably a 'public service' kind of campaign where no measurable objective is to be achieved anyways.

Of course, there are always honourable exceptions. I must make special mention of the 'No condom, no sex' ads running on TV currently, as part of the 'Heroes project' on AIDS awareness.

The best of the series is the one where the couple ends up playing carrom in bed because they don't have a condom at hand. I think that's an image that should stick in the heads of a lot of young people who might have 'just done it' otherwise.

The other noteworthy thing is that for the first time, an AIDS awareness campaign is specifically targeting young people who are 'upmarket'. The kind who think AIDS is something that happens to truck drivers, prostitutes, and other 'People Like Them'. People with names like Balbir Pasha.

The Fashion farce
Getting back to creativity in fashion, I do agree that since it is a show, some amount of dramebaazi is required.

But, at the end of the day, people have to be able to walk into retail outlets to pick up a scaled-down version of those styles.

And when they buy something for 2000 bucks - at the very least - there has to be a certain quality.

This morning, I checked out the Be: store in Ludhiana (yes, this city is one BIG market for designer clothes - mainly to show off at weddings). I actually located something quite nice - an aquamarine and turqoise print cotton shirt by one of the more sensible designers - Priyadarshini Rao.

At a price tag of 1195 it wasn't value-for-money but I liked it enough to consider buying. What put me off: the 'dry clean' only label.

The salesgirl said: "first time only" but then added, there's no guarantee after that. So I spend Rs 1195 and then keep spending on dry cleaning. Or risk having the colour run.

For something with zardosi, sequins or whatever - I can understand. But a casual cotton shirt?

I'll let Be: just be, for now. And take good old Cottonworld, thank you.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

India Fashion Weak

Another Lakme India Fashion Week came and went by. Here's what I think it ultimately boils down to...

All the world's a ramp,
And all the men metrosexual and women size 6...

To the lay viewer - or 'consumer' as she is popularly known - that's what Lakme India Fashion Week (LIFW) 2005 looked like...

Designer Narendra Kumar's collection is inspired by the MMS scandal. Shantanu and Nikhil are inspired by the Sikh religion. Wendell Rodricks is inspired by the untouched people of the world's islands. No one, but no one, is inspired by the idea of clothing the modern - not model - Indian woman.

If genius is 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration, so is wearable fashion. The fashion fraternity is excellent at the first, hopeless at the second. It is the local tailors and boutiquewaalis who put in the sweat. These folks follow Fashion Week keenly, adapt an element here and an idea there to make clothing that women, with good money to spend, will buy.

But this doesn't matter to the designer darzi. No sir, we design for the international market. Didn't you know LIFW now attracts foreign buyers - the kind with authentic white skin?

You can read the complete piece I wrote in the latest Businessworld by picking up a copy of the magazine. Or, check it out here. (username and password required).

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nightmares on Bollywood street

Slasher flicks are a genre Hollywood created especially for the teen audience. Specifically, the 'date movie' crowd who come into theatres more to hang onto each other than the storyline.

The film which started the trend is thought to be Halloween (1978) - but it had realtively little blood and not that many dead bodies. Friday the 13th is what really set the 'standard' and sparked off a spate of horror flicks.

'Nightmare on Elm Street' was my first slasher film. I remember seeing it at the now-defunct Strand cinema when I was in class 8. A large part of the thrill lay in watching an 'A' film as an under-18.

Of course, over the long run greed resulted in stretching both the 'Friday and 'Nightmare' franchises to breaking point. A rash of yucky sequels all but killed the horror genre.

Then, Wes Craven (the guys behind the Elm Street series) made a huge comeback with 'Scream'. The new genre of horror packed in not just blood and unnecessary sex scenes but a sly sense of irony. The audience alreafy knew what to expect - and the
director acknowledged that by poking fun at the standard 'horror film' plot devices.

The Indian slasher flick

In India, 'horror' has long been associated with pyaasi aatmas put on screen by Ramsay brothers. Low budget, cheap special-effect films which scared nobody, leats of all the sophisticated urban youth audience.

But, as Bollywood was forced to look beyond its standard formulas to attract the multiplex audience, it looked to Hollywood for inspiration. And 'horror' was one seemingly underexploited genre.

So, Ekta Kapoor produced 'Kucch to Hai' - it flopped. Kajol's sister Tanisha made her debut with 'Sshhh... koi hai' - it flopped. Now, writer-director Soham has released 'Kaal' - withe the blessing of Karan Johar & SRK. Going by the buzz about the film - it won't be a major hit.

What's going wrong?

Great Expectations
The audience is hungry for 'something new', that's for sure. But film makers are underestimating their intelligence. Ektaji ripped off 'I Know what you did last summer' - a movie which is regularlty re-run on TV. 2 reels into the film you
knew exactly who the killer was. So where was the fun?

Same with 'Shhh.. Koi hai', which ripped of 'Scream' but with none of the style of the original. It was, however, superior to Ektaji's efforts in the technical department.

Now, you have 'Kaal' which I must commend for at least trying to be original, although loosely it's Jurassic-Park-meets-Sixth-Sense.

The photography, sound effects and atmosphere building is brilliant. The casting is good - you feel a lot more interested in the fate of the characters than in the other two films. And thankfully, there are no songs spoiling the flow.

Yet, the film has met with less-than-exciting reviews. And a lukewarm response from the audience.

I think the 'Karan Johar' association has created the wrong kind of expectations. This just isn't his brand of film.

On top of that, maybe to 'sell' and to have something to air in promos there are two item numbers ghusaoed in the beginning and end of the film when credits roll. These have nothing to do with the film and again, create the wrong expectations in the audience.

Yes, the film is predictable. A bunch of friends in a jungle with man-eating tigers supposedly on the prowl. They have to die one by one, the lesser known the actor, the earlier his or her demise. The surprise element has to come with the way in which each one dies - and the final denouement. The problem is, that surprise is lacking.

The 'enlightened' viewer has already figured out the ending. The less sophisticated viewer is thinking 'yeh to National Geographic channel lag raha hai' and never fully involved with the goings-on.

I say this because I saw 'Kaal' in Orient theatre in Ludhiana, with a mixed crowd of papajis, auntyjis, newlyweds and young people. Half an hour before the movie ends, patience was lost. When Esha Deol goes to fetch water from a well she's been warned to stay away from, a smart alec shouted, "Sunny Deol ko bhejo - behen bachaane ke liye". More hoots, comments and giggles followed. The film had lost it.

All about emotion
I think the classic 'slasher' flick fails primarily because people feel no emotional involvement with the characters.

Maybe Indians just don't like pointless blood and gore. Blood spilt to save one's family honour or beat up evil goondas is fine, but to just kill for the fun of it (which is the essence of a slasher film) is a very alien concept.

Psychological suspense thrillers have worked - like Raaz. A one-woman centric film like 'Bhoot' worked. Neither had bodies piled up, so technically they aren't 'slasher' films anyways. But certainly Bhoot was scary... In fact it is the scariest Hindi film I have seen (and I mean that as a compliment).

Bottomline: Bollywood is on the right track - that of exploring new kinds of films. I guess they will just have to try harder to come up with more original and inventive plots - whatever the genre they choose to attack. In all other departments, they are pretty much at par with Hollywood.

And yeah, maybe there just isn't that large a 'date movie' audience. Yet.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Physics of Buzz

Here's my two bits.

Call it vibe or buzz or whatever you will. What you're feeling at Café Mondegar in Colaba on a Saturday night is a convergence of collective emotional energy. And emotion, like the common cold - is extremely contagious.

But how did that energy get there in the first place? Let me try and use a well-loved equation to explain it: E = m c squared

Where E = emotional energy or 'buzz'
M = Mood
C = confluence X 'charge'

Sounds vague, huh. What is this 'charge'.

Well, charge is different things at different times, but essentially it's heightened expectations of ... something.

At a stadium before a cricket match it's the anticipation of seeing Tendulkar batting, of hoping he won't be out for a duck and the uncertainty of not knowing what the outcome will be. Except that you have 8 hours ahead of a jolly good time.

At a 7 bungalows it's the anticipation of bumping into interesting people, places to shop, eat and hang out. 7 bungalows or Colaba Causeway or Leicester Square are essentially hubs which attract diverse individuals - some trendsetters and some good old ordinary folk.

The Origin of Buzz

It might start with a single such individual setting up shop - one where the business and culture in some way collide ie generally, a trendy new restaurant, clothing shop, music store, lounge bar - something that is instantly recognised to have that intangible quality called 'cool'.

Purely on word-of-mouth, the 'cool', good-looking, confident patrons will start coming in. All of those attributes are generally available to those with time and money to spend, whose concept of life has moved beyond survival or worrying about the future - to a constant search for 'what's new and exciting'. By definition these people are mostly young or at the least youthful.

Not every cool business instantly results in the development of a hub. It takes time - and suitability of location. Eg Lokhandwala/ 7 bungalows with its vicinity to so much 'new money' has just what the buzz doctor ordered.

As more and more interesting establishments open up, the place becomes a hub - and attracts more and more interesting people. All of whom come with a certain air of expectancy 'of having a good time' which charges the atmosphere. When that charge develops critical mass - the air acquires a buzz.

Over a longer period of time, it's not the original trendsetters ie the commercial or cultural establishments which maintain the buzz - it's just the people. Colaba Causeway- though stagnant in terms of new and exciting things to do is buzzing just because of the folks who are attracted to come hang out there.

A large number of backpackers - thanks to the Lonely Planet guidebook recommendations - and street hawkers who sell cheerful and cheap imbue excitement and newness - an experience that's different every time.

A tale of 2 cities
At a macro level, cities have a 'buzz'. Because they create heightened expectations. The migrant from Bihar arrives in Mumbai having heard that 'no one can starve to death here'. The streetlights/ paved roads/ tall buildings - all build up in him the anticipation of a 'good life'. Or at least one that is better than what was left behind.

The MBA who comes to the city to take up his or her first job has a similar set of expectations about 'Bombay life'. The important thing is that Bombay some unique characteristics which are not 'Marathi', 'Gujarati' or specific to any one community. Or India, in general. eg People in Bombay are always in a hurry - which in itself might be creating some 'buzz'.

Similarly, a city like New York attracts people from all over America - and the world (ie confluence) - all arriving with a heightened sense of expectation of something. 'Making it big', drinking in culture, being more 'free' than
they were in Athens, Georgia where all 3000 residents meddle in each other's lives from baptism to funeral.

Can it be generated?
Knowing all this, can one 'create' a buzz? Perhaps. Singapore is trying hard.. though honestly it's not as buzzing as a HongKong which got there through the process of natural evolution.

I think the best you can do is try and assemble the elements and hope they spontaneously combust. The challenge is to go a step further, and figure out how to light the matchstick.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What is buzz?

Walk around 7 Bungalows ... and you are enveloped with an all pervading sense of excitement, of heightened activity, purpose and near carmaderie with the dozens of folks milling around or passing through. You not only want to spend time and possibly money but also come back, if nothing else, to hang out. A first-time visitor might use the term `buzz' to describe his or her emotions.

...There are of course many buzz zones, small and big, in and around where you live and of course all over the world. Bombay by night, Madrid by midnight, London by day, New York anytime !

An excerpt from a really well written post on "buzz" by a friend and fellow journalist. Govindraj Ethiraj, a name and face you would be familiar with from CNBC, asks: What is it that gives certain places - and cities - that special kind of vibe or energy commonly referred to as buzz ?

An aggregation of hangouts, a congregation of young people - or something more? Read his full post and add your two bits to answering that question.

Train of thought II

For as long as I can remember, Bombay has been admired for its fast and efficient local trains. Out-of-town visitors are struck by the speed and efficiency of the suburban train network.

But, sadly, those who live and work in the city - and can afford to do so - are slowly shifting to the roads. Not to buses, but their own cars.

Why? Because although no one enjoys Bombay roads of traffic, doing so in the air conditioned comfort of your own car, tuned to your favourite FM station is the only alternative you have. Even the so-called 'first class' is now not much better than cattle class.

So, why haven't the railways upgraded their coaches? FOr the last 10 years we've been hearing of the introduction of a/c coaches (there's an announcement to that effect once again). But in the 'interest of the common man' (who is hanging on for dear life from the ordinary compartments) things never move forward.

Class apart
Anyone who has taken a ride on the Delhi metro will see what taking care of the interest of the common man really means. A global-standard metro service is available to all the city's residents.

A ticket from Rohini to Kashmere Gate (a dozen stops away) costs a mere Rs 12! (A short distance first class ticket on our comparatively khatara Mumbai local - if I remember correctly - is Rs 50).

In its half-completed form, Delhi metro is already fairly popular. Once the stretch connecting Connaught Place starts in June, its use will skyrocket. In the longer run, with Gurgaon and Noida connected more and more car owners will be tempted to switch over.

The Mumbai local, in contrast, is driving people in the opposite direction. Of course, 18 year olds don't drive to college - in Mumbai. At that stage of life, public transport rules.

But a few short years later, into your second or thord job, you take a car loan. Initially, it's to use only on weekends. Then, you take it to work occassionally. By and by, you get addicted to the comfort. The same locals which you swore by earlier is too squishy and sweaty to travel by.

Similarly, once you 'move' even further up in life, you employ a driver. Then, the task of driving to work on days when the fellow is on chutti becomes a pain.

Aaj kal aur kal
Man is a creature of habit and once he acquires a new one it's hard to shake off. Things which were an accepted part of life at 20 feel like hardships at 30!

That's because while there may have been less creature comforts at 20, you had so many intangible assets at the time. The long and continuous company of friends. The freedom that comes with student life. The hope of great things to come.

By 30, you may technically be a 'youth' but your time is not your own. Most of it is mortgaged to your employer.In return, you may be paid a good deal of money. This money then is used to buy back some time. And add some layers of comfort.

Because in our heads we may remain young for many more years - even decades - than previous generations. But, the hectic lifestyles we lead quickly start taking a toll on our bodies.

Bottomline: When travelling like animals in Virar locals is no longer an acceptable standard in public life, neither will living in a 1 room shanty or shitting on tracks. That's when we can start thinking of becoming a Shanghai or a Singapore.

Recent reports suggest that work on a metro train service connecting Ghatkopar and Versova/ Colaba and Charkop is about to begin.

About time - definitely!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Train of thought

I write this post from Punjab - the land of white butter and warm alu parathas. Ludhiana is a 24 hour train journey from Bombay and whichever way I look at it, that's 24 hours too many. So I fly to Delhi - and even though the airfares available are cheaper now - it ends up more than twice as expensive as 2nd a/c.

That wasn't how it was supposed to be - budget airlines were supposed to make flying just a little more expensive than "luxury" train fare. Leave aside Air Deccan's few cheap tickets (which, like rail must be booked months in advance).

Flying within India remains an expensive proposition - and yet more of us are doing it today - not just for business, but pleasure and in fulfilment of social obligations

Why fly

We're doing it because time is money. And time spent in trains watching the scenery go by is not just boring but wasteful.

But, more fundamentally, there is a new breed of Indians who just can't stand personal discomfort. Not to say that flying is absolutely stress-free - it's not, especially given the state of our airports. But the maximum you'll spend trapped with an irritating co-passenger is 2 hours.

Railways are a different story. You are trapped in a compartment with a medley of people. If you're travelling alone you'll invariably have to 'adjust' and excanhe seats so Bablu and family can all sit together. If you don't get there early you'll have to wage war to get suitcase space.

There are those who eat non-stop and those who talk non-stop (even after lights go off). Then there are kids who wail and uncles who snore. And of course using the loo in the morning...

The scene I am describing is of the Rajdhani - a train I have frequented all my life. A train with a 'better class of passenger'. And no hordes jumping in without reservation along the way.

Yet, I find in the last 2 years since I took the Great Mental Leap ('what the heck, let's fly') it's become increasingly difficult to contemplate a long distance train journey.

The 4 hour Shatabdi ride from Delhi to Ludhiana is as much as I can take.

Attitude Shift
The train --> plane shift is increasingly being made by customers in search of 'fluxury' or functional luxury. Which is different from those who buy something because it confers them 'status'.

I happily wear a cheap though funky plastic watch - not a Tag or Esprit - because a watch is a watch is a watch. The 300 buck one tells time as well as the 10,000 one - and you can throw it away and get a new one every 6 months,

Similarly, a 'fluxury' seeking customer will upgrade his or her mobile phone in search of certain features - like a PDA or megapixel camera. And not just for its 'flaunt' status - or cool looks. Moto Razr for example, would not do anything
for me.

I could be wrong, but it seems like much of young India is thinking this way. It's therefore harder to sell on the strength of 'labels' alone in this country.

Young people are happy to wear the cheaper substitute - and without embarassment. You see this particularly in the case of say, jeans. Yes, I need to own a couple of well known brand name pairs but beyond that junta shops for specific styles. Most important, if it fits well, it will sell.

The Road Ahead
Getting back to the question of train vs plane, the Railways have enough Indians still clamouring for tickets to miss my custom. And with our large population - will continue to do so.

But assuming the grand plans for more airports - and also better, high speed roads - actually bear fruit... As far as young and upwardly mobile India is concerned - 20 years from now - trans-India railway journeys will be romantic relics of the past.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth