Thursday, June 29, 2006

Laptop locha

Is it fair for an MBA institute to insist that a student buys a laptop before joining the course? Anupam Pathak thinks not. After securing admission in XISS Ranchi, Anupam learnt that he would have to pay Rs 50,000 extra for a laptop in order to join the course.

According to a TOI report , the Xavier Institute, in its website, has cited rules of the All India Council for Technical Institutions (AICTE) for introducing this clause.

Aggrieved parents of successful students have approached the AICTE seeking relief as they claim the council has not prescribed any such clause.

One of the parents, Pramod Pathak, who happens to be HOD, management studies, Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, said the XISS management was forcing students to buy laptops in order to give up its responsibility of providing the necessary infrastructure.

He said his son, Anupam Pathak, was denied admission by the management of XISS as he refused to buy the laptop computer from the institute. "This is sheer high-handedness and in order to teach them a lesson I have lodged a complaint with AICTE." Pathak said.

But XISS is not alone...

At NMIMS, laptops are compulsory. The institute offers 3 options to students who wish to buy through the instiitute.

Christ college of Management in Bangalore clearly states that 'every MBA student has to acquire a laptop computer and other necessary textbooks and study materials'.

In fact way back in 2004 XLRI and S P Jain made it compulsory to buy a laptop.

I'm sure there are many others...

Now I am unclear what is the issue - that students must buy a laptop, or that students must buy a laptop from XISS.

Generally if the college places a bulk order students get a better price. But students should be allowed to get their own, so that no one can crib about being over-charged or not getting a desired config.

Asking for the laptop separately from the fee is a good practice. It is more transparent than quoting X lakhs as fees and advertising 'free laptop'.

The question is this: should mandatory laptops be seen as:

a) A cheap way for institutes to wriggle out of providing a computer lab facility on a 1: 1 ratio basis?

b) Or, should it be seen as a smart way for an institute to deal with a space/ resource crunch?

Secondly, do laptops facilitate learning - or do they hamper it? Some professors at Harvard Law School recently pulled the plug on wifi access and laptops in their classrooms. Same goes with Harvard Business School. Elizabeth Warren, one of the profs who nixes laptops says they interfere with class discussions and student participation.

What do you guys think?

And is Anupam's objection justified? XISS does claim to have a state-of-the-art computer lab... If a particular student does not wish to buy a laptop should he/ she be allowed to exercise a say in the matter?

Since I graduated long before the laptop era (heck, we had green monochrome monitors and Busybee PCs back then!) I would like to know what exactly is a laptop used for during class. My guess would be:
a) To take notes (but for that you could also use paper)
b) To use certain tools etc w.r.t. classwork (a plain calculator might do just as well)
c) To make presentations (you can always bring the file on a CD)
d) To research stuff online (although that could wait until after class I would think!)
e) Just, we're addicted to it. Well find a use for it!

And I'm pretty sure if I were in a boring lecture and had a laptop with wifi access, I'd be busy checking my email... Do you?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

How low will tobacco companies go?

A long long time ago we went to the movies and saw advertisements where sophisticated people sat around in exclusive villas, admiring art and sipping wine. Or performed difficult and daring stunts for no particular reason.

These were advertisements for cigarettes, and they never championed the product but the lifestyle, the association with glamour (Goldflake) or bravery (Red & White). Then came the ban on advertising in the mass media.

In Oct 2004 I'd done a feature for Businessworld titled 'Smokescreen'. The story was about surrogate advertising strategies adopted by cigarette majors after the ban came into force. Which is probably why this ad in the Sunday Times caught my attention.

"High on life, low on risk...".

Yeah right. Open the website and the article right on top is about the health risks of smoking. The rest? Articles on haute couture, gadgets and gizmos, 'basic instincts'.. you get the picture. 'Bon voyage' has a feature on Learjets, ' Bon Vivant' on kinds of sushi and 'Education' on becoming a Cordon Bleu chef

It's the association game all over again. This time the deal is to associate 'low tobacco' with the high life. To give existing smokers a guilt free smoke and a feel good factor.

So why is the ad bothering me? Because it is an effort by the tobacco industry to propogate another falsehood. Read the lead article online carefully - it is an amazing piece of work. It's titled 'Smoking and Diabetes'.

After one para enumerating risks of smoking to all, the article repeatedly hammers the message that diabetics should quit smoking. By implication, non-diabetics can very well continue.

They also manage to bung in this paragraph:

In the West, less hazardous cigarettes [with reduced level of tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), Carbon Monoxide, Tar, and smoke-based Nicotine] are gaining favour among people who continue to smoke tobacco in spite of knowing its threatening consequences.

Tobacco companies will never give up. Prevented from reaching out to new customers, the least they can do is hang on to existing ones and make them feel 'ok' about managing the risk of smoking.

The message: Quitting is not the only option if you are worried about your health. Switch to "low tobac" ciggies and feel safer. Bullshit.

CNN reports: Low-tar cigarettes do not carry a lower risk of lung cancer, according to the first study comparing lung cancer deaths among smokers of ultra-light, mild and medium filtered cigarettes.

The finding, published this week in the British Medical Journal, proves what experts long suspected.

Previous research has found smokers of "lighter" cigarettes compensate by taking deeper drags, holding the smoke longer and smoking more cigarettes. Scientists suspected they would probably be just as vulnerable to lung cancer and other diseases as those who smoke harsher varieties.

Tobacco companies know this - officially they have no leg to stand on . That is why they are going to such lengths to release this ad anonymously. It is obviously professionally designed, but has no ad agency key number. Even the domain cannot be traced back to them.

'' is registered in the name of an individual - one Mr Pradeep Kumar in Mayur Vihar phase III Delhi. A mobile number is listed but I've had no luck reaching it so far.

Surely Mr Pradeep Kumar will not release an advertisement in the Times of India costing approx Rs 1.5-2 lakhs for Bombay alone. Several zeros more, if it was in all editions.

Publishers and broadcasters - please note. Surrogate advertising is illegal and should be rejected. Smoking can be a personal choice issue but advertising it in any form is not!

And smokers - continue if you wish to. But be aware that there is no such thing as a 'safe cigarette'.

On a closing note - will someone explain to me what horse racing has to do with 'taste'? This self promo from the website looks so much like the cigarette advertisements of yore that it seems pointless to even pretend otherwise! That's why they didn't dare publish it.. So far at least.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Krrish vs Superman

For the first time in film history, we are seeing a cultural clash of epic proportions. 'Krrish' - the Indian superhero hit theatres today. Superman - the 'imported' superhero hits screens next week.

And the battle is not just at the box office. It's a merchandise war, as well. Krrish dolls, masks, school bags and whatnot have been rolled out, along with the film. Just saw them yesterday at the local mall.

Also on shelves - though in a different shop - were Super man action figures and allied merchandise.

Both are 'made in China' - the Superman stuff is a little classier but Krrish merchandise more affordable. You can buy 'official' Krrish toys for as low as Rs 99. Now if Krrish is a hit - which I think it will be - you can be sure, the stuff will sell. It will sell a lot. I can already picture pester power at work in my home!

Mummy, mujhe chahiye!
Indian movie makers have tried merchandising but never with so much conviction. We saw Kareena's wardrobe from Main Prem ki Deewani hoon retailing at Pantaloons (which flopped as badly as the film!). We saw the Hum Tum characters on bags and pencil boxes but that was grey market ka maal.

Now, Yashraj is making a tentative foray into merchandising with items like a 'trendy ceramic mug' sporting autographed pics of Aamir and Kajol. And a Fanaa 'mirchi' pendant. But sorry, I don't see things like that selling like hotcakes.

The most successful merchandising is a child-centric and unfortunately the average Bollywood film is not. Krrish may get panned by critics or laughed at by teens (if the s/fx don't live upto expectation!). But kids will watch it. And they will think Hrithik is cool because they have no historical superman-spiderman baggage.

Kids are a unique franchise Hrithik has created with his squeaky clean image, dancing abilities and of course 'Koi Mil Gaya'. A film which was more than inspired by Steven Spielberg's E.T. but won your heart anyways. Will Krrish live up to that legacy?

Well, I have yet to see the film but its makers get a 9 out of 10 from me for a very well orchestrated marketing effort.

I mean they've even got the Singapore Tourism Board promoting their city to fans who wish to see 'shooting kahan hui'. That's what I call globalisation!

The icing on the cake would be a sequel to Krrish, where Superman makes a guest appearance :)

pics: from my camera phone, at Center One mall, Vashi

Just noticed Business Standard has covered the Krrish merchandising effort. You can read their take on it here

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Anything for you, Ma'am?" No thanks!

IIT may be the best thing invented in India since Punjabi malai paneer. And IITians the yummiest graduate students on the planet. They might be scrumptious partners at venture funded nanotech firms. Even finger lickin' good investment bankers.

But they should stop writing books. Especially books about IIT and IITians.

I mean granted, Chetan Bhagat pulled it off. But he was the first - there was novelty. More of the same starts tasting like a samosa made from yesterday's bhaji, fried in utra hua tel.

Besides, Chetan Bhagat may not have had too much style but his characters were well defined. As were their conflicts. The plot of 'Five Point Someone' was a bit far fetched, but not completely unbelievable.

The description of hostel life - and IIT in general - was well-sketched. And the idea of a guy who made it to such an institute and still felt like a 'loser' touched a chord with a whole lot of junta.

OK, to get to the point: 'Anything for you, ma'am' is a book written by Tushar Raheja, a 4th year B Tech student of IIT Delhi. The book is sub titled:"An IITians Love story" and that's all that occupies our hero Tejas Narula for 274 pages. How to somehow bunk the annual Industrial Tour and sneak off to meet his lady love in Chennai.

October this year
It was a typical October afternoon. I like this month the most. There's a cool breeze all over the place.

Yes, this is how it starts. And this is one of the deepest moments of the book..

I was speechless, again. She was right after all. If it was fun I was looking for, I better do that. But what am I looking for exactly, I thought. And the answer came to me in no time. A nice girl who loves me. I knew that. I mean I could never be happy with superficial relations with cheap girls.

Ah, I wonder if this is something of an IIT credo or more a case of sour grapes :) I mean jab ladkiyon ke upar line maarne ke mauke hi itne kam milte hain, given the sex ratio on campus, it's not hard to take the high moral ground.

On the other hand, I guess the author himself is so young.. maybe he didn't want to get into trouble at his own home, by suggesting otherwise!

I do wish I could offer some words of kind encouragement but the strange, self important style, non-existent plot, and string of crappy coincidences in the last 20 pages leave no room for that.

Truth be told, I rapidly skipped through to the end after about 75 pages. Really sloppy editing (assuming there was an editor in the first place!)

OK - one positive though irrelevant point. The idea of an attached bookmark, sponsored by Career Launcher was a nice 'marketing' touch.

Well, more than Tushar I'd say his publishers are to blame. Thinking 'Five Point Someone' bika, toh yeh bhi chal jayega they went ahed and released the book. As if there is a new market called "IIT-lit" at the price point of Rs 100.

Sorry Tushar - I am sure you will be excellent at all the regular IIT things. And your book may be bad but we forgive you coz you obviously wrote it yourself. Unlike you know who...!

P.S. Amazingly, Anything for You.. got a glowing review in the Hindu where gasp! it is described as "one of the funniest books in recent times". And compared to the 'breezy style' of P G Wodehouse.

Wonder if we both read the same book!

Methinks the bhoot of P G Wodehouse may now start roaming through IITs, to scare away any other potential authors on campus... Now there's a silly idea for the next edition of the Darna Mana hai series from RGV!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Football shutball quota shota

Mr Veerappa Moila is thinking, wah maine kya teer maara... What a cool and intensely topical analogy I've come up with to justify OBC reservations:

In a note circulated during the committee’s meetings, the implementation of the proposed quota system is compared to the zonal representation practised by soccer’s governing body, FIFA.

"If one were to go by the FIFA world-ranking, the top 32 teams would have qualified for the World Cup.

However, FIFA has established a qualifying format based on reservation that enables nations from all continents to play at the highest level," Moily told TOI...

Sounds good at first hearing but let's see what would happen, if FIFA were to implement quotas following recommendations of the Mandal Commission...

"An expert committee has noted that in the last 76 years, India has not been represented in the finals of the FIFA World Cup. This is a gross injustice considering that we represent 16.66% of the world population.

Europe's 47 countries with a population of just 726 million (12.1% of world population) corner an astounding 14 of the 32 coveted berths (43.75%). Moreover the 'brahmanical' South Americans - with around 6% of the world population get 15.6% of the berths in World Cup finals.

What's more, we are a country where football has been systematically and historically discriminated against by higher caste sports - namely cricket.

India should therefore be granted a reserved seat in the FIFA World Cup. Even if Japan defeats us 7-0, the fact that we are a backward football nation should be taken into account and we must be given our due.

In case people feel this will lower the standard of the tournament, and start protesting, the solution is to increase the number of berths in the World Cup finals from 32 to 48. This way merit need not suffer.

India should also get an automatic berth upto the quarter finals, taking into account it is a FBC (Football Backward Country). Even if this means we get beaten 29-0 by Brazil, it will be a great step forward for football and backward country rights.

After all, what is merit - it is countries who have football academies which groom talented young people. Obviously, we who have no such 'coaching' cannot compete with them..."

OK, I can go on and on but you get the picture.

The right way for India to qualify is to raise its standards in football, then compete against Asian nations in qualifiers, win those matches and make it to the finals. Where again we must compete against others on a level playing field.

I mean, sure, over the years rules have been changed - the original 16 country finals was modified to 24 countries in 1982 and then 32 in 1998. Essentially to allow more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part.

However, population is not the criteria for the 'quotas'. And countries must compete keenly with each other in regionals and finals. No one gets extra penalty kicks for being 'weak' but deserving. Rules of the game remain same for all.

So if we are to follow the FIFA model, there can't be reservation at post-graduate level.

And of course my arguments aren't perfect. Feel free to pick holes... but Mr Moily, remember you can't use an analogy selectively - where it suits you. And coolly wriggle out where it doesn't.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Behind the pretty pictures...

Nivedita is the tallest girl in her class. The paedia trician has joked - on more than one occasion - "Your daughter could be a supermodel".

Not that I take his remarks seriously - coz it's his job to make me feel good about my kid. But objectively speaking, I guess this is one of the choices that may be available to her. And as an advocate of 'choose the profession' you love, I'd be the last person to stand in her way.

Yet, I would not actively encourage her, or actually push her into it. Chiefly because of certain lifestyle issues. Of course, it's up to each individual to resist or desist but the company you keep can make it harder.

This, at least, is the impression I got after reading 'Cocaine Diary', the chilling account of a top model who got hooked to cocaine and went through hell and back. The account was published in HT's Sunday magazine 'Brunch'(dt Jun 18, 2006).

Again, I am not saying all models are cokeheads. But forget the cocaine - there are other issues related to this artificial life under the arclights that the article highlights. Here are some thoughts that came to mind as I read it

"When I was came to Delhi with the idea of pursuing a career in modelling, I was all of 16. Living on my own with no parents to boss around me was a big high. Late night movies, club hopping and getting sloshed - having shot after shot of tequila - became part of my lifestyle. Since I was getting work, money wasn't really a problem".

Now many 16 year olds leave home to study in colleges far from home. They live in hostels and revel in their new found 'freedom'. But, there are some limits to the amount of freedom they get. And money, for sure.

Substitute that with a carte blanche - no grades, no limits, 'spend as much money as you want'. It would take a very determined and principled 16 year old 'handle it'!Call me middle class, or old fashioned, but I would not 'trust' my kid to that extent.

But... how many times can you get sloshed after all? I took to smoking by bumming cigarettes off my fellow models even as I waited for interminable fitting and makeup sessions. Today, I am a regular smoker and easily smoke two packs of Marlboro Lights a day. Besides, it kills hunger pangs and helps me stay slim. Just when I feel the need to bite into a cheesy burger, I light up and forget about it.

The 'body' issues just don't go away, do they? A model may be the toast of the town but too insecure to eat like a normal person or at least have the occassional treat, knowing it can be worked off!

It was during an out-of-town show that I had my first encounter with grass and hash. Hash is great to chill out with. It seems to lend wings to hour after hour of tiresome photoshoots.

That's the second time she's mentioned photoshoots being 'tiresome'. If you ask me, modelling is no different then from investment banking. There's glamour, there's money but the job is not necessarily fulfilling.

After more than five years in the modelling business, I can say that smoking dope is no big deal. Every other girl does it. Just hit backstage during a show and sniff the air. You can smell the thick sweet aroma of hashish all around...

...Nowadays, fashion photographers like the deadpan expression on models’ faces. And when I am stoned, I manage to give that look in just a few takes. It comes naturally.

Well, I have long wondered - is an expressionlessness an expression? At least now we know the secret behind it!

Being a successful model, you get invited to these parties and that’s where I popped some pills, like Xtacy. Just for the heck of it... It’s good when you go out raving.

Soon after, I did my first line – a line of cocaine. This was at a nightclub in a five star hotel. My friends knew this pretty infamous peddler and I knew they were hustling the stuff. I had this strong urge to try it out and joined the gang.

I huddled in the loo with my friends and the pro amongst us took out the stuff from a plastic pouch, put it on the commode seat and using her credit card, made four lines out of it. We snorted a line each.

And so it goes on...

With three lines on my first coke binge, things got a little too much and I passed out after lots of dancing and vodka shots. From then, cocaine became a part of my life...

A cocaine peddler as a boyfriend made me a cokehead, graduating from half a gram every two days to almost a gram a day. Life for me then meant doing just enough work to earn enough money to do coke. My mind never travelled beyond that.

...I knew that cocaine was all shit and its consequences were terrible. But I consoled myself by saying, ‘I am doing it only so long as I am in this trade. After all, modelling is a short-term career. I am just a rookie, not a cokehead.

Do I look like a junkie (though I really did)? No way!’ I worked out like a maniac at the gym. The days I felt like skipping the gym, I would do a row and then go and pump up the adrenaline. Cocaine became the solution to everything.

To cut a long story short, the girl lost her friends, her contracts and woke up one day to realise she was a complete mess. She flew back to her family in London and was put into rehab.

When my eyes opened, I was in a hospital and the faces of my mom and dad gave it all away. I was sure they had discovered my addiction. My fears came true. My mom gently held my hand and said the most comforting words, ‘Baby, I’ll take you out of this hell. I promise you.’

My dad sat on the other edge of the bed and just hugged me and cried and then, after controlling himself, said, ‘Darling, now everything will be all right.’ Unlike what I thought, they were not scolding me. They never asked me how I got into that hell of coke addiction, they just gave me hope. I was overwhelmed and wept like a baby.

I must say, it takes a lot of strength for a parent to deal with such a situation. And although I did start by laying some of the blame on them, at this stage pointing fingers becomes pointless. One has to accept, forgive, fight out and forge on.

Time moved on... I now wanted to get back into shape so I started jogging and cycling. I began looking fresh and better and also put on some weight in the right places. I never ever dreamt that I would go back to modelling, but my father said, ‘You have to go back and win the confidence of those people whom you had disappointed. You have to make it to the top.’

It was so touching. He still had so much trust and faith in me that he didn’t want to stop me from chasing my dreams.

So the girl returned, but although she got work again it wasn't easy...

At the India Fashion Week, I could see and feel the negative vibes from fellow models. At lunch and dinner, nobody would sit at the table I sat at and I could hear the murmurs and snide remarks.

...Today, I am doing well professionally. I have made up with my friends. I do yoga everyday, I have also become very spiritual... I am lucky to have got a second chance, not everyone does. Life is precious, so handle it with care.

Assuming the story hasn't been 'spiced up' it's a rather chilling account not just of cocaine addiction but the seamier side of a very high profile profession.

Although models may make pretty pictures, their lifestyle certainly doesn't. And that is something rarely brought up by the media which has placed those pretty faces with ultra slim bodies on a pedestal.

The story was narrated to Jaydeep Ghosh, the identity of the model remains undisclosed but guessable. . One hopes her name was not revealed for privacy reasons and not because it spoilt a fairytale ending.

Because rehab is fine, but can one stay clean? Is it possible to return to a profession where temptation apparently lurks and beckons at every corner?? The jury is still out on that...

From an interview in TOI on Jun 11 2006:

Rumours about model Shivani Kapur's relapse into drug abuse and her subsequent hospitalisation in Mumbai have been doing the rounds.

TOI: You put yourself and your family through a lot of pain when you got into drugs. Any regrets?

Shivani Kapur: Yes, I was into drugs...It was a serious problem that I went through. But I don't regret my drug abuse phase, though I feel terrible for putting my family through it.

The woman I am today is because of my past life. My drug abuse phase taught me a lot about life.

I sincerely hope so, because we all need to believe in second chances. Good luck and keep the faith. While others remain in denial... But for how long?

pic: from Kingfisher calendar 2003

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Four Storey Tiffin and other tales

In response to my request for 'lunch stories' techie Ajay Shenoy sent in this hilarious observation.

You would think in this day and age of fancy cafetarias/ food courts and working couples, the 'home tiffin' culture might have taken a hit. But at Ajay's company that certainly doesn't seem to be the case...

Lunch Byte - 1
by Ajay Shenoy
It's lunchtime and the crowd splits into two.

One table of happily married guys with huge lunch boxes in their insulated hot-stays-hot-cold-stays-cold pots.(If I were one of them I would know the right word for it, and the shop where I can buy it cheap).

The other table of guys who are condemned to eat the canteen food: ready made chapatis with paneer curry, dal and kurma - all tasting the same and the best part, in my opinion, the cut cucumber pieces.

Dinesh on the other table dismantles carefully his 4 storeyed lunch box. Chicken curry in one compartment, chapatis in the other, ghee rice in another and soaked and peeled badam seeds in the last.

Vishaal joins him with some Mallu delicacy drenched in coconut oil, with banana chips and halwa for dessert.

The guys on my table are too nauseated to look at our own plates. So we look at each others disgruntled faces. "Someday I am going to get my own lunchbox from home", Sanket quips.

Sanket has been waiting eagerly for his day on the other table, and has been screening resumes for a good cook, who is a bachelor in engineering, hails from a good family, God fearing, humble and homely, speaks the same dialect of Kannada that he does, and has stunning looks (but not so stunning that his friends will start "putting chance" on her).

In less urban and modernised parts of the state, he does find girls who fit that bill, waiting to be swept off their feet by a software engineer who owns a secondhand Maruti car and an apartment in a posh residency filled with other software engineers with second hand Maruti cars.

He was visibly disappointed after his last 'interview', because the girl was too modern for him. (apparently she rejected him before he had a chance to guage if she was enough "well-endowed").

Cross table conversation soon follows, the topics dwelling on marriage, shopping with wife, visiting in-laws, end of good ol' days of boozing at a friend's place. The talks remain superficial, not once scratching the surface, but far from encouraging for guys on the other side of the greenery.

As we scrape the last remains of the dal on our plates, we are happier about our single status and the fact that we are through with lunch. Both until we see the big lunch boxes on the next day of course!

Thinking out loud
Ha ha! So this is a common scene in most tech companies? Is it seen more in certain cities/ regions?

Ajay adds that he works for a sub-100 staff company which doesn't have enouugh volume for caterers to make the extra effort. Thus the company awards only 3 month contracts and based on consumer feedback renews or discountinues the same.

Perhaps we see less tiffins in the big companies where there are fancy food courts? Or is it still every guy's secret fantasy to open a 4 storey tiffin with ghee rice and soaked badams.

P.S> I do take a tiffin to office most days but it's just 2 storeys, no badams and cooked by a maid!

Send in your lunch tales/ observations to If I get enough good stuff, might turn it into a series :)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Not done, Mr Bajaj

If you have problems with facing an interviewer known to be a little 'in your face', you have every right to decline such an interview.

But once you do decide to go on such a show, you have to provide sensible answers to questions. Especially questions you can fully well anticipate.

What you cannot and should not do is what Rahul Bajaj did tonight on CNN IBN's 'Devil's Advocate'. Get loud, aggressive and even more obnoxious than the perceived obnoxiousness of the interviewer. As the transcript is not up yet, I am paraphrasing what I heard:

Karan Thapar: Sometime ago you said to CNBC, in reply to a question on whether you would enter politics,"Mujhe pagal kutte ne kaata hai kya?" Yet you are in politics today.

Apparently not. Mr Bajaj, newly elected Rajya Sabha MP believes he is not a 'politician'. And went to great pains to clarify this in a rather high decibel manner. A clarification which extended to mentioning things like, "Karan, I don't know which school you went to... you are being illogical.

Karan Thapar, rather stoic till then, could not resist rattling off the names of all the institutions he's attended (Doon, Oxford, Cambridge). To which Rahul Bajaj rattles off all the schools he's attended (something, something, Harvard) and proceeds to conclude he's been at 'better' ones.

It was pathetic. I mean, sure the 'paagal kutte ne kaata' kya question was a bit harsh - most TV interviewers fawn over their guests - but Rahul Bajaj could have calmly said,"I changed my mind... my country needs me". Etc etc etc.

He could have maintained his dignity.

When asked why he took support of the BJP and Shiv Sena despite his family's decades old ties with the Congress party, Mr Bajaj had no straight forward answer. More heated words, more obfuscation. And Mr Bajaj still believes he is no politician!

I could not bear to watch anymore but I must say, if Mr Bajaj can't take a little bit of needling from a harmless TV interviewer I don't see how he will make himself heard in a coherent manner in Parliament.

Speaking of interviews, here's an interesting Q & A with Karan Thapar on how he got into journalism and some of the 'scraps' he's been in so far.

A Karan quote, summing up his stand: When tackling politicians who are to be made accountable you have to persist to the point when you get an answer. If you don't - find out why the answer is not forthcoming...

In response, some people choose to cry on the show, while others shout to make the point that they can be 'just as rude'. But the camera never lies. Viewers can decide for themselves... and after today's interview Mr Bajaj has fallen in the eyes of at least one viewer!

Karan Thapar pic: courtesy Telelife magazine

Update: Here is the transcript of the interview

While you were at lunch...

Anything interesting happen in your company at chowtime? Are the powers that be making extra effort to feed you well? Or do 'home tiffins' still rule?

Do you see lunch as 'time off' and a chance to catch up with co-workers in different departments? Or is it something you quickly gulp down at your desk and get back to work??

If you have any interesting observations/ experiences do write in to me at Even if there's an interesting new caterer, dabbawala or a restaurant in your locality doing something 'different' for the office lunch crowd - let me know.

Yeah - using this blog to research a possible story. Will let you know if and when it works out!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Who's really watching the ads?

It isn't your imagination... there is a lot more advertising on the idiot box today. Lynn S'Douza, (director, media services, Lintas Media Group) observes in a guest column in Businessworld:(requires registration)

The average number of advertisements aired on television in a week has increased by three times in the last five years — from 86,000 in 2001 to 260,000 in 2005... This steep increase has been made possible by the addition of nearly 200 channels during this period.

But here's the really interesting bit.

In 2001, 83 per cent of the ads aired were viewed... In 2005, this proportion has dropped steeply to just 72 per cent. Which means that a good 28 per cent of the ads telecast simply have no ratings.

But in reality, says Lynn, the 'wastage' is probably a lot more. The 'peoplemeter' merely records that the TV is on - there is no way to know how many viewers were actually taking loo breaks or fridge breaks or a quick break to go stir their curries.

More data = more confusion!
The research, conducted by Lintas Media Group's 'Intellect' division further revealed that the average TV viewer watched 313 ads per week.

However, women over 35, watched 417 ads while young people aged between 15 and 34 years (at whom almost half of all ad spend was targeted last year!) watched on average 514 ads.

The housewives - I can understand. They aren't really the kinds who'd pick up the remote and go channel-surfing. But young people stoically sitting through ad breaks? Now that is slightly startling.

I know there is a segment of youth which enjoys the ads more than the programs. But could it be that large? Perhaps, but a few doubts come to my mind...

- The 'family' effect
The research shows that Hindi entertainment channels had 20,000 ads per week, but 93% of these were viewed. Now imagine you are an average young person in a single TV household. Between 8-10 pm - over dinner in particular - you are perforce tuned in to the K serial your mom is hooked to.

How many of the ads 'seen' - mainly aimed at housewives- would fall into this category?

- Is 15-34 a segment?
The idea that an ad can really be aimed at everyone from 15-34 is laughable. A person studying and living at home with parents has a very different schedule and mindset from a person working, possibly in an independent household.

More ads are, in fact aimed at 24-34 year olds than 15-24s. Cars, banks, insurance, investments, office clothing, snazzy mobile phones, everything-to-do-with-weddings. The higher income group in this segment views TV as a means of unwinding after a long day. And I honestly doubt they spend the little TV time they get, glued to the ads.

In fact, in other countries, young men 18-34 are the hardest to reach via TV advertising. An Nielsen survey in the US showed that males aged 18- 34 who are 'gamers' are defecting from TV at an even higher rate than the general population.

In India, gamers are still small in number, but I think internet use might be affecting TV viewership among 18-34 year males.

- Behaviour vs Statistics: the inconsistency
I would think a lot of young people get exclusive access to TV only in the late prime time slot. This would also be true of many in the 22-34 age group who are working.

The research finds that early morning and late prime time slots have the least likelihood of being seen. The zero rating component ranges as high as 41 to 83 per cent.

So when exactly are young people seeing all these ads??

- More inconsistencies
An earlier survey by Madison Media found that OOH or Out of Home Viewership (at workplace, eating joints or someone else's home) adds an average incremental reach of 25% reach to channels on weekdays. The study concluded that since the viewer has little control over the remote he/ she is 48% more likely to be exposed to an ad than at home.

Sports, news and music channels constitute the bulk of OOH viewership. All are genres of programming that attract youth more than any other segment, I would think.

The inference, from the research, is that the viewer would have zapped the TV if he/ she had a choice.

Definition of an 'ad'
Lastly, are channel promos incuded under the term 'ad'? Because they are not paid for but are interesting to viewers.

Oh my God, this is ridiculous!
Forget all the points I just listed above, the method used by the Peoplemeter to record data itself is deeply flawed. See how it 'works':"A sample respondent has to punch a button before his viewership starts getting recorded and punch himself off when he stops viewing".

Uh, could it be that people simply forget to 'punch out' and hence a much higher than actual viewership is reflected by default?

For all these reasons, I'd say more in depth research would need to done. Before advertisers gleefully conclude that young people really watch more advertising... So let's lay it on - even thicker.

There are other questions that come to mind. For example, does hammering one 30 second ad film for 3 months work with today's 'been there, done that, tell me what's new' youth mindset?

Sure, the audience will see an ad once, out of curiosity/ information hunger or a grudging, 'entertain me, I'm bored' attitude. But unless the ad is outstanding, few would wish to see it again and again.

This is something a few advertisers are taking note of. The new Appy fizz campaign for example. Instead of running one ad for several months, the agency has created several 'episodes'. A continuing 'story' as it were.

However given the cost of producing ad films - esp those involving celebrities and exotic locations - this may not be feasible for many brands. Besides which, getting one 'great' idea and selling it to client is tiring enough. Making a dozen films a year is something neither client nor agency seems geared up to.

I'm sure the lovely people at Lintas will one day have answers to all these issues. But we'll continue to grope in the dark, for some time to come.

As Lynn has been stressing for some time now, the 'Peoplemeter' currently in use is far from reliable. Especially in a large and heterogenous country like India. And there have been 'rigging' issues in the past as well.

But it's the best we have! And the basis on which millions of rupees are spent by advertisers.

Numbers do not tell the whole story - and so, like the blind men feeling up the elephant, media buyers do the best they can with the available information. But that has to change...

The future is here
In a Dec 2005 column in, Lynn predicts:

In 2006.. The definition of television audiences itself will change - its measurement therefore must change too.

The arrival of DTH and digital TV, says Lynn, will change the audience from passive to active mode. Just like the 'SMS response' to reality and game shows changed the dynamics of television programming.

Meanwhile, the 'Television Consumer Assessment Committee' instituted by the MRUC (Media Research Users Council) has just recognised that "there will be no such thing as an audience in the near future".

There will be only people who consume goods and services including television programming and interactive content.

Um, honestly, isn't that the only reality? The fact that we need a committee to arrive at that conclusion says something about the state of media, of advertisers, and advertising!

pic: Titan Fastrack's new campaign, courtesy

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Board exams go bust

The results of the CET (Common Examination Test) for medical and engineering colleges in Maharashtra were announced today.

'CET pushes HSC to second place' observed the Times of India. 'Blackboards announding names of toppers, sweets being distributed in colleges, parents hugging toppers for cameras... ' And toppers being shown off/ felicitated by both colleges and coaching classes.

The CET result is what will determine the future of those who wish to take up medicine, engineering, pharmacy courses. Not the Physics Chemistry Maths (PCM ) or Physics Chemistry Biology (PCB) marks at the 12th class Board exam.

Aspirants to courses like BMS (Bachelor of Management Studies) must also take a CET. And for BMM (Bachelor of Mass Media), there isn't even a CET, every college holds its own entrance exam.

So to the 155, 460 students who gave the medical and engineering CET (plus BMM/ BMS aspirants), the HSC exam is a mere formality. I'm told HSC marks are used as a 'tie breaker' when students have the same CET score. And I guess it is of use if you don't get a seat in a professional course and wish to join a regular B Sc/ B A / B Com.

What I don't understand is how the introduction of CET helps anyone... I mean the HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate Board Examination) was a Common Entrance Test except it was not called one.

The difference is that the HSC is subjective while CET is objective. And CET tests the HSC portion + a little bit extra.

But what are the real advantages, if any? Is the CET more fair and transparent? Does it test aptitude for science in a better manner??

Whatever be the answer, it knocks off the Board exam from its all-important pedestal to a mere 'necessary evil'.

On a more radical note, perhaps Board Exams should be 'optional'? Yeah right, like Rakhi Sawant will start attending parties in turtle necks. But seriously, we talk of taking pressure off students. Well, that's certainly not happening!

College attitudes change
The average engineering aspirant ends up giving several entrance exams:
- state CET
- in some states, private colleges are conducting a separate CET

And on top of that, the Board Exam, jo saidyon se chala aa raha hai.

Now I would not say ek hi exam hona chahiye because then everything depends on your performance on a single day.

But the result of CET gaining ground is that the focus of students is divided. Coaching classes gain even more importance - as most colleges still concentrate on HSC portions and not CET. However, that is rapidly changing.

Colleges are now tutoring students for entrance exams. According to the TOI report, Ruparel held 3 Mock CETs, KC has introduced a 'compulsory paper' on the lines of CET for science students, Vaze offers CET coaching from class 11 itself and S K Somaiya even tutored students for JEE.

Of course, this would not stop students from joining coaching classes but, it's a carrot to make them attend college. And, in future, perhaps the availability of additional, good quality coaching in certain colleges may influence the decision of which college to join after class 10.

Interestingly, 81, 765 students or 52% of test takers took BOTH the medical and engineering CET!

Which again, goes to show, that the average 17 year old hardly knows his or her mind. And can adjust equally to the idea of poring over 'Grey's Anatomy' or delving deep into electronic circuit boards.

And well, if that is the case, more power to you.

I think in the end it all boils down to temperament.

Many of us can eat whatever is put onto our plates - and enjoy it. Others are fussy eaters.

To take the analogy a bit further, like food is a means of satisfying hunger in the literal sense, a course of study is a means of satisfying 'hunger' for a good job, a secure life.

It all boils down to the question: How 'hungry' are you? And whatever food - or course - you find on your plate, can you relish it?

That is my answer to Vivek Malewar, who raises some pertinent points to my previous two posts on IIT at any cost...

The debate continues
Vivek notes: "It's a pity that people consider Engineering = Software job... Best jobs of ANY branch are high paying. Best apps. of ANY branch are hugely attractive... the IIT tag does help".

Agreed. But 'best jobs' in ANY branch go to people who are able to get over the initial disappointment of not getting the branch they desired (rightly or wrongly, based on whatever little information or spurious notions they had, CS/ Electronics do have a halo!).

The best jobs in ANY branch go to the folks who make a sincere effort to excel in their understanding of the subject. Develop a genuine liking and passion for it. And not to those who decide in 2nd year itself, "yaar MBA hi karna hai... these are just exams one needs to pass to get there".

And of course IIT is a great institution, adds excellent value and attracts some very fine students. Didn't I say that to begin with?

But as 'Viv' commented: "To assume that a topper from a non IIT is a topper only because of lack of competition would make for a great ego trip but lacks any sound reasoning...

A little humility never hurt anyone. And arrogance never takes you into the superleague of 'success'.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

IIT at any cost... Part II

Yes, a person at age 17 may have 'no idea' what he or she really wants.But isn't he or she partly to blame for that?

As a 15 year old 11th class student at St Xavier's college I took an aptitude test. It was remarkably correct.

In essence, the test concluded that I had a gift for language and would do very well in anything related to that, without having to put in much effort. Aptitude for maths and science was there, however I would have to really work hard because I had no great natural flair for it.

In my heart, I knew this already, but it was really useful.. coz I was studying science then. And expected to go the IIT-medicine way, being the school topper and all.

Still, it took a long time for my parents - especially my dad - to accept. And, only recently did he really and truly agree that I made the right decision. Although, to be fair, I took a pretty circuitous route (Science to Economics to MBA) to reach where I knew I wanted to be in the first place.

But things are different today. Clearly, many more professions have 'scope'. Yet, we make decisions based on old and faulty information.

Secondly, the point about 'IIT vs Other Excellent Institutes', 'branch vs college brand' is that granted, you don't really know that Computer Science is "the" branch for you. But you think you will like it more than 'core' engineering branches.

And what you think is the basis for your mental acceptance or rejection of anything in life. An academic subject, a girl, a brand of car...

The liking for CS is based on certain assumptions/ experiences. For example:
- Core branches = shopfloor work while
Computers = desk job
- You have a layman exposure to what a computer is, as opposed to mining, mechanical or chemical engineering
- You can see yourself working on something related to computers in the future, but not the other fields

In an ideal world, everyone who made it through to a college would have a common course for the first year and then choose a specialisation - after being exposed to the different subjects.

In an ideal world, liking for a subject would be the basis for choosing it - and not the pay packets or jobs that are likely to accrue.

But this is not an ideal world. You have just one lottery ticket - a JEE rank - and that determines which branch you get.

So what happens if you do join IIT - jo bhi branch miley.

I think this is perfectly OK, but every engineer who does this must at least make a sincere effort to immerse himself in their subject. Instead of feeling 'I deserved better' and plotting an escape.

In that sense I feel the MBA/ software job boom is very detrimental... The moment a person enters engineering, he knows that the option of 'switching streams' exists.

Again, this is like agreeing to get married to someone because your parents have picked him / her and then saying:"We'll be together for four years.. I'll make no attempt to like you. And I can leave you at the end of that time without paying any penalty".

Naturally, the average student makes little effort to get drawn into the subject and fall in love with it.

I am not, for a moment, saying individuals should not have the chance to switch streams - people can and do make mistakes. Or change their minds.

But no one (outside of saas-bahu soaps!) enters a marriage plotting a divorce. And the same thinking should apply to engineering or geography, or whatever it is you choose for the sake of attending the 'right' college.

Lastly, granted that IITs are superb institutions but we can't raise them to such a high pedestal that other great institutions are unable to bloom in their shadow.

A combination of media, coaching classes and word of mouth has turned the idea of entering an IIT into a national obsession. In this context, recent changes in the JEE rules are more than welcome.

For example, the famous Bansal Classesat Kota which boasted of sending over 700 students to IIT every year... The truth is that just 200 of the 700 odd were 'first timers'. The rest woud get in on the second, third or even fourth attempt! Some, in the hope of 'improving their rank' took JEE again and again.

Now, you are allowed to take the JEE only twice.

Finally, if I were BITS Pilani, IT BHU or IIIT, I would put efforts into PR. You have to keep your institute in the limelight. Not once or twice a year, but constantly.

Most importantly, you have to establish a positioning in the public mind different from the IITs.

One institution to emulate in this regard is ISB Hyderabad. Every rickshawallah may not have heard of it yet but in the minds of the consumer of education, ISB has a clear identity. "The MBA for those who have more work experience".

Additionally, the MBA which aims to be a 'global' B school and hence is not competing with IIMs (not true.. but that's the subject of another story!)

I'm not sure what BITS Pilani stands for besides 'being around as long as IIT, and as good'. There may be many more USPs to the institute but that is the public perception. IIIT Hyderabad - suna hai CS ke liye bahut accha hai. But it needs to market itself and its achievements more aggressively.

Granted, even then, IIT may remain a first preference but surely IIIT should be able to convince a few students every year that CS at their institute is a better bet than at a 'baby IIT' like IIT Guwahati. And if that's happening already, it needs to communicate the fact to potential students.

See, it's not about who is actually better or worse but PERCEPTIONS.

Unfortunately, the very name triple-I-T first brings to mind IIT. Never mind if one is "International Institute of" and one is "Indian Institute of.."

Ah, but to do all this and more we have to start seeing our educational institutes as 'brands', with due respect to the fact that learning is not to be 'sold' like soap or detergent.

The IIT brand was created by a mix of accident and destiny. The rest cannot rely on accidents! They must create and fulfil their own destiny. Just like the 17 year old students they attract.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

IIT at any cost, or…

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. But sometimes even sunshine seems tinged by cloud. Clearing the JEE is a ‘dream come true’ for any engineering aspirant in India. But once the initial euphoria fades, reality bites. Clearing is good, but topping is better. Without a good rank, you will never get the branch of your ‘choice’.

And what are the branches the heart most desires? Computer Science, Electronics, Telecom, Electrical Engineering. The ones with the most ‘scope’.

The mind says, it’s the branch of study that matters – so if you’re getting admission into another excellent college, take it. But the heart desires the chhaapa of IIT.

Here is a query I received from one such student's father:

My son's rank in IIT – JEE is 2288 and therefore he can opt for branches like Civil, Metallurgy etc. Under such situation will it be a better choice to go in for Computer Sc from some other college?

He goes on to mention that the boy is likely to get Comp Sci in IT-BHU, NITs, IIIT Hyderabad and even BITS Pilani.

Individually, these are amazing institutions. Chakkar yehi hai, ki in the layman’s perception they lack the ‘mystique’ of an IIT.

What’s in a name, eh? Everything, and then some it seems!

Student, know thyself
Ah, but getting back to the original question – is it IIT or bust? Well, the decision is deeply individual. But needs to be arrived at after exploring various fundaes.

The first and foremost thing is to ask yourself – are you attracted to engineering as a subject, or were you attracted to the brand name IIT.

If the study of computer science is what gets your nervous system tingling, obviously, you would go to the best possible college where you can get that subject. But if it’s the ‘experience of a lifetime’ you are after, you go for the college regardless of the subject you end up studying.

Now this might sound sadistic but we in India are quite flexible. We may desire a ‘love marriage’ but are always open to an arranged match. We believe one can fall in love with the girl or guy our parents choose for us… So why not a mere subject?

Khandaan accha hai, to sab accha hai.

Trouble arises when you are in love with X and agree to marry Y. Maybe you never get over that love, and live to regret it. Same can happen with studying a subject you embraced for the sake of a khandaani college. When your interest and passion lay elsewhere.

But like I said, it’s deeply individual. Few of us know our interests and passions to begin with. And so, we go with the flow. The IIT current is the strongest and we do not resist being swept away.

Practical considerations
Accha yeh sab theek hai, but what about the job scene, you ask. What makes more sense from a placement point of view?

Well, here’s the deal. Practically every engineer – and not just from IIT but the top 200 colleges in India – can become a software engineer in a TCS, Wipro or Infy. Regardless of what branch of engineering they study.

But, there is an elite corps which is recruited by global corporations for R & D jobs. And these are the jobs that even IITians die for. To work for a Google, Adobe or Yahoo on new and emerging technologies. To be part of a team creating new products and not merely fixing, maintaining or coding.

There is keen competition for these jobs – there are only a handful are available and they pay handsomely. Top ranked IITians from ‘most wanted’ branches like Computer Science are preferred. But companies a,lso look favourably upon toppers from other institutes.

Sumit Sharan, an IIT KGP alumnus now working at Intel points out, "If you study Comp Science from BITS Pilani, IT-BHU or an NIT like Trichy or Suratkal and you really excel there (say be among the top 2-3% of the batch) then you have a good chance of catching up with the top ranked IITians in the companies where they work for or even in getting admissions to universities abroad".

"There is simply NO other way you can work for one of these top notch companies by studying Civil/ Metallurgy from IITs. You will end up working in one of the more normal companies where graduates from almost every college can work."

The top notch company could offer anywhere between Rs 6-12 lakhs as starting salary, while the ‘normal’ ones offer a more modest Rs 2-3 lakhs. But the catch is, you have to be a person who really knows and loves the subject. Google, for example, holds 6 rounds of interviews in which they really test the candidates fundas and ability to think out of the box.

But if you’re the square peg who fits their round hole, more power to you!

Taking a risk
And sometimes, it all boils down to taking a leap of faith. A considered risk. IIIT Hyderabad graduate Chandan Kumar took such a risk some years ago when he joined the fledgling institute.

He recalls, "My IIT rank was 2396. At this rank, I was getting only the dual degree courses in metallurgy etc. Roorkee was a good option then, and I would have got BTech in the third ranked stream – Electrical."

But, Roorkee was not an IIT then. When Chandan visited the Roorkee campus, it looked disappointing. IIIT, by contrast, had a new and exciting feel to it. "And the presentations made to us during the counselling were promising," he adds. "Although at that time, IIIT was not a deemed university, and they offered not B Tech but a 4-year diploma - the Graduate Diploma in Information Technology."

Yet the buzz on IIIT was very positive and Chandan recalls the ‘best rank’ from JEE who joined IIIT then was some 1600.

"We did not have sufficient faculty when I joined, but now IIIT can boast of world class faculty. Many of them are BTechs from IIT and Phd from good US universities. It has done and is doing some good research work in Comp Sc field".

Chandan was lucky - he may not even have made it to IIIT today. Because seats here are hot property now. And yet...

There is occasional self doubt. "A few years after I joined IIIT, when I heard about Roorkee getting the IIT status, I did regret for some time... I would have been an IIT-Alumni! The brand is so irresistible…"

Yaar, phir bhi…
So we will continue to see a lot of students who will go for the IIT brand name – no matter what. And they’re not entirely wrong. The brand has become larger than life.

Sumit Sharan, an IIT KGP alumnus advises low rankers to be ‘intelligent’ in their choice of branch at IIT. "I would recommend the person to go for a branch like Maths & Computing (it's an MSc 5 yr course offered at IIT-Kgp ) rather than Civil, Metallurgy, Mining in present times".

"Yes you won't be called an Engineer at the end of 4 years ...but with the current Indian job market that is hardly an impediment these days..."

Secondly, ‘closing rank’ last year should not be the only criteria for selecting a course. Prof Dheeraj Sanghi of IIT Kanpur’s Computer Science department points out that many new and exciting programs on offer are often missed by students. For example, IIT Kanpur has an MSc dual degree in Economics where you study engineering basics as well as eco fundas.

And yes, the example I used may be that of IIT but people face similar decision problems everywhere. In Delhi, many would study Geography in a St Stephens – just to be known as St Stephen’s alumnus. And far too many of us work for certain companies because the brand name makes us feel secure.

And that is the ‘smart’ thing to do, but you still have to make a choice work for you.

Lessons for life
Whether you marry the girl of your dreams or the one your family dreamt of. Whether you join the ‘ultimate’ branch or merely the ‘ultimate’ college.

You have to keep seeking and striving, learning and thriving. You can’t ever say, "Hey, I have arrived…"

And I may be wrong, but I do feel that the folks who consciously opt out of IIT in search of a ‘better branch’ at another institute may be doing better in life than those who decided to place all their eggs in the ‘brand name’ basket.

Because brand names open doors, but you can easily and comfortably get locked in. They names become a crutch, a substitute for individual excellence. An easy excuse to cruise along in low gear when you could be burning up the freeway of personal potential.

All that matters in the long run is how true you were to yourself. As Oscar Wilde once said, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry…"

Find yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself. Everything else will fall into place.

And yeah, this is motivational bullshit but you know what, the idea that an entrance exam or two at age 17 can make or break your future is horse manure. Use it - to fertilise your imagination!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Chup Chup ke - 2.5 stars

I saw Chup Chup ke yesterday. Even with my currently relaxed standards of Hindi film criticism, I found it a bit of a pain to sit through.

Parts are funny - Rajpal Yadav outshines Paresh Rawal by a mile and then some. But like Priyadarshan's 'Hulchul', much of the humour is loud and hammy. And film after film with the tolerable-but-nothing-fantastic Shahid Kapur-Kareena Kapoor jodi is hard to take.

The story in very brief: Jeet (Shahid Kapur) is a young man who's managed to rack up a debt of 13 lakhs 90 thousand to set up one failed business after another. To escape from his creditors, he jumps into the ocean - saying that his insurance policy should take care of their outstanding dues.

As luck would have it, he gets caught in a fisherman's net in Kolkata. Gundeya (Paresh Rawal) and Bandeya (Rajpal Yadav) take him to the hospital, discover the chit in his pocket with names of creditors. They think these folks owe him 13 lakhs 90 thousand and decide to help the fella recover the debts, hoping to claim a few lakhs for themselves.

Jeet pretends to be deaf and dumb - and some fairly funny scenes follow. Due to reasons too silly and yet too complicated to go into, Jeet and sidekick Bandeya end up at the house of a Gujarati family headed by Om Puri as servants.

This weird family enjoys kushti as much it enjoys its dadndiya and dhoklas. They also have so many clothes to wash that Rajpal Yadav remarks,"Idhar kitne log rehte hain? Ise zilla kyun nahin declare kar dete?"

It's one liners like this which made me chuckle, more than the situational comedy.

In this mad Gujarati family there's Kareena, an asli ki goongi girl, whose marriage was called off at the last moment. Her shaadi ka mandap is still standing, as brother Mangal Singh (Sunil Shetty ) has vowed it will be removed only when he finds another suitable boy for her.

I won't elaborate anymore, coz you can guess what ultimately happens. After several minor and major twists and turns, you have the Shahid-Kareena 'romance' (although it seems more like a 'cool way to get out of debt', if you ask me).

There is a creature called Pooja - Jeet's erstwhile fiancee - wailing in white over her 'dead' husband back in the village. But since that character is played by Sushma Reddy, you know how the film is going to end.

I guess what really turned me off the film is the feudal kind of family set up and how women are portrayed.

Whether it's Pooja or Kareena, both are just sitting there waiting for some guy to come and agree to marry them. I mean even Jeet's sister - who we get a very small glimpse of - is referred to as 'shaadi nahin hui hai, umar nikal gayi, ghar par baithi hai'.

Of course, it's Bollywood so stereotypes are unavoidable. But still.

The other problem is Priyadarshan films are not out and out comedy. They're comedy mixed with emotional speeches, tears and chest-beating. Some of this is in a comic vein, some serious. That does not quite work for me.

Of the actors, Rajpal Yadav is brilliant. Rest are ok. Sunil Shetty is saaaad! And oh, Kareena does not regain her voice at the end of the film - which means she is silent throughout.

That may be music to some ears because all the songs - except the one which is being played in the promos - don't qualify as music at all!

Wonder how this film compares to Phir Hera Pheri which was also released yesterday. Strangely both films have almost the same star cast and similar plots. In fact, the writer of Chup Chup ke is actually the director of Phir Hera Pheri.

I have a feeling, though, that Phir Hera Pheri is better.

Chup Chup ke gets 2.5 stars from me. The extra half star is only for Rajpal Yadav.

And on a parting note, can we please get over the use of people pretending to be deaf, dumb or blind in the name of comedy?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Why Go had to go

It's official. Go 92.5 Fm is now Radio One. The station that plays 'hit pe hit pe hit'.

Ever since Go went 'fully desi' the frequency with which I tune in had gone down. But as they say andher nagri mein kaana raja. When all stations are playing Himesh, Jaggu and Tarana - even in Hindi - provide some distraction.

Yesterday morning I figured something had changed when there was no talk, just music on the hour long drive to office. Was this a radical new strategy - a 'radio station minus radio jockeys?

Well, I thought the best person to answer this question would be Shariq Patel, station director of 'Radio One'. And here's what he said:"No, RJs will continue but yes, on day one we did consciously decide not to have any RJs so that the focus would be on the music." The idea was to attract more 'new listeners'.

And given the anguish so many Go loyalists felt when it went all-Hindi in April, I simply had to ask: Is the strategy 'working'?

Says Shariq,"The feedback has been positive except for 'small pockets' of hardcore listeners'". These include dear old ladies who called in to say they missed the 'Night shift' show which aired retro English songs.

The official numbers will take 3-6 months to come in but he claims 'internal tracking' shows that the station's listener base has increased.

Shariq then explained to me the economics of the decision to go desi. Because that's what it was - a decision based on where the dhandha is.

Yes, we were a 'college radio' station but...
The sad truth is that there were enough college students who liked to listen to other radio stations. So go never owned that segment.

At the end of the day, numbers matter
Population of Mumbai: 14 million
Those who tune in to radio regularly: 5 million

Listenership data
Radio Mirchi: 2 million
Radio City: 1.2 million
Red FM: 1 million
Go FM: 400,000-500,000
Vividh Bharati (107.1 FM): 100,000

Go 92.5 FM with half a million listeners was ALWAYS seen as half as small as the no 3 radio station Red FM. And no, 'quality of listeners' did not cut ice with the advertiser.

Shariq elaborates: "If you're seen as a 'niche' player, advertisers will allocate only a small portion of their budgets to you. So for example, if Radio Mirchi (would get a 20 lakh contract from Pepsi, we would get a 2 lakh contract. Or maybe get ads for the 'Diet Pepsi' campaign."

It was mass vs niche as well as the fact that the mass channel had a pan-India footprint with operations in several cities.

The License fee
But the biggest factor of all is the license fee. "The cost structure of all the stations is the same. We pay the same license fee, and give or take 10% all stations pay similar amounts for RJs, studios, software etc".

So the guy with the 'mass appeal' who can attract more advertisers has a significant advantage.

On a revenues minus cost basis, says Shariq, the niche channel Go was 'making money'. But factor in the license fee (30 crores paid over the last 4 years and more for the years to come) and the business was in a Rs 50 crore 'net loss' position.

The 'revenue share' formula was meant to take care of this issue. In theory the minimum acceptable bid was Rs 1 crore but with so many players wanting a piece of this juicy media pie, very high bids were made.

So to 'migrate' from Phase 1 to Phase 2 Go - and other players - paid the government Rs 24 crores upfront. They will also pay 4% of their revenues.

"We had to look at which strategy would deliver deliver value to the shareholder".

Strategy 1 - remain niche meant Go might take 10 years to be 'profitable'.
Strategy 2 - go mass meant Go might achieve break even in 3 years.

There was no alternative - sigh!
Like I said in my earlier post ('The Mirchification of Go'), once Go had taken on two big ticket investors and bid for licenses in multiple cities this decision was inevitable.

When I wrote that, however, I still held the belief that you can make money from a niche audience. My chat with the very candid and numbers-driven Shariq has convinced me otherwise. You can't make 50 crores out of a niche audience however high its perceived quality might be.

Because the difference in audience scale between the mass and the niche would be '10 times'. And yes, in the advertiser's mind there is a distinction. As Shariq put it: If brand X has a 100 crore ad budget he'll devote 98 crores to 'mass' and 2 crores to 'niche'."

And hundred niche brands - across print, radio and TV will compete for that 2 crores. Simply put, "Every sales deal is a stress... You will never be in the superbucks league."

Of course it was not easy. Says Shariq,"Last week I visited the paediatrician and he spent half an hour asking me why we did this! My wife is upset, my friends have 'stopped talking to me' (laughs). We've got hate mail... But it's economics, pure economics".

I promise Shariq I will check back in 6 months on whether the economics of it all worked out. He believes that if we could build a niche brand which so many people felt passionate about, we can build a mass brand as well.

"All stations play hits but no one has owned the "hit" platform. Like thanda matlab Coca Cola we want to own the hit property" . A hit he defines as a song which 100% of the audience can recognise and hum and yes, these will be mainly post year 2000 numbers.

A first cut feedback from someone in the radio business,"They're playing good hits... they'll get the shops and taxi listenership!'

As for the 'Radio One' rebranding - that was undertaken to create a consistent brand across 7 cities (although local feeds will be served to each city).

Looking at the whole situation dispassionately - almost as a case study -all of the above makes sound business sense.

Very rarely do we find companies being rational about 'sunk cost'. You don't persist with a strategy just because you've already invested a lot of time, emotion and money into it. If Go as a niche brand is unlikely to make big money in the next 10 years, you are brave enough to junk the brand.

It takes a lot of guts to do that. Kudos to Tariq, Shariq and their team for that.

What about us?
As for the half a million loyalists of Go, for them there is hope. There will soon be new players in radio such as HT and Win 94.6 (which is on the comeback trail). Both are expected to cater to the erstwhile 'Go' audience. Guess they have some other magic formula to recover the humongous license fee - who knows.

If the government were to be less greedy, we'd see more stations with more diversity but hey, that ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Actually, Shariq offered an interesting analogy. 'If you had to pay Rs 10 crores to start a magazine would JAM exist as a niche product?" He has a point.

All I can say is, thank God there there is no licensing in print media or JAM too would have to put Mallika Sherawat in a bikini or 'interview with IAS topper'. Or whatever sells to the largest possible number of people...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Another one BITS the dust?

While all of India has been busy discussing who is sniffing which white powder, Mr Arjun Singh has injected the second dose of his lethal 'reservation' cocktail into the Indian education system.

The Indian Express on Sunday dt Jun 4 2006 reported :

On May 29, the very day the Supreme Court observed that quotas can divide the nation and asked the Government to explain its rationale behind the 27% OBC quotas, HRD Minister Arjun Singh further tightened the quota screws on the higher-education sector, both public and private.

In a note prepared that day for the Cabinet, his Ministry has proposed a legislation with provisions that give the Government unprecedented power not only to impose quotas in over 100 “deemed universities” over and above 32 Central institutions but also to regulate their fees, selection procedure—and even take punitive action.

So not just IITs, IIMs and AIIMS, the institutions which are brought into the 27% OBC quota net include Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani; Manipal Academy of Higher Education; Pune’s Symbiosis International Education Centre and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

This was, of course the original intention of the 93rd constitutional amendment. To give the government control over all educational institutes - not just publicly funded ones. The 'Education in India' (Prayatna) blog has summarised the sequence of events beautifully, so I shall merely reproduce what's been written there:

The Supreme Court delivered an unanimous judgement by 7 judges on August 12, 2005 in the case of P.A. Inamdar & Ors. vs. State of Maharashtra & Ors.declaring that the State can't impose its reservation policy on minority and non-minority unaided private colleges, including professional colleges.

Politicians ko yeh hazam nahin hua.

The Minister for Human Resource Development, Arjun Singh, drafted and piloted the 104th Constitution Amendment Bill which was passed in the Lok Sabha on December 21st with 379 votes in favour and one vote against and one abstaining. The Rajya Sabha also passed it on December 22nd with 172 votes in favour and only two against.

Only minority education institutions were kept out of the purview of the bill - and that was the only aspect of the bill which the BJP opposed.

According to the Constitution 93rd amendment Act

"(5) Nothing in this article or in sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of article 19 shall prevent the State from making any special provision, by law, for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes in so far as such special provisions relate to their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions referred to in clause (1) of article 30."

Prayatna further notes

Article 15 of the constitution, as it was originally framed in 1950, stated the following and did not include the term "admission to educational institutions".

15. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
- The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to
(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

Article 15 was first amended by the the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951 enacted on June 18, 1951. While this Amendment mentions "educational advancement", it does not use the term "admission to educational institutions" either.

So basically, there is no compulsion for anyone to introduce 'quotas' and that too based on the Mandal Commission definition of OBC.

It is politicians who redefined and subverted the idea of 'educational advancement' into admission into graduate and post graduate courses by reservation.

And I have no idea why BITS Pilani, which so far has had 0% reservation, should accept this kind of dispensation. Surely it infringes on their basic Constitutional rights - although I am no legal expert to be able to pinpoint exactly.

Watch out here we come...

Among the key provisions of the proposed Bill, titled Central Educational Institutions (Reservation of Seats and Regulation of Admission and Fee) Bill, 2006 : (as per Express on Sunday)

There will be a “differential fee structure” for SC/ ST/ OBC students to make “reservation a meaningful reality.”

There are alternate means to fulfil this goal such as scholarships, low or zero interest loans - as is done in other countries. Because if these institutes start making losses because the government is fixing their fee structure, unlike IITs and IIMs they can't simply throw up their hands and ask the Centre for 'more funds'. Or can they?

The Government can, "by order, direct any Central Educational Institution to increase the number of seats in each branch or faculty," to protect the number of seats available for general students.

Again, who will bear the cost of such an expansion? BITS for example has just setup a new campus in Goa. And plans another in Hyderabad in 2007. Does that count? And if they refuse to increase seats in Pilani, isn't it their prerogative??

Unaided institutions deemed to be universities shall make admissions in “a fair and transparent manner,” on the basis of qualifying examinations prescribed by UGC.

BITS is the first institute in India to have an online exam - BITSAT. Now I suppose that will have to be scrapped?

I asked a BITS Pilani student for a reaction and here's what he had to say:

A majority of my friends are shocked by the news ( that the much-protested reservations are going to be implemented in BITS as well). The reason is that admission into our insti. is *purely* on the basis of merit- caste plays absolutely no role.

So all of us were of the opinion that if the government cant force us to have quotas for SC/ST's, then they can't push us into introducing reservations for OBCs etc. This arm-twisting by the Govt. is resented by the students (I do not know the management's opinion ).

Quite a few were secretly hoping that quotas be implemented in IITs (as I've said earlier: all this while we were thinking that we were immune )-so that the quality of IITs decline, and we become the undisputed #1 college in the country.

Let's not start squabbling over that last statement. Because there you have it - nobody is going to 'escape' Mr Arjun Singh's prescription for social justice. Can Indian education survive his overdose or will it prove fatal? The outlook is looking pretty bleak!

Monday, June 05, 2006


Noticed this poster inside the trial room at Shopper's Stop the other day. Pretty clever, I thought.

I mean there you are, trying on a bunch of clothes. Half of them are guaranteed to look awful on you and naturally, as you struggle to get out of a too-tight t shirt, you will glance at yourself in the mirror and say to yourself, "I really need to lose weight".

Let's face it, women never like the size of their bodies. If we're L, we'll try on M. If we're M, we'll try S. And stores do not make it any easier by not having standard sizes in the first place.

It all depends on who their 'average' customer is. At Cottonworld, for instance I would buy an M, but at Globus I know it would not fit me.

So, getting back to the Golds Gym poster, if everyone wants to lose weight, how come gyms have to try so hard to woo us? Well the answer is, about 10% of the junta are dedicated to the idea of working out and keeping fit. Simply because they enjoy doing it.

The rest of us wish we could have great bodies and better health but you know what, joining a gym is just too much hard work. So naturally, we find a dozen excuses to wriggle out of it.

Now what the gym owner wants is to somehow make you suspend your disbelief. He wants you to believe, for a few moments, that you can do it. That you must do it. And in that window of opportunity he gets you to fork out several thousand as an annual membership fee.

But will you be happier the next time you're in the Shopper's Stop trial room? Like I said, joining a gym is never a guarantee for actually visiting it regularly. I should know.

Forking out vs working out
Four years ago, I joined a gym. The first year, I was reasonably committed. Worked out 3-4 times a week, lost a lot of weight. And I actually enjoyed the experience.

Year over, I was not sure if I wanted to renew my membership. The gym had become a bore. And I felt I had made enough 'lifestyle changes' to ensure I kept the weight off.

They kept calling, bugging, offered a discount. So guess what, I got for a 4 year membership for the price of two years.

Unfortunately, this deal did not do much for my fitness. Divided over 4 years, the monthly cost of my membership plummeted. I felt less guilty about 'wasting' it. Now I show up there barely once a week. On good weeks!

Gym owners pretty well know this. The trick to being profitable is to enrol more and more folks like me! I'm sure if all of the members actually turned up every morning and evening, the situation would be no different from rush hour at Churchgate!

So what am I saying? The same thing Professor Christopher Hsee of The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business recently observed:

Choose an expensive gym and pay a hefty non-refundable membership fee. Then you have the gym remind you every week how much you have paid and how little you have used. Thus, you will persuade yourself to go to the gym even when you are quite reluctant, for you have already paid!

Of course, the influence of the sunk cost will be diluted gradually as time goes by. So you'd better not pay a lump sum of five-year fee in advance, but rather pay monthly or twice a year.

Hsee's article is actually about 'sunk cost fallacy'

... There are many cases where more investments are made in the hope that the sunk cost could be recovered and these decisions only lead to more losses... The only reason for such a persistence is the mere fact that they have spent a large sum of money on it (sunk cost).

...Sunk Cost Fallacy" can be found everywhere in our life, exerting negative influences, but sometimes functioning as check-and-balance. If we know how to play with it smartly, it will be able to serve us.

The gym membership is a fine example of a sunk cost used in a positive manner. Here's another tip: throw away all your old clothes once you lose weight.

That way you have no 'options'. And the sunk cost of the new wardrobe (along with the high of looking and feeling good) helps you stay on track.

I know that worked for me.

I will never be size S but that's OK. I'd rather eat without running a calculator calorie in my head at all times.

Cocaine I have never done, but do not underestimate the power of chocolate!

Friday, June 02, 2006

CNBC show on reservations: be part of the audience

A panel discussion on the reservations issue is to be telecast on CNBC TV 18. Profs from 4 IIMs are flying down to Mumbai to be part of the panel and provide objective data.

If you'd like to participate in the discussion - raise issues/ questions - do join in as part of the audience. You don't have to be an alumni from IIMs or IITs, just someone who has a viewpoint to express.

The discussion is on SATURDAY JUNE 3 2006
between 3 and 4 pm at:
CNBC TV 18 studio,

Empire Mill compound,
Senapati Bapat Marg,
Lower Parel, Mumbai

You would have to be there by 2.30pm

Please do confirm if you'd like to participate by calling or emailing:
Rajjat Gulati - +91 98333 60158 -

Thursday, June 01, 2006

JAM Engineering College Ratings - II

There's been an amazing response to my previous post asking engineering students to help JAM with its Engineering College Rating exercise.

That's the good news. The bad news is the task is so gigantic that we aren't actually going to publish a comprehensive national/ statewise rating this year.

We will only be publishing Mumbai, Delhi and possibly Pune ratings. These happen to be our biggest markets as a print magazine and we've been tracking institutes here long enough to pronounce judgement with confidence and credibility.

Of course, we're also conducting a physical reccee as well as interviewing students and experts to reach our conclusions.

But the process of data collection for the larger exercise has begun. All those of you who wrote in to me will receive the questionnaire shortly.

The Methodology
However, there are larger issues which we are also debating. For example, the methodology. There are currently two engineering college rankings being published:

1) Dataquest-Nasscom : This survey considered 4 parameters-placement, infrastructure, intellectual capital and industry interface. Recruiter's feedback on the institute is taken into consideration.

The weights were distributed as: Placements (40%), Infrastructure (15%), Intellectual Capital (15%) and Industry Interface (5%). The total weightage assigned to objective data was 75%.

2) India Today: The magazine prepares a master list of 700 colleges in different streams - 400 of which are shorlisted based on perception of 90 experts such as college principals, HoDs and deans across 10 cities. A further shortlist of 210 colleges is prepared based on perceptual scores from 400 experts.

Now, factual information is collected on these 210 colleges on parameters such as placement, infrastructure and faculty to get a factual score. Overall score is given by applying a 70: 30 weightage to perceptual and factual scores.

So essentially, DQ gives 75% weightage to 'factual' data, of which placement is given maximum importance. India Today gives 70% weightage to perception data, so any relatively new college rarely makes it even to the 400 shortlist stage.

A quick comparison of the top 20 Engg Colleges acc. to both rankings

Data quest 2005
1 IIT Kanpur
2 IIT Bombay
3 IIT Madras
4 IIT Kharagpur
6 IIT Guwahati
7 NIT Warangal
8 NIT Trichy
9 TIET, Patiala
11 NIT Suratkal
12 MNIT,Allahabad
13 Punjab Engg College
14 IIIT Hyderabad
15 BITS, Pilani
16 IIT Roorkee
17 NIT Rourkela
18 NIT Kurukshetra
19 IIIT Allahabad
20 Delhi College of Engg

India Today 2006
1.IIT Delhi
2.IIT Kanpur
3.IIT Mumbai
4 IIT Kharagpur
5 IIT Chennai
6 IIT Roorkee
7 Delhi College of Engineering
8 NIT Suratkal
10 NIT Warangal
11 IIT Guwahati
12 College of Engineering, Guindy
13 NIT Trichy
14 TIET, Patiala
15 PIET Pune (COEP)
16 UVCE Bangalore
17 BIT Ranchi
18 NIT Jalandhar
19 GND Ludhiana
20 MNIT Allahabad

IIT Delhi did not participate in the Dataquest ranking while BITS Pilani does not feature in India Today rankings because of an ongoing dispute between BITS and India Today.

Offhand, I would say that while both rankings are flawed, India Today's is more flawed. GND Ludhiana comes in at no 19 while Punjab Engineering College Chandigarh does not feature at all. Again, from the little I know, UVCE would not be the top ranked engineering college in Karnataka after NIT Suratkal.

IIIT kya cheez hai India Today is yet to learn...

However, BITS Pilani featuring at no 15 below Thapar Institute and Punjab Engineering College (as per Dataquest) simply boggles the mind also. NSIT may have made huge leaps but surely can't rank at no 10 while DCE comes in at no 20!

Both methods are flawed - so the challenge is to formulate a credible alternative.

How JAM will be different
Firstly, the objective of the JAM Ratings is to guide the students who wish to choose an engineering college. And hence it will aim to cover 250-300 colleges across the country.

In the current pecking order, the student's top choice is an IIT or BITS Pilani.
If not successful, a highly ranked NIT would be the next choice.

Now the question here is would I prefer an NIT Trichy or Suratkal to IIT Guwahati or Roorkee? If so, would that make sense for some particular streams?? Or is the 'IIT is after all IIT' kind of thinking make more sense.

And what about say, DCE. Should a Delhi student opt for DCE over a top ranked NIT? What about NSIT vs NIT. And where does a IIIT Hyderabad figure in all this?

I don't know the answers but that kind of detailing must be reflected in the JAM ratings.

Next, is college more important than branch if all one has in mind ultimately is a software career? Two years ago I did advise that but given that more and more colleges are getting good placements, I think that getting a branch of one's choice in a lesser known but 'decent' college may be advisable. We need some inputs on such issues as well.

And yes, like rankings published by American magazines, a department wise ranking would be our goal.

Thirdly, the real fight is in rating the hundreds of state level government and private colleges. This will be done statewise. Because 85% of the seats are filled by state quota and only 15% by AIEEE score.

So for those of you who've raised questions about using 'peer group' ratings, rest assured this is one of the means of gathering data. Not the only one.

We are considering putting the questionnaire online as well. However, that opens up the possibility of students of particular colleges trying to rig the exercise.

Yet, I want this to be an open source project... ideas on how one can achieve that delicate balance are welcome!

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth