Thursday, June 28, 2007

Apple iPhone: what about us?

The iPhone is a 'beautiful breakthrough computer', the Wall Street Journal has declared. Folks are queuing up for it already, in New York. The company has no plans to launch the iPhone in Europe or Asia anytime soon. But that doesn't mean we won't get our grubby fingers on it...

DNA reports: According to dealers in Mumbai's Heera Panna shopping centre, the city's largest wholesaler in mobile handsets and iPods - the grey market has already placed orders for around 30-40 iPhones. The plans are to hawk it at prices that are Rs 7000-8000 more than the US base price of $500 (ie Rs 20,000).

Yes, the phone is currently rigged out to work with a single operator - AT & T - but never fear.

As Business Standard reports: Grey market operators say they can 'unlock' the phone for just Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 so that it can be used on any network in India. "Unlocking the iPhone isn't tough," said a dealer in central Delhi.

Cool, isn't it? But you have to ask, why won't Apple just go ahead and sell the phone officially? In India, and anywhere else in the world where there's a hunger for it??

Phir wahi bhool?
Fact is, India has never been a priority market for Apple. In the old days, ok, it did not matter.

The computer I worked on at my first job was a Mac. In the early 90s that was the ONLY computer any self respecting advertising agency or publishing house used for design work.

Today, there are still a few Mac fanatics - but very few. We embraced the more plebian but affordable PC, learnt to live with system errors and the Mac became a forgotten first crush.

Now, Macs are available at better prices but few consider buying them . There is just not enough exposure or marketing.

Then there's the iPod. In India, it sells mainly through the grey market. Official Apple resellers are few and far between and anyways, the pricing is a complete turn off. Again Apple itself did little to market the iPod. Khareedna hai to khareedo - aapki marzi.

The result is, the iPod is popular but other brands like Creative - and even generic mp3 players - have caught on too. With Sony marketing its Walkman phones and Nokia its 'Music Phones' a lot of young people don't even think they need an iPod.

A couple of weeks ago, for the first time, I noticed an ad from Apple in the Bombay Times. "If it ain't iPod, it ain't music' or some such headline and I thought,"Um... isn't this too little, too late?"

The moral of the story is that Apple is a guru at producing these amazing products. But then it would rather let them sell without much effort, especially overseas.

However we now have a global gizmo monster, hungry for the goods. India is Nokia's third largest market in terms of net sales. Of course, the monochrome and low-end colour handset segment (below Rs 3000) account for over 60% of the market.

But there is demand for high end phones in a country with 178 million mobile phone users. And it's not just pricing that's a deterrent when it comes to upgrades.

Many of us have checked out the N series but found it to be lacking somewhere. The market for a really beautiful and user friendly smartphone is still wide open. The iPhone could be the answer but if Apple chooses to ignore us, we may well embrace the clones which are sure to follow.

Why make the same mistake, once again?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wanted: humour writers

If you can tickle a funny bone or two with your wit and sarcasm, do write for us.

JAM is looking for writers to do:
a) MAD style movie spoofs (you do the script, we'll take care of the cartoons)
b) Satirical articles on current topics. Such as Sunita Williams orbiting the earth without a bath for 6 months... (you get the idea)
c) Original khaak e shayari
d) Braking news
e) Topical PJs
f) Or well... just about anything.

Do not send me random blog links, just one sample of your best work. And what you think you can do next... Email rashmi_b at

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Taking responsibility

"Nissan's Ghosn agrees to skip bonus as profits fall", reports Bloomberg.

Nissan just lost the no 1 spot in Japan to Honda, and its net profit took a dip for the first time in seven years.

CEO Carlos Ghosn is therefore not taking his bonus. "It is a symbolic way of taking responsibility," said Yoshihito Okimura, an asset manager with the Chiba-Gin asset management company.

Considering that most stories related to CEO compensations are about how grossly overpaid they are, this is certainly a refreshing change.

In India we aren't likely to see such gestures anytime soon. With a booming economy managers will take responsibility, if anything, for rising profits. And demand their share in the form of a bonus/ increment etc.

However, the idea of 'taking responsibility' I feel is still relevant. Even if a company is doing well overall, individual managers and employees may not be contributing their bit. Yet they expect equality when it comes to sharing the spoils from the gravy train.

Performance appraisals, for example, have become something of a joke. Take the example of employee X who receives feedback that he/ she has not been upto the mark and therefore gets a lower increment than the peer group.

Assuming there is no politics or backstabbing involved and this a 'fair' evaluation, does said employee take the feedback constructively? Does he vow to do better next time? Uh huh, but there is no next time. Because the hunt for a new job is well under way already...

Employers find a gun is being held to their heads. Salaries are inching upwards every 3-6 months. You have to pay more simply to keep people with you - performance is a secondary issue. Yes performers get more, but even non-performers get more than they deserve.

There is simply no choice.

In this context the message sent out by Ghosn is a meaningful one. Take responsibility - for both results and failures. That's what 'leadership' is about, at the collective level. And that's what 'character' boils down to, for each individual.

Otherwise it's all mere jargon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Video on demand: the time has come

On Sunday Nivedita wanted to see Shrek 3. Just 2 weeks after release the film has been shifted to the morning show. It was already past 10 am... which means she would have to wait another week.

By which time the film may have disappeared altogether.

I really wonder when the day will come, when studios will have the sense to have a simultaneous release : Theatre, DVD and Video-on-demand (Tata Sky/ Dish TV etc).

Of course the critics would say we already have simultaneous release - people download films within minutes of official release. More so, young people.

JAM's recent survey on Downloading (which readers of this blog were invited to participate in as well) found that 58% of you download movies off the internet.

23% of this bunch download films... everyday.

Movie downloads are less popular than music (that's something 88% do regularly). But wait and watch. As fast broadband connections become more common, folks get PCs with bigger hard drives and figure out how to use BitTorrents.

There is no way the tide can be turned, the only thing studios can and should do is swim with it.

What are they afraid of?
a) People won't flock to theatres
Wrong! The need to visit a theatre is not linked strictly to the need to watch a film. People need outings. A place to dress up for and do something at. Yes, stuffing one's face with popcorn qualifies.

b) People will still pirate movies
Yes, some will. But there are plenty of people who are not tech savvy. Or happen to be time and energy starved. When an official release reaches a 'reasonable' price point they are willing to pay.

Take VCDs of Hindi films. With prices around Rs 149-169 many many more people are picking them up. The logic is, a ticket would cost me Rs 150-200 in any case.

By contrast, DVDs you think twice before buying. Rs 499 had better be for a movie with keep-in-my-collection value. Today, the official VCD/ DVD release is at least 3-4 weeks after the movie hits theatres, as far as Bollywood is concerned. What if it were within one week?

I think theatre crowd would remain unaffected. But a lot of people who wouldn't make it to theatres anyways would also get to enjoy the film. And not as pirates.

The other - and better - alternative is video on demand. Tata Sky has it - you order a film and can view it in a 24 hour window. But the most recent film available at the moment is Bheja Fry. Which is two months old.

Differential Pricing
One way to tackle the issue could be time-linked pricing. On a video on demand service you could allow official home viewing from the day the film is released. But, on the first weekend you could charge a premium - say Rs 500 per view.

From Monday onwards that price could be dropped to Rs 300 per view. And from the second weekend onwards, that could drop further.

Would people really pay Rs 500 to watch Jhoom Barabar Jhoom at home the day it's released? I think yes. There is an excitement to watching a film on day 1 and being able to have an opinion on it - good or bad. It's participating in the pop culture of the week.

But maybe you want to watch JBJ without battling the crowds and parking problems at your local multiplex. And without any planning, on impulse, at 2 am.

As everything in life accelerates, so does the half-life of a movie.

Once I've heard from multiple sources that JBJ is 'really bad' you won't get me to see it in a theatre in any case. But there is enough curiosity value to see it... at home. And maybe with my expectations tempered and over dus rupaye ka Act II popcorn I may actually find it to be 'okay'.

The movie experience I expect when I blow up good money in a multiplex is higher than what I expect from something I see in my home. Which is a huge opportunity for producers of films that are average to above average. The 'great' ones will always find a big screen audience.

Bottom line is, the thought of losing 'theatre business' scares the shit out of producers. But they're losing it to piracy anyways.

I may end up watching Shrek 3 on TV after 3 months when you could have got me to pay 200 bucks to watch it in my home last Sunday. Cannibilisation is hard, but the alternative... is slow suicide.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kitne aadmi gay?

When a stand up comic gives an interview, half of what he says is not to be taken seriously. Still, I think there is a point to ponder when Suresh Menon says to HT Cafe:

"I call him (Sajid Khan) everyday. In fact, there was a time when our friendship almost traumatised my wife... it nearly destroyed our marriage. Thankfully, better sense prevailed and my wife realised I was not what she thought."

Ah. A few short years ago, no one would have thought. Hanging around with guy friends was a perfectly normal, 'guy thing' to do. I mean guys even walked hand in hand without any embarassment.

But things have changed. And it's all thanks to Bollywood. Every other month we have a film in which perfectly 'normal' men turns out to be gay. No wonder the wives are.. worried.

It started with Page 3. Then came Honeymoon Travels where not one but two leading chracters are discovered to be gay. And the recent Life in a Metro... Poor Konkona, we hope she isn't third time unlucky!

A friend wondered out loud whether there really are that many gays - closet and otherwise - in India. He ticked off his friends and acquaintance list and said, "Well, I don't seem to know any. Maybe one... but I am not sure."

But the fact that you and I don't have gay friends - or friends who've admitted to being gay - doesn't mean anything, I countered. There is a whole world out there we know little of.

That's what I felt when I first read 'Shantaram' two years ago. I grew up just 2 kms away from the bylanes of Colaba where Shantaram and co strutted their stuff. And I inhabited a different universe. Antiseptic, middle class, falling asleep to Vividh Bharti radio.

And there, not far away, a world full of sex, drugs, cloak and dagger. Rock and roll, swing and swagger.

The few times you stood for a bus near Regal, late at night, you'd catch a glimpse of this world. But we never knew the intimate details...

And then there was 'Maximum City'. Again, a book which took you into the sleazy underbelly of the city. The underworld, the bar dancers, the transvestites. The people who exist in the same spaces as us but remain invisible in the light of day.

So it is with the gay community. Partly because no major public figure has so far had the guts to come out and declare, "I am gay." And neither has the media decided to go no-holds-barred on this one.

There are plenty of rumours of course. As Vir Sanghvi wrote in a recent column in Mint:

We are at the stage that Hollywood was in the 1950s and the 1960s, when the gay actors (Rock Hudson, Tyrone Power, etc.) all pretended to be straight for public consumption even though the film community knew them as queens. And famous gay directors (George Cukor, John Schlesinger, etc.) rarely talked about their homosexuality.

And speaking of rumours, here's a major wink-wink-nudge-nudge from Sanghvi...

Years ago, just after Abdul Kalam had become President,I interviewed Shobhaa De on TV. She argued that Bollywood was going more and more gay, pointed to that famous Filmfare awards function where Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan did a gay routine to promote Kal Ho Naa Ho, and argued that homosexuality in India extended to public life and went all the way to the top (not difficult to guess who she meant).

Weirdly enough, all the conversation is about gay men. So I guess we women can talk to our girl friends everyday, twice a day. Go partying, shopping, and even out of town together. Without the men in our life getting all flustered.

That is, until Karan Johar decides to make a love quadrangle where Rani and Preity ditch their beaus at the mandap to elope with each other. But worry not... methinks that may take a few more years!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mera job tumhare job se II

Expectations of employees are rising - and not just for IT workers, MBAs and the like. A report in today's ET notes:

Scarce talent, buoyant growth and surging attrition have led to hefty pay hikes, pushing companies to focus on employee well-being and better work environment. But most of it seemed to be happening in the rarefied world of white-collar, air-conditioned corporate offices.

Scratch a little deeper and cast the net wider. Perhaps not as brightly, but India seems to be shining at the bottom of the pyramid as well... There could not have been a better example than the construction and infrastructure sector.

The story gives the example of 34 year old Panda, a high-school passout working for Gera Developments as a construction worker. The company he works for is providing a crèche and makeshift school for children, basic medical care, comfortable huts to live in. What's more, he's given training on how to use new tools and they are very particular about safety a well.

ET estimates that the $70-billion construction industry is likely to create 90 million new jobs by 2012. Around 60 million of these will be unskilled and 25 million skilled and semi-skilled workers.

The question is, how many will benefit as much as Panda? Honestly, I would still say he is one of the lucky ones. A few construction companies doing high end work, employing better work practices and also perhaps having a sense of social responsibility will offer such environments.

The rest will continue to operate in the old manner, where every pair of hands is a nameless, faceless and replacable asset.

Now in the longer run this will lead to a restless kind of situation for the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) worker. He knows a few, very few people out there are offering a chance for a better life. He is not one of the lucky ones.

Will he accept his fate and continue toiling? Or will he join some kind of agitation. Will strikes, lockouts and unions come back into fashion??

Ambition everywhere
A friend who went to Kolhapur on a market research project recently remarked,"I met a lot of young unemployed boys. They are sitting idle not because there are no jobs but because the jobs they are getting are not 'good enough'." A Rs 1200 p.m. job as a clerk, for example.

"The minimum they want is Rs 2000 p.m.," she said. So the moment a Big Bazaar outlet opens in Kolhapur, you can imagine the rush of applications. Incidentally, the first lot of applications was actually from nearby Sangli where there is already a Big Bazaar.

Hopefuls who were turned away there knew a new outlet was coming up in the neighbouring town and hence were the first to flood it with their resumes. The 'grapevine' already had it that this job is more modern, upwardly mobile and well paying than the regular small town variety. The excitement was palpable!

Of course, government jobs remain attractive to the average young person of Kolhapur. But as we all know there is a 'rate card'. It takes Rs 1 lakh to 3 lakhs to get into a lowly official post in the first place.

In comparison, a Big Bazaar offers the chance of succeeding on one's 'merit'. It's your English ability, knowledge of computers, personality that matter. And this is especially attractive for Muslim youth who perceive - as well as experience - that many other doors are closed for them.

So it's not just the white collar - or 'those who can' - raising their aspirations. Across the spectrum, it's a silent revolution.

The creamy layer of the workforce, however, has more options. More mobility. What happens when the BOPs start dreaming of - even demanding - the same?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mera job tere job se...

"No self respecting student goes for the TCS interview."

This piece of news was casually delivered to me by a student of a mid ranking NIT.

"Why, exactly?" I probed.

"Well, they pick up a lot of students", came the reply. "It's a mass recruiter."

So, is that a bad thing? Well, apparently yes. You see word filters back that "It's not as great as you think". "Be prepared to spend 6 months on the bench." Etc etc.

Much the same as joining Infosys but since Infy picks up less folks from this particular campus, the negative feedback is a trickle. Compared to the TCS flood.

Of course TCS does manage to get students. But it's not a top choice. The hot companies to join are the ones who take fewer people: IBM for example. Generally the companies which recruit more selectively pay more. So that's a first level of satisfaction for the new employee.

Secondly, they seem to have a better idea what to do with the people who join. They're not recruiting large numbers in anticipation of projects coming in.

Thirdly, even if some people have a bad experience their number is limited - so there is no overall negative impression.

In just 3 short years, the world has changed. When I wrote this column for in June 2004, it was still a big deal to join one of the Big Five. Except, perhaps at an IIT.

With the rising aspirations of fresh grads the same jobs have lost their sheen. The net has to be spread wider and wider, to tier 2 and tier 3 colleges, which would not be on the recruitment map at all a couple of years ago.

At a lesser known college it is a matter of pride that 'Infosys picked up 6 students'. The feeling is that of having 'arrived'.

But next year when 60 join, and then 100, the same 'we are being recruited like alu and pyaaz' feeling sets in.

I don't know what the solution is because much of the problem is created by the external environment. Once you know many options are available, you feel less committed to making something work.

Companies recruit extra staff in anticipation of attrition and end up compounding the problem by not having proper roles and jobs for some folks to do.

But even the likes of 'Happy Kumar' who are perfectly content where they are get infected by the jobnotgoodenough-itis soon enough. It's like a virus floating in the very air we breathe - no one can escape it.

The thing, is we all want to achieve more. To stand out from the crowd. If 'everyone' can get a job in TCS easily, it must not be really worth it, is the feeling. And young people today are very quick today to form opinions based on hearsay, orkut scraps, forum discussions. And the view taken is of the immediate 6-12 months. Few can see a career path in terms of even a 3-5 year horizon.

The one thing these companies have going for them is the Parent Proposition. Moms and dads just love to brag about 'mera beta or beti working at TCS'. So even if it has little or no brag value in the peer group, there is a compelling reason to sign on.

Kam se kam Mummy-Daddy to khush ho jayenge.

And finally, despite all the cribbing and sighing these jobs are far more comfy than being on some factory shopfloor. Every engineer who disses IT knows that in the back of his mind.

So an uneasy equilibrium is maintained. Kal ki kal dekhi jayegi. The tug of wills continues... And no, draconian non-compete clauses are not the answer.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Thank God for Roald Dahl

The summer vacation is drawing to a close. With it, karate, swimming, badminton, singing, dancing, acting and jazz ballet classes. All designed to keep kids out of their parents' rapidly thinning hair.

My daughter has no certificates, no end-of-summer performance to boast of. Blame it on my lack of planning, foresight or even kanjoosi. But all is not lost because she has achieved one important milestone. This was the summer she fell in love with reading.

Now reading was, is and will probably continue to be my favourite pastime. But then we grew up in a pre-internet, pre-mobile, pre-24-hour TV era. We had no choice - not that I'm complaining!

Times may have changed but reading is a habit you feel the need to inculcate. A joy you want your child to partake in. However, things did not go as per plan. Books failed to excite Nivedita. And at some point I had to ask myself, "Can the printed word compete with those mesmerising LCD screens?"

The question was answered quite unexpectedly. Nivedita discovered an author called Roald Dahl. No, it was not 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' which cast a spell but a book called 'Matilda'.

Matilda is the story of a little girl who happens to be a gifted child, born to two very dumb parents. These parents encourage her to watch TV, while she trots off to the local library and starts devouring books.

The only person who recognises Matilda's extraordinary talents is her teacher, Miss Honey. But the most interesting character is the headmistress - Miss Trunchbull. Perhaps the meanest headmistress on the planet. One of her favourite punishments is picking up children by the ear and then hurling them into the air, sledgehammer style.

Her idea of a perfect school would be "one in which there were no children at all.

It's all perfectly ridiculous, but the book captures the emotion of being a 6 year old at the mercy of a school system. There may be no principals as bad as The Trunchbull but trunchbullian streaks are everywhere. At least from the child's point of view.

Older people who don't understand them. Older people who create silly rules and punish you for breaking them.

In Miss Trunchbull (the mean older person) and Miss Honey (the nice older person), Roald Dahl has created a Villain and Hero which captures the child's imagination. The amazing thing is he did this in 1988, at age 74. Just two years before his death.

Which means, technically, he never grew old. He never forgot what it was like to be a kid.

Matilda was the first book Nivedita and I fought to read. We read much of it together, she a few chapters behind me.

The thing is, Matilda captured her imagination. She wanted to turn the pages and find out what next. And once it was over, she wanted more.

The moral of the story is books aren't irrelevant. But in the age of non stop digital stimulation and electronic excitement it took an exceptional book to get a 7 year old hooked to an old fashioned habit.

Thank God for the likes of Roald Dahl, and now J K Rowling. May the imagination soar higher and give wings to words.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Shootout at Lokhandwala

I saw 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' last night. Although technically I didn't 'see' a lot of it. There was so much blood and gore, I had to keep covering my eyes.

You might think, gosh, how many films are they going to make on Police vs Bombay Underworld. Yet, each has its own distinct character and style. So while 'Shootout' covers much the same ground you can't call it boring.

The violence in 'Shootout' put me off but I think it is integral to the film. The whole point was to convey the fact that for gangsters like Maya and Buwa killing was a cool sport. They didn't even operate under the 'code of honour' (if you can call it that!) of the D company. So what if Builder X is paying bhai, hamara man kiya to hum usse bhi paise lenge.

Of course 'Shootout' is extremely filmi compared to the docu-reality style of a 'Black Friday'. But Black Friday was based on a book, about an event whose memory is seared in the public consciousness.

'Shootout', on the other hand is based on an incident which caused a sensation in its time but which has been forgotten by all except perhaps the residents of Swati building, where the siege took place. Hence the director and writer have taken liberties with the truth.

The film does higlight a couple of points:
# In the closing credits, there is a line which says during the period the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) was active, crime in Mumbai went down 70%. Yet the ATS was disbanded shortly before the 1993 serial blasts.

The reason, perhaps, was the recklessness with which the ATS had begun to operate. The shootout in a residential building being a case in point.

While I do agree that the police had no option but 'eent ka jawaab eent, paththar ka paththar' in the long run the encounter route is not sustainable. It makes a jaanwar out of the police and in the hands of those who aren't exactly ethical, it makes the officer a pawn.

Even in this shootout, it is hinted that Dawood tipped off the police about Maya & co's location. The idea being to eliminate a thorn in his side.

# It's not clear why ATS ie anti TERRORIST squad was running after the underworld. Maya and co were causing terror but only to extract money which they could lavish on bargirls. Not to run covert operations against the country!

# The ATS killing off some Sikh militants in the beginning of the film is a chilling reminder of how - just 15 years ago - we had a different kind of terrorist problem. Luckily, that's been tackled but you never can tell from where and how passions will be inflamed . It could be for a homeland, for a quota, or even just 'mere feelings hurt ho gaya hain'.

So, should you watch the film? Probably not. Unless you like 'blood ki Holi' type cinema. The acting has been soundly criticised - especially Tusshar Kapoor in the role of a 'ruthless killer'.

His mom is the producer of the film, bhai. If Maya Dolas ki ma usey gangster bana sakti thi to Tusshar ki mummy bhi koi kam hain kya?

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