Thursday, December 29, 2005

IISc attack: Sad day for science

Army establishments.
National monuments.
Political figures.
These were the original terrorist targets.

But this didn't instil fear in the common man, so they started attacking places of worship, railway stations, cinemas,random marketplaces.

And now, they choose to attack a scientific establishment.

CNN IBN reports: An armed intruder opened fire at the Indian Institute of Science premises in Bangalore on Wednesday evening, killing former professor of IIT Delhi MC Puri and injuring four others. Intelligence sources says the attack may be linked to Abu Salem's presence in the city.

The intruder, came in an Ambassador car around 1845 hrs (IST) and started firing indiscriminately near the Tata Auditorium where a seminar, International Conference on Management Studies was being held. Professor Puri was among the 250 professors attending the seminar.

A symbolic target? Or just a soft and easy one. A kid who's just passed the K G level in terrorist training can be entrusted a rifle and let loose on such a campus. A campus where brain is at a much higher premium than brawn.

I mean, sure, there would be some routine security checks at the gate but who seriously believes that a bunch of scientists gathered to discuss string theory or particle physics could be of interest to the Lashkar-e-toiba?

Laymen envision all scientists as variations of Einstein. Unfortunately not all scientists are that photogenic - most look rather ordinary, and could have been working in State Bank of India except they dress shabbier and attend office on Sundays of their own free will.

Well, at least that's how scientists are at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, where I grew up. Which is also why the IISc shooting is something that touches me very personally.

My dad is the same age as Dr M C Puri - Professor Emeritus from IIT Delhi - who was killed in the attack. He often attends similar conferences, the kind which are of no interest to anyone but people who've devoted decades of their lives to enlarging the body of knowledge in a particular esoteric field.

You come away from these conferences with embossed pens, pads and a little rucksack/ jhola/ carrybag which reads: "High Energy Cosmic Ray Conference blah blah blah."

And of course people will now say: why was there no security? But although there was talk of scientific establishments being possible targets, army-like security was a little alien to the laidback culture on these campuses. But that will change now...

The question is: how many soft targets can you eliminate? How hard would it be to enter IIT Bombay tomorrow and open fire at the crowd gathered for LiveWire?? Even if everyone is frisked and cars searched at the point of entry, the low boundary wall makes it easy for anyone to enter.

But right now, no need to even exert that much. As one IITian I was chatting with on messenger as I wrote this remarked: "Currently you could actually slip in with a carload of ammunition (into IIT) without being frisked at the gate..."

May Dr Puri's soul rest in peace.
And may these senseless killings end.

Because life is precious. More precious than any abstract ideology. Or concrete cause.Any motherland or fatherland. Any zid, jehad or junoon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Dil Manga More

A man from India migrates to South Africa.
From there he migrates to Canada.
He marries a Polish woman.
A child is born.
This child grows up in Canada.
He migrates to America.
At the age of 37, he is featured by People magazine in their issue on the 'Sexiest men alive'.

Journalism students: how many permutations and combinations of headlines can you make with this news? And which of these combinations is technically correct??

Indian scientist among Sexiest Men Alive says DNA. It goes on to call him an 37-year-old Indo-Canadian geophysicist

NRIs can't ask for more, Manga Sexiest Man Alive, says HT. A geophysicist of Indian origin has been selected the 'Sexiest Man Alive' ... goes their story.

PIO prof among world's sexiest men, says TOI (print). It goes on to observe - quite rightly - that the list came out a month ago but is making headlines in India only after the delirium-stricken desi media (their words, not mine!) discovered that he has a remote Indian connection.

However the TOI web version is equally delirious:
SILICON VALLEY: An Indian geophysicist of Indian origin has been selected the 'Sexiest Man Alive' by People magazine along with Hollywood superstars Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.

Menawhile a Canadian TV station reports: A Canadian shares a page with Bono in People magazine's sexiest men issue but Michael Manga is a reluctant and unlikely heartthrob...

Further down it briefly observes: "Manga is 5-foot-11, has long, dark hair and his family background makes for an interesting DNA mix with ties to South Africa, India, Germany and Poland".

My question is: who or what is 'Indian'.

Had Michael taken more after his Polish mother and looked Caucasian with blonde hair, would we have rushed to claim him as one of our own?

Is being 'Indian' a racial characteristic ie defined by colour of skin? In which case no matter how many generations we may move away from the Motherland, its culture and customs - we will never be fully 'American' or 'Canadian'?

Science can be sexy?!
I know every newspaper needs a peg to hang it news on - so that's where the 'Indian' bit comes in. But to me, the fact that a scientist makes it to 'world's sexiest men alive' was a far more interesting point.

As every write up mentions: Manga was one of only two men in academia admitted to the ranks of America's dreamiest dudes. "That's why I agreed to do this..." he explains."I wanted to get information out to people who wouldn't normally hear or see anything about science."

Of course, I may be more excited about a 'scientist' being called sexy as I grew up in a colony of scientists who were anything but.

What 'People' wrote about the 'hesitant hottie' is not known (they don't put up their entire mag online u see!) But a scan on the 'UC Berkeley News' site shows he was featured on the same page as U2's Bono.

The category was 'Smart Guys'.

As this blog notes:
To celebrate the 20-year milestone, editors highlighted some "smart guys" (CNN's man of the hour, Anderson Cooper), a few "bad boys" (actor Russell Crowe) and a bunch of "funny guys" (Steve Carrell).

Glad to see that the definitions of sexiness are expanding! Point to be noted is that Manga is not smart in the regular "muggu" sort of way.

In September this year, Manga was named a Mac Arthur fellow. The fellowship is described as 'an exclusive club of creative and original thinkers given $500,000 with no strings attached over the next five years'.

Manga, who combines theoretical geophysics with innovative laboratory experiments, intends to use some of the money to travel more and visit the subjects of his research: volcanoes.

Hot stuff.

Thought for the day
Albert Einstein, Abdul Kalam, and now Michael Manga, being quizzed about his long dark mane. Is being a celebrity scientist all in the hair?!

Madonna - a fading brand?

In 1985, Madonna's navel ruled the world. That year - which opened with "Like a Virgin" perched at Number One, and would later see "Crazy for You" knock "We Are the World" off the top of the charts...

Coming off her last album, the tepid American Life, the forty-seven-year-old mother of two wants to show that she can still stay up late. Confessions on a Dance Floor won't stand the test of time like her glorious early club hits, but it proves its point. Like Rakim back in the day, Madonna can still move the crowd.

That's what Rolling Stone magazine had to say but I don't have as charitable an assessment. I am a Madonna fan but remain unmoved by this new album.

The 80s had dozens of female singers with catchy tunes going for them - Cyndi Lauper, Belinda Carlisle, Paula Abdul. But Madonna had something more - she had attitude.

Madonna was no musical genius but one thing you could not accuse her of being was a 'me-too'.

Yet, 22 years into her musical career that's exactly what's she's become. The video of 'Hung Up' has the 47 year old prancing around in a neon pink bodysuit - the kind favoured by 16 year old Russian gymnasts.

"Ooh! she's almost 50 and can still look like that?" we're all supposed to gush admiringly. And hopefully, we'll be so busy looking we'll pay less attention to the music. And also forget to notice how much of a tribute to Britney Spears the whole effort is. (remember the 'Slave for You' video - note the many echoes in 'Hung Up')

And the strenuous dance movements? They reminded me of uthak-baithak style punishments at military boot camp...

The thing is, when a 47 year old tries to emulate someone half her age she ends up looking silly. Like a mom desperately trying to be as cool as her 16 year old daughter.

Certainly Madonna should be proud about looking and feeling great, but it's time to style a whole new image, both musically and otherwise.

Because this looks hollow. And fake. So despite amazingly positive reviews and great initial sales, 9 weeks on the album is no 21 on the Billboard charts . In fact, it did not climb beyond no 7.

A musician, after all is the brand. And this brand - in her quest for eternal youth -has abandoned her core customers. The fans who grew up on her music and are not getting any younger themselves.

They want the old Madonna who sang tuneful songs with simple lyrics that one could understand and hum along with. Not some dig-tik-dig-tik-dig-tik interspersed with mumblings. Call it dance or trance or electronica.

And no, looping Abba's "Gimme gimme" into one of songs does not qualify as 'experimental'. It's just being smart and cashing in on a current trend. Although she did have to grovel for it.

Incidentally the 50-something, mother-of-two Sharon Osbourne recently pronounced that Madonna 'dresses like a hooker'. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The 'person' of the year problem

It's that time of the year again when we look back at the 'year that was.' And agonise over who might be worthy of the title: 'Person of the Year'.

Time magazine - the guys who invented the concept - just chose U2's Bono, along with Bill Gates and his wife Melinda.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow," were the reasons given by the magazine .

One of the other 'persons' who made it to the shortlist was Mother Nature. In light of the tsunami, earthquakes, Katrina and other unusual natural phenomena shaking our world, a strong case indeed. But not one providing any inspiration or hope. You can't tame nature, can you?

But you can celebrate the good being done by mere mortals. Especially those who 'are not the people you expect to come to the rescue'. As the essay accompanying the mugshots elaborates:

Rock stars are designed to be shiny, shallow creatures, furloughed from reality for all time. Billionaires are even more removed, nestled atop fantastic wealth where they never again have to place their own calls or defrost dinner or fly commercial. So Bono spends several thousand dollars at a restaurant for a nice Pinot Noir, and Bill Gates, the great predator of the Internet age, has a trampoline room in his $100 million house.

It makes you think that if these guys can decide to make it their mission to save the world, partner with people they would never otherwise meet, care about causes that are not sexy or dignified in the ways that celebrities normally require, then no one really has a good excuse anymore for just staying on the sidelines and watching.

Offbeat choice but eloquent justification. I buy it!

This morning, the Economic Times also announced its 'Person of the Year'. No, not Manmohan Singh or the Ambanis or any of the usual suspects. It's Abhishek Bachchan.

Granted, a pink paper does not have to select a businessman to 'capture the new spirit of confidence that's emerging across India Inc and represents the spirit of 2006'. But the connect they've tried to make between Aby's career and Indian business is well, not that convincing.

"So, why is he on top of the heap these days? Because he worked at it. And that is our connection with confident new India of 2006. None of these companies had it easy (care to elaborate "which companies?"), they faced competition and hurdles ("doesn't every company, and every individual?"), both nationally and internationally, and had to overcome their small-town image ("maybe in the year 2000! With India now the acknowledged hub for IT and outsourcing... what are they talking about??)

This part is more well reasoned.

"An Indian company becoming a global leader? AB Baby becoming a hot stud? Yet it's happened. With some luck and a lot more professionalism, hard work and sheer grit..."

Very true but 'hard work' and 'grit' are such boring cliches. Isn't it also about being in the right place at the right time? A number of factors have come together to script the 'emerging India story'. A youthful demographic, burgeoning middle class, low-cost worker advantage etc etc.

Same is the case with AB jr. Shahrukh turned 40 this year. India needed a hot new, 'youth' star. Aby finally started working with better film makers. And he decided not to shave.
ET credits him with 4 'hits' this year: Bunty aur Babli, Sarkar, Dus and (strangely enough!) Salaam Namaste - in a cameo.

Yes, Abhishek was outstanding in B & B and Sarkar. But both films were painstakingly crafted in all departments - whether subject, script, cinematography, music or art direction. The star's success was born out of working with the right people and the right projects.

Just like business mostly is.

There's a lot more one can dissect but my fingers hurt from typing. No, the article is not yet online (today's ET is available online only tomorrow you see)

"When Aby Baby rocks, India rolls..." says ET. For those still looking for their cool, offbeat, under-30 'person of the year'...

"When Sania serves, India lurves..."
"When Mallika reveals, India squeals.."
"When Irfan takes wicket, India buys ticket "...

The possibilities are endless!

Why do I love this author?

Po Bronson is an amazing writer.

'What should I do with my life' had a seminal influence on mine. I happened to read it at a time when I too was asking that question. And it helped me realise the path I had chosen for myself was the right one after all.

Yes, starting JAM magazine had been the original dream. But somewhere along the way - caught up in the grind of running a magazine - I had stopped writing. And with that something inside me died.

'What should I do with my life' rekindled the chahat to write inside me. Besides the book, here's something Bronson wrote on his website titled "Advice on writing":

It takes an average of ten years dedication before you can make a living writing creatively full time. Even those who succeed early are often rewarded with praise too early, trapping them in a yet-to-mature phase as they attempt to repeat their success. It all evens out over time.

Finding a way to allow yourself the time, to buy time as you mature into your writing, is the biggest "how to".

That rang so true! I started freelancing when I was in college, had 100 published articles to my credit before I graduated - in every publication of the day from TOI to Sunday Oberver to Femina. I continued to write during my MBA, then on my first job (where else - Bennett Coleman & Co).

And then JAM happened but kaboom! I became more of an editorial manager than a writer. To begin with, JAM was meant to showcase the talents of college students and I wasn't one anymore. As time went by, I started having doubts about my ability to write for people much younger than me... And then about my ability to write itself.

Nothing I wrote sounded right to me. So I didn't.

To cut a long story short, I did find the courage to start writing again. And more importantly, the 'voice'. By voice I mean the confidence to let the sentences flow from somewhere inside me without agonising over every word. Without comparing myself to anyone else or their style of writing. Just being myself.

But a more tempered, sensitised and reasoned self than the younger me.

Here's what Bronson has to say once again which every writer must internalise:

Write from your whole self. If you have a sense of humor, make sure that flavor’s in your writing. If you like talking ideas, make sure there are ideas in your writing. Anything less will be unsustainable.

And here's another bit of advice I like:
Don't work up to your observations - don't save them for the last word. Start with them. Put your very best stuff first, and then force yourself to grow and synthesize and come up with more, more stuff to rival your best.

Here's one of the first pieces I wrote after I got into writer mode:

Life, liberty & pursuit of yuppieness (Businessworld March 2004)

And another... If you ain't a cat, don't worry! (, July 2004)

Both these articles quote from Bronson's book and this one I like in particular:

Individual success will not be attained by migrating to a particular 'hot' industry, or by adopting a particular career guiding mantra?

Instead, the individuals that thrive will do so because they focussed on the question of who they really are, and from that they found work that they truly love, and in so doing unleashed a productive and creative power they never imagined.

This is one of the arresting thoughts in the book I underlined with a pink marker. And it may sound strange but once in a few months I glance through the underlined paras of the book. And it inspires me, every time!

So there, this is the fan mail I should have written long ago but never got around to.

And as a fan I will definitely be picking up his new book 'Why do I love these people'? A book Bronson himself describes as "another in my unique style of social documentary, using incredibly real stories from ordinary people surviving the challenges of their family".

In short, a subject that could degenerate into a 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'. But, with Bronson writing you know he'll manage to carve out a 'big picture'. And yet make these ordinary people and their dilemmas come alive in a manner that makes you go "I know exactly what he's talking about".

Will let you know in case the book falls below expectation - am pretty sure it won't. Magar kya ummeed se dugni hai? Gimme a week's time to find out!

P.S Also read the amazing: Nudist on the Late shift by Po Bronson. Especially if you work in an IT company!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Buy, all ye faithful

'Cos you gotta have faith goes the old George Michael song. Sure. But the rise of religion-based identity is a vexing issue - as recent events in both France and Australia have shown.

Should we nullify differences, or acknowledge and celebrate them? That is the big question.

The French government's controversial ‘no headscarves’ rule in public schools is a reflection of the 'nullify' school of thought. But people will believe what they have to believe, is what any smart businessman knows. So let's acknowledge that and create products to cater to their unfulfilled needs!

Faith based products
In September this year, Paris saw the launch of a Muslim-themed fast-
food restaurant - Buerger King ('buer' being the French slang for second generation Muslim immigrants from North Africa). The menu is standard but the waitresses wear head-scarves and all the meat served is 'halal'.

Then there's ‘Mecca Cola’. Launched in 2003 by French entrepreneur Tawfik Mathlouthi with a shoestring budget of €22 000, the soft drink cleverly capitalised on anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.
Additionally, Mecca Cola tom-toms its commitment to donate 20% of its profits to charity - 10% to Palestinian children and10% to local organisations, wherever it sells.

Mecca Cola has spawned me-toos like Qibla cola in the UK and a 7-up alternative - Muslim UP.

What’s faith got to do with choice of cellphone? Well, with a little imagination it well might. The Ilkone i800 is the world’s first- ever 'Islamic' mobile phone.

The handset includes features such as establishing Qibla direction (towards the Ka'bah at Mecca, which Muslims face to pray) from anywhere in the world and automatic precise prayer timing with inbuilt Azaan (call to prayers). Additionally, the Ilkone i800 contains the full text of the Holy Qur'an with English translations -approved by the scholars of Al-Azhar in Egypt.

The phone was the brainchild of Saqer. Tellawi, a Palestinian telecommunication professional, who led a 2 ½ year R&D effort to develop the phone with the best technology, and highest quality 'Muslim' features. The product has been available in the Middle East since last year but was launched only in October 2005 in key
markets such as Malaysia. The company also targetted the 12-16 million strong Muslim population in Europe with a pre-Ramzan rollout in the Netherlands.

Other 'culturally compliant' products introduced by local entrepreneurs include 'Razanne' (a doll with a hijab) and Shukr Online (a store specialising in 'modest clothing'.

Does faith sell?
But are these ventures small niche opportunities which make for interesting headlines, or do they signify an important trend marketers need to take note of?

Ilkone has sold just 100,000 units in the past year, although it is hoping that number will soon swell to a million handsets. The lack of key features such as camera and MP3 player is likely to put off trendy young Muslims. As for Mecca Cola, although it did get off to a promising start, the brand has under 1% of the market share in its biggest territory - France.

However, the slow progress being made by faith-based products could have more to do with the limitations of the start-ups selling them, than inherent lack of market potential. But it’s unlikely that large corporations will actually use religion to sell products. And if they do, it will be cloaked under the garb of ‘cultural sensitivity’.

The Ikea store in north London recently asked to design a ‘hijab’ with the brand logo sewed on - for employees who wished to wear one as part of the company uniform. A symbolic
we-accept-you-are-different gesture which well might attract more Muslim customers to the shop.

Corporations like McDonald’s have always taken cognisance of local dietary preferences - religious restrictions included. So, in India, Mac sensibly deleted pork and beef from its menu. Conforming to local custom, it’s ‘halal’ burgers in the Middle East and similarly, there’s a ‘kosher’ outlet in Jersualem to satisfy Orthodox Jews.

The new trend however is that based on demand from the local population, individual McDonalds and KFCs offer 'halal' items - in cities like Sydney and Detroit. A response to rising immigrant populations who, instead of assimilating into what ‘is available’, influence the availability itself.

Helping to 'keep the faith'
A recent report in IHT noted that “Global financial institutions, led by HSBC, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas, are now setting up either Islamic divisions or separate banks.”

HSBC’s ‘Amanah Islamic Banking Solutions’ are currently offered in Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, USA, UK, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Brunei and Singapore. The ‘Amanah’ products and services conform to the requirements of Islamic ‘shariah’ law.

Muslims, with their very distinct religion-based preferences, form the largest and most attractive market for faith-based products. But ‘Born Again Christians’ are being targeted similarly, in the US. The entertainment industry, in particular, is looking at churches as a serious alternative marketing ‘channel’ to reach out to family audiences.

‘The Passion of the Christ’, which raked in more than $400 million at the box office alone was marketed intensively at churches. But then, the subject matter was such that the strategy made perfect sense.

But the recent Walt Disney film ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ has nothing to do with Jesus – it’s about golf. Yet Disney held sneak previews at influential churches, promoting it as a film with “very secular, but potentially Christian virtues”.

Disney has also hired Motive Entertainment, which handled "The Passion of the Christ" church-marketing campaign, to sell the fantasy film "Narnia" to Christian audiences. Incidentally, many view the tale as a "Christian allegory."

20th Century Fox has gone a step further and launched a website called which sells ‘family-friendly’ home videos to the Christian audience . A ‘church resources’ link offers downloads of Bible verses that are relevant to scenes in particular films.

It’s all a numbers game – greeting cards giant Hallmark classifies 72 million Americans as ‘Born Again’ and 14 million as ‘Evangelical’. Recognising the need to cater to this giant market, in 1999 Hallmark acquired ‘Dayspring’, a company specialized in the production of Christian greeting cards.

A CNN/Money report titled “The Financial Power of Faith” reported that religious-themed books now represent the No. 3 publishing category by market share, after popular fiction and cooking. That’s $1 billion in book sales – excluding Bibles. While in music, Contemporary Christian music (CCM) recordings now outsell classical and jazz music combined. 43 million Christian ‘rock’ albums flew off the shelves last year.

Even gaming developers are eyeing this lucrative market. Companies like ‘Digital Praise’ aim to provide wholesome alternatives to the gory games currently in the market with titles such as ‘Bible Games’ for the Xbox, PS2 and Gameboy.

The India story
Given the political incorrectness of the idea, overtly faith-based marketing does not really find favour. So, for example, instead of labelling themselves as ‘Hindu’, channels like Aastha sell on a ‘spiritual’ platform.

Of course, in the late 80s, Godrej Soaps did try to market ‘Ganga’ bath soap – hoping that its ‘Gangajal’ content would attract the devout. It didn’t work. Even though around the same time Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan was a monster hit on television.

Now the Sagars may have another winning idea on their hands. Shiv Sagar, son of Ramanand Sagar, has plans to build ‘Gangadham’ a 25 acre Hindu ‘theme park’ at Hardwar. Dubbed ‘Disneyland on the Ganges’ by the BBC, the park aims to recreate great moments in Hindu mythology through hi-tech rides, an animated mythological museum, a "temple city", food courts and a sound and light show. Expected completion date: 2007.

Last but not the least, there's ‘tele-shopping’ on late night television. Now, in addition to miracle knives and magical stain removers, religion-based products are being hawked.

Kader Khan is peddling ‘Allah ke darwaaze ka aks’ while Smriti Irani extols the virtues of ‘ShreeYantra’, invoking Ram, Sita and a host of other Hindu gods. Health, peace and happiness for just Rs 1999 (posting and handling extra).

All major credit cards accepted.

As you might note from the rather formal tone of this piece, it was not written as a blogpost. Was felt to be potentially controversial for MSM, hence sees light of day here instead!

P.S. I am not for or against faith-based products - simply a keen observer of trends.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Whose degree is it anyways

CNBC TV18's 'Uncovered' had a feature on Indian business schools offering foreign degrees without AICTE approval.

IIPM and Rai are among the 36 Indian B schools who were issued notices by AICTE for offering 'foreign degrees' to students without getting the necessary green signal from the council.

In their defence, both IIPM and Rai claim that they are not offering any technical course - they are offering programs in planning and entrepreneurship.

In which case it is not clear why these programs use the term 'MBA' in their advertisements (MBA being classified as a technical subject coming under purview of AICTE).

Why not offer 'MPE' (Master in Planning & Entrepreneurship!)

Repeat telecast at these times (IST):
Sunday 18 Dec: 2.00 pm, 8.30 pm

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ybrid hunger solutions

Dominos India has introduced a 'cheeseburger pizza'. It's kind of ironic because a couple of years ago the burger people - McDonald's - introduced the 'Pizza McPuff'.

Well, I had a taste of the new hybrid pizza and must say it was surprisingly good. I use the word surprise because I'm not a satisfied Dominos customer.

Originally we ordered Dominos because it was the only home delivery pizza available where I live. Now there's a Smoking Joes (which is infinitely better) but I can never recall the number. And so, Dominos wins every time.

Besides, Dominos keeps dropping coupons by your house with this or that offer. And one fine day when you're tired of the maid's cooking but too tired to go out and eat either, you see their flyer with the cheese doing a nach balliye with the toppings and say, 'let's order!'

However 8 times out of 10 I have been unhappy with the pizza when it actually arrives. The base is too thick and elasticky in your mouth. The pizza too bland. Or, exotic sounding but ordinary.

In fact the non-pizza items on the menu have always been more satisfying. The twisty bread, garlic breadstick and most of all the Cinna Stix with Apple Dip.

Mmm ..accha hai
Well, this time was different. The 'cheeseburger pizza' is good. The good thing is I didn't know what I was biting into or I may have had a less objective opinion. A cheeseburger pizza, after all, sounds pretty 'cheesy'.

This pizza has a filling and a topping. The filling reminded me more of pav bhaji than a 'burger' but the overall effect was good. The concept seems to be inspired by our desi stuffed parathas than a burger if you ask me. But 'paratha pizza' may not have sounded that cool.

Of course, I am sure the extra layers of cheese + the burger filling = many, many more calories than regular pizzas. So, plan to have two slices instead of three.

And yeah, do check out their new 'India' website. The steam rising from the pizza featured on the home page is a great idea. Makes you actually want to order now.

But no, I'm trying to shed some weight and so will firmly resist!

One day they'll figure out how to add smell to the cyberequation and then.. well it won't be that easy.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Shoots, eats and leaves

Nope, I didn't get the book title all mixed up. This is the exact sequence of events at the average I-know-you-barely-but-must-attend-your-wedding scenario.

The invitation came from a supplier whom we have dealt with closely over the last 10 years. So had he not invited us for his son's wedding thoda bura bhi lagta. And having been invited we had to turn up. Knowing fully well we will know not a single soul at the event.

So what do you do? Land up, stand in line, wish the happy couple, hand over the bouquet and get the mandatory picture clicked. Then, you head straight for the food and boy - was it great!

This was one of those classy Gujju weddings held in an open air ground off Marine Drive. So while there opulence was definitely in the air, unlike the similar weddings I've seen in Delhi and Punjab, everything was pleasantly understated.

Yes, there were some 25 different food counters - including pasta, stir dry, chaat, salad, crostini, north Indian, south Indian, Gujarati and what have you. Plus a separate 'without onion/ garlic' counter. But the best part was the portions - everything had been made in mini-size servings so you could try 10 different things but end up wasting very little.

As for the dessert counter - it had a 'chocolate fountain'! OK, not as grand as the kind you'd see in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. This was basically a variation of the fondue pot. Dipping bits of fruit or bread or whatever into the chocolate was fun though it didn't taste all that great.

But all put together... Mmm, it was good.

Shaadi ke prakaar

Weddings are like sentences - they come in three forms:

* 'First person' : When you are the one getting married
I am sure many people have memorable, perfect weddings. Mine - crammed with relatives and rituals - passed by in a blur. Years later you look at your ghastly pics in a photo album with a ghastlier red rose on it and vaguely recall "this happened"

* 'Second person': When someone close to you is gets married
This is the best kind of wedding. You get an excuse to shop for sequinned outfits and matching purse/ footwear without worrying about in laws, joint accounts and 'shall I change my surname or not?'

Of course, if the one getting married is too close to you - like a brother, favourite cousin or best friend - you may have to volunteer for some of the 'work' as well. Such as ferrying people from railway stations and airports, keeping track of gifts and envelopes or minding the bride's suitcase filled with jewellery... Grin and bear it!

* 'Third person': When someone barely known to you is getting married
This can be the most boring of all events. Or extremely interesting.

The fact that you know very few people there means you don't have pressure to dress up too much and look your best. But you have every right to check out what the others are wearing and pass judgement without feeling guilty.

But like I said, the real deciding factor is the food... Aisa nahin hai ki we are now starved hostellers magar phir bhi. A great wedding feast has a charm all its own.

Enjoy the next one that comes your way!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Ethics of MBAs

Felt rather disgusted when I first read this in ET:

In a shocking case of corporate misgovernance, a senior executive of Samsung India Electronics, the Indian arm of the South Korean electronic giant, misappropriated funds worth several crores of rupees from his firm, using ingenious methods to achieve his task.

Vivek Prakash, vice-president, sales and marketing (IT division), had everything going for him. He was only 34 years old and, in the firm’s hierarchy, he was next only to the director, drawing a handsome salary. His total package amounted to Rs 40 lakhs per annum.

Yet, he put in his papers abruptly one fine morning, last January. When he did so, his bosses in India and in South Korea were not surprised. From late last year, they could detect irregularities in his functioning. On scrutiny, they stumbled upon something to give them sleepless nights for many days.

Using R S Sahu, manager, accounts (receivables), an officer who was reporting directly to him, as an accomplice, Prakash had duped the company of Rs 18 crore. While the Delhi Police’s economic offences wing (EOW) had already laid its hands upon evidence on the embezzlement of this amount, there is a feeling that magnitude of the fraud could be bigger.

Was even more disgusted when I learn that this guy is an IIM grad (Bangalore - '95 batch).

Yes, one on the one hand there is Manjunath who sacrificed his life, unwilling to be bought out. And on the other hand there is Vivek Prakash who sacrificed his honour, who so willingly sold out.

And for what? Why would someone who had everything going for him take such a risk? I guess he thought he was just too smart to get caught.

But he did and the future looks pretty bleak. The Delhi high court recently refused his application for anticipatory bail.

Smarts vs Ethics
There is a hectic debate going on in some of the IIM egroups and mailing lists. One alum wrote:

I suggest IIMs and alumni collectively should take the lead in denouncing this guy (and any other alumnus caught doing such things or worse)... take back the degree, etc. To send the message that while even IIMs may have black sheep, we strongly condemn such behaviour, and will take the lead in punishing him, in whatever ways we can.

Another adds: I just finished reading a book about the Enron collapse ("Smartest Guys In The Room"), where most of the fraudsters were very highly educated. Education is no guarantee for ethics... But still, it is a shock - coming so soon after Manju.

Of course in case of Enron it wasn't one individual but an entire organisation built on a culture where the bottomline came first and nothing else mattered.

Oh, they did have an 'Official Code of Ethics'. As Michael Miller describes it: The July 2000 booklet is nearly 65 pages of take-the-high-road legalese that must have made employees feel they were working for the Vatican or some other equally pure and clean organization...

As they say it's all about what you do and not about what you say or preach. And a conscience is something that ought to prick you when no one is looking.

A blot on us all?
I don't know what the IIM 'community' can do to punish Vivek Prakash.

But yes, in some small way his individual decision to embrace the Dark Side does leave a small blot on the collective brand equity of IIM graduates. Just like Manjunath's principled stand added a positive shine to it.

We, who condemn corruption at large should highlight the need for ethical practices in business. And along with Manjunath, include a case study on Vivek Prakash to be taught in b schools as well!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ethics of MBA Admissions

A decade ago life for a b school aspirant was relatively simple. You gave the CAT, CET and XL entrance - then hoped to get in somewhere.

Now, the sheer multitude of entrance exams, procedures, interviews, GDs - simply boggles the mind. Add to that admission deadlines and the ensuing decision dilemmas that candidates face. Because B schools can't follow student-friendly policies.

Some announce their admissions as early as February, others in April. Students who pay up at B schools which close their admissions early end up losing anything from Rs 50,000-100,000 even though they withdraw their applications a full two months before the start of the academic session.

The vacated seats are invariably filled up by wait-listed candidates.

Nilesh Gupta, an FPM student at IIM A decided to take up the matter and blogged about it here. The strange bit is Nilesh is doing this not because he himself lost any money but because he feels justice must be done.

We at JAM too share in Nilesh's concern for the student community and hence teamed up with him to bring out a detailed and exhaustive story of the many students who have faced this 'non-refund' problem. It's a problem that prevails at a multitude of institutes.

JAM has a 2 page feature on 'Ethics of MBA Admission' in its Dec 15 issue which hits stands shortly.

You can also access the article here. Feel free to share your own views and experiences in the comments section.

There will be more updates on this and other admission related issues, in days to come.

Sting Thing

What an amazing sting! Amazing because just a few days ago Aaj Tak was pleased as punch that apna reporter managed to sneak into Amitabhji's hospital room.

Yesterday, with Operation Duryodhana, executed in partnership with Aniruddha Bahal's Cobrapost , the channel gave a real and powerful example of what being 'sabse tez' can be about.

Yes, competition may have dumbed down TV but with it also comes the incentive to take risks and do something to rise above the clutter. Something like Operation Duryodhana.

It's great that Aaj Tak recognised 'we can't do everything'. No major media house would have the expertise, the patience or the balls to pull of a sting operation of this magnitude. Working 8 months on one story? Uh, 8 days is a major 'well-researched' magazine cover. 8 hours is more like it on most days.

For Cobrapost too, the Aaj Tak tie up makes a lot of sense. Remember what happened with tehelkagate? Sure it got coverage but by giving co-ownership of the Duryodhana story to the Today group, Cobrapost's sting makes a huge impact. And won't die down easily either.

Within hours all the parties whose MPs are implicated had suspended their MPs. Excepting the RJD.

Contrast with the tehelka scandal where those caught on camera remained defiant and instead tried to harass tehelka. Probably thinking: woh log chhote hain, unka mooh band karva sakte hain.

Now, it ain't gonna be possible. You can attack Aniruddha Bahal and his team but can you malign the India Today group and get away with it?

The Aaj tak tie up also makes great financial sense for the Small Guy. 5 lakhs were paid in bribes to the MPs alone. There must have been hajaar other incidental expenses. And of course the cost of running the Cobrapost operations - salaries, cellphones et al.

Instead of worrying about how the office electricity bill - as well as how to create an impact with the story - Cobrapost could concentrate on its core area of expertise: conducting the sting operation.

And it looks like they invested in some really great spy cameras 'cause the picture quality is far far superior to the grainy visuals generally seen in a sting operation.

As far as Aaj Tak is concerned what is Rs 15-20 lakhs? Or even more?? Sure there was a small risk that things would not come through but with Bahal's reputation that was a risk worth taking.

The result is a story that will give Aaj Tak eyeballs worth several crores. Given that the channel had Star News nipping at its heels recently, this is surely just what the TRP doctor ordered.

And it goes to show that no matter how many times you change your channel graphics, the ratings will come only when you give viewers a reason to tune in for your core offering - NEWS.

Giving Credit
The issue is of such national interest that no competitor can afford to ignore it. But surprisingly, this time almost all have been graceful enough to acknowledge it was a Cobrapost-Aaj Tak sting operation.

This includes even the biggies like TOI and HT although curiously ET has not done so and in its online article TOI is a little more coy, only mentions Aaj Tak.

Only NDTV appears to be in denial and sulking. . No mention of this news at all on their current homepage
In their late night bulletin last night the top story was 'opening of Pune International airport'.

Star News, meanwhile, took a 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' view and was airing its own series of 'look, these are your dirty politician' bulletins.

Getting politicians from across the spectrum of parties was a really smart idea. Perhaps that's what took the operation so long?

Given that 6 BJP MPs succumbed to the Dark Side one can infer that those in the party out of power have less avenues for 'income' and can be tempted more easily.

But how come there are no MPs from Left parties? Can the public conclude they have more integrity?

Secondly, did all the MPs approached agree to take bribes? Or were there some who refused? That might be interesting to know.

Some of the questions MPs agreed to raise were absolute rubbish. eg an imaginary genetically modified "Catch 22 cottonseed" . And the ROTFL :
“Is it true that while NRI firms such as India Uncut of USA, Sepia Mutiny of Britain and AnarCap Lib of Netherlands have been allowed to invest in Indian SSIs, the reputed German investment firm Desipundit has been denied permission? If so, the reasons thereof?

Is the Union Government of India planning to make automatic the long procedure of permission for SSIs to import new technologies such as Trackbacks, Pingbacks, Blogrolls, Splogs and Hitcounters?”

This question was submitted with the purpose of getting a reply from the minister of Small Scale Industries. Thankfully, there are some brains functioning in Parliament house because from Cobrapost's press release it would seem that none of the faltu questions actually made it to the floor or even as questions worthy of written replies.

But yeah, they make for a great story. It's good to see the Cobrapost guys retain a sense of humour in what must have been a tense and trying time.

And I love the name 'Operation Duryodhana'. Although it's not apt in the literal sense coz the operation was more of a political 'vastraharan'.

This time the Duryodhans were the ones getting 'exposed'. And ironically, it was a woman - Cobrapost's intrepid Suhasini Raj - who was doing the exposing.

And much as I'd like to see who she is, I hope she and the rest of the sting ops team stays away from the limelight. So we can look forward to many more such Duryodhans and vastraharans!

That sinking feeling

Imagine this hideous thing in your bathroom. With a matching commode and similar fancy-shmancy tiles.

Imagine staring at this for for 10 minutes of every day for the next 20 years of your life.

Because that's what happens if you buy the wrong bathroom fittings. You can sell off dud shares. You can throw away ill-fitting clothes. But junking a bathroom? Next to impossible.

And it's not just the money although yes - it costs a bomb. The bigger cost is your time and your life, both of which get screwed when random workmen float in and out of your house. And keep requiring random sums of money for screws and pipes and what not.

After which you check on the progress made in the last hour and note the shelf is slightly crooked or the tiles don't look like they're stuck on right.

But do you want perfection or do you just want peace? If you're not Monica from Friends, you know the answer!

Thande thande paani se...
...Log kisi zamaane mein nahate the. These days jacuzzis and shower cubicles and all those jazzy '5 star' type bathrooms are yours for the asking. (Even those lovely transparent glass sinks!)

Of course if you are an average dude living in a 900 sq ft Mumbai flat the best you can try for is a shower with jet-sprays. For which you have to spend on installing a pressure pump and a storage geyser and what have you.

Apparently, the real high end stuff sells for as much as Rs 7 lakhs.

The latest in this is a steam shower with transparent glass cabin with two seats and a door. It is equipped with an overhead shower and two bodyshowers. Other installation cabin includes a steam generator, thermostat temperature sensor, lighting and ventilation unit. An automatic fragrance unit is another temptation.

That article appeared in the Chandigarh Tribune and honestly I think that's where the real market for these products is. The last time I was in Ludhiana I was amazed by this 3 storey high shop on the outskirts of the city with model after model of amazing 'imported' bathroom fittings.

I guess they don't pay 1 crore for poky flats in Cuffe Parade and Bandra - they build sprawling kothis. And each bathroom is lovingly done up to reflect one's status in life.

The old joke was you hid your non-tax paid money beneath the bathroom tiles -now the money stares back at you from the crystal plated faucet.

Nah, I don't grudge 'em these small joys. Sanitaryware zindabad. Yes, we want our bathrooms to be 'glamourooms'.

But sadly, you never quite know if it's gonna go the glamour way or the horror way... I myself have one half-finished orange and white bathroom to ponder over. Kaafi bhayanak lag raha hai.

Pray for me.

P.S. On popular demand, I am adding on Google Adsense. Will let you know if and when I make enough to pick up a couple of designer soapdishes!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Nil n Icky

"That movie is gonna be one of the worst ever..." predicted one reader in response to this post last month.

You were dead right, girl. Neal n Nicky is not "funny, frothy and fantastic" . If there is one F word that describes it (besides the obvious one) it's FAKE.

Neal, "the Neal", if you please describes himself as a typical Indian boy with "nothing typically Indian about him". However, the only "unIndian" quality he exhibits is playing American football (or perhaps the Canadian version ).

Who else but a desi banda plays the field but knows deep down in their heart: I will have an arranged marriage!"

Because my Mummy knows what's best for me.

Come again?
The trouble is, if Neal is supposed to be this suave 'ladies man' then it's not clear why his eyes pop out everytime a hot chick passes by. As in God-I-am-so-lucky-she's-even-looking-at-me.

Then we have Nikki, who is out to prove that Indian naaris can also look as starved as Kate Moss. We can roam around in bikini tops and mini skirts, just like those white chicks. And have dishy ex-boyfriends who speak French. But wait, the Indian naari is superior because she will still be a virgin.

Of course she does behave badly once in a while, but only when drunk. That's when she sings songs with lyrics like: "I wanna show my body groove the nite away .. Halla re, halla re". And says to strangers 'take me home'.

But she meant her own home, silly.

What went wrong
You know the teens-finding-true-love-after-trashing-the-countryside genre of films in Hollywood. This is the Yashraj version. But no, it just does not work. For one the actors can't carry off their parts. Uday is too wannabe, Tanisha screechy and desperate to show off her ribcage ("see, see how much charbi I lost!")

The first half is particularly and spectacularly bad. Things actually improve after the interval. And the ending is rather sweet. But, it's too little, too late. The movie ends and you don't really care this way or that.

There are some nice touches here and there, of course. The most memorable 'kracter' of the film is the sardar with a guitar (modelled on Rabbi Shergill) who suddenly jumps out and plays a crucial part.

Which is sad because there was plenty of comic potential. Except someone forgot to write the jokes and decided to distract the audience with cleavage instead.

India Rocks
You know how for years we Indians lamented that Hollywood shows India as a nation of elephants and snakecharmers? Well we are finally having sweet revenge with Bollywood. And Yashraj films is leading the charge...

It started with Bunty aur Babli where the duo made an idiot out of two dumb whites by 'selling' them the Taj Mahal. Then in Salaam Namaste you had Jaaved Jaffrey's bimbo sidekick whose only dialogue was 'sorry?'

Now, you have dozens of white bimbo chicks pouring out of tight t shirts. All eyeing our Indian hunk. One babe even introduces her body parts by name (yeww, but true). If I were white and female I'd scream,"Hey, we're not all like that! Bollywood, you have the wrong idea..."

Tough luck, sister. You're an extra in our films now - like we were once in yours.

Parody time
Lastly, the makers do try a touch of self-deprecating humour. There's a small parody of DDLJ with Neal and Nikki running towards each other in a sarson ka khet before they say "nah". That's not our style.

But it's taken to literal and ridiculous lengths when they actually dance on mountain tops in true Bollywood style, to make Nikki's firang ex-boyfriend 'jealous'. Again, it could have been funny but isn't.

Bottomline: Neal n Nikki is going to get very bad reviews. I would give it 1.5 stars. Only for the ending - make that two.

It's not about being meaningful or making sense. But films like Kya Cool Hain Hum or No Entry were at least fun and feel-good. This one never quite evokes even those feelings.

Neal 'N' Nikki better not be a hit! declared and I sincerely hope so too. Because that would force the film makers to treat the youth audience with more respect.

And enough of globe-trotting. Can we have a youth-centric Yashraj film set in contemporary India, for a change?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

This is a recruitment ad

I once signed up for Google Adsense but never added the code to my blog. Because I don't think it's gonna fetch me any significant revenues.

But the non-monetary benefits of blogging have been more than sufficient to keep me going. Besides the pleasure writing gives me, it's amazing to see the amount of young creative talent on display. And heartening as well.

Because the first rule of 'wanting to be a writer' is you have to WRITE! Yet, over the last 10 years hundreds of young people have written to me with eir 'inclination' to write for JAM. Very few actually send you any proof of their ability to do so.

Ask 'em to write and send you sample and many say 'give me a topic'. Well, that's the second rule of 'wanting to be a writer' - you gotta find a topic and sell the idea to your editor. Sure, I might give out assignments from time to time but definitely favour those who come to me with *some* thoughts of their own.

If I do all the thinking for you, where's the fun?

And that's why I like bloggers who write to me saying they'd want to contribute to JAM - they have an existing body of work.

Conversely, when a blogger's work impresses me I do not hesitate to ask him/ her -"Dude, can we publish this post?" Aditya, Gaurav, Anantha Narayan and Chanakya are a few of the bloggers whose bylines have graced JAM in recent months.

Going one step further, I have offered assignments to bloggers. Bhavya Khanna covered India Fashion Week 2005 for JAM and did a fantastic job of it. More so because he had no experience - he saw the event with fresh and freaky eyes.

Assignments anyone?
So here's the deal. JAM is not a magazine with a fleet of 26 reporters. We could do with eyes, ears and legs everywhere. But eyes, ears and legs who can write with attitude and flair.

Some of our current requirements include folks who'd like to cover:

a) Rock shows/ rock bands

b) Review music albums (they can be couriered to you)

c) Review movies - this would suit the vela types who can attend preview shows on weekday mornings in south Bombay.

d) Review eating joints

e) Review nightspots

f) Review college festivals

g) Write on tech trends, sports

h) Lastly and most importantly - write humour pieces and even JAM cover stories!

Location: Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune in particular but rest of India may apply as well. Phoren based writers? What the heck, we could use great content from anywhere in the world.

OK, so I'm not expecting any one person to do all of this. Just pick and choose what turns you on and where you think you can deliver.

We pay for all published articles + expenses on specific assignments. So there's your chance for some pizza money. And fame, fortune, glory! Nah - that you have already :)

And oh, lastly. Am also looking for a writer who'd like to WORK with JAM full time, based in Mumbai. If you are crazy enough to apply for a job you saw advertised on a blog - you could be just the person we're looking for!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Yeh India, woh India

6th December is a date which will be remembered in history textbooks as the day on which the Babri masjid was demolished.

But, if you are a resident of Mumbai, it is the day you know you'll be stuck in a massive traffic snarl. Because 6th December is the day that thousands of dalits descend on Chaityabhoomi near Shivaji Park - to pay homage to Dr B R Ambedkar on his death anniversary.

Many will stay on for a day or two - to 'see' the city. They will camp on the roads, at railway stations. Their presence will be an eyesore and a nuisance to us city-slickers.

And yet, we can only be grateful that they do go back to whatever miserable existence they know. That they don't choose to stay on here and demand a share in the visible prosperity of the 'other India'.

Because with their sheer magnitude in number, under an able leadership, they can easily decide it's time for 'revolution'!

On the other hand...
Even as the 'have nots' choose to stay peaceful, the haves are going on rampage. And over what? A bucket of water!

TOI reports:
It all started on Saturday morning when two first year MBBS students, Sanchit Mittal and M Chandrakant, got into an argument over who would first get hot water for a bath. Chandrakant complained to the acting secretary of R M Bhatt Hostel, Ramdas Morale, a third-year student.

Morale and four others confronted an injured Mittal and later warned all non-Maharashtrian students not to "trouble" others.

Despite efforts to broker peace on Saturday and Sunday, a huge mob entered the hostel shouting slogans Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji! on Sunday night, students said. They vandalised the hostel rooms and beat up non-Maharashtrians.

All students are now out on bail - the judge apparently took cognisance of the fact that they have exams coming up. So instead of cooling their heels in the lock up, they only have to 'report' to the police station twice a week.

And finally...
As I write this TV channels are flashing the news that there has been a lathi charge at Mumbai airport. Supporters of spiritual leader Swami Narendra were protesting against him being frisked by airport security.

To disperse this crowd, which refused to leave after demonstrating for over 2 hours outside the domestic terminal, a lathi charge was ordered. TV reporters say many have been injured...

The question: Why was Swamiji flying if he or his supporters have a problem with airport security? And if they did have a problem was protesting loudly the correct and spiritual thing to do?

Yes, on the surface there is 'civilisation'. But it doesn't take much for an almost-like-Bihar scenario. It takes but a minor spark to start a fire over imaginary 'issues'.

India is a cauldron, simmering with frustrations. Something is cooking - and it doesn't smell good.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Too much of a good thing

"When Fun Republic opened opposite Fame (the Shringar-owned mutliplex) in Andheri, my weekly profit after tax (PAT) came down to Rs 17 lakh from Rs 19 lakh in the first week. But Fun Republic's PAT for the first week was Rs 11 lakh. What interested me the most was not my decline in profits, but the overall increase in entertainment spending of Rs 9 lakh in the same week, on the same patch of road."
- Shravan Shroff, Shringar films speaking to Businessworld magazine in Dec 2003.

Wonder what Shroff has to say, now that one more retail wonder has come up on the same patch of road. A stone's throw from Fame is 'Infiniti', a swanky new mall-cum-multiplex housing a Westside, Food Bazaar, assorted 'brand' shops, food court and Cinemax theatres.

On a Saturday evening, Fame wore a deserted look as did the shopping complex attached to it. Infiniti was gleaming and comfortably crowd-free - no major footfalls happening here either. No waiting at any of the dozen restaurants dotting the area - from Only Parathas and Kailash Parbat to Little Italy and Ginger Marie.

Now it could be that the duds at the box office (Home Delivery, Mr ya Miss etc) are keeping junta away. Or they're taking a temporary breather in between Diwali and Xmas shopping.

But the bigger question is: how many malls and multiplexes does a single locality need. Or want? How many can it support??

It is estimated that 300 malls are 'under construction' around the country . Great - let Ludhiana and Coimbatore get malls. Let Mira Road and Belapur get malls. But let's use common sense and not add more malls per sq ft in certain areas than there are roads!

According to Chesterton Meghraj, over 40 million in India have same purchasing power as Americans. But Pricewaterhouse Coopers notes:
a. Majority of upcoming mall developments remain fragmented and sub-optimally planned
b. In near future there is likelihood of a shake-out within shopping mall business.

Aur phir kya hoga? Well maybe we can shift our schools and colleges to all those abandoned mall buildings! Or at least the coaching classes...

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ham Delivery

When the going gets tough, actors change the spelling of their names. So Vivek Oberoi is now Viveik Anand Oberoi.

But that does nothing to alter the fact that Home Delivery is an absolute and complete dud of a film. With Vivek/ Viveik playing an absolute and complete dud of a character.

Sunny Chopra is a 'writer' whose claim to fame is writing an agony aunt column in 'The Times of Hindustan'. He is known as 'Gyaan Guru'. In addition Sunny is writing a script for Karan Johar. And he has a beautiful live-in girlfriend (Ayesha Takia) whose chief occupation is making coffee for him and pottering around their swanky studio apartment.

The problem is Sunny is the most fake, insincere and unlikable hero I have ever seen portrayed in Hindi films.

He lies to his boss about being ill so he can work on the script. He lies to Karan Johar because he has no script yet. He lies to his fiancee for a chance to make out with Maya - an actress he meets on a talk show who happens to be his teenage fantasy.

What is even worse is the way he cheats on ordinary matters. Like refusing to pay for the pizza he's ordered because 'if it's late, it's free'. Even when it's bang on time. A guy who wears an Omega and refuses to pay Rs 265 for pizza (shudder - this is not an official product placement, I hope!)

And oh, he also returns worn shirts and used CDs to shops. Girlfriend mildly scolds him and says 'this is not correct'. Why she wants to marry this loser is what I am trying to figure out.

At one point he drops her off at a market, says he's parking the car and instead zooms off for a rendezvous with Maya. And no, none of this is slapstick or comic like in 'No Entry' or 'Kya Cool Hain Hum'. It's high decibel irritating!

To add to the sar mein dard there are a host of peripheral characters who are supposed to be 'funny'. One mad neighbour who is a brahmachari, another who sings to produce rain and a lunatic who kills Page 3 types.

Plus there's a string of 'guest appearances' - Karan as himself, Sunil Shetty, even Abhishek Bachchan in a blink-and-you-miss-him appearance. But it's like dal hi jal gai toh usme tadka maar ke koi faayda nahin.

Far, far more was expected of director Sujoy Ghosh after Jhankaar Beats. Sadly, success probably went to his head. The script looks like it was written on a napkin by a bunch of friends who went out drinking.

Basically, someone first sat and wrote down 20 one liners and cool ideas and then decided to weave a screenplay around it. For example, you have to suffer Sunny referring to his girlfriend as 'Nani' for two hours. Just so that when he gets bonked on the head they can use the lame joke 'nani yaad aati hai'...

No Delivery
Eventually Boman Irani, playing a pizza delivery 'boy' enters Sunny's life and shows him the correct rasta. But not before he too is humiliated, bullied and treated like a piece of garbage - after doing a series of good deeds.

OK, so in the end Sunny apologises to pizzaboy and his girlfriend and realises what her value is but it's really unconvincing. Sunny is meant to represent the modern, metrosexual man. A guy who is afraid of making a commitment.

Fine - such people exist. But the character sketch we are given of this man is so shallow ki usme chullu bhar level ka bhi paani nahin hai. The man hangs a huge blow up of his own smiling face in the living room for Godssake!

But the worst, absolutely worst cut of all is that he dishes out advice as Gyaan Guru and practices the exact opposite in his own life. Maybe some actor could have carried it off - but not Vivek, whose every strand of hair is held in the right place, with the right amount of gel. A man whose I-love-myself-too-much look does not even look like it's taking much effort.

Vivek, the bottomline is it doesn't matter how you spell your name. None of the films you've acted in after Saathiya have given the audience a reason to like you. While watching Kaal I remember thinking it wouldn't be too bad if your character got mauled by one of those tigers.

Here's the really strange bit. Salman Khan killed innocent deer, ran over a sleeping man and beat up his girlfriend. He is not a great human being. And yet when he comes on screen, we forgive him for those couple of hours.

In film after film, Salman plays the lying and cheating cad. But he's the lovable rogue, someone you just can't dislike.

I don't know what the secret is but you sure need to find out! And please, no more wishy-washy roles as rich spoilt brats. Step out of the box, stop looking in the mirror and patting your hair in place.

When the going gets tough, show us you can act!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Bull run

On a regular sleepy afternoon, two sassy young women barge into the JAM office and offer us free cans of 'Red Bull'.

These cans are taken out of cute little silver and blue backpacks along with the crisp instruction: "Don't share the can".

But, uh, why exactly is what you generally think of as a 'club drink' being sampled in offices in the daytime? Let me take a guess. The club market is rather small so someone in marketing decided to 'expand occassions of use'.

"Office workers feel sleepy by mid-afternoon. Let's offer them an alternative to coffee!"

Next brainwave: let's get some cool-looking people to promote the idea and make our already cool drink appear cooler. And let's do other cool things like give these folks a cool n fancy name - 'mobile energisers'.

So far so good but the uncool truth is the can costs 75 bucks. And it tasted horrible to me. Like concentrated kala khatta, except this smelt far worse.

Of course, this is a purely personal opinion - although there are others whose tastebuds seem to share it. Reviews here and here.

However 2 billion cans were guzzled worldwide last year, so there are obviously people who feel differently!

As the Las Vegas Review Journal noted: BusinessWeek reported this summer that Red Bull earned a D+ in a taste test by After a diplomatic pause, Andre Teixeira, manager of rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, said of the flavor: "It's definitely one of those you have to acquire."

That may be part of the attraction :)

'The drink with wings'
The real USP of Red Bull is that it is supposed to energise or give a 'kick'. Every 250 ml can contains 3 times the caffeine in a cola but less than what you might have in a cup of instant coffee (60-100 mg per cup) or freshly ground coffee (80-350 mg per cup)

Besides caffeine, the label on the can says the drink contains vitamins, a carbohydrate (glucuronolactone), an amino acid (taurine), and about five teaspoons of sugar. When Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) asked a laboratory to analyse the drink it found 1000 mg of taurine and 600 mg of glucuronolactone - a naturally occurring substance manufactured by the human body.

Both taurine and glucuronolactone are supposed to detoxify the body.

It's the combination of all these ingredients that gives the Red Bull 'kick' (can't vouch for that - because I gave up after 3 sips!). However it is for that very reason that France, Denmark and Norway have banned sale of the drink.

CBC reported in February 2005 that French nutritionist Isabelle Vanrullen, who works with the country’s food safety agency, says France banned the brew because of how the ingredients in Red Bull interact: “There are various side effects for each one of these three substances, which vary in degrees of severity. And they can also interact with each other.”

The other concern is that unlike energy drinks like Gatorade, Red Bull dehydrates the body. So you shouldn't drink it to replenish your body after strenuous exercise.

Also, it tastes good as a mixer with vodka but there were some concerns when two apparently healthy young people died in 2001 . But although they had consumed Red Bull mixed with vodka no evidence could be found about Red Bull causing those deaths. In any case that was 4 years ago and there have been no adverse reports since.

Personally, I don't see Red Bull a a 'health' issue. Like it? Drink it. I still think it would taste a lot better in a smoky, dimly lit club, with 1000 watts of music - than in front of the office computer.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

MBA entrance: time for a rethink?

Rohit Awasthi wrote in to me with info on a screw up at this year's IIFT extrance exam, held on 27th Nov. As this thread on shows, students at some centres are aggrieved. This is the gist of their online petition which currently has 69 signatures

The complaints:
1) The papers were not sealed and were distributed 5-7 minute before the test started. In some centres they were distributed 10-15 min earlier because invigilator were unaware of the correct instructions to be followed i.e. Question papers were distributed before OMR sheets.

The point being that in an exam where there is fierce competition even a small headstart may give an unfair advantage. A single extra answer may get you that coveted GD/ PI call.

2) At some centres there was precious time lost by the students owing to mismatching between Question paper and OMR sheets distributed by the invigilators. In many centres the mismatching went unnoticed.

3) There were numerous printing errors on the paper leading to confusion in marking answers.

More discussion is going on here.

There is even talk of exerting pressure on IIFT to reconduct the exam - by filing a PIL. Given the current media obsession with everything-to-do-with-bschools, it may make the front pages as well.

Not a nice prospect for IIFT, which is generally considered an A + or "top 10 institute".

Questions that arise
Must IIFT have its own separate exam based on the argument that we are a 'foreign trade institute'? If MICA can take in students through CAT, although it is a specialised advertising and communications course, why not IIFT?

They can test short-listed candidates on foreign trade knowledge at the GD and interview stage - MICA does something similar.

The reason I stress on more institutes joining CAT is that barring the 2003 leak it is a well-conducted exam. There is a set procedure where senior academic and non-academic staff from IIMs are deputed to supervise the administration of the exam at different centres.

From what I know they take the discharge of this duty extremely seriously and one has not heard of IIFT-like complaints.

The reason b schools insist on their own exams is to make a neat packet on the exam fee (average : Rs 1000) from the 10-15,000 students who take each test. (adding up to a couple of easily earned crores)

To put students through this expense and hassle and then not conduct a fair exam is, therefore, rather inexcusable.

With regard to the IIFT exam the buzz is 'such things have happened before'. It's just that with online discussion forums like more students are airing their grievances. And their voice is more likely to be heard.

Going online
Conducting paper and pen exams on gigantic scale is becoming a pain for b schools. But when XLRI did an online exam a couple years ago the result was an embarassing system crash. They're back to pen and paper since.

The future of b school entrance is online, but getting the technical and infrastructural details right will take a couple of years. We would have to go the GRE/ GMAT way and not insist on a simultaneous exam for 150,000 students.

But then, doubts might be raised about the difficulty levels not being the same for every exam taker. Yes, the same happens with GRE/ GMAT but that is not a make-or-break score.

Even with a relatively poor GMAT score you can hope to get into a good b school - if your profile is outstanding in other ways. The same is not true in India.

If CAT is to go online, the entire approach to b school admission would have to change. But, you might ask, how will an IIM A or B cope with the US style admissions. How will they sift through essays from 150,000 students?

Allwin Agnel, a non-MBA and founder of has an interesting perspective on this. Right now, he says, we have 150,000 applicants because all they have to do is take a 2 hour multiple choice exam.

Make it harder - ask applicants to write 3 essays, get recommendation letters, demonstrate leadership capability through past work experience. The number will fall drastically, as only committed students will apply.

Winds of change
That could well be true. IIM A's newly launched PGP X program is a 1 year course for managers with 7-15 years experience. The admission procedure was very different - GMAT scores were accepted, candidates had to write essays and 'leadership potential' was an important selection criteria.

This participant profile: average GMAT of 700, age of 32 years and work experience of over 9 years. The average salary applicants are forgoing to join the program is Rs 10.7 lakhs. The course fee for PGP X is another Rs 10 lakhs.

So while IIMA is offering placement services, that is not the only carrot. This is going to be one bunch of let-me-get-the-most-out-of-this-course participants. Compared to regular PGP students, these folks will be far more knowledge-hungry - no doubt about it!

As regards selectivity: around 1000 applications were received; admit offers were made to 71 candidates of which 67 accepted (a bit of a surprise - the institute was expecting 60 to join). But overall, the selection committee was delighted with the profile, depth and breadth of experience on offer.

This could well be the future of b school entrance but then we would have to accept some level of subjectivity creeping in. And that, in India, always leaves scope for doubts and corruption.

ISB admissions and IIM A's PGP X are indications that it can be done in a fair and credible manner. But it would mean moving out of the comfort zone. Never easy but probably inevitable.

Let's wait and watch!

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