Thursday, November 30, 2006

Film Review: 'A Good Year' gets 2.5 stars

If wishes were eccentric uncles, bankers would make wine. That, in a nutshell, is the one line plot summary of Ridley Scott's 'A Good Year'. So you don't have to fear spoiling your movie experience by reading this review. From the moment MaX Skinner, investment banker of low scruples and greed extraordinaire, inherits the French chateau inhabited by a once-dear uncle, you know.

Sod is gonna fall in love with the estate, with the idea of living the 'simple life', with France, and possibly a French girl. All of the above happen in due course, so all I can offer you is an opinion on whether it holds your interest.

The answer is yes, but not wholly, or in full measure. You don't come out of the theatre feeling either entertained or highly elevated. The problem is it's too predictable, and full of stereotypes.

Take Max Skinner. A bigger caricature of an investment banker I have scarcely seen. The guy walks into the dealing room, declares 'today is greedy bastard day' and proceeds to make a trade which is borderline illegal. The guy has no friends, no family, no love life, no other interests except making money.

I mean, sure, there might be some people as weird as him out there but there's hardly a moment when you feel anything for this character. And it's not clear why he is the way he is. Except for the fact that his parents died young and his only relative in the world was his old uncle.

The moment our man steps into the chateau he is flooded by memories of summers spent as a boy with his uncle. And yet, he did not call or meet the man for the last ten years before he died. "Because I turned into an arsehole". Truth is, he's not all that lovable - even as a kid, in flashback.

Anyhow, Max makes a trip to the chateau to assess how much he could sell it for. Thanks to a series of circumstances, including being stranded at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, he ends up staying a week. And you know.. the wine, weather and women factor works on him.

There is a slight complication when 'Christy Roberts', Henry's illegitimate American daughter also shows up. But there are no villains in the piece - not even Monseuir et Mme Duflot who I truly thought were cheating the Skinners by bottling inferior wine under the Chateau Sauvignon label. Never mind - if u see the movie, you'll understand.

And hey, you can see the film simply for:
- The gorgeous French countryside
- The gorgeous French girl Skinner falls for (Marion Cotillard)
- The glimpse of life in France which truly seems kinder, gentler and as full of sparkle as their wine.

The scene where the housekeeper Mmm Duflot does a li'l jig as she cleans the kitchen, the open air cafe where Max and his girl go on their first date, and the restaurant she runs for a living - all of them make you want to cash out your Provident fund and queue up for an immigrant visa to France.

Alas, the many stupidities of the film bring you back to earth whenever you get slightly intoxicated. Russell Crowe looks old, overweight and unshaven. His secretary "Jemma" aka Jasminder who hogs a fair bit of screen time, is horrendous. You'll be able to tell from the moment she opens her mouth "Oh, she's Indian". The vaguely familiar actress is 'Archie Panjabi' - best known as the sister in 'Bend it like Beckham'.

Speaking of weird names, could the makers of the film find no better nom de film for the French girlfriend than 'Fanny Chanel'?? I mean, really, that's the sort of thing you expect from James Bond...

Net: net, you can watch 'A Good Year', but you don't have to. Especially if you're on the right side of 25. For the yuppie types, 'A Good Year' is not compelling but neither is it dangerous. You won't be inspired to run off and settle down on a farm in Satara anytime soon.

Given real estate prices in Mumbai right now, my 'kindly old uncle kicks the bucket' fantasy involves a 2000 sq ft 'chateau' in Le Malabar Hill... Sadly, no such uncles!

Website reviewers wanted

JAM magazine recently undertook a comparative review of newly launched Indian social networking sites. The list includes Minglebox, Yaari, Go,Yaar! and Humsubka.

The article was written by a lay user and inveterate orkutter, who took the trouble of registering and using all 4 sites over a week's time. You can read his analysis here.

If you are a net addict who fancies doing a similar job on a different family of websites - dating, classifieds, buying stuff online, whatever - do get in touch with me. The id is

Also, if you're an orkutter who'd like to write a regular column for JAM on... orkutting!... drop me a line.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Youth brand universe

John Abraham is sitting in a cafe. He puts on a pair of sunglasses. A girl pulls up her chair and sits behind him. Then another, and another. John tilts to the left; the girls tilt too. Then to the right, and so do the girls.

He grins and pulls off his glares. It's an ad for Fastracks' new 'biker collection'. And they pull it off without showing a single bike, which I think is tres cool. Because that would be the obvious thing to do!

What's more, your 'biker' collection now reaches out to a much larger group of people. The message is, you don't have to be a biker, but wear these glares and girls will think you are!

Now of course, whether the glasses sell or not depends on many other factors - designs, pricing, accessibility. But the advertising is just right. A worthy follow up to the original Titan Fastrack watches ad which was quite a hit.

It's also interesting because this is more of a 'brand building' kind of effort - even though it uses a Bollywood star. An effort that a number of companies seem to have simply given up on.

What we see generally see is :
a) celebrity driven advertising
b) product-benefit driven advertising

In category 1, lame attempts are made to be 'creative' with the same set of stars. The latest ad with the overused Abhishek Bachchan, for example is 'American Express'.

The Big Idea is AB jr being referred to as 'Big B' because he now has an Amex card ('membership changes everything'). There's not much to be said about that idea, or the small Big B's acting - in the commercial. Perhaps it works anyways, at least in terms of making the Amex profile in India more 'youthful'.

But it's not good advertising.

In category 2, one of the lamest ads on TV right now is Stayfree 'drymax'. I mean, sure, you want users of 'Whisper' to sit up and take notice that there is a better sanitary napkin.

But who leaves a Stayfree on a table, so that water is accidentally spilled... And the napkin miraculously soaks it all up! Do users really need a product demo? I just don't think you build a brand in a sensitive category in this very in-your-face way.

Aside: My 7 year old thinks it's a 'diaper for adults'... Yes, I have given her the explanation, but!

Lastly, we have the 'let me bribe you into buying my brand' variety of advertising. Chlormint, which tried valiantly to be cheeky and cool with its advertising (but did not quite succeed) is going that way.

"Buy a Chlormint and sms the code to 8558. You can win Rs 1 lakh a day and a Nokia phone every hour".

The irony is that the sms will cost more than the Chlormint... which sells for all of 50 paise (ie 1 cent!). It's clear that some brand manager has done complicated calculations to arrive at a winning formula.

My back of the envelope estimate:

30 crore Chlormints being sold with this offer over 2 months. That means around 50 lakh Chlormints a day. At a conservative estimate 3-5% of users will send an sms. Which would work out, on an average to 2 lakh smses.

The cost of sending the sms varies from Rs 1 to Rs 3 (Airtel users are getting fleeced the most!)Of that Chlormint is likely to be getting a revenue share of 40-50%.

Which means the Rs 1 lakh a day giveaway pays back for itself - at the very least. If the amount of smses or % of people who sms is greater, then sone pe suhaaga. Thoda advertising cost bhi cover ho jayega.

It sounds like a lottery scheme to me, which could possibly get Chlormint into trounle. Because as far as I know, in India, only the government is allowed to conduct lotteries (yes, that's terribly weird and rather unethical but we'll get into that another day).

Besides, I see one GIANT loophole in the Chlormint scheme. The lucky number is printed outside the wrapper. I bet smart paanwallahs and kirana store owners around the country will be busy smsing all the numbers on all the Chlormints they have in stock.

The smartest ones would be smsing from Reliance CDMA, which costs only 15 paise!

And finally, what happens when the promo is over? Coz efforts of this kind don't have a lasting effect. So you're back to thinking of more promos. When you should be thinking about creating products people want to buy. And brands, which stand for something.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mind it, teacher!

"I hate Hindi ma'am... " is the new refrain at our dinner table.

"She pinches... and hits," says my daughter. Everyone? "Yes, but she hits me more. Because she gives a lot of work and I can't complete it in one period".

For a day or two I thought it was one of those things... it would pass. But today, Nivedita declared she would rather change her school than attend Hindi period with this ma'am. I really will have to do something. But what?

Yes, I will go and meet the principal but will he really take action? There's always the secret fear that your child will end up being treated worse after you complain.

People talk about bad bosses, but there is nothing quite as cruel as a bad teacher. The power a teacher has over a young mind is immense. And this power is often abused by those who are not temperamentally or attitudinally suited to the job.

Teachers who, in fact, see their jobs as mere jobs. And not a responsibility which comes with some sacred covenants.

And parents, who leave no stone unturned to admit their child to a good school. The 'best' school. Who's to say that every teacher in that school is competent as well as sensitive? Because all it takes is one Hindi ma'am...

And all said and done, parents are in a weak position. We pay for the services of a school, we form part of the community. But in most schools, we have little say in the way things are done. Or not done.

The attitude is,"If you have problems here, feel free to take your child elsewhere." Because there are enough contenders for that forsaken seat.

And the same problems pretty much plague schools everywhere. Not municipal schools or government schools but private schools, brand name schools as well.

The Hindi ma'am problem started when the original Hindi teacher - a very personable lady - suddenly quit to join a rival school. In mid-session. Since then there have been 3 different teachers, creating anxiety and confusion.

As one teacher elaborates,"Schools don't want to hire us on a permanent basis. They take in teachers on contract - for 3 months, 6 months." So teachers too have no qualms hopping around. And often, no choice either.

In this merry-go-round, secondary school teachers end up teaching primary kids. Both kinds of teaching require different skills. And completely different levels of patience.

When the school is charging parents a fairly large fee, I see no reason why it should shortchange it teachers - and students - in this manner.

If things do not change, I am wholly willing to yank my daughter out of this school. The question is, are the other choices any different? I guess that is a question that can be answered only after a great deal of R & D.

If the answer remains "no", then the only consolation is "we survived". So will she. It makes me really sad. And mad. But do I have the energy to fight it?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why D schools are the future

There is a never ending stream of news about Bschools. For a change, turns the spotlight on the world's top Dschools ie institutes which teach design.

Although the schools listed are predominantly American, there is healthy international representation. Among institutes of repute from England, Netherlands, Germany, Italy and China, India too gets two well deserved mentions - NID and IDC.

Both deserve to be right up there because they are amazing institutions which have produced some outstanding graduates. I only wish there were more like them! Because there is a huge difference between 'design' and 'art'. In India, we often confuse the two.

Those who study commercial art are basically trained to work in advertising/ media. So they produce campaigns, make artworks, learn typography/ photography/ illustration. Yes, they are talented and creative. But within a given framework.

Design graduates, on the other hand, approach their work differently.

A few years ago, two NID students worked on a project to redesign JAM magazine. For them, the issue was not about tweaking the logo, changing the template and a few fonts. They looked at the magazine at a more fundamental level. From the customer's point of view.

Of course, not all their suggestions could be implemented. But the thinking that went behind the re-design they attempted was remarkable.

The point I am making is that even as b schools proliferate, the need of the hour is D schools. As customers become more demanding, and constantly seek something new and exciting, the importance of product design cannot be over emphasised.

Take the ipod - it's not just a pretty gadget. The clickwheel is a fundamental design choice, one which defines the brand. No, a design genius at Apple did not invent it - someone at a company called Synaptics working for Apple did.

But, you get the idea. Design is mega important. And good design is not just about looks. That's styling. Great design is good looking and provides a better user experience.

Well, the corporate world is realising that the design and business functions need to collaborate at an early stage of the product development cycle. One fallout of this is increased interaction between bschools and dschools.

A course called Strategy for Product and Service Development has been introduced at INSEAD in collaboration with design students from the Art Center in Pasadena . As INSEAD graduate Sameer Agrawal, who now works with GE, recalls

At the start of the class we had to decide what to work on. Each of us had a minute to pitch an idea to develop. You could see the difference.

MBA pitches dwelt on the market: how big it was, how little it had been served. Most designers said: "Here is how I use the product today. Here is why it sucks and how it can be better. Here's how I want to do it.

His perception of designers was: "Here's my product, make it look sexy". Now, he sees see design as "a philosophy that people learn in order to understand how products are used..."

Similarly, Mozilla was searching for a way to make Firefox more popular. The company's 's business development team turned to Stanford University. Not to the bschool but Hasso Plattner Institute of Design on the campus.

The course was team-taught by Stanford profs and industry professionals. Each student worked in a team that included a B-schooler, a computer science major, and a product designer. And each team used design thinking to shape a business plan for Mozilla.

Apparently, it made a big difference.

A B-school class would have started with a focus on market size and used financial analysis to understand it. This D-school class began with consumers and used ethnography, the latest management tool, to learn about them. Business school students would have developed a single new product to sell.

The D-schoolers aimed at creating a prototype with possible features that might appeal to consumers. B-school students would have stopped when they completed the first good product idea. The D-schoolers went back again and again to come up with a panoply of possible winners.

Businessweek notes that the power of this new approach, called design thinking, to promote innovation and open up business opportunities is attracting the
attention of corporations around the globe.

Design has evolved from a narrow discipline dealing with the form and function of products into a major new approach to developing business models. As business increasingly turns to India and China to provide low-cost, high-quality goods and services, companies have to focus on innovation to be competitive.

That driving need makes design thinking the hottest trend in business culture today. If engineering, control, and technology were once the central tenets of business culture, then anthropology, creativity, and an obsession with consumers' unmet needs will inform the future.

The bottom line is, India needs more D schools. A great D school is multi disciplinary - combining engineering, business, design, and social sciences. And hence IITs are ideally placed to house design schools on campus. But while we've seen Schools of Management spring up at all IIT campuses, design has flourished only at IIT B.

IIT Guwahati is the only other IIT with a design school, others have been contemplated starting one but not taken the plunge.

Then there are recent institutes such as Srishti School of Art and Design in Bangalore. But the school, although well reputed, is not considered in the NID/ IDC league.

Although industry does flock to NID and IDC, for some reason, the contribution of these graduates remains underhyped. Bet you can name a dozen IIT or IIM grads but only a couple from NID - if at all. And none from IDC. Is it lack of PR, or humility.

Or a potent combo of both?

Maybe we'll wake up when some foreign company swoops down on NID and offers a $100,000 salary. Actually, salaries are going up... but unfortunately the idea of design as a career will never really catch the fancy of the media. Or the general public.

That's because unlike the MBA - you need to possess something tangible for a design education. That something rare and elusive called 'Talent'.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Making hay while dotcom shines

The Info Edge IPO has made Sanjeev Bikhchandani India's first dotcom millionaire. Well, at least the first created by a stock exchange listing.

As co-founder of Sanjeev currently holds 44% of the company, estimated to be worth Rs 717 crores. The share price, on the first day of listing itself rose 85%,which means there is new confidence in 'dotcom' as a category.

No doubt this news must be exciting for the many many young people out there who have recently embarked upon dotcom ventures. But I do wish to put Sanjeev's success story in perspective. It has taken 16 long years.

Early on, while working at GlaxoSmithkline Sanjeev realised that employees love talking about jobs and career movement. "That jobs are an extremely high interest information category for almost all people and headhunting had tremendous potential".

In his own words
I started out as a partnership firm in 1989, where I was a sleeping partner. By 1990 I had concluded that there was probably a large, highly fragmented database of jobs out there with HR managers and headhunters which, if someone were to aggregate and keep current, would be a very valuable resource.

We set up office in the servant's quarter above the garage in my father's house, paying my father a rent of Rs 800. For the first few years we did salary surveys and built and marketed a database of pharmaceutical trademarks.

Though the company was kept afloat, I was unable to draw a salary and we ran the house on my wife's salary. To meet my personal expenses, I would teach at business schools as visiting faculty on weekends.

It was in response to a Department of Telecom's (DoT) advertisement to launch a videotex service in Delhi that I prepared a database of jobs. It was a pay-to-view model, where initially the employer would be allowed to host his job free and we would earn from the revenue share the DoT would give us. But the project never took off.

But, Sanjeev did not give up...

Turning point
It was on my visit to IT Asia in 1996 that I came to know of the World Wide Web. To register my website and get a domain name, I had to take help from my brother, who lived in the US and has a stake in the company.

The site was set up in March 1997 as a division of InfoEdge. What was interesting was that I could not get any domain name I wanted (all such names which had the word job were already registered) and had to settle down with the Hindi term "naukri", which actually makes it different from other jobsites today. At this point I was joined by Anil Lall, the chief technical officer and V N Saroja, chief operating officer.

With the recession, I had to take up a part-time job, but in the same domain area. Between 1996 and 2000, I also worked at The Pioneer. Initially, the consulting editor of Avenues -- the careers supplement of The Pioneer -- I was instrumental in working out an investment package with a consortium of four financial institutions --ICICI, IDBI, IFCI and UTI.

In the morning, I used to work for, go to The Pioneer during the day and then get back to in the evening. became profitable from the second year. Eventually, Sanjeev quit the Pioneer and joined on a fulltime basis. The firm took in a round of venture capital from ICICI in 2000 and well, the rest is history.

The point is Sanjeev had an idea - but it was a little ahead of its time. It took him 7 years to realise that this idea could work - although in a different form than what was originally imagined.

But the internet was a facilitator. It was not the idea itself. Today, many folks jump into dotcom with offerings that do not serve a strong need. Or a large enough market. The rash of Indian social networking sites is, I think, a case in point.

What's more, how many will stick to the idea they have for 5, 10, 15 years? Constantly looking for new ways and means to make it work??

Another illustrative story is that of Nirmal Jain of India Infoline. He was featured in a recent issue of Businessworld, among India's new billionaires. His 26% holding in the company is worth Rs 215 crores (over Rs 2 billion).But it wasn't a smooth journey for him either.

As the BW article noted:

Nirmal Jain made the biggest gamble of his life in 1999, when he was running Probity Research, a stockmarket research firm with revenues of nearly Rs 1 crore. But Jain was dissatisfied. A steady but small business was no fun. So, he took the huge volumes of research data, their chief source of revenue, and put it on the Internet. Convinced that it was a foolish move, many of his core team members quit.

But Jain had just discovered the power of the Internet. It offered him a bigger scale than his firm could ever reach otherwise. Thus, India Infoline was born in May 1999.

Then came the dotcom bust. Suddenly, all the funding disappeared, the dotcom business was stigmatised and, worse still, the stockmarket also took a downturn. His business was struggling to survive, and it was the darkest time of his life. But Jain was not ready to give up just yet.

He drastically scaled down operations and stripped the profile of all frills, focusing on financial services and e-broking. He went without a salary for nearly a year-and-a-half, trying to keep his company afloat.

Things finally began to look up in 2003, when the market went positive. India infoline’s e-broking platform found many takers, and the company began doing well. It is making consolidated profits of Rs 49 crore today.

Again, a real world business that migrated and scaled up drastically through the power of the internet. And one that required doggedness and perseverance through tough times.

And on a personal note, both Nirmal and Sanjeev are my seniors from IIM A. Although I don't know them, their stories are inspiring. For entrepreneurs like me who have stuck it out... but not yet made billions :)

Those of you thinking of striking out on your own should remember: "Success" may take longer than you anticipate. And the journey itself should be your reward.

Or, you may be in for disappointment.

Case Study Competition fundas

If you're a bschooler who's participated/ won at a Case Study Competition please get in touch with me. I am particularly interested in knowing about competitions with a decent prize money pile and especially where live cases have been offered by companies. Biz plan contest veterans also welcome.

Secondly, if any of you have worked on a project/ report during your MBA which has been bought by a corporate, let me know. The id is

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Raj Thackeray: "Mee more fun"

Civic polls are coming up in March 2007. Which is why all political parties are gunning for the youth. The battle is especially fierce - and visible - outside Chetana college in Bandra (E). 'Bal Thackeray neighbourhood.'

And here's a novel strategy. From the party which "seeks to project itself as a political force suited to the new era".

Raj Thackeray's 'Maharashtra Navnirman Sena' has put up little hoardings all over Mumbai advertising Ball Dance - "1st ever inter-collegiate event full of zeal and zest". The picture shows a boy and a girl, in Western outfits, holding each other and... dancing, in ye olde English ballroom dance style.

Ah, just what the youth of the country needs. And so "new era". You see, it is Western, without being vulgar. Which makes the MNS 'different' from the violently-opposed-to-Valentine's-Day Shiv Sena and ABVP types.

A second hoarding clarifies that the competition is actually about dance AND cricket. 'Ball' + 'Dance' - so clever no, wink wink.

Never mind issues - jobs, education, housing and all that jazz. Woh to sabhi politician log bolte hain. Kuch karte nahin. The youth is cynical. Unconvinced by promises, unmoved by rhetoric. So Raj Thackeray is probably being smart in seeking to project his party as 'the fun guys'.

No, this not how it should be. But this is how it is... What next? A kabaddi and karaoke competition by the rival camp?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Why you should pay notice

The debate started here, with Nirav Mehta writing about two guys from his QA team disappearing without notice. And the recruiting company LioNBridge justifying it. Nirav believes this attitude reflects 'lack of ethics'

Vulturo responded with an impassioned piece on his own blog. His argument is:

Your employees are not your slaves... If you are unable to retain your employees, its your problem. Either you are lousy, or it is that they simply don’t wanna work for you. There’s no way you can force them too. Cribbing about it isn’t going to help either.

The answer to not giving a notice period, according to Vulturo, is that the employer can deduct that month's salary from the employees dues.

Vulturo reflects the attitude of most young workers today. They realise 'we are an asset' and not beholden to anyone for a job. There are plenty of opportunities out there - if I can bend the rules, I do. So what?

Such practices (encouraging the new employees to leave the company without proper notice) are bad for the industry in the long-term. says Ashish, who runs his own company - Tekriti Software. And I, on his side of the fence, would agree.

But the argument I would put forth against not giving a notice is a bit different. I would say follow the rules, out of enlightened self interest.

The world is a complex mesh of relationships. And the working world is no different. At the beginning of your career, it may not be so evident. But 10-15 years down the line you will find that it is the relationships you have built - with bosses, peers, subordinates, even suppliers - which really matter.

In the longer run, it's not just about WHAT you know but WHO you know and what they think of you. Do people trust you? Do they like you? If a background check were to be conducted, would your former employers and co workers refer to you positively?

I am not joking when I say the past comes back to haunt you. Recently, a company in the US contacted me for a reference check on someone who briefly worked with me at JAM. A decade ago. The guy had embellished his CV - claiming to have worked at JAM for 1.5 years when the actual duration was 6 months.

What's more, he did not leave on a good note. Neither did he keep in touch. I sent a one liner back, with his actual period of employment, as an answer. I don't know if my one line affected his career or not - frankly I don't care.

Similarly, I find many of the people who have worked with JAM come back requiring recommendation letters when they apply to universities abroad. Or even ISB. And I have, as a policy, decided I will give these letters only to those who I feel good about.

After all, a recommendation letter is not a right but a privilege.

What I am saying is that neither Infosys, nor Nirav's company or Ashish's or mine can stop attrition. People are free to choose employment as and where they wish. Yes, we will all work towards the three important points which Vulture mentioned:

- Brand Value
- Job Content, Ownership, Work Environment (and other unquantifiable attributes)
- Remuneration

But a notice period is above and beyond all this.

Leaving without notice period, to my mind, reflects lack of common courtesy. And it is a behaviour that we as a company do not encourage. If you were already employed somewhere, but willing to join me tomorrow, I would look at it in an unfavourable light.

Other companies are free to have their own policies. And you are free to behave boorishly if you wish. But ten years from now, you may regret this impulsive behaviour.

"Every action has an equal and opposite reaction", as Newton once said. It may take a long time for the other party to find an opportunity to react but destiny generally provides for one.

I mean, God forbid if you harbour dreams of starting your own company... Your former boss - who you so unceremoniously walked out on - is now the CEO of a large company. Which could have been a potential client.

The guy who ended up doing all your work when you scampered off? He ended up at Wharton and is now a venture capitalist you're chasing. Without much success.

And the very notice period you once disdained, is now something you expect from those working with you. In fact, it's a cause you're passionate about :)

So, collect good karma and maintain that positive vibe. Isi mein samjhdaari hai, aur success bhi.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

JAM Engineering College Survey - III

The ambitious task we undertook of rating 300-400 engineering colleges based primarily on student feedback is well under way.

As I mentioned before, this task can only be satisfactorily completed with your help and support. Over 2000 of you have filled out our questionnaire, several of you have also helped in getting your friends, batchmates, juniors and seniors to do so. The url, once again is

Your college can be included ONLY if we get a minimum of 30 valid responses. So far only about 25 colleges have reached that magic number and about 50 are half way there.

Which is why I am appealing to the rest of you, to help us spread the word. Become a JAM SURVEY EVANGELIST.

What's in it for you? You will get a referral code when you forward our survey to yor class/ department/ college/ company egroup. If at least 10 of those bandas/ bandis fill out the form you will get a T shirt as a token of our appreciation. There is a referral code to help us track this :)

In addition, we are looking for REGIONAL SURVEY CO-ORDINATORS
This will be a paid position and will involve the same work but spread over a much wider list of colleges. ie. You could help us to get the survey completed through your friends/ contacts in all colleges in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu.

Again, it's more of an online based job but we're looking for folks who pride themselves as networkers. The kind with bulging IM and Orkut lists :)

For either position please email me at My colleague Namrata, who currently eats, sleeps and breathes this project, will send you the necessary details.

Lastly, we are looking for short write ups on the various branches of engineering.

eg What is mechanical, what do you actually study. What did you like/ hate about it. Possibility of joining a core job. Prospect of going abroad/ switching fields. Basically an intro to each branch of engineering from you, who have actually spent time studying the subject. Written in an informal non-Education Times vein.

The articles should be around 500-700 words and could be from current students or graduates, even the older variety. A small sum will be paid to you for each article selected for publication in the book.

But please first email me and get a green signal to begin work. This is to prevent multiple write ups on the same topic.

Please put in your subject line which of the above 3 opportunities you're interested in. More than one is possible but do commit only if you are committed!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"They showed no remorse"

Standing in a pool of blood, near seven freshly dead bodies, they threatened the survivors. Three of them tried to wrench off the number plate of the car before giving up and scooting from the scene of the accident.

21 year old Alister Pereira's drunken driving disaster has shocked and ughed Mumbai. Accidents happen, we all know. But this? 'Another case of spoilt young brats bereft of values'.

"We didn't mean to do it, but hey..." They were just a bunch of labourers, y'know. How hard will it be to buy our way out of it?

You feel disgusted when you read those words, but it's the plain and ugly truth. In 1999, 21 year old Sanjeev Nanda ran over and killed 6 people. Including 3 policemen! He was drunk and at the wheel of an unregistered BMW.

Witnesses and families of the dead were paid off. The wheels of justice decided to halt and let Sanjeev and his friends alight. Unscathed.

And, four years after Salman Khan's famous 'hit and run' accident, he is none the worse for the wear. His rash driving, possibly under the influence of alcohol, killed one person and injured four.

A trial began. It drags on. A key witness has turned hostile. Some have 'disappeared'. For all practical purposes, Salman is a free man. As Alister can soon hope to be. Remorse, or no remorse, money and influence will bail him out.

And there will be more Sanjeevs and Salmans and Alisters. Unless justice is delivered without regard to who you are and how fat your wallet is.

The conviction of Priyadarshini Mattoo's killer is one such landmark case. But can the media and the family pursue justice so doggedly every time?

They were just labourers, after all...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mood I gets Rs 75 lakhs sponsorship: for what?

TOI reports: Mood Indigo - which is due to take place from Dec 26-29 - has garnered a healthy Rs 75 lakh sponsorship so far. This outstrips the nearest rival, IIT Delhi by 50%.

I find this news a bit disconcerting. I mean, just last year, Mood I created a record by attracting Rs 50 lakhs in sponsorship money. As recently as 2002, Mood I made do with Rs 34 lakhs sponsorship. Now, with more than double the budget in 4 years, how much 'bigger and better' can we expect it to get?

The USP of IIT fests over local college fests is the pro-nites, where students can expect top quality artistes to perform. eg Indian Classical Nite, Indipop Nite, Professional Play performance and LiveWire, the rock competition where pro bands also perform. There are artiste fees as well as light, sound and stage costs.

Mood I also gives better cash prizes (Rs 3 lakhs) last year.

So yes, a Mood I certainly requires a bigger budget than say, a Malhar or an Umang. But in 2002 - with Rs 34 lakhs - we had a successful Mood I. Take inflation into account, or the desire to do something more, and I can see the budget going up by 10-20%.

This 50% jump in a single year? Astounding.

Caveat emptor
Now IIT Bombay can very well say hey, if sponsors are willing to pay us this money, what's your problem? So here's a bit of free advice to these companies - do take a more careful look at what exactly you are buying.

While Mood I may be the college fest with the most extravagant scale, does it really deliver on numbers. The organisers claim it attracts 50,000 students a year. But how true is that claim?

Overall, I would estimate at max 20,000 unique visitors. Break up as follows:

IIT- B students : 4000 in number and fairly immune to advertising. (and 10-20% 'go home' during the fest period!).

Outstation participants: 3000-4000 in number (my guesstimate, and this is on the generous side).

Local participants: 3000-4000 per day. More on the day of Livewire.

The local participation is where Mood I miserably fails to make an impact. Ask a random college student if he/ she is going to Mood I and chances are you will hear the answer "no".

Various reasons given:
- IIT is too far
- It's the fag end of the year - already attended many fests
- We're having vacations
- The place is not so happening during the day

Of course, die hard fest types do attend, esp those into literary events. And pro nites attract crowd, but again in limited numbers. The 'aam' college student whom sponsors would like to connect with are more likely to have attended the likes of Malhar, Umang or their own college festival.

Never mind if it did not attract folks from all over India, or even all over the city. But 5000-6000 eyeballs are there to be addressed and you can be the title sponsor of 15-20 such festivals for Rs 75 lakhs.

With the same money you can reach out to over 1 lakh students - 5 times what I estimate you reach through Mood I. And these are students who are more brand conscious, who spend more on everything from cellphones to branded apparel. College name be damned.

Yet sponsors would rather plonk their money with a single prestigious festival.

So, good for IIT Bombay. And good luck to the BPO company which is one of the major sponsors of Mood I. Coz I doubt if anyone attending Mood I fits their target audience!

Lastly, I am under the impression that all the money raised towards IIT fests is used towards the event organisation. That's how it used to be. Maybe times have changed and some of the cash goes in the institute corpus, towards improving infrastructure etc.

In which case it's festival as an excuse for fund raising - fair enough. However, that's not the impression one gets from the TOI report.

One final observation: I noticed from the Mood I website that outstation participants are being charged for their accomodation. The deposit for the 'mattress and bucket' is Rs 400, of which Rs 100 is refundable if you leave on the specified date and without damaging any property.

You also have to pay for your own food, at a nominal rate, but never the less.

Pataa nahin bhai, jis zamaane mein hum outstation fests mein jaate the... we paid for nothing more than our train tickets. Guess 'hospitality' is not dependent on how big your budget is!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - a really big idea!

New technology is great. But figuring how this technology can actually make a difference to people's lives - and therefore acquire monetary value - is not always easy. is one such fascinating story. A few months ago, I heard of this guy - Munjal Shah - who had developed a 'face recognition' software. It sounded like a cool thing, but I never tried downloading or using or finding out more about it.

I mean I mentally bookmarked it as 'must try one day' because the thought of organising my digital photos weighs on my mind every now and then. But I just never get around to it.

But that was Riya 1.0. Ten months later, this post by Peter Rip of Crosslink Capital (which funded Riya) makes perfect sense:

... we had to have a sound business model... Munjal knew first-hand the mortality rate of dot-coms (and more recent social networking and photo sites) that preceded him. We have one and it will be apparent in due course.

Well, here it is. And what a superb and unique model! Riya has just launched a website called is the world's first visual search engine. We focused visual search on items that are hard to describe linguistically. Like solves this problem. All you have to do is a "Likeness search" on a photo and Like will show you items that look similar.

And here's the real consumer insight. Millions of people around the world want to buy stuff they've seen other people wearing. And especially celebrities. But searching for something like the 'shoe that Paris Hilton wore at the London Fashion Week day 2' is impossible. Or well, it used to be. lets you do that - and more. You can actually zoom in on a particular feature of a shoe you like - such as the heel - and ask to find something similar. And boy, does it work. I tried a few searches and the results were amazing!

What's more, in some time will allow you to upload your own photos and search for similar stuff available. is smartly focussing on jewellery, shoes , handbags and watches - stuff that does not require trial and which millions do buy online already.

Of course hum bechare Indians ka koi khaas fayda nahin hai. I mean Indian women, for all their love of fashion, are not yet into high end handbags or shows in large enough numbers. And definitely, not online.

But who knows, in the longer run? Or even, now for that matter.

If I were an Indian retailer like Globus or Shopper's Stop or even a smaller boutique on Hill Road it would make sense to digitise a large part of my
inventory. Even if I don't sell online I might attract buyers to my shop coz they know I have a style/ item they have found through photo search.

Stores like Roopam targetting the NRI wedding market will definitely benefit. Not only do they have a rather extensive catalogue
they sell online as well.

I am sure there would be tons of women searching for outfits similar to Aishwarya's in Umaro Jaan right now :). In fact the volume of search for a particular item would indicate how much consumer demand there is for it. And a smart retailer could stock up accordingly.

Lastly, will make life more difficult for desi fashion designers. One click and we'll be able to see the source of 'inspiration' for their latest collection. Even if it's an obscure Moroccan designer they've copied stitch by stitch!

Bottomline is, I like, even though I can't really use it yet. It adds something unique to the internet user experience, and solves a real problem. One which I could not even articulate but which existed nevertheless!

And, it's what you can really call an advance in technology. Which is more than can be said of most web applications which are simply me-toos.

Besides, the possibilities of how the software can be used are endless. Because a picture speaks more than a thousand words. And across languages and cultures! I bet there's lots more in store.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wanted : fundas on importing from China

Am looking to import a reasonably large quantity of tech-related novelty items from China/ Taiwan. If anyone out there has experience of the same - and especially through - do get in touch with me at!

Bigg Boss: You'll soon be watching

Seven years after 'Big Brother' debuted in Netherlands, the series hits India. Of course, it's been suitably 'Indianised'.

a) The name has been changed to 'Bigg Boss' . I guess the Orwellian connotation of 'Big Brother' would be lost in a country where bade bhaiyya is generally a benvolent and I-will-take-care-of-you type figure.

And the extra 'g' in Big is a nod to numerology - a fixation in Indian television that refuses to go away!

b) Instead of ordinary unknowns, we have a houseful of small time actors , fading/ faded models and a couple of novelty items. So it's essentially an Indian version of Big Brother VIP.

Now this I think was a smart move because until now, so called 'reality shows' have really been talent shows. Indian Idol, Fame Gurukul, Sa re ga ma - all of them promise to make a star out of an unknown quantity.

That's a sentiment the Indian viewer can identify with, and the tears and drama that go along with the format are an added bonus. But at the end of the day, the person who wins is judged on performance. Kisi ko life mein aagey badhne ka chance milta hai..

Big Brother/ Bigg Boss is a far more faltu concept - it's pure voyeurism. For viewers to get hooked to a bunch of unknowns would not be impossible but would be far more risky from a TRP point of view. Here, when you cast a Rakhi Sawant and a Bobby Darling not to mention Carol 'LIFW wardrobe malfunction' Gracias ) you know idiotic antics will occur.

And there - you have your 'real life soap opera'.

The question is - have they been given 'scripts' or is it all completely natural? Well, as the official website declares:

Bobby is perhaps Bigg Boss’s most controversial contestants. Openly gay he is sure to court much attention through his loud personality and his need for constant attention. One thing if for sure, if an over exuberant Bobby Darling starts arguing with a tired and cross Rakhi Sawant, then fireworks will fly and the Bigg Boss producers might just have some entertainment coming their way.

That’s probably why he was invited on in the first place.

But I suspect the more staid participants have been given broad outlines of the characters they must play. Although not actual lines to deliver.

So Aryan Vaid may be a flirt in real life but he's also probably been instructed to keep up the good work. The bit about him 'proposing' to Anupama Varma, and Kashmira Shah's sob story of how she used to get a 'rotten orange' for Xmas because her mother was too poor... methinks yeh sab pehle se hi planned tha.

So yes, I sat through an entire episode last night. And to be honest, the two specimens - Rakhi Sawant and Bobby Darling - were the most interesting. In a gosh, how-much-more-stupid can they get?

I know now that the Rakhi babe has two tattoos - one on her arm and one on her stomach. She takes her role as an item girl really seriously and is not averse to dancing in front of a cow in the hope that the animal will get excited enough to give out some milk (one of the tasks assigned by Bigg Boss to the contestants).

Bobby on the other hand is a beautiful porcelain doll with a gruff voice. He/ she/ whatever has appealed to viewers not to be voted out because he/ she really needs the money for a sex change operation.

Not to worry because Deepakji is really not likable from any point of view and will definitely be shown out.

Expect some controversy!
Although Big Brother has been a hit in close to 70 countries, there are cultural nuances when it comes to 'success':

Some versions have been filled with sex-crazed housemates, whereas others decided to base the conflict within their programs around difficult or romantic personalities, as in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Philippines or Spain.

With the passing of time, it has been demonstrated that the most successful versions were the ones that emulated a soap opera, whereas the versions where the principal attraction was sex have been eliminated, as in Hungary or Poland.

The amount of sex shown on the televised versions around the world depends on local and national television censorship rules, with some countries editing out all sex and nudity, while others broadcast what is considered to be borderline pornography.

Now we know in India, sex will definitely NOT be shown but am sure it will occur and be alluded to in some way. The participants were all asked to take HIV tests before the show began to create some hype on that front, you see.

Controversy is the best way to raise awareness - and TRPs. And around 4-5 weeks into the series I am sure one will be created. The likes of Sushma Swaraj and Pratibha Naithani need just a little bit of flame to get down on the streets and start a 'fire'.

So needle them gently with some sex or nudity on air and voila, they will demand a ban on the show. "Yeh Bhartiya sanskriti ke khilaaf hai" - and there you have it. Millions of eyeballs will immediately be added on to Bigg Boss!

Leap of faith
At the end of the day, Sony - which is now trailing behind both Star and Zee - had to take a risk. Their last 'success' was Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, since then nothing has really clicked.

Zee has taken the route of beating Star at its saas-bahu game. Goodbye Parvati and Tulsi, every auntie I know is currently hooked to the saga of Saloni (Saat Phere) and Jai/ Bani (Kasamh Se).

I caught an episode of Saat Phere last night. It rivals Chronicles of Narnia in the fantasy department. Mohan Bhandari is sitting on the sofa when the bahu comes and asks, 'Papaji mujhe bachche ke liye nappies kharidni hain. Kuch paise chahiye".

Papaji looks away. Neena Gupta aunty pipes in,"Hum bachche ke liye potliyaan silenegey... Aise hi nahin itne bachche bade kiye".

Apparently the family does not have enough money to buy nappies but the women sit there, resplendent in silks and laden with jewellery in a house whose living room rivals the lobby of a 3 star hotel.

So the choice is fantasy staged in true blue soaps or 'reality' staged in a neo-soap like Big Boss.

I think the youth of India will prefer the latter. It remains to be seen however, if they will manage to snatch away the television remote.

Bottomline: Bigg Boss may be trivial, perfectly "yeww" in parts. But even discussing how much you supposedly hate it... is fodder for canteen conversation. And in a have-voice-will-give-opinion era, no one wants to be left out!

Sony Entertainment Television, Mon-Fri, 10 pm

Monday, November 06, 2006

4 stars to 'The Departed'

The name 'Martin Scorcese' was a familiar one but to be honest, I had never actually seen a film made by him. "The Departed" was a first and it certainly won't be the last.

It's a film which takes the movie-set-in-a-mafia milieu to a new level. Instead of a cops vs robbers story, it's a tale of two cops - Billy Costigan (Leonardo di Caprio) and Jack Sullivan (Matt Damon).

Costigan is the 'good guy' who is convinced that he will serve his country better by getting chucked out of the police force. Thing is, he has the perfect 'family background' - crime inclined cousins and an uncle who once worked for mafia boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). So he makes a convincing entry into life on the other side of the tracks, although actually operating as an undercover.

Sullivan, on the other hand, appears to be the classic good guy but is not. He owes a childhood debt to Costello, who was 'like a father' to him. When he joins the state police force, his allegiance is clearly elsewhere.

The fun begins when both sides realise there is a mole on the other side but don't know who. There are many classic 'Hindi movie' moments like for example, both guys falling for the same girl. And Sullivan being made in charge of finding the mole in the police department a.k.a. himself!

Complication: The only two people who know Costigan's real identity are Captain Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Sergeant Dignam (Mark Wahlberg). One dies, the other resigns. Our man is out in the cold, without an identity. Without giving anything more away, lemme just say you will be hooked to the twists and turns in the film.

There is a lot of violence, throughout. The scene where Costello and his men break Costigan's already broken arm to check if he is carrying a wire is truly chilling.
Even then, the final 10 minutes come as a surprise although considering the title of the movie- they shouldn't!

Concepts like 'good' and 'evil' get turned around on their head and in such a scenario, you can scarcely expect a happy ending.

The director's touch is evident - the film remains taut and never get cheesy. Leonardo 'babyface' di Caprio has grown up - and how. I can finally think of him without automatically associating the word 'titanic'. Mark Wahlberg as the foul-mouthed sergeant is extremely good and Jack Nicholson, of course, outstanding. Actually, all of the actors are excellent.

The most interesting thing is that 'The Departed' is a remake of the Hong Kong film 'Infernal Affairs'. Yet, those who have seen both say there definitely is 'originality' in this version. Looks like Scorcese is walking a path similar to that of Indian directors remaking old classics like Don, Umrao Jaan etc.

'The Departed' is of course a cross cultural transplantation but the trend is to take an idea and refine it/ give it your own unique touch. For example, setting the story in Boston, with an Irish mafia - as opposed to New York and its done-to-death Italian gangs. Of course, there will be people who prefer this or that version .

The point is, we could well have an Indian director also doing the honours.. coz neither the Chinese or English versions will reach the Indian masses.

An aside
I happened to see 'The Departed' on a Saturday night at Cathay Cine Leisure. The ticket at this upscale theatre on Singapore's Orchard Road cost $ 9 SGD. ie approximately Rs 250. This is the same price at which you'd get a ticket at INOX or PVR on a Saturday nite.

But consider the fact that 1 Singapore Dollar = 28 Indian rupees and you realise prices are shockingly high in India. The mall-multiplex culture is in fact fast
becoming a 'dollar economy'. Whatever supposed cost advantage is becoming less attractive as we expect to lead 'international quality' lifestyles on rupee salaries in India. Which means compensations are rapidly galloping..

The trouble is that while we may feel we are in London or Singapore while on the plush carpeted hallways of an INOX where a popcorn and Coke costs Rs 75 ($3 SGD), the moment we step out of the cocoon we are back to the Indian side of the economy. Potholed roads, population pressure and non-functioning essential services (we have a 3 hour daily power cut in New Bombay!) and of course, people, just too many people everywhere.

So yes, when more than one friend in Singapore mentioned India has beome 'expensive', I would agree. A parallel 'cheap' India still exists but those of us with the right education and employabliity are rapidly distancing ourselves from it. When was the last time you went to buy wholesale to save a few bucks. Or shopped at the chaotic Dadar market?

The upside is, Singapore will not seem 'expensive' - it did when I visited 5 years ago. Now, I am so inured to spending 200 bucks on taxi in Mumbai or 500 rupees on a meal the mental conversion calculator does not send up red flags that often!

Of course, I am sure the same would not apply if I went to Europe... which I plan to next year. Sigh!

P.S. Am back in India and will be posting as usual, interspersed with some more 'Snapshots from Singapore'.

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth