Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Kung fu

No more fundas from me though. Here are two true tales that were emailed across to me in response to the original post. Only the names have been changed, on request. Rest is as is, from my mailbox to you.

Experience 1: From XXX, in Europe

I strongly believe in "If you want something really bad, you will get it". I first came across this philosophy 3-4 years ago while reading Alchemist (Paul Coelho) and then spent a lot of time thinking about my life and if this saying was applicable to me. I could think of only one thing that I had wanted really bad - an MBA from a top school.

It hadn't materialized 4 yrs ago but I hadn't given hope. In fact, when I finished my engineering in 2003, I had admits from some good Indian b-schools but wanted to make it to IIMs. To cut the long story short, for some or other reason I couldn't get into a top school by 2006 end. Till then, I had never thought of MBA abroad thinking that I could never afford it.

At the start of 2007, I started thinking about int'l MBA seriously and decided to go for it in March. Took GMAT in June and got a decent score of 740. Even then, when I decided to apply to YYY (top European bschool), I wasn't sure of an admit. In November, I got the admit and was mighty relieved - finally I had an admit from a school which I was prepared to join.

My story did not end there. The journey from getting an admit to actually joining the school was full of ups and downs. Because of funding constraints, at one time I had almost dropped the plan to join the school. But somehow, things started working out and finally I joined YYY in Sep last year.

Cool, I say! And this next one goes out to the engineer who wanted to know about courses in finance. This could the way forward for you...

Experience 2: from YYY, in Mumbai

...your latest post reminded me of my experiences 6 years back. I was in the final semester of my engineering at Ahmedabad and like a lot of people, I had discovered through those 4 years that I definitely did not want to pursue a further degree in engineering.

Through chance, I happened to read a book on Warren Buffet and was instantly hooked on. I did some more research on my own and with great difficulty managed to complete security analysis bibles like 'Security Analysis - Graham & Dodd' and ' Intelligent Investor - Graham'.

Obviously, being an engineer, I had no clue about finance and economics. But I would ask my queries to a few people who understood finance. At 21, with no formal education in finance, I decided to pursue being a security analyst. Although I did secure an IT job through campus recruitment, thankfully I had no financial compulsion to take up a job immediately ( I realize not many people have this luxury).

So, back to the pursuit for a job in security analysis, I read through articles written by analysts in Outlook Money and similar magazines and sent emails to them saying I was really interested in working for them even if it was for no salary. Through a lot of persistence, I finally managed to get a reply from someone who ran a portfolio management business and was amazing at what I wanted to do.

I moved to Mumbai and worked on a few projects with this person who eventually became my mentor. To cut a long story short, I managed to enter my field of liking (and at 21, I was filled with idealistic notions of 'enjoying your work, money apne aap se aayega' kind of philosophy). Things progressed, I worked in this field for a year, then went back to my small family business to get a practical experience on things, meanwhile completing my international CFA and MBA from ISB, Hyderabad.

Last year, I joined ZZZ (MNC investment bank) in Mumbai as a research analyst. Call it luck, call it persistence, but I agree that if you want something real bad and are prepared to go through pain for it, you eventually get it. I don't profess to have 'achieved' anything much, only that I remembered how things for me were in 2001 when I completed my engineering.

Hope that brings some sunshine in your life on a cloudy Monday morning... Go out and get whatever it is you want. Want it badly enough and it will find a way to come to you!

P.S. 'Alchemistry' works with careers - at least it did for these two people. But does it work in friendships and relationships? Will the girl/ guy you see at the bus stop everyday and secretly have the hots for, one day fall for you? Because you really really want them to, badly...

Anyone with success stories in that area, please to share. Kyunki arz hai ki...

Career ke alaava aur bhi gham hain zamaane mein, aur bhi khushiyan
Premi aur stalker mein zyada fark nahin, bas ek ko padti hain jootiyan

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mission Istanbul review

It's a turkey. There, I have the satisfaction of saying it :) And I bet no one who reviews this film will be able to resist that pun.

Haan, yeh journalism bada khatarnaak job hai. Kuch journalists hain like Mr Vikas Sagar (Zayed Khan), who don't have the time to shave or even attend their own divorce proceedings. Bechaare duniya bachane mein jo lage hain.

Aur doosri aur hum jaise bahadur jo aapko bachane me lagein hain. Aisi film dekhne se.

OK. I am going to spill the beans, rip the guts, maul the muscled maniacs populating this film. These are not 'spoilers' because the film is already too spoilt to merit a view. But it sure is fun to write about.

Sample this: Joshila journalist, Mr Good Guy Killing Machine (Vivek Oberoi) and Secret Agent with Cleavage (unknown) have just managed to outrun two carfuls of baddies.

Agent opens the boot and hands out chilled cans of Mountain Dew. Just then two more cars full of Bad Guys arrive. They advance menacingly, chains and belts in hand.

"Dar lag raha hai kya," Vivek asks Zayed.
"Nahin... darr ke aage jeet hai," he replies.

They down the Dew, crush the cans and proceed to finish off the enemy.

Such brilliant product placement has never been seen before, and will never be seen again in the history of Indian cinema. I tell you - the drink to have before you beat someone up to a pulp. Kya positioning hai! UP aur Bihar mein khoob bikega...

A few scenes later, as Journalist and Good Guy Killer are holed up in their hideout. A newsflash proclaims they are 'most wanted'. "Chill, man. Chips kha," GG tells JJ, holding a large packet of Lays.

What's the prograam? Another 45 minutes of yehahaha kicking, punching, menacing, grimacing, we-will-protect-our-precious-pen-drive.

Why JJ could not hand the pendrive to the Indian ambassador when he managed to make it to the embassy, we do not know.

How police manage to enter the embassy despite its diplomatic immunity we do not know.

Oh wait, our ambassador is a lame and wimpy old woman with very poor taste in saris. IFS officers, unite and demand a ban on the film!

But wait, there is someone lamer and wimpier and this is the only intentional (and somewhat genuine) comic relief in the midst of all the dishoom dishoom. A look-alike President George W Bush who is clueless about India and well, just about everything else.

Chief of Staff: Mr President, there's an Indian involved in the Turkey incident

President: What? Indians! They're everywhere!!

Yeah baby, you better believe it.

Since this film comes from the guy who gave us the gory but hard-hitting 'Shootout at Lokhandwala' you have to wonder what went wrong.

My guess: 'Balaji productions'.

They've given the world of terrorism over-exaggerated, cardboard characters like it was a saas bahu show. Imagine a guy called Mr Ghazni who wears plastic flowers to match the colour of his Savile Row suits. He can't be anything BUT the villain.

And to add to the fun they sourced excellent raw material... not for a movie but sturdy furniture. Both wooden and plastic.

Sunil Shetty dies thankfully early but then there's Vivek Oberoi. He is just too much in love with himself. He can never stop being cool. Even in the middle of a heated gun-battle a part of him looks like it's wondering, "Hows my hair?"

No wonder Aishwarya left the poor sod.

And what WAS Abhishek Bachchan doing in the film? Even friendship has its limits! Not even the likes of Esha Deol/ Shamita Shetty agreed to be part of this dud. They had to find two new and unknown bakris.

To sum it up, it was an interesting idea. Terrorists use the media, even manipulate it. Is the media only the messenger or is it actually the oxygen helping to keep terrorism alive? And what happens when the media actually has an agenda of its own?

Mission Istanbul is based on the premise that Abu Nazir (who looks like Osama Bin Laden) is dead and Al Johara (which sounds like Al Jazeera) is keeping him alive by manipulating old images and speeches. That they are creating the news as well as reporting it.

Which, terrorism apart, IS often the case.

But how can you even talk about 'food for thought' in a film where a chick walks up to an Aaj Tak news anchor and says,"Roz raat ko tum mere bedroom mein aate ho... tabhi mujhe neend aati hai."

Yeah baby, and terrorists take Hindi classes so they can retire and act in Bollywood films. Or maybe even as the evil sasur in one of Balaji's many serials??

And now, an 'Indian CPA'

The CPA is to America what the CA is to India. The highest and most prestigious qualification in the accounting profession.

Neither the CPA nor the CA is a 'degree'. It is a designation or statutory title awarded to those who pass an exam set by a particular professional body. In the US that body is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and in India it is the Institute of Chartered Accountants in India (ICAI).

In short, although there is no CA college or CPA college these designations are brands in their own right. And so I was surprised to see an ad on the front page of several newspapers advertising the 'CPA'. The ad states:

'The CPA Council is responsible for the CPA program and regulation of the CPA profession'

A footnote also declares that:

'The ICFAI University Tripura is mandated by law to offer the CPA program and confer the CPA designation. DAT, CPA and Certified Public Accountant are registered trademarks'.

Yes, but whose? I do not know the intricacies of the law - perhaps it is possible to register any trademark in India as long as the foreign trademark holder has not filed for it yet. But what if the American CPA Institute - which is in existence since 1896 - objects?

There were smalltimers who registered trademarks like Pizza Hut, before it entered India, who were forced to shut shop later.

But even if it is legal for you to register a trademark like CPA because the American CPA institute does not care to enter India or object, it is still ETHICALLY wrong.

This is sad because the intent behind the new course is good. There is growing interest in the CA profession but all aspirants cannot and will not pass the exam. On the other hand there is a growing demand from companies large and small for competent accountants - not necessarily CAs. Just smart people with knowledge of accounting.

ICAI itself has decided to start a new course that will create 'accounting technicians'.

There are also private institutes like Institute of Computer Accountants who run courses which create 'Certified Industrial Accountants'.

But no, ICFAI could not think of ANY other acronym for its course...

And it is a mere coincidence that they also have a course called CFA.

Which has nothing to do with the CFA awarded by the CFA Institute headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia offering the CFA exam since 1963. The one which has 83,000 members in 129 countries and is highly valued in the investment banking and finance communities.

Now courts have been deliberating over this Phoren CFA vs Indian CFA question for years. Sometimes they tilt this way and sometimes that. The end result is that students are confused although the finance community knows its apples from its oranges.

As Piyul Mukerjee notes in her blog:

I-Banks such as Accenture, Lehman Brothers, E & Y give a far different weightage to who they see as the actual CFA charter holder - a crazily tough place to get into and then get through its exams, where even chartered accountants and IIT engineers are known to fail - as versus these tom-tomming media and space hoggers. God knows if the Tripura one is at all entertained by the international finance institutions. It would be interesting to see how these two CFAs measure up against each other, in -say - a third exam.

It may not even be necessary to make this comparison - the Indian CFA may well have its merits. But why use the same acronym and always be seen as a wannabe?

It's the same story all over again with the 'Indian CPA'. You can go ahead and do the course but be warned it will NOT be recognised or have value in the US of A. It is not that CPA.

I'm sure ICFAI is willing to fight another round of court battles, if necessary. They may even win on paper... but in the quest to be seen as a serious academic institution they have lost already.

Monday, July 21, 2008

IIPM's 'international placements'

The latest series of ads from IIPM touts its 'international placements'. As per figures released in the ad, all IIMs placed 249 students abroad, ISB placed 111 and IIPM placed 165.

What's more, one of the ads now uses an article published in Hindustan Times on 13 July 2008 titled 'B-schooled in India, Placed abroad' to support the IIPM claim.

This article featured two IIPM alumni- Saumya Sharma (29), working with ANZ bank in Melbourne and Poulomi Basu (29), working with Lehman Bros, New York.

However, as a student I would still have the following questions:
a) Which companies exactly did 165 students who secured 'international placements' get their jobs?

b) What was the average salary package for these international placements (all reputed bschools release average salary figures for Indian and international placements as a matter of routine).

c) How does this salary package compare with that offered to students of IIMs, ISB, FMS, MDI etc.

d) What about job profile and designation?

Re: the HT article:
a) It mentions that Poulomi Basu 'bagged a First Class First in Personnel Management and Marketing Management' (from IIPM) - something that helped her considerably in gaining admission to good universities in the US.

This implies that Poulomi did a second degree in the US. And therefore her job at Morgan Stanley in New York and now Lehman Brothers cannot be attributed to a placement at IIPM.

b) This paragraph in Saumya's story struck me as odd:

“Packed with my MBA and stories that I had heard from Dad about his experience overseas, I decided to come to Australia to begin my career.” And not for a moment has she felt it had been a wrong move, because everyday at work, Saumya says, she is presented with opportunities to practise what she learnt during her time at IIPM.

I mean most bschool grads credit their institute for exposure, network and getting that great first job...

Incidentally, it is three years since JAM carried its original article looking into IIPM's claims. If things have improved - great. I would be happy for the students and alumni of the institute.

However it must be noted that in June 2008, UGC had declared IIPM as a fake university. Subsequently IIPM moved the Delhi High Court. According to the Economic Times:

...senior advocate A S Chandiok, appearing for the IIPM, contended that the main reservation was regarding the use of the word "fake" by the UGC about the institution.

"We do not mind being called unrecognised. But, the word fake is not correct and this should not be used as it gives wrong signal," Chandiok said.

As of now, IIPM has 'agreed to make it clear in its advertisements that the institute offers only certificate courses'.

The institute would also clarify that its courses were aimed at making the students eligible for degree courses like MBA and BBA provided under International Management Institute (IMI), Belgium.

It is unclear why IIPM cannot simply follow UGC requirements, become a recognised university and award a degree of its own. Like so many other private educational enterprises.

Especially as the institute is keen to gain not just students but respect.

More debate taking place here.

If you would like to add comments below, please stick to the facts and let's examine the situation as it stands today.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Are you giving CAT this year?

If yes, I would like to hear from you with the following details:

a) Is this yr first attempt?
b) How much are you scoring right now in different sections
c) How much more is this from when your started
d) What is yr daily study schedule like?
e) What classes, if any, have you joined
f) Have u joined different classes for material and Mock CATs?
g) What your strategy is going to be to improve over next 3 months
h) What bschools are you aiming for?
i) Which bschools do you think you will get?
j) How many bschools do you plan to apply for in all (approx no)?
k) What is your educational background
l) Are you working or studying?
m) Anyhing else you'd like to share

And of course, your name, city of residence and contact details. You can mail me at rashmi_b at

Kyun chahiye?
Well, rest assured it's for the greatest common good. All will be revealed in due time, trust me.

Break over. Kindly hit the books!

On a separate note, I am also looking for an MBA (Systems) to interview. This is for the Cracking Careers show on UTVi.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kung Fu style career advice II

OK, so that 'kung-fu style career advice' was warm, fuzzy and vaguely inspiring. Maybe you forwarded it to a friend or two. But while you admire the way it was written deep down you doubt the content.

Well, let me now give you a couple of practical examples.

Query 1: I am Amit (name changed) and have just completed my engineering from Mumbai university.What kind of finance part time courses are available in Mumbai that will enhance my profile before doing a MBA?

My response: First of all, I don't see too much of passion in this quest. (I may be wrong... after all it's a 2 line email he has written to a stranger). But my gut feeling is that queries like this are driven by this logic:

Finance pays well, hence I should join finance.
The way to do this is an MBA.
And before that I may as well try to get a head-start by doing a course or two.

Well and good, but here's the deal: I don't know of any part time courses which would really 'add value'. The Bombay Stock Exchange does run several but they don't seem to be aimed at novices.

In general, I think we put too much faith in courses. Parents will be ok with just about any form of study, and shell out pretty large sums of money for it. Because after all "Beta course kar raha hai".

A course can at best teach you concepts but there's also the option of being self taught (reference: the panda and kung fu!).

There are books, there are websites, and even entire television channels devoted to financial news and analysis. And of course the pink papers.

The important thing is that you must aim to MASTER whatever it is you have chosen. When that is your aim, a teacher or mentor will appear somewhere along the way.

My second piece of advice is simple: "My dear it is time you went and got yourself a job!" (Wish more parents kicked butt and told their kids to do it!)

Because courses can give you knowledge, but a job gives you wisdom. You learn by seeing, by doing and just by 'being around' in that environment.

The question Amit the engineer will now ask is: "How do I get a job in finance"?

Well, again, when you really want something you figure out a way! My advice would be to list 100 companies (more of mid sized and small firms and brokerages) and send a one page resume. State that your main aim is to gain experience before you go for your MBA. And that you are willing to do whatever it takes - to learn and to contribute to your employer.

One or two out of a hundred may call you for an interview.

The rest you cold-call and speak to, or visit personally. One by one by one. It may mean cooling your heels in reception areas but I guarantee you will get a job in one month's time. Maximum two. Especially if you are willing to work for a low or even no salary in the beginning.

One secret is to somehow meet the CEO or owner and make a 30 second sales pitch about yourself. You could ambush them in the lift, on the way to the car or at a seminar.

And that could be your 'Oogway' moment.

People who have arrived always have a soft spot for the people who remind them of their younger selves. Folks with initiative, a bit of raw talent and of course, sincerity. (Oogways can smell a fake a million miles away).

Even if you don't get your job this way, the search itself would have been a personality-enhancing experience. And that's more important than 'profile', anyday.

The second query is about college admissions. It comes from Mrs K.

Question: My daughter is interested in doing her Bachelors in Mass Media. She has secured admission in XXXX (Ahmedabad). We really have no idea about this institute. Is it worth joining?

My response: I get a lot of emails like this. With insanely high cut-offs and reservations of a million kinds, it is getting really hard to get into a 'good college'.

I mean the kind which we think contains the secret ingredient.

When Mrs K asks is XXXX 'worth joining' her concerns are two-fold:
a) Does XXXX (and I will not name the college here as it could be any newly set up one) have the necessary facilities and faculty to conduct the course

b) Will studying at XXXX have any value in the job market?

The answer to part a) can easily be discovered by visiting the school and interacting with the students. If they've had a poor experience, they will tell you so.

Part b) is a tougher cookie.

In this particular case I would say BMM is a relatively new degree and employers look more for the candidate's talent as an individual than a brand name. What Ms K will need to do is go beyond the syllabus and build up a portfolio.

This she can do by freelancing, doing live projects and summer jobs (whether or not the college requires it or arranges for it).

She can always go for a post grad qualification from a more reputed institute... although ultimately I do believe that media is one profession where 'the secret is there is no secret ingredient' principle well and truly applies!

The really important thing is to be able to celebrate success as well as 'failure'.

Mrs K's daughter will be joining XXXX because she could not make it to any good college in Mumbai. So it is more a compulsion than 'choice'. But look at the spirit with which they are taking it:

... My daughter and I are not really disappointed. The journey to Mumbai and back, the travelling by local trains, crossing roads, trying to collect information, hunting for places to eat, hunting for colleges was a real experience.

We would not have it any other way. It did teach us many of life's lessons like being positive, being patient and never say die. We even thought of taking a year off and exploring different options.

When we returned to Gandhinagar, where we stay, we couldn't help feeling that we have come back to heaven. Mumbai has taught us to value Gandhinagar.

You are right when you say there are no accidents in life!

And let us end this kung fu class with the following immortal words from our lovable panda:

Tai Lung: "You... you're just a big... fat... panda!"
Po: I'm not a big fat panda. I'm *the* big fat panda.

Be THE big fat panda, in whatever you choose to be.

If you have any experiences you'd like to share please do drop me a line at And queries, as always, are welcome!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kung Fu style Career Advice

If a giant panda can become a mighty kung-fu warrior - so could you. Not kung-fu, but whatever. Ballet dancer, arctic explorer or investment banker.

I can already hear you say,"Hey, that happens only in the movies."

Well, yes and no. Here are some definite takeaways from Kung fu Panda, for all those of you struggling with questions of what, where and how to steer your career.

Lesson # 1: If you want something badly enough, you get it somehow.

Po the panda wanted to be a kung-fu warrior really really badly. He followed every kung fu teacher, every battle, every hero there ever was. The chap was a walking Kung Fu Encyclopedia!

And of course, he dreamt about kung fu too.

Ask yourself - do you care something in your life that strongly? If you do - it will be yours one day.

Lesson # 2: It could take a while but you'll get there.

So if you believe Lesson # 1 the question is 'how'? Now sometimes you may get there the straight and easy way. The way to be a kung fu warrior is to train under a great Master, right?

Well, Po got the job another way. He bumbled and tumbled up the mountain and finally literally 'dropped in from the sky'. Master Oogway then pronounced:"He is the one, the great Dragon Warrior". To everybody's surprise!

In real life there aren't enough Oogways who can see a diamond in the coal; a kung fu champion in a blubbering mass of fat.

But how many of you have struggled like the panda to even get to that mountain top where there may be a Master waiting for you?

Lesson # 3: 'A peach tree will blossom into a peach tree. It can't become an apple tree...' - Master Oogway

Why many of us come to grief is we don't know 'who we are'. Are we a peach tree, or a jasmine tree or a cactus? Every one of those is beautiful and useful in its own way. No one is 'superior' to the other.

Yet in life many of us believe that we must all be peach trees. ie MBAs and engineers. The aroma of the jasmine is lost to the world and all we have is peach, peach and more peach (fruity burp!).

Lesson # 4: 'There are no accidents in life...' - Master Shifu

Yup, the fact that you did not make it to IIT or IIM or with that cute chick on the second floor. This was the way it was meant to be.

Think about Steve Jobs being forced to exit his own company in 1985. He went through hell but was forced to think of new ideas, new directions. It led to the creation of Pixar and a whole new kind of animation.

And ultimately, he went back to Apple with iTunes and iPod.

Could he have done all this had he never left Apple? I don't know. But I think greatness is born more out of adversity than in nice hot bathtubs.

Woh Archimedes wala funda bhi theek hai but you can't run naked in the streets anymore. By the time you dress up and get out into the world, you find josh chala gaya.

Lesson # 5: There is no secret ingredient in the secret ingredient soup.

And this is especially relevant at a time when we are all on the quest for the Holy Grail. We believe that joining the right college, the right course or the right company is the secret ingredient which will spice up our soup - our careers, our lives.

The truth is, it's all about what you believe. The moment you join an IIT or an IIM you start believing,"Hey I am really really good". You get the confidence to take on the world, the chutzpah to say,"The world is my oyster".

Clearing these super tough exams is like running a lawnmower through your own mental garden. It crushes the weeds of self doubt and self pity which we've allowed to grow.

Exam or no exam, you can choose to yank out those weeds. Then look the guys who think they know better in the eye and declare,"My soup is as kick-ass as yours."

Lastly, words of wisdom from Master Oogway which apply not just to careers, but any and every walk of life: 'Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery... today is a gift'.

Have you at least undone the wrapping paper of this brand new, beautiful moment? Right here, right now, today??

Friday, July 11, 2008

Smart card, dumb implementation

This may sound elitist but here goes: I recently travelled by local train.

Yes, for a while we were one of those two-car, two-driver families. But when I started working from home so I could finish writing a book (more on that, another time) I figured it did not make sense anymore.

And since I find driving (and more than that parking!) stressful I decided to go back to mostly using public transport. Mostly buses, but when you need to reach town from New Bombay, there is nothing quite as efficient as the train.

That's how I found myself @ Vashi railway station on a fine sunny morning. First shock: the line to buy a ticket, that too at 11 in the morning. And not even one of the first 2-3 days of the month when people buy season tickets.

'Yahaan to kam se kam aadha ghanta lagega', I thought. 'Let me buy a coupon booklet'. Oops, a sign proclaimed they were not available.

After some ten minutes in queue I noticed a deserted looking kiosk bearing the logo 'Go Mumbai'. "What is this," I asked the lady in fron of me. She had no clue.

Well it turns out you can buy a 'smart card' by paying a one time fee of Rs 36 and then topping up the card, for as little as Rs 50. You need to hold up the smart card against the machine installed at entry point and once again do the same at exit point. And it automatically deducts the fare.

There are separate machines for first and second class.

"How cool," I thought as I quickly paid Rs 200 and zipped off to catch a train. But why was the rest of the public standing there waiting to buy a card ticket? Wasting at least half an hour of their lives??

Many of them looked pretty well to do, and could surely pay the one time fee of Rs 36. They just did not know. No one has bothered to properly communicate the idea and its benefits to the aam junta.

What's more the railways own employees are clueless about it. Mumbai Mirror reported that a college student who bought the card and got off at Mahim was fined Rs 260 because it is not yet valid on Western line. Huh??

Neither have I seen a smart card machine on any BEST bus (and the card claims to be valid on buses as well). Pretty sad considering the card was launched on April 24, which is two and a half months ago!

What is the point of half-baked and half-hearted implementation?

And oh, the next evening I searched in vain for a kiosk where I could recharge my card at CST. There wasn't enough money on it to buy a first class ticket.

Nahin mila and I got into second class which was actually quite empty and comfortable. Chalo paise bach gaye.

Par card hone ka fayda kya? Goes to show that the smartest technology will not catch on if its implementation is dumb.

And by the way one of the validation machines has already conked out...when so few people are using it. Aage kaam kaise chalega?

The other point to note is that there are multiple kinds of cards in circulation, and smart cookies have already figured how to beat the system and travel free...

Lastly, after using the Delhi metro a few times our suburban network looks and feels really shabby. All I see is some cosmetic change (like this steel-look first class compartment).

We will one day have our own metro but surely we'll have to do something to what is know as the 'lifeline of the city'. Currently a tired old lady, choking and barely able to bear the strain.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jaane Tu - 4 stars

Friday night and I walk out of Jaane Tu and sms my cousin and a couple of friends: "Great film, must see!"

They reply back:"We saw Love Story 2050... avoid! Absolute disaster!!"

Film Flop Prediction Rule # 1: The guy who ties up with Pantaloons and does a hundred promo events is probably the weaker film.

Besides, when you have a producer like Aamir Khan and a scriptwriter like Abbas Tyrewala, you know. Izzat ka sawaal hai, they will do their best to NOT get it wrong.

So here's the deal. Jaane Tu has got 3 to 3.5 stars from most critics and both Imran and Genelia have been mucho appreciated. But I go a step further and give it 4 stars.

Reason: a love story with newcomers is the oldest formula in filmdom, but also the hardest to get right. Even with the best looking / best trained of actors. We all know what happened to Sawariya... and a million other such attempts.

The trick is to say something new about the context and the conundrum: how do you bring together, then separate and in the end bring together that one boy and one girl?

Well, in the past it was parents and zamaana which kept them apart. Still happens (a young man just jumped off Vashi bridge yesterday as his runaway bride's parents had filed a police complaint).

But that story's kind of been done to death (no pun intended).

With DDLJ we moved to the 'must win parents over', only then.

With Dil Chahta Hai the parents became irrelevant and it was only the two individuals figuring out what they wanted for themselves. The complication being one was already engaged.

Jaane Tu is the next step in the evolution of romance in India: Two best friends who truly believe, "Hey we are NOT in love!"

And of course everyone else can see it but not them. So Jai and Aditi look for romance elsewhere until finally they realise,"Hello, agar mere liye koi hai, to wahi hai, wahi hai, wahi hai."

Here is where the acting bit comes in: Genelia and Imran manage to pull it off. Imran to hai hi blessed and girls break into applause the moment he comes on screen. Genelia had the more difficult role and she does it effortlessly.

Aditi, as her friends describe her, is a girl given to 'extremes'. If Kajol was the original tomboy in KKHH, Aditi is way beyond. She does the things guys are expected to do - be aggressive, swear loudly, and yes even the small stuff like being the designated driver who 'always' drops her friends home.

But she never lets you forget she is a girl. At times, even a girly girl.

The other interesting thing about Jaane Tu is the mixed group. In DCH, we had three friends bonding but they were all guys. And generally in Hindi films or even in advertising, we see groups of girls giggling at a table or groups of boys leaning against their bikes.

Whereas the truth is, in most large cities, guys and girls hang out together. And there is a whole different kind of 'group dynamics' involved.

The trouble starts when there is a couple within the group. And they suddenly have no time or interest in being with the others. But then suddenly the couple break up and now the group itself is torn in two.

That's not the plot here, but it's really common!

In Jaane Tu, there is a different twist: Boms and Rotlu are in love with Jai and Aditi respectively - but the latter are so lost in each other, they have no clue.

Eventually, Boms and Rotlu come together and this happens in a rather comical way when Rotlu is at the farewell party downing his sorrow in 'bottoms up' style pegs of Coke (excellent product placement! congrats to the scriptwriter!)

The gist of their conversation is:"Har kisi ko aisa koi chahiye jo sirf usey dekhe." Or, everyone needs someobody who will make them the centre of a little universe.

And the thing is, this is not a mysterious process which will someday just 'happen' to you. It's a choice you can make.

When Boms and Rotlu looked into each others eyes that night they realised they could create that universe for each other instead of waiting endlessly. They make that choice, and seal it with a kiss.

Even the Jai and Aditi story is really about recognising that love comes in many different forms. Books and movies have propogated only the chocolate-flowers-and-mushy-poems brand of romance.

Jaane Tu explores the idea of love being someone you care about deeply, feel comfortable with and with whom you can truly be yourself. The kickass song 'Aditi' (a really new and different kind of sound from A R Rahman after a long time!) also takes that forward.

"Kabhi kabhi Aditi zindagi mein yun hi koi apna lagta hai."

I know this is said in context of a dead cat but it's really what the film is all about :)

A word about the parents. This is another aspect where we have seen an amazing evolution in Hindi films. And Jaane Tu again breaks new ground here.

Aditi's parents - Jayant Kirpalani and Anuradha Patel - are absoultely delightful. You wish all couples would grow old and be so comfortable and warm with each other.

As a contrast, you have Meghna's parents (Meghna is Jai's interim girlfirend). Rajat Kapur and Kitu Gidwani are an absolutely bitter and unhappy couple who can't stop throwing daggers at each other even in the presence of their daughter's boyfriend.

Later, Meghna tells Jai that her parents stayed together only for 'her sake'. But to block out the reality of their constant and ugly fights she created an imaginary world, where everything was 'perfect'.

This happens in so many Indian homes - parents together for child's sake but horribly unhappy - that you have to wonder. Is it really worth it?

Two other characters also ring so very true.

The first is Sushant - Aditi's fiance who has had a long list of ex girlfriends. Fair enough, she is ok with that. But you know he is definitely the kind of guy who will marry and continue playing the field.

Love is a game of pursuit for Sushant and of course, the same rules do not apply to his fiance. 'Everyone has a past' he tells her but his ego cannot bear it when he figures out she had a thing for Jai.

The second is Aditi's brother, Amit (Prateik Babbar). An intense, but directionless young man who you see in many well to do homes.

Lastly, the comic element. The thread that stitches that takes an otherwise ordinary idea to a much higher level is the side-characters, the little jokes and crazy touches such as:

* The two cowboys and the whole 'Rathore from Ranjhaur' subplot.

* Naseeruddin Shah (Jai's guzre hue pitaji) speaking to Savitri (Jai's mom - Ratna Pathak Shah)) from inside his portrait.

* Jignes, the Gujju boy in the group who is funny without being made fun of.

And of course there are many many memorable one-liners. I will not mention them here and ruin it for you.

Enjoy Jaane Tu. It's an apun ke type ka film. A definite cult hit, the love story of a new generation. A generation which is edgier, more 'in your face'. Where 'Pappu can't dance saala'!

P.S. A quick note on TOI's flm ratings.... They are fast becoming unbelievable!

Nikhat Kazmi has given Jaane Tu 2.5 stars... Chalo woh bhi theek tha. This is a more teenybopper kind of film than say Jab We Met which was a hit with all age groups. So maybe a mainstream paper like TOI might not rate it highly as me.

And there are flaws. Much of the film (especially the climax!) would collapse if Jai - like any normal human being - had a cellphone.

But Nikhat gave 2050 Love Story TWO stars. So ahem you have to wonder: does anyone trust these critics who 'try to keep everyone happy'? Methinks it's not a mere coincidence that a former Femina Miss India and her boyfriend happen to be that hero-heroine of that dud film... which ALL other critics have rated as zero, or at best one star!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

GMAT Cheating controversy

Businessweek reports:The cheating scandal that has engulfed the B-school world grew vastly larger on June 27, when the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) said the number of prospective MBA students facing questions about their entrance exams now totals more than 6,000—six times the original estimate.

You might wonder how one can 'cheat' on the GMAT. After all it is an online test involving logic and reasoning, not the class 12 board exam where you can scribble some formulas on your knee.

Well it appears that the controversy is actually about 'Scoretop', a site which students used to prepare for the GMAT. The site featured several 'live' questions ie questions that GMAT serves from its vast databank to actual test takers.

The unique thing about GMAT is the fact that it is a computer adaptive test and that no two test-takers get exactly the same set of questions. But no system is infallible.

Anyone who's taken the test can memorise a few questions, note them down and pass on the same to future test takers. These questions were apparently known as 'JJ' or jungle juice on the Scoretop site.

Numerous CAT prep institutes used to do this kind of thing before students were allowed to take the test paper home a couple of years ago. Of course, CAT questions are not re-used. But coaching classes liked to 'solve' the paper and indicate to students how much they could hope to score.

Since the IIMS are thinking of taking CAT online , this may be a good time to consider whether the GMAT model is practical in the Indian context. A live question bank would easily be leaked by coaching classes using the 'human memory' method.

Of course by GMAC's own admission students probably gained 'very little' by having access to questions.

Even if a site is illegally able to obtain some “real” questions, it is extremely unlikely that anyone accessing the site will see the same questions on the live exam...The reliability of the test taker’s score is less in question than the ethical behavior of those trying to “game” the system.

Either way, a system where a fixed exam is offered 4 times a year and questions are not reused would be much safer in India. Because in a test like CAT where competition is so intense that even a single question can make a difference, you don't want to take a chance. After all credibility is paramount.

I also think India must have an online + offline model in order to make the CAT fully accessible. At least for the next few years.

Getting back to the GMAT controversy, students who had purchased 'VIP' access to Scoretop over the last 5 years are currently under scrutiny. This includes those who are current students and even MBA graduates.

GMAC has won a $2.3 million copyright infringement judgment against the Scoretop site, thus shutting it down and getting access to the hard drive containing all subscriber information. The suit was filed in June 2007.

It is unlikely that all 6000 VIP members will be affected but GMAC is following the 'electronic paper trail' which indicates which users were aware of the fact that some questions were indeed live.
And not "fully owned by Scoretop [and] written by our own…tutors" as the site claimed.

Incidentally the owner of Scoretop - Lei Shi - has fled to China. There are at least 7 sites similar to Scoretop based in China and Businessweek writer Louis Lavelle reports that GMAC's lawyers have been in touch with the Chinese government re: copyright infringement.

I suspect there might be sites based in India with live questions as well... Or private tutors/ classes who share the same. Anyone with info on this could drop me a line at rashmi_b at

Personally I say it is not worth the risk of getting permanently busted.

Earlier posts on CAT going online:
CAT goes online - i

CAT goes online - ii

Disqus for Youth Curry - Insight on Indian Youth