October 31, 2011

How Movies Are Made

Having had some rare free time on my hands, I used it last weekend to catch up on the Hindi Movies I had missed. And as I was about to write about them I realized that there was a classic masterpiece that I had forgotten to tell you about. I had watched it in Manila and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of human imagination!

This is how the story started – 2 teams were called into the office of the Big Boss (BB) of a movie studio around Jan this year

BB – Guys, I have seen your proposals for the rest of the year. Great news! We love them both and we will make them both. Just ensure that you don’t experiment too much.

And so our two teams went and made the most awesome film they could think of copying at will from the best in the genres they had chosen. They both felt that they had the blockbuster of the year. They had the right mix of tragedy, drama, action, suspense and a sprinkling of romance.

It was July and they came again to BB’s room to show him the storyboards, shaking hands with each other, being very courteous, a bit anxious and hoping that BB loves their script a bit more than the other. The sort of corporate ego battles you typically would expect.

But BB seemed to be preoccupied. And whatever you do, never walk into your boss’ room when he or she is preoccupied.

BB – Guys before we start, I need to tell you that I have just discovered that Banjo has moved to Singapore.

Team 1 and Team 2 – (Groans) – Come on. You must be joking!

BB (nodding his head sadly) – Yeah! We are really worried. Our South Asia movie ticket sales will take a huge hit form August onwards. So we have decided to make some budget cuts. We will make just one movie.

Team 1 and Team 2 – Oh No! We worked so hard. Can’t we just ask his boss to keep him back in India?

BB – I know how you guys feel. But don’t feel bad. Let’s do something. Let’s combine both your scripts!

Team 1 – Are you crazy? Ours is a western. Market research shows that after True Grit, people want to watch westerns again. We have guns, babes getting captured and rescued and we will sell lots of cowboy hats!

Team 2 – Are you insane? We have made the foolproof alien invasion movie. Lots of gadgets, babes getting captured and rescued and we will surpass transformers. We have copied the Ben 10 watch and added a laser pointer to it!

BB – Guys, Guys... Let’s not panic. I know Banjo leaving Mumbai is a shock to us all. My friend in Imax Wadala just called and said they are planning to shut down, but trust me we will survive.

Team 1 and Team 2 (in unison) – HOW!!!

BB – Let’s look for common themes. Oh wow. Look! You both have babes getting captured and rescued. Here is the idea....

Let the aliens capture the babe and let the cowboy rescue her! We will manage the rest of the story as we go forward.

And Cowboys and Aliens were born. And I decided to watch it.

True Story!

October 26, 2011

Defeating Ra.One

Diwali or Deepavali in India is associated with the return of Lord Ram after 14 years and celebrates the homecoming post the defeat of Evil. Every time across the World the question has not been whether good can triumph over evil, it has always been ‘when’? Ra.One turns the question on its head where Sekhar Subramanium develops a computer game where the villain at all levels is more powerful than the hero as his son believes villains are “Kick Ass”

Ra.One when written in Hindi pronounces Raavan – the first of the great Indian mythical anti heroes, supremely powerful, who is destroyed every Dushhera in India to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. But Ra.One asks the question – if he could be killed, why would we need to destroy him over and over again?

If there is an anti hero, there must be a hero and for us, it’s G.One, again pronounced in Hindi as Jeevan meaning Life. And he is not super powerful, he just has a 0.01% chance of winning against Ra.One and yet he fights, to ensure the shadow of evil does not fall on us.

I feel very tempted to tell you the story, but that would be unfair as this is one of the most original stories I have seen coming out of Hindi Cinema in recent years. It is worth a watch and definitely worth your money, many times over. And here’s why –

  1. The dialogues –witty, funny, sometimes forced but so very Bollywood. You are tensed in your seats watching SRK enter the screen as a super hero and he says – mere saamne Bruce Li ke teen behne – iski Li, Uski Li aur Sabki Li. “Size does not matter, Ask the person who spent one night with a mosquito” They are not thought provoking deep ones i.e. not like Swades perhaps, but has their own rustic charm.
  2. The Special Effects – the best in Indian cinema so far, even beating the likes of Spiderman and Batman Returns. The scene where CST in Mumbai is destroyed should go in as the top 100 scenes in Indian cinema. Ganpati Bappa Moriya
  3. The storyline – gripping and yet so Bollywood. Imagine an intense situation as the Joker has a knife held at Rachel’s throat and suddenly Bruce Wayne goes into flashback and a song starts about their childhood! Has fantastic twists and turns that keeps you guessing and makes you laugh just after an intense fight sequence.
  4. It does not preach – it’s an entertainer, it remains so. Easily it could have fallen into the trap about giving gyan (it does on quitting smoking. Apparently SRK has promised to quit smoking after Ra.One) but it remains what it is – a Diwali Potbolier
  5. It’s classic SRK all the way – he shows us again that he can act better than most, but at the end of the day – he’s King Khan. He’s who both the class and the masses love. After Raj Kapoor, here’s our showman.
  6. Kareena Kapoor looks more beautiful than ever before – All Shiela, Munni, Jalebi Bais can take a break when Chammak Chaalloo is on stage.
  7. SRK and Rajnikanth share the space as G.One and Chitti and the adoration we have for Rajnikanth is documented and accepted and all of us bow before Chitti – Our Superhero Number 1.
  8. It could have been a fantastic Sci Fi story with mind control and form change. But it remains simple so that everyone who watches the movie in any of the 5000 screens worldwide understands what’s happening.
  9. It’s SRK after a year. Last time I heard so much cheering in an SRK movie was in Om Shanti Om.
  10. We all need to know that even if there’s a 0.01% chance of good winning over Evil, it still will. Always. Every Time
Happy Diwali.

October 23, 2011


When I was in school, I had read somewhere, “if there was no pain to hollow out our hearts, where would be the room for joy.” And like so many things you read back then, it made for good brownie points when you put in the essays and debates. Somehow, you never understand few things to their entirety; you just used them and sounded smart.

Last week, I just realized something different. We all react to grief very uniquely. Not one person in this world can possibly handle grief like his next door neighbour. We react differently at different forms of grief as it strikes us most unexpectedly.

Some of us need noise. We shout, we want to the world to know we are sad. It helps us cope when we know that someone else other than us knows what we are going through. Some of us turn religious and accept the fatality of it all. We blame God, we blame ourselves and we find an outlet. Some use humour, using it like a shield behind which we can hide our pain. Some refuse to admit it, trying to continue life as it is, as if not acknowledging it will make it unreal – almost as if it never happened.

Some of us become silent. We internalize it. A short sniff on a phone call to a friend and then the pain is contained deep within. Life goes on as always. We move on.  I had never understood the concept of Rudaali from Rajasthan – a group of women paid to cry at the death of the rich. Today somehow I understand their role. Sometimes, you need other people to show external signs of grief when you yourself can’t show it.

Grief changes us. It might or might not make us stronger, but it does take something away from us, something that can never be restored.

Sometimes one of the four little rats remind you what you forget -

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.”

"Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget that until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words, ‘Wait and hope.'--Your friend, Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo."

Sometimes you need to face your grief and understand who you are...inside.

And then we wait and hope.

October 20, 2011

Theories That You Pick Up

There are theories you pick up as you work. And a few days back someone asked me, after spending 4 years with India’s foremost marketing company what are the new theories that I had picked up. As I looked back at the time spent in SNDU, I realized that the theories closest to my heart had nothing to do with marketing – they were more about how to live one’s life. And like most life theories these are my interpretations of the same.

The first was Chipkali Syndrome. Told to me by the Mother of The All Knowing Little Girl, Chipkali (Lizard) syndrome is all about giving oneself more importance than is necessary. Sensing me working one Sunday, she lost it and on Monday blasted me away. Her point was that the Lizard hanging on to the roof feels that it is holding on to the roof and if it moves away the entire roof might fall on the room below.

We often tend to be chipkalis, imagining that we are so important to the business that the work will stop without us. If one is a junior, she doesn’t know how to let go and allow the decision to flow down. If it’s a senior, she never knows how to trust her subordinates to take the call and move on.

Tagore of course knew it, having never worked in an organization though – “You don’t hold the fate of the world in your hands. There’s a boatman manning the stern, who will see you through” 

The second was about Pal Money – told to me by a Mallu Salesman in Mumbai sitting on the Carter Road promenade. Wherever you work, you will always be unsatisfied with what salary you get as there will be someone who will be earning more than you. This remains to this day, the major cause of dissatisfaction in a human life. Often we do not take into account that probably to earn this extra money, the other person has probably a tougher life than us and works thrice as hard as us. Pal Money Theory accepts the fact that one will always continue to make this comparison.

But what it says that because of the money you earn less, you gain moments in life or Pal. And a Pal spent well is worth every bit of the money you don’t make. For example, on a Sunday evening, without bothering about the next presentation, I am actually blogging about Pal Money. The worth of this moment to me is almost 100 SGD. (The theory insists that you put a monetary value to it) And I am happy that I have this moment for myself, speaking to through this blog to you.

The last theory is about The Man. Almost everyone thought in college that they were going to cure cancer, save the world, eradicate poverty – in effect do something worthwhile with their lives. Everyone wanted to change the system and make the world a better place. Most of us are not doing anything half as noble. And yet in the late nights when the world seems to have made old men and women out of us, we really want to shout our hearts out. It’s like this silent monster that gnaws at you and you know you can’t let your cries be heard.

At that moment you need an object to direct your frustration and Give it to THE MAN. You know really make him pay for all that’s not right with your life, for it’s never you that is at fault! It’s always the system! So once you have found The Man, you boss or your doodhwala, you just give it to him but then once it’s out of your system you need to sit down and take stock of your life as you see it. And then probably you’ll realize that you are not a chipkali, you can always manage some time and you have the right to earn some Pal Money.

What’s more, next weekend you might find yourself teaching a few kids for free at the nearby school and really feeling good about it. At the end of the day, it’s about being happy without causing hurt to others.

Life’s really that simple.

October 17, 2011

Choosing your Brand

Whenever I have debated what makes one choose one’s brand, I have often wondered at the different answers I myself have given at different forums. The one reason which makes my job interesting, day in and day out, is the fact that there is no definitive answer and the answer might contradict each other across categories. In fact, the answer might contradict even what I was thinking a few years back.

This weekend I tried to put myself under the scanner and tried to figure out what sort of a Brand choice I was making. I deliberately left aside any category where KSS is present so that there is no conflict of interest.

Let’s start with the laptop. My first laptop was a Think Pad and till today I swear by my Old Faithful. A fantastic product experience has not taken the shine away from the fact that IBM has since sold the business. I probably will look at ThinkPad as my first choice when I pick up my next laptop.

I will be posting this through Mozilla Firefox. Ever since Mozilla came to me in 2005, I have never let it go away. IE was for oldies. Chrome is for yuppies. The supporters for Open Source still swear by Mozilla and its extensions and add ons. That’s strange since Mozilla probably today is slower than Chrome. But every time I switch on Chrome on my screen, it seems to tell me that Google knows everything about me and I can’t let it rule my life. And again a fanatical love for Open source comes to the forefront.

This however is contradicted by my phone choice. Since 2004 Dec and my first phone, I have never strayed away from Nokia. Just a moment before, I was in the Ovi store trying to find a few apps. And I know for certain that an android phone would have been the smarter choice today or even an Apple but the strong loyalty I feel to Nokia just makes me pick one up every single time. When I hold a Nokia I know it won’t let me down. And it’s a brick and mortar Brand and probably has nothing to do with Open Source.

I could never figure out why I never pick up an Apple. I remember I was one of the first guys to own an mp3 player – those were the days when you needed a battery to power the music. Times flew, and ipods were everywhere but somehow I still love my Philips GoGear which was a very late entrant but the Brand was something that was familiar, being one of those MNCs which did not move out of India during the License Raj .

Same was the case with Airtel. Once they had me with their advertisement campaign, I have never moved away from them even though I was faced with horrible customer service. But I think when I move back to India, I probably will give it a long hard thought. Sometimes, you push the consumer’s patience just a bit too much.

Coming to more tangible product category, I had to move on to Branded Clothing once I started working. It was the first selling out of my life but I realized that since now I am being paid by someone else, somehow, it does put a curb on freedom of choice. Anyway, just to understand my wardrobe, I went back and saw a strong preference towards Louis Philippe and I have no idea why. Somehow the Brand seems familiar and close to me and it’s one of those indescribable feelings. Of course it does matter that somehow they have remained traditional in their choice of colours and designs and while choosing Office Wear, I still am a conservative.

It feels funny that my job is to make people prefer the Brand I work for and yet this exercise just made me realize that any normal human being might in essence be a combination of many faces, each choosing a life that it would like to live, along with a Brand that goes with the choice.

My work becomes even more interesting!

October 13, 2011

The Quest for Dharma

Dharma (or in some form Dharm) is the quintessential question that has plagued Indian spirituality since Time Immemorial. I have been grappling with it ever since I came across The Mahabharata, my all time favourite book. If I leave aside the existential questions it asks, The Mahabharata is perhaps the World’s Greatest Entertaining Story and thus it can proudly proclaim, “Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.”

My fascination with The Epic began the day I understood for the first time in my life that in this world there is nothing finite – Every saint has his past and every thief his future. The telling image of Yudhisthira’s chariot touching the earth for the very first time after he resorted to a White Lie to aid the killing of Drona shattered the image The Ramayana had created in my mind – of an age and time where Truth always prevails.

The Mahabharata suddenly seemed to say, “Hang on! The jury is still out on this one!” My first idea was then to reject the image of a Supreme Being as a Master Puppeteer. “Aham Brahmasmi” – That’s what the Upanishads had told me. The recurring theme of Mahabharata was Dharma. And I suddenly realized it was not just about being good or doing good deeds or doing what was right – it was also deciding for yourself what was right. And The Mahabharata is the mirror of the World as it existed once, telling us how every single individual chose the path that they chose.

And the funny part is almost everyone believed they were following Sva-Dhrama or the “Dharma of one’s own.”

Somehow being born in a culture that worships the Mother Goddess I have never accepted the way later day Hinduism brushed aside important questions raised in The Epic as God’s will. And suddenly The Mahabharata and The Gita was synonymised with the concept of “Work without worrying about the result.” It almost had made me a fatalist but somehow reading deeper I had found it to mean so much more than a submission to divine will. To me, it was detachment of oneself from the results, not renunciation of it.

And that’s why I cringed when Arjuna’s doubt is almost bulldozed by Divinity when Logic fails. Krishna shows him his Celestial Form – “The light of a Thousand Suns”

Without beginning, middle or end, of infinite power,
of infinite arms, whose eyes are the moon and sun,
I see thee, whose face is flaming fire,
Burning this whole universe with Thy radiance

Which human form can resist the command of such divinity?

Recently I have come across another treatise on The Poem – The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das and somehow it’s striking a chord. It seems someone else has gone down the same road taking the same journey like me and hoping to find answers. Halfway through the book I do hope he has found his for I know now, The Mahabharata will present its answers in varied ways to whoever asks for it. I know I will find mine and I also know that my answers will change every time I change. But the answers remain for those who seek, for those who will always believe that the meaning of Dharma is beyond just righteousness, religion or even goodness.

After all, “Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.”

October 09, 2011

Five Days of Bongness

Technically it’s not just Bongness. It’s also about being a true blue Calcuttan whether you have bong genes or not and if you are unlucky, it’s also “I am unfortunate to have more than one Bong friend”-ness. October typically is the month when this virus spreads across the world from as I call it, “Beleghata to Baluchistan”.  The only rare exception so far has been Colombo but I am sure it’s because we have not searched intensely.

Anyway, according to last desktop research done through the highly scientific “Eenie, Meenie, Minie Moe” method, I have come to the conclusion that 98.675% of the bloggers who would have written about Durga Puja would have written on the following topics – Durga Puja in Calcutta, Durga Puja outside Calcutta, How awesome bongs are, how awesome Calcutta’s people are, how awesome whoever who sees an idol is, how they miss home, how they miss Cal, how it is never the same. You get the drift. Bongs revel in their nostalgia.

So this year, I decided to write about the 5 things I dislike about Durga Puja.

  1. The fact that the food I yearn for during these 5 days is so very hard to get outside my home in Calcutta. The rolls, the puchkas, the bhog - everything seems different and seems to fall below the standards that a young you would have set up. Money can’t buy you the khichuri on the morning on Ashtami made by your mom, for everything else; you can use your credit card. I dislike the fact that we have put a man on the moon and yet we don’t know how to ensure chhanar payesh does not go bad within 2 days!
  2. The fact that every self respecting bong starts shouting in a very strange North India influenced way – Durga Mai ki Jai. Now clearly Bongs and Hindi pronunciation don’t go together so it ends up in a form of “Doorga Maaeee Ki Joy”. Now while going to Vaishnodevi you start shouting this I have no issues; in fact if I ever can make the trip I can outshout you. But seriously for us core “Karonbaari” drinking Shaktos it’s cringing to shout Jai Jai instead of rolling all over the floor crying like a baby “Ma Ma” (The Tantric influence is strong in us. We also worship Goddess Kali you see)
  3. The fact that all Bong women suddenly start wearing the gorgeous sarees. All through the year, the British taught Bong will be stuck up in his Victorian morality and will not even look up even if Paris Hilton walks past him. But deep inside him, as taught by most of his great ancestors, there is a hidden romantic. And these 5 days the women of Bengal decide to test the resolve of the Bengali man. Age no longer remains a barrier (upwards I mean) and if by chance the woman has decided to let her hair out of the natural work day bondage, the Bengali man starts reciting his Jibonanondo, imagining the long black hair to be the darkness that hangs over the ancient city of Bidisha. Again by desktop research I have found out that in North Calcutta, 76% of the para romance happens when boy meets girl at Pushpanjali.
  4. The fact that everyone turns a dancer. Dhunuchi naach is an art. The fire held in the hands is a symbolism of the fire within. But every Ajoy Babu, Bijoy Babu and Sujoy Babu, after their 2 pegs of Old monk will become a dhunuchi dancer. And sometimes, there is flower inside the dhunuchis instead of fire! This is more scandalous than Messi being called the new Maradona. The burn on my left foot starts itching and all I desire is to give the gentlemen a kick like our God Pele had given the phootboll when he had come and played in Calcutta.
  5. The fact that there is a logical discrepancy in the prayer. Now having had the Marxist influence on most of our upbringing, these are perhaps the only 5 days we pray. (and also on Christmas but that’s more for the cake I guess) First I dislike the fact that contrary to everything that Howard Roark stood for all neo capitalists start saying dehi dehi. I mean I seldom have seen a race to be such a strong believer in being a Momma’s Boy (I am a proud one) but to even pray asking the Mother of All to just give (almost everything you can think of) is taking it a bit too much. Now I could have survived even that. But the fact remains is that after all these years and carefully listening to every priest I have figured out that nobody knows what the correct “mahastami anjali mantra” is. It completely depends on what mood the priest is in on that day. Since 2000, I have not heard the same mantra being repeated even once!!! I mean the only difference in the Christian call to the Trinity is that some people love to call the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost. Now that’s still manageable!
But God Bless you Singapore and Bongs of Singapore. You have lived up to the tradition that if there are 3 bongs, there will be 2 political ideologies and if there are 5, there will be 2 Durgapujos. To find 4 in a new city is what I would call a miracle.