Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ms. Meena: After-thoughts

There are somethings that money can't buy. But is justice one of them? Or, can it be bought? What is the price of a person's life? of his lie? What all can credit/loan do?

These are some of the questions which the play, Ms. Meena, revolves around. Ms Meena, a play by Chennai based Perch group, written by Rashmi Ruth Devadasan and directed by Rajiv Krishnan, is inspired by Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit) by Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt. The play revolved around Ms Meena, the protagonist of the play.

Ms. Meena, is a very successful film star who has made a fortune in her 20 years career. The play starts with the news that Ms Meena is visiting Pichampuram, the village where she hails from. The village is under abject poverty. The villagers are hopeful that she would be able to bring in money to the village. The villagers are convincing Ravi, her Pichampuram day's lover, to talk Ms. Meena out into helping the village.

Ms. Meena, finally, arrives. The village is overwhelmed and hopeful. Ms. Meena announces that she would make a movie on her life and will shoot it at Pichampuram. This would bring in a lot of tourists to Pichampuram, thus, making it prosperous. However, she, has a condition. She wants Ravi to be dead in return.

The audience then discovers that Ravi had ditched Asha (who later one went on becoming the uber-successful Ms. Meena). He had refused to marry her even after finding that she was carrying his child. He went on to marry the daughter of a Kirana store as that would boost his career. So, Asha had come back to the village to take the revenge.

The whole village, initially, supports Ravi and says that he has nothing to worry about. However, the expectation of fortune led the villagers buy a lot of things on credit and they were soon under debts. Also, their personal ambition of working in a movie made them take Ms. Meena's side. Finally, the movie is made. The villagers kill Ravi and his life-size statue is put of at the entrance of the village.

The story of the play is not unusual. It has an expected ending and an expected flow. What made this play different is the way the artists created the sound and the landscapes. We get the first glimpse of this when the artists made sound of a helicopter heralding the arrival of Ms. Meena. The artists, throughout the play, seamlessly transforms from human characters to the elements of the surroundings - like waterfall, birds, trees, etc. The first time i had heard of artists becoming non-human characters was in the sitcom Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai. [This is one topic - review of Sarabhai Vs Sarabhai - which i have been thinking of writing on from a long time]. My second, and first-hand encounter was with the theatre workshop i attended conducted by "Yours Truly" Group, of which yours truly is a part. There we became basin, commode, wax in the ear, etc. I found it very funny and strange until later i figured how it fell in place. Anyway, The perch of the birds, the gushing of the wind, the sound of a moving bus, the sound of a moving train were all done by the artists. Their transformation from a bus to a train to normal villagers was something i saw as an audience for the first time.

The one thing that struck me the most about the play was the vulnerability of humans beings. The fact that Ms. Meena was successful in giving her own justice outside of the legal system is due to the gullibility of the villagers. This reminds of the recession and the sub-prime crises that started from Sept 2008. People had easy availability of loan. This made them buy things which they couldn't afford. But the math needs to be worked out. The money had to come form somewhere. Unfortunately, there was no such source. This eventually led to the recession*. Imagine, if some Ms. Meena would have offered to create wealth in the market in lieu of someone's life - i wonder how many people would have denied. Essentially, Ms. Meena took advantage of the poverty of the people (for which she was responsible) to serve her own purpose. I guess, a lot of politicians do this. Ms. Meena, in principle, bought justice - regardless of whether or not Ravi 'deserved' punishment.

If I were to remake this play, I would remake it from Ravi's perspective. I find Ravi's character very interesting. What would have gone through him when he ditched Asha for career advancement, when Ms. Meean enunciated 'her justice' and when the villagers were after his life? These are complex feelings and would be interesting to develop and portray.

Overall, it was a good play. I was hoping for a 'heavier' play and hence the light-hearted treatment of the play couldn't strike a chord with me. But the different style of presentation was good to watch.

Cheers!

*A very simplified/crude description

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bus Day - Bangalore

It's an era of publicity and creating awareness. There are thousands of awareness campaigns going on - from "save tigers" to "sev puri". One tool of creating awareness is commemorating a "Day" for that occasion. And so, we have the Earth day, the World Environment Day, etc to create awareness about environmental issues. The newest one in this series of "Days" is Bus Day.

Bus Day, is observed on the 4th of every month to get more people to use public transport - which not only reduces traffic but also reduces carbon emission. I think it's a very noble cause - and i am sure there must be some study done by someone to show how many more people used the public transport and how many liters of petrol/diesel got saved and by what degree the carbon footprint reduced. And I am sure that these numbers would be very encouraging.

But, on the 3rd and 5th of the month, the situations goes back to where it always were. It, essentially, implies that due to the awareness, publicity and hype created on the name of the Bus Day the pollution reduced. This indeed marks the success of the Bus Day as a campaign.

Let's look at the bigger picture. The reason for having the Bus Day is, to put in simple terms, reduce pollution and traffic And the act to achieve this is to create awareness among people to use public transport. It's like giving them a test-drive and telling them that it's not that bad to use buses.

I would like to take a step back and try to answer a more pertinent question - Why do people use private vehicles in the first place. There could be multiple factors - status symbol, convenience, hobby-ist riding/driving, etc. I think, a lot of people are buying entry level cars and bikes because there isn't a good public transit system in place.

The condition of buses are good. The fares are reasonable. But the problem is  that the buses are very infrequent. I thought that it is to do with the last mile problem. Maybe, the place where I stay is cut out from the city despite hosting an IT park. I later figured that there are a lot of places facing the "last mile" problem. Even the main roads - the one connecting Koramangala to Indiranagar - has very infrequent buses. Not only the buses are infrequent, there are high chances that you would need to change 2-3 buses if you want to go to a far off place which is not in line-of-sight. For example, from Cox town, if you want to go to most part of the city - you would need to take a bus to Shivajinagar and then take another bus. So, both the problem of infrequent buses and lack of adequate direct buses compel people to take private transport.

A stark contrast to this is Kolkata. Here, even people having private vehicle prefer metro railways as it is faster and doesn't have problems of parking. Most people in Kolkata uses public transport - a good indicator would be the percentage of college students using private transport. I am sure it would be way below that in Bangalore. Now, I understand, there could be multiple reasons to it - from cultural ones to historical ones. But the fact remains that the key driver to this is good public transport system. The buses may not be as comfortable as in Bangalore but they are frequent and connects different parts of the city well. I guess, from what i have read, that Mumbai is very similar. The local train network is very good and people prefer it to their private cars. I am, no way, saying that transport system in Kolkata/Mumbai is better/worse than Bangalore. transport system/traffic has many other factors which i have not considered.

We should have the basic facilities in place first. Creating awareness is very important but doesn't come before creating the core product. Get the buses on road. Make them frequent. And then, the public would start using the services.

With the current infrastructure, Bus Day campaign is akin to spreading awareness on how good pulses are for health in a famine affected area.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Raajneeti: After-thoughts

If you are an engineer, you would know what is meant by research paper. For the others, here are the steps to write a paper:

1. Select a subject. More often than not, this is a topic on which one has some past experience and, preferably, in which one has burn his finger.
2. Select a few pioneering papers and refer to some current industry work.
3. Take bits and pieces of information from all these sources and compile them

The above three steps are for writing ordinary papers which will help you get a good job or an admission to a US grad program. However, to get into a top rung university/job, you need to be a little creative and follow the below step.

4. Do some transformation on the information gathered from the research papers and then compile it. For example, if there are two variables in an equation, combine them and make it a third variable. Transpose a variable from one side of the equation to the other side. Add two or more independent equations and make a consolidated compiled equation which, in essence, doesn't carry any new information.

And woila! We have an Ivy League paper!

Prakash Jha's Rajneeti can be considered analogous to a research paper. It takes bits and pieces from Mahabharat, God Father, Shiv Sena, Congress, (Priyadarshan's movie) Virasat among other sources.





Mahabharat is a timeless epic and any political saga could somehow be seen as inspired from Mahabharat. Raajneeti, doesn't have this subtlety. It overtly draws-in from Mahabharat. So - there is a ruling family. Bharati Rai (Kunti) abandon's her son, Suraj (Karna/AjayDevgan). She get married to the ruling family - she has two children and her brother-in-law has one (as apposed to 100!) The ruling party's president is taken to bed and there is a war of succession. His son Veer Pratap (Duryodhan) wants to be the president while his cousin Prithviraj Pratap (ArjunRampal/Pandav) claims that post. Veer Pratap (Duryodhan) befriends Suraj (Karna), a complete outsider to politics. There is Mama Shakuni, played by Nana Patekar - who (as per step 4) is on the Pandav's side! The conversation between Bharati and Suraj where she tells Suraj that she is her biological mother and that he should leave the opposition and join their side is lifted up from the Kunti-Karna conversation directly. The terms used - like "jesht putra" - shouted out loud that this is lifted form Mahabharat.


If you thought this was neat, Prakash Jha, intricately weaves, the Mahabharat tale with God Father's. Hence enters Samar (RanbirKapoor/Pandav/Michael Corleone). Though he is dis-interested in politics and is doing his PhD in the US, stays back when his father is murdered. (A sequence similar to Anil Kapoor's staying back in Virasat). He then, like Michael Corleone, takes charge of the Family and chalks out strategies. The sequence of car-blasting while the driver goes for a leak, the blood flooded dead on the bed, the peace treaty between the Families are some of the sequences directly picked up from God Father.

Considering the movie in its face value alone, it was a good attempt. The pace of the movie was fast enough to keep you seated. The whole screenplay was brilliant. The dialogues were very ordinary - a few however were absurd. Like:


Bharati's Father: Tum us do takey ke aadmi se pyar karti ho? (or something like that)
Bharati: Aapke liye toh takey hi sub kuchh hai na.


Katrina Kaif overtakes Ranbir's car.

Ranbir: Tumhare paas license hai? (or something like that)
Katrina: Kiska, gadi chalene ka ya tumhe kiss karne ka


The music was apt. Especially, Mora Piya song is good. The "disco" song was not needed - however, not being a full-length bollywood song, it didn't hurt. All the actors gave great performances. Nana Patekar does a good job by not mimicking himself. Naseerudding Shah is brilliant in his less-than-4-minutes role. However, Ranbir Kapoor steals the show. Brilliant acting by the newest offerings from The Kapoor Family. A special acknowledgment to the dress-designer. The long dupatta/stole worn by the politicians was cool and a little different from the mundane white kurta pajama.

However, if there were one thing i could change in the movie - it would be the ending. A party's president is taken-to-bed. Its second in command is killed. A major part of the party spins off. Still, that spun off party wins. I would have made a third party winning. Dividing a party divides the vote base - and it's more "real" that a third party wins. We have seen this in case of MNS being spun off from Shiv Sena.

Overall, it was a good movie with a lot things happening in three hours - Mahabharat and God Father. Despite drawing heavily from the two, it keeps you seated till the end. Not a great movie or a movie you would want to watch again and again - but worth watching it once, preferably, in single-screen theater.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Prince: After-thoughts

[Acknowledgment: Some of the ideas in this post is by Viswanath who bore this movie in an almost empty theater with me]

Software engineers are a different species altogether. The first noteworthy thing about them is the kind of language they use. They learn to use this "version" of the language to be impressive (as opposed to being expressive) and later on it becomes part of their lexicon. So, every 'problem' becomes an 'issue ' and the lessons learned become 'learnings'. They try to 'leverage ' their 'cross-functional' network to 'access' (instead of get access) the latest updates in their industry. Another characteristic of theirs is that they are 'liquid' - they would change companies more frequently than Shivraj Patil would change his clothes. It becomes very difficult for companies to give the client what they exactly want. Not that the clients are clear on this, but changing hands on the project has impacts on the final outcome. The project becomes similar to the broth spoiled by too many cooks.

Such mundane software engineers decided to make a film. Imagine - how could it be! First, the fascination for on-site made them base the film abroad. Having watched pirated movies like Matrix, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Bourn Identity, etc with subtitles in their desktop when doing their engineering and then in their laptops when working - they added dollops such fight sequences regardless of their connection to the story. Not only these movies, but the action was inspired heavily by Max Pyne - their introduction to computer games (after Road Rash). So, the fight sequences and the location where the movie would be based were decided.

Like most software engineers, the story-writer post had new engineers quitting and joining almost every day. The resultant story was not much different from the software they make. Each engineer gave it the turn he wanted to give. Same was the case with other roles like screenplay. To give you an example - The climax of the movie is a pirated Da Vinci Code treasure hunt sequence. The hero and heroine crack the code and gets to the Holy Grail. Just then the story writer and the screenplay artist quits. To reduce costs, cheap resources were hired without much verification - not only because they wanted to meet the phantom deadline but also because there was no one capable enough to interview them. And the new hires called a LoveSong() function. So, the moment the Holy Grail came to their hand a love song where hero expresses his love to the heroine and vice versa comes!

But that's not it. Software engineers, after all, will be software engineers. So, the plot revolved around the innovation where a person's memory can be read and written into a chip. His brain can be formatted. And at a later point in time, his memory whose dump was taken in a chip can be re-written to the brain. In fact, you can delete certain files from the chip - in which case, when restored from the chip, the person's brain will not have those 'events' in the memory. Imagine if you could delete the memory of KKR's no-semi-finals-qualify hat-trick!

The software engineers try to be as real as possible. Just as you need to reboot your computer for any OS update to take effect, the person after installing an update from the chip to his brain or restoring to a previous restore-point need to sleep. Until he sleeps, he runs on the older brain version. And once he wakes up, he comes up on the newer version. However, the dreams that he may see when he's asleep are undefined - it could correspond to any or none of the software versions.

Attrition happens and an electronics engineer is hired. He thinks that rebooting a machine time and again would degrade the hardware and finally yield the machine dead. So, he adds to the story that the hero would die after six upgrades of his brain!

But one thing remains common across engineers - the dialogue of the movie. Throughout the movie a hook dialogue - "It's show time" - is used. This, perhaps, is like a recurring meeting notice pop up. This keeps reminding you that you are in a movie in case you are wondering 'main kahan hoon'.

3 Idiots is a favorite movie of most engineers as they can connect to its plot.They all want to be anything but engineers. These software engineers working on the movie also liked 3 Idiots. And being innovative that they are, they tried to improve upon it. So, if 3 Idiots showed the use of vacuum cleaner to do child delivery, this movie showed the use to vacuum cleaner to do diamond robbery. Isn't that a useful innovation! Now, while the hero is on-site - picking up diamonds like small pieces of stones with the vacuum cleaner, his offshore partner senses that the security is coming to catch him. He asks him if he should stop the operation - but then the on-site hero says one of the best dialogues in the history of world cinema - "No way. It's show time for plan B". Brilliant. Isn't it? Not only it's a great dialogue but it also has a moral - that one should always have a plan B.

After the robbery, the journalists throng at the site. A CBI officer is going in for investigations where he over-hears a reported rhetorically asking whether there were any locks. Hearing this, the CBI officer, Khan, replies, "Taale sharifon ke liye hote hai, Choro ke liye salakhein hoti hai." Now, isn't that mind-boggling!

The same CBI officer, Khan, tries to trick certain Mr Roy. Mr Roy says, "Khan, Don't act smart." To which, Khan replies, "Roy, But i am smart".

The whole film is filled with such uber cool dialogues.

The movie also conforms to the current Bollywood trend. Apart from the hero and heroine, only one person is shown 'good' in the film. His name is Khan and he is not a terrorist.

Like most engineers, these software engineers are also fan of cool Apple gadgets. So, they name one of the secret agencies as iGRIP!

But then - by jaisi-karni-waisi-bharni rule - a software engineer who copy-pastes others' code shall get his work being copy-pasted by others. After the movie was completed in the true software development method - the software engineers were partying and browsing a banned site. A virus in the form of a cookie (Kookie) Gulati'd (somersaulted) into the machine and uploaded the movie to its server and corrupted the original copy. The engineers got out of the grief of losing their work pretty soon. They, anyway, are used to shelf'ing their project.

This Kookie-uploaded-movie is released as Prince.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Travel: Madhugiri Trek

Warning: This post doesn’t have any analysis, views or opinion.

Last Saturday I went for a trek to Madhugiri. Madhugiri makes a good one-day weekend trip. I couldn’t find all the information in one place on the Net. So, I thought of compiling it. In the rest of the post, I’ll answer the FAQs.

What is Madhugiri?

Madhugiri is a small town in the Tumkur district of Karnataka. It has Asia’s largest monolith and the second largest in the world. On this rock is the Madhugiri Fort. This is the fort we climbed. The fort is initially easy to climb but eventually becomes very steep. After a point it is so steep that there are small ‘poles’ mounted to help in climbing. Just before the top, it is so steep that I couldn’t climb till the top. There is a ‘patch’ where we need to walk horizontally in the incline, i.e., perpendicular to the slant height of the slope. That is what I found the most difficult part and that is from where I retreated. Being a ‘holiday-trekker’ as opposed to professional trekker, I had enough adventure/fun to take that risk.

How to go to Madhugiri?

There are frequent buses from Bangalore (Majestic) to Tumkur. We took a bus at 7:30 am and reached Tumkur at around 9:30 am. If you take an early bus (6:00 am) – then you can get to Tumkur in an hour. At Tumkur, we enquired for the timing of the bus to Madhugiri. They said it was at 10:00 am. We went out of the bust terminal for breakfast. Just on the opposite side of the bus terminal is a local ‘tiffins’ eatery. I liked the masala dosa there. If you, like me, don’t like the ‘red chattney’ in masala dosa, you need to tell them that explicitly. We also packed our lunch and boarded a bus to Madhugiri. We reached Madhugiri around 11:15. The Madhugiri fort is just a few minutes walk from the bus stop. The way to the fort is through Madhugiri court. Once there, you can start climbing. Unlike other forts that I had visited – like Golconda fort in Hyderabad, Daulatabad fort near Aurangabad – Madhugiri fort doesn’t have any entry fee.

What to carry?

Lunch: As I mentioned, we had packed our lunch in Tumkur. However, we found that there were quite a few eateries in Madhugiri. So, carrying lunch is optional.

Water bottle: Unlike in Vaisho Devi or in Shikharji, there are no food and beverage stalls on the fort. So, it’s better to carry a bottle of water per person. You can also carry easy-to-carry snacks (biscuits, chocolates, etc). We didn’t carry any snacks and we didn’t need any snacks :)

Shoes, for good grip: Chapals can carry you to a certain height but not till the top

Goggles/Caps: The fort is on a rock and is not shaded with trees. It’s very arid. Sun shines bright on the fort.

Camera: Apart from the names of unknown lovers inscribed on the fort, you can spot weird shapes in which the rocks have been eroded in, chameleons, etc.

People: Yes. Go in a group of three or more people. This place is safe but it is largely deserted. We couldn’t find any trekkers/tourists while climbing up. We, however, met one group while climbing down.

Returning:

We climbed down by 2:30 pm. Then we binged on the sugarcane juice, coconut water and cold drink. Having filled ourselves with water, we were in no mood to eat. We slept/rested for about an hour beneath a tree. It was bliss. There are frequent buses from Madhugiri to both Bangalore and Tumkur. However, enquire about the bus timing if you plan to check out the town. We caught a direct-bus to Bangalore at 4:00 pm and reached Bangalore around 7:00 pm.

What was to total expenditure?

The total expenditure for the trip was around Rs. 250 per head.

Since we were very tired after the trek we didn't go to any other place around Madhugiri. If you are interested, there is a blackbuck sanctuary which you can check out. In case you have any other questions, do let me know. Also, do share your experience if you visited Madhugiri and more so, if you could climb to the top.



Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Idea: Bag Vouchers

[Acknowledgment:  I got this idea while reading Suman's post - She Said No!]

There is no dearth of awareness, especially among the upwardly mobile youngsters, about the ill effect of plastics. One major use of plastic is in the form of plastic-bags also known as 'chimki', 'cover' or 'polythene bags'. Searching the Internet reveals mind numbing evidences concerning the hazards of plastics. Most urban people know it. However, they are helpless. There is no 'feasible' solution to the problem. Yes, there are a lot of alternatives to using plastic bags - like using cloth/jute bag and paper bag. But they have their own problems. Let's take a look at the reasons which make these eco-friendly bags 'unpopular' and then I'll try to find a solution addressing those problems.

Problem: The most favorable factor for the use of plastic bags is that it is cheap. So, any shopkeeper can give you a complementary plastic bag to carry the purchased item - be it Benarasi Paan or Benarasi Saaree. However, the cost of cloth/jute bag is prohibitively large huge compared to the actual price of the goods bought in case the goods cost less than Rs 100. Unless all the shopkeepers start to stop using plastic bags,  it is not possible for a few eco-conscious  shopkeepers to give cloth/jute bag. Paper bag, on the other hand, is moderately priced but it can bear only very light weight. Also, most of the shopping is done unplanned - so we don't necessarily  carry a cloth bag with us.

Solution: One easy solution to the problem is use of bag vouchers. These vouchers are basically a 'token' for the actual bag. It is similar to sodexho coupons in essence. Just as sodexho coupons can be redeemed for food, the bag vouchers can be redeemed for cloth/jute bags. So, if you go to buy vegetables, you can give the shop owner a bag voucher in exchange of the cloth bag he gives you to keep the vegetables in. The shop keeper can then redeem the coupon for more bags. In this way, the bags can change hands depending on who needs it.

Implementation: There could be many ways of implementing this idea. I would start with a completely private solution. An organization, I'll give it a fictitious name - Wriddhi, wants to implement this idea. It first gets "non-duplicable" vouchers printed. It then distributes cloth bags to different shops. Consumers can buy the vouchers from the Wriddhi office. Now, when they go out and do unplanned shopping, they can redeem the bag voucher, which they bought from Wriddhi and kept in their wallets along with credit card and sodexho coupon, for a cloth bag. If there is too much accumulation of cloth bags, they can exchange it for vouchers at the Wriddhi office. The shop keeper, on the other hand, can exchange the vouchers with bags at the Wriddhi office.

Details and Refinements: Instead of keeping a stock of bags at one place (Wriddhi office), Wriddhi can partner with several NGOs to use them as distribution points. The shopkeeper (and consumers - basically, anyone having a bag-voucher) can redeem the coupon for a bag or exchange bag for coupon or buy new/fresh coupons at these points. The bags could be of many types (or one type based on the implementation) - It could have corporate ads. It could be made from old but strong clothes - this would appeal to people with 'social' bent of mind. Or, it could be just a simple bag. Again, the coupon price could differ based on the size, strength and nature of the material used to make the bags. A designer bag could be more expensive than a jeans bag. Moreover, a bag could be claimed to have reached 'end of life' based on some predefined criteria. Also, the coupon/bag can also 'age' which would reduce its value/voucher. Say, a bag which is of value X can 'age' to a value of X/2 after 6 months' use. The criteria of aging could also be the condition of the bag. Also, Wriddhi could be an NGO, a private company, a govt body or a combination of them.

Challenges: There a lot of challenges in implementing this. The most important challenge is to get a buy-in of the junta. Why should they pay for something they are used to getting free? Why should they take the trouble of buying coupon? Why should the shopkeepers bother to stock the bags? Since the shopkeeper doesn't have to buy the plastic bags, it would reduce the costs - the benefit of which can be passed on, partly, to the customer and partly in maintaining the bags inventory. Since, the customer may get the benefit of reduced cost and get the impression of being "cool" by being eco-conscious, they would not mind to add a few vouchers to their monthly grocery items.

This is just one solution to the problem. There, of course, are huge challenges in implementing this idea.

PS: This is not a business plan. It's just an idea. Do pour in your inputs on it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Idea

Looking at the gizmos, airplane, high rise buildings, light and fire, i am overwhelmed to imagine how the mankind has developed from nomads to civilized. From praying to moon (which women do even today - more so after Yash Raj made it glamorous) to making an abode on moon - the development is phenomenal.This evolution is fueled by ideas more than anything else. It was an idea to have something what we now call 'currency'. It was an idea to stay in houses. It was an idea to have institution of marriage. I was an idea to have  countries. It was an idea to wear clothes. And these ideas were, mostly, responses to problems.

Evolution is like any other office work. There are an almost infinite things to do. We need to prioritize. So, we first invented fire, then shelter and then Internet. In our day-to-day life we come across several problems, crib about several things. While traveling in trains and buses, while using html tags on Gtalk, while reading that the food grains are rotting in the repository and that India ranks alarmingly poor in hunger index on the same newspaper - while taking every breath we find things imperfect and we think of a solution to address them.

But, we most of those ideas remain ideas which no one knows about. I plan to use this blog to vent out such ideas which i conceive. Take inputs from the readers and make them open source!

To quote George Bernard Shaw:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple.  But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.

So, I urge you to email me (given on the right sidebar) your ideas and i can put it up for you. This way you would not only vent your idea out but also it would be saved of disappearing from your mind. Moreover, you never know if you get get buyers/partners! Essentially, i would like to use this blog as a forum for exchange and incubation of ideas.

PS: I am going to continue with my musings on movies, politics, society, tea and refrigerator cover. This is additional area i would like to introduce.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

All the World's a Stage

Acting is an art - and a tough one at that. How many really good actors have you seen? Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah. Nop, Salmaan Khan is a star and so is Uday Chopra. But, actors don't just work in films. Try looking a little 'local' - Was Pankaj's acting as a jaundice patient any less than Pallavi Joshi's? Wasn't the teacher and even you (despite knowing that he had gone on a holiday) fooled? Didn't Vishwanath act brilliantly in praising his mother-in-law for the food that she prepared which a cat would prefer to terminate all her nine lives to eating that food. Didn't Amin gave an IIFA winning performance when he pushed the bug under the carpet in front of the senior management? And how can we forget Siddhu's brilliant laughter in the Laughter Challenge?

Looking at all these performances day-in-and-day-out i wonder how these people manage to act so well. Acting, indeed, is a gift is blessed with. And what makes it worse is that acting cannot be easily learnt. I have seen people failing miserably to pretend. But, it's not all that gloomy.

With the advent of technology the way we communicate has changed. Communication has become more real-time and online. Imagine that the girl/guy, whom you loved (or had crush for) but never confessed/proposed to, decides to 'go around' with someone else and shares that news with you. In the larger-than-life world of the past you would not only need to be a good actor, but would also need the help of rain to hide your tears and Manpreet Akhtar singing Tujhe Yaad Na Meri Aayi. And only then would you been able to act and give fake emotions (refresh your memory by visiting the above embedded youtube link). But if it were now, things would have been difference. Rahul Khanna would have emailed Anjali Sharma:

Hi Anjali,

PFA my proposal letter to Tina. I had been loving her in the back burner. But looks like the time is right to propose her. Please review the love letter and let me know your comments


Thanks,
 Rahul Khanna
~ Rahul Khanna ladkiyon ke peechhe nahi bhaagta

 To which Anjali would reply back


Hi Rahul,

The proposal letter looks good. Please go ahead and mail it to her. I am sure she'll accept! All the best. I am happy for you :)


Cheers,
Anjali
~ Rahul is a cheater, he is a cheater.

Simple. Isn't it? The social networking and microblogging tools are not there to make your life difficult. It's not only about learning the new tools and jargon, or unlearning the old ones or re-learning the new versions. It's much more than that.

One fine morning on your Facebook you get an update from a friend informing you that your classmate who used to consistently get lower than fifty percent of your score has got a new job and is getting four times your salary. You immediately send him a 'congratulations!' message with dollops of exclamation marks and choicest of emoticons. Had the friend told it to you face-to-face, it would have been difficult to hide your feelings. Isn't it?

One of your friends applied to the same university you applied to. He manages to clear first few rounds while you beat Agarkar in who-gets-more-ducks game. But then, the friend somehow doesn't clear the final round. He tweets it. You reply back with, again, choicest of emoticons to express how sorry you were. Though, in your heart of hearts, you would be feeling very happy. Imagine if he had told this to you in person! How difficult would it have been to your elation! :(

So, the online tools has, essentially, made acting easy for us. They are giving learn-acting-in-20-days and acting-for-dummies books a tough competition - competition analogous to what CDs are giving to gramophone records. Not because they are easily available on the Internet but because no one really needs it. All a person needs to know to 'act' is the use of emoticons and exclamation marks.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the 'if-you-are-happy-and-you-know' song gets a new avatar to suit the next generation. It would 'sound' something like:

If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs
If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs 
If you're happy and you know it,
and you really want to it
If you're happy and you know it, use ten bangs 

 I would leave you with something we have grown up with - Gabbar Singh's laughter in Sholay [the laughter starts at 4:26].




How would have Gabbar said this on his social networking online tool? Simple. He would have said:

lol
 Yep. That's it. Check the following video out if you have any doubts.



Indeed, becoming actor was never so easy. You didn't necessarily have to change your father's name to Yash Chopra. With anyone and everyone becoming an actor, the world has, finally become a stage.

Shakespeare must have done well in futures stock!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sex Morality and Censorship: After-thoughts

Last weekend i caught up with a play, Sex Morality and Censorship (SM&C), at Ranga Shankara. The play, as the name suggests, raises questions on censorship - what and how much should be censored, if at all. This play is analogous to 'documentary movies' albeit much more interesting and gripping. SM&C is about Vijay Tendulkar's controversial play, Sakharam Binder. Sakharam Binder was banned in 1972 by the censor board. This play, SM&C, digs into the series of events that took place in censoring the play and show them in the light of the actual play, Sakharam Binder.

Vijay Tendulkar's Sakharam Binder, is the story of a very ordinary book binder, Sakharam and so is his portrayal - very ordinary. He, like any other 'ordinary' person staying in the slums, uses 'khadi boli'. The story starts with his bringing in a woman (Lakshmi) into his house whose work is to do the household chores and 'all' other responsibilities of a wife in return for daily bread and two sarees a year. However, due to some problem he 'discards' her and brings in a new woman - Champa. Champa is all what Lakhmi wasn't (except for their bitter past) outspoken (and that to in 'khadi boli') and boozes. Lakshmi enters again. She coaxes Champa by saying that she would do all the household chores. Once (and he had done often before) Sakharam comes in drunk and demands Champa to let him vent his carnal frustration out. Champa's refusal started a fight in which she boozed and hit Sakharam. Lakshmi's character takes a 180 degree turn. She tell Sakharam that Champa has been hanky-pankying with his friend. Sakharam in his uncontrollable anger kills Champa. [You can find the detailed story on the Internet].

Such was the story of Sakharam Binder. Obviously, his right portrayal didn't fit into the family-drama plays category which was in vogue then and perhaps even now. Also, in the early 70s Emran Hashmi wasn't even born. So, people were not used to portrayal of unholy relationships - however aesthetic. Showing Champa boozing and hitting Sakharam, the implicit portrayal of their relationship (how else do one show this - bringing together of two flowers? It was not an expression of love - it was an expression of hatred and frustration), the 'explicit' language - allegedly led the censor board to ban the play.

SM&C showed three different sequences. First, was the play itself. The story of SM&C is very simple. A Delhi based student of Culture comes to a local Marathi Tamasha group to do a study on history of survival of the art over the years. He then along with the Shaahir (narrator) takes the other member of the group, a Lavani dancer, through the history of censorship of Sakharam Binder. Another sequences is the play - Sakharam Binder. The explanation of the Shaahir is complemented by the original play. The third sequence is the portrayal of the series of censorship events which happened - the court case, the moral policing vandalism, the cultural convention and the threats. Sakharam Binder play and the censorship hullabaloo was enacted in parallel to Shaahir's narration.

Kudos to Sunil Shanbag for the amazing direction and seamless transition from one sequence to the second to the third.  Nagesh Bhosle played the role of Shaahir and Sakharam Bhosle very well - the characters were so very different but Bhosle managed to portray both the characters without re-takes in one go. The music also added to the over-all experience.

The play raises some very pertinent questions on censorship. Why is it required. What is to be censored? Who decides what to show and what not? How is it decided? What about the freedom of expression?

Censorship is a different topic of discussion altogether as these questions don't have a straight forward mono-syllabic answer.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? After-thoughts

Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge? alleviated my fears which were seeded in me by My Name Is Khan. My Name is Khan was more than just a movie. It restored the belief that India is still a secular democracy where, by and large, people have freedom of expression. It could not cowed down by the extremist groups. My Name Is Khan also marked the beginning of a change in the content of Bollywood movies - or so i thought. I thought that if mainstream masala movie directors like KJo have started making movies touching serious issues like disabilities, human rights, discrimination on the bases of race/religion, then who would make the all important tree-hugging, loud-farting, eye-dripping, hand-pump-pulling and short-term-selective-memory-loss movies? I was silently prepared for extinction of this great art. I even planned to start save-our-movies campaign on the lines of save-our-1411-tigers.

But, then, I watched Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge. And my doubts about the extinction of 'Bollywood' were nullified.

The trailer, or even the poster, is so apt that it tells you the story in such details that after watching the movie you will not find anything which you didn't predict. However, i was deceived by the star cast. With formidable Paresh Rawal, Ajay Devgan and Konkona Sen Sharma in the movie, i was hoping against my intuition that the movie would be 'different'. But the movie was not.

The movie, as you can make out from the poster, is about the 'adjustments' the Mumbaikars, Puneet (Ajay Devgan) and Munmun (Konkona Sen Sharma) and the villager Chachaji (Paresh Rawal) make when he comes to Mumbai to stay with them. As expected, the initial resentment by the city-dwellers is converted to affection by the 'idiosyncrasies' of chachaji. The clash between the city life and the village life which we are all very well aware of was the theme of the movie. Chachaji's reciting of bhajans instead of playing recorded beats, bringing anyone and everyone to house for snacks, demanding 4 course meals and interfering too much in the matters of family members brought out the features of villagers. However, his pure-at-heart and helping attitude win heart of everyone.

The movie is decently paced. The comedy, though predictable, would make one laugh out loud. Like characters in typical Bollywood movies, Chachaji had some 'trademarks'. Chachaji gurgles out loud in the morning (by village standards - which is equivalent to mid night for most city dwellers and time to go to bed for some call center executives). Chachaji doesn't believe in 'sursuri praan ghatak'; he patronages 'uttamam dhadhdhadhaat paadam' [If you didn't get this, you may want to revise the 3 Idiots shloka]. This leads Munmum to run around in the house with room freshener.

The music is decent - neither outstanding nor torturous. The acting by all the actors was apt and is the best part of the movie. The innocent and light-hearted comedy is good - in case you like such comedies and not the sarcastic, situational comedy.

Overall, it's a very average, very predictable, shallow-laugh-eliciting Bollywood movie. And am happy for it.

Bollywood is still alive!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Time Travel


Blacki is the most enchanting person of our times. Don't get misguided by his name. Though he justifies his name, that's just too small a feat for him. He has an eye for the next big thing. And so, he opened a travel agency - with a difference. He conducted travels not only in space but also in time.

He charges hefty amount from his travelers.And the popularity of his travel has made him one of the richest men of our times. His USP is backward time travel. It's not theoretically impossible to travel backward in time. But traveling backward has its own challenges. What if the person traveling backward in time kills his grandfather before the birth of his father? Different theories are plugged in to explain such paradoxes. But Blacki is beyond theories. He actually makes time travel possible.

He, however, is racist. Despite being an Indian, he doesn't allow Indians into his time travel. His service is only for the 'Westerners'. So, all I know about the time travel is through the experiences of the few travelers. Description of one such traveler in his own words is given below:

I was taken into a jet airplane shaped time machine. The time machine was dark inside with just a spot light on Blacki. The time machine then started. Our first destination was year 2035. I landed on the terrace of a building. Blacki, then, escorted me to a place resembling army training center where there was a battalion of people all of whom looked exactly alike. They all did the exact same stunt and shot with the same precision. Blacki, then, informed me that this is an army of robots which can be used for detecting landmines, shooting, etc. I was stunned looking at the future in front of my eye. Army of robots!


Blacki now takes me to early 20th century. This time i am at a jungle. I see a burnt body of a girl tied to a tree. I was shocked looking at such primitive act. I asked Blacki about it. He informed me that the women was burnt alive and tied to the tree by her husband and her in-laws on the pretext of dowry. He added that it was in 1961 that dowry was made illegal.


Our next destination was early 16th century. Blacki took me to what appeared like a village. There I saw women doing manual scavenging. Blacki told me that John Harington invented the water closet in 1596. The villagers use dry toilets and do not use the kind of toilets we use in the 21st century. It was obvious that at a time when flush toilets were not invented, people had to manually 'clean' the toilets.


We then went to around 1200 AD. Coming out of the time machine a walking a few steps, we came across a funeral.A couple of people were setting up the pyre for the final right. The pyre was then set on fire. But, then, I couldn't believe what i saw. I saw a lady jumping into the blazing pyre. And in a matter of minutes both of them were ashes. Blacki told me that this is 'sati' system where the wife immolates herself on her husbands pyre.




I was, kind of, depressed by looking at the practices of the past. I asked Blacki to take me to a time where there is festivity and merriment. Blacki took me to a 9th century wedding. I was elated to attend the wedding and savoring the gourmet platter amidst mellifluous music. I asked Blacki if i could meet the bride and the groom. He gave a weird smile and said that as per the travel itinerary we cannot meet anyone in the time-travel. I obliged. After enjoying the wedding as spectators we walked towards the time-machine. On the way, i had a glimpse of the bride and the groom who were surrounded by their relatives. I am not sure what I saw. I saw that the couple looked very young - like children. But then, i couldn't see them properly and pushed the doubt in the darkest corner of my mind. I didn't want the taste of the food to go away.


Finally, the time machine brought me back to 2010. It was an amazing trip, as you can see. Seeing different centuries was an experience in itself. I would strongly recommend the time-travel!

PS: To travel in time, one doesn't need a time machine. One can travel in different parts of India and see different centuries co-exist. Nevertheless, people like Blacki makes money out of cleverly bluffing others.

PPS: Sources of embedded pictures in the order in which they appear are: this, this, this and this respectively.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Railway Budget 2010-11

Imagine an inefficient software which takes more time to do a job than what it commits to take. As a software developer, your solution would probably be to look into where the inefficiency is coming from. Are there some bottlenecks which is taking a lot of CPU cycle? Is a lot of thrashing happening because of memory leaks? Are 'exceptions' happening just too often? Or is there inadequate synchronization between multiple threads?

The developer has two solutions. One is to look at the above issues and see if some optimizations can be done, perhaps by using better algorithms, better thread synchronizations to eliminate bottlenecks, or by redesigning the code. Another is to ship an extra piece of RAM and a better processor chip along with the software. A yet another - third - solution is to live with the issues.

As a developer which one do you think your client would be most satisfied to receive?

Hold that thought. Let's come to the Railway Budget 2010-11. This years budget was comparatively good. Apart from the usual increase in trains, there were some really good initiatives like - installation of bottling plants, pilot on smoke and fire detection, pilot on collision prevention, construct 1000km of rail line, etc. I don't claim to be exhaustive here - as there are umpteen other, probably more significant, provisions in the budget which i have not covered.

But then, India is a democracy.

If you ask an average Indian, what would you want out of railways and he would say - better facilities, more trains and cheaper fares. And that is what the governments have been giving them. This time also, Mamata Banerjee has budget for revamping the stations, creating employment by upgrading various locomotives factories and new trains. This is all very good and much needed.

There is one thing which most of us have taken for granted - delays. Have you ever reached 'on time' while traveling by the Railways? We have learned to plan things accordingly. We assume that a 20-hour journey would be around 3 hours late. Yes, we do get upset if it gets 7 hours late - which, you would agree, is not very uncommon. However a couple of hours here and there are fine. Since, the delay in trains doesn't really bother us, it doesn't really bother the government either.

Budget should be allocated to research on the current railway architecture and redesign it such that the delays in train are minimized. If need be, estimates for the time taken to go from one place to another should be revised - but once done, it should stick to it. Railways was designed by the Britishers. And though more than 90% of their trains run on-time, it's almost the reverse in case of India. The fun part is that i couldn't get hold of any data on the punctuality of Indian railways. All this only goes to say that punctuality of railways is very low on the priority list for the railways.

But efficiency is not low on priority to the software engineer described above. He cannot offer his client a free RAM and CPU to support his inefficient code. He would, rather, go about looking how he can optimize his code to meet the requirements. The same is with Railways. It needs to be punctual and hence efficient.

The advantage of having punctual Railways is manifold. Apart from the customer satisfaction (which no one cares of), the operating costs of Railways would decrease. The usage of resources - water, electricity, platform, etc. - would decrease. And as they say - money saved is money earned. The accidents due to untimely running trains may also decrease. On the other hand, the budget required in the research would not be prohibitive. Human labor in India, unfortunately, is cheap. Getting the right people to look into it should not pose a problem. What is required is a will.

However, it's not an easy task. There are practical problems which would not be easy to address. The fog in some places during the winters is too prohibitive. But i am sure, given the scientific advancement, it is solvable. The naxalites digging up the rail line is also a problem - but it is a different topic all together. Earthquakes and people committing suicide on railways are also challenges in making the railways punctual. But, it's not impossible. It's doable and has been done elsewhere in the world.

In democracy, things do not always work out in a top-down approach. Things work bottom-top. It's only when people start asking for things would they start getting things. We have started becoming more punctual ourselves and become more aware of the importance of punctuality. Having a commitment for working on a financial model for the railways projects in this budget i see light at the end of the tunnel. We will have a punctuality of trains in public debate some day. I am hopeful. Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall have punctual trains some day. 

At the end of the day, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bloggers By Choice

Man, being a social animal, always tries to associate with different people on some common ground which gives rise to communities. We have communities on the basis of religion, occupation, caste, skin color, political ideologies, etc. The increase of the number of people writing anything and everything on the web has given rise to something called 'blogosphere' and a community of bloggers. Indiblogger organized a real meet of people who produce virtual content at Kyra. This was my first ever bloggers' meet. Though i don't take social lubricants (which was sponsored by Kingfisher), it wasn't difficult to 'network' with the bloggers.

As expected, a lot of issue concerning bloggers and blogging were discussed. I'll blabber on a couple of those topics which i think the readers of Mundane Journey would find interesting.

One of the issues discussed there was how to solve the problem plagiarism. With the content being online, it just takes a Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V to copy an original content from one blog to some other form of media. One of the attendee's blog post was copied by a media house without giving the due credits as required by the License. Given the effort involved in taking legal action and given the giant media house in this case, it would not be practical to take a legal action. One of the thoughts was to use twitter for spread awareness. i think (and as i expressed it in the meet) that one way to solve this would be to blog about such plagiarism. The author can show to his readers his original piece and the one copied by someone else. The blogging community in-turn can join hands to create awareness about the issue. Given the reach of the blogs (though it is minuscule compared to other form of media) substantial awareness can be created. Given the way free media work, its competitors may pick this up as well. In India, things do not necessarily work in top-down way. A lot of times, the push from the bottom creates stir in the top to make then take action. We have seen the power of media in the Jessica Lal case. The same tool can be used to reduce plagiarism. That's the beauty of blogosphere - it's self healing!

Another topic of discussion was whether or not bloggers should be concerned about monetizing their blogs. This gave rise to other sub-topics like marketing and whether a blogger should care about the number of readers, hits or comments. A few were of the opinion that blog is supposed to be a manifestation of the feelings and thoughts of a blogger. He shouldn’t be bothered with money. Another was of the opinion that one cannot do full time blogging as there is a lot of uncertainty in monetizing. He said that Paypal stopped catering to Indian clients and that impacted his revenue from the blog.

I agree that blogging is a way to express your thoughts. However, I take blog as a product whose aim is to carry the opinion of the blogger to the widest possible audience for that content. So, I think I wouldn’t compromise on the content part as it is the core of the product. However, I wouldn’t mind experimenting on the ‘style’ of writing to make it more interesting. Now, to reach out to the audience, marketing is very important. The reason why one has a public blog and not a personal diary is that he wants to ‘share’ his opinion and probably get feedback on the opinion to refine he own thoughts. As someone rightly mentioned in the meet, a post along with the comments make a complete piece. In this endeavor, if the blogger earns a few pennies, then there is nothing wrong with it. This was about ‘casual’ blogging. What’s wrong if a full time professional blogger wants to earn from it? The blogger is providing service to the readers who are getting benefited from it. I think, it’s only fair if an author earns money for the service he offered. A little unrelated example is that of Kyra and Kingfisher. As I mentioned in the TJY post, that is Kyra and Kingfisher is getting some publicity by sponsoring the event (like, I wrote this post!). It’s win-win for all.

Anyway, it was a good discussion session. But there is no constraint of time here. We can take this discussion further and to a wider audience. Do pour in your thoughts on what you feel about the above topics – plagiarism and monetization.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Name Is Khan: After-thoughts

Reviewers are alleged that they don't take the movie as is and try to figure out what it could have been. I have almost always reviewed movies the way they are. I'll, however, review My Name is Khan in two parts. First, the way the movie is. And second, what the movie could have been.

I found the movie between good and average. I tried to find a reason to it. I tried looking at what made the movie 'average' but couldn't find anything tangible. I wondered why Rizwan Khan, (pronounced from the epiglottis - this is not only for the Americans but also for some friends from the southern part of India) played by Shah Rukh Khan, is going after the President when his wife Mandira (Kajol), in her grief of losing her child, asked him to do so. But then i read that people having Asperger's Syndrome take things at their face value. Then i wondered, why Mandira didn't try to find him or get him back once she was out of her anger. Then i realized that she had lost her son - whom she loved the most. It may not be easy for a mother to forgive a person whom she thinks is somehow responsible for her son's death. I also found the "communal" angle to Sameer's (Mandira's son) death skewed. Nevertheless, i could understand the societal situation after 9/11 - almost anything was, perhaps, attached a communal connotation. Essentially, i couldn't find any logical flaw in the movie.

But, a movie is not a back-end software. It's not only logic. My Name Is Khan, somehow, couldn't strike a chord with me. 3 idiots, on the other hand had a lot of logical flaws in it. However, I loved 3 Idiots. Here, in My Name is Khan, i felt something was missing. I guess, the emotions could not be conveyed properly. There was a lack of finishing-touch. Feels were left 'half cooked'.

Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai is one of my all time favorite movies. I also liked K3G a lot. So, probably, my expectation from My Name is Khan was a bit too much which it couldn't live up to. I know it's not right to compare the movies and have presumptions. But, i couldn't be neutral when it came to a movie which my favorite trio was making. There is one thing which ties the three movies together - use of well-known songs. Kuchh Kuchh used Raghu Pati raghav. K3G used Jana Gana Mana and Vande Matram. My Name is Khan used Hum Honge Kamyaab and We shall overcome.

There were a few things about My Name Is Khan which I really liked. The first and foremost being the title itself. Given the story of the movie, i don't think it could have a better name. Names like Kuchh Kuchh and K3G are too generic and could be applied to most Bollywood love stories. My Name is Khan is unique in that sense. Quite a lot of miseries which they face in the movie was because the name of the protagonist was 'Khan'. The whole movie revolved around it. The appropriateness of the title is commendable.

I also liked putting-into-perspective of a lot of traditional beliefs - like the sacrifice of Ismail and wearing a Hijab. I don't know what the 'right' interpretation is. But the one given in the movie seemed logical to me.

Another good part of the movie was the Indian Shaadi sequence. Though, it didn't really fit into the story, it was good! Also, the Wilhelmina sequences were by far the most interesting sequences of the movie. They were really fast paced.

The performances by all the actors were outstanding. Kajol did a good comeback. I, especially, liked the acting of Tanay Chheda as the young Rizwan Khan. Zarina Wahab, Jimmy Shergil and Katie Keane did their part well. The music, by Shankar Ehsaan Loy, was also good and relevant.

Despite all the tangible 'goods' i described. It was not good enough. Movie making is an art and there is no formula to it. As said in 3 Idiots, and coincidentally by Paulo Coelho, that one should do what one likes (and, hence, is good at). Karan Johar is good at conveying human emotions. He should stick to that. I would have loved another love story from him. Just like everyone in India wants to be either an engineer or a doctor, every director wants to make a movie either on some disability or communal tension. One must not get into the herd-mentality and stick to one's core competency. Aditya Chopra did that with Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi - he stuck to his competency.

Anyway, now my chance to give my unsolicited comments on what could have made a better story.

We have Rizwan Khan desperate to meet Mr President. He was following him everywhere. Now, the obvious thing is that the FBI or the American Intelligence would sense this pattern of a person following Mr. President. Isn't it? I guess, they should have caught him as a 'usual suspect' and, perhaps, imprisoned him. I would have ended my story there. In the end, Mandira gets back to her life alone. Rizwan is imprisoned. But, anyway, these are just my thoughts.

Overall it's a good-to-average movie. And wouldn't hurt anyone. However it's not one of the best movies by SRK, Kajol or KJo.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MJ-LOTD: A New Genre Of Dance

[For new readers, MJ-LOTD stands for Mundane Journey - Link of the Day]

Society and culture are not disjoint from people. Rather, by definition, they are connected to people. There was a time when people found it difficult to take off for five days to watch a cricket match and so was born 'One day' version of the game. And then came the T20 version which addressed to people's impatience and busyness. From the participant's perspective - we have 'galli' cricket, terrace cricket and parking area cricket - where we have innovative rules like - bat-touch-run, single-hand-single-drop-catch-out, no-drop-crossing-compound-out, etc. We need not know how to play as well as the Tendulkars and the Gangulys.

A similar thing is now coming up in the field of dance. There was a time when people had to dance in the conventional style regardless of whether or not they knew it. Remember Sunny Deol, Dharmendra, Kishan Kumar and the umpteen others who, because of not having a famous second name, couldn't make it to the screen?

For such 'dancingly challenged' people - below is the new genre of dance.




Though the whole sequence is to behold, check the following milestones:

1:50 - Clever usage of homophone, 'do' which, in Hindi, means "two" and "give".

3:38 - Clever usage of another homophone, "hi" which means "greetings" in English and refers to an expression of grief (or of relief) in Hindi.


5:09 - The only girl in the video (on the right-hand side) couldn't stand the 'Govida dance' of the men and fell down.

I wouldn't be surprised if we have dances in the above format in corporate, college and school fests. And when this would be happening, the Reality TV wouldn't be far behind in making a 'Boogie Woogie' for this dance form.

BTW, for those intrigued by the above video, here's the forefather "film version" of it. [Caveat: Watch it at your own risk.]

Cheers!


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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara is Awesome!

[Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Deicider for helping me identify the monuments in the video]

The media is flooded with criticism for Phir Mile Sur Mera Tumhara video which was first telecast on Zoom, isko dekho. They crib about the absence of Sachin Tendulkar and APJ Abdul Kalam Azad. Yes. Of course they aren't there. Just like Narayan Murthy, Anshu Gupta and Lata Mangeshkar aren't. Let's take the song and try to understand its true meaning.By the end of this post i am sure you will be convinced that it is an amazing advertising concept - first of its kind.

 The videos opens with the concern of India for the environment. The solar panels indicate the India's dedication towards cleaner sources of energy - solar energy being one of them. A. R. Rehman is shown to be playing the fingerboard in front of the solar panels.

The Taj Mahal hotel shows the entrepreneurial feat of India. Build more than a hundred years ago, Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai is known for its great architecture and is one of the first luxurious hotels of India. This icon of progressive, modern India witnessed and bore the terrorist attack on 26/11. Amitabh Bachchan is standing in front of this Hotel.

Like most sitcoms on televisions, Phir Mile Sur has a 'break'. In the break Shankar Ehsaan and Loy are shown promoting 'their' music.

The show starts again. For less than 2 sec, they show a temple, a mosque and a church.

Then again you have ad which ends when the Ajanta caves are shown.[ I am not 100% sure if it's Ajanta or Ellora. But given that it's a Buddhist cave and a little less 'greener', I think it's Ajanta cave]. The view of the cave is eclipsed by disturbances popularly known as Aishwarya and Abhishek Bachchan (or Aishwabhishek or Abhishwarya - analogous to Saifeena and Brangelina). The caves, despite the screen being mostly blocked by the first filial of the first family of Bollywood, showed the artistic and architectural brilliance of India. These disturbances are actually advertisements (of their next as-of-now unnamed movie) shown within the actual content. This is a new concept and something which make Phir Mile Sur truely unique. This is explained in the last paragraph in more details.

The Old-Age home while on one hand show how well we take care of our senior citizens also questions who well we take care of our parents and grand parents. Looks like Mahesh Babu is entertaining the senior citizens.

The beautiful Dal lake followed by Pt. Shivkumar Sharma and Rahul Sharma with Qutub Minar as the backdrop makes a good sequence.A glimpse of Rohit Bal at the Dal lake indicates the 'progressive' Indian culture

Then comes the Golden temple of Amritsar. Gurdas Maan and Juhi Chawla are advertising Shaheed Uddham Singh. This is the same concept of context based imbedded ad described at the end. Zakir Hussain then does what he does the best.

Then comes Bengal and it opens with Kumhar Toli where the idols are being made. The beautiful Jorasanko Thakur Bari, birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore and Vidyasagar Setu, one of the largest cable stayed bridges  are shown next. The image, unfortunately, have 'embedded ads' by bearded Bumba Da (Prosenjit), Shantanu Mukherjee and Rituparana. Bhupen Hazarika does his part in front of a photoshop'd image.

Rajasthani women making solar heaters/cookers not only indicates the advancement on scientific and environmental front but also on the social front. Didn't  you comprehend why is the backdrop lush green. And what is Shilpa Shetty doing here? Shilpa Shetty is advertising sarees! The lush green background is to match with the sarees.

A good attempt to show (at least our desire to have) an inclusive society by showing the specially challenged children playing. Shirtless Salman Khan despite his attire (or lack of it) didn't do as bad as expected.

Then, a few other monuments (which i couldn't recognize) are shown. We again go for a full fledged break. The next ad is of Deepika Padukone's 'uniqueness'. She is, perhaps, also advertising kids' wear and ultra-violet ray reflecting lipstick. Some children lost their sanity seeing her long legs and jumped into the pond and started fighting among each other.

We then have a sequence showing advancement in girl child education. PriChops was also seen around.Perhaps she's lost. Perhaps it's another i-am-also-there types embedded ad. Then, they show communal harmony by showing co-existence of places of worship pertaining to different religions. What I am thinking is why are these monuments made of sand on the sea shore? Does this indicate that the 'co-existence' can be destroyed by the slightest tide? Or, does it indicate that we just need a small tide to wipe out such differences and be on the same shore?

Sarod maestro, Ustad Amzad Ali Khan, and his sons, Amaan and Ayan Ali Bangash are shown infront of Red Fort. Then we do a quick tour of Kerala and the Gujarat.

Then, we again break for ad. We see ads of Roland and Shaimak Dawar dance classes. Aamir Khan comes up with his branding building ad. Sonu Nigam shows off his singing talents by overdoing every bit of it. Looks like this ad is created by Alyque Padamsee - at least Sonu Nigam puts on Padmsee's look. Shahid Kapoor then advertises that he doesn't always imitate SRK. Ranbir Kapoor advertises that he's ready to do some serious roles. SRK shows how well he can overact even after drinking a couple of bottles of Signature. SRK is followed by Karan Johar who is the only full time director to buy a small ad slot.

The ads end. Phir Mile Sur resumes and does the 1988's Mile Sur sequences. Sportspersons, Military, NDA and then the customary Indian tricolor.

Phir Mile Sur, as you can now very well see, is not all that bad. It uses some awesome advertising technique to raise funds. The actual Phir Mile Sur is only a few minutes and not 16 minutes. The rest is ad. Phir Mile Sur has taken heavily from Google's Adsense. Just like Google provides context specific ads which the webmasters cleverly inserts in the webpage so that it difference between the ad and the actual content is not aparent - Phir Mile Sur inserts these ads by Bollywood celebs seamless into the video. Some websites are nothing but a collection of Google Ads. Phir Mile Sur is not very different. In fact, Phir Mile Sur is not only inspired by YouTube but it also takes it to the next level. YouTube videos have ads 'on' it at the bottom of the video. These ads can be closed. This was not very profitable feature as most users closed the ads to see the video in full. Phir Mile Sur has embedded ads within the video. Hence you see Abhishek Bachchan ad infront of the Ajanta Caves.With this merging of ads with the actual content makes it impossible for viewer to 'close' it. In fact, it's so well edited that the viewer is almost never aware of when an ad starts and when it ends - unless he uses his imagination or reads Mundane Journey.

Let's make no mistake. Phir Mile Sur has nothing to do with national integration. Phir Mile Sur,  is a pioneering work in technology and business strategy. It gave birth to the new concept of embedded ad. Believe me. This is just the beginning. We'll have more such embedded ad videos in future.

Friday, January 22, 2010

3 Idiots: After-thoughts

Saari umra hum mar mar ke jee liye
ek pal to ab hamein jeene do jeene do
I heard a lot about it by my non-TJY friends while I was on the yatra. I also listened to and loved the ‘give me some sunshine’ being played on the PA system almost everyday while on the yatra! The euphoria which it created made me finally watch it. Yes, finally, saw ‘3 Idiots’ today. [I wish we had a way to make ‘3’ capital to indicate that ‘3 idiots’ is a proper noun and avoid confusion, if any]. But that was not the first thing which made me curious about the movie. Apart from Aamir Khan, despite his short-term-sanity-loss in Ghajini, the innovative way of promoting the movie drew me towards the 3 Idiots.

Sticking ‘Capacity: 3 Idiots’ behind autos was pretty innovative. It’s better than ‘Sanam Bewafa’ written on the auto's black backs with a heart pierced by an arrow. In addition to promoting the movie, it also had a safety message. People who have traveled in shared-autos in HiTec City, Hyderabad would know risky it is, in more than one way, to travel in an autorickshaws with 9 other people! Also, meeting the local people (instead of going to the high profile parties) was also unique. Given the theme of the movie and the fact that the movie viewers are common people who look up to such ‘starts’, it made sense to promote the movie that way. I think this is the first time such marketing techniques which involve common people was use. However, conventional way of marketing - creating alternate reality game, merchandising, etc - was also used.

‘3 Idiots’ is a good commercial movie. Generally, ‘good’ and ‘commercial movie’ don’t go together and are considered antonyms in some purists' dictionary.

The theme of 3 Idiots is not only fresh but also very relevant. Somehow, there is this obsession in India to go for engineering (and, perhaps, then MBA). Every parent wants his child to be either an engineer or a doctor. The most ‘logical’ think for a student to do if he’s getting good academic score consistently is to go for engineering or medical. A lot of other social issues were highlighted – parental pressure, teacher’s pressure and marks centric exam system (and education system, as a whole) which award the one who can cram the most. By hinting that the house of Raju (Sharman Joshi) was like that showed in a typical 1950’s film, Rajkumar Hirani showed that the evils of dowry still haunt India. Poor public healthcare facilities and inflation of food prices were also hinted upon in the form of comedy. Raising social problems with the help of humor is a rare art in Bollywood.

The music, the timing and the lyrics of the songs are amazing. Full marks to Swanand Kirkire for the poignant lyrics and Shantanu Moitra for the apt music. Aamir khan, Madhavan and Sharman Joshi did look like a college students. All the actors, including (surprisingly) Kareena Kapoor acted well. Scattering the use of science in daily life - like using the fact that salt water is a good conductor of electricity, etc – was very good which, I am sure, a lot of educational institutes will adopt. The story was well paced. The screenplay was very good. Moving the story back and forth in time added the element of curiosity to the movie as the audience continuously tries to join the dots. The climax of the film - Mona Singh's delivery - was like the final engineering exam! It covered a lot of concepts of engineering!

If Yash Raj were to move with time, back in 1990s, I would have projected them to make movies like ‘3 Idiots’. However, apart from the costumes, not much changed. 3 Idiots had all the basic elements of a Yash Raj movie and would perhaps bear the same criticism of critics that Yash Raj movies bear. 3 Idiots is a movie depicting an ‘ideal’ scenario and not a real one. 3 idiots ask people to follow their dreams. Great. Nothing wrong with it. But, from what I understand, the problem is that not many people know what their dreams are. Our dreams are limited by our environment and resources. A poor person who has to struggle to get his daily bread cannot dream of being a wild life photographer. Even, children form well-to-do backgrounds don’t know what career options are available. They are not exposed to a variety of things so that they can choose. All they are exposed to is Physics, Chemistry, Maths and the JEEs. In the movie, the protagonists knew their calling. This is an ideal scenario. This is similar to Raj Suri’s ideal love for Tani in Rab-ne, Veera’s passion for cricket in Dil-Bole and the love between Veer and Zaara. Ideal. Perfect. But not real. Changing of Boman Irani’s heart had shades of Mohabbatein. The ending also had Yash-Raj flavour to it. All the three 'heroes' are successful. Madhavan had wildlife photography books to his name, Sharman was successful, Aanir was super-successful, Boman Irani became a changed man (like Narayan Shankar of Mohabbatein) and most importantly, Aamir - Kareena got together. Like is Johar-YashRaj films, here also, the heroine gets to know of her hero on the day of her wedding with a worthless guy and elopes to go to her hero who fortunately is still not married!

The climax of the film was in someway like the 'Home Alone' movies. In 'Home Alone' the 'kid' uses available equipments in a very innovative way to save himself from the robbers. In 3 idiots also, Aamir uses various instruments like vacuum cleaner, camera blower, car batteries, inverters, web cam, etc to perform the delivery!

Overall, it's a paisa wasool movie. It would force you to think whether the work you are doing is what you really love. And, whether your wife and your girlfriend are the same!
Give me some sunshine give me some rain
Give me anther chance I want to grow up once again
PS: Just as I have not mentioned five point someone anywhere 'in' the review, the movie also had nothing to do with the book. The characters were picked up from there but the over-all plot and treatment was completely different.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lessons from TJY for NGOs

[Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal views on the Tata Jagriti Yatra 2009. Nothing mentioned in this post should be considered official. Also, this is not written in the usual Mundane Journey style. This post is, basically, collation of various emails i had written to the members of my NGO, Vriddhi. ]

It's been close to month since i wrote. Actually, i was on the Tata Jagrity Yatra 2009-10. In this 18 day's trip we traveled some 9300 km across the length and breadth of the country meeting some 13 entrepreneurs. More information about the trip can be found in the blogs of other 'yatris' and at http://www.jagritiyatra.com. During the trip we met some outstanding entrepreneurs and got to know about some outstanding social ventures - Mumbai Dabbawalas, Sabriye&Paul, Vijay Raghaavan, R. Elanago, Aravind Eye Care, Agastya, Industree, Naandi, Gram Vikas, Jagriti Seva Sansthan, Goonj, Bunker Roy and Okhai. While meeting these great 'institutions' was a great experience, experiencing the Tata Jagriti Yatra was a greater learning - perhaps because while we visited these great institutions for a few hours, we lived and worked with the TJY for 18 days. Below are the lessons i have learned from the TJY and how these can be adapted by a start-up NGO.

1. Marketing: If there is single most important thing to running a social enterprise (in addition to the cause) is MARKETING. After the Yatra, i think, i cannot overstate the importance of Marketing. A good marketing is like a positive feedback cycle. If one's marketing is good, it will attract more volunteers. More often than not, people want to volunteer with 'brands'. Given the number of NGOs mushrooming, the volunteers are spoiled for choices and for obvious reasons they want to associate themselves with 'brand'.  So, if the marketing is good, more volunteers would want to join the NGO and this would help in building a better brand . The same logic holds for funds as well. Funders/Donors/Corporates like to give funds to brands so that it gets publicity. So, the more fund an NGO gets the more good work (and branding) it can do and the more funds it can attract.

Theory being laid out, let's see how Tata Jagriti Yatra does it. This yatra, in its present avatar is just 2 years old. But look at the brand name it has created for itself! First they roped in Tata. This, I would say, was because of their own conviction, their idea is unique and a host of other factors.

Once that was done. They got a Jagriti Yatra song composed by Prasoon Joshi, Adesh Srivastav and Babul Supriyo! Then, they got in a professional choreographer (in this case the Chairman's wife) to choreograph the 'chair version' of the song. Check the last year's version out at http://www.youtube.com/user/jagritiyatra2008#p/u/1/fv21Q8biPJw. [This year's choreography is a little different, but this would give a basic idea of what i am talking about]. We performed this 'dance' after every role-model visit. To me, this was a great stretching exercise after listening to the rolemodel for a couple of hours.  This anthem was also used as wake-up call! The point i am trying to make is that this anthem was not only a binding material but also a branding tool. The dance looked very weird to me in the first instance. I had never seen something like it before. And given a choice, i would have never done it. BUT, when you see ALL the organizers doing it 'sincerely' with grace, happiness and love - the steps didn't matter and it became a representation of our feelings. The lesson learned, here, is that we need to believe in and enjoy what we are doing. Only then would others enjoy.

Apart from the song, branding was done everywhere. TJY T-shirts. TJY bags. These really helped. First, when 400 odd people go out wearing the merchandise, TJY gets instant publicity. Second, it helps in connecting - Like, i was sitting in the airport and saw a lady with TJY bag. Immediately we could connect. Marketing and brand building  was there in every little thing they did. They organized a blogging competition for the Yatris. This way they got a lot of content, publicity, etc. Giving the yatris an opportunity to blog was a good way for the yatris to not only share there experiences but also to 'fix' them in their memories.

It's basically, a win-win game for all the stakeholders. Everyone gains from the marketing techniques TJY employed.

A lot of small NGOs can take some lessons from here. At least, we at Vriddhi, are really inspired. It's doesn't take a lot of investments to make a facebook group or an Orkut community. Also, since we all anyways wear T-Shirts, caps, it makes sense to market your NGO through it. And give these merchandise as gifts should you need to give one. Creating an NGO anthem would also go a long way. One doesn't necessarily have to get big names do the anthem. A lot of yatris, created a song for the role-models we visited. Just ask your otherwise unruly neighbor who disturbs you with his guitar. He would be more than happy to create a song for you.

2. Scale: Another lesson learned from the TJY was that SCALE is very important. Let me start with a few examples.

Naandi Foundation is serving mid day meal to thousands of school in various parts of India. The 'function' of Naandi in the mid-day meal is similar to TCS or Infosys. Mid-day meal is a central government scheme and govt has outsourced the work to Naandi. So, the govt pays Naandi and does the work. Fair enough. But, if you try to think how could Naandi get such a contract from the govt, it would appear impossible. Manoj Kumar, CEO of Naandi foundation said that the government outsourced them the work because of 'scale'. Had they gone to govt. saying that we'll do the mid-day meal for 50 schools, govt would have turned them down. Another advantage of scale is efficiency. As per Kumar, out of Rs 100, Rs 97 reaches the beneficiary. Food for a lot of schools is prepared in a centralized kitchen from where it is distributed to different schools. such centralized approach which is highly efficient wouldn't have been feasible without scale.

Let me go back to my favorite role model - The TJY itself. Taking 400 youngsters is a huge responsibility in itself and very difficult from management perspective. However, the effectiveness of the trip wouldn't have been there had the train not been chartered. And to charter a whole train you need volume. 400 is an optimal number in that respect. The point I am trying to make is that in today's business or social sector, one cannot remain small. Scaling up and expanding is nothing but survival. You need to attain a critical mass.

3. Fun: Another thing which i saw in TJY was fun. Fun was part and parcel of the life for the 18 days. We had 3 explicit dance parties! When we started from Mumbai Central, the train was delayed by some 5 hours. The Yatris and the admin, instead of cribbing took this opportunity to network and socialize by having fun.We had a group of yatris singing to a guitar when Swapnil, from the admin, came and joined and entertained the yatris with his strums. Then, there was this other group who was busy learning rubik's cube while there we others busy chatting away. Whether it's train delays, bus rides, new year or Mithapur. The people didn't leave a single opportunity to have fun. Here, I should emphasize on the platform that the admin had given to the yatris for having fun. And while partying - everyone was alike - the yatris and the admin.

Apart from the all-work-and-no-play, 'Fun' has manifold implications. First, since the trip was for 18 day and with almost 400 unknown people, a fun-less trip would have made it impossible for the yatris to go on especially when the climates and amenities are so uncertain. Second, this made the 400 yatris enthusiastic - the enthusiasm which lasts even after  the trip. This enthusiasm would cause the yatris to speak about it, tweet it and blog it. The reason i am blogging about the yatra, perhaps, is the fun i had there! Third, and probably the most important, implication is that a lot of yatris would go back as volunteers for the next yatra!

Small NGOs face a problem of retaining their volunteer base. Perhaps large NGOs also face it. One way to solving this is to add a lot of 'fun' activities for the volunteers. Please key in any low-cost-high-impact fun activities you could think of for the volunteers in the comments section.

 There are many other big-small things i have learned form the Yatra. I may post my personal learnings in case i find that the readers would find it interesting.

[Note: There are a lot of other, perhaps, more important things for start-up NGOs such as - product design, devising a good model, multiple sources of funds, etc. But. from my personal experience, there is a consensus about the importance of these. However, there is negative or neutral inclination towards the things i talked about above.] 

Cheers!
Yaaron Chalon...

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