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 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 [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.] 

Yaaron Chalon...

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