Monday, October 24, 2005

Turtles can try

After watching a Hindi movie a week , I decided it was time to savour the best of Asian cinema at the Asian Film Festival currently running in Mumbai. The deal looked paisa vasool. At Rs.300 you can watch almost 20-25 movies in a week. Moreover Inox with its movie ticket price of Rs.150+ was one of the venues. Not bad at all... and the first 3 movies I saw were just that..not bad.
Frankly I had high expectations from a festival like this. I had expected movies with dark undertones and metaphors that would remind me of the days when DD used to show the NFDC movies in various languages where the protagonist would spend fifteen minutes eating rice and fish and the camera would stay on the morsels dropping from his mouth, sticking to his moustache etc etc. I realized that my overdose of Bollywood and Ramus dark underworld movies were not exactly the benchmarks to compare. But I realized one thing, good cinema is about the simplicity of story-telling rather than over-emphasis on technique. And story-telling is about characterization and direction is about making the actors respond to stimuli, environment and be true to their characterization.
The best movie I saw was "Turtles can Fly" based on the the story of an orphaned boy who leads orphans in Kurdistan, an orphaned state. As the villagers wait for the Americans to overthrow Saddam's oppressive regime, we are treated to the leadership and resourcefulness of a 14 year old boy named Satellite who runs a neat racket collecting American mines and selling them for the utility of other American goods like satellite dishes to watch CNN and arms for self-defense. As the world crumbles around them with no future in sight, Satellite with his zeal and genuine compassion creates a future for the band of boys with a smartness now very much part of his generation. (witness the scenes where he installs the satellite dish but first watches the banned channels before tuning into news and his usage of English words in between to show off).
In between he finds time to get infatuated with a young girl who wants to kill her child , an outcome of a brutal rape. The girl's brother is a boy possessed with powers to see the future that Satellite discovers and marshalls to help the village and his band of boys. But as the Americans finally occupy Iraq, the war finally has no winners. Satellite loses his leg trying to save the young girl's kid. The girl succeeds in her mission of killing her child and commiting suicide. The boy who could see the future finally cant save his own kin. And finally economics overtakes bonhomie as Satellite's close friend leave the village for the city with the promise of America bartered peace benefits.
The movie creates an adorable hero, provides the learning of making the best of adversity, looks at humour even in grave situations but at the same time elevates human spirit above the parochialism of politics and greed. Amazing direction by director/writer Bohman Ghobadi and great performance by the kids.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Middle class majboori(mazdoori)

Mumbaikars are actively celebrating the HC order which put brakes on the indiscriminate conversion of mill lands into swanky high rises and malls that hoped to convert Mumbai into Shanghai. Unfortunately the pictures of Shanghai that our Government had seen, only had the tall buildings but not the infrastructure in terms of water, sanitation and roads below it. But even in the HC ruling, 1/3 of mill land can be used for low cost housing by MHADA which is good for the lower classes, 1/3 can be developed into apartments for the rich ( at Rs.9000 to 12000 psf at current market rates) and as usual the middle class gets the rest which is reserved for "open space" where they can have the customary bhel puri on a weekend outing. Thats what the middle class usually gets in this megapolis :the short shrift .
The lower classes have the support of goons and vote-bank politics (the two factors have a 0.8 correlation) and the upper class have the support of money and connections ( again a 0.9 correlation) . What does the middle class have bad governance and 35% taxes. ( what should have been a 0.7 negative correlation).
The middle class has nowhere to go and no messiah apart from the economics of P Chidambaram whose 8% growth rate ensures a basic standard of living. Yes one does feel like canned sardine while travelling in the train, valets scorn at your old Marutis while parking, the Good Knight mosquito mats is the biggest household expenditure rather than milk, hearing dhinchak music in the auto is good recreation and so on. What can you do if only the poor and rich can afford places to stay close to your place of work?
The middle class has some silver lining.Like the cathartic experience of getting 1 kg free of sugar with 5 kg atta at Big Bazaar and other such freebies at malls that redeems the flashback images of the friendly neighbourhood bania cheating you with magnets attached to weighing scales. The saas-bahu serials which continue to redeem their faith on the maxim that Good will win over evil. Its another matter that the same middle class will bribe God with Rs.5 at the hundi rather than pay a bribe to the contractor to get things done.
The other wonderful thing about middle class behaviour is that their tastes are driven by economics rather than attitude. Its not that middle class mothers are anti-fashion, they are against " higher prices for less cloth". They watch more Hindi movies as it is more paisa vasoool for a Rs.100 ticket since you get to see 3 hrs rather than 1.5 hrs in case of an English movie. But now serials like Sarabhai vs Sarabhai have started poking fun at such middle-class habits their USP.
Thus the middle class has no place to hide except for his 600 sq.ft paradise in North Mumbai hoping to catch some sleep before catching the 8:20 local next day after a small prayer to Lord Ganesh.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Why men cant be just men

Today just being man enough aint enough mate. You dont have to be super man (bhala uski brief meri brief se red kaise) either. Just when we had scrubbed our faces clean with all the apricot and walnut scrubs we could lay our hands on and shed glycerine tears during mushy senti movies, the officiandos have decided that metrosexual is passe. The problem with the metrosexual has always been its over emphasis on form rather than content by the media. The creation of this stereotype was more to sell more cucumber face packs and the romantic idea to women that there are guys who would cry with you while watching Kuch Kuch Hota Hai when SRK dumps Kajol for Rani. I always felt that the target segment for the metrosexual concept were women rather than men and the objective was basically to sell products to losers . But successful metrosexuals had a field day and became frustosexuals when it became too much of a good thing.
Next we had ubersexual ( not to be confused with kubersexual, which is basically men who spend a lot on paid sex). Ubersexual was supposedly a metrosexual with a cause. He had some principles like I wont drink on Tuesdays probably. But the key difference was that men wanted their masculinity back. They wanted to spend more time grooming their mind and manners rather than manicuring their nails. Thus ubersexuals were closer to real successful men and JWT rated guys like Pierce Brosnan, Donald Trump and Bono as the top ubersexuals. The metrosexual was finally shown the mirror, with warts on his mind rather than on his face.
Now finally the Western world has discovered the heteropolitan, which is surprisingly similar to what a large percentage of urban Indian men would be. According to Men's World , "The heteropolitan builds a picture of a man who can`t be pigeonholed as either a binge-drinking, skirt-chasing new lad or a preening metrosexual who spends more time in the bathroom than his girlfriend. Today`s man is a `heteropolitan` trying to balance looking good with pub culture, and career success with a happy family life." Cheers!! It seems what I always was is now cool, the guy who drinks on Friday but visits the temple on Saturday and goes shopping with folks on a Sunday. But I trust this to change soon, since such an image is a marketers nightmare.
Finally, I believe if u strip the sexuality and the polity, men can be divided into the following types...
Know man: The nerd who will know more about Windows XP rather than where to take a girl
Show man: The dude who believes life is a stage and he is the only actor
Flow man: One who lives for the moment and tries to maximise output/input.
No man: The over blown metrosexual .. Karan Johar types
Additions to the above are welcome !

The Rajnigandha effect

It is often said that advertising is a reflection of society . Advertisers may not have the best timing, but sometimes they do create an impact with their hyperboles. A case in point is the Rajnigandha ad which talked of an Indian business house buying out some entity similar to the East India company in an overdose of patriotism. But this is no longer some paan-chewing bravado but serious business. Indian companies are aggressively scouting for foreign acquisitions and cash rich houses like Tatas, Reliance and Birlas are at the forefront. Incredible India is going after global giants. With valuations at record levels due to the stock market boom some Indian companies are within striking ranges of really big ticket global cos. I wish some of this enthusiasm would rub off on the IT biggies like Infy, Wipro and TCS, its time they bought a management consulting firm to take on Accenture and IBM.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Smart release

In the songs of Bollywood, if it rains it pours. The same logic can be applied to the frequency of release of good movies. About a month back, there was a deluge with No Entry, Iqbal and Salaam Namaste. Thanks to absolute lack of competition, Salaam Namaste a pedestrian concept movie with a screechy Preity Zinta dancing with a helmet tucked in her tummy has grossed Rs.62 Cr. The Rajpal Yadav movie showcasing the frustrations of a small town guy with a taller and better looking wife did not warm the cockles or tickle the audience. Mostly superstitious Bollywood has a practice of not releasing movies during the Ramzan month. This is either a legacy of the era where movies where extensively financed by the underworld from Dubai. But in this era of fleeting consumer attention, it would be better if smart movie makers use this slack month to release movies rather than stacking it up during the Diwali holidays where the probability of success when pitted against the biggest releases. Bollywood good or bad , thy movies still are the best weekend timepass. Rather than Transporter 2.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Lane arbitrage

Its a question which confounds me daily when I drive to office. Does changing lanes based on short term anticipation of traffic help you reach your destination faster or sticking to the same lane works out better in the long run because these short term nudges although create lot of action they finally dont translate into motion.
The worst form of lane arbitrage exists in Mumbai and its roads. Imagine this. You are driving on a four lane highway ; close to a signal the right most lane is for the vehicles want to turn right. But so as u plod along the lane left to this, there will be road warriors who would take this rightmost lane and just before the signal would switch on their left indicators to get on to the lane you are driving. And you are left with the " Hum kya gaddhe hai, lane discipline follow karke chala rahe hai" expression which you feel in India when you try to instill the virtues of discipline and watch others getting ahead without following it. For some Indians especially if you are born towards the North of the Vindhyas this is a matter of smartness. "Arre yaar tum aage nahi badhoge to koi aur badhega".
And the bigger the car, the bigger are their discipline breaches. Most drivers in such cars think their masters are no less important the Prime Minister and their time is at a premium. (maybe thats what these drivers are made to believe). And the bigger car bestows a certain arrogance and the bulge to deal with any eventuality. And if its a company car, sone pe suhaga ! Compared to these drivers, I feel truck drivers are a sensible lot.
So what do people zinging or zenning their middle class dreams do? Grin and bear it or in the Rome, do the Romans or wait for the big company car.

Friday, October 07, 2005

A true 'Bharti ya' brand

Its interesting times in the mobile services market in India. Bharti is apparently now targeting the ABCD segment. Which means all social workers like maids, drivers and carpenters should have one. (other workers like call gals already have multiple numbers). In Tata Indicom's ad , Ajay Devgan can be either a non-urban customer or an urban worker; smartly alluding to two segments with one ad. Although I dont understand the tagline 'insaan phone leta hai baat karne ko'. Tell me do dogs buy phones ? Maybe the popular Hutch kutta ad has confused people.
Although Tata Indicom's ad is good due to the star power and catchiness, Bharti's ad is better in execution. Especially the one where auto drivers at a junction reach for their mobiles when they hear a ringtone, but its a cycle rickshawalla who is actually receiving a call for a phoren savari. Then comes the smart business logic ' go mobile for Rs.200' and then in a microfont size 'includes talk time of Rs.50', just showing that the prepaid model of targeting these lower income segments will also be profitable for Bharti.
I have always admired Airtel's advertising campaigns. Their idea of creating a signature ringtone with A R Rehman was brilliant; and they still continue to use that tone. In a masterstroke they elevated the brand without having to talk of talk time , rates etc. Then came the almost magical 'Express Yourself ' campaign stunningly executed with excellent imagery and creativity. It showcased the ubiquitous utility of the mobile phone through the situations ( a fighting couple, a bride entering church, an irate mob) but converted a rational purchase decision to an extension of one's voice. And from that Bharti's market share has kept increasing to being the biggest mobile service provider. Yes they did make the obvious and easy mistake of celebrities endorsements through SRK, Kareena (aargh) and definitely Sachin. (wonder why marketers sell their brains to hang out with these stars). Now they are back on track to scrape the bottom of the market.
Kudos to Sunil Mittal and his marketing team. A man who neither had the financial muscle of Reliance or Tatas nor the access to international experience like Hutch. No wonder FIIs are hanging on to his stock dearly.