Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Taxi no 9 2 11 : Wada Paav

I am falling in love with the Ramesh Sippy Productions style of movie-making. Their movies are smart, thoughtful and entertaining. If Bluffmaster was Mumbai Udipi , then Taxi no. 9 2 11 is Wada Paav, juicy, spicy and churns your stomach a bit.
Nana Patekar, darling of many a Mumbaikar comes up with a performance that takes us back to his Krantiveer days. As a frustrated cabbie who has changed many jobs due to a distinct contempt for life and others, he is first rate and elevates the movie a notch. The rest of the cast barring Sonali Kulkarni is good wallpaper( especially Sameera with her expanding girth can cover a lot). The best part of the movie is that it has been entirely shot in Mumbai. The depiction of the chawl in which Nana and Sonali stay is so wonderfully realistic , I wonder if some chawls should be preserved before they fall prey to the bulldozers of Tarneja and Kaamdhandani.
Milan Luthria the director is back in form. His first movie Kacche Dhaage ( Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Manisha, Namrata) was an interesting road movie and the altercations between Ajay ( a village stud) and Saif ( a yuppie) were good. He manages to carry that experience in the interactions with Nana and John ( a spoilt millionaire). Although John is no great actor, he has escaped the wooden touch that marks other models. Dialogues are pedestrianly Mumbai. Some sequences, the one at the police station and the one where Nana tells his son " Bat tera hai na. Fielding kyon karta hai. Tendulkar banne ka, Kaif nahi" are hilarious. But the humour is always situational. And the situations and characters seem straight out of Mumbai life. Thats where the movie scores.
The first half of the movie ends with Nana swearing vengeance when Sonali walks out when John tells her that her husband is not an LIC agent but a taxi driver. In the second half , Nana tries to wreck John's chances of getting his family property as his own family life crumbles.The scene where Nana comes to meet his son in school for the last time is touching. In trying to outdo each other they learn that their attitude to life is at fault rather than the other person. I thought the end was too tame , a sadistic end would have suited it more but that would not have ensured box-office success. Wohi finally bolta hai, Bombay ho ya Bhatinda.
Again Vishal and Shehar come up with a brilliant music score ( Dus, Salaam Namaste, Bluff Master, Zinda). They are on a roll. Traffic hai , kaha hai Bijuria, paise ki bazariya, Mumbai nagariya. A must see.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Turning hostile

Want to save your job ? Turn hostile... It works in courts , so why not in offices. Today 6 years after Jessica Lal was murdered at a Page 3 party in Delhi , all the accused have been let off. One critical development was that most of the key witnesses including actor Shayan Munshi turned hostile. Sometimes I wonder if any rich and famous guy would ever be caught and punished by the system.
The fear that scares the living daylights out of me is what happens if I or someone very close to me ever gets entangled in this system. Most Indians associate a 0.03% probability to such an event in their lives. The common refrain especially in Mumbai is "Arre yaar, chup chap apna kaam karo, panga mat lo, summadi se nikal jaao, apne ko kabhi kuch nahi hoga". Some people even try a dash of philosophy " Tune kisika kuch bigada nahi na, to tera bhi kuch hoga nahi, kabhi kabhi thoda adjust kar lena ka ". Proponents of this philosophy would also say "Jessica Lal should have just obliged and made those drinks which were demanded. She was after all an employee at the hotel and kyon faltu mein panga liya usne". Maybe here the panga could have been avoided. Middle class morality would even go to the extent of saying " Page 3 party thi. Page 3 log. Pata nahi kaun sach hai , kaun jhoot hai."
But the question goes beyond the Page 3 crowd. Manjunath's murder at the hand of local mafiosi defeats all the above common arguments given by Indians on why this cannot happen to them. He was doing his job , he was not attending some wild party and he was as middle-class like most of us. Today most of us would be at our wits end if we are coming back from office at night and we witness a murder . Today most of us dont even help a driver whose car has broken down in a peak hour traffic jam . Today although we have zero faith in the system, we dismiss the event of we being caught in its vicious grip and denied justice as a statistical improbability. I dont what is wrong , our knowledge of statistics or our belief system.
Even if this years biggest hit RDB portrays an extremist step , most of us reviewed the movie as " Arre yaar, first half ekdum timepass tha, I dont advocate what the movie preaches as a solution". The breezy first half in the movie is akin to the good times brought by 8% economic growth and low interest rates. The second half is what we all try to dismiss , that we are still years away from a clean system where the offenders are punished .

Friday, February 17, 2006

The new ball battle

The pitch has been laid for a new battle for eyeballs whenever a cricket ball is bowled on Indian soil. Through a stunning bid of $612 mn for all commercial rights for BCCI cricket, Nimbus Communications has raised the level of the game to an astounding high trying to match the upward gyration of the Sensex. This includes domestic and international rights for all cricket matches played in India by the Indian team for a period of four years. For the 22 Tests and 55 ODIs in this period, the sum works out to an astounding $3.7 mn (Rs.16 Cr) per day !! How will this money be recovered is the million dollar question.
Nimbus has played a masterstroke by becoming an aggregator of rights. Unlike broadcasters who have an uni-dimensional view when they buy rights, Nimbus the intermediary would use market dynamics to maximize value for the rights. For example, if ESS had won the rights , they would just look at advertising and subscription revenues for their channels and they are stuck with it for four years, as no other broadcaster would purchase it from them if they are not able to monetize the rights. But with Nimbus , the entire market opens up. It can slice and dice the rights and sell it to the maximum bidder. It could follow the classic investment banking model of being the book runner after cornering a large block. So it can sell the rights to Zee for one year and it would know that next year ESS would be more desperate to gain lost revenues and hence bid more. Similarly it can pit all content distributors, broadband players and radio players against each other and profit from the 'fight club'. Since the sum of the parts(individual bids of different players) add upto $ 550 mn , that would be a fair estimate of the demand function. So the gap that Nimbus has to bridge for breakeven is $ 62 mn. Given the competition amongst sports channels in a one-sport country, India cricket is essential for their survival especially when the Indian team is on a roll doing Anhonee ko Dhoni.
How will the cost be recovered at a macro level ?. Although India has 61 mn cable households, the cable operators do not pay broadcasters for more than 5 mn of their base. So even if each operator pays Rs.50 for a sports channel, the annual number adds upto Rs.300 Cr ($ 70 mn). This at a 10% growth rate, would mean
$ 320 mn over 4 yrs. Typically advertising revenues on a cricket day can be between Rs.2 - 3 Cr per day. So at roughly 150 days , it would translate into Rs.500 Cr($ 110 mn) if the economy continues to be good. If DTH and other platforms garner 10-15% share over 4 yrs, they should add another $ 50 mn over 4 yrs. International distribution should get another $ 75 mn. Add radio rights for another $ 20 mn. All this adds upto $ 575 mn. So unless sports broadcasters are able to increase declarations from cable operators to 8 mn, the rights would not be profitable for all players in the value chain. And if cable operators do not increase declarations, consumers would bear the brunt by having to pay Rs.50-80 more on their cable bills.
Welcome to the brave new world of cricket broadcasting. The only people laughing their way to the bank ( I dont know if its Swiss or Indian) are Sharad Pawar and Co for running the money machine called BCCI. In four years they have quadrupled the revenues from Indian cricket, a great growth story.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Velatimes day

Again there has been the usual uproar over Valentine's day. Some angry mobs have burnt Archies cards and raised a furore over the collapse of Bhartiya Sanskriti, etc etc.
Valentine's day is another epitome of a typically Western fad " Loving someone on one day is enough to ameliorate the guilt of a year of neglect ". Its not just about Valentine's day, its about all their other days Fathers day, Mothers day. So if you give a card to your mom or beloved on one day, they will forgive all your sins ( like leaving wet towels on the bed) . The better the gift , the better is your compatibility outlook in the short-term. Its a classic commercial exploitation of a personal space. At a deeper level, it just trivializes something that has greater depth and meaning. As Mr.Timetable pointed out in Dil Chahta Hai, a couple has the option of remembering so many days that they can relate to rather than be a slave to the calendar. Valentine's day can never be as important as an anniversary.
As for the loads of frust junta, this day is another opportunity to date someone. If there is enough pressure from both sides not to spend Valentines day at home watching Kyunki or Friends, then a date is a very mutually convenient option. But even in colleges, Valentines day cannot match Rose day. Rose day atleast when I was a student was probably the most important event in college, putting all other days to shame. It would usually happen 4-5 months into college time, which would give enough time for screening, scanning, preening , leaning , and whatever. Rose queen was a babe's permanent claim to fame. For the boys, roses are pretty inexpensive and light on the pocket. Again Valentines day has limited appeal.
As for busy executives , its the best excuse to scoot home early especially when the boss does his motivational bit for the entire quarter "Arent you going to spend some time with your beloved on Valentines day?". And then you step out of office and spend 3 hours to reach home since half of Bombay has done the same.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A generation awakens to sleep again

Dialogue of the year by Aamir in RDB " Ek pair past mein aur ek pair future mein hai , isliye present mein moot rahe hai". Shayad hum present ko loot rahe hai aur isliye woh lut rahi hai. As numerologically correct Rakeysh Mehra and UTV gross Rs.35 cr for a well made movie in the first week, a generation has apparently awakened to the power of Bollywood if not something else. When I was in my teens, Sunny Deol was the only hope for India. His style was simple, shout so loudly at the opponents , stun them and hit them really hard. But such a style is fast disappearing like the hair on Sunny paajis head. When I was a kid, it was Amitabh bashing up 15-20 people in his anger against the establishment that gave me that security that India was fine. But today Hrithik Roshan himself needs extra-terrestrial help from Jaadoo . And Abhishek Bacchan cant shave. Jo apni muh ki gandgi saaf nahi kar saktha woh desh ki naali kya saaf karega.
All this is worrisome. As I battle traffic jams in Tulsi Pipe road and the Western Pothole Express for 3 hours everyday just to claim the company's petrol allowance, I have forgotten the past like the bhoot of a Tulsi Ramsay movie. Incidents like a group of people who did not allow me to get down at Andheri since I boarded a Virar Fast, the ration shop owner who did not sell wheat even though he had stocks, the Maha aarthis that saw Mumbai burn and closer now, the days Mumbai submerged and has emerged in 6 months without solving any of the old problems, come to my mind and go. Certain incidents like Manjunath's sacrifice to battle the petrol mafia still remain etched but I cannot help wondering if anything is going to change in UP and Bihar. I cant help feeling that this generation's cinematic metaphor is Shahrukh a la Gordon Gekko of Wall Street. He made the NRI so cool that tons of us can write any damn code to work in the USA. Money and a great standard of living is all we yearn for.
Maybe the protagonists of the movie thoda jyada hi character mein ghus gaye and imagined themselves to be the new Krantikaaris. But when the movie juxtaposes the sepia tinted fervour of Bhagat Singh and Azad with the drunken revelry of Siddhu and DJ , I somehow feel todays problems are trivial in comparison. And more importantly unlike 1920s there is no unifying force. Today if lack of proper roads is a crib for 10 mn Indians , then pains of relocation due to the building of highways affects another 20 mn destitutes. For every one suicide like Kuldip Randhawa who apparently got bored of her life (mein kya mar gaya tha kudiye), there are 20 farmers committing suicides due to crop failures. I just hope urban dudes do not start committing suicides for not having a girlfriend , that would be hitting rock bottom. Today what is a problem for you is a livelihood or luxury for atleast 2 others.
So radical solutions like killing a defence minister for MIG crashes and proclaiming it aloud on media appear neat when seen within the context of the movie but feel utopian when you step out of the movie hall. In that sense the movie is perfectly true to its screenplay and the characterization of its protagonists. This coupled with brilliant execution and excellent performances from the entire cast ( Om Puri in the role of a Muslim father reminded me of Tamas, a Govind Nihalani telemasterpiece) make RDB a treat to watch. Pepper that with witty one-liners ( Prasoon Joshi) and a pulsating music score( AR Rehman showing why he is still leagues ahead of Reshammiya) and you have a blockbuster. I just felt that the juxtaposition of history and present towards the end was almost caricaturish , but was a great metaphor in the first half. It reminded me of school, when I used to love reading the Indian Independence Struggle especially the Bhagat Singh and Netaji part, but even the healthiest of respect could not prevent me from drawing beards , moustaches, bandanas to the freedom fighters and have a feeling of fun and guilt at the same time. Thats exactly how I feel after watching Rang de Basanti.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Himesh the rock star

2005 had two anthems , Kajra re in the first half and Aashiq banaaye aapne. While the former had the might of the entire Yash Chopra ecosystem working for it, the latter had one man ... Himesh Reshammiya. He composed the music and sang three songs. He reaffirmed India's love for people who sing with their nose rather than their mouths like Mukesh, Kumar Sanu, etc. His new album Aap ka Suroor where with his paunch , cap and stubble he is projected as the new rock star. Plus his Jhalak dikh la jaa from Aksar is already emerging as a super hit. Himesh is a refreshing change in Bollywood where outsiders have rarely made it big. Himesh was first introduced by none other than Sallu in his landmark movie Pyar kiya to darna kiya where he introduced 3 music directors Himesh, Sajid Wajid and Kamal Khan. Himesh was the luckiest of the lot probably because Sanjay Jumaani added an extra M to his surname.
His biggest hit before 2005 was Tere Naam another Sallu hit. The deep emotional nature of the movie and of its songs left a solid mark in the non-metro centers of the country. It was an instant rickshawalla hit in Mumbai, the barometer for mass tastes. Then came Aitraaz that had its share of hummable songs and then who can forget Just Chill where Katrina's gyrations added extra oomph to the song. But the definitive moment came with Aashiq Banaya. The song with heavy Sufi style vocals was greatly embellished by Himesh's nasal voice and the song was the hottest hit of most night clubs. In fact his singing has completely overshadowed his composing. For instance , most people have forgotten that he was the music composer of Kyun Ki which had some very hummable songs " Dil keh raha hai tumse yoon rishta jod loon" and the title song.
With his new album T Series has decided to cash in on his immense popularity. Move over Sonu, Himesh is here. Lets see how long this hero lasts. Sirf Jhalak mat dikh la jaa.