Saturday, September 30, 2006

The era of fragile reasoning

There is a email forward going around mostly sent by females to men in India about the ‘era of the fragile man being over’ from the advertising industry head honcho,Mr. Alllick Padamzee.

Ad honchos have a tendency to pass off their myopic and parochial views as an extrapolation to the entire Indian psyche. Nothing would be backed by research and an opinion will become an insight. Their opinions would be largely be shaped by what is seen in some parties of South Mumbai and pubs of Bangalore. They will call Lower Parel as Upper Worli just to feel cool. I sometimes wonder the reason ad agencies took donkeys years to make really locally relevant ads like Coke’s 5 or Fevicol or Alpenliebe is because of their lack of understanding of the true Indian consumer.

Coming to the views, lets just look at a few statements made by him.

The young Indian male is in danger of losing his manhood, because of the tremendous advancement of young women who top all the exams and are entering the workforce at breakneck speed.

Well the statistics show that women have a higher pass % than men. Topping all exams is completely different. So if you look at the top quartile you will still find a greater % of men.

Not only are the young women beautiful, well-groomed and intelligent, but also can hold forth on any topic under the sun.

Yes, women in corporate offices are extremely smart and confident and really carry off themselves well especially in some functions like marketing and HR. The woman power of ICICI also shows that they have conquered so called men’s domains like finance.

But if you read some of the press articles, you would be made to believe these women have trounced several odds to reach there. Well if you look at the relevant demographics, these women were not the ones who were trudging 10 km to fetch water in Gujarat or ill-treated by men in the wastelands of Bihar. They are part of the equal access generation who grew up in cities, were taught with as much attention and resources as the men. So is equality of output due to equality of inputs such a great feat ? You can compare rural Rajasthan with Kenya but Bombay will be compared with Shanghai.

Unfortunately, the young male's priorities are still job, marriage and children. However, both men and women are being rushed off their feet by pressures of work. Eventually, all of us will turn into the American prototype: either hen-pecked or serial killers! .

Why is a young male’s priority still a job? ( Most men run away from marriage and children in any case). When this generation was growing up in secondary school, India was a lost cause with more ration lines and few telephone lines. The priority of educating oneself was to get a job and be the guy to share daddy’s burden as a breadwinner. Although girls had equal excess to education, in most middle class families there was no equality of expectations to breadwinning. Nobody minded a girl taking Arts as a career, for a man that meant he was good for nothing. And the state of the job market was that way during that time.
So men growing up in India have a huge pressure of balancing their parents aspirations and their woman’s shopping bag. So there is a learning curve which is going to take time.

Stop yakking about yourself and your achievements, and above all, drop the latest cricket scores. She wants to tell you about her life, her dream. Open your ears and shut your mouth

Unka khoon khoon , aur hamara khoon paani. Maybe men have achievements which they can talk about , women are still dreaming about their achievements. And listening to their dreams is as entertaining as beauty contestants’ answers about Mother Teresa. Latest handbags from Prada are as mundane as Sehwag’s ducks.

Learn how to dance.

Even Abhishek Bachchan’s dancing a remix version of Govinda’s dancing. So we can be ‘like this’ only. There is no point even trying to dance to Himessh (Even the best pubs don’t get attendance if they don’t play him). His songs don’t require grace only momentum.

Yes, I agree the era of the abala nari (fragile woman) is over. The era of the abala purush has begun. The 'able' nari is about to untie the nara (pyjama strings) of the abala purush!

Men have shifted to boxers. Jab na raha nada, nariyon ke chahiye ek nayi ada.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The long tail and Indian media

Read the book The long tail by Chris Andersen the editor of Wired magazine. The author also had an active blog to test some observations before it went into publication.
The book explains how the abundance of choice caused by the economics of digital distribution and the effectiveness of search and aggregation is bringing markets of niches to the fore and challenging the mass market. The fundamental enablers are
1. Consumers are turning into producers for a lot of content like photos, videos, music and of course blogs leading to democratization of production.
2. The constraints of the physical world like limited capacity and inventory carrying costs do not apply in the digital world. So there can be wider choice to the consumer without the costs of providing that choice. This in probability distribution terms is the long tail.
3. Effective connection of the supply and demand by aggregators like Google, Rhapsody, Amazon , social networking sites like MySpace and blogs.
Now what is happening is that hits are getting smaller. Ratings are getting lower. And the effect is clearly felt in music, books, movies, advertising and information. For instance in a music request service like Rhapsody , almost 95% of its 1 million songs are requested once in a quarter, showing clearly that given more choice, the hits are not the only ones that sell. Long tail as a concept is not radically new, for instance increase in cable channels caused media fragmentation and niche audiences but they still had constraints unlike the abundant scale of digital distribution.
Has this long tail hit India ? Lets look at various categories.
This is where it gets interesting inspite of all the Himesh euphoria. There is one song which became popular without any mass media attention:the BC sutta song by an obscure band called Zeest. Because of the expletives it could have never been aired on mass media anyway. But its rise has been amazing. It started out primarily in engineering hostels where asking for a sutta ( cigarette) is pretty common. It achieved buzz status when crowds started singing loudly during intervals in a cricket match in Mumbai where Sachin was booed. Then further sharing of the song took place in offices and now it plays in some of the popular discs in Bombay and Delhi. There is also this trend of downloading the original Paki or Arabic versions of some inspired songs of Zeher and Gangster amongst youth. Another example is of a foot tapping Tamil number 'Apiddi Podu' which now has pan-Indian appeal again due to sharing in campuses and offices. So Himessh Bhai thoda beware aa.
The first instance of an extended tail not a long tail was the emergence of the multiplex movie. A multiplex had lesser seats per screen but more screens. Thus it needed more movies but it needed lower public to fill capacity. Even though the seats were lower they generated higher revenue per seat. Thus a whole set of multiplex movies was born which operated at a lower budget of Rs. 3-7 Cr. , distributed in multiplexes to recover its money. Sometimes, when you see Rahul Bose in a number of such movies, its not because he suits the role but he suits the economics even better. But there have been no movies which have only been distributed online which became very popular. What we have seen so far is only some movies using so called popular 'youth oriented' blogs to preview and influence popular opinion. But these blogs are still opinions of the writers and lack the sticky anthill like buzz and following or the specificity of subject matter( there are number of blogs in the US only on punk rock for instance) to carry off such opinions.
TV/Video content
Now this is one area where catering to the lowest common denominator has completely stifled creative progress. If saas bahu was not enough , we are now entering new depths of Nari paraya dhan and betiyan: ghar ki lakshmi on Star and Zee respectively. Strategic sameness also pervades news and movie channels. Even the costliest attempt to capture niche audiences, Star One had to become mass based with the TGILC and Nach Baliye. But signs are emerging here too. On a social networking site called , there is a community dedicated to fans of an old DD serial ' Byomkesh Bakshi' of which I am also a member. Over the last few months around 1000 members have written to DD to retelecast the serial and apparently it has finally happened.
In fact if you frequent sites like youtube and Desitorrent you would be amazed to see the long tail that has emerged in video clips and nostalgia content. I have managed to find past episodes of Fauji ( Shahrukhs debut on the small screen) and videos of songs like Aa ja jane jaa ( Sunil Shetty, Somy Ali in Anth) being touted as best rain song of Bollywood with a large number of hits.
In fact the Indian diaspora which is desparate for desi content is one of the key enablers of the long tail. Starved of home food but with good purchasing power and speedy broadband connections they are creating ecosystems which a lot of campus junta from India frequents and then popularizes.
Here the jury is still out. I still believe lot of Indian blogs are egoblogs rather than ecoblogs. Egoblogs are ones where the author is more keen that his opinion gets accepted by a few, whereas ecoblogs are ones where the author wants to know the opinions of others to synthesize. Although blogs have improved the choice of information outlets, most bloggers post their opinions on mass media topics rather than create new ones and specific ones. But we are getting there.
Although these signs are encouraging, Indian media firms will still continue to milk the mass market with Himessh, candy floss and saas bahu for a long time since the economics are still loaded heavily in that direction. But give 2-3 years for broadband connections to grow in India and I could be writing a slightly different post here. Atleast I hope so.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

My Second Blog

More than a year of bloggging, some restructuring had to happen.

I have created a new blog fully focused on movie related stuff.

Please have a look at FullyFilmy

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Naksha : No Raksha from flopping

If you think Bollywood is on a roll this year, please see Naksha. You can clearly see a wide chasm between the grade A and grade B movies. Naksha has everything that symbolizes B-grade , Sameera Reddy notwithstanding.

To be fair, Naksha could have been a good Indianized version of many Hollywood puzzle plus treasure hunt movies like National Treasure and to some extent Da Vinci Code. In fact using the Mahabharat and trying to hunt for Karna’s invincible Kavach and Kundal was a good plot.

But the execution is pathetic and the acting pedestrian. Instead of focusing on clues and deciphering them, most of the hunt is serendipitous and silly. Some of the Vivek Oberoi – Sunny Deol confrontations are copied from Rundown a B-grade Hollywood flick with the WWF star Rock. Plus you have to put up with a Liliput kingdom that guards a temple which is not at all funny and an item song for the climax. And Vivek Oberoi trying to speak Sanskrit verses is like Mayawati talking English.

Coming to the actors, Sameera Reddy seriously needs to watch her weight and paunch. She is surely going to be ‘de’ported to the South soon. Plus her make-up and clothes are so garish that even the sex appeal she boasted of in earlier movies is lost. She was strictly ok even in Taxi no.9211 and moving from bad to worse.

Vivek Oberoi already has the worst hair and looks. He is still hanging around due to some promise he showed in Company. But all his roles after that have been downhill. He hams , tries to be cool when he is not and is plain irritating. He just needs to go.

Sunny Deol needs help. His big ego now saddles him with B-grade directors like Guddu Dhanoa and Tolu Bajaj. So they make him shout, bash up goons and dance like jat yamla pagla just like others wasted his fathers talents. Sunny paaji we need some Damini or even Chaalbaaz type performances from you. Get over this phase and find someone who can resurrect your career.

Jackie Shroff is anyways a spent force. He is no longer cool. He is no longer a hero. So he is trying his hand at villainy. I don’t think anyone can save him now except his beloved Subhash Ghai.

Nobody can save this movie from crashing. Just because Pyar Ke Side Effects did not release in Singapore this week, I had to endure this torture.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Some new national songs please!

I think the whole Vande Mataram smacks of poor timing. With Munnabhai 2 running to packed houses all over India , Bande mein tha dam, Vande Mataram is a cool chartbuster. The movie with no religious ramifications has brought the powerful song back on everyone’s lips. So much for the controversy!
It just makes me wonder if an ordinary person thinks so much before singing a song. In most cases where singing of songs national, devotional or otherwise is enforced, students are usually singing it out of some force. In fact in most schools, the students have to just mime that they are singing and it is usually some old record or a group of chosen singers who are singing on the microphone. Usually the students would be sleepy since this is the first thing they do when they enter school. So from an attention perspective, no student is going to be more than 20-30% involved in this whole exercise.

The only time the attention increases to a crescendo is during Independence Day and Republic Day flag hoisting session where a whole host of national songs are sung from Vande Mataram to Raghupati Raghav Rajaram. Now the latter is more Hinduist than even Vande Mataram but lot of schools do sing it even in non-BJP states like Maharashtra.

In fact if you ask me, the meaning of Vande is a matter of interpretation, it means I bow or I respect and not technically speaking I worship. The problem sometimes is, Muslims believe in the strict interpretation of their religion. Does it mean if they can bow only to Allah, they should not bow to their parents? And I find it strange if some Muslims in their patriotic fervour could have sung the song in the pre-independence era then why not now.

Well the problem is not so much with Islam but petty politics and the lack of issues for the saffron brigade nowadays. Although Vande Mataram is more of an Indian patriotic song rather than a religious, both sides have managed to fuel a nice controversy in the absence of other issues. And the brunt of this would be borne by half interested sleepy eyed students in a school. Why don’t we adopt all chartbusters by Himesh and remix them as national songs, so that everyone can sing it without any problems.

Desh ki Kashish, Sarfarosh hai ….

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Lage Raho Rajkumar Hirani

You dont need maple leaves rustling in New York . Dhobi Talao and Marine drive are perfectly fine.
You dont have to make Amitabh Bachchan do the buffoonery in fur coats and crazy spectacles. There are character actors like Boman Irani.
Everyone need not be dresses in designer suits even while bathing. Heros can look cool in plain shirts and jeans throughout the movie.
You need not assemble the costliest star cost. You just need a great script and screenplay that is thoroughly engaging with a cast of actors who play their parts to the hilt.
Munnabhai MBBS was Rajkumar Hiranis fine tale of a ganster with a heart of gold who uses the power of love and affection(jaadu ki jhappi) to cure various ailments and his lady love. That created a role for which Sanju Baba would be remembered for a lifetime. Only last week I saw the Tamil remake of Munnabhai wherein one of the finest actors of our lifetime Kamal Haasan struggled desperately to create an air of likeability but failed. Its as if Sanju Baba plays himself when he plays Munnabhai or vice versa.
And he is in great form right from his opening entry scene ( I wish I was in Gaiety Galaxy to listen to the whistles for that) to the last scene. Rajkumar Hirani keeps the sequel format in the opening sequence where Arshad Warsi kidnaps a guy from the shopping mall. Its amazing how the director brings us back to relive the old Munnabhai in a matter of 10 minutes. This time the gangsters for a venal builder Lucky Singh to evict tenants and 'hadap' properties.
Boman Irani is back with Lucky Singh and he manages to give the character a mix of malice, caring father and vain humour. Boman Irani was increasingly getting wasted by the candy floss champions(Remember him as Preity's father in Veer Zaara) , it is good to see him back in an author backed role. He is funny when he keeps posing for pictures and morphing them with world celebrities and manages a great Punjabi accent for a Parsi.
Back to the story. Sanjay Dutt is in love with a RJ played with charming wallop by Vidya Balan. He cons a Gandhi contest(more hilarious than the staged hospital scene in part 1) and gets to meet her on the radio show where he has to become a history professor to a bunch of oldies who are playing their second innings at her place after being rejected by their highly aspiring kids. So now he goes to the library to learn about the Mahatma and begins to start seeing Bapu(Dilip Prabhavalkar in an endearing mix of Godbole and Gandhi). After that Munnabhai begins his Gandhigiri or spreading the Gandhian way of non-violence to common day problems.
What follows after that is a peach of screenplay writing which keeps you so thoroughly entertained where scenes, emotion, humour and characters are so finely knit like the sweaters that aunties knit for babies or like your mom serving you a plate of ghar ka khana. Munnabhai wins over the heart of the oldies, makes them play their second innings ( the Parsi gentleman getting married to his childhood sweetheart is extremely cute) . But Lucky Singh cons them out of that house that they stay in as a dowry gift for his daughter. Munna becomes a RJ on Vidyas radio and starts a show that acts as a Gandhigiri helpline for aam aadmis problems and uses that to pressurize citizens to send flowers to Lucky Singh and irritate him. Lucky outwits him initially forcing Munna to confess that he is not a true professor to Vidya. But then how he wins her house and her love back is the climax of the story.
The film has a lot of wonderful sequences like Munna and Circuits discussion on who was Bapu on the motorbike, their jail interactions, Circuits acting as if he also sees Bapu, an old man recovering his pension, and many more.
Arshad Warsi as Circuit is the livewire of the movie, delivering dialogues with such comic timing and elan that you wonder how could Bollywood reject him initially. If Munnabhai 1 saved this actors career, Lage Raho shows his undisputed control on tapori humour. I just wish more directors think of good roles for him although I am not sure if he can deliver one-hero comedies like Govinda in the past.
If Vidya Balan continues eating 4 biscuits with tea for lunch (Source:Rediff) would be the new age girl next door or in MCP terms marriage material. Her sparkling teeth should make her do a toothpaste commercial soon and her dialogue delivery is far better than any actress in the industry. Just compare her RJ Jhanvi to Preity Zinta as RJ Ambar in Salaam Namaste, then you will know who was screeching. Need more of you babe.
Lage Raho Munnabhai deserves a grand applause for its ability to create a movie that is contemporary, rapchik, warm, emotionally rich and fun. Hats off Hirani and lets have more guys like you to take on the candy floss champions.