Thursday, April 27, 2006


I finally bid adieu to the Indian Express.

No, not that I was working there. But I've been a regular reader of this honest daily, for more than a year. And now, I've cancelled its subscription. Thank a host of other options that are keeping me much better informed and updated.

The print media in Mumbai got a shot in the arm last year, with the launch of new dailies in the form of Mumbai Mirror, Daily News & Analysis (DNA) and the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times (HT). The existing stalwarts then were majorly Mid-Day, The Times of India and The Indian Express.

With the ushering in of these new newspapers, there's always break-neck competition amongst all of them to gain maximum readership, often at the cost of journalistic ethics just to grab a piece of your wallet. In the end, you have two of the most promising publications DNA and HT, handing out subscriptions at throw-away prices like 40 paise per copy and 96 paise per copy, respectively. That's not all - Mumbai Mirror, a Times Group Publication is also being given out free with TOI. Some marketing strategy this!

So then where did The Indian Express go wrong to see a day like this? Why is it struggling to find base with readers, as always? I happened to have an interesting discussion last weekend with a few of my colleagues in college. Incidentally, both of them worked at Mumbai Newsline last summer as interns and were it's sworn loyalists, until some time back.

"It's not attractive as the other newspapers. Take DNA - more pages, all in colour, with better print quality and extensive coverage. Why would I stick to Express?" asked one. Another opined, "Its dull and its got lesser news items too. Add to that, useless tenders and classifieds, everyday. Features and entertainment news is minimal."
I couldn't take this slaughter. "But hey, it's an honest paper isn't it? They've not succumbed to commercialisation. Now, that in today's era indeed is journalism of courage," I reacted.
"Maybe you'r right, but if the coverage is so limited, why would I stick to it? I want to be myself to be kept best informed." added another, who had also quit her subscription.

I had sympathy for the Express. This is the very newspaper that has shaped my ideals towards what is right and what is wrong. My language, my writing skills, my vocabulary and most importantly, my news-sense has been defined by this paper.

Shekhar Gupta, the Indian Express editor-in-chief, is a man, not many can equal and his baby is perhaps the only newspaper today, that honours journalism to the best of its ability. I've seen it in Express reporters. There's something different about them which makes them a class apart. The recently concluded Ramnath Goenka Awards witnessd quite a number of awards given away to Express journalists. DNA, TOI, HT, Mid-Day were nowhere in the picture.

I wondered.

It's true, no doubt, that DNA and TOI are doing wonders in news-reportage by keeping us abreast of maximum areas and arenas possible. More editorials, more supplements and more beats coming in. And they're fucking cheap too. At least DNA and HT are. Express still remains unmoved at Rs.3 per copy.

I sighed.

My dad meanwhile didn't like the idea of cancelling the subscription. He'd rather buy the Express just for the Editorial pages, which he reads with great interest.

A friend of mine recently joined the Express as an intern. It pinched somehow to see her working at Express alongwith several familar names. Lucky her, I thought. Here, I am, at a civic weekend publication with the Times, translating stories for fellow reporters and doing stories like a bull - stories which are read by masses who're seriously not bothered (Mine is a distant suburb from Mumbai - the media hub). And there she is, dishing out delectable written pieces that can have so much impact with its loyal and much wider readership. Mind you, there are few dailies in India which have registered as much impact on administration and issues as much as the Express.

I sighed yet again. I envied her. Perhaps I was plain jealous. I don't know. She was too, initially, when I'd joined the Times and she was still not into the field.

But then, was I right in giving up on the Express? I don't know yet. Only time will tell, I guess.


I shall miss you, Shekhar. I shall miss you, Shantanu. I already do. And yes, I miss you Dheera. God bless you buddy.

- Arcopol

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A fashion show, khakis and murder

Location: A fashion week
Situation: Strict security, policemen deployed all around the venue to ensure there aren't any wardrobe malfunctions
Media buzz rating: High
Opposition parties in government: Pleased
Tempers of organisers: Rising

She sashayed onto the ramp with elan. Grace, poise and confidence seemed to be in plentiful tonight. And her body was perhaps the perfectly rotating trolley to display her designer's creations in front of the world. She was Maria - the cynosure of all eyes this evening.

The burgeoning police force at the venue was disturbing. Of course, most of them seemed like hedonists. And why not? Duty seemed like a distant responsibilty - wardrobes could just be the criminals tonight. Their eyes hovered continuously around the models' breasts, everytime hoping that some buttons would unlock by mistake and to their pleasure, the army of shutterbugs would go flash on the cameras.

Breasts weren't the only areas of observation today. Curves ruled and the voyeurs in khaki were mere flibbertigibbets about their real duty tonight. After all, brethren of Sunil More cannot be expected to sagaciously clean. Of course, all sheep aren't black like More, but let's face it, the gray ones know where the action is. And hence, even though they were dressed in khakis as usual, all Maria and a host of other contestants, could see tonight was gray.

All was fine, until a sophisticated Vikram Phadnis creation gave way. Flashbulbs went off, the cops raised the alarm, while the opposition party leaders sat up and took notice. A warning was sounded inside the ramp and the show returned to normal. It was 9pm and the heart of the show was just about to begin. This malfunction was let off with a warning. The ceiling caved in on AN Roy as Sainiks landed on his doorstep demanding more police to be staffed at the venue.

25 more constables were deployed and the already understaffeded police force of Mumbai was now bursting at its seams at the fashion show venue, hoping to ameliorate the situation. Rajdeep cried hoarse on News at 9 with battering eyelids, "Breaking news...we've just received another report of a wardrobe malfunction...that takes the total toll of police staff deployed at the venue to 54..."

Meanwhile, an intruder armed with a chopper had made his way into Matoshree. Security men in this area were deployed on emergency duty at the Fashion Week and most Sainiks were out on streets burning posters of semi-naked models. (Most of those semi-naked posters had been procured from the Sainik's bedrooms' secret cupboards.)The Shiv Sena supremo seemed to be at peace, busy writing his next editorial on police bandopbast regularly at fashion shows to ensure 'no malfunctions'.

Just when it seemed that things were in control, an already weird Ritu Beri creation acted even more weird giving the page-3 photographers food for their lenses. The model carried herself bravely though and not for even a single second was she intimidated by the frenzy of flashbulbs that captured the moment. Rajdeep was yelling now into the camera, ever delighted to be the first person to give the 'breaking news'..."Yet another wardrobe malfunction in a span of 7 minutes, our (excited) correspondent Paras Tomar got an exclusive glimpse of it..."

Sainiks went ballistic. Constables threatened to close down the show by jumping on the ramp with lathis. Frontbenchers Ness and Preity flared up their nostrils, while Salman was only glad that no malfunction happened in Katrina's costumes. AN Roy deployed 6 more constables now, most of whom were standing ludicruously close to the ramp. Another malfunction and the cops would have walked alongside the models like security guards.

Matoshree's intruder meanwhile made his way out of the compound with a smug look on his face and his fingers wiping the blood off his chopper with a napkin. His job was done. In another part of Mumbai, a businessman was looted of Rs.23 lakhs while he was on his way home. He found no constables to file an FIR when he reached the nearest police station.

And while the fashion week witnessed yet another wardrobe malfunction, this time cops brought the show to a close. The models were whisked away mysteriously, alarm bells were rung to stop this 'disgrace to our culture' by Sainiks who stormed the premises. Thousands of families across the nation saw pandemonium being telecast LIVE from Mumbai. Police resorted to lathi-charge to control the protestors, Rajdeep screamed hoarse into the camera...

The next day, newspapers were smattered with headlines...gory images of chaos at the fashion show, TV grabs of the bra that gave way. But the one headline that rocked the entire nation was right at the centre. Hindustan Times had this one:

Sanjeev Shivadekar, Mumbai

Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray was found murdered in cold blood at his Matoshree residence last night. Supposedly writing the editorial for next day's edition of the party mouthpiece Saamna, a letter was found near his table addressed to him, written by a certain 'Cynic' who claimed to have killed him because he was "pissed off with extreme moral policing in daily life and now, on fashion shows" and "the deployment of security personnel for such a lame excuse, while several major issues of the city's security remained unnoticed..."

The End

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Celluloid myths busted

Hollywood's biggest blockbusters have been - believe it or not - costume dramas. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter series...there is something about Hollywood and their mega-budgets that makes their glorious past so watchable on celluloid. Everytime.

Just a few moments ago, I got over with perhaps one of my most educative and entertaining movie watching experiences of all time. No, it wasn't Yash Chopra (he's too senti-types), nor was it Karan Johar (Gimme a break!) nor was it some sci-fi action thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat. It was Hanuman.

The recent Bollywood animation flick broke all records at the box-office and when it did so, it left me wondering why. And how, could a nation that has always boasted of tacky SFX and poor records in home-made animation films boast of such an achievement? Today, all my doubts were cleared. I am sure that not only did the film keep kids hooked to their seats, it also must have given a welcome break for family audiences from A-rated Hashmi flicks.

We all know it - children don't watch the films as we do. You need something to grip them into their seats in the form of arresting visuals, groovy music and enrapturing storylines. All with a coating of humour. Hanuman does all of that. And more.

The current generation that is growing up is not being nurtured in homes where Ramayana and Hanuman are the first things that they'd get to watch on Sunday mornings. They need to be informed of the glorious mythology that India boasts of, the great epics armed with elements that would give any run-of-the-mill Bollywood saga a run for its money. Last but not the least, the greatness of each of these epics lies in their underlying ability to teach us morals, which are unfortunately being milked away to doom in this materialistic world.

I, myself am one of those unlucky ones, who's missed out on it. I've been hooked to storybooks right from my child-hood and watching a saga on TV wasn't something I've done ever. The result is that, today, I'm one of the most ill-informed people about Ramayana and Mahabharata. You should have seen me hide my face, when the Big-B would ask questions relating to these two epics on KBC and everyone in my family would create expressions saying, "Hey..that's such a simple question!"

Imagine how these stories would look on celluloid. Think Troy, LOTR and think Mahabharata. Visualise the great battle sequences...the multiplying arrows...,dragons, snakes, the monkey army of Ramayana, Hanuman's antics...the eye-popping SFX that would make films on these epics such a visual treat! It would be create path-breaking opportunities for artists from all over the world to come together and make such a celluloid project possible. We need not dwell on Ramanand Sagar technology anymore. The latest technology is available and more importantly the investments can be procured.

But caution must be alerted from a few past examples of such costume dramas, since they've not always tasted success. Although investments and production values can be hiked up, it remains uncertain whether returns will be equally fulfilling. Asoka by Santosh Sivan was an affluent product with steep production values, but it bombed miserably. Its a different issue that the movie didn't have an engaging story to tell either.

However the point that I'm trying to put across is that, there is a generation which lies unaware and uninformed of the glory of our epics. And neither would they be inclined to watch a marathon run of their old episodes on Doordarshan. However, these epics could be fodder for great trilogies and war-films. Say, if LOTR, King Arthur, Braveheart, Troy can attract packed houses, in India, thanks to brilliant starcasts, fine direction and eye-popping SFX, I don't see any reason why our epics wouldn't work either. But lets not convert them into animation again, like Hanuman. Pigeon-holing them into animation creates a huge block in inflow of a large section of audiences.

People say today's films have weak scripts and poor storylines. Critics say, that most of our films today do not put across any worthwhile message. (How can they? We rush towards the Exit doors at the Intermission itself!!) Lets look back into history. There are two epic scripts with flawless narration, that are educative, informative, thought-provoking (I could go on...) - all stories waiting to be told. Once again.


Friday, April 07, 2006

A generation awakens...only to find another generation asleep.

The Indian media must be taking pride from the fact, that their exetensive coverage and campaign for justice in the Jessica Lal case worked as a catalyst for a thorough investigation, once again.

SMS polls...'Is this the travesty of Justice?'...'Is this the death of Indian constitution?'...the so-called public outburst burst at the seams, only to land up into TV news channels and newspapers. But in the midst of all this, how are we to be certain of the magnanimity of this outcry? Did the entire nation surely and whole-heartedly question the existing judiciary? Or was it just the cosmospolitan cities which participated in these polls through mobile phone armed-working classes?

Yes, youngsters were definitely up-in-arms. Black days in colleges, student unions taking morchas towards India Gate, assumptions that it was the 'Rang De Basanti' effect and several others taking pride to appear in front of television cameras with a candle - we've seen it all.

All of the above samples comprise quite a considerable part of India's population, but then, what about the rest? A generation was found sleeping, not bothered or perhaps even not informed of the existing fury of the class outrage in cities. Perhaps they didn't want to spend that precious rupee in sending a crucial SMS to television channels? Hell, what do they care? Let me illustrate this point more clearly.

At the third screening of Rang De Basanti at a B-grade single screen cinema hall in the suburbs, I was witness to this great economic divide which is perhaps the drawing line of fury on the Jessica Lal case too. Its a populist cinema hall, (India has thousands like these) the stalls are usually packed with whistle-blowers who'll feast their eyes on your sister's beauty, gaze at your pop-corn wistfully and cry hoarse into their cell-phones non-chalantly, while the movie is on.

While RDB provoked rebellious sentiments from the multiplex audiences and also saw a sudden spurt in tissue paper sales after its release, it was clear that the film had touched many hearts and most importantly provoked them into action. But stall audiences found sadistic pleasure in watching Sharman Joshi die, mocked at scenes where Soha Ali Khan breaks down over Madhavan's death and yes, giggled to see Aamir crying in the company of the 'gori'. Yes, they did genuinely enjoy 'Maa ki aankh' and 'Bhain di takke', but considering the fact, that most of the stall audiences staged a disappointed walk-out at martyrdom of the film's leading boys, this definitely illustrates simplistic mind-sets.

This indeed is the very section of India's population, a very large section in fact, which doesnt seem bothered by national issues. Yes, they'll be up in arms over religious and political issues, but take note - these are 'issues'. And issues generally are senseless discussions and outrages over selfish matters. But when it comes to crusading for something through mass agitations, for something which is oh-so-genuinely wrong from each and every perspective - they're not bothered.

This is the very section of our population which only cares about 4 things - food, clothing, shelter and yes, sex. Lots of it. Most of them may be voyeurs, but there's a reason why films like 'Mujhe Pyaar Karo' and 'Chinese Kama Sutra'still run to packed houses on Fridays.

To believe that the Jessica Lal case spurred a national outrage would be an over-rated statement. It was in-fact limited only through cosmopolitan cities, the news-hungry titillating media, politicians, educational institutions and the middle-classes. All of them armed with mobile-phones.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Aiming for the Worst!

Advertising and marketing professionals take note - selling a product inside trains can make for an interesting case study.

Consider this - every product that is introduced in the market tries to position itself as something unique, having a certain set of USPs which no other product in the same range can offer. In other words, every (or most) product or service is trying to position and market itself as the best a consumer can get.

But what if they tried to promote themselves in an antagonistic way? What if, out of the blue, some company came up with the idea to market itself as the "worst" a consumer can get? Then we wouldn't be surprised if hoardings were plastered over the city - "Blah Blah Oil - The Worst your Car can get", "BPL - Believe in the Worst"...

Positive and negative numbers all exist on the number line. For everything positive, there is an equal and opposite negative. For every Neo, there's a Smith. All are equally strong, although directed in opposite directions.

It would be interesting though, to imagine, how consumers would respond with propositions for the "Worst" products. Common sense tells that, provided the product or service exists within the disposable incomes of the person, he wouldn't mind trying it. Let me quote an example.

On board the Gitanjali Express to Kolkata, I was taken by surprise, when amidst cries of Badhiya Chai....Coffeee...there emerged a lonesome cry - "Kharaab se kharaab chai!" Initially my fellow passengers and myself exchanged casual smiles as the tea-vendor casually passed by hoping we'd order tea from him. After some moments of reluctance, one of us called him and inquired about his tea which was ready to take on the best in the business - from behind. "Ab kya karen saab, bechne ke liye, bolna padta hai! Aap peekar to dekho dada, chai buri nahin hai..."

Nevertheless, we all ordered tea atleast once through him, in the entire journey. There was not much difference in quality of the tea, but he definitely won us over, as first timers, in his selling strategies and positioning. Even though innovative strategies have been observed which go reverse (Surf Excel - Daag achche hain), it'll be interesting to see how "Rush for the Worst" strategies work in India. Maybe after the initial hoopla and mayhem and cacophony, the interest may die down. But then, it'll be a terrific way to hook-up potential customers and make them sample the product atleast. But note, only within their disposable incomes. And this is just my personal point of view. Its quite out of the box - since its never been used in the box (read TV).

We bought tea because it made our wallet lighter by a mere few coins. A television set or mobile phone damages our wallets much more severely.
- Third Eye