Friday, December 26, 2008

Meri nayee padosan

I have new neighbours. More, that's their surname. Its a Maharashtrian family.

Just to clarify. They're not 'More' from the Dil Maange More pronunciation. They're more like Moray. Yes, Moray.

I'm super excited, about them though! Not because they're Maharashtrian. Duh!

They have a young lady in the family. :)

She's about my age, I suppose. But she's got more useful muscles in her head, it seems, since she appears to be all mature and that and all that.

She has this 'seen this, been there, done that' expression on her face. You know what I'm talking about.

Our balconies face each other. And I've seen her over the last few mornings, standing there and doing nothing. She's careful about coming into the balcony though. I think she's seen that movie Hollow Man, where this guy suddenly becomes hollow and all, and starts scaring pretty women in front of their mirror.

As I said, she looks, 'seen this, been there, done that'.

Yesterday morning, when I went to my terrace to do my usual Yoga routine, I suddenly got extremely conscious of my naked torso. What if she's poking her eyes out of some window and observing my movements?

So I became stiff and all, while doing Yoga. My biceps puffed up in pride, I did 35 push-ups as against the usual 30, and I groaned and moaned like Monica Seles did everytime she served.

Soon after, I think, I heard someone scream from the neighbouring flat. "Piyaaaa, aavar!" (Piya, hurry up!)

So Piya is her name. Nice!! :) Piya More.

Or More Piya. (Muhahaha!)

Moray piya. Lol.. I liked this.


Today morning, I pumped the volume on our CD player, while doing Yoga.

A major feat was also achieved. I crossed 35 push-ups. And the song that played on the CD was from Devdas.

"More Piyaaa... jalta hai dekho meraa jiyaaa..."

Lol. :)

Which other songs can I play for her? Any suggestions? ;)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Kashmir winter: Of shikharas, Uncle Tom's shayaris and Orkut

10 years back, if you told someone you're traveling to Kashmir, they would have told you that it's a bad idea. But after the drama that unfolded on 26/11 in Mumbai, my plans for a Kashmir trip elicited this response:

"Well, Mumbai isn’t safe anyway. Have a good time."

And so I pack my bags, hop aboard a flight with a 6-day itinerary in the snow-capped tip of northern India - the sights of which first fascinated me in films such as Roja and Mission Kashmir. I watched the latter several times, to learn the steps of Rind posh maal, a song which I eventually choreographed in my school’s annual day function. (Psst..all this, just to woo my first crush. It was Class nine!)

When I reach Srinagar, it's the same song that Ishfaq, the 23-year old boatsman of my shikhara hums (and follows it up with Bhumbro) as he takes me across Dal lake to the houseboat in which I’d be staying.

Sitting in the shikhara – similar to the one which made Shammi Kapoor go bonkers once, I’m told - I soak in cool weather. The mercury hovers around 2 degrees, and as we bob across the maze of houseboats camped like exhibits, Ishfaq and me get talking.

I ask him whether it’s a safe time to be visiting Kashmir. He nods. When I tell him I’m from Mumbai, he asks me, "Have you heard of Qazi Tauqeer? Humaara Kashmir ka singer hai! He is in Bombay now. Bahut artist log Kashmir chhodke Mumbai gaya. But Inshallah, Kashmir is much safer now. Terrorists are everywhere. Mumbai ko bhi nahin chhoda.”

Some artists come back though. Like Tom Alter, who drops by a couple of days later to meet a friend. He’s originally a Mussoorie man, and the last time he came to Kashmir was 24 years ago.

I meet him at a common friend's residence, where we’ve been invited for Eid and our host treats us to an elaborate feast of kebaabs, biryani, mutton rishta, chicken curry, paneer. Uncle Tom’s impressed.

Before he can burp, a shayari flows from his lips: "Do cheezon ke liye main banoo musalmaan. Ek seekh kabab aur doosra Waheeda Rahman."

More shayaris follow, as we travel 40 kms from Srinagar to the Rashtriya Rifles base in Beeru, on invitation from a friend in the army. When we reach there, our hosts are pleasantly surprised to Uncle Tom in tow.

We chat – about life in the army, how unfortunate the terror attacks in Mumbai were, how things are changing in Kashmir. At the end of it, comes one defining moment of Alter’s visit.

"Sir", a major says addressing Alter, the same man who for years remained a symbol of British imperialism in several Hindi movies, "Your role in Kranti curdled my blood. The way you said 'Bloody Indians!'…As a young boy, I felt like strangling you then. And today, you've walked into our karmabhoomi. It’s a great honour for us, Sir."

As drinks, music, and a game of basketball follow, the army men convince us that things have changed for better in Kashmir.

Maybe they're right. The next day, after Alter departs for Delhi, I set out for Gulmarg and Sonmarg to experience torrential snowfall. On the way, I notice kids, women – they appear to be straight out of a Majid Majidi film - walking about in gay abandon. Our vehicle attracts their curious glances. The women, sometimes slowly bite their protective scarf and smile, waving cheerfully as an afterthought. I feel welcome in their territory.

Still, Kashmir’s image as a hotbed of militancy now overshadows its past crown of 'paradise on earth'. Indian film-makers who once would spend months shooting there, now shoot in the Swiss Alps.

Things take a pleasant turn though, on my last day. As Ishfaq rows me across Dal lake, one last time, I click his picture and he asks me if I can send the photo to him. I assure him, I will if he gives me his postal address.

"Take down my e-mail ID," he says, taking me completely by surprise. "Which one do you want? Yahoo, Rediff, Hotmail..? I can put it on my Orkut profile later."

Maybe it’s true. Things are changing in Kashmir. And Orkut Buyyukokten has something to do with it.

(The above write-up appeared in DNA in the weekly column Open City.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Dostana isn't a typical Karan Johar film

Saw Dostana last evening to a packed house. And I still can't believe I watched a Karan Johar (KJ) film within its first weekend. In hindsight, I'm glad I watched it. Dostana isn't your typical KJ film. Here's why...

A KJ film has lots of Rona dhona. K2H2, KANK, K3G...they all had ample rona dhona. Even Kal Ho Na Ho made the tissue-paper boxes fly off shelves.
Dostana is different. There is only some Rona. And no Dhona at all. Thank you Karan.

A KJ film has atleast one long sermon. An unending dialogue usually from an SRK of a BigB with words like zindagi, khushi, maut, shaadi (take your pick) and this will make your mum / girlfriend reach for..what else.. but that box of tissues.
Dostana doesn't have even one sermon! Sahi hai. Picture dekhne aaye hain, lecture sunne nahin.

A KJ film has to have a Kadva chauth scene!
Dostana doesn't! Hooray, now bring on the popcorn. Even in the scene where there's a brief mention of it, you're spared of the tragedy of going through those kadva kadva scenes.

Next. Bridal wear! A KJ film has lots of them! At some points you think its a costume drama directed by Manish Malhotra.
This one doesn't have even ONE bridal wear scene. Yes, the 'supposedly' gay couple's mother does imagine her son in shaadi ka joda, but the duration of such moments is just thoda.

For a KJ film (or even Barjatya film), the whole world is one big marriage. And there are lines floating around like, 'its all about loving your parents, your maid, your driver...'
Dostana spares you the horror of such dimaag ko shots. There is just one corny line somewhere in the film, where things go all slow-motion and all, and they get very huggy-huggy..after saying 'yeh Dostana main nahin bhoolunga' or something like that. Chal theek hai. Director Tarun Mansukhani got emotional. Human, after all.

And tell me, which KJ film opens with a Shilpa Shetty bikini sequence? This one does! And you find John Abraham clicking pictures to glory in the next.. Garam masala anyone?

KJ films are about achieving sammaan, pyaar, ishq, falling in love.
Dostana actually highlights iissues in finding accomodation. Its true, getting a house on rent is actually difficult, unless of course if you bump into the house of a fashion magazine's editor only to find her hardly going to work! Need room? Will pay even at the cost of becoming gay! Gay, gay, gay, gay.. gay er saahibaan, pyaar mein sauda nahin..

Still, some KJ footprints still abound.

Dostana has Farah Khan's trademark dance steps, so you can make out that its a KJ film. (Since Farah dances only for KJ. Not for Gabbar.)

Only a KJ film can come up with lines like "Gabbar was gay, because all he would persistently ask was 'Kitne aadmi the'.

And my bhai-bondhoos from Ulhasnagar just phoned to tell me that the mere fact that Dostana is India's first mainstream-commercial--masala-gay-family entertainer is suggestive that it HAS to be a KJ film. Who else would make such an attempt, that has to fulfil all the above criteria?

Remember Kantaben? Who started making us laugh nervously as we sat with our parents watching those scene in Kal Ho Na Ho? KJ's emotional investments in the minds of our public about gay-giri have been ongoing since then. It moved to award functions.

When SRK-Saif did their gay act at Filmfare Awards Night, and audiences digested it, we knew KJ wasn't thinking straight.

Jo bhi hai, these are thoughts in hindsight.

Dostana is a fun watch, and if you haven't seen it yet, you're not far off the mark to expect that the humour will expand from the Kantaben plank throughout the film. Still, there are enough sequences that will keep you laughing till your stomach and jaws start hurting.

My rating * * * 1/2

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mutiny in diversity

The daily commute in Mumbai’s local trains is also a great way of sensing the pulse of the masses. When it gets overcrowded and all you have is the train’s footboard to rest your feet on, all that talk about unity in diversity seems to become obsolete.

Deep rooted prejudices come to the surface and we turn into people with tempers similar to a volcano waiting to erupt. Some taunts I’ve received in the recent past prove this…

Like this man sitting next to me who got disgusted because he heard me speaking English on the phone. In chaste Marathi he asked me, “Beta, you're wearing a YouTube t-shirt, your bag has a Warner Bros. logo, and you're reading The Wall Street Journal (sic). Why are you traveling by second class? Go to the US, you’ll have a comfortable journey there.”

Like a Raj Thackeray look-alike from Dombivli, who was reading Saamna and borrowed my copy of HT CafĂ© only to tell me 20 minutes later, that he has thrown it off the train. “You should not be reading such stuff. How dare they publish articles on live-in relationships? It’s against our culture.”

Like this pan-chewing, pot-bellied man from Karjat who slept till Thane arrived and even though he saw me standing next to him, he refused to offer me his seat, because I did not appear Maharashtrian. “Thaamb re, baba. Pahile aaplya lokaanna basu dya!” (Implying, "Keep standing, let the Marathi manoos have a seat first.)

Like this Neral-bound smarty pants who threatened a sleepy-eyed Muslim gentleman to vacate his seat half an hour before the latter’s station arrived or else, “We'll do something serious about this! You've sat enough. You work in our city, use our resources and then you turn lazy when it comes to offering a seat to the sons of the soil?!”

Or like this group of overtly loud, talkative men from Badlapur who asked me to shoo off to Kolkata because I asked them to turn off the loudspeakers of their mobile phones, blaring loud Marathi folk music. (By the way, some of them own two mobile phones - one with the cheapest call tariffs, and the other one with the loudest speakers.)

I think deep down, we’re a deeply frustrated city. Our insecurities pop out occasionally in instances like these and that’s when you hear people mumbling: “Pata nahin kahaan kahaan se chale aate hain”.

Some lucky ones get to vent it out in a column like this, while the rest go blah reading it with a cuppa on a Saturday morning.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ghosh who talks (Ghai next door)

I'm late for a family get-together.

An old family friend has just relocated into our neighbourhood and by the time I join my uncle, Mr Ghosh for dinner, I realise we both are the last men standing. The rest of the gathering of about 20-odd people have already had drinks, dinner and left - my mom and dad included.

I'm embarassed for arriving so late, but aunty (Mrs Ghosh) convinces me otherwise and asks me to settle down so that she can serve us dinner quickly. A lavish spread of Bengali food has been prepared - bhaat, dal, maachher jhol, kosha maangsho (chicken curry), papad, salad, puris...the usual fare.

Ghosh uncle has just finished drowning a few pegs. He asks me to quickly "wash your hands and asses, wipe them clean and park them on the seat next to me". He is conversing with me in English and I follow his instructions religiously.

He's a bit nasty, I notice, but after a lifetime of bringing up a rascal like Jojo (he's a DJ today, but had bowled me out on a duck, 11 years ago when the pretty girls in the colony were standing by waiting for me to hit a six) - I can't expect him to be a Father Teresa. Jojo's in the US now, and uncle-aunty decided to migrate to Ambarnath, where life is much peaceful and serene compared to hustle-bustle of Andheri, where they brought up the rascal.

"I've been wanting to meet you," he says, as I sit on a chair, next to him. Aunty lays out two plates. "Your mom and me spoke briefly today and she says you're a very busy boy, eh? What are you studying?"

"I'm not studying. I'm a journalist with DNA," I reply, calmly. My skinny physique and lanky features have surprised many, when my profession is taken into context. Many believe its a profession for bearded saints. Uncle's reaction which followed, was predictable.

"You're a journalist? Full-time?" he asks. I nodded, smiling, mixing some dal and rice which aunty poured into our plates. A bowlful of chicken was also placed, and aunty asked us to tuck in.

"Hmmm, journalism is a challenging profession, eh? A journalist is supposed to know everything," he says, absorbing my response. He chews over what he has just heard. A 22-year old boy, whom he had seen only as a little kid several years ago, was now chomping on a chicken leg, while he was nibbling on mid-sized pieces. At 22, he would have spent most of his time jobless, sitting at Coffee House in Kolkata over tea and cigarettes, discussing Marx or Lenin with jobless pseudo-intellectuals.

So when I told him I'm a journalist, he didn't believe me. He asks aunty for puris and the way he tears into them, I think the food's getting massacred in his mouth.

"Who is your editor?" he asks, after a while. "I read your paper everyday, but I don't know who's in charge after Gautam Adhikari."

"R Jagannathan," I say, crunching on a papad.

"I remember Gautam Adhikari. He used to show up on the front page every now and then," he says, chomping. "So you report directly to this new man? You're what... an apprentice over there?"

"No," I reply, gnawing at the chicken leg. "I'm with DNA Money. Raj Nambisan heads DNA Money. I report to him."

"Nambisan?" he asks puzzled for a moment. "He's your editor? How come I haven't seen his name in the DNA Money, anytime? I do read the business pages most of the times..."

I tell him that he's the editor, so he supervises his team of reporters. "He writes occasionally," I emphasize. But I ask him whether he has seen my name ever in the paper. "I write more often than Mr Nambisan does," I point out.

He pours himself some gravy, trying to think. "No, I don't there is any Shonti Chaudhuri ever in DNA Money." I'm about to interrupt him, as I gulp, but he continues. "Lot of Bengali names I find though...Mukherji, Bhattacharya, Roy, Robin Ghosh.."

"Uncle, my good name is Arcopol. Arcopol Chaudhuri, you must have seen this name?" (Bengalis have two names for their kids. One is the good name. And the other is the nick-name - daak naam.)

Uncle looks up suddenly, moving himself away from his plate and gulps. His expression is of somebody who's prophecy has come true. "Ohh, so you are that Arcopol. You did some masturbation interview once, no?"

I shudder suddenly, at the mention of the "forbidden word" (atleast at a social dinner) and at the nodal connection point with my name. "Yes," I reply, smiling and a little embarassed, considering aunty is around. Uncle doesn't probe further. He seems to be in some grave thought. "But tell me," he continues, helping himself to some salad, "why doesn't this Nambisan write more often?"

I try to hunt for an answer. A spoonful of salad, helps me arrive at an analogy. Smiling at him, I say: "Now, Yash Chopra doesn't act in his own films, does he?" I hope that he will like my answer, but I'm wrong. He replies: "But Subhash Ghai does, doesn't he?"

I'm not pleased with the way this dinner is proceeding. "He writes sometimes, as I said. He's Subhash Ghai, then." I smile, hoping that this will end the director-editor comparisons.

"Raj Nambisan," he says once again as if its become some gayatri mantra for him. I'm a bit irritated. My stomach is nearly full and as aunty serves me two juicy rasgullas, I'm relieved. "Editors must be making nice money. I had a friend in The Telegraph and he would write under a pseudonym for many magazines. Mind you, he would rarely write for the The Telegraph. I'm sure your editor must also be doing the same, who knows!" he said, pointing the spoon at me, for emphasis.

Bengalis, I tell you. They'd be nightmares in chemistry labs, arriving at the conclusion even before the experiments begin.

But frankly, then I didn't like the thought of Mr Nambisan doing shady writing contracts. I don't think he does anything like that.

I suddenly pictured him running through the mountains, in a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. Hundreds of dinosaurs ran after him chasing him asking for his articles through pseudonym. They had weird names - some were called The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Mint, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times! There was a desperate dino as well, old and tired, and it had the letters BS written on it. But Mr Nambisan dodged them all.

He ran in the direction of a calm dinosaur standing in the distance. This one appeared to be vegetarian and with more brains than the rest. He wasn't eating shrubs or grass, but from the looks of it, this salt-n-pepper haired dino was simply crunching numbers. Mr Nambisan continued running towards him, panting. My eyesight is always blurry whenever I'm day-dreaming, but I think that dino's name started with the letters J, A, G, G, A, N or something.

Another rasgulla poured into my plate by aunty, shakes me out of my reverie. Uncle Ghosh is licking the ras (juice) off his fingers, still stuck with the Nambisan-Subhash Ghai issue. "I think I'll check out this Nambisan tomorrow. DNA old issues aachhe, na?" he asks aunty. She nods, with a look, that says, 'There goes my plan of selling off the raddi tomorrow.'

"By the way," Uncle says, drawing me back into a conversation. "Your father used to share a drink or two with me, when you were a little boy. He refused to join me today. Why has he stopped drinking?"

"He has?" I ask, surprised to know this. Finally, this dinner has come to an end with some good news to go to bed with.

"Bah! You don't know? And you call yourself a journalist." He shakes his head, cleaning up his plate a bit, licking his fingers.

As an afterthought, he adds, "I told you journalism is a challenging job. Journalists are supposed to know everything."

I decide never to be late for a family get-together again.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Washroom is a great leveller

A stand-up comedian once famously remarked that Hindi film screenplays never show heroes and heroines visiting the loo. My parents used to tell me “Beta, celebrities are also humans. Just like us, they also wake up, go to toilet, brush their teeth, have bath, eat breakfast and go to work,” but I wasn’t convinced.

I’ve seen films, so many of them, some even three-four hours long and never noticed any member of the cast taking a leak even once. I would have expected at least the hero to make a quick visit to relieve himself before the all-famous climax, but no. The script-writers have chosen not to allow toilet-breaks to our film-stars.

Last month, however, the tide turned, as it were. Tinsel-town decided to convince me that’s its denizens were human too; and this happened not on the screen, but in person!
Picture this: I’m about to go into the ballroom of a five-star hotel for a press conference and before I go in, I enter the washroom for a quick hair-check. The place is unusually crowded, with tall, burly and decidedly unfriendly muscle-men looking down upon me at my unwelcome entry.

I proceed to the wash-basin dodging three men whose expressions convince me that I’m not invited. It’s not until I’ve washed my face and casually glanced into the adjacent mirror that I notice the treasure that these men are protecting.

A few feet away from me is the reigning star of the day — cigarette in one hand, blazer on the other — combing his hair, ready to dive into another promotional event. The reigning King of Bollywood quickly stubs out his cigarette, does his business, and is then whisked away by his bodyguards. I feel like a storm has passed over me.

I stand rooted on the spot and look at my reflection in the mirror. My jaws drop and I let out a muffled scream, thumping the air, as I realise the momentousness of the occasion.

Since then, by some odd coincidence, I have run into several filmy, celebrity types in that most hallowed of institutions, the men’s room. Once I even struck up a conversation in the stall next door. I’ve realised that the atmosphere in a loo creates a strange level playing field where the celebrity has no option but to surrender to nature’s demands. It’s a beautiful way of bridging the huge divide between a celebrity and a commoner. They say that death is a great leveler. But I think the loo is even better.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I couldn't sleep that night

10pm. I trot my way home through the rain-soaked street.

A crowd has gathered near the neighboring building and an ambulance is parked next to it. The men in the crowd stand grim, talking in whispers. The soft cacophony of television sets from this cozy neighbourhood, is missing.

Someone has died, I presume.
. . .
Midnight. Dinner's over, I've curled into bed after a tiring day at work. The weather's pleasant, I don't need the creaking fan over me. I'm twisting and turning in bed - the recent illness has made breathing difficult.

I can hear faint rumble from the crowd standing in the neighbouring building's compound. I lie straight in bed and hear another ambulance entering the street, followed by a few cars, who park themselves, their sirens blaring through the midnight calm.

And then, the mourning begins.

Cries. Hundreds of them. Women. Maybe beating their chests, tearing their head apart in grief. Pained over the loss.

The howling gets louder and I shiver as I imagine the scene unfolding at a distance of 20-odd metres from my bedroom. I still don't know who has died. I still don't know how many have died.

I get up and walk into my balcony. About 100-150 people are on the road standing there, in a sea of white. A clay-pot containing the holy fire is being circulated. The corpse lies at the center as the priests finish the rituals. The atmosphere is swathed in grief. The women cry their hearts out.

But something's different here.

I've seen people sob at funerals. Weep. And hug each other at the inevitability or maybe the natural circumstances of the death. Old age, maybe. Or an illness. But I notice a certain violent aggression. Bahut bura hua, a cheesy script-writer would have said here.

And then, as if on cue, the street-dogs begin howling too. The melee goes on till 1:30am or so, and as the crowd swells, the women's mourning reaches a new pitch, sending a chill down my spine.

I've seen only one funeral in my family, yet. My grandma, who passed away due to Alzheimers. While we all miss her, death is a state that is welcome, in diseases like Alzheimers, which today are incurable. At her funeral therefore, the crying and howling, was nothing, compared to the scene unfolding in front of my eyes.

By 3:00am, the body is taken to the cremation grounds a few kms away, the crowd eases out, the mourning continues, albeit softer this time. It becomes clear that there's been one death. Its a family which we never ever interacted with, but I remembered that it marriage, about 2-3 years ago.

I head off to sleep.

The next day, the following story emerges.
The mourning was over a 24 yr old middle class Maharashtrian married woman, whose body arrived in my neighbourhood after post-mortem.

The cause of her death - Thrown off the terrace of the high-rise building by her in-laws, after she refused to respond to their demands for dowry. The in-laws are now being tried in court.
. . . . . . .

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Motoyuva, chhotoyuva

She cares about me. And my cellphone.

"Don't put it like that into your pocket. In all the rush and jostling within the train, someone will flick it off your pockets!"

Moms, I tell you. I'm getting ready for work. Tying my shoelaces. And then this.

"While stepping into the train, would't it be a good idea to put your cellphone in your bag?"

Dad and mum, both decided to gift me this phone - Nokia N70 - much to my delight and surprise, when all I was expecting was a Motoyuva or something. Watching mom handing out the brand new N70 from the cupboard, wrapped in its box, was a treat to the senses. It bowled me over.

"Your dad has already lost an expensive watch in the train. Somebody just flicked it off his wrist as he landed at Kalyan station!"

The N70 was a gift from them. I'd topped my college in BMM (Journalism) in my final year and also earned a place in the top 5 Journalism students in Mumbai University. The marksheet made them hold their heads high, especially after my extremely disappointing show at the HSC exams in the Science stream.

"It's an expensive phone. And I think you have all your contacts and phone numbers in it. If you lose it, you'll be in trouble."

I've already come close to losing it and damaging it badly, on a couple of occasions. But then, some objects are made for their owners. Like me. And my N70.

"It's not too difficult to flick it off your pants, I tell you!"

True. As if she's been a professional pick-pocket once.

"Your dad always keeps his phone hidden deep in his bag. That's a little extreme, I admit, but you must be careful. Keep your hand on your pockets protectively."

As if protecting a tumor inside my trousers. Good heavens!

"Go safely. Don't have anything cold outside. Have your lunch on time. Don't delay. And call me from office, sometime.You toh don't call only."

I kiss her softly on the cheeks. And give her a hug. And then touch her feet, as I step out of the house ready to embrace another brand new day. I love my mom.

Now, back to my N70.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How will India's media boom survive the talent crunch?

In what seems like a dream-run for the next generation of journalists - the so called beholders of India's democratic information ecosystem - finding a job is not going to the first problem he/ she will have to worry about, when they pass out of grad school.

Which one to choose, is the million-dollar question.

There are so many jobs on the platter and entry level salaries are surprisingly high, for people who are still not equipped the required skill-sets. Training courses for once, specially like BMM (Bachelors of Mass Media) in Mumbai, are light-years away from an industry standard.

And with the University doing away with the Entrance Test for First Year BMM, filtering the best talent just got difficult. By rough estimates, this year's BMM-batch alone, which comprises nearly 500 journalism students from Mumbai, will see confirmed placements of atleast 200 of them. What happens to the rest of them?

Some of them, of course, will pursue post-graduation studies, thanks to unsatisfactory feeling BMM, as a course gives you. At the end of 3-yr course, a student's knowledge becomes extremely theoretical and focus gets blurred. Even post-graduation or diploma degrees in journalism, I'm told, give you the same feeling that undigested good generates.

For example, in the final year of journalism, Public Relations as a subject is something that syllabus makers have criminally given a miss. News-gathering on a variety of beats, working in B2B publications, networking, source building and news-sense are some of the major loop-holes in this myopic course.

Moreover, for an industry which in the next one year is going to witness a slew of business channel launches - they desperately need skilled talent - the BMM course is doing almost nothing to ensure that graduates pass out with atleast a fair knowledge of operating beta cameras, collecting sound bytes, reading off-the prompter and editing video on consoles. The syllabus is crammed with too many things at the same time and timings allotted to lectures are too short.

Which is why, retaining skilled talent is going to be difficult. While there is too much training on how to write a good report and edit, et all., there is absolutely no training on surviving in the profession...on sticking it though. Almost when the journalist begins to get into the groove of his beat, he gets noticed. And getting noticed, it seems is the worst thing that could happen to his organisation. What will it do? Stop giving him bylines? Lol...

Wage hikes alone are not going to work, today. I work in an organisation - DNA - which started the wage hike in the first place. Three years ago, thanks to the launch of this newspaper - and a couple of others - wages across the board for journalists, sales staff, editors were hiked by 100%. Ironically, it is the same organisation, that today, is facing a terrible talent crunch, especially in beats like business where atleast a substantial backgrounder about business news is important at entry level.

And this has got nothing to do with the paper's credentials. Take DNA, for example. According to industry readership surveys, DNA is the fastest growing newspaper in India. Its readership in Mumbai is second only to The Times of India and it has left competitors HT, Indian Express, Mid-day, Mumbai Mirror, Mint and others far behind.

This gives rise to a simple fact, that department heads, HR managers and editors must accept. Wage hikes are no longer a criteria for retaining talent. The person is simply going to wait for the hike, take it and paste the numbers on his next resume as 'current CTC' and expect atleast 25-30% higher CTC in return from his next employer. All of this, within months of getting the raise.

Its the nature of talent companies are dealing with. Young employees are fickle consumers. Dangle a fatter wallet in front of him and they'll fall for it. Of course, perks like a 5-day week work routine and cordial workplace are a huge attraction.

Which makes me come to the question - what are some effective ways to retain talent, that is settling into your media organisation? Better pay-packages? 5-day week? Regular meetings? Get-togethers? Going out for dinner sometimes? Note: A journalist-driven workplace is different than any other organisation. Doing all of the above may not be possible always. Especially, for a newspaper that is growing and expanding into newer markets, input costs are very high, margins are low and salary hikes across the board are not the first thing the CEO likes to think about when it comes to retaining talent.

Share your thoughts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sunny Deo, Bobby Deo, P L S Apply Deo

Looks like I'll need a first class season ticket.

No matter how cheap deodarants are sold outside railway stations (Haan..bolo..eksau bees rupaiya mein do..!), Mumbai's Indians (lol!) will still remain stinky poos. Whatever happened to the good old deo? Rexona deserves to tear its hair apart. So does Set Wet Zatakk!

Coz, neither does the Marathi manoos apply any deo, nor the paan chewing Bihari. The Gujju uncle who boards the local train at Ghatkopar has applied powder before he leaves for work in the morning. But on his way pack, Jignesh-bhai smells like dhokla soaked in cat urine.

Mornings are bearable. Everyone's bathed clean, with oily hair. A tall guy like me can almost smell each one's hair and guess which hair-oil it must be. Ditto for shampoos, but that's only for Sundays.

The heat, however, takes its toll on the way back home. As you enter the compartment, into a semi-crowded human jungle, you can almost feel the blast of hot air - a mix of perspiration, carbon dioxide coming through flaring nostrils and the natural warmth of their bodies. But what hits you more is their body language. In literal terms, they simply don't want you there. That's second class for you.

Except that people won't spit outside at the drop of a hat, it won't be far too different in the first class compartment. Passenger numbers have increased way beyond capacity in the first class. People's disposable incomes have gone up, and with most companies paying for employee's regular conveyance, more and more people travel by first class these days.

Still, those red and yellow stripes on the body of the compartment are a dependable filter if you want to avoid spitty-arm, chest scratching men. And in the first class, the smell of the sweat is different. Can't say its bearable, though. Stale deo is still better than no deo.

Come to think of it, if you had to suggest a good deodarant to Mumbaikars, what would you recommend?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some learnings

Its been almost four months working at DNA Money. I've learnt several things - pros and cons of working in a big organisation, evils of procrastination, perils of laying your life bare in front of the office hypocrite and some more...

Some of these learnings have been from other sources - senior correspondents, friends and family. Some of it, I've learnt myself. Listed below are some thoughts which have somehow struck a balance with I've been taught and what my conscience told me.

1. Love your parents. They're God's greatest gift.

2. Work, like there's no tomorrow. Some people will tell you, "Man, you need to relax...Man why don't you take an off...Man, why do you work seven days a week?" Fuck them.

3. Trust your gut feeling. That feeling, when you smell a story. That feeling when you know your analysis of the story is going to be better than anybody else. That feeling, when you know you can do this story better than anybody else.

4. You don't choose a story. A story chooses you. Its spiritual. Some stories are meant just for you. Within your limitations, you can do the best justice to it.

5. Nothing feels better than seeing your boss happy with your work. Don't try too hard to impress him. Impress yourself and your peers. They're the best judge of my work. Every time they see my story, it should remind them what they have missed. Don't work too hard on PR pitches, unless they're exclusive. Your peers have been pitched the same story as well.

6. Don't make close friends in office. A workplace is a workplace. Keep relations cordial. The ones who make you uncomfortable, stay away from them.

7. Associate with people whom you can learn from. Associate with people who tell you something new every time you talk to them.

8. Ask the office bitch to fuck-off. She's been taking sadistic pleasure foul-mouthing about me. Time for a reverse sweep. Stop reacting whenever she comes around.

9. I must not try hard to make too many friends. Some will be best friends. Some will be close friends. Some will remain colleagues. Others will remain mere acquaintances. Friends will come and go.

10. Just keep working. Be high on work and knowledge.

Dealing with PR professionals

Be polite. If you do not see a possibility of a story, tell them so. If the boss has trashed the story even after you've filed, tell them so, too.

Lets face it. You get at least 10-15 calls a day in the form of invites, pitches, press releases. One can't carry all of it. And what's worse, sometimes it is coming to you after travelling through ET, Exchange4media, HT and others...

The next time a PR professional says this - Send me a list of questions that I will get answered from the client and then I shall arrange an interaction - hang up. In journalism schools, we weren't taught it would happen like this. I don't know how many journalism schools actually teach what role PR plays. Guess its the old school thought - PRs are publicists - they just make the communication longer.

Sending a list of questions is almost like leaking the question paper before the exams. And why, may I know, would the client need a set of questions about his own business? He's the best informed person and should have stats, history at the tip of his tongue. If he doesn't, then he isn't good at what he is doing and doesn't deserve to be written about.

On second thoughts, maybe the client really wants to interact openly with the media. Maybe he has stats at the tip of his tongue. Maybe the inside story is that it is the PR professional that is the snob and not the client - "Call up the journo, ask him to send a list of questions and get 'the client' to answer them one by one.." if this is the brief PR industry is giving to young PR consultants, God help them. I mean, is the PR acting as a dalaal here? A real intermediary?

It is at times like these that I feel PR has ruined that sacrosanct journo-industry relationship. The common perception is that, suddenly industry felt they need to communicate with the media in an orderly manner and they employed PR professionals. The real truth, though, seems like the industry wanted to show-off "how busy we are and you need to fix an appointment telecon". All in a manner of snobbish-ness.

All's not bad though. I've come across experienced PR professionals who have such a sound knowledge of the industry, that they know how to pitch right. Their insights are invaluable for my stories.

My heart went out to a PR lady recently who gave me her client's number - her client is a big-shot mind you - and asked me to call him up 'straight-away'. "No, you just call him up. He's not picking my calls either. Just call him. What's the point if I make it lengthier for you?" she said. I hope her breed increase.