Monday, September 28, 2009

An interview with Allah

With Eid festivities reaching their peak, I made my first visit to Mohammad Ali Road – the melting pot for majority of Mumbai’s ‘minority’.

While thousands of Muslims genuflected in front of Minara Masjid and felt the polluted exhausts of the evening traffic bless their bums, I had a chance to catch up with Allah. What followed was a candid chat about Islam, the possibilities of Google replacing God, the relevance of hardcore fundamentalism today and the perks of being the only God in the Muslim world.

Nothing much ya. You tell me.

Whoa! That’s a very Google chat kinda answer. You’ve signed up for a Gmail account?
Can’t say I wasn’t tempted. I’ve got a Wi-fi installed here. With so many Muslims now accessing the internet, makes sense to answer their queries online.

Hmm. My first visit to Mohammed Ali Road. Never seen so many Muslims praying together. Some faith, eh?
Yeah, I guess so. This period of fasting is a sort of cleansing process for the entire body and soul. It helps you start afresh, with a new zeal towards life.

I’m sure. But I kinda find this funny. Why is there such heavy police protection in this area? Since you’re God and all, aren't you enough to protect your devotees?
The cops are to ensure the smooth flow of traffic. And hey, it’s not that I called them here. Not my fault if some politicians spotted an opportunity in protecting their vote-bank. And c’mon, my friend Ganesha who goes for a swim every year to Chowpatty commands a lot more police protection! His procession creates chaos on the streets, disrupting traffic routes and everything!

And the morning after the visarjan, Ganesha gets washed ashore. The beaches are full of broken, distorted idols.
True. I’ve tried explaining this to Ganesha many times. The other day, I told him, “Bro, I know you’re elephant and all…but why do you make an ass of yourself by demanding a visarjan in the sea? Can’t you instill some sense in these millions of Maharashtrians who clog the city (and then our beaches) with this exercise? So much noise they make!” He replied saying that eco-friendly immersions are catching up, but it’ll take time. Sudden shift in behaviour can cause chaos riots, especially with Shiv Sena and MNS around. Swat a Maharashtrian fly and they'll riot!

Point noted. But hey, I noticed you called him ‘my friend Ganesha’. You know the elephant God well?
Of course! Why wouldn’t I? We’re both in the business of faith. I sell my wares differently. He does it in his own way. But yes, we do socialise. The other day, it was the three of us – me, Ganesha and Krishna – who went to the Kurkure Desi Beats Rock on with MTV auditions. Krishna is a great flautist you’d be aware. We also went to Blue Frog to bless Rajeev Raja, another wonderful flautist. Krishna says Raja is his own avatar in the making…

This is interesting. So you guys socialise! But you’re the only Muslim God and there are so many Hindu Gods. Don’t you feel a little left out? Minority issue?
Oh c’mon! I have more followers than the all Hindu Gods combined. Wait till you see me on Twitter. How can I be the minority? In fact, I’m the majority here! So I do command respect.

And you also have the largest market share. There are so many Hindu Gods, I don’t even know who is the market leader.
I’m not sure if market share is the right term, but I think we both agree on one thing. (blushes) Monopoly is exciting.

What do you have to say about the growing mass of people who are choosing to be atheists?
You know, its good you asked that question because honestly, a real man is one who makes it on his own without asking for my blessing every 10 minutes. My cellphone is beeping non-stop with wishes waiting to be fulfilled, ambitions waiting to be realised. It’s the listening part that is painful, not the fulfilling bit. At the end of the day, I help fulfill only those wishes which are sincere and the person has used hard-work, perseverance and honesty as the means to achieve them.

Ever felt like involving more Gods in your eco-system? (laughs) Are you hiring?
I think vocation Gods are the next big thing. Shiv is the God of dance. When Jack Nicholson dies, he’ll be the God of acting. A R Rahman, Lata Mangeshkar…I’ve already started ordering thrones for them.

Attrition amongst Gods is unheard of.
Hahahaha. Very funny.

Do you think its time Muslims came out of the ‘minority status’ image in India?
That should have happened long ago. But think about it - how is it going to help matters anyway? In the public eye, a Muslim continues to be treated as an outsider. How many Hindu-Muslim marriages happen in this country? When was the last time your parents were okay with you marrying a Muslim girl?

True. My mom says she'd hang herself if I married a Muslim.
See? In fact, the other day me and Krishna were at Leopold’s and he was eyeing a pretty lady at the next table. Her name was Salma and Krishna began playing his flute to catch her attention. It was an encouraging sign. Except that she shooed him away calling him a desperado. Turned out, she was Salma Hayek.

You’re kidding me!
Whatever she may be. But the larger point is – here’s a Hindu God who’s also on Facebook, can play the flute, watches YouTube videos daily and has a festival dedicated to him. And he doesn’t mind wooing a Muslim woman. It’s a great sign.

Does the Muslim world need a make-over? How about a marketing campaign?!
Bro, just because you write on advertising, do not assume that branding is the answer to all questions. Change has to come from within. After all, it's about being a good human being.

Millions across the world worship Google. And they believe in its powers more than they believe in you.
Interesting that you asked. Ganesha and me did have a discussion on this. I say, let’s wait and watch. As long as Google provides answers, its fine I guess. At the end of the day, its all about loving your parents.

Huh!? Where did that come from? That's a line from a Karan Johar film. You've seen K3G?

How? You got a TV connection up there?
Of course! Since cable doesn't work there, it's DTH. Direct-to-Heaven.

Neat. But tell me, Google is getting people an answer for almost everything. What does this mean for mankind?
Most of my devotees are still not yet familiar with Google. So that’s not such a matter of concern for me. Jesus may need to think harder about it.

What do you have to say about SRK’s detention at a US airport? He was questioned for two hours...
SRK is one of my finest followers. I bless him. And its unfortunate what happened. But a lot of good will come out of it. One of them will be the tremendous advance bookings for ‘My Name Is Khan’.

Okay, now I’m hungry. I'll head straight to the khau-gully here. I can already smell the kebabs and chicken tandooris. It was nice chatting up with you, Sir.
Same here, pal.

Can I add you on Facebook?
I’m not on Facebook. It’s banned in my area.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

We're two-timing all the time

Have you ever caught your partner two-timing?
By the time you finish reading this, you'd be pretty certain you have.
For the record, two-timing is defined thus: "When a married person is two-timing his or her partner, the two-timing spouse is considered to be deceptive and sexually unfaithful". It further says that most individuals who find themselves married to a two-timing spouse have feelings of betrayal, hurt, disbelief, anger and sadness.

But don't we all know, two-timing is not something confined to married couples alone.
Socio-demographics will tell you, that atleast in urban India, as much as relationships blossom, cheating could also happen before marriage. College students write letters to Dr Mahendra Watsa about it. When he's too full of them, he forwards them to Dr Kavan Lakdawala. And we read them everyday in the newspapers sipping our morning cuppa.

"Dear doctor, my boyfriend's dick is small and ugly. But my best friend's looks like it grew on a banana tree..."
"Dear doctor, my girlfriend sucks. But she won't suck. What's interesting is, that my neighbour will. But then, I don't love her..."
Drivel like this.
But as a generation which has come to understand Pyaar Ke Side Effects and laugh their ass off every time Rahul Bose looked into the camera and gave the 'guy' point of view, perhaps its time to acknowledge the fact that the very definition of two-timing is changing.
The good news is, sex may not be an issue here.

The bad news is, that the person who is being ignored in this melee isn't sure if the partner is two-timing, or three-timing or four...

My friend's girfriend knows that her partner is two-timing. But she can't pin him down on it. Because the 'dubious other' between the three of them, is always changing.

On some evenings, it is work.

"I need to finish an article; I'm still in office for a telecon that is about to happen.."

On some evenings, it is a meeting with a significant other. (This time, she can put a face to it, but lets it pass, because he is a journalist.)

"I'm meeting a potential source. If I get him drunk enough, he will spill the beans. That's all I need.."

On some days, it is his school friends who gang up.
"Baby, my school friends are in town after a long time. X is back from Infosys for a few days, Y will reach in an hour to make it for our meeting. Yes, there'll be beer and alcohol flowing, but you know that I don't drink..."
On weekends, it is some author whose novel he wants to finish. And on Sundays, he simply curls up with the rich spread of Sunday newspapers, full of features. Besides, the usual comment:
"I thought it would be a good idea to spend some time at home, with mum and dad, since they hardly get to see me on weekdays. So honey, not today."
I can understand that, by now, all the sympathies are with the girlfriend, because my friend has been denying her the pleasure of his company (really?), but hey, he's a guy, and as guys we're suckers for our own space.

Bottomline: Perhaps, my friend is committing adultery by loving his job more than his girlfriend. Perhaps, he's being a bewafa by loving his own personal space than his girlfriend. Or perhaps, he's more interested in broadening his horizons by talking about meaningful, bitter somethings rather than whispering sweet nothings.
So, the next time you're in the middle of a cozy dinner with your partner and you see his eyes resting for that nervous extra second on the chick who just perched herself on the opposite table, perhaps it'll be okay to not to read too much into it.

Women coo in pleasure when they see cute kids, pink sandals and tops that match, and earrings that latch. Men do their own 3-second anatomical analysis when a chick passes by. Mostly it ends there.

But what you must worry about, is perhaps the fax that he needs to send out as soon as he gets out of the restaurant, the PPT presentation he needs to work upon till late in the night (ignoring your phone calls along the way), or the passionate discussions that he involves himself in everytime he's talking to you about the new business pitch. These - and not you - are on his mind all the time. (And you thought the guy wanted to take you to bed. Maybe he did, and he'd have sung you a lullaby and put you off to sleep.)

But in case you do worry about his two-timing habits, you can always shoot a mail to Dr Mahendra Watsa in Mumbai Mirror.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My best friend's girlfriend is no film critic

She believes film reviews must be "short and to-the-point", because a reader "does not have so much time to read, ya!".

She's hasn't seen the works of Kurosawa, Ray, Majidi, Truffaut, Coppola, Ghatak, Benegal, Tarantino. Rattle these names in front of her, and she'll probably think you're talking about compounds in a chemistry lab.

She has never been to a film-festival.

She's 24, my best friend's girlfriend and a film critic with a website run by one of India's largest media houses.

Recently, when she reviewed the latest Johnny Depp starrer Public Enemies and described the movie with terms like "a below average film", "direction requires polishing", it seemed like a bullet had pierced through my heart.
A day later, Public Enemies received four stars out of five in atleast two national dailies.

My worst fears were confirmed. This girl was better off doing other things and had absolutely no right to be talking a a commentator about the highs and lows in films. I'm certain that the website she writes for has not gained much following yet. Or else, reader feedback would have fired her already.

I'm also certain that her immediate boss has no sense of film appreciation either, as he/she hasn't yet taken the pains to verify this girl's credentials, knowledge of film-makers, passion about cinema and views about film-making.

Recently I happened to watch Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Amores Perros and 13 Tzameti with her. First up, she didn't know there existed films by these names. Secondly, I found herself fidgety and restless, busy texting on her phone while watching the film. Anyone who has seen Amores Perros, and is even remotely close to having a sane opinion about films, will tell you that the film has enough to mesmerize and keep you hooked, blisfully unaware of the world around you.

But seeing her distracted seemed like seeing a callous examiner checking my answer sheet.

What's more, she'd reviewed Imran Khan starrer Luck recently. She seemed totally turned off just when 13 Tzameti was hotting up and gave up as soon as she realised similarities between the two films.

I'm certain she's watched zilch world cinema. And her passion for watching movies is arguable. I've known film critics who've gone all out to acquire DVDs of films they've got recommendations about, film-makers they've read about, only to be enchanted, impressed and sometimes even disappointed by the charms of cinema.

The lady in question here, certainly has very little or none of those traits.

Let me make a confession here. I wanted to be a film-critic once. But soon I realised that it takes a lot of experience of watching not just films, but knowledge about them and the art of making them, to actually make an opinion about them. Since then, I've made a consistent effort to watch as many movies as I can, of as many different kinds - the good, bad, ugly. Not just English, but Hindi, regional and world cinema.

At 21, I'd even applied to the FTII film appreciation course, but was turned down since I was told I'm too young to take the course. How much of Ray or Truffaut would a 21-yr old understand in a 4-week long course?

But its the appointment of amateur film-critics like these which completely pisses me off. My jaws almost dropped the day I learnt that the lady in question here, would be reviewing films.

I don't know how many of you catch a movie at the multiplex going by the reviews they receive in the media. Considering that these days hype about movies is enough to get netizens googling for film reviews by Friday afternoon itself.

Trouble is, Google News throws up the most 'optimised results', or links to film-reviews, not necessarily the most credible reviews. Wonder why Eric Schmidt could never get some sense of literature and opinion into the world's best search engine.

Because going by the results Google will throw up, chances are you may be reading the tripe my best friend's girlfriend is dishing out. Her reviews can best be described as the English version of how film-trade analysts like Komal Nahta and Taran Adarsh talk about movies - "First half was good, aggressive screenplay, but momentum cannot be maintained in the second half, ending was a disappointment, camera work was nice, and songs were situational."

The mere fact that websites like Bollywoodhungama have placed the coveted crown of film-critics on trade analysts like Taran Adarsh is an example of how clueless and shoddy web journalism in India today is. Its proof of the fact that one of the highest online traffic generating entertainment websites in India has completely taken its audience for granted.

Sorry sir! Taran Adarsh can tell me lots about box-office collections, but I do not believe he can talk to me about what was right and what was wrong in a film. That mandate has to rest with, and only with an experienced film critic. (Give me Mayank Shekhar, Rajeev Masand, Udita Jhunjhunwala anyday.)

Which makes me want to ask - what does a reader expect from a film review?

Some may argue that he/she expects only to be told whether he should go watch the movie or no. That'll make film reviews a one-paragraph issue.

But consider this: Time and again, anecdotal and systemic research has shown that film-reviews are the most religiously read portions of a newspaper/website.

When a reader is reading a film review, he's perhaps making a background check similar to what he does before buying a product. So without going to the extent of being boring, a reviewer must supply all possible details - background, relevance - before going on to make an opinion on the film. If its a must watch, why so. And if its not, why not. (An example of an extremely well-written review is here.)

In my view, reviewers (like the person in question here), who simply have no experience of watching films of the masters, are doing a great injustice to film appreciation, by talking to readers as just one amongst them.

Let us be clear. Audience verdict is best given by audience, only when they're in a large mass, and that's best given by a polling agency.

The film critic, in my view, must look at film-appreciation as an art, that it so wonderfully is.

It does not mean that every reviewer today must have seen the works of Kurosawa or Tarantino. Its a simple case of giving readers the right to listen to the voice of experience, someone who's seen enough in life and on-screen, to know the intricacies of cinema to titillate, mesmerize and stir audiences, thus making a balanced opinion about a film.

Let us not forget that a film-maker toils hard to produce a film, and let us not allow their hard work be ridiculed at the hands of inexperienced and highly opinionated 20-somethings posing as film critics.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

How WB made a whore out of Harry Potter

I miss Harry Potter.

Not that I was dating him or something, but there was a time not many moons ago - when the I'd been reading the third instalment of the hugely popular franchise - I was contemplating taking a membership in the Harry Potter Fan Club, if ever there was one. But then I saw the movie based on the third book - Prisoner of Azkaban - and I was left completely blah! by the end of it. I wasn't overwhelmed by the end of it, the trademark Harry Potter theme music that I'd come to love in the series' first two instalments had been replaced by something that resembled like a group of kids singing in a church choir.

Well I got no complaints with kids singing in the bathroom, or in the school bus or in the church choir for that matter, they may sing wherever they please, but how could Warner Bros mess with the theme music? One of the most important things that binds us to a super-hero series, or a whiz-kid series for that matter, is the background score. Superman Returns was wildly nostalgic, and much of it had to do with Bryan Singer's judgement in keeping the trademark soundtrack alive.

But that's as far as the music goes. The Harry Potter movies, by the time they reached its fourth instalment - The Goblet of Fire - had begun to resemble a hamburger filled with just too many stuffings, and too little a mouth to feed them. Simply put, as the books grew thicker, their equivalents on celluloid just failed to translate the magic. Shit happened yet again in the Order of the Phoenix - I found the screenplay too restless and hurried, and there were just a handful of moments which conjured up any magic similar to J K Rowling's narrative skills.

Some of you who're reading this may just sit back and say, "Oh, but the movies are rarely as good as the books!"

I'd like to point out that there have been some great adaptations, some which have been even more successful than the books themselves. I found Mira Nair's The Namesake particularly fulfilling and exceptional, as was Peter Jackson's The Lord of The Rings. Ditto for Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather series, and Sam Mendes' Revolutionary Road.

Looking back, personally, what happened with the Harry Potter series is that I realised that its all a huge money making franchise, a big hoax, and the producers would go to any lengths to compress, devastate and puke out anything that comes out from the Warner Bros. studios that lasts 2 and a half hours long in the name of Harry Potter.

Basically, they've made a whore out of Potter.

Unfortunately for me, these feelings took a toll on my further reading of the series altogether. After I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I abandoned the series altogether, and today even if I have to make an attempt to read The Half Blood Prince, I give it a pass. It'll seem like an exercise in futility I think.

As readers, we often picture the characters in our heads in a certain way, and believe me, the reason we ended up loving the Harry Potter movies so much initially, was because our visualisation was much in sync with that of Christopher Columbus, the director of the first two movies - The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. However, the Prisoner of Azkaban was the ultimate letdown since it was unlike anything I'd pictured - I found it too dark, and missed the candy floss imagery that I still continue to attach to Hogwarts surroundings.

After that sequel, they got a new director to make a film out of Rowling's work - and each of them has added his own style. Now, while that's a good thing, what's bad is that there's a clear disconnect between the first two movies, and the rest of the series. Some may argue that the series itself got darker and very serious - Harry's learning the Dark Arts after all - but that's an excuse for a production design that seems heavily borrowed from the Kate Beckinsale's Underworld movies.

The people at Warner Bros have clearly realised that come what may, its time to make money out of the franchise as soon as possible and close the Harry Potter chapter. While that may bring excitement to Harry Potter fans, it does not bring the promise of satisfaction of seeing a good movie.

A lot of us who'll watch The Half Blood Prince when it releases in theatres this month, will probably watch the movie knowing that they'll be disappointed. But the allure of Harry Potter, created by J K Rowling, cannot be dismissed by the prospects of a 2-hour special effects bonanza steeped in regret.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Macau’s sinfully naughty delights

It’s not everyday that leggy, drop-dead gorgeous beauties dressed in Miss Universe costumes stand in a row, clap, sing, cheer and pose with you, welcoming you at the reception of a 5-star hotel.

And it's not everyday that such beauties turn out to be – as my tour guide Alorino described them – “man in woman’s body”.

Indeed, I thought I had my Bachna Ae Haseeno moment, until they said, “Welcome to Star World Hotel!” in the most masculine voice I’d ever heard.

Such is Macau, and its sinfully naughty delights. The who's who of Bollywood who’re in the city for the just concluded IIFA Awards, might call the city as Las Vegas of the East, but in Hollywood parlance, I'd rather call it the American Pie of tourist destinations. Casinos, massage parlours, night clubs, sky-diving, a Grand Prix to its name - Macau is a playground of indulgence for adult travellers.

Alorino put it succinctly, “You want to make money, you go to Casino. You want to spend money, you go to sex shop. Vice versa!”

I didn't have to go to such lengths. But I'll remember my 5-day tour of Macau for many firsts.

Like, it was the first time I stayed in a 5-star hotel, in a deluxe room all to myself. As soon as I entered it, I spent 20 minutes clicking pictures of the room. And as I relaxed later in the bathtub, I felt like I was John Abraham in No Smoking.

Like, it was the first time I saw a semi-nude women pole dance within 3 feet of my squirming uncomfortable self, and my travel companions - female journalists most of them - called up their husbands back home and screamed in sadistic pleasure, “You know what! I just saw a pole dance! I bet you’ve never seen one! Muhahaha!”

Silly wives, I say.

Like, I realised that gambling in casinos can become addictive. Looking at the plethora of grand casinos all around – they are one of Macau’s highest revenue sources, recession be damned - one is tempted to throw in a few dollars and set the ball rolling in the roulette. Although I didn’t try my luck there, some of my travel-companions became poorer by several dollars in consequent attempts after having kissed lady luck at first go.

Like, it was the first time I had an octopus for lunch. Sure, I was overwhelmed with the deluge of prawns in every meal we had - Macau's a manna from heaven for seafood and wine lovers - but octopus salad surely made me feel I'd soon improve my multi-tasking abilities.

Like, the first time I noticed the sky in Macau has smoke detectors. Well, not really, but when you're in The Venetian, a mall-cum-city-cum-hotel-with-3000-rooms-cum-largest-casino-on-this-planet, you could get easily fooled into thinking so, while experiencing the delights of Venice in a gondola ride.

Like, how not a single vehicle honked on the street, no matter how crowded the roads may be or how the peak hour traffic might be testing the drivers’ patience. The streets are an exercise in discipline – no litter, no honking, no bonking.

It was also the first time I interacted with Chinese people so closely. I entered into the kitchen of every restaurant we ate at, thanked the chefs for the wonderful meal, posed for pictures with the pretty waitresses, only to realise that there's more to Chinese women than Lucy Liu. Not only are they as pretty as dolls, but they’re also mother to babies so cute that I cooed in pleasure every time I saw one.

There were times during this trip that I became so obsessed with clicking pictures of Chinese kids, that I'm sure the locals must have mistaken me for a paedophile or something.

Alorino noticed this, and on our way back to the airport, comforted me by saying, “Chinese women - very rich and pretty. You marry one of them and she give you nice baby. Training, training, it bring gold from Olympics.”

“They’ll be such cute kids,” I replied, showing him some Chinese kids' pictures I'd clicked.

"What if the kids look like you?" he asked, giggling.

My travel companions roared with laughter.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The frustration of a salesman in a local train

So many people have suggested that I shift closer to office. That I must stay in Mumbai, and not some remote corner of the far flung suburbs.

Time and again, I've thought about it, but disposed the thought, thanks to experiences like these.

My daily commute in the local train stretches to beyond 4 hours, and in this period I get to see things that corner office dwellers can't even think about.

Like the Ultimate Sales Pitch.

Picture this.

Packed local train, inhuman traveling conditions, the smell of sweat and body odor in the air and an atmosphere where tempers and blood, both are boiling with equal gusto. And in pops a salesman.

"Train mein baithe sabhi yaatri zara meri awaaj ki taraf dhyaan dijiyega..."

This is his playground. And he has to sell a certain number of his wares - whatever he's selling - to make a little profit at the end of the day. Note: Salesmen in trains have to sell at price-points of either Rs 5, Rs 10, Rs 15 or Rs 20. These are basically utility items, and often they're in pretty decent shape and long-lasting. Anything above Rs 20 sells in low volumes, since the average Deshpande, More, Patil has only few notes of Rs 10 in his upper pocket. The money's not stored in a wallet, its neatly folded in the plastic folder of the railway pass, or it is lost somewhere amongst the bundle of bills, scribbled notes and folded sheets of paper.

Buying happens largely on impulse, and a good salesman can have a field day selling volumes, if he's loud, convincing and he's selling a utility product.

So its about 8:35pm, the compartment is relatively crowded.

Our salesman makes a strong sales pitch, making many heads turn, attracting the attention of several drowsy buggers and rousing their curiosity. He's selling stick-ons - "you need not drill a nail into your wall to hang your calender or your jhola, a stick-on is all you gotta use".

He gives a neat demo of the product - pulls down a few glass windows in the compartment to prove - much to our expectations - that it sticks on glass as well.

As a seller, the fellow is impressive - he's allowing the passengers to touch, feel and check out the product for themselves. He's also helping them try out the stick-on on the walls of the railway compartment. He's dodging legs, jumping over the scramble of legs, making sure he doesn't fall on anyone, minding his bagful of supplies and ensuring that nobody's 'shoplifting'.

His price points are respectable - Rs 5 for one stick-on and Rs 10 for 2.

And for Rs 50, one can buy a pack of 12.

The day's nearing its end and much to his discomfort it seems, he hasn't sold many all day - so he's pushing the Rs 50 pack aggressively.

Bad move. People just wouldn't buy.

He gets desperate and for the next few minutes, he tries repeatedly in convincing people how its important for them to save their walls, and stick-ons are so important. But to no avail.

Some folks ask him to give some discount, but he rubbishes it politely, saying, "Saab, kam margin waala dhanda hai." The passenger doesn't negotiate further.

After much trying and pleading, our salesman gives up. And in his desperation, he blurts out a few lines, which are priceless and paint the true frustration of a poor salesman trying to sell a faceless product.

"Aap soch rahe hain, naya company hai, maal shayad nahin chale. Lekin meri baat yaad rakhna (raises his index finger here), kuch saalon mein jab yeh company badi ho jayegi, tab iss cheez ka daam badh jayega.

"Tab aap sochoge, ki uss raat train mein mujhe kharedi kar leni chahiye thi. Aap sabne agar iss cheez ko TV pe ad mein dekha hota, ya Amitabh Bacchan, Shah Rukh Khan ko isska ad karte hue dekha hota, toh phir aap jaroor khareedte."

I smile, as I hear this.

And as I look around, I find a lot of other people in the compartment doing the same thing - as if silently acknowledging the salesman's words.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Just shoe it: A journalist's revolution

"Shoe kar, mere mann ko, kiya tu ne kya ishaara..."
- P Chidambaram's humming this during potty hour

The journalistic tribe has had enough.
Enough of stupid answers from spokespersons.
Enough of beating around the bush.
Jarnail has done a Bhagat Singh for the scribes of this country.

A revolution is about to happen. Beware of Just Shoe It.

The headlines:

HUL chief shoed away from press conf
In what's becoming a trend of sorts, a journalist from the Financial Chronicle threw his shoe at HUL chief Nitin Paranjpe. The journalist asked him about advertising spends that HUL is going to make in the coming quarter, and as is the norm, Paranjpe said, "I'm sorry. We don't disclose numbers." Immediately after, a shoe landed on his face...

Hanmer PR person bludgeoned with shoe
In another bizarre incident, our correspondent witnessed the bludgeoning of a senior PR person from Hanmer MS&L. She said, "It was a press conference and as soon as it got over, a journo from ET Now walked up to the spokesperson asking him for his cellphone number. As soon as he asked for it, the PR person interrupted, "Excuse me, for any questions or information, you can mail me and I'll have them answered." The journo bent down, as if to pick up something, but instead we saw him removing his shoe - and began hitting the PR person very badly. Once he was done, he shouted, "Long live Jarnail, tera sapna nahin hoga fail!"

DNA journalists go shoe-shopping
About 14 journalists from Daily News and Analysis (DNA) today went shopping for shoes. Not surprising, since after the much discussed attacked on Chidambaram by Jarnail Singh, journalists around the country have been contemplating whether it would be a good idea to carry a shoe just in case the spokesperson dodges questions. Arcopol Chaudhuri, a correspondent with DNA was spotted returning from Linking Road carrying 4 pairs of cheap shoes. "I got a very good deal," he said, delighted, jumping in the middle of the street. "Each pair is just for 100 bucks. Pehenna nahin hai, phenkna hai."

Mysore Sandal launches footwear range - My Sore Sandal
The Mysore Sandal soap is taking steps out of the FMCG business, and its taking these steps wearing sandals of its own name - My Sore Sandal! A spokesperson of the company was quoted as saying, "Legend has it that a woman's most important weapon is her sandal. Journalism is today dominated by women, and our entry into the shoes business is a step towards women's empowerment and not just any shoe-tya-giri."

Advani calls shoes a western phenomenon
Prime Ministerial hopeful L K Advani today reacted to Chidu's shoegate moment saying, "Its very unfortunate. I've always said this and I'll say it again - shoes are a western phenomenon. India has traditionally been a chappal, mojri wearing country. Not only are they comfortable to wear, they are also easier to take aim and throw, when person is in distress..." Chidu couldn't be reached for reactions.

Online shoe throwing games new stress-buster, finds survey
A survey by Just Consult has found that not just journalists, employees at various IT, banking and engineering firms spend at least an hour daily playing online games, wherein all they have to do is earn points by throwing virtual shoes. "The best part is, I get to choose the picture of the person on whose face I'm throwing the shoe," said an employee of DNA After Hrs, quoting anonymity. "Its a good stress-buster, especially when I'm throwing it on 'large editors'."

No shoes allowed at press conferences, says Adfactors chief
The head of a leading public relations firm today said that he won't allow any journalists wearing shoes to enter press conferences for his clients. Mandar Behaal, in an email sent to his employees wrote, "I want extra security deployed at the reception. The moment you give the journalist the press kit, ask him to remove his shoe. His socks will stink, so spray some deodarant on them, and let him in. Check his bags to ensure he or she is not carrying anything dangerous." Some journalists have reacted saying they'd rather go to Vaishnodevi instead.

Chidambaram calls for caution, says pen is mightier than shoe
Home Minister P Chidambaram, still recovering from the ghastly odours that may have emanated as a shoe whizzed past his nostrils, has called for caution amongst journalists after India's 'shoegate scandal'. In a telephonic interaction (he refused to meet this reporter, after he came to know he wears a Woodland) he said, "We must not read too much into it. Let us remember that the pen is mightier than the shoe." This particular quote has made Chidu enter the category of George Bush. If Bush had Bush-isms, this was Chidu's first Chidu-ism.

Abhinav Bindra to teach the art of throwing
Olympic gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra will teach journalists the art of taking aim. In return, journalists will have to stop asking him just one question, "What after Samsung?" Bindra appeared excited. "Its important to throw pointed questions. Our politicians, corporates will have to offer straight answers to the media. The days of dodging questions are over." Sources said Bindra is planning to make some business journo ask Samsung MD, "When are you gonna send Bindra his cheque?" If he doesn't answer, journo will take aim.

Shoes that don't last, but blast
Delhi based Bomb-a-shoe Footwear today launched a new range of shoes that blast within 3 seconds of being flung into the air. Company officials said they wanted to capitalise on the resurgent demand of shoes from journalists all over Delhi, especially Sardarjis. There's a catch though: These shoes would be available only when the customer shoes his Press card. Considering its Delhi, that shouldn't be a problem, we think.

IIT-Kanpur launches a shoe that's a lie detector too
Young geeks at IIT-Kanpur launched a shoe that automatically comes out of your bags, the moment it senses someone faffing. "Traditionally such a thing happens at a Mayawati rally. We're expecting major sales before she gives the next speech," said Shoe Kriya Meherbaan, a 19-year old who masterminded this shoe. And as an afterthought, he added, "I think I'll add a special something into it that'll make the shoe beep everytime somebody says Dalit. Whatsay?" Game on, brother.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Happy realization

This darned chicken pox has made me realize a lot of stuff, which along the way I never ended up noticing. Blame it on my routine job where I'm overworked, spending about 16 hrs everyday outside home. Or blame it on my obsessiveness with being wired with the outside, only to realize the treasures I missed at home.

Sometimes, I think its good to disconnect once in a while and observe things around us. And that doesn't mean driving off to Lonavla on the weekend. Chicken pox is disgusting because it forces you to be in solitary confinement. And such quarantine makes you end up talking a lot with your mind. Some happy realizations happened.

1. My dad's retirement. He really reads the papers thoroughly and his mood is determined in a big way by whether my article's appeared in the paper or not. These days he's understandably low.

2. Moms are like dogs. They're faithful no matter how much you ignore them and take them for granted. I almost did - when work took precedence over family at some point of time. I hope I can reverse the cycle a bit. I'm glad to have been blessed my parents like these.

3. My maid wears the same sari every alternate day. But she talks too loud and gets on my nerves. So, case dismissed ...I've shelved all thoughts of gifting her a new sari.

4. There's an insane number of movies I haven't watched and simply cannot muster up the courage to watch. Like Sholay. Its been spoofed to death and I just can't take it seriously.

5. I'm a wasted bibliophile. Blame the Strand Book Fair or Landmark's salivating collection of books. I ended up buying too many novels and I'm yet to read so many of them. I began reading some - finished Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Aravind Adiga's White Tiger, Vikas Swarup's Q&A and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan's You Are Here. Decent reads all of them - White Tiger takes the cake, though.

6. My home - Ambarnath - is an isolated town. I should have known that everytime my cellphone GPRS showed my location as Kansai Village. If you switch off from the internet, mobile phone and television for a day, the world wouldn't have changed. Just the reason why its so difficult for a journalist to work from home - especially when home is in a remote town 2 hrs from the metropolis.

7. Earth Hour. Fuck it. We don't get electricity fr 6-7 hours daily as part of a routine load-shedding process for the last 4 years. Its become a way of life. Why the fuck should I switch off my lights when fat cats in Bombay burn the geyser and bathe? 'What on Earth!' hour is what I should be celebrating.

8. Water is the new oil. There are water problems all around. And bitchy society members waste gallons of water washing their cars every morning. You dumbfucks, I don't have enough water to wash my ass clean here!

9. Friends stay. I was surprised at the number of folks concerned about my messy health. And no, its not the usual friends. Some new ones - mostly women, here's their chance to play mother - have been texting me about what medicines to take, etc. Thank you, guys. Really appreciate it.

10. Brother is sentimental. He's 10 years elder to me and married, but his wife tells me that he started crying the moment he came to know I was ill. Damn, I miss him. And how!

11. This room in which I'm locked up, is painted blue. And my family did not even consult me before they got it painted 3 years back. How sick! This stupid colour is making me feel ill all over again.

12. Time to think. That's what chicken pox gave me the most. I've looked back at my past life, my work, thought about where its headed, thought about where I'd like it to be headed, am I happy in the organization I'm working with, where would I see myself in a few years from now...all of that.

Does that mean its good to fall ill once in a while? Maybe it is. Mom says chicken pox removes all the germs from your body. Dad says a lot of things too, but I don't listen to him cause he talks too much.

But the doctor says chicken pox is like love. Happens only once in a lifetime. I disagree. And this is the voice of experience talking. :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why water cooler conversations are on the rise at the DNA office

In the last couple of days, consumption of coffee, tea and water in DNA's Mumbai office has shot up. At the drop of a hat, one could see people making a beeline for the water cooler, or the coffee machine not necessarily to consume those beverages. In the process, they ended up discussing, probing and scaring themselves.

But honestly, it wasn't the drop of a hat that started it off.

I think it was a simple web link that did the evil trick. And journalists at this newspaper - by now, well tuned to chasing stories about which company is laying off how many people - began chasing a story about their own lay-offs.

(Reminds me of Darna Mana Hai, where the characters narrating spooky tales realise they are in one such tale themselves.)

So, everybody in this office is chasing this story. And this office today resembles a Big Boss set (not that we're locked up here) in gossiping about what are the chances of being eliminated.

Even women's washroom gossip is something along these lines I think. (Note: I did not eavesdrop standing next to the women's washroom. But I understand women well enough to guess.)

"What have you heard?"

"How many wickets down?"

"30 people? Who all from your team?"

"Oh my God! But he's a senior journo, yaar!"

"The newer employees are not much of a liability."

"Why the fuck did they launch Bangalore at a time like this? Someone told me, we've over-staffed there!"

"Shit! God knows what's going to happen to us."

"Does one have to serve a notice period? We get our Basic, right?"

"What's the point of sacking him? His salary was what - Rs 18 grands or something?"

"Why doesn't the CEO take a pay-cut? The top management earns in lakhs!"

And the works.

I could sense something was up when the day after TOI announced some cost-cutting measures on increments, the lights were on till late in the night in the cabins of the promoters of this newspaper.

The top brass obviously must have got huddled together to discuss what now. Its always like this. The market leader blinks and the rest follow suit.

Anyway, its official now. The pink slip epidemic has come home. And some livelihoods will be lost.

Nowadays, folks sport glum expressions on their faces and they break into nervous laughter when somebody cracks those pink-slip jokes.

We're working harder. And being nice to our bosses. My boss has supposedly told us he's going to try his best to ensure we're not laid off. All I know is that we're a young and inexperienced team, and do not command fat pay-checks. We didn't have the right to.

Shit. What a life! Just when my life's parachute was beginning to take off, the recession eagle punctured a hole into it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why 13B is an uncomfortable watch

With a subtitle that says 'Fear has a new address', a viewer expected 13B to scare him to death.

But then 13B is not your usual horror film.

In fact, pundits would debate it's genre since in most parts, the film amuses you on the strength of its bizarre proceedings, giving you the chills only occasionally and going on to become an edge-of-the-seat thriller in its concluding hour.

That's calling for trouble, if you know how Indian audiences have been consuming horror in the recent past.

In a few months from now, if the makers of 13B were to discover that the film did not recover its costs, they'd be asking themselves: 'What were the audiences thinking?'

There's reason for the skepticism. Simply because 13B is an uncomfortable film to watch.

For the last few years, we became so used to the Ram Gopal Varma school of horror - Bhoot, Vaastu Shastra, Naina, Phoonk - all of which were replete with occasionally loud bangs in the background score, powder-in-their-face ghosts, creaking doors, long silences and wafer thin plots devoid of a sequential series of twists and turns.

So suddenly when a 13B came along, promising to frighten audiences, the viewer although intrigued by the natural curiosities that a horror film brings along is still expecting recycled Ram Gopal Varma tricks.

The promotional publicity of 13B wasn't any different. Naturally, the movie was therefore not expected to pop up any surprises.

Which fortunately, it has managed to pull off.

Sure, the premise of a haunted house is familiar. The direction despite being clever in most parts of the film, is also tacky in some portions. The background score is loud and jarring.

But where 13B wins, is in the fact that it has incredible story to tell. And a solid script to back it up, with convincing performances.

Now with such merits, you'd argue that the film should be a blockbuster! People like me, came out impressed with the debutante director's ability to strike a gold at first attempt.

But for many, accepting a film may cannot be explained in such simple terms of a good story and a good screenplay. A film which provokes contrasting emotions while promising something else, is a disaster.

Which unfortunately, is what 13B also ends up doing.

Think about the possibilities. A bad thriller can turn into a laugh-a-thon. A comedy can bomb, if it fails to live up to its promise of making you laugh. A Yash Chopra film brings certain sensibilities with it. An Anurag Kashyap film has certain sentiments attached.

13B, unfortunately, then becomes uncomfortable because it promises fear and horror, and ends up providing a lot of nervous laughter, minimal chills and suspense of the murder-mystery genre, with supernatural elements thrown in.

So even though the viewer might be hooked, he's not willing to forgive the film-maker for making him giggle in several portions of the movie. And the director's not at fault here, simply because the sequence of events in the film, is so bizarre that its natural to expect a few laughs.

Which is why, people who've seen the film cannot seem to classify it as a horror film. Of course it's a horror film - ghosts, spirits, paranormal, its all in there - but they don't send chills down your spine the way they did for many years.

Things change, I guess.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Why you must never date a business journalist

A friend recently pointed out that now-a-days having a conversation with me is becoming virtually impossible, because I keep asking most of the questions and reply with a 'hhmm' and 'ok' and 'sure' and 'can you elaborate?'

In other words, my interviewing skills that come in handy in my profession, are now rubbing on to my personal life and before I even realize, casual dates are turning into episodes of Devil's Advocate.

My journalism professor was right. She'd said, "Once a journalist, always a journalist." Meaning, even when journalists are off-duty (practically that never happens), they end up thinking of story-ideas, looking for scoops in every conversation and casual remark. So much so, I would expect people to run away from scribes like us.

I've got nightmares, wherein all my interviewing skills culminate and spoil what could be a cozy date over a cup of coffee. Imagine, she was sitting right in front of me and a conversation that (Holy shit!) went like this...

1. So, what's new? How was your last quarter?

2. What steps are you taking to battle this economic downturn? (Hope you aren't planning to make me pay for your cappucino.)

3. That's a nice dress you're wearing. What was the acquisition cost?

4. Your operating costs must have gone through the roof, after you moved to your new apartment. How are coping with it?

5. And what else? Are you seeing someone right now? Any mergers in the pipeline?

6. I was actually planning to move into the suburbs. And I liked your apartment too. I'll share half the rent. How about forming a joint venture?

7. Do you like kids? I love them! If I'm laid off, I think I'll be a baby-sitter. So many kids in this country, yet so few people to take care of them! It'll bring me additional revenue.

8. Why don't you also take a Vodafone connection? I can call you for free, then. Helps manage costs, better.

9. just placed an order for a chicken teriyaki. What was the strategy behind that? How do you see it making a difference to you in the long term?

10. Is that a gold necklace? Whoa.. gold prices have crossed the limit you know. You should go for silver or copper, once in a while. Or just tie the noose around your neck, and show off the great Indian rope trick! Ha Ha Ha.

11. comes your order. Isn't this your first ever chicken teriyaki? How do you plan to celebrate? Aren't you issuing a press release? (The ET guys are sitting hungry at the next table, if you'd like to know.)

12. Hmm...yummy. This tastes really good. The price to yearnings ratio is the best one on this, I can already guess. Delicious stuff.

13. Now, gotta to be kidding, telling me you are single and all, eh? You don't like men, or is it that the recession has put your expansion plans on hold?

14. Two of my close friends are getting married today, you know. To each other! I'm so happy. Their due diligence lasted just 3 weeks, and bang! The guy bid for her! And despite being really hot and all, there were no competitive bids. He acquired her overnight!

15. I write about brands, advertising and positioning you know. Positioning is so important in relationships, I tell you. I mean, whoever said "We're just good friends" needs a crash course in learning the right positioning and also the right positions.

16. You sung really well at the Community Hall last night. The organisers are good pay-masters, but after last night's performance your share prices must have gone through the roof!

17. Excuse me, my phone's ringing. A PR chick is calling. Gotta throw some attitude, to let her know who's the boss. "Hello...yes...I'm in a meeting right now. Call me later." Yup, so where were we?

18. Those jeans are nice. They fit perfectly, don't they? How much did you invest in them? Come to think of it, how are you planning to improve your bottom line? You could do without the pink-chaddi.

(Run lola run!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All that is fit to print

"On most occasions, what differentiates a good journalist from a bad one is news sense. What is breaking news for one may not even be news for another."

With these lines, my professor from journalism school made it clear on which side of the fence she wanted me to be on.

Ever since, I've been holding her words close to my heart and have tried to apply better sense into news reporting.

But every now and then, I'm irked by requests from common folks - neighbors, uncouth publicity agents, small-time event organizers, and even well-to-do readers of this newspaper - asking me to report on things that to my judgement, are not at all news-worthy.

Some requests include stuff like...

Mrs Mathur, the aunty next door, saying: “Mr Nair on the ground floor has been stealing all my magazines from the letter box. I'm so tired of this, Arco. You're a journalist! Why don't you write something on how neighbours who steal magazines are the new social evil…”

A fellow commuter in local train, on discovering that I'm a journalist: “Sir, we are having a painting competition at our colony. Similar to Taare zameen par. Only there's no Aamir Khan coming. Will you publish a news item on this…”

A certain professor calling up to say: "We are organizing a blood donation camp in our society. Thoda coverage ho jaye to badhiya ho, eh? Pre-event and post-event…”

And the mother of all requests. From who else, but my mother. After realizing that dad's not handing over the TV remote to her even after the news bulletins are over, she yells: “It's so annoying! How can women watch Zee TV and Star Plus if men keep watching endless cycles of 24x7 news? You must write about these things…"

When they told me all this, I thought they were kidding. But they weren't. Sometimes I’ve asked them as a response, "Would you really want to read about your personal stuff in the papers?"

Their responses appear confused. I don’t blame them – they did the unthinkable when they expressed outrage about the relentless coverage about Prince (remember?), but still continuing to watch it, giving the impression that the tragedy of a 5-year old stuck in a 60-foot deep pit was an event of national importance.

It’s at such times, that I’m convinced about what Outlook editor Vinod Mehta once told me in an interview: "The reader is a hypocrite. Go to him for market research, he’ll say he wants all sex and sleaze removed from the newspapers. Instead he’ll demand more local news and international reportage. But, if that is true, then how come a cover-story on a sex-survey turns out to be a best-seller?"

(The above write-up appeared in DNA in the column Saturday Rant. )