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!)