Archive for May, 2011

Why’s Gautam so Gambhir?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 May 31st, 2011 Reetesh Anand

Didn’t someone say the biggest problem with Gautam was that he was too Gambhir? Yes, it was Sandeep Patil, his coach. Patil, a former national cricketer himself, had made this remark when Gambhir had yet to win himself the star status that he carries today. Gambhir is a serious cricketer, but is that “the biggest problem” with him? Maybe, it is.

As a cricketer toiling his heart out in domestic cricket and struggling hard to make his presence felt in national, Gambhir had shown a lot of promise. Unlike many talented youngsters, who fizzle out when tested in the national team, he ably lived up to the promise – in all forms of the game. With every great knock on the field, he only proved Patil’s point.

But that is the second part of the remark. He indeed is very serious about everything. But isn’t the first part also true? Hasn’t Gautam done enough harm to himself, his cricket and the national cricket team by taking his immediate job – playing as the skipper of Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League (IPL) – too seriously?

After a rigorous World Cup that India, with much hard work and ado, managed to ultimately win, the burnout that most players felt was not misplaced. And Gambhir, who top-scored against Sri Lanka in the final match of the grand tournament, had played more than his part. A silent crusader, he did all the hard work in the game, held the fort strongly when going looked very tough for India and built the foundation mounted on which M S Dhoni was able to smash the historic six to get home the World Cup.

He certainly was serious about his job.

But then came the fourth edition of IPL, the mighty glitz-and-pomp 20-20 mega entertainment bonanza, in which he was to stand in as the captain of his new team. He did it, again, quite ably, leading from the front and lifting from the pits the morale of a team struggling to perform. That Kolkata Knight Riders should even make it to the eliminator stage was a big achievement. Many nothing-less-than-trophy-is-good-enough Bengalis were, for some reason, not even complaining.

As his team bowed out of the tournament’s semis, the picture of a distraught Gambhir gripping his shoulder, pain writ all over his face, spoke volumes about the tragedy of a man who was so serious about a job at hand that he jeopardised a greater opportunity ahead.

With all senior players rested or unfit or not available for the forthcoming tour to the Caribbean, Gambhir had been named the captain of team India for the one-day international and 20-20 matches against West Indies. In the absence of Sachin, the maestro; Dhoni, the captain courageous; Sehwag, the ball thrasher; and Yuvraj, flamboyance personified; it certainly wasn’t going to be an easy tour. But who have seen Gambhir play know he is not the one to be taken over by tough challenges.

His IPL team says it did not force him to play, his physio says he must not play for at least six weeks and he is set to miss the Caribbean tour. The tests confirm that he had been playing with “serious” shoulder and groin injury all through IPL. His franchise may not have known about it, but he certainly did, and he had the option of pulling out. But, perhaps, he was too serious about his game to do that.
As India sends a bunch of young boys to take on West Indies, the team has just four members – Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Virat Kohli and Munaf Patel – from the mighty composition that beat the world less than two months back.

The outcome of the tour would certainly be anything but predictable. The young team may spring a surprise for the Indian fans with better-than-expected performance, or shock the world that a world-beating Indian team crumbled under pressure.

Of the two, which one actually happens remains to be seen. But what we have already seen is that the game of Mr Gambhir will be missed on a greater platform because he was seriously playing 20-20 club cricket.

In a league of his own

Monday, May 30th, 2011 May 30th, 2011 Aabhas Sharma

Player A: Three league titles, 1 Champions League, 1 World Cup, 1 European Championship, Five domestic cups

Player B: Six league titles, 2 Champions League, 1 World Cup, 1 European Championship, Six domestic cups

Now if I were to ask who is the better player in terms of trophies, the obvious answer would be player B? But if I were to say that if player A is Zinedine Zidane and player B is Xavi Hernandez, the answer would be A, right? Well, at least most of us say Zidane was the better player without blinking an eyelid. Let me just extend this small Q&A session to one more question and ask who’s the best player in the world right now? You’ll probably be asked to get your head examined if you say anything other than Lionel Messi. 50-plus goals, countless assists, dazzling moments of brilliance for over three years is probably why the Argentine is hailed as the best player of this generation.

Not for me though. And no, I am not going to say Zidane either. It is Xavi Hernadez, the midfield maestro who has been continually underrated by experts and fans all over the world. Well, he was till he won the World Cup.

I saw a lot of Zidane in his pomp. At least from 1998 – the year he won the World Cup – to 2006, the year he lost the World Cup. Zidane was a magician. He had a monk-like poise when he had the ball, a silky touch and he made football look like a walk in the park. He was a big-game player as well. Scored one of the most amazing goals in the history of football against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final.

One of the biggest myths in world football is that Zidane won the World Cup for France in 1998. Yes, he did score two goals in the final but forget best player in the world, he wasn’t even France’s best player in that tournament. But then that’s how the world of football works. Likewise Ronaldo, one of the greatest forwards of modern game is often credited with winning the World Cup for Brazil in 2002. While he scored plenty of goals, it was Rivaldo who was the better player.

Just like in outside world, money talks. In football, goals is the currency most people deal in. And if there’s one area, where Xavi comes up short, then it is goals. But then football is more about scoring goals, at least for those who watch it more than as a way of killing time.

The thing which separates Xavi from Zidane is that the former rarely has a bad game, dictates the play of his teams like no other. When Xavi doesn’t play for Barcelona or Spain, they don’t look half the team they are with him in the side. He’s made more passes than any other midfielder in the world in the last four years. And guess what? 99.9 per cent of them are accurate ones. Short ones, long ones, Hollywood balls, he can do it all.

Zidane could that as well. But never as consistently as the Spaniard. The thing with Zidane was that as good as he was, he could never dictate the game like Xavi does. If the pace of the game has to be slowed, Xavi will do it. Messi wants to do a little one-two to perfection, Xavi is there. You want a pass to reach accurately to the moon, Xavi is there. His movement, link-up play, turn on the ball is second to none. Scratch that hair of his and probably you will find a pair of eyes on the back of his head as well!

And the best part is he has the perfect foil in Andres Iniesta who is on the same wavelength. And ahead of them, there is Messi. The triumvirate is just phenomenally talented who do simple things so beautifully that even if they are giving a lesson in football to your team, you can’t help but applaud. But amongst the trio, take away Xavi and it becomes far less effective than it would if you swap Messi and Iniesta with say a Cristiano Ronaldo or Wesley Sneijder.

Xavi is the epitome a central midfield player. Flawless, so purposeful with the ball and he has a get out clause for every situation he comes under pressure – which is a rarity. He is the valve in the Barcelona and Spain machinery which makes everyone else tick.

Michael Jordan once said that the hardest thing to do in sports are the most basic and easiest things like passing the ball when your teammate is open. The fact that Xavi does it so well and so comfortably is a sign of what a great player he is. It’s time the world recognised his genius and put him in the pantheon of greats behind the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele, Johan Cryuff and certainly ahead of Zinedine Zidane.

PR and the art of selling bad movies

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 May 26th, 2011 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

I do not like the Hindi movie industry anymore.

It was, once upon a time, classy, artistic and made me fall in love with cinema. Thanks to my father who got me hooked to the works of Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Vijay Anand and many more, when I was just a child.

Now, the mostly uninspiring, unoriginal, sleazy and rotten fare that is dished out to us in the name of “The coolest youth movie of the year” or “the spookiest film you will ever see” demeans my status and identity as a worthy audience/customer to what should be a product of the world’s largest film industry. But like they say, quantity can never be a substitute for quality.

It is very well known that it has only been a very short while since filmmakers in the Hindi film industry started taking the script seriously. In fact, a senior and very well known actor-producer-director is known to never work without having conducted a narration session for the cast and crew of his films - so much so, that he is labelled a perfectionist and a meddlesome character by most of his colleagues. Well, thank you for trying to be professional and trying to bring in some semblance of quality in an area that is otherwise only known worldwide for its ostentatious set designs, costumes and unreasonably impromptu song-and-dance sequences.

The pointless PR and marketing strategies don’t help. I used to work for a film and entertainment PR firm, where we had a client who had made a terrible film. I remember the numerous and frantic phone calls by the team to all journalists with requests to not lambast the movie in print and call it something that would entertain kids during their summer vacations. A very reputed senior film critic agreed readily because she was good friends with the boss of this PR firm. If that is how jobs are done, may the Almighty help us. Ever wondered why the news releases about a movie have to have only superlatives describe it?

Also, clearly in this age of aggressive marketing, no one views this as unethical. They say, “we’re doing our job. Let the audience decide by giving it’s verdict.” Don’t they realise that by overselling this “product”, they are making a promise. And in not being sure about the product they’re trying to push, they’re most likely to be not able to deliver on that promise? But who cares? As long as the client pays, they’re only doing their job!

As for the reviewers. I cannot for the life of me fathom how they happen to pass off completely inane films as “something new”, “refreshing”, “bold”, “innovative”, “hillarious” (when it is a cheap sexist or racist excuse for a comedy), or even “witty”. As a child, I used to borrow every new release from the video cassette library, till I was advised to read movie reviews before spending away all my pocket money on films I did not enjoy. I made it a habit. I still used to rely on film reviews of two very popular Indian film journalists, till very recently I realised it was of no use. No-criticism and some form of quid-pro-quo is clearly the new norm in critiquing this art form of filmmaking that is spiralling downwards in Bollywood. Surprisingly, the same journalists seem to be more reliable and objective while reviewing Hollywood releases. Makes me wonder if it is because they do not have the “connections” there to push for only 4 stars and above.

Word-of-mouth publicity by cinephile friends I trust, is definitely more honest and reliable.

The worst is the trade analyst’s or box office report. Apparently, every film has begun recovering it’s cost of production even before its release. So if the money is trickling into the bank account, the movie is a hit. And if the movie is a hit, another equally ill-designed project is launched. Er, selling of music rights, satellite television rights and distribution rights anyone? And it’d be smart to ask for verification on the cost of production and ticket sales figures that are given to us, among all the other items that go into the balance sheet of a movie production project.

Which brings me back to my favourite topic: quality control. It doesn’t help to have a good “inspection” process or a great marketing strategy if the product isn’t sound right at the conceptualisation and designing stage. You cannot make amends if the basic concept of your product is weak and vague. I wish more filmmakers realised it and based their work on sound and original scripts, rather than grind old formulae to death.

Should we all file income-tax returns?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 May 24th, 2011 Tarun Chaturvedi

In my last post, I had mentioned about one of the various methods of tax corruption which is rampant in India. In fact, there is an interesting issue the government needs to understand. Whenever we sit down to discuss tax evasion, the government starts to give a long lecture on various mechanisms it has put in place to check the returns of income filed by tax payers. These are also known as the scrutiny guidelines.

What the government misses in this processs is that a large part of the income-earning population in India does not file its return of income at all. So if there is no return filed, the government has no document to scrutinise. That seems the safest way to get out of the scrutiny guidelines. It may sound funny, but it is the truth, the government has very little knowledge of this section of the income earning population. The case of Hasan Ali (the master swindler) is an eye-opener.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report said despite the meteoric rise in income, Khan did not file his tax returns for five years. He filed his returns for these years only after getting a notice from the Income-Tax Department in February 2007, after search operations at his premises. CAG has added Rs 4,056 crore more to the Rs 71,874 crore tax demand raised against Hasan Ali, who is currently in the custody of Enforcement Directorate on charges of money laundering. The additional tax liability of Rs 4,056 crore was added after CAG found several irregularities in the assessments of Hasan Ali and his associates. There were cases of under-taxation totalling Rs 3,370 crore and three cases of over-taxation of Rs 305 crore. After assessments were complete in December 2008, Hasan Ali’s taxable income was assessed at Rs 529 crore in 2001-02; Rs 5,404 crore in 2002-03; Rs 2,444 crore in 2003-04; Rs 10,495 crore in 2005-06 and Rs 54,268 crore in 2006-07.

This is an amazing story and people have refused to believe it, but unfortunately it is true. Whenever I narrate this story, I also narrate the story of an honest tax payer who earned a salary income of Rs 14 lakh and had all his tax deducted at source by the employer who issued a Form 16. He was a happy individual till he received a notice from the I-T department stating that he had not paid taxes on Rs 18,546 of interest income. Besides the tax, he was also asked to show cause as to why a penalty of Rs 6,000 should not be levied on him for wilfully concealing taxable income. It is virtually impossible for me to explain to him the virtues of being an honest tax payer in India.

Homework? What’s that?

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 May 19th, 2011 Kalpana PathakKalpana Pathak

People, I think, are too busy these days to do their homework.

When we journalists often go for meetings, the gentlemen and ladies expect us to have done our homework well — know about their companies or institutes, understand their sectors well and sometimes, even have data at our fingertips.

We don’t mind that. Many of us, in fact, know much beyond the brief the interviewee wishes to give us. But if we don’t know, we just ask.

Recently, when I met the managing director of an institute, he constantly referred to Business Standard as a “magazine” and said how its one of his favourites!! He wanted to know all about the magazine’s readership and its ranking vis-a-vis its competitors in the industry.

When I corrected him saying it is a newspaper, he looked at his PR, surprised. His PR, steered the conversation to the attrition in media industry. Thanks!

In fact, some of my friends in the media too find it ‘boring’ to do their homework. This, when we have most of the information available at the click of a button.

So at press conferences, questions are asked for the sake of asking. A common question is — Where do you see the crude oil prices are headed? Don’t know if even Opec can predict that!

Then there are questions seeking various updates — sometimes issues that the companies have settled also crop up at press conferences.

Last year, a friend who works for an English daily, went to interview a celebrity fitness trainer. The trainer, who had been interviewed at least 10 times already, asked the reporter what he knew about her. The reporter did not know much the trainer. So, she declined the interview.

Then there are some PR professionals, who call up to find out who handles what beat in an organisation. They are alien to the concept of reading newspapers, I believe.

Another breed is scribes who prefer doing their homework on the go. So they will call you any time and ask you to give them some questions, immediately. My friends from Delhi often call me, when they board a train or an auto to a press conference or a meeting and ask me to help them with questions. Sometimes on sectors, like railways and telecom, which I do not even track that closely.

Even more interesting is when you are given a deadline to message the questions to them on their cellphones.

Last month, this friend, who is also a very senior journalist, on his way to meet the India head of a software company, called my colleague to ask her if she could help him with some quick intelligent questions! She obliged, of course.

And the list goes on…

And now, organic teaching

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011 May 17th, 2011 Lipi Mohapatra

Do you really need books, the rote learning that currently exists, the pressure of exams and all the grind that comes along with it to get school education?

If education for children becomes stress-free and a process of healing, will the learning process be any different? Yes, says Sreenanda Parida.

Parida runs the Waldorf-inspired movement in academics called Education as a Work of Art (EAWOA). It nurtures the pedagogy of ‘Love and Compassion’, a curriculum that is Vedic and draws upon our rich Indian mythological traditions. These workshops are for children aged between 7 and 14. Occasionally, it is run as a parallel programme for schoolchildren.

The education system in India has been criticised by many for its inability to encourage independent thinking and creativity. A child needs well-rounded development of mind, body and spirit for overall growth.

Learning does not just involve the mind or brain. It involves every part of the body and is about how you feel when you encounter scientific concepts. It is about how and what you remember, when you touch something, for instance. It translates to learning when you see a mathematical formula solving a complex problem.

This teaching method in EAWOA is different as there are no textbooks for both teachers and children. Lessons are designed according to a curriculum and pedagogy, yet they are very personal.

An integrated approach is used to assess a child’s progress in terms of both his emotional quotient and grasping (learning) ability. The progress here is on an emotional level and cognitive level, and is not marked or graded, but is discussed with parents.

In this teaching process, there is neither rote learning nor any exams. “Life lessons are discovered and it’s not just about academic content,” says Parida.

She adds that teaching here happens in an ‘organic’ manner; it believes in following the rhythm in nature and always connects the universal rhythm with the rhythm within us. For example, like breathing. It happens naturally in us every moment without stress. Similarly, learning according to this method happens naturally.

‘Lesson plans’ too are like a work of art.

Wherever introduced, this method of teaching has found immediate acceptance and momentum. But it remains to be seen whether ‘organic’ teaching will be able to replace the ‘fast food’ variety of education anytime soon.

U-turn Sinha?

Friday, May 13th, 2011 May 13th, 2011 Sundaresha Subramanian

About three months ago, I had asked CB Bhave, after his last board meeting as Sebi chairman, if he was in touch with his successor to ensure a smooth transition and if there would be continuity in policy on key issues. Bhave did not answer it straight; instead he chose to paraphrase Lord Tennyson. “Chairmen may come and go, But Sebi will remain,” he said. Like Tennyson’s brook, I had fancied Sebi to hurry down the reform hill, slip past the vested interest ridges and join the brimming river of a deep, safe and mature financial market - without worrying about who came and who went.

But Sebi is no brook. It is an aeroplane. A brook can’t climb up the hill it gushes down. But a plane can go back where it came from. It can take a U-turn mid-air. Just a few months under the new chairman UK Sinha has been enough proof. Sebi is like the aircraft whose passengers are at the mercy of the pilot. If the pilot wants to go ahead he can. If he wants an emergency landing he can. And if he wants to fly back home, he can very well take a U-turn.

While the crew may be happy to come back home early, the passengers who paid for their flight may not be delighted. Some may even feel cheated as plans go awry.

Sinha, the new pilot, seems to be preferring home on at least a couple of key issues. In recent interviews he has hinted about a policy review and a possible rollbacks on key initiatives by Bhave in areas of mutual funds, stock exchanges etc.

Sebi, being the chair-driven organisation it is, is likely to find ways to turn this thought into action sooner than later.

To be fair to UKS, U-turns are not new to Sebi. In 2008, Bhave himself overturned restrictions placed on participatory notes, an offshore derivative instrument used by foreign investors, put in place by his predecessor. He also put in cold storage some discussion papers that were put up under the earlier regime.

More controversially, the board overturned an order originally passed against NSDL by Bhave’s predecessor M Damodaran and reviewed by a two-member panel later. A U-turn on this U-turn is currently playing on the nation’s highest court and relayed live on the worldwide web, national television and, of course, in Business Standard your favourite newspaper.

Bhave himself, once used the aeroplane analogy, but in a different context. Months after the Lehman crisis in 2008, Bhave likened the then state of the global financial system to an aircraft that had gone wrong mid-air. “You have to fly at the same time you have to repair,” he said referring to the unenviable, high pressure and delicate job global regulators are faced with. But what he never said was whether they were flying it forward or had taken a U-turn.

Facebook’s insecurities vs Google’s woes

Thursday, May 12th, 2011 May 12th, 2011 Priyanka JoshiPriyanka Joshi

Google knows what you search, when you search, what video you watched & shared and possibly from where you logged on. On the other hand, Facebook knows who your friends are, what you did in that weekend party, what news or information you shared between your friends and what apps you frequented on the social media site.

In short, between the two companies, each knows a good deal about you and your life online. But each company wants to control more and that’s what is causing the new digital age war.

And the bone of contention is who should get the lion’s share of online advertising (that will be targeted at you). Facebook’s 600 million members give the social media website ample data on what an user is looking for online and this allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising. It also makes Facebook a huge rival to Google who makes its livelihood from selling advertising.

Now, Facebook’s collection of data is commonly labeled as the “social graph.” And now Google wants to create its own social graph from its users. It is this social graph that is the crux of a social web presence. Consumers are and will continue to dominate what has value online as they choose where to spend money and time.

Google is desperate to break into the social platform. Remember Orkut where Google wanted us to “make friends” or Picasa where it wanted us to “share albums” or Wave or more recently Buzz where no one knew what Google meant. None made any sense, since people continued to prefer Facebook for all the different products that Google launched. In its latest effort to enter the social space, Google’s +1, which is a button next to the blue links on Google Search results, allows users to say — in Google marketing’s words — “this is something you should check out.” When you click the button, Google tells your friends, family, and the rest of the world that you recommended the link. (Sounds uncannily like Facebook’s ‘Like button?’)
When you +1 something, your recommendation is not only noted under that specific search result, but also with your Google Profile. But my problem here is that not many people probably are even aware that they have a Google Profile already if they are using Gmail, Youtube, personalised Google search, Buzz or Orkut.
If Google manages to position its +1 as a new social voting mechanism that will impact search results for users, there’s no doubt that publishers will want implement it. But what good will it do to users? In the meantime, Facebook reigns as the king of social and more importantly the “Like” button.

But something is making Facebook uneasy too. Newsweek reveals in its blogs that, “somebody [Facebook] hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.” The blog post further reveals, “Last month, Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page sent out a memo telling everyone at Google that social networking was a top priority for Google—so much so that 25 per cent of every Googler’s bonus this year will be based on how well Google does in social.” That’s desperate.

Various estimates suggest that last year, Facebook raked in $1.86 billion in advertising dollars, accounting for 4.7 per cent of total digital ad spend and will take in an estimated $4 billion for 2011. And, while Facebook has a 23.1 per cent share of display ads, Google Sites have just 2.7 per cent. All this because Facebook can promise better targeted advertisements to its advertisers and serves about 39 billion impressions each month.

Facebook’s ’social search’ was approved in February of 2010, after seven years in the US patent office — allowing users to access data from Facebook home pages. (They already have a search engine partnership with Bing, but it only shows links that users share on Facebook.) And, as seems to be the general trend with the web, search will probably become more social.

Personally, I am convinced that Facebook will add features that will let me search the web while staying on Facebook and at the same time, Google will multiply the features that will help me connect to friends online with just a click. That said, there do appear to be a lot of “misses” when it comes to Google coming out with innovative products – have they lost touch with what we’d want in a social network?

The politics of social media

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 May 11th, 2011 Devjyot Ghoshal

Singapore’s well-regarded foreign minister George Yeo is on his way out of office, and politics, after last week’s elections in the city-state where the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ended up with the worst electoral performance in its history.

But this is not about the PAP. Or Singaporean politics, for that matter, which will see the Opposition control the maximum number of seats in Parliament: Six out of 87 seats.

Rather, this is about social media and the recurring representation of its influence on contemporary politics starting, possibly, from the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

Even Obama, it would be fair to say, would not have perceived the dissymmetric impact of social media, first in the uprisings in Iran and subsequently, the Facebook-led political renaissance of sorts in Egypt.

The electoral results in Singapore, however, are a more pragmatic representation of the weight that can be assigned to social media, especially in a country where mainstream news organisations are regulated.

It was in these recent hustings in the island-nation that social media was allowed as a legitimate platform for the first time, and Singaporeans, with a known penchant for everything technology, look to the internet with unusual gusto.

In conversations with locals, I have been made to understand that the internet, or more specifically social media, has emerged as a sort of liberated zone for political discussions.

The Agence France-Presse today reported that “Nicole Seah, 24, who lost as an opposition candidate in Saturday’s election, had close to 97,000 “likes” on her public Facebook page on Tuesday, overtaking a page set up by supporters of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, 87.”

Seah, the report added, has gone back to her day job in advertising, but even Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is said to have acknowledged the role of social media in shaping an electoral result that marks a “distinct shift” in the country’s political landscape.

Incidentally, in the run-up to the vote, Prime Minister Lee had even hosted an hour-long Facebook chat.

For India, where the internet finally emerged as a platform in the last general elections, there are lessons to be learnt.

Moving beyond the perfunctory blogs, Twitter and Facebook accounts, Indian politicians would do well to consider social media as a medium for interaction rather than mere new-age compulsion.

Given India’s demographics, and newly-discovered affinity for technology, the internet provides the option of a continued political dialogue, and not just the usual forceful dose of rhetoric weeks before a vote.

But then, there is a flipside to being overtly connected. A certain Indian junior minister for external affairs will vouch for it.

It’s a shootout

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 May 11th, 2011 Pablo ChaterjiPablo Chaterji

Those who know me will tell you that if you put a camera in my hands, any camera, I transform into the shutterbug to beat all shutterbugs. I become almost Japanese in my zest to shoot everything – doors, windows, locks, shadows, shapes, colours, faces, dogs, cats, flowers, you name it. Those who know me will also tell you that if you point a camera at me, any camera, even a pin-hole one, you are making a mistake – the resultant frame will either be blank, because I would have bolted, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have got me dead to rights, my eyes will be closed and my face will look like I’ve bitten into a lemon. From as far back as I can remember, I have been intensely uncomfortable being photographed; I’m not sure why, but it’s true. I feel like a deer in the headlights in front of a camera, and I do everything I can to avoid being caught in front of one.
This is why I surprised even myself when, upon receiving a phone call from a close friend who works in advertising, I found myself agreeing to audition for the lead (and only) role in a TV commercial. ‘You’re perfect for the part – do you want to do it?’ ‘Sure, why the hell not?’ I heard myself say, simultaneously asking myself ‘Oi, what on earth are you thinking?!’ The part was that of a young executive, speaking directly to camera after work hours and describing how he’d burnt his fingers in the stock market, until the nice people at XYZ Financial came along and showed him the path to monetary enlightenment, no doubt charging him a middling-to-hefty commission while they were at it. I duly auditioned, the agency pitched it to the client, everyone appeared to agree that I suited the part (and the director was Bengali, and he was aware who my father is – I have no doubt that eased things along) and that was that – I was to report at Film City in Mumbai at 10.30 AM on 24th February, 2011.

The day did not begin auspiciously – the security guards at the brand new studio at first denied that there was a shoot on, and it was only after I made a few calls that they said I could proceed. Then I ran over one of the guards’ foot, because he had inexplicably wedged it under the front tyre of the Polo, perhaps as an additional security measure. While he cursed and hopped about, I went in and met the crew, who were busy setting up lights and the set; a chaperone was assigned to me, a bright-eyed young AD, and she ushered me into my own make-up room, complete with bed, shower and big-screen TV. The make up and hair guy went to work, first cutting my hair into a more corporate shape (which I didn’t like, for the record) and then applying all manner of funny powders on my face until I looked like a wax figure. Then it was time to go and rehearse the lines and moves, especially the latter – the film was being shot in one take, with four different avatars of my character interacting with one another in different sections of the frame, all of which would be composited together in post-production.

I’ll be honest – I was having second thoughts and was this close to feet cold enough to freeze my toes. Thankfully, the director was absolutely wonderful, as were the rest of the crew, and the relaxed way in which they were operating rubbed off on me too. The rehearsals went well, and when we began filming, I found that this acting business wasn’t too difficult – as long as you didn’t take it too seriously and had fun with it. It all worked out well in the end – the crew was happy, the client seemed pleased and I discovered that I could, in fact, stand before a camera and not make a run for it. Just don’t point one too suddenly at me.