Archive for October, 2012

Media: Look who’s talking

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 October 30th, 2012 Sundaresha Subramanian

Two people who have been hounded by media have attacked the media’s credibility. One, by giving the media a taste of its own sting and the other by thumbing his nose on media by holding his own in one of the glamourous car races.

But can we turn the question on them? Now if crony capitalists question the credibility of people questioning them, should such questions be entertained? Do two wrongs make a right?

I personally feel this is a calculated campaign by people associated with the government who have been on the receiving end of media onslaught over the past few months of scams and corporate scandals. While media has dutifully reported the attack on its own credibility, the allegations are just that until anything is proved in the courts.

Now, the people who have made these allegations themselves are facing allegations of attempts to bribe, doctoring tapes and defamation suits.

Just because some unverified video shows some journalist demand money, does that mean all journalists and media organisations are bought and sold? Far from it.

There also have been allegations in the past of paid news and ad-for-equity deals, which some analysts have equated to corruption at the owner level, rather than at the journalist level.  Even these are still islands of corruption in mainstream media.

Having said that, corruption in media must be weeded out at all costs. Not because these cronies have pointed it out, but more because they are using it as a shield to cover their own exposed modesty.

Competence is a bigger problem in media today than corruption. To address this, media organisations need proper training facilities and must be ready to invest in people.

For this they need money. And, that comes from advertising. Bulk of advertising is done by corporate majors. These are all the time involved in interactions with the government and its arms. Their businesses grow largely from getting access to natural resources like land, minerals, oil, gas and spectrum. To ensure they are preferred over others in allocating these, they employ lobbyists.

Lobbyists try to influence policy by cultivating journalists. Journalists get easy stories from lobbyists. Lobbyists slip in stories that fit their agenda.

Journalists, even those who are competent, get sucked into the game as it is a win-win.

To break this cycle, media should develop easier payment system on the web. Like for reading this blog, I should be able to bill your IP address some 50 paise. If you think it’s worth more, you should be able to credit it to the Business Standard bank account. While dreaming, you don’t need to sound credible. Do you?

Yash Chopra: School of rebellion and romance

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 October 22nd, 2012 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

You don’t expect tragedy to strike when you are at the country’s premier film festival, celebrating cinema. Somewhere halfway through the screening that I was attending, the incessant alerts on my phone led me to check it. It took me a good ten minutes to come back to what was happening on the screen in front of me. Some may mock me for sounding over dramatic, but I had completely lost all interest in the film. The reason for all the romance in my life - Yash Chopra - was dead.

The two German ladies next to me in the theatre seemed shocked when they heard the news and began a conversation about YashRaj Films with me and a few others around us. It was hard not to notice how they knew so much about Bollywood, and particularly, Yashji’s films. That, is the magic and the legacy that he has left behind.

The King of Romance is a kind of a misnomer for Yashji. He flouted the rules in a different way - questioning basic human feelings in contexts of everything that the society has always labelled immoral and illicit. And he used a language that did not offend anyone, but made his audience sit up and think about the bases of these societal norms that define right and wrong. Pick a movie out of his very impressive filmography and you will know exactly why he will always be among the finest Bollywood filmmakers.

Yashji gave us the ‘angry young man’ in Deewar, the suspense thriller sans the song and dance routine in Ittefaq and an India-Pakistan partition drama Dharmaputra, which made Shashi Kapoor an actor to reckon with. His first directorial venture Dhool ka Phool was about an illegitimate Hindu-born child being raised by a Muslim. Daag looked closely at polygamy. The multi-starrer blockbuster Waqt which he made with brother B R Chopra launched the ‘lost and found’ formula, which inspired another slew of hits in the industry. Deewar and Trishul are what India’s children of the 70’s swear by — they too raise questions about means and ends, an important moral dilemma that the generation then was faced with.

Then there were his classic romances. Silsila and Kabhi Kabhie explored pre-marital and extra-marital relationships. Mashaal is a violent and dramatic cult classic that stands testimony to the fact that Yashji was never genre-bound. Chandni and Lamhe celebrated his position as the master of relationships. While the former was a raging hit, the latter had received a lot of flak from the Indian audience at the time of its release. It was uncomfortable for the homegrown Indians to watch an inter-generation romance. Critics and the overseas audience were in awe of a movie that was very clearly very ahead of its time. Lamhe is for me, and as confessed by Yashji himself, his best work ever.

Darr produced a generation of obsessed lovers. The impact of the film was such that one could suddenly see desperate declarations of love painted across walls. people talked about how someone had sent them a love letter written in blood, and stalking to scare became the new way to win your lady love. And another favourite of mine, Dil To Paagal Hai is Swiss-cheesy poetry in motion and I mean that as a serious compliment. I dare anyone to make a film with that kind of dialogue, dance and drama and not ruin it. But then again, maybe it has been imitated so many times that it now seems cheesy. I remember being enthralled by the movie, having gone to watch it on the first day itself. Veer Zaara was about lovers separated for over 20 years by border conflicts. It didn’t work for most, but I know a large group of people who still religiously watch it when it plays on TV.

And of course there were the songs in his films. Composed brilliantly, sung most beautifully and picturised perfectly in flowing chiffons, vibrant hues of the rainbow and locales that made Holland, Switzerland, UK and the mustard fields of Punjab every newly-married couple’s honeymoon destinations. This list of songs deserves a separate playlist on every Bollywood junkie’s music player.

It is definitely worth a mention that Yashji also produced his son Aditya Chopra’s directorial debut Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which recently completed 800 weeks of screening at the Maratha Mandir in Mumbai.

Going back to my first few lines, why I feel this sense of loss you may ask. Confession time - I am a hopeless romantic. I give credit for that to the Yash Chopra school of film-making. That is what Yashji was teaching my generation when I was growing up. Chandni, Lamhe, Parampara, Yeh Dillagi and Dil To Paagal Hai were my textbooks on aesthetics, fashion, charm, songs, dance moves, romance and the whole idea of love - the kind that makes you feel like a warm, gooey, sweet marshmallow inside, or like it is your “do or die” mission in life. Or even in the way when you know exactly where your heart is broken but you refuse to mend it only because you find a strange wholesomeness in that imperfection and pain.

I thought I was done with romance. But only because I am so thankful to the soft-spoken gentleman that Yashji was, I know I will watch Jab Tak Hai Jaan, his last film as director, as said in an interview with Shah Rukh Khan on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Look at life’s cruel ironies here — how his declaration played out and what he had named his film.

If not for Yashji’s teachings of love and romance, a vast majority of Indians, myself included, would have been a big bunch of cynics — just wasting life, having nothing new to look forward to and having nothing happy to hope for. His brand of love will make the quintessential Bollywood fan’s world always go round. He is an institution. And like all institutions, his philosophy will carry on inspiring generations.

A sprained ankle and Hauz Khas village

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 October 18th, 2012 Nitin Sreedhar

One of the most important things to keep in mind while writing a blog I think, is to keep it nice and simple and to write in a way that makes it easy for the reader to grasp the true meaning of what you really want to convey.

Wednesday started as usual with the routine morning jog with my cousin, where I have this tendency of putting my ankles at the mercy of the park’s rugged terrain. But somehow I managed to escape the jogging session with my ankles intact.

Back home, I got a call from one of my closest friend asking me to hop along for lunch at Hauz Khas village. I completed my post graduation from one of India’s most coveted institutes located near Hauz Khas. I always heard my batchmates singing praises about the place, but I never managed to reach the ‘village’ part of it. I decided to join her for lunch and asked her to meet me at New Delhi’s most cherished meeting point — Connaught Place — which is currently in a shambles. I happened to reach before and decided to grab a couple of orchids for my friend from a florist who stays open 24X7. Done with picking up the flowers, I was stepping out of the florist’s shop when he called me up from behind to fill up a feedback form. With my face turned one side and my feet the other, I landed awkwardly on my right ankle, tweaking it. I could feel a gush of pain in my ankle.

With a couple of orchids in my hand, I somehow managed to limp my way into the bustling Rajiv Chowk metro station. A direct, crowded metro got us to Green Park from where an auto-rickshaw took us to our destination.

At first look, Hauz Khas village looked like your average hangout zone, nestled safely next to the Hauz Khas fort. But as you start walking inside those narrow decorated alleys you get to see the real side of the village. There is an armada of stores inside. The first one that caught my eye was a shop located in a basement. The entrance of the shop was laden with posters from yesteryear Bollywood flicks. Everything from Mother India to Mughal-e-azam.

KUZART LANE

Our first stop was the magnificent Kuzart Lane — an art gallery cum café. The entrance to the lane is spell bounding. A dark alley illuminated with numerous light bulbs hanging from the roof, perfectly placed in one line. On either side of the lane are two walls, which have been decorated with paintings from various artists. Most of them would be a treat for any art lover as they are available at much cheaper prices than the original price which is of course mentioned on every painting that is clinging to the colourful wall.

The café is in itself a separate entity. It has been built and designed exquisitely. The walls painted in the form of a huge bird which bears beautiful colours. On the other wall in the café are two unique guitars: each with a painting etched onto it. The menu has a variety of snacks, main course meals and sparkling beverages to go along with it and add to it the melodious playlist that keeps producing one track after the other. The Kuzart café shouldn’t chalk out much out of your pocket.

After a hefty lunch at the Kuzart, we wandered again, though, this time to find another place called Elma’s Bakery. It sounded pretty neat to me, whereas my friend was anxious to see and try the bakery as she had read about it quite frequently.

ELMA’S BAKERY

After walking for a good few minutes, I could see a small board peeking from behind another one, which read Elma’s Bakery. My friend jumped as if she had been awarded the Pulitzer. As we climbed the stairs of the bakery, I could sense the amazing aroma that was engulfing the walk. A mixed aroma of cream, chocolate and coffee surrounded us as we entered the bakery. The place has been bought together very nicely and has been given the look of an old British house. With comfortable chairs, paintings, huge windows with plants climbing on them and probably the most prominent part of the café, a soothing white piano at the end of the room. The menu at Elma’s is classy. You have tea — almost all sorts of tea. Its like, you name it they have it. A bout of hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant was what Elma’s offered us at our first visit. Even the high tea at the bakery was impressive.

Anyone who is looking for calmness along with a pinch of class should definitely pay visit to Elma’s Bakery. Albeit, a tad expensive, it is worth every single penny.

These are just two of the many places that the Hauz Khas village has to offer. And at the end of the day, the pain in the ankle really didn’t matter. I am sure to return to the village for more experiences, if nothing but to buy a few vintage Bollywood posters.

Less than a crore is so ‘LS’

Thursday, October 18th, 2012 October 18th, 2012 Joydeep Ghosh

Indians have always been extremely conscious about social standing. It began with caste, graduated to class and now, finds expression in the euphemism of ‘status’.

Art imitates life and the best reflection of the Indian obsession with status is seen in cinema. The rich girl who falls in love with the poor guy or vice versa is always told “apne khandaan ke izzat ke bare mein socha hota (you should have thought of your family’s status).” Or, “iski aukaat kya hain (what’s his standing?)” – so LS (low standard).

Anyway, the good part is that the fathers/brothers/uncles in most Indian movies have a change of heart and support the marriage in the end.

Sometimes, even the guy/girl becomes immensely rich/Miss World in minutes to become acceptable.

But this consciousness about status is not just limited to marriage, it extends to ordinary life too. A person with a supposedly high status involved in a petty crime is denounced as “chuha maarke haath ganda kiya (dirtied hands killing a mouse)” – so LS.

In many other countries, society does not look at the status of the offender. So punishments are doled out in the US to celebrities or politicians, according to the crime, which could be community service or even jail.

A Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have done community service, Martha Stewart served a jail term. Recently, Scout Willis (daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis) was given two days’ community service for public drinking and carrying a fake ID. Even politicians have not been spared.

US Senator John Ensign resigned for violating ethics by paying the family after having an affair. In India, people would snigger at such offences – so LS, many would say.

No wonder, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma’s comment on Monday that Cabinet colleague and Law Minister Salman Khurshid would not indulge in a scam for an amount as small as Rs 71 lakh does not come as a surprise – So LS…

And while Khurshid has filed a defamation suit against the publication, by trivialising the issue, his colleagues are not helping him at all. Someone should tell them — using another borrowed line — it’s not about money, honey.

Marketing blitz

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 October 16th, 2012 Sadiya Upade

You just need to turn on the idiot box nowadays to be given an array of advice. On a food channel, it goes ‘Now we put in the X brand ginger garlic paste…this paste is highly fresh, made from natural ingredients’ and on it goes. Switch the channel and you have Amitabh Bachchan trying to fullfil every whim and fancy of KBC contestants albeit with much grace.

Switch the channels some more and, as of now, you will find Karan Johar and the young brigade of ‘Student of the Year’ giggling or showing off their six-pack abs. Everywhere you see there is bombardment of celebrities and brands in your face. And that’s not speaking of the multitude of ads in between.

Switch off the idiot box, go online and you will find these very people claiming your wall for themselves. Only respite is that it’s not as long drawn out as the TV. The multiple fan pages, company pages, contests and promotions on Facebook, make up more than half of the news feed of an average user. However, on the other hand, one gets a chance to happily revel in AB’s reply on your birthday wishes. On the all-hailing Twitter, it is the same — your chance to connect with the who’s who of Bollywood, tennis and pretty much all sectors.

Did people ever talk about dilution of brands, celebrities? Of course, they did. But tell that to the 30 lakh plus followers of AB or the 8.3 million-plus followers of Sachin Tendulkar on Facebook. I guess, it just feels nice to get a piece of the pie.

In all this marketing mela, authors are not far behind. You will find plenty of authors on Twitter. You have Nicholas Sparks quizzing you about his books on Twitter, Paulo Coelho with his one liners, Amitav Ghosh and many others.

Is it a good phenomenon? The elusive chance of getting to interact with people you look upto, seek their advice, pour in your admiration and the rest? Maybe. Maybe not. For me, I miss the reclusive writer. Wonder if he has also succumbed to the glamour of marketing.

Hold on, Mr Kejriwal

Monday, October 15th, 2012 October 15th, 2012 Jyoti MukulJyoti Mukul

There is more to the political discourse these days than just corruption charges. It has also come to be a repertory, devoid of inhibitions and full of newer and interesting phrases. So you had Vadra taking the help of “bananas” and “mangoes” to express his anguish against those questioning him and then law minister Salman Khurshid terming Arvind Kejriwal, activist turned politician, a “guttersnipe”. While every day is turning out to be a field day for Kejriwal, leaving the ones targeted by him quite exasperated, if not for these terms, a certain fatigue could have easily crept into the corruption debate.

Looking back, India Against Corruption may have very successfully put the corruption issue right in the front of us ever since the Jan Lok Pal agitation began last year, but at that time there was a lot of convincing that needed to be done. Doses of CAG reports too helped in building up the atmosphere. This year, the strategy of IAC has been to target individuals levelling charges against them and then actually running faster than probably it should to move on to the next man on the agenda. As has been with allegations against Khurshid, there has been a bit of mixing up of facts leaving many to believe that Kejirwal was relying more on a TV sting operation rather than his own independent verification. Coming as it did within days of an expose on Robert Vadra , it quite unintentionally took away the spotlight away from the Gandhi family’s son-in-law.

There is a certain pause which is missing, leaving one to wonder whether the everyday new expose policy is really serving any purpose. IAC needs to pause and stick on to issues and not probably jump on to another. Kejriwal seems to be a man possessed who is making things difficult for politicians but at the same time turning the pages too fast. It may not be wrong to say that in just about few days, his diatribes may not be taken seriously if this continues to be the pace.

For taking on politicians , who have been in power and know the tricks of the trade fully well, an emotive Kejriwal without a strategy may just end up being media’s source of latest in breaking news rather than an actual game changer. With corruption already a well-accepted thing among many Indians who either pay their way to get their work done or are themselves deep into easy money with loads of tolerance and envy for relatives who flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, corruption may just end up being a topic for television discussions. Between now and last year, in any case, Kerjriwal’s barbs, modelled on media’s investigative style, have overtaken the Anna phenomena, Jan Lok Pal demand has been forgotten and now it is just a race for elections where someone is sticking on to the corruption issue without realising politics has no one shade.

The new President and economic reforms

Thursday, October 11th, 2012 October 11th, 2012 Tarun Chaturvedi

Last week, a colleague of mine who teaches in a university in Belgium, was asked to prepare a paper on the recent reforms unleashed by the Indian government. The poor guy has no knowledge of India and so reluctantly accepted the assignment. This is what he sent me for checking:

With the new President taking charge at Raisina Hills, the reform juggernaut has started rolling and that too rolling pretty fast. First came the announcement to permit FDI in multi-brand retail and the steep increase in diesel price accompanied with the cap on LPG cylinders. Not only that, from 1st of October, the rail fares are also being hiked because of the additional levy of service tax. These have been tough and unpopular decisions and in the process the government has lost an ally got itself converted into a minority government but has stood its ground firmly. Surprisingly, no roll back has been hinted and now it seems the decisions have sunk in and settled.

Again, in the last few days, the government has okayed FDI in aviation and insurance and these measures have come as a much needed breather to some of the bleeding industries and in turn has acted as major relief to the banks who had lent to these industries. The government has gone ahead and announced a restructuring of the State Electricity Boards which was a much awaited exercise.

Now we read that the government is planning a new method of implementing the subsidy schemes by which the targeting is much better and the existing leakages in the subsidy schemes are plugged. In short, the subject for whom the subsidy has been planned gets it straight in his bank account from the government. Another brilliant move which when implemented will help the targeted class to enjoy the subsidy benefits much better.

Unfazed by the growing opposition to some of the reform measures, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reiterated that the above reforms initiated by the central government were an ongoing process for the good of the country and hence would continue. The fact that the Prime Minister has regained his ability to speak and that too in such a strong voice has itself come as a major relief to a large part of the Indian population.

And let us not forget that the Indian stock markets have closed at a 5 month high and so has the India rupee. And imagine all this has happened within a month or two of the new president settling down at Raisina Hills. Since he is going to occupy the seat for five years, India is surely going to see a lot of liberalisation.

My god, I never knew about these qualities of the new president. I really don’t know how to reply. I feel the best would be to dissuade him from requesting for a new topic which deals with India.

Kindled spirit

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 October 10th, 2012 J Jagannath

Let’s get on with our lives by presuming that every time Amazon launches an iteration of its blockbusting product Kindle there will be people who’ll lament at it and beat their chests like King Kong. These people are self-proclaimed page huggers who think that an electronic device can’t replace the gooey feeling evoked by words on page. I am one of those people but I’m an agnostic one. Here’s why.

A couple of years ago writer Vikram Chandra said at the Jaipur Lit Fest that a book is a form of technology too. You don’t pluck a book from a tree. Then you have charming charlatans like Nicholas Carr saying that we only skim while reading online while our mind is more focused when reading a book. I wish he only spoke for himself. With the forthcoming generations being Internet children their neural wiring will be well-acquainted with squinting their eyes while reading on a computer if they have to.

The Kindle publishing is a tiny bit of a revolution in itself. Everyone who has a book within them can bring it out without going through all the soul-sapping rigmarole of finding a literary agent, pitching to publishing houses etc etc. It’s a different thing that most books within most of us need to be asphyxiated. But for those who really deserve to be read now have a genuine outlet.

So this deep-seated romanticism of printed words is a futile exercise. That said, I wouldn’t want anyone to completely shift towards the Kindle. A book is as much an accessory as a belt or a watch is. That opening scene in Before Sunrise is turbocharged with the books that the lead characters are reading. If you’re reading a Kindle I wouldn’t know if it’s a Dostoevsky or a bodice ripper that you’re enmeshed in. You can’t get a book signed by an author. The joke in Brooklyn literary circles was of how someone arm twisted Jonathan Franzen, a Kindle hater, to sign the Kindle version of Freedom. A Kindle can resemble an iPod with you cramming it up with truckloads of books and never getting around to reading them without getting any guilt pangs.

My personal record is that I read a solitary one out of every ten books that I buy. I still read that one book because of the plaintive looks it gives me from the corner of the room. We still need bookstores. They are the arbiters of taste not some brain-dead Amazon if-you-like-this-you’ll-like-this-as-well algorithm. But of course the bookstore people need to behave that they cannot sell shoes with similar ease. Treat Kindle as a convenience device and that should keep you in good stead. I mean, the air hostess can’t ask you shut down the book because the flight is taking off while the electronic devices need to be asleep at that moment.