Friday, December 5, 2008

Random thoughts on Yuvvraaj

Originally published on

I’ve always found it a challenging task to transform a dramatic script into a spellbinding musical,
Though I’ve done this before with films like Karz, Meri Jung, Khalnayak and Taal…………..

……….Imagine a film where: Salman is a dreamy singer…
Katrina is a leading musician…
Zayed grooves to a chaotic disco sound…
Anil kapoor enjoys only classical music…

Imagine the symphony of sounds created by all these characters.
Now imagine my struggle to match my visuals to rahman’s
Mesmerizing sound and Gulzaar Saab’s magical lyrics…

This is Yuvvraaj.

Hope you enjoy it!
Subhash Ghai.

This personal note from Mr Ghai is the first thing that would greet you when you open the audio CD jacket of Yuvvraj.

Frankly speaking I even liked two or three tracks from the album.

I think Rahman’s music grows on you over a period of time and it peaks after you have seen the movie.

There were also special comments (on the CD cover) by Mr. Rahman and Gulzar Saab testifying Ghai’s genius in matching up the visuals to the music.

Testimonials from these two gurus convinced me to break my resolve of abstaining from all Subhash Gai movies post Kisna (actually Yaadien. I gave him a second chance with Kisna).

Finally, I saw this movie last night.

I read a quote somewhere which vaguely meant that the most dangerous stage in a creative person’s life is when he starts to copy himself.

There isn’t a better way to describe Ghai’s latest effort- why only the latest one- if you look at Mr. ghai’s impressive body work- right from Ram lakhan, Saudagar, Khalnayak, Trimurti, etc- and try to draw a common pattern among them- it isn’t difficult to decipher the common overriding formula.

All…ok…say most of his movies would have two central characters (often brothers) with conflicting ideologies- one has to be an idealist while the other a bit confused and mixed up. Throw in a widowed mother, raped sister or a murdered father to sensationalize the plot and villains with obvious streaks of quirkiness (BAD MAN).

In the end the good always wins over evil with a climax sequence involving a song and a fight that happens simultaneously.

Also, if you don’t doze off half way through the movie- you might see the showman himself in a blink and miss sequence doing his bit of clowning around.

Let me talk about Yuvvraaj- if not anything, the movie has at least made me aware of Hindi’s rising popularity in the western world. The Goras babble dialogues in Hindi as it was official language of Prague and Austria (that is where the movie was supposedly shot).

Now a bit about the cast-

What can I say about Salman Khan- bad is no bad when worse is expected.

All thanks to his past few misadventures, I have no expectations whatsoever from him- but so great is the man that- he manages to disappoint me even then. Almost like cricket commentators who change the stance with every ball, the actor (if I can call him that) takes it scene by scene- with utmost adherence to inconsistency in all departments- from looks, to mannerisms to even hair styles.

Zayed is next in the row- I can’t even use words like career worst for him because he doesn’t have one. Playing a role that might be the closest to his real life (he plays a rich spoilt kid) Zayed gives a whole new definition to the word “wooden”. With his hair expressing more than his face and the rest of the body put together- you helplessly laugh at the scenes where this guy is trying hard to weep.

Anil Kapoor and Boman Irani are perfect examples to of what a bad script can do to even talented actors. This has to Boman’s shallowest performance till date- he doesn’t look convinced of his role even for a minute and that shows so badly on the screen.

Yuvvraaj from now on will also hold the distinction for the most uninformed and insensitive portrayal of autism. I think the brief to Anil was simple- play a mix of Rani Mukhurjee in Black and Sridevi in Sadma and he does that to a T.

There is also Mithun da in there- but you can excuse him in the acting department because for most part of it- his wig was really obtrusive and overpowered his performance

Poor Kaif woman is lost somewhere between these stalwarts in a role that only demands her to look good and at times even confused. In many promotional interviews before the release Miss Kaif has talked at length about getting trained in playing a cello, so that the portrayal looks realistic- though the effort is commendable, the lady would do pretty well with a crash course in acting at Ghai’s film school.

Then there are the infamous villains- a mama ji in a wheelchair who plots evil but hides it under his religious get up- complete with rudraksha, tilak, etc

And a bhabi who is desperate to be aadhi- gharwali (symbolism- non existent blouses and vulgar perfume squirting in a public setting)

Ghai is known for his in film placements- but this time around I think a brand of potato chips had refused to put money in his film- so there is a fatso who is just shown munching chips all the time- a clever negative publicity for the brand.

Also, there are few insignificant negative characters whose job is to just fill the frame and add to the magnitude of evil (the more the people the badder the evil)

The art direction is so grandeur and in your face that it never lets you forget that you are watching a movie and that it doesn’t look like this in the real world.

The plot and script is so weak and fake that as an audience the only emotions you ever feel are that of indifference, anger and boredom.
The inconsistencies are so obvious that they leave you with a feeling of being cheated- that is when you were not expecting anything from this fare- Its as if the gang that put the show together is taking us on ride- completely disrespecting our intelligence, patience, time and money.

Last but not the least- the songs for which I saw the movie in the first place- were so out of context and meddlesome that I ended up forwarding each one of them- For the first time because of the movie and their place in it- I will completely give up on the music of this one.

I felt a sense of liberation when the movie ended (with Mithun’s words of wisdom “Independent you live, united you stay- that is a happy family”) - and the end credits (inspired by OSO) started rolling.

I just hope that Mr. Ghai is not taking too many classes on direction in Whistling woods, or we would have many Yuvvraajs in the years to come.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Oye Lucky Lucky Oye: Movie Review

Originally published on

If there has been one film that I have been anticipating for the longest time- it has to be ‘Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye (OLLO)’. In fact I rate Khosla Ka Ghosla as the second best bollywood film I have seen in last five-six years (the first has to be ‘Maqbool’- but I will save it for another post).
What an impressive debut KKG was- it was heartening to see such a simple tale of underdogs- with characters etched out so well- that you almost feel that you know them from before. Indeed, by end of the movie, I knew the Khosla family so well that even in any other situation – I could imagine- exactly how they would react.

When you raise the bar so high- in your first movie itself, it’s quite a task to stand up to the huge expectations with a worthy follow up. While a few directors have done it successfully, many have disappointed us as well.

So did Dibakar disappoint me?

Not at all. Actually, I came out quite impressed from of the hall.

OLLO- is a brilliant second movie from a very talented director. What impressed me more is the fact that Dibakar has picked up a rather complex story this time as compared to simplistic one before. There are lots of layers in the story and there is an amazing sense of maturity that marks the narration.

A single story can have many interpretations, and what I am about to write is my take out from the movie- which. It is a very personalized account of how I comprehend the movie.
The movie follows the growth of Lucky from his teens to thirties and his journey from innocence to notoriety-all this with the back drop of Delhi (Guys lets accept it- nobody does Delhi better than Dibakar)

The initial scenes clearly establish Lucky’s strained relationship with his father and his uneasiness with the other woman in the house (father’s keep).

Also, it gives you a glimpse into Lucky’s world of aimless friends and their collective dreams and aspirations. Their fascination for good things in life (cars, chicks, etc) is obvious but what sets Lucky apart from his group is his self belief- and that is brilliantly captured in this one line Lucky keeps saying through out the film- “Kyon main kar nahi sakta?”

I also thought that his becoming a ‘Mona’ sardar symbolizes his giving up on social conformity.
Lucky is an incorrigible thief- it’s almost like he has a kind of compulsive disorder to steal- and sometimes through the things that he steals- you get a hint of his feelings at that point in time- his deprivation and loneliness-he steals a greeting card (reminiscing his first love), family photograph (His longing ness for a family), a king size teddy (the child within).
But the movie is not about stealing- it is about Lucky’s emotional vulnerability, his pining for love- the only thing he can’t steal. All the people who befriend him have a selfish motive (except his girlfriend, but again I am not sure- because there is a scene where she asks him to keep the money on the fridge). His father, surrogate father and the business partner (all three played brilliantly by Paresh Rawal) are the three fatherly figures who inflict him the maximum pain.

These are the few scenes which stand apart for me- teenage Lucky’s first encounter with a neighborhood girl in the greeting cards shop and subsequently their first date in a restaurant, Lucky asking Dolly what she wants to eat in a night club, his first date with Sonal and her reaction to school girls in short skirts, Dr. Handa’s insights on the male dog and the lady dog, the conversation between Sonal and Lucky’s bhabi.

There are some nice touches which were like master strokes- The kid sardar’s air fighting sequence when Luck’s father is chasing Lucky out of the house for demanding a new scooter, the hanging wires, air conditioners and the election posters in the background when Lucky is taking the girl on a motor bike ride, the zebra striped interiors of the black Mercedes that Lucky steals for Goga Bhai., Sonal’s pink cybershot, a shot of Lucky’s bare feet while he is escaping on a stolen Enfield from the police station.

I also quite liked the scene in which Lucky does these car stunts with Sonal- the muted closed ups worked very well for me.

All performances are good, but these guys deserve a special mention- the sardar who played Lucky’s childhood part, Lucky’s partner in crime- Bengali and Dolly.

Ofcourse Paresh Rawal is magnificent in all three avatars. Also, Neetu Chandra packs a poised performance and renders an understated composure to her character .

One guy who carries the film on his shoulders and deserves a standing ovation is Abhay Deol- the ease and subtlety with which he plays Lucky is mind blowing. I can’t stop myself from diverting from the topic here to have a look at the movies that Abhay has done so far- Socha Na Tha, Ek chaalis, Manorama Six feet under, Honeymoon travels and now OLLO (upcoming Dev D)- what a range- no wonder he has become the poster boy of the new age- popular- niche bollywood cinema.

The music is well researched and does a great job in enhancing the narrative- it perfectly compliments the mood of the movie.

It’s refreshing to see Delhi as a backdrop- with each of its locality having a distinctive character and how well Dibakar captures it.

Finally, what looks like a simple funny movie is work of a painstaking research and original thinking and I guess that’s the way forward for Indian cinema.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Coorg: Plantation Trails

I was supposed to be in Istanbul for a marketing conference, but I couldn’t renew my passport within the stipulated time- so I was left alone in Bangalore while the rest of the team was sightseeing in a foreign land. However, I was adamant that even I should get out of the city- if not abroad then at least to a serene hill station. My consideration set comprised of Chikmagalur, Wayanad and Coorg (Written in the order of preference).

When I go on such weekend escapes I love to book myself into a home stay- unlike star hotels- home stays are not standardised, which makes them much more interesting, warm and personal. You can actually experience a slice of the local culture when you are putting up in such an arrangement. Right from the people you chat up with to the food you are served and even the way the house is done up, everything offers to you a piece of the location. In short, Home stays have a character to them which is so missing in most of the hotels.

I was keen on Chikmagalur and Wayanad, but couldn’t manage to get a booking in any of the places where I wanted to stay. I had been to Coorg some three years ago and to put it frankly- I didn’t like it much. I thought that the whole thing about it being the Scotland of India was a bit over hyped.

I remember- in my last trip I landed up there without any prior planning and that it was a peak season for tourists didn’t help. We were lucky enough to get a decent place to stay (Home of a retired army official) but the places we went see were the typical tourist attractions.

That is not my idea of a vacation. I hunt hard to find locations which are like unseen and unspoiled by tourist hordes. I romanticise the idea of cutting off from the civilisation and love staying at places, which if I may say so, at least appear to be virgin and undiscovered.

Coming back to this trip, after hours of googling “homestays in Coorg”- I landed up on this link called ‘Plantation Trails’ which are Tata coffee’s holiday homes in Coorg. Frankly speaking, I didn’t even know that Tata had something like holiday homes. I even liked the idea that this was not listed on the first few pages of my search results (on Google). So I safely assumed that this was definitely not one of those most common places for tourists to stay.

The details of the property like location, facilities, tariffs and bookings are well detailed on the Tata coffee’s site and were quite useful in getting a sense of the place. When I called up their Bangalore coordinate, he told me that the accommodation was only available in Glenlorna tea estate which is near Hudikeri- some 27 kilometres ahead of their flagship property- the coffee estate in Pollibetta. Incidentally, Glenlorna is the only tea estate in the coffee country of Coorg.

Luckily I got a special monsoon package which offered twenty percent discount and complimentary dinner. As breakfast was already a part of the package I just had to pay for my lunch and snacks above the cost of the room.

The bungalow at the estate is on a hillock and offers a bird’s eye view of the lush plantation. It has five rooms in total and we booked luxury rooms which were particularly large and come fitted with air conditioners (Though I wonder who uses them) and geysers for hot water (Now that’s a must). The rooms are tastefully done and are mostly occupied with dark wood furniture that lends a strong colonial character to the place, also, they are well coordinated with fab India-ish bed covers, table cloths and floor mats. I have also been made to understand that most of these plantation trails bungalows are former homes of estate managers which have been done up by their wives.

There is a common dining room where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served to all the guests staying in the estate- though you can order tea and snacks to your room. There is also a television with a Tata Sky connection in the living room. The best part of the bungalow is the front porch which offers the most beautiful view of the tea plantation. I spent the most part of my trip here- in the front porch- cuddled in a warm blanket, sunk in a comfy cane chair with my legs stretched and resting on a low lying table and sipping liters of piping hot ginger tea and devouring on dozens of onion pakoras- all this while watching rain.

It almost rained continuously through out our stay but that just added to the thrill of the vacation. I can’t remember any other time in my life when I just watched rains like that and enjoyed them so much. To say it was romantic would be an understatement. The purposeless of that moment was so fascinating and in a strange way extremely rejuvenating. We went for a long walk to the river that flows through the property and morning jogs along the hills. Umbrellas were our constant companions and again I don’t remember when I used one before.

They can also organise a visit to the tea factory and a guided tour of the coffee and tea plantations if you want, but we opted out of such guided tours and enjoyed our own excursions in and around the plantations.

The staff is extremely courteous, helpful and hospitable. The meals were elaborate and delicious and the fact that you can get such food in such an isolated location is incredible.

The other guests who had bookings and were supposed to arrive had last minute cancellations and that came as blessing in disguise for us as we had the whole bungalow all for ourselves.

I strongly recommend this place to anyone who is planning a trip to Coorg and you better make it soon for they might lease this bungalow to one of the corporates pretty soon and might not entertain the regular guests then.

Also, I heard they are inaugurating a similar property in Chikmagalur sometime towards the mid of August. I am sure I will be one of their first guests. See you there.

PS: You can see the pictures of the trip by clicking the Coorg widget on the right side of your screen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Some Mr. Singh

Most Saturdays we went out for a team lunch. But that was a different Saturday. All my teammates had their own plans and went their own ways. As I was the only one without any agenda, I had to decide on how to feed myself. Bangalore Central was at a walk able distance from my office and the food court there served a decent north Indian meal so I decided have my lunch there.

For a Saturday afternoon, the place was sparsely crowded. I was on the escalator when this ‘sardar ji’ who was two steps ahead of me turned back and said ‘hi’ to me. For a second I thought he was addressing some one behind me, but a quick glance proved me wrong. We were the only two on the escalator. I returned a ‘hi’ to him. “I can see very few people here, is it generally like this” he said. “No today is an exception. Otherwise it’s quite full over the weekends” I replied effortlessly.

As the food court is on the top floor, you need to take a succession of escalators to reach there. As we arrived at the first floor, he asked “which floor is the food court?”
“It’s on the top floor. Even I am going there. Come” I said.
“How long have you been in Bangalore?” he wanted to know “I have been here for a while. What about you?” I answered with a question.
“I moved last month only. I moved from Delhi to start my business here. Still settling down” he revealed.

Both of us collected our Punjabi thali and settled down in our chairs. Just when I was about to take my first bite, he interrupted “are you married? I didn’t know why he wanted to know that, nevertheless I said “No”. “Are you in a relationship”- he was curious. Now that was getting too personal. I gave it a skip and kept looking into my plate. But he was not to give up easily. He repeated the question and he was louder this time. “Ya. I have a girlfriend” I retorted. But that didn’t stop him and he was up with his next question “When are you getting married?”
“I don’t know” I said in a disinterested tone. But he continued further “You know I have a son. He would be turning one next Saturday. I am planning to throw a party though I don’t know many people here. But I will definitely invite you. You have to come”

I didn’t know how to react to this. Here I am meeting this guy for the first time and he is asking me to be a part of what might be one of the biggest celebrations of his life. I was amused but a little cautious as well.

We almost finished our lunch when he dug out a business card from his wallet. As he handed it over to me, he anticipated my reciprocation. “I am sorry I ran out of my cards” I said apologetically. “That’s ok. I will save your number. Tell me your number; I will give you a missed call”. May be we were destined to meet I thought but by any standard this was too fast. However I didn’t save the number.

It struck to me on my way back to office that I forgot to ask his name. In fact even he didn’t know my name. I was wondering with what name did he save my number though. It occurred to me that he did give me his card. The card had ‘Singh & Singh Sons Ltd’ Written in bold font. Then there was his mobile number and a generic email id which was info@ name of his Conspicuously his name was missing. I smiled as I referred to him as ‘Some Mr. Singh’ in my mind.

He called me on the next Friday. I disappointed him by not recognizing his number “I think you haven’t saved my number. I met you in Central last week. You remember?” I lied spontaneously “Sorry I changed my handset and haven’t transferred my contacts to this one yet” “Its Ok. I called you to invite you to my son’s first birthday party. Note down my address, you have to be there”
I pretended to take a note of his address, but I always knew that I wouldn’t go. It just didn’t seem reasonable to me- meeting someone just once in a mall and landing up at his place for a party. May be I have outgrown that stage.

It’s a pity; I forgot to ask him his name even this time around.

I completely forgot about the whole incident till I chanced upon his business card some six months later. I was getting married in a month’s time and was preparing the guest list to send the invites. I was cross checking my business cards folder to see if I have left someone. This card suddenly appeared there. I don’t know why but I felt like including him on the guest list.

Anyhow I was getting married in Jaipur and it was highly unlikely that he would come all the way for me, but at least, I would have returned his favor of inviting me to his son’s birthday. I tried calling the number given on the card but a female voice kept reminding me in three different languages that the number didn’t exist.

I mailed a scan of my card to his email (info@ name of addressing it to Mr. Singh & family and thought my job was done.

I got extremely busy with the preparations and didn’t realize how quickly the time had passed. It was my engagement night when a beautiful bouquet of red roses was delivered to me in my hotel room. The delivery person wasn’t helpful in establishing who had sent it, all he said was “sir, yeh Bangalore se aaya hai”. I assumed it was from my office. There was this note with the flowers which I opened without much thought.

It said “Wish you a very happy married life. My husband would have loved to be there, but I guess God needed him much more in heaven- Mrs. Singh”

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sarkar Raj: movie review

I went to watch Sarkar Raj yesterday evening. As I took my place, I saw this small kid sleeping in the seat next to me. Though my wife found him extremely cute I wasn’t amused. Kids can be quite disruptive in settings like this. I take my movies quite seriously and like to watch them with undivided attention. Nonetheless I was glad that at least he was sleeping and wished that he slept peacefully till the movie was over.

I am a huge of Ramu and even the disastrous ‘RGV ki Aag’ didn’t discourage me to change my loyalty for him. Of course, who doesn’t have a bad day at work and historically too, amid the duds like Daud, Mast, Naach and Darling he has given gems like Shiva, Rangeela, Satya, Company and Sarkar. Also, some of the finest actors, directors, scriptwriters and composers got their first big breaks because of him- Manoj Bajpai, Jaideep Sahni, Anurag Kashyap and Madhur Bhandarkar are suitable examples.

I had huge expectations from Sarkar Raj. I thought this would be his chance to redeem from the misery of ‘Aag’. But in all honesty- I am quite disappointed, and I have valid reasons to be.

To start with- the characterisation, especially of some of the negative characters is extremely caricaturish. You have an over reacting Sayaji Shinde who painfully overdoes everything from his dialogue deliveries to basic mannerisms of eating, walking and talking. This definitely would qualify as one of his career worst performances.

Then there is another bad character- Mr. Vora - who insists on the correct pronunciation of his name- and erratically hums old hindi songs. This guy brought back the memories of Sadashiv Amrapurkar era of villainhood and believe me you can’t get worse than that.

But my award for the best of the worst goes to this contract killer they hire for killing Abhishek. He is supremely intriguing and expresses everything through a judicious movement of his hand…or leather gloves (to be more specific) and the dialogues between this handyman and his employers (Sayaji and Vora) are to be seen (and heard) to be believed. Guys this is dramatic even by the cinematic standards.

Talking about Ash, I couldn’t quite understand her position throughout the movie. In her introductory scene, she explicitly expresses her disregard for the word ‘impossible’ and comes across as no- nonsense business woman with an exclusive focus on getting the project through. But her stance becomes utterly contradicting and confusing as the movie progresses.

The relevance of place is completely exempted for this woman (one moment she is in London, the next moment in Mumbai or Thakerwadi) and she is privileged to be a part of the confidential meetings of Nagres’ where she has nothing to do whatsoever- like the scene where Shankar is trying to figure out the killers of his wife and sacks Chander.

Abhishek Bachan carries a solo serious expression through out the movie and sounds preachy for the most part of it. Calling themselves the crusaders of positive change, the father-son duo try to outdo each other in profundity by uttering pretentious and theatrical dialogues to each other.

The scene in the Hospital between the father and the son (where Shankar is fighting death) and the scene where Nagre senior informs Ash about killing her father- are particularly funny and worth special mention.

Also, the scene where Shankar goes to nab Qazi is exaggerated even if you account for the cinematic liberties that a director can avail for.

Talking about the camera work- Ramu’s romance with the close-ups, unusual camera angles and his play with light have become monotonous and seem to make the film lengthy than it actually is. I have noted that he also has a fascination to focus on cups and saucers and should probably ask Lipton to sponsor his next film.

The background score is irritating to say the least and overpowers the narrative. The kid (next to me) woke up to the ‘Govinda Govinda’ tune like a bad dream and hence kept asking his popcorn digging mother “mamma, yeh kab khatam hoga?”

Everytime the mother said “beta, ab khatam hone wala hai”, more than the kid, I had a sigh of relief thinking that the torture is at last coming to an end.

In a scene Amitabh tells his son- “Beta, yeh tum par nahi, tumhare soch par hamla hai”. This is what Ramu should be saying to his viewers.

Ramu, dude wake up and smell the coffee. If you don’t want to go to film school, at least revisit your own work like Satya nd Shiva to come up with something better next time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Goodbye VF

Saturday, May 31st. My last day at Arvind. After finishing all the exit formalities I was left with the last job here- writing a farewell letter to my team. Honestly I am quite bad at these things, so, I decided to take help of the man’s greatest invention- Google. I started my search with the keywords “sample farewell letter”.

While I was trying my best to mix and match couple of search results and come up with an original version- Sambit- who sits next to me caught me red handed. He has this gift of peeping into others monitors on all wrong occasions. Completely unashamed of trespassing into my privacy, his comment was acidic- “kam se kam yeh toh khud likh liya hota. I will mail the source of this letter to the entire team”. There is no point in reasoning with him, I thought. He was looking for a final session of ‘time-pass’ with me.

I started missing my ‘gang’ even before I walked out of the office. That’s when I thought, perhaps, I should bid a more personalised goodbye to my friends. So, here it goes-

These are the people who made my stay worthwhile in this office. Each one of them is an ‘original’ in their own sense and I doubt if I would ever meet such an extraordinarily abnormal mix of people under one roof.

I will miss each one of you-

Sambit- he is born ‘funny’. Like some people have answers for everything- this guy has questions for everything. Youngest member of the team, he provides a comic relief even in the most terrible situations. His discussions with Kamal, Tiwary and Ashok are always animated, pointless but nonetheless absolute fun. Behind all his naivety, he is a very quick learner, a caring boyfriend (Is Anu reading this?) and overall a very interesting human being.

Kamal- A self assumed union leader of the mass brands, he is also the in-house ‘sexologist’- capable of correlating your coffee drinking habits to your sexual performance. He is ‘tej (faster)' than ‘aaj tak’ in bringing us all the office gossip. His ability to come to conclusions without any supporting information can irritate and surprise you at the same time (He concluded that Sambit didn’t have a girlfriend because he doesn’t get phone calls every five minutes. That’s just a sample of how far fetched his logic can be). An action oriented man- ‘abhi (Now)’ is his most commonly used word. Above all this he is an absolutely doting father and undisputed king of sourcing…knits- that is.

Sandip- A true representative of the Bengali clan, he is a man of varied interests (movies, chess, photography, politics, music and literature to name a few). Speaks English with a Bengali accent and even his swear words sound as sweet as 'rosogulla'. Has an opinion on everything under the sun. He loves to disagree with you and needs half an excuse to jump into a debate.

Sutta (smoke)’ sessions with him are always intellectually stimulating. Most of his conversations would have a mention of his previous companies or his beloved wife. More importantly- this guy has not lost that childlike innocence and his passion for life. A no nonsense guy, he is exceptionally street smart and will go places.

Abhilasha- an excellent designer and a complete tomboy. Has a strong streak of adventure in her (scuba diving in Andaman). Has an amazing mind-though she selectively puts it to any constructive use. The most sorted out person in the team- I admire her honesty and frankness. Addicted to word games on the net she has the ability to connect and put you at ease irrespective of whether you are having a meaningful or a needless conversation. Keep spreading that happiness.

Ismail- He has that streak of eccentricity that you always associate with creative people. Seeks perfection in his work and looses temper on the slightest provocation. On many occasions he has stunned me with his ability to work so hard over long periods of time. There is certain rawness in him which is exhilarating. Beware of him if he is in a bad mood. I am sure very soon he would make it to the big league.

Priya: This art of living student is the hardest working amongst the lot and mostly you would spot her staring at complicated excel sheets. One moment she has that teacher like disciplinary look and the other moment she has that motherly effect when you want to pour your heart out to her. Has an air of maturity around her and I admire the grace with which she handled some of the most difficult personal and professional situations. More strength to you.

Guys, they say you should love your work and not the workplace. But because of you all I loved the workplace much more than the work :)

Big thanks to each one of you for making this journey so special. It’s a life lasting friendship that I carry from here.

God bless.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bandipur National Park

To view the complete album- click on the 'Bandipur National Park: a photoblog' icon (on the top right hand side).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's in a name?

My grandfather gave me my name (Isn’t that a good enough reason- why it sounds so antique?) and I inherited the surname (Parvatam) by default. So I was branded ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’.

I suspected my grandfather’s religious (in)sensibilities for this misdeed, but there is this logical explanation that my mother subscribes to whenever any discussion about my name takes place, which I think it is just a cover up for my grand father’s sin. Nonetheless, I should tell you what she says- “You were born after so many complications. The doctors actually said that the chances of your survival were very bleak. We prayed a lot and it was only by God’s grace that you were born normal. You were a God’s gift, so we named you the same- Gurudev (God) Prasad (His gift/blessing).”

There are couple of things which are fundamentally wrong with my name. It is lengthy, pompous (Proclaiming yourself to be God’s gift to the mankind), then the surname Parvatam- is a mountain in literal sense- which again is a complete misnomer if you take into consideration the average body size of my family. To some extent my name is even confusing (For most of it- it sounds north Indian, but there are traces of south-Indianness too- yes, the Parvatam bit again).

Adding to the problem was the fact that I grew up in places like Agra and Aligarh, which were quite difficult for people with such nomenclature abnormalities- in the sense, they predominantly have kids with simple names (Like Saurabh, Rahul, etc) and even simpler surnames (Like Sharma, Verma, etc).

To shorten it and avoid the north-south confusion, as a child, I insisted that I should be addressed as ‘P. Gurudev Prasad’. Just when I thought that this would make things simpler, the story took a strange turn. For my classmates, I became a guy with a mysterious ‘P’. And curse my bad luck, that this is the only alphabet that has funny implications in both English (Pee Gurudev Prasad) and Hindi (Drink Gurudev Prasad).

In school, I would always fear new teachers taking our attendance call. They needed some time to acclimatise to a strange name like mine. The first roll call was always a concern. The teacher would sink her head in the register and indifferently read out names, without even bothering to look at their respective owners. But as soon as my turn came, it was almost like a speed breaker to this mechanical process. Often they would mispronounce it (I don’t remember any teacher who got it right the first time) and would wonder if they have stumbled upon something alien. Invariably I was asked to stand up, so that they could look at me with a sense of amusement combined with a stroke of sympathy and order me to announce my name aloud.

This whole process was extremely embarrassing for me and somehow made me feel like an odd man out.

In between, I would automatically take liking to someone who took attendance by the roll numbers and not by names. I was thankful to the person who invented roll numbers and seriously thought that their purpose was to avoid such embarrassments.

My name even had some functional issues- to start with it took me a while before I could learn how to write my full name, also I remember it took me ages to fill in my name in the OMR sheet for the Common Admission Test (CAT). Similarly some application forms would run out of space in accommodating my full name, particularly the ones that have limited blocks assigned for each personal detail- which have to be filled in capital letters.

I think India is one of the lucky countries where kids have pet names and I can be only grateful for that. As I was born early morning (To be precise I came in with the sunrise) my aunt wanted to christen me as ‘Udai’, but, as she didn’t have the authority to endorse this as my official name, she settled for ‘Udai’ as my pet name.

So people who didn’t share any organizational (School, college or office) relationship with me- just know me as ‘Udai’. But this led to certain dichotomy which was revealed only last month. When I sent my wedding card (It had my ‘original’ name printed on it) to a childhood friend who used to be my neighbour, he anxiously called me to check the reason for my name change.

Different names evoke different emotions and associations. For example, a Radha would evoke a totally different set of images from a Rosa (Naughty You!). Similarly, I am sure that, for a stranger, ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’ would bring to mind certain personality connotations. But, I am also sure that these preliminary associations would be in total contrast to the real ‘Parvatam Gurudev Prasad’. It is up to you to decide- which is a greater disappointment- the initial associations or the actual ‘me’.

But things changed after I joined college. I had this faculty who taught us Branding. One day when I went to submit my assignment to his cabin, he looked at the cover page and said “Your name is very impressive”. Someone said something like that for the first time to me. In that moment of vulnerability I confessed to him “It has always embarrassed me”. He asked me to take a seat. As I sat down, in his typical classroom style he began to explain me. The best part is that he didn’t make it sound sympathetic. In fact, it was more like one of his sessions on branding.

He said “Guru, I have practised branding for many years before I retired and got into teaching. Do you know what I have learnt in all these years? The name is the most important thing in building a brand. It should give the brand an identity and differentiate it from others. It is like this one word advertisement for a brand… and the same applies to humans as well. In your case, it is one of those few names, that I have come across which have certain character to them. There is a promise in your name that you will do something big. Rather than being embarrassed about it- try and live up to it. Build a brand- Gurudev Prasad.” He continued, “On a lighter note I would rather imagine a name like Gurudev Prasad to be doing something substantial than names like Ricky and Monty.”

His words had a magical impact on me. Trying hard to control my tears, I tried thanking him; I said, “I just wish I had someone who could explain this to me when I was a child. Sir, you might not realize but what you said will have a life changing impact on me. I don’t want to thank you and minuscule your advice.”
I ran to the playground and screamed out my full name in the loudest way possible

Few years ago, I was travelling to a remote part of the country for some official work. I was the only one representing my creative agency and there was a team of six from another agency who were working on the same client. All these guys were much elder and quite non cooperative to me. The eldest of them was also their head. His name was some Mr. Chadda.

May be because I belonged to a competing agency, the entire gang didn’t seem to be very fond of me. Leading the pack was Mr. Chadda. He assumed that he had a terrific sense of humour and his team approved his misconception by laughing at all his stupid jokes.

On more than one occasions, I became the butt of his jokes. Respecting his age, I took it sportingly. One night, at the dinner table, he tried to pull my leg again. I was lost in my food, when he said “Guru…It must have been quite difficult growing up with that name? Isn’t it? I am sure you would have been teased a lot in your childhood? I know how it is like growing up in UP.” I swear I wanted to let it go, but something came over me. I replied back “Not at all. On the contrary I am quite proud of my name. I absolutely love it. Talking about teasing, I think that can happen to any name. If you were in my school, I would have nicknamed you as Mr. Chaddi.” His team burst out laughing before realizing that the joke is on their boss this time. Mr. Chadda got back to his food.

Next day we had a presentation of our findings to the top management of the client side. Both Mr. Chadda and I were to present. Mr. Chadda insisted that I should go first. May be he expected me to falter. He was sure that a kid like me would never be able to match up with the work of a team of six seasoned professionals like his.

As I finished my final slide, the top boss from the client side gave his feedback- “Gurudev, you have stood up to your name.”

Now it was Mr. Chadda’s turn to prove.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

And that's how it all began...

Part I:
I first met Tanuja in a remote village in Ahmedabad (That’s where my college was). She was specializing in Public Relations and her batch commenced few months after mine, so technically she was my junior. She was surprisingly inconspicuous through out the ragging session. I don’t even remember seeing her in the freshers party (Though she is there in the party pictures). So In real sense, I met her for the first time in the college canteen (we had the most amazing open air canteen). It was around ten at night and I was waiting for my maggi, when she walked in with a friend of mine.

We didn’t even exchange Hi’s and she decided to sit two chairs away from me. The first thing I noticed about her was ‘Pink’- dressed in a pink Capri and a pink jacket and a complexion matching the same colour, her fetish for pink was quite evident (To be frank, I found her quite cute). I was the one who initiated the dialogue- “I didn’t see you all this while? Did you join late?”

I remember my question, but I don’t remember her answer, may be she didn’t answer at all. I am not the kind who gives up easily- “where are you from?” I asked. “Jaipur” she said and as a customary she asked “and you?” That was it. Whenever someone asks me about my origins, I almost transform into a History Channel- educating them about where I was born to all the places that I have stayed at and finishing with a list of my favourite cities. But just when I was about to begin my journey “I am from Agra, but you know…” she interrupted “Oh. I have been to Agra many times. I like that city”. Then what, if someone likes my city, I like them. It’s a weird logic, but then I never said I am normal.

We moved from acquaintance to friendship swiftly.We were not best friends but whenever we had conversations, they were meaningful and warm. There was some honesty in it which is indescribable. Once in a while, we used to chat up on messenger and even go out for after-dinner strolls. She was finding it difficult to adjust in this new environment for more than one reason- she came straight out of an engineering college (the new place was somewhat a culture shock) and was missing her old friends desperately, also, she was anxious about her performance in subjects (which were non- technical in nature) like Economics and Accounting.

To comfort her I advised her two things “Tanu (that’s when I called her ‘Tanu’ first time) you either live in the past or you are worried about the future. Start living in the present and enjoy this phase. Things would look much better. And as far as subjects like Economics are concerned we are all there to help you. You would not believe but I am good at economics, if you need any help in understanding any concepts you can always come to me”.

She didn’t take my first suggestion seriously (she is still in past or future) but she took the economics part too seriously (I was never good at economics, why economics, I was never good at anything that has to do with academics). Next evening, on the messenger chat, she invited me to her room. She looked disillusioned and the books were spread everywhere. She had to submit an assignment (Yes. Economics) next morning and needed my help. I was caught and my truth was busted. I made a fool out of myself trying to explain her some theories which were Greek and Latin to me. She figured out my uneasiness and in the most polite way said “you know, you emphasise on making the basics clear and then looking at the solutions…that’s a good approach of teaching, but I need to submit this tomorrow… and …so…I will ask my classmates… and… umm…probably take proper lessons from you sometime” . I was relieved and promised to self that I would never again discuss economics with a girl.

I remember a summer afternoon, when the whole group was going for a movie, I saw Tanu wearing a black cap. For the clothes she was wearing, the cap was a total mismatch. I started pulling her leg, trying my best to make her remove the cap. She smiled at my remarks but refused to remove it.

Finally getting impatient, I said “Ok mam, I lost. What is so special about this cap that you don’t want to take it off. I am telling you it’s looking funny with your dress”. She smiled and said “this is my elder brother’s cap. I lost him few years back, when I am missing him- I wear this” I felt like a bloody fool. My foolishness was too monumental to even make an apology. I just felt like hugging her. She was much more mature that me.

On the last day of my college, I exchanged a host of hugs from my batch mates and juniors, but Tanu was missing from the scene. Even her phone was not reachable. As I was moving out of the campus in an auto crowed with my luggage, I saw her walking out of the admin section. I shouted her name and the auto came to a halt.

She came running to me and held my hand, I wanted to step out but there was this huge bag on my thighs. I said “I am leaving, but you stay in touch and be a good girl. I will miss you”. She squeezed my hand and looked much hassled; she said “All the best. You know my internship is starting in fifteen days and I have just got an offer from Bangalore. But I am looking at opportunities in Delhi so that I could be closer to home” Immediately I pleaded “Come to Bangalore na. I am also going there for the first time. I will give you a good company” She smiled generously and just to console me, she said “Pakka. Now you take care”. That’s how we parted.

Part II:

Three days after I joined my new job, Tanu came to Bangalore for her internship. Coincidentally she took a PG closer to my home. As I had just moved in, she helped me set up my house. So the first few evenings, daily after the office, we used to spend time (in a café) making lists of household items (like dustbins, mattresses, brooms, utensils, salt, turmeric, ghee, phenyl, Harpick, soaps, shampoos and hundred other things that make a home) and then scouting for them.

In a supermarket we used attack separate sections and in a pre-planned manner meet every five minutes to discuss what we had found and what was missing, finally returning home everyday with dozens of bloated, identical white plastic bags. I never enjoyed shopping (for anything) so much ever.

Once we accomplished the task of setting up the place, we had dinner mostly at my place. Sick of feeding on insipid sandwiches, idlis, dosas, vadas and noodles churned out by identical ‘Sagar’ joints in the city, home made food was an indulgence. Even a simple ‘daal chawal’ would bring us so much happiness and we would spice it up with hours of pointless discussions.

Tanu became my best friend in Bangalore. With her I could be myself and more importantly in her company even the most basic and the monotonous ‘chores’ seemed so very interesting. On many weekends, we would be together, doing our own different things like she working on her presentation and I finishing my novel, hardly a spoken word, but I still cherished that feeling of togetherness.

After dinner, everyday I used to walk her to her PG. On one such walk we started discussing our idea of an ideal life partner. It was Tanu’s turn first and she started with ‘tall’ and described him in a choice of adjectives which conveyed that she wanted someone who is exactly opposite of me. Don’t know why but for the first time I felt bad about what she said. It was my turn then, my heart wanted to say that my idea of a perfect woman is her, but my ego intervened and I sketched out a fictional character.

Two days before her internship got over, it was her birthday. She threw a dinner party for all her friends. I was confused what to gift her. In a toy shop near my house, I had seen a stuffed hippo. It was red in colour, bulky, disproportionate, overweight, and ugly, but there was something very cute about him, which had amused me when I saw him for the fist time.

I picked him up on my way to the party. It was impossible to gift wrap this creature. So I tugged him under my arm. People on the way and even in the restaurant gave me curious looks. But it was worth all the effort. Tanu loved the gift. She made him sit in her lap gave him more attention than any other guest. In a strange way, this made me feel so special.

On the day of her departure, I went to the station to see her off. The fact that she was leaving did not sink in still. Only when the mike announced the departure and the train howled, did I realise that this was real.

She was going away from me and I didn’t know when I would see her next. I hugged her tightly, like I was refusing her to let go and I whispered “I love you”. She repeated the same three words for me. The train started moving and she kept waving to me till I could see her no more.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Canara Bank: new identity

Together can we?

My association with Canara Bank started 25 years ago (I am 26 now). A year after my birth, my dad got a job with Canara Bank. It was a big deal getting into banks those days, and I am pretty sure that he was almost as happy with the new job offer as he was with my birth.

He was a committed employee (retired recently) and was awarded a transfer every three years. Today I have friends in places like Kakinada (costal town in AP), Vijaywada, Hyderabad, Agra and Aligarh because of his postings in these cities.

As a child, for many years, this was the only business entity that I was aware of and idolised it as the best bank in the world.

Eighties was an interesting time to take birth in India. I have seen our economy literally opening its doors to the world. Customer became the king and choice became his prerogative.

Like many other sectors, this was true for banking too. With foreign banks coming in and few financial institutions (Like ICICI and HDFC) entering into retail banking, the dominance of the nationalized banks was challenged. These new entrants brought with them the power of technology which changed the way we Indians did banking and other monetary transactions (ATM, phone banking, online banking and what not).

When for the first time, my education separated me from my parents; there was a need for me to have a bank account to make possible fund transfers. I remember how upset my father was when I cheated on his bank and opted to have an ICICI account. Finding it hard to conceal his anguish he warned me- “these private banks rob you with hundred hidden charges. These people are fooling young people like you”. I was adamant, “but papa, your bank hardly has any ATMs. ICICI has one in each lane. Let me take it na, it would be much easier”. Like always, poor guy relented.

My dad was very happy when I got my first job (campus placement); more so because the company banked with Canara Bank and by default our salaries got credited there. He didn’t know much about the company but the fact that it had an account in Canara Bank was a reassurance for him that the organization is credible.

On the other hand my experiences as a Canara Bank customer range from just mediocre to terrible. The bank (I have visited a couple of their branches) looks uninviting and the employees look completely disinterested (They are men (or women) of few words and reply to your queries mostly in monosyllables). The ATMs are in minority and at mysterious locations; moreover, they are extremely moody (Hardly work. Actually I remember an instance when the ATM got so pissed with the customer before me that it ate the card and refused to spit it out).

I wanted to avail a personal loan but their eligibility criteria can only befit a person who will never need a personal loan. I have deposited an outstation cheque some two months back but the funds are still pending and unlike a private bank you don’t even have a customer care executive whom you can harass on phone.

Not to forget, I am still trying to find someone who does online banking with Canara Bank (Online and Canara, they simply don’t go together)

If you ask me where these banks have gone wrong- my answer would be- they failed to identify the emergence of youth as the new age wealth creators or probably they underestimated the earning and the buying power of this evolved consumer who doesn’t preach saving.

But private banks were smart enough to align themselves to the needs of these youngsters. They recruited young people and made all attempts to come to you than you going to them. Technology made it possible for them to do so and in true sense they were able to give a retail dimension to this industry.

So if you look at it, the average customer and an employee of these private banks would be much younger than the average employee or the customer of a nationalized bank. But how long could they (likes of Canara Bank) ignore us, also the fact that we are great influencers on our parents (and elders) and they are making an effort to adopt our way of doing things, now- even they are giving these private banks a chance.

I was pleasantly surprised when my dad said- “Give me your ICICI account number; I will transfer funds online from my ICICI account. It’s quite simple”.

So you see SBI painting the city with a campaign alluring the youth, then you see a Bank of Baroda and then you see a Canara Bank, all fighting for our attention. They seem to have woken up from their long slumber, making tall claims that they are changing for us.

But a simple logo change will not do much, it’s only when you deliver a consistent experience at all the customer touch points, that we would be with you.

Till then we will regard this (logo change) only as an announcement that you have decided to undertake a series of steps to make banking with you, easier for us.

Dad, I am watching your bank.