Saturday, February 28, 2009

PROtagonists' PROfessions in Bollywood-PROductions

Last week my interactions with a barber during a long overdue hair-cut motivated me to go and see Billo (“Barber” was unfashionably trimmed). Through the course of watching the movie, I wondered what makes a director choose a particular profession for the protagonist.

Profession and the occupational traits could be used as a vehicle to project good or evil human qualities in a larger than life fashion

  1. Being a army (Border) or police man (A Wednesday) provides ample ammunition to depict physical strength and mental courage to achieve common public good and hence is one of the most commonly used profession

  2. On the other extreme, being a thief (Sholay) or a gangster (Don) can help you capture the above qualities without carrying the extra baggage of morality to achieve one’s selfish motives – if one were to run the numbers, I would think this is a more successful and regular box office formula

Portrayal of a profession and its unique facets and how the protagonist battles with the occupational hazards. Here again there are two categories

  1. Professions in real life which are more glamorous as they involve some extra-ordinary talent unearthed after stiff competition like music (Abhimaan), acting (OSO), sports (Chak De India), modelling (fashion) - people have always had fascination to know how such lives are lived
  2. Relatively mundane professions, represented by ordinary men, which are not popular by nature and are produced in relative abundance. This post is largely about such portrayal of such professions.

Enumerated below are some such professions and a take on how their portrayal / real life perception has changed over time. They are arranged in the order of “color of collar” as I see it starting with white.


  • Memorable Portrayals - Big B in Anand, Sanjay Dutt in Munnabhai MBBS, Salman Khan in Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya
  • Real life - Has maintained its stature as the most respected and coveted profession around among the educated, though people may have grown more cynical as well as casual when dealing with men in this profession
  • Reel life - Playing a Medico restricts director’s ability to do certain super-human things and hence playing a doctor isn’t very common. Though moral issues with the profession have taken a back-seat and increasing ease to deal with the Medicos has made their appearance more common on silver-screen than before.


  • Memorable Portrayals - Anil Kapoor in Meri Jung, Sunny Deol in Damini, Govinda in Kyunki Main Jhoot Nahi Bolta
  • Real life - Perhaps by its very nature more than any profession causes a dilemma between professional duties / money-making and being on the right side of morality, and such confusion is only getting accentuated as times get more complex
  • Reel life - Increasing complexity of their profession only provides more juice to the directors and one would expect to see them more often in the lead roles


  • Memorable Portrayals - Anil Kapoor in Mashal, Shahrukh Khan & Juhi Chawla in PBDHH, Preity Zinta in Lakshya
  • Real life - A profession which was not very long ago only meant being able to influence the masses and convey truth has offlate has got an element of “glamour” attached to it caused by increasing influence of television in our lives
  • Reel life - Glamour quotient in the profession has increased their suitability for the lead roles significantly while the battle for truth they are associated with will continue to provide additional firepower


  • Memorable Portrayals - Rajesh Khanna in Bawarchi, Govinda in Hero No 1, Saif Ali Khan in Salaam Namaste
  • Real life - Way to a lot of people’s heart is through stomach – it has hold good so far and will probably remain so. This profession has again seen increasing acceptability in the Indian society as a mainstream profession and more men wearing the apron
  • Reel life - Likewise, increasing eliteness of the profession (restaurateur cum cook) would enhance their suitability too for the lead roles
  • Memorable Portrayals - Dharmendra in Chupke Chupke, Aamir Khan in Raja Hindustani, Sunny Deol in Gadar
  • Real life - Driver holds the key to one’s life safety as well as pleasurable, informative and timely journey. While the core aspects remain, they have begun to address more needs for their employers
  • Reel life - Drivers, given their increasing versatility, like “potato” will continue to be used in creative ways in the Bollywood masala products


  • Memorable Portrayals - Big B in Coolie, Govinda in Coolie No 1
  • Real life - Remains one of the most thankless jobs involving hard bargain for the men in red to earn a living. An otherwise uninteresting job involves encounters with different people day in and day out which could lead to interesting situations
  • Reel life - Has been and would only be used far and infrequently given the limited “continuity” element so far only played bu Bade Miyan and Chotte Miyan in their own unimitable styles.
While in the above mentioned movies, professional attributes of the protagonists have been leveraged upon to drive home the message, in most other Bollywood movies protagonist's profession just remains a matter of fact more than anything. We may see that changing as professions become more complex and multi-faceted to be able to provide enough masala and the increasing mutliplex culture will only help drive such change.

Happy viewing!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Advani for Change or Change for Advani?

Barrack Obama's election to the office of US president would have got many amongst Indian politicians thinking on what worked in the US and can some lessons learnt be used for the upcoming general elections in India. One factor that stood out was that it was a positive vote for "change" and the use of "youth" as a proxy to bring about that "change". India with its umpteen problems is in as much need of change as the US.

India's grand old party Congress has woken up to the changing demographic profile and resultant change in the mood of the nation and announced that ~30% of its tickets will go to youth. In Rahul Gandhi, it also has a young leader of national appeal, though it may just fall short of projecting it as their PM candidate this time atleast.

On the other hand, NDA's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani at 80 does not intuitively represent change but he is pulling all stops to make the point that he indeed does. Lets take a step back and see where LK Advani is coming from and what this election means for him.

Through his life, he has either played a deputy to or has swapped positions with Atalji and now after Atalji's retirement, at 80, this is probably his only and the final shot at the top post. To my mind, he along with Atalji have had the most successful political careers in today's India because they led the BJP through its lifecycle making a humble start in 1984 when it just won 2 seats in Loksabha to becoming the largest party in the house in 1996 by winning 161 seats. Most successful congressman have either been products of Gandhi dynasty or have enjoyed its blessings to secure the top jobs. Politicians from all other parties have failed to create national level political platforms and hence dont quite pass muster.

LK Advani came from a modest apolitical background and has risen through the ranks first in RSS and then built the BJP from scratch. If India today has two alternatives to choose from at the national level, the credit largely goes to Advani and Atalji else India would have always been a Congress Vs the rest kind of non-ideal political battleground. Despite not being a great orator and not enjoying a following like Atalji, to my belief he has been more instrumental in BJP's rise especially by orchestrating the Ram Rath Yatra in 1990s which was a watershed event for the BJP and Indian polictics. In tune with prevailing times and moods, he has continuously devised means and methods of mass mobilisation like yatras (eg Swarna Jayanti, Bharat Suraksha etc), coined and gave currency to terms like psedu secularism, Indian shining, Hindutva etc.

To bolster his chances of becoming the PM, he is aware he will have to shed his perceived dubious image on securism (Babri, Gujarat), national security (Kandhar) etc. In a bid to push the envelope and become a truly pan-India leader, he even risked his position in the Parivar by making unacceptable utterances on Jinnah in Pakistan. For a while, he became the Wrong man in the Right (winged) party while trying to emulate Atalji's image of Right man in the Wrong party.

While, it will be harsh to say he has taken a leaf from Obama's book on campaign given his own exemplary credentials on electoral tactics, there are parallels in the the campaigns of inarguably now the world's most powerful person and arguably the modern India's most successful policitian. The parallels are also attributed to the similiarites between the two of the world's largest democracies

  1. Both the nations take pride in being technology champions of sorts - Advani has put up a very informative website like Obama's Advani's campaign like Obama''s intends to use web and technology to the hilt to influence the tech-savvy youth and opinion makers. Glimpses of his campaign can be seen on facebook, orkut, youtube and footage will only increase as we approach the D-day.

  2. While being a family man is a given in India for anyone who wants to make it big in social / political scene, in the US showcasing your family orientedness is a big resume plus - Obama drove home the point hard through his speeches and appearances. Advani has used his family-man image smartly and sparringly - to his credit no other family member appears to be involved in active politics or have taken benefit of Advani's stature, unlike most other politicians in the country.

  3. While Advani needed to fix his image given his doubtful credentials on several issues to have a mass appeal like Atalji, Obama wanted to create an image from scratch as he was not much heard of before. Both used autobiographies as a medium to achieve their objectives as that is the most potent weapon to influence the country's large intellegentsia / media who in turn can shape the mass opinion. Advani timed his book "My Country My Life" release to suit the general elections timing the way Obama did with his release "The Audacity of Hope".

  4. Both India and US are celebrity crazy nations and to have them on your side can help you in your cause in a big way. Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney, Warren Buffet et al came out in the open support of Obama and the total celebrity support outnumbered that of McCain by far. While Advani may not enjoy a similiar level of celebrity support he has tried to make several right connections with the influential - a. Aamir Khan arranged a special screening of TZP for Advani and his family and then Aamir used Advani's softer side / tears for TZP's promotion, b. Big B finds a special mention on his website. Big B and Ash also attended his book release function in Mumbai, c. Country's top 15 industrialists including the Ambani brothers were invited to his residence to discuss the country's economic outlook, d. Despite being hard on the Saffron party in the past, NDTV awarded LK Advani the "Lifetime achievement award for 2008" in a celebrity studded function.

  5. Both nations have huge racial, color, ethnic and religious diversities and both Obama and Advani have tried to strike the right chords with the fence-sitters and non-core contituencies. Obama did well to woo fair portion of Hispanic, Asians and white votes esp youth in addition to the overwhelming support from Afro-Americans, heloed by a specific strategy to address concerns of each of the group. Advani is letting the RSS / Rajnath / Modi do the talking to retain core constituencies and is wooing non-core votes like Muslims, Christians by subtle messaging - urdu section on his website, focus on his love for and early days in Karachi and convent school background.

  6. Democratic principles are ingrained in physche of both the nations and more participatative the process more comfortable the people feel. Obama raised huge sums of money from public for his campaign both on and offline thereby making them feel a part of the campaign. "Advani Gaurav Nidhi" may have been setup to inculcate a similiar sense of belongingness in people's mind.
India does not have a presidential system of election unlike the US and the prime ministerial choice may ultimately become a function of seats arithmetic and coalition compulsions - whosoever wins the only hope is India gets a stable, action-oriented and accountable government. May the best man assume the top office!!

Jai Hind, Jampak

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Back to the Pavilion

A couple of years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine the cricketing world without the greats of Lara, Warne, Mcgrath, Ganguly, Kumble, Gilchrist, Pollock etc, but they all have bid goodbye to international cricket. Announcement of retirement by another great Matthew Hayden recently triggered my imagination as to what factors drive this tough decision for any great sportsman.

I believe the way an investor would like to time his exit from the market when the value of his holding is at an all time , a sportsman would want to leave the game at the high of his career at his own terms. However, two complexities arise - 1. When and how do you know you are at your peak & the way forward is downward sloping and 2. if you are indeed at your peak or thereabouts , is it really worthwhile to let go all that comes in abundance with the position you are in - money, fame, adulation etc and rather play as long as you can even if it is likely to be a bumpy ride ahead.

It may be helpful to analyze the behavior using the following framework laid out in the chart above. While all these greats have apparently announced their retirement of their own volition, Y-axis measures the level of discretion actually exercised by these players in such decisions.

  • Players high on this measure, use proxies like age, associated wear & tear, strength of the bench (its all relative after all) etc to time their exit and then try and make it as graceful as possible. Warne and McGrath timed it to perfection and chose an ideal setting in Ashes-2006 to retire from test cricket. Similiarly, Gilchrist chose India-Australia series in 2008 for his final moment. Lara chose world-cup 2007 at home ground, though as expected Windies werent up there in terms of team performance.

  • Low down the Y-axis, it indicates a situation where an exit is forced by circumstances like absolute underperformance (Hayden in the current SA series), relative underperformance (Kumble vs Bhajji in the Australia test series), big event loss (world cup-07 losst for the Skipper Inzy) and hence such exits are sudden and often contradicts the previous public utterances on retirement.
Some players like Pollock, Ganguly and possibly Dravid next try hard to make a come back so that they can gracefully retire on their own terms.

Other considerations depicted on X-axis like financial (match fee, sponsorship), setting records often drive the decision making and force players to prolong their careers as much as possible. Personal reasons like family issues on the other hand force to cut short the careers. (eg. Mcgrath's decision to retire could have been accelerated by her wife's disease)

Players from sub-continent tend to give-in more to the financial and record-setting considerations because probably more money is chasing them and also because in their culture records hold more importance than in other cricket playing nations. Past performance is also given more weightage in the sub-continent as compared to say down-under and hence more conducive setting to pursue and realize the other goals. So Murali can be expected to keep playing till he feels his record of most wickets is humanly unreachable (not in a way undermining his undiminished enthusiasm to continue to contribute to Sri-lankan cricket)

So, what does one take away from the chart - Warne who was in prime form and was also in race for taking most wickets in test cricket with Murali and had several sponsorships, left it at a real high while letting other things go. On the other extreme, Hayden had little choice with signficant loss of form and still not in the top bracket in terms of sponsorships and records. Though I have spilled the beans above, leave it to the readers to read between the spaces to rationalize the positioning of each of these greats!

With that, I call it a day!
Cheers, Jampak

Sunday, January 11, 2009 - First Take

I hereby take liberty to write an uncensored review of my old school friend's maiden internet venture

While I don’t know what hullabu means, I can only appreciate the objective it sets out to achieve. In this age and time of myriad options on internet fighting for millions of internet user’s eye-balls and surfing time, many have actually developed a successful business model aggregating the content wherein all alternatives are available under one roof or under one URL, if you will. Travel portals like aggregates all flights and stay options from different vendors and make them available to potential travelers, does the same with movie options, does the same for financial products and I can go-on endlessly. I know few are trying to apply the aggregation concept to hitertho unexplored verticals like jobs, education as well.

I am not sure if any there is any other web property out there which does what hullabu seeks to do. It puts all the regularly visited portal segments of a typical user under one URL so that one need not put effort in trying to remember the URLs and browse them through different browser windows. It can make one’s web surfing experience much more efficient and structured. A typical user in a web session will check out a few

  • News portals – to satiate his hunger for breaking news

  • Financial news portals – to know how more or less wealthy he is

  • Job portals - if he/she is in the market

  • Matrimony portals - again if he/she is in the market ;)

  • Shopping portals - if he/she doesn’t like going to the markets

  • And search engines for all other one-time needs

    Some specific features of which I could figure out are

  • One can add or delete categories to suit one’s needs

  • One can add or delete websites within a category depending on one’s liking

  • Recently visited websites are captured in the tabs at the top, which makes it easy to revisit them and also in a way summarizes the surfing journey for that session for the user

    A not so-sophisticated user like me so far relied on favorites, piecemeal measures like RSS feed for blogs etc, but now would seriously consider to approach surfing in a more organized fashion.

    While this is beta version, there are some areas of improvement like better and more “good on eye” colorful interface, automatic removal of duplicate tabs and resequencing of remaining tabs, more customization opportunities for the user and unless the creator has good reasons to hide his identity (read shying away from creditors) let people know who is behind the effort. Hope these would be taken care of in the final launch.

    Best wishes and congratulations!!

Times of Crime and Philanthropy

I deliberated recently on an interesting article in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki, which was also referred to on a live mint blog of Sandeep Parekh. It hypothized that financial crimes thrive during economic booms and other property crimes like bank robbery etc thrive during downturns. Below is an attempt at rationalizing this behavior and also drawing parallels with the opposite human act of philanthropy.

Times of Crimes
I believe financial crimes like the Madoffs, the Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh stock market scams, ponzy schemes etc are triggered by a drop in diligence levels and increase in risk appetite of the investors and other parties in the financial ecosystem, which happens when asset prices are secularly moving northwards and outlook is very bullish, thereby providing a conducive environment to commit a financial fraud.

On the other hand, other property crimes like theft, robbery etc are more a function of the level of desperateness of the culprits, which is heightened when the times are bad and not necessary result due to drop in guard by the potential victims.

Hence the drivers of the two types of crimes are quite different and there occurrence is aided by direction of economic cycle trajectory.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the opposite human act of philanthropy (giving more to others than you ought to) & its variants work vis-a-vis crimes (taking away from others which never belonged to you) in different times.

Times of Philanthropy
A pure financial philanthropy would be more pronounced in economic booms when money-making is easy and doesn’t cause much pain to part with your wealth and beneficiaries may even be unrelated parties. In boom times, even otherwise not so selfless people are tempted to participate in financial philanthropic activities perhaps owing to peer pressure and to gain social mileage.

On the other hand, not-strictly financial philanthropy (bailing someone out of a financial mess, helping someone find a job etc) warrants itself more in downturns when people are in dire needs. In bad times, while there are more opportunities to be helpful, there are fewer who may be in a position to help and even fewer who would want to. Hence, a larger supply demand gap is created as compared to good times and only the benefactors who genuinely want to be helpful may come into play.

Here again, drivers of the two types of philanthropy are different, the former is driven by abundance and footage factor, the latter is more driven by genuine benevolence and hence the two manifest themselves in different proportion in different cycles.

Keep the faith
Like how most of the financial crimes committed in economic booms are finally uncovered only in downturns when the punishment is meted out, one would hope all kind deeds committed in your good times come back to rescue you in your bad times.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

RNBDJ Vs Ghajini

While differences between the two of the biggest Bollywood releases of the year RNBDJ and Ghajini are very obvious right from the genre and the directors - one being a romantic plot in an unusual small-town setting executed by Aditya Chopra, who never seem to get enough of Punjab and SRK, while the other is basically a revenge story, remade and retold, by Tam film-maker Murugadoss, I thought it would be interesting to look at the amazing similiarities two releases had both in the build-up and the actual product
  • SRK and Aamir sport looks very contrary to their established images. SRK as Suri is very uncool unlike Raj & Rahul of the past while Aamir as Sanjay Singhania is too macho and violent unlike Nikumbh & Bhuvan.
  • Both Suri and Singhania are heaviliy relied on in the marketing of the movies and almost zero footage is given to the lead actresses in the pre-release period.
  • Both movies aim to give more than two SRK and Aamir to the audiences for the cost of one ticket- SRK with two parallel roles and a song imitating past heroes in SRK style and Aamir again with two characters though not parallel and a bonus song with multiple looks.
  • Suri and Singhania, thanks initially to circumstances and later by will, hide their full identities from their love interest and try and win them minus that extra factor of coolness and richness respectively.
  • Female protagonists, both making their first Bollywood appearances, wear a unconventionally refreshingly look and demeanour.
Before I overanalyze the similiarities, I'll post this and start thinking about the topic for my next publication. Cheers. Jampak