Saturday, October 30, 2010

ENDHIRAN (ROBOT) - The build up

Rajnikanth's giant cut out at Sky Walk Mall, Chennai

It is impossible for one to reside in Chennai and not get carried away with the Rajnikanth mania. People, in Tamil Nadu and around, wait with alacrity for a Rajni movie to arrive because each movie brings with it a carnival-like atmosphere and electrifies a rather dull city (I’m sorry, but it’s true).

A Rajni movie is not like any regular movie. It’s an event, like the Olympics, and the entire state of Tamil Nadu starts preparing for it months before its release. That’s why I compared it to the Olympics and not the Commonwealth Games. The momentum builds with every passing day and is soon reflected in local newspapers, radio channels and conversation. However, it’s the numerous banners by fan clubs on every street that tell you something big is on its way. Most of these banners are freakishly similar and have a large picture of Rajni in the centre, accompanied by the president and vice-president of the fan club on either side, looking petrified just to be on the same banner as the great man.

The excitement in the air was palpable. It wasn’t long before I got caught up in the hype.  I wanted to be a part of the festivities. I was suddenly a fan of Rajnikanth. I had seen just one movie of his before – Shivaji, and I thought it was one of the most ridiculous movies ever. Then what was happening to me? I had no control of my mind and body. I was suddenly supporting the man in all discussions. I took offence to Rajni jokes. I started hanging out with my Tamil brothers and discussing about the thailavar and his greatness. This was Rajni mania taking over.

Two weeks to go, articles and news snippets on Enthiran (Robot) and Rajnikanth were a part of every national news network. Local TV channels went berserk. Air time was dominated by Rajnikanth. Other producers refused to release their movies. The big day was fast approaching and I wanted to be a part of it.

Like all movies, there was a trailer release around the corner but that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Wrong. Lesson number one; nothing is normal or “small” when it comes to Rajnikanth. People, in thousands, flocked the theatres to watch the trailer and the theatre owners, definitely smarter and more experienced than me, expecting this had tickets made just for the trailer at insanely high rates for the lunatics to catch a 5 minute glimpse of their hero. Buying a ticket to watch a trailer! Which other actor can demand that? The moolah was already flowing but this was a pocket change compared to the events expected to follow.

My friend D, a man of many contacts, managed to get us tickets, for three times the price of a normal movie ticket, scheduled for the weekend of the movie’s release. A pretty good deal compared to ones shelling out 20-30 times of what they usually would. The ticket became my prized possession. I went about parading my ticket, much to the exasperation of the local boys, who couldn’t get them for the weekend of the movie’s release and would have to watch it on a weekday, which according to local tradition, is a sin. Plus me being a Non-Tamil added fuel to the raging fire.

One day to go. The rich and poor, conservative and liberal, drunk and sober, sane and insane, all join hands, forget their differences and celebrate life and celebrate Rajni, their God. Only one man can create such magic. I won’t digress into Rajnikanth the individual, since that deserves nothing short of a book, or books perhaps. Firecrackers and poojas are on at full swing and people can’t wait for THE DAY to arrive. Theatres have shows scheduled from 4am onwards and that each of these shows was sold out came as no surprise. Everybody wanted to be the first to see the man in action.

People were willing to spend any kind of money to go that extra mile to prove their loyalty. Tickets were being bought at exorbitant rates, some even willing to spend 50-60 times the price of an original ticket. The money caught my attention. All the, “I love Rajnikanth” suddenly disappeared and the opportunist in me woke up. A 1000% return on investment was guaranteed and was tempting as hell.

But I didn’t do it because D had to go through a lot to get the tickets and I didn’t want the effort to go down the drain. Plus he threatened to break my head if I did, so that was another factor.  In addition to the tickets, even the milk used in the pooja was being sold at Rs 500/- per glass and people were lined up buy that. INSANE! This was the sign; Rajni mania had hit the city, and boy did it hit hard. People lost all sense of rationality and pure emotions took over. Just a few hours to go.

Chennai wouldn’t sleep tonight.

Author’s note:
To do justice to this post and to the aura of Rajnikanth, I am splitting this post into 2 parts. The release and my movie experience are worthy of a separate post.

Click here to read the next part...

Saturday, October 16, 2010


This article was written well before the commonwealth games commenced and during the time when everybody “believed” that the commonwealth games were going to flop and were going to be a major embarrassment for India. These very hypocrites were later heard telling, “Oh! I always knew India is going to do it. India is the best.” I actually considered discarding this post of mine considering this drastic change in general opinion but then, I would be a hypocrite myself.

The build up to the Commonwealth Games wasn’t a very smooth one, which is an obvious fact. Credit goes to the media for bringing the various shortcomings to the notice of the common man and the concerned authority (though they were overdoing it by magnifying every scratch and leak in the stadia) which expedited the process in the right direction. News about incomplete stadiums, bad infrastructure and missed deadlines had become a part of our quotidian existence.

However, what caught my attention was something different. When I see figures like 28,000 crores* (maybe a lot more now) being spent on the games and in giving Delhi a facelift, it forces me to ponder, is it really worth it for a country like India?

Sports and entertainment, without a doubt, are a very important part of our existence today, probably the most exciting too. Representing your country in a sporting event like this is every sportsperson’s dream. But what if it’s happening at the cost of somebody’s basic subsistence?

Don’t even think for a moment that I’m accusing these deserving sportspeople of snatching a family’s food or shelter. However, in a country where millions are starving and struggling to survive, this exuberant squandering of the taxpayer’s money is immoral, criminal and pathetic.

One amongst my countless idiosyncrasies is, when I hear of a large amount of money being spent, I think of the countless other ways it could be disbursed. What you could possibly do with a figure like 28, 000 crores is crazy. If you were to give Rs 1 lakh of that amount per poor family, 28 lakh families would have benefitted and assuming that each family has an average of 4 members, then about 1.12 crore Indian people would have benefitted. Farmers could pay off their debts, education could become affordable or a family could simply just “live” for a year without the fear of starvation. Of course, I don’t expect this to happen. But then, is this spending justified?

Do these sporting events have absolutely any benefits?

“Economically it has been viewed as an industry around which cities can devise urban regeneration strategies. Socially it has been viewed as a tool for the development of urban communities and the reduction of social exclusion and crime.

 Most of these studies, however, have been conducted in advance of the events on behalf of interested parties without adequate measurement of final and intermediate outputs as well as inputs. Critical post-event studies point to their uneven impacts. Research shows that costs have usually been underestimated while beneficial impacts have been overestimated.

Gerd Ahlert (Institute of Economic Structures Research, OsnabruĆ¼ck) outlined a robust econometric forecasting model that has been applied to the Football World Cup 2006 in Germany. The calculation predicts huge pre-event investments and low direct economic impacts. But economic gains can be made indirectly through marketing and nation branding.

For modernizing nations, hosting a mega-event is a clear marker of international esteem for developmental achievements; in postmodern societies, events large and small fulfil the role of image generator.

Economic gains are less likely than social benefits, though this kind of legacy is difficult to plan and control.

From these studies, we can understand that these events could be passed off as a marketing scheme to show your country in a good light and raise its social standing. This could also bring in some investment but marginal compared to the money invested into the event. Sounds like a bad deal especially for a country like India. In spite of being the 2nd fastest growing economy and having the might of numbers behind us, India is still considered a poor country. Why? Because these numbers are attributed to the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor don’t seem to be getting any better.

A study has shown that there are more poor people in 8 Indian states than in 26 African countries, a fact that was raised by Mr. Azim Premji in the 26th August, 2010 issue of the Times of India. Can we afford the luxury of spending so much money so injudiciously? Then why are we constantly trying to prove our “might”?

India is a proud country and its people think very highly of it, which is a great thing. So much so, that they are willing to deceive themselves by turning a blind eye to reality. The infrastructure and the standard of living have improved manifold times, especially in the urban centres but there is still a long journey ahead before India can begin comparing itself to the developed countries. However, that requires time and patience, which is not one of our best virtues.

China, which was our poor neighbour a couple of decades back is on its way to becoming a superpower and the knowledge that it has left us behind is troubling us. How often do politicians play with patriotic sentiments by calling India the next super power? Feels good, doesn’t it? I am a proud Indian but a rational Indian. I wish, like millions of you, that India becomes the greatest nation in the world but the way to do it is not by just hosting major sporting events. India can never be a super power if it keeps ignoring its poor, who are suffering because this great nation is trying to portray something that it is not.

Only when you recognize and acknowledge your flaws, will you correct them. The Indian government would go to any extent and spend any amount for the West to think highly of us. When Bill Clinton visited Hyderabad, the entire stretch he had to travel, was lined with flowerpots and there were huge billboards on the roads to hide “objectionable” sights.

Why, take the case of the Hollywood blockbuster slumdog millionaire. The kind of furore over the movie in Indian political and social circles was pretty amusing. “How can you show India like this? India is not only about the slums”, they say. Who says it is? But the slums are there and it is true and it is embarrassing. Not showing it in the movies or not talking about it is not going to change anything. Everybody knows it’s there. Aren’t we pushing it too far?

Take the case of the commonwealth games itself, how often did we hear the media and the various boards saying things like, “Oh the price money for the winners is still the same as the Sydney commonwealth games. Why is the infrastructure not as good as the Beijing Olympics? UK has already handed over a few stadiums to the International Olympic Committee for the 2012 Olympics. If you have already spent thousands of crores on this why can’t you spend a few more crores on that and make it as well as them”.

Sounds like a childish competition, doesn’t it? Not when it’s made possible out of honest, hardworking taxpayer’s money. Let me not even get into the corruption charges and misappropriation of crores of rupees that happens every time such an event takes place. I can’t help but wonder if these few are the ones responsible for bringing such events to India for their ulterior benefits. Is the government hand in glove with them? These are only speculations and nothing can or will be proved. This is quite evident and these men know it and move around with impunity.

So when is the right time for India to host such an event?

“We are ready to host the Olympics”, say some officials. It’s not only about having the money to host such events. When you have a country whose people are happy and have a stomach full, when they are satisfied and even then you have the additional funds, then you are ready.

The Commonwealth Games have gone on well and India has managed to save its face. The minimum return that we should have expected to get is some “social-standing”, according to research. The negative publicity, controversies and bad infrastructure has caused enough embarrassment that even a thousand slumdog billionaires wouldn’t be able to match up to. It is like putting the limelight on a ballet dancer with hands and legs fractured. Let’s just hope, for India’s sake, the successful hosting of the games has been able to overshadow the thousands of problems that had plagued it.

The disastrous start to this commonwealth games could have some positive implications too. The next time India thinks about hosting such an event, it would think a thousand times and right on top on its list of questions should be, “Do you want it, oh common man”?    

*Source: Times of India, 21st August, 2010-08-28

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My friends. My life. My phone. My universe

Universe, the smart and some of the dreamy ones say, is the ultimate superset. Everything else is within it. What a ludicrous idea. I don’t care what’s beyond the clear blue skies, how many more planets or stars are out there, if there is somebody else like me in one of those planets, sitting there, sipping something similar to a coffee and writing a blog. Well thinking about it, I would be concerned if the blog is for the TATA DOCOMO One Touch Net Phone’s “Share Life” contest on Indiblogger, because that would mean me having more competition and lesser chances to grab that tempting prize money.

Sorry for the digression. The reason why I called it a “ludicrous” idea is because my universe is my life, with me being the core and my friends, family and the others being an intrinsic part of it. I believe (I’m not making this up for the contest), that a life not shared is a life not lived. You could be the most reticent of people but you would still want to share the happenings in your life, good or bad, with somebody, could be an imaginary friend, some stranger across the globe or even a diary. The point I’m trying to make is that, it’s a natural tendency for all and not a random idiosyncrasy.

The concept of “sharing life” wasn’t born with the advent of technology either. It’s been around forever. Some of the oldest sites of archaeological importance have painting or carvings that depict stories of day to day life. Why else would we make the lives of pigeons and eagles a living hell for so long by pestering them to deliver messages.

Luckily for us (and for the birds) things have changed and are consistently changing for the better. Family and friends to me, like for many others, is the most important asset in my life. Unfortunately, as time progresses, we move in different directions, distance increases and it’s so much more difficult to laugh, cry, fight and share so many other emotions. Step by step, man tried to bridge this distance (women, it’s figuratively speaking, so no offence). Telegraph, telephone, snail mail, cell phones, internet, email, social networking, etc are all attempts at this very cause.

Now we had the modes but too many of them and each of them required a separate medium and equipment. To overcome this paradox, a saviour was born - The Smart Phone. Life hasn’t been the same ever since.
Inflation and recession at the same time was God’s idea of a practical joke (it didn’t go down too well though). However, in the clouds of darkness there was a ray of hope. “Sharing life” was getting cheaper. Call and messaging rates were at an all time low, new services were being added and distance wasn’t a factor anymore.

The void in my life was being filled, my friends and family were a few button clicks away, the world wasn’t that big anymore and a sense of completeness, which I was craving for so long, encompassed me. However, it doesn’t just end there. The features and services are getting better by the day. With messengers like Yahoo available on your phone along with an array of other cool features, life can only get better.

With messaging costing peanuts and call rates lower than ever, I am constantly in touch with my loved ones and am in the know of what is happening in their lives. I visit a really cool place and I want my friends to know about it, all I have to do is take a picture on my phone and send it as an email. Or I could just put it on a social networking site and everybody could know about. I could be out all by myself but I know that I’m carrying my universe with me at all times.

I no longer miss my friends and family in spite of being away from them. It’s not that I love them any lesser but I have the means to make their presence felt at all times. Today, my smart phone is not just another member in my universe, it is the glue which holds my universe together. 

This post is written as a part of the TATA DOCOMO One Touch Net Phone’s “Share Life” contest on Indiblogger. If you liked the article, I’d appreciate it if you vote for me by clicking the “promote this post” button on Indiblogger and it might take me one step closer to the booty. I might just share it with you ;)


Thursday, October 7, 2010


My knowledge, limited as it is, is aware of two widely spoken forms of English, the American version and the British version. Any reference to the Indian English till date, has been to ridicule the way Indians speak. This is my attempt at changing it.

English is a language I have always been comfortable with and the credit for this goes to my parents, who tried hard to make me at least half as proficient as them. A lot of my childhood friends are from different parts of the country, so we mainly conversed in English and that was another reason for me to presuppose my expertise in the language.

Oral communication (OC) is a vital part of training for any organization which deals with clients from all over the world. You can understand its importance in the Indian IT industry, which has a 99% client base abroad.

Confident strides, filled with conceit, take me to the room where my OC sessions take place, with a belief that these sessions are for the “lesser mortals”.

The first few classes went like a breeze and then along came phonetics. This is when my pride was murdered. My heavily accented trainer asked us to pronounce the first, relatively easy word, “hello”. The responses poured in, “Hell-o”, “Hellooo”, “Heyy loo”, “hi”, “what’s up”, “Namaste”.

My bewildered trainer goes, “Neo neo neo”! Neo? Under the heavy accent the NO turned into a NEO. In that American accent she further adds, “We follow the British English. It’s ‘hu-llo’. Say it with me“. British English in an American accent? Anyway, I got the first one right but I knew that this wasn’t going to be our regular OC class.

Word after word the situation kept changing. Initially, I just stuck to what I knew. After a point I was made to realize, that all of what I knew was wrong. Since tactic 1 wasn’t working out too well, I decided to twist and turn every word asked and add a bit of an accent of my own to please the trainer. Now, not only was I saying the words wrong, I was also making a fool of myself.

Russel Peters, the comedian of Indian origin from Canada, was sceptical before his visit to India as a lot of his jokes were on the Indian accent and he wasn’t quite sure how the Indian audience would react to them. But to his surprise, the Indians laughed harder than anybody else to these very jokes. He said, “It’s not because Indians have a great sense of humour but because they believe that they don’t have an accent”. Eventually, I realized how true this was.

Coming back to our session, after the torrid start, things started getting a lot comfortable here. After the entire ego bashing session, there weren’t any “lesser mortals”, we were all equal. Come on, we couldn’t all be wrong. The only person, who wasn’t in the same boat as us, was the trainer. As expected, our trainer was soon the target of the jokes. “She talks funny man. I doubt if it’s even right”. Every time she would pick a new word, we would laugh and turn to a friend and say, “Did you just hear that? Imagine us talking like that. People would think we are crazy”. So the session ended with us ridiculing all that we were taught and laughing at the “strange” pronunciations of the otherwise common words.

Studies point out that India is going to be the largest English speaking nation by 2025, so I feel we must be given some credit. Instead of trying to change the way a billion plus people speak, welcome a new standard of English, The Indian English. It could just be the the standard for the future. I can visualize the future president of America in a pensive mood, about to address the nation. He says, "The problem is coming fastly. We musht do something something to make it okay soonly. Okay? Ta ta bye bye". Don't give me that look. It might just happen.