Sunday, 30 December 2012

Unfinished business

I sit here watching images of what has been going on in Delhi in the last two weeks. The unspeakable horror that was inflicted upon a 23-year old Delhi student, her 13 days of struggle for life and the deplorable politics that ensued at all stages has enraged the country like never before and the outpouring of grief is unprecedented.

But, the irony is that this is not an isolated incident, it is certainly not the first and probably not the last. Some of these incidents make big news and we have public and media outrage, despair, calls for action...Perhaps we have become too quick to brand our events into hashtags: #lokpal #corruption #Damini #Nirbhaya #alltimelow #stoptheshame.....The awakening of 1.25bn people at last! Our own revolution, led peacefully by the youth and complemented by social media (bravo!).

The government on its part, does nothing and remains silent. The sniggering continues, what! after all this the PM could only say "#TheekHai" or worse, some idiotic politician brands the protesters as "dented-painted women" which just shows how bad their mentality is.

But soon people get tired of protesting, the media finds another issue to highlight, the Twitterrati move on to happier topics... No laws are passed, no law enforcement is strengthened, no accountability is restored. The crime, the violence especially against women, the corruption continues..


Because a system as broken as ours, a society as corrupt as ours cannot be fixed by one or two "uprisings" alone. Because believe it or not, we live in a democracy, and democratic governments are not toppled by a candle light march at India Gate (or Jantar Mantar).

So all the calls for action, special sessions of parliament, better laws, better law enforcement will fall on deaf ears. Because the political class knows they are in power and the person on the street is not. News Anchors, social activists and the like can shout all they want on national TV -"has the political class lost sense of ground reality?" "Have they lost touch with modern India?" 

But, I think that the exact opposite is true - modern India has lost touch with politics.

We have always known that India is a land of diversity - there are many languages, religions, cultures, caste, creed etc. However, any marketing guru will tell you that aside from the regional differences, there are also socio-economic segments, broadly: The rich, the consuming class, the climbers, the aspirants and the destitute. These segments are extremely disparate and they sometimes have very little in common between them. 

India is a growth story because the consuming class and the climbers have become a sizeable chunk of the population and are growing significantly. Add to it the so called "demographic dividend" and this creates a perfect opportunity for businesses around the world. But the important lesson here is to know your segment and cater to that segment only. To win over a segment, you might even have to alienate the others. 

Our political class probably learnt this very important marketing lesson a long time ago. And so they play in their little segments based on regional or socio-economic differences. They know they cannot please everyone, so they only cater to people that will actually put them into power. 

You and I, the educated consuming class of the country, the upwardly mobile climbers or even the aspirants - are not the target segment of any politician today. 

Why? Because we don't bother to speak when it actually matters. We don't vote, most people haven't even registered to vote. Because well, who do we vote for? "The candidates do not represent us". "We believe in no one." But then who is our icon, our leader? Will the real youth icons please stand up? 

We need someone to represent us in parliament, to take up our issues, to create laws that matter to us and ensure that these laws are enforced. Our revolution will come from going inside parliament, not by protesting from the outside. 

But is this incident only about politics, bad governance, lack of law and order? No, it is not! The issue is actually much larger, the issue is about how our society treats women, the attitude towards women which manifests itself in many crimes against women. It is hard to talk about all these issues in one go, but let me highlight one particular issue:
Whenever something like this happens, the media is quick to pose the question: why do we disrespect our women, why are women being objectified? Celebrities and Bollywood personalities are quick to join in. But ironically, every Bollywood movie these days has an "item song". Every heroine wants to have a song like "Sheila kee Jawaani", "munni badnaam huee" or "chikni chameli" to her credit. These songs with skimpily clad "hot" woman dancing among 100s of men supposedly from the "masses" and the "hinterland" are constantly streamed onto our TV screens and radio channels. The latest such song has lines to the effect "main murgee ka leg piece hoon, gataka le alcohol se; meree photo ko seene se laga Fevicol se..." Why are we so quick to lap them up and happily dance to them in our weddings and celebrations? But of course that is OK, because it is entertainment and sure pop songs all over the world are provocative, edgy and objectify women... But have we ever considered that some people might be taking this too literally, that their idea of entertainment might be attacking a woman on the street...Have we ever considered that treating women as objects has become part of our pop culture...

The issues go on....but there are no easy fixes and somewhere the blame lies with us.

Sure, maybe this time, some action might be taken. Maybe the six men will probably get a death sentence; but that is not the point. The point is that we all know that such events will happen again, that we will have to protest again, but the only way to make these protests meaningful is to not just call for action, but to ACT as well...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

In the neck of the woods

Do you ever feel the need to not incessantly check email, not download a new app, not turn on the TV (which unfortunately is a constant fixture in my house) and just run away..far far from the usual retail therapy outlets..away from the hustle and bustle of city life..far far away. Do you ever feel that the great outdoors, the countryside, the mountains are calling you and you really need to escape.

Well that's exactly how I have been feeling lately and while I would have liked to go away all of Easter holiday, unfortunately that didn't happen and I only managed to do a one night stay in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare.

Stratford-upon-Avon! That's no mountains!! You must be thinking..

I know, I know, yes it is part of the Cotswolds, the quintessential English countryside, but for all practical purposes its a little town. Its a town with its high streets littered with the same old chains we see around every neighbourhood - Cafe Rouge, Strada, Pizza Express and of course, Starbucks!

But anyway, this is the best I could get to, so here I was, trying to escape the city, but the city wouldn't leave me alone! So my friend and I sauntered around the park around the little river, looking for the "off-beaten track".

"You are looking at the wrong place, ladies" said the friendly traffic policeman we asked for directions to the "forest"

So we decided to stroll around the manicured lawns next to the river. We were about to give up, when suddenly, we saw a cycle hire. This friend of mine is a dainty lady, so I assumed that she didn't know how to cycle. I just stood in front of the cycle hire guy looking really forlorn and said, oh well, if you knew how to cycle, we could have cycled around....

"You've known me for more than a decade and you don't know if I can cycle or not!" my friend exclaimed..

"Well... I've never really seen you cycle" I retorted.

"I can! and I shall prove it!" and with that she struck a deal with the cycle hire and before you knew it, we were on our bikes.

It was chilly, and the wind swept across our faces as we cycled through mustard fields. Very DDLJ :) All I needed was my prince charming with a cow and a swiss bell...oh Well!

We cycled along the pathways, sang songs like old hindi film heroines and generally wondered how life had become so complicated and how little time we had to enjoy life's simple pleasures.

But sometimes, even an hour of indulgence can make you realise what you are missing and make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated again.

So go re live those simple pleasures and tell me how it felt!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Flamenco Smitten..

I've had two very close encounters recently..they were of the Spanish gypsy variety and took my breath away. While it is very easy to fall in love with all things Spanish, there is something about Flamenco that completely blows you away.

During my recent trip Seville, my brother and I decided to check out a Flamenco performance. Don't go to the touristy ones, be careful about fakes or over-priced trite serenading as art etc etc. Both of us were a little half-hearted in our search for the authentic performance. But I guess, it was meant to be. We literally stumbled upon a little hole in the wall type place, that had special performances by serious art students.

And so we took our seats in a small, squarish room with minimal decoration and soft lighting. The performance began slowly, with a solo guitar performance, followed by vocal and a guitar duet.

Then the lady in black took to the stage, swirling her skirt, clapping her hands and tapping her feet that you began to realise the magic of the music and the dance form. And when the man and woman performed together, everyone in the room was enthralled. They moved so energetically, yet gracefully; in tune with the music, but really following their own beat at the same time.

Back in London, following up on my New Year's resolution of doing more things outside of work, that I came across a Flamenco dance festival in London, so I promptly decided to go.

So last night, I had a different kind of encounter - this wasn't a typical "quartet" type of performance like the one in Seville. This was a theatrical performance, an adaptation of a play, almost like ballet.

My seat was right at the edge of the stage, so I could see the expressions, the sweat on the male lead's hair as he flicked his hair. It also turned out, quite by accident really, that I picked a show by Antonio Gades, one of the most important Flamenco choreographers of all time!

Antonio Gades passed away in 2004, and this performance called "Fuenteovejuna" was being done for the first time since his death! The show was based on a play by noted playwright Lope de Vega and is based on real events in the 17th century.

The performance was simple, the dance was part Flamenco, part ballet and part folk. The really fluffy and dramatic skirts were missing. But the story was compelling, powerful and dramatic.

Overall, turned out to be an amazing evening and quite a historic performance as well. And I am hooked, of course..been thinking about enrolling myself in Flamenco lessons..that's what close encounters do to you!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Great Expectations....

I missed you my Dear blog..I'm sure you missed me too :) I've been a bit busy, a bit more lazy and a lot less inspired. Anyway, here's a little something before we all go on a break again..

Couple of days ago, I got a chance to see a preview of one of the most awaited Bollywood movies of the year - Don 2. Although I didn't love the earlier Farhan Akhtar - Shahrukh Khan outing - mostly because I felt the it was clunky. There were too many unnecessary throwbacks to the original Don and that simply looked out of place in today's context (especially the remixed songs - which were atrocious!). I did like some of the twists (in the old one) and the promos for the new one looked super slick and so I was quite excited to get a free pass to Don 2.

The movie takes off where the last one left. Don's many enemies are conspiring to kill him. Cut to Malaysia, where we meet SRK who is leaner, meaner and has a very bad hairdo (which he does get rid of soon though). A few seconds later, he has single-handedly taken care of about five men. Daniel Craig would have been proud.

Credits roll, backed by great sound track by Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy. I have a big smile on my face and my friends look at each other with a thumbs up sign.

After the customary introduction of the oh-I-am-too-cool-for-Bollywood Priyanka Chopra, Don is re-united with Boman Irani and we see a well-executed jail break. So far so good.

But then, the plot begins to look very much like it was in the 70s -we are explained every detail of the plot (twice: in English and Hindi). Don (who controls the drug cartel of Asia) suddenly wants to steal "printing plates for bank notes". Really? In this day and age of plastic money, e-money and m-money, our very intelligent Don wants to steal bank notes! And how will he steal, these printing plates you ask? But of course, we use Bollywood's mantra - when in doubt about how to break into a high security vault, please refer Ocean's 11. Sure enough, we are introduced to a computer hacker, a bomb expert etc etc..Farhan Akhtar, et tu??

You get the gist..of course, there's some customary melodrama thrown in for good measure. Farhan tries to bring some twists into the plot, some work some don't. Some of the dialogues made every one burst into laughter, not because they were witty, but because they were so out of place and ridiculous.

Overall, I thought the action sequences were very well shot. SRK as Don does an admirable job (yes yes, I have always been an SRK fan!). He beats up everyone, masterminds the whole plot, charms everyone including PC (who I'm sorry to say, has nothing really to do in this movie..why is she there anyway?). Don suddenly begins to look more like Ethan Hunt! (maybe that is why Mr. Cruise released MI4 earlier in India). But then makes me wonder where all his henchmen went? Whats a Don without his army of followers?

Boman Irani is good. The others are either bad or completely wasted in their roles.

Oh well, so much for expecting a rockstar movie!

Speaking of which, I was really looking forward to Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar. As a  AR Rahman fan, I loved this out and out rock album. The promos looked convincing, with Ranbir looking like he knew how to act like a Rockstar.

First things first, Ranbir did indeed know how to act like a Rockstar. Every frame in the movie belonged to him. At every stage, he was pitch perfect in showing how a simple college going kid became "the bad boy of rock music". How he got fame and money, but he lost everything he had and became completely disintegrated from society...

The music of course, had a life of its own. On screen, it looked and sounded like magic. Rahman at his creative best!

What went wrong then? The plot, of course. The first half of the movie was good, but then the second half was so slow that you could feel the frustration in the air. Everyone was itching and really hoping that the movie would redeem itself and something would actually happen! The songs which were the movie's best assets began to feel like a burden when there were 3-4 songs in quick succession. The other problem was the lady who played Jordan's love interest. While Nargis' character was obviously "inspired" by Kareena's from Jab we Met, Nargis is no Kareena. Her eyes never light up and her voice (dubbed) actually sounds so screechy, that you don't want her to speak!

As someone rightly said, Ranbir is so good in the movie that he makes the rest of it look ok!

Oh well, so there we are, the end of another year. A year that started with great expectations, but fell a bit flat. The markets had started to look up and seemed like we were on the brink of economic recovery. Alas, the recovery was short-lived and soon we were back danger zone, just like 2008.

Personally, it has been a roller coaster ride for sure, but I wish things would move forward instead of moving around in circles...

Anyway, I hope that the next year brings better tidings for everyone.Here's wishing you a brilliant 2012!! Happy Holidays everyone :)

Monday, 19 September 2011

No woman, no cry

Bomb Blast in Agra Private Hospital was the headline on Google India News yesterday. Alarmed and hoping for the best as two of my Uncles (and Aunts) run private hospitals in Agra, I called up home. Turned out that the hospital in question was not directly connected, but actually did belong to some of our distant relatives. I think everyone is safe, but I was shaken and somewhat stirred, but then what can you really do about these things? The government comes up with tired responses on how this could be a terrorist attack and the perpetrators will not be spared, but have we seen any of the perpetrators caught or brought to task so far? Unfortunately, this is routine news in India and one can only hope and pray that our near and dear ones are safe..

One of my friends called and told me that she lost her job recently. She was upset and I tried cheering her up with cheesy one liners: "Its not personal, its business" - ala Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You've got mail. But the reality is (as Meg's character says) "its not personal to you, but its personal to me!" Behind the falling stock market, surging gold prices, inverted yield curve, behind all the numbers on Bloomberg, there is a human face that no one sees. At the end of the day as we all invest so much of ourselves into our work, business is very personal..

Another old friend has been very upset lately. I've seen her go through extreme highs and lows, relationship pains you see..I happened to catch up with her yesterday and things are still rocky. She is hurt, confused yet hopeful. Another friend has just broken up from a seemingly happy relationship and was shell-shocked and trying to piece her life together. She is also hurt, confused but has no hope..Which brings me to a Carrie Bradshaw like moment - Is not being in a relationship better than being in an unhappy one? I don't know anymore..

And so with a heavy heart, I decided to put on my running shoes and my iPod and catch the last bit of sunshine. I was stopped in my tracks by this guy singing with his guitar in an alley of the streets. His lilting voice rang out melancholic and powerful. A man standing next to him was swaying to his music. The rhythm of the song was slow, probably 'coz he was singing his heart out, like he felt every word and he really believed in the promise of those words. A woman with a glass of wine stood in the corner but as I glanced towards her, she turned away to hide her tears. Maybe she was just moved by the magic of his voice and the beauty of the words..Or maybe she had gone through a lot of pain, but the song told her to not lose faith and hope.

So this for everyone out there, as someone recently said to me - "may you find your little patch of sunshine soon.."

My feet is my only carriage
So I've got to push on through
But while I'm gone...

Everything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright
Ev'rything's gonna be alright

No woman, no cry
No, no woman, no woman, no cry
Oh, little sister, don't she'd no tears
No woman, no cry

No woman, no woman, no woman, no cry
No woman, no cry
Oh, my little darlyn no she'd no tears
No woman, no cry, yeah
any sister no she'd no tears, no woman no cry

- Bob Marley

Monday, 22 August 2011

Of movies and music..

Everyone who has ever watched a movie with me will tell you that I am a very harsh critic, that I find faults with most movies, especially Hindi ones - which seem to be remarkably short on logic, reason, plot, screenplay, acting - pretty much everything..

So I recently saw a few Hindi movies (some new, some old) that I really liked (like a lot of people out there) and I thought I should write about them, well just to prove that I actually do appreciate a well made movie!

Dev D - Relatively old movie, I know! But I only recently saw it. I think what makes this movie great, is how Anurag Kashyap has taken elements / stories that have happened in the recent past and weaved them into an age old story that we all know and have seen many times over. The narrative is crisp, to-the-point and extremely contemporary. The characters are bold and un-apologetic. The performances are brilliant, especially Abhay Deol, who goes on a very convincing path of 21st century style self destruction.

Not to be forgotten, is the music. Amit Trivedi and Co, have put together a soundtrack that not only gels with the movie, but is extra-ordinary as a stand alone album. Most tracks are experimental and Amit Trivedi has been fearless and mixed rock, Indian classical, Jazz, Folk, Electronica, Western Pop / Soul and of course Bhangra. My favorite tracks are (not surprisingly) "Nayan Tarse", "Payaliya" and "Emotional Attyachar (rock version)".

ZNMD - I was very apprehensive about this one. Does this have a "Dil Chahta Hai" hangover? Does it over-promise and under-deliver? Maybe this is like Rock-On - another saga on friendship... Even after reading the good reviews, I still wasn't sure if I will like it. But when I saw it, boy, was I happy? I loved it! I wanted to see it all over again, I felt like making a movie myself!
For those of you who haven't seen it, its about three thirty something men who go on a "bachelor" road trip. Its a feel good movie where the three friends embark on an almost life altering trip where they all fight their own demons. I, of course, identified the most with the character played by Hrithik Roshan, as I have too worked many long hours, scheduled my plans while on holiday around work calls, reviewed documents in a cave hotel and would have completely lost it someone threw my blackberry out of the window! The movie works because the lead actors gel together. Farhan Akhtar is at times too goofy, but excels in his moment of truth. And aah yes, Abhay Deol...he makes his role look so easy, and almost plays third-fiddle to other two. But watch out for the expression on his face in the last adventure, and you know that this has been a class act once again. However, the real star is Zoya Akhtar, although I still think "Luck By Chance" might be better in terms of screen play and story telling.

The music is superb - Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy definitely don't disappoint. Its easy to see why "Senorita" is so popular, its melodious and the mix of Spanish and Hindi as well as the interplay of the "lead" singers is quite good. I can't decide between "Der Lagee Lekin" and "Sooraj ki Baahon Mein", but hey, both are good!

So here I am raving about movies I saw recently. I do hope you see these movies (if you haven't!), but definitely listen to the soundtracks, as while one is more "mainstream", they both provide a complete contrast to each other that always is a good thing..

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Wall Street meets Main Street

The past few days have been very unsettling. The financial markets the world over have taken a nosedive. Fears of a double dip recession have returned and looks like investors and those of us in the financial sector have no where to hide. Of course, the markets are usually a leading indicator and things may turn out to become worse for the "main street" as well.

What is more unsettling however, is the sudden and inexplicable violence in London. I woke up on Sunday to see images of burning buildings and people trashing stores. At first, I thought this was a one-off thing, although pretty scary and not something that you would expect to see in a city like London. When people started calling me, and had sent emails overnight to check I was ok on Tuesday morning, things really hit home. I quickly turned on my computer to see what was going on. Some of the images were horrific to say the least. The sounds of sirens, ambulances and helicopters have continued over the last few days and parts of England do look like war zones.

What struck me the most is that people are not really protesting about anything at all! They are just taking advantage of the situation in a very organised way and looting items like plasma TVs, iPads, shoes, clothes..How were they so organised, they used blackberry messenger, of course! Only in the UK will you find people in £100 trainers robbing shops because they feel that they have been wronged by society..

Who are these people? What do they want? They say they are angry, but what for? For having council housing? for having the chance to get an education? to get unemployment benefits? How about they tried to go to a real poor country and saw what poverty is all about. What it means to have no food, no home and no education. What it means to be living off the streets and have no real prospects.

These riots also brought home the fact that the UK authorities are unable to deal with widespread disturbances like these. They are still debating whether it is actually "legal" to use batons and wondering if the use of water cannons is "appropriate". In fact, on the very first day of rioting, the police simply watched as rioting went on, much preferring to look at CCTV rather than actually trying to stop the events as they unfolded.

Reminds me of the free market regulatory policy that most of the western world has followed. The theory that markets are always right and that the market will correct itself and weed out the outliers is completely wrong and has been proven wrong many times in the past. As for the current sell-off, seems to have been triggered by the US govt downgrade by S&P, but no-one has a put a finger on the real issue - over leveraged consumers and governments. The response of the western world to shore up the economy for the last few years has been to print, print and print more money ergo leading to further increase in government debts! Very few have pointed out that credit fueled culture will need to be reversed and it will be painful.

On the social side, there has been talk about "bad parenting" here and how parents need to keep a tab on their out-of-hand kids. Is that the real issue here? Why did these kids or certain sections of society get out of hand in the first place?

Maybe all this is because the rich and the poor both felt entitled to have things that they could not afford in the first place. The educated used their credit cards, while the un-educated used their knives and the power of the mob.

I almost feel that police and regulators have been too soft here. Increasingly in the west, you get the feeling that Big Brother is watching. Phones are being tapped, emails are monitored, there is CCTV everywhere you go. But where is the Big Brother when you actually need him?

I hope that the fires are put out quickly and the sirens go quiet again. I hope the rampant sell-off in the markets stops and firms start generating business and start hiring again. But the reality is that all measures are stop-gap and temporary and no one has a real long-term solution yet. And so we will go along our business, till we get shocked to the core again..