Friday, October 27, 2006

Some of my 3rd thought!

‘I love the sight of S A L E written with red on yellow, anywhere…I may not buy anything from there, yet it brings a smile on my face’, my colleague Amita announced, while we were on our way to a business meeting. She had just seen it written on some shop, from the window of our moving car. This sent me into a spin of thoughts, which I shall be sharing presently.

First thought (this one had come to me a few months ago also under different circumstances)
Even I feel great when I look at HDFC bank logo.

My first bank account with an ATM facility was with HDFC and it was a corporate account. So, it means the following things to me
- Symbol of my independence from Dadsent monies

- Source of material pleasures come from this place

Second thought (and this is an Advertising / Marketing one)
McDonalds used this insight to make a beautiful and award-winning commercial.

It showed a baby swinging on a swing. When the swing goes backward, the baby cries but when the swing comes forward, he smiles. This sequence from a different perspective shows us that he is in front of a window, which overlooks the famous golden arch of McDonalds which he gets to see only when he comes forward.

In marketing jargon they’ve given a name for this...its called 'Sensory Branding’. So the brands of today, deliberately try achieving this through odors/packaging/touch/look etc to attract and stay in the minds of customers, while McDonalds achieved it unknowingly. Beautiful, isnt it?

Third thought, in fact some of my third thought (guess everyone will identify with this one)
Remember the smell of first rains ?
Remember the gentle touch of your grandmother’s palm on your forehead?
Remember the feel of your mother’s sari you held when you used to tag along with her to every place?
Remember how the desks in your school looked like with cavities to store pencils, erasers and sharpeners and many scratch marks?
Remember the length of hair of the prettiest teacher in the school?
Remember the smell of your father? (which in most cases would be the smell of either Old Spice or Brut)
Remember the taste of 25 paise orange ice-candy?
Remember, the voice of your first crush?
Remember the sound of mom yelling at you to turn the volume down? (I still hear it sometimes, when am listening to loud music…even when she isn’t around to yell)

This can go on and on till you come to your present which you can use later to make another remember list. Please share some of your ‘remember’ list sometime…trust me, you will enjoy putting them down. I did!

My looooong (5 os for 5 days) were filled with some classic movies (Ikuru being the best), some good new music (which is always a delight), wine (as usual, white) and some really good time with old friends.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Communist Poet?

Thanks to my upbringing in an Urdu (and a literary one at that) culture, I got exposed to all the great poets of the language at an early stage. From the ghazals sung by the likes of Mehendi Hasan/Farida Khanam to my Ammi uttering 'Shers' on her own to some evening arguments happening between my parents and their friends over a certain 'Sher' from 'Ghalib' (and over unending rounds of 'orange pekoe'), I was always there as a curiois child understanding little, but trying very hard and most of all enjoying myself. The already poetic name of Faiz Ahmed Faiz mustve fallen on my little ears during one of those times.

I grew up thinking that Faiz only wrote about joys, longings and the million other shades of love which is great and beautiful in itself. But, later, when I started devouring his other works (of course with help from my parents, as I have a limited knowledge of Urdu), I discovered another shade of his poetry.The world in its ways of branding artforms called it political or communist or socialist poetry. I feel he was just being an 'Intelligent, Aware & Alert' human being who also happened to be a poet. So, if you combine these 4 aspects you get a man who'd be writing about the incorrect aspects of this world and how to try to set them right. And thats what he was doing...something which isn't particularly there in Urdu poetry.
With my limited knowledge of Urdu and English, I tried translating some of his works for my English friendly friends. Allow me to put up one of them (this one is on an aspect of 'Love' and has been beautifully rendered by Abida Parveen). Please keep in mind that a lot gets lost in translation.

Shaam-e-firaque ab na pooch
Aayee aura a ke tal gayee
Dil tha ke phir behel gayaa
Jaan thi ki phir sambhal gayi

Don’t ask me of my evening of waiting;
How it came and went away
I was powerless to do anything
But your love solaced my heart & soul

Bazme khayal mein tere husn ki
Shamma jal gayee
Dard ka chaand bujh gaya hijr ki
Raat dhal gayee

Your beauty lit up

The room of my thoughts,
The moon of pain burnt out
Ending the night of separation

Jab tujhe yaad kar liya
Subah mehek – mehek uthi
Jab tera gham jagaa liya
Raat machal machal gayee

Thoughts of you
Make my mornings beautiful,
This pain of separation
Make my nights restless

Dil se to har muaamla
Kar ke chale the saaf hum
Kehne mein unke saamne
Baat badal badal gayee

Thought I had all the issues
Resolved when I began
When it came to telling you
Things became different

Akhire shab ke humsafar
“Faiz” na jaane kya huye
Reh gayee kis jagah sabaa
Subah kidhar nikal gayee.

Oh my friend of eternity
Why are you away from me?
How come the morning breeze
Got parted from the morning itself.

I'd be glad if I managed to do an inch of justice to the words of the great poet.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Would you like to have a Drag, please?

Me (almost an ex smoker) & my father (an ex smoker) went to watch the now iconic ‘Munnabhai….’ last Sunday in one of those glossy multiplexes. To collect the tickets (done through tele-booking), we reached 45 mins in advance. This gave us some time to appreciate the newly done interiors of the theater. While doing so, my eyes came across something, which didn’t have much to appreciate in it…on the contrary, it demanded criticism and that’s the reason why I am writing this.

What was that ‘something’?
A beautifully laid out, softly lit, glassy and classy kiosk of a considerable size in a conspicuous corner. The ones that you would think should be displaying/selling branded jwellery, perfumes, international chocolates or exotic teas.

The displayed items were all the brands of CIGARETTES made by the house of ITC, laid out like designer watches or Swarovsky crystals. On the front were two A4 sheet saying ‘NOT FOR BELOW 18’ & ‘SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH’

Selling cigarettes in such a seductive manner in a public place like a Multiplex is incorrect. Kids and teenager with impressionable minds frequent these places, more than adults and the chances of them getting drawn towards visually attractive stalls is pretty high (in fact, I saw that happening). Considering that cigarettes on their own hold youngsters (at least of the male variety) fancy, a glossy way of displaying/selling them will further damage the situation and build a society with perhaps a higher number of smokers than what it would have been without that kiosk.

Cinemax must be pocketing a huge amount by selling this space to ITC, which in turn is getting these potential customers. Both these houses need a lesson in Social Responsibility. Putting up two A4s, way below the eye-level (can be read only by learned toddlers) saying something, which means nothing isn’t exactly Social Responsibility.

These corporates should be following what my father’s response to the situation was. If they have to sell cigarettes in this page 3 manner, they should also put up a full-size skeleton of a human being with a cigarette in his mouth and saying, ‘This is what happens to a smoker’. Sounds logical, eh?

Some of you might be thinking, that coming from a smoker, this piece is hypocritical. But, the fact of the case is that I am absolutely aware of the health hazards involved and hence would not want anyone to take it up. As for me, I’m down to a couple of cigarettes a day and have made a promise to quit it completely once I become a father.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Background Score

in my youthful romantic ways, heavily into all sorts of music and completely into movies, i always carried the concept of a 'background score in everyday life'. i'd be thinking of the right kind of musical score for the situation i am in. for example, while i am breaking up with my first girl-friend, who succumbed to parental pressures, somewhere between the tears my system was humming 'heartbreak hotel' or when i came to mumbai city for the first time, the song was 'ek akela is sheher mein' or whenever i am sitting underneath a full-moon sky, its always the 'moonlight' sonata (btw, the walkmans and the i-pods of today fulfill the same need). one day, i shall develop a book on this concept. for now, i shall limit myself to the subject of background music in the movies.

Storytelling in mainstream Bollywood is still very much like the traditional Indian art of storytelling (ancients art forms like Ramleelas and Tamashas). The characters are black & whites and stereotypes; the dialogues, melodramatic; the make-ups, garish and the music, ever-loud and jarring (probably, the lack of technologies like a mike also played a role) and the audiences just love it.

Personally speaking, I find all of it quiet revolting to my system, but that’s the succesful template. So, when somebody like A R Rehman comes along and gives a new dimension to the meaning of background scores, its a delight to the ears. Unlike most Bollywood musicians, who use templated music for different sequences (female choruses for poignant sequences or sitar strings for happiness), this man gets under the skin of the script (and he also chooses his scripts well) and writes a score just like a Javed Akhter must've written that script. The end result is what you hear in 'Swades', 'Rang De Basanti' or Water. Of course, he has been tutored by another master craftsman of background score 'Illayaraja', but the pupil has taken it to newer heights.

In the B&W days of movies, we had masters like SD Burman, Shankar Jaikishenand the maverick Salil Chowdhury who treated background score as a separate entity and gave quality time to its construction. For the soundtrack of 'Madhumati' (set on the hills of north India), Salil Chowdhury spent months in the hills of Darjeeling hunting for the right sound.

Before I end, I can’t resist mentioning the ordeal which my poor ears went through while watching an otherwise decent movie. This is 'Sarkar' by Ram Gopal Verma. What was puzzling was the fact that in certain sequences the music was way louder than the dialogues!!! Why??? I want to ask that question to Mr Verma.

in my coming postings, i shall be examining the subject of background score in the movies of other worlds (Mars and Uranus). for now, i shall leave you with a recommendation - pick up the score of 'Water' by Rehman and you wont regret it!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Rock, Bhajan & Qawwali

i wasn't too happy to miss the rock show by INXS that happened in Mumbai, lat Thursday. later, when an old friend gave reviews of the show, it added to my misery...apparently it was an excellent concert with the new lead singer, JD Fortune (who was found through the popular reality show) doing an excellent job.

currently, i am reading a book gifted to me by another old friend on my 30th birthday. its a fine book comprising essays on music & literature, by the famous Czek writer, Milan Kundera known for his abstract writing style in the realm of fiction. this book is called 'Testaments Betrayed'

if you are wondering, whats common between the above two statements (besides the 'old friend' bit), read the following passage take from the above mentioned book. its taken from the chapter on the famous composer 'Stravinsky' but its got to do with rock music.

"At jazz concerts people applaud. To applaud means: I have listened to you carefully and now I am declaring my appreciation. The music called "rock" changes the situation. An important fact: at rock concerts people do not applaud. It would be almost sacrilege to applaud and thus to bring to notice the critical distance between the person playing and the person listening; we come here not to judge and evaluate but to surrender to the music, to scream along with the musicians, to merge with them; we come here to seek identification, not pleasure; effusion, not delight. We go into ecstasy here: the beat is strong and steady, the melodic motifs are short and endlessly repeated, there are no dynamic contrasts, everything is fortissimo, the song tends toward the highest range and resembles screaming. Here we're no longer in those little nightspots where the music wraps the couple in intimacy; we're in huge halls, in stadiums, pressed one against the next, and, if we're dancing at a club there are no couples; each person is doing his moves by himself and together with the whole crowd at the same time. The music turns the individuals into a single collective body: talking here about individualism and hedonismis just one of the self-mystifications of our time, which (like any other time, by the way) wants to see itself as different from what it is." (i shall reflect on this line in some other posting).

brillaint reflections on the essence of rock music. interestingly, two other forms of music, both belonging to the Indian subcontinent and both carrying devotional flavours, embody the same kind of mood as mentioned above by the great writer. they are the following:

a) Bhajans: Popularised by the proponents and founders of the 'Bhakti' movement like Meerabai & Tulsidas, and took place in northern India in the 15th century. Bhajans are songs written and sung for a particualr diety (usually, Krishna) with minimal instruments and a huge chorus. Usually, they begin slowly, building a tempo, and then get into a loop of lyrics and melody which are then repeated several times. The desired effect is to feel-at-one with the concerned diety and some of the devotees really end up feeling that way...The powers of music!

Late Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Pt jasraj are some of the great muscians who have recorded lots of these Bhajans for the likes of us to appreciate. Perhaps, you can enjoy them and try to find the link that I am talking about.

b) Qawwalis:
This style was the expression of the 'Sufi' movement, which was parallel to the 'Bhakti' movement, during the same period of time and in the same geography. It was the Moslem counterpart to the Hindu 'Bhakti' movement. Once again, lyrics written to express love for God sung in a loopy sort of way and repeated until one gets into a trance and starts to believe that he/she is at-one with the Creator.

The genius of Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan took this form of music to the world arena and with the help of rock artistes like Eddie Vedder and Peter Gabriel, turned it into world-music.

Interesting, how music is universal and connected...always

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Continuing with my 3rd and the last part in the series on greatest auteurs of all time, I present our very own Satyajit Ray...the man who put India on the map of world cinema. Once again, much has been written about this multi-faceted genius and I shall try add my bit to it.

Going back to my postings, if Keislowsky had a unique mind and Bergman a philosophical, this handsome Bengali from Calcutta was one of the most humane of the filmmakers (one of the most because, you have others like Sica, and Fellini). The depiction of kids and women in his films, be it Durga & Apu in 'Pather Panchali' or Charulata in 'Charulata' goes on to establish this inherent humaneness in him. I shall take the aid of these 2 films to illustrate this.

Pather Panchali(The little song of the Road), 1955: Tells the story of a poor family of 4 in a typical Bengal village, almost through the eyes (almost because its not blatant) of the two kids, elder sister Durga and brother Apu. Thorughout the movie you will see the two kids, shot in the most fascinating fashion. Eyes popping out from behind the leaves or their reflection in the local pond along with the swimming ducks, or them running behind the local candyman or trying to catch the glimpse of a running train. The viewer is moved to the least I was!

Directors, ranging from Ashutosh Gowarikar in 'Swades' to Deepa Mehta in 'Water' (the official foreign film entry from Canada for the Academy Awars) to Adoor Gopalakrishnan, they've all been influenced by his works. In fact, watching 'Water' was a sort of deja-vu fro me, finding many shades of Ray in it.

Charulata (1964): Based on a short story of Tagore, the film tells the tale of a lonely wife, Charu, in 19th century Bengal, and her growing feelings for her brother in law, Amal. Two scenes of the film are enough to showcase his understanding of a woman's soul: The first seven wordless minutes of the film, depicting Charu's ennui, and the "Garden-swing sequence", where Charu confronts her love for Amal. Am not describing the sequences in detail as it may kill the joy of those who havent watched it yet and are planning to.

Madhabi Mukherji's portrayal of a lonely woman is unparalleled...just check her out with the binoculars, looking very pretty, bored and hence absolutely vulnerable. Something, which Ray establishes in the first 7 minutes of the movie.

Ray films are markedly diverse in their subject matter. He said in 1975, "Critics have often accused me of a grasshopperish tendency to jump from theme to theme, from genre to genre... rather than pursue one dominant subject in an easily recognizable style that would help them to pigeonhole me, affix me with a label...All I can say in self-defence, if one is needed, is that this diversity faithfully reflects my own personality and that behind every film lies a cool decision."

Which brings me to another point: his versatality. He was a brilliant illustrator (used to make story-boards for all his films), great designer (designed the covers of many a books like Nehru's 'Discovery of India', musician, script-writer, a gifted writer with wild imagination. My point is he could have been the greatest in any of the above mentioned field. Its just that he chose movies as his primary medium of expression. Just pick up any of his movies on DVD (made possible by Merchant-Ivory Production's recent resurrection of Ray films) and enjoy!

Once, defending Ray on critics's remarks on the slowness/dullness of Ray films, Akira Kurosawa said, "they [Ray's films] are not slow at all. It can be described as flowing composedly, like a big river". And, I can watch this flow, endlessly!

* Find a beautifully written review of Apu trilogyon

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A short piece on Killing

Yesterday's HT published an Open letter to our President from Jagmohan Singh (nephew of Bhagat Singh) & Anand Patwardhan (a documentary filmmaker) on why capital punishment is not solution and why Afzal should be granted a repreive. I am reproducing their points below:
  • A civil society should not descend to the status of murderers by preferring revenge over far better forms of justice.
  • All investigations, however meticuous, are subject to human error. Such errors become irreversible in case the death penalty is imposed. All over the world, there have been cases of executed people being proved innocent after their death.
  • In a country like ours, where there is a huge gap between, where there is a huge gap between the priveleged and the dispossessed, the death penalty becomes the final method for implementing class injustice. A cursory glance at the list of all those executed in our country will reveal that almost all of them were poor. The rich are rarely found guilty and even if they are, they are rarely executed.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent to violent and heinous crime. Countries like Britain that did away with the death penalty did not see a rise in such crimes while countries like the US, which continue to impose the penalty, show no decline.

I would like to add another point to these absolutely strong arguments against capital punishment.

  • In almost all cases of death penalty, the time elapsed between the sentence and its execution extends upto weeks, months or sometimes years. I can't imagine, what happens to the system of the individual who has nothing but his/her execution to look forward to. And if an eye for an eye is the logic behind the sentence, then in all such cases their victims do not have a clue that they will be dying (even in the case of a cold-blooded murder). No murderer pre-informs the victim that, 'On the dawn of 30th October, 2006 I shall be ending your life'.

Afzal could be the key guy behind the Parliament attack, but can his death ensure anything which will be of use to the society?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Circle* of Ideas

in the world of marketing/communication, there is an area which has been labeled by different firms in different ways like 360 degree ideas, connection ideas, below-the-line (BTL) ideas etc. in plain english it means the ideas which would go on to push the Brand in ways beyound mass advertising on print/tvcs (for a detailed conversation on the subject you can always go to a blog called 'indiadrant' on blogspot by a fellow advertising professional. the blog largely delves in the zone of marketing/'s fairly good).

so, there are certain 'Connection' ideas which have been around in my mindspace for some time and a few companies can make some extra millions from them :) here they are, for whatever its worth:

1. Plaster the seatbacks
the various Pune based construction companies can tie up with the flourishing Volvo bus service to put up their communication on the a) back of the seats inside the buses and b) spots on the loud movie-show they run for the passengers. considering the amount of 'vella' time the passengers have in that 3-4 hour journey ( Mumbai-Pune), the company can end up getting a good set of relevant captive audience.

2. Go to the apartments
big cities, so many apartments/office buidings and as many nameplate boards as the key to the flats....a nice branding zone for a) the brand of cement used in the building b) the brand of appliances used in the building and other such categories

3. Insides of the lift
a few companies are already putting themselves up in this, the multiplex in mumbai is already putting its lifts to the great cause of advertising.

4. Choppers with Banners
imagine the number of people on marine drive (mumbai) on a weekend...what if a chopper was to roam around in the zone with huge banners of a brand. high visibility/high noise (am including the the sound of the chopper here). a chopper ride with some celebrity over the sealine of Mumbai could be the prize for some contest from this brand.

am sure, you people out there will be having many more ideas like these...share!

*the title comes from 360 degrees which makes a circle.