Friday, 1 December 2017

Oh Deepika, Why Couldn't You Talk About Your Acting?

I recently came across a bunch of old (late-2011/early-2012) magazines on Hindi Cinema and was leafing through them when I chanced upon an interview of Deepika Padukone that coincided with the release of Desi Boyz, her moderately well-received late-2011 release. The interviewer's last question to her was: "Who do you think has a better body than you in bollywood?" To which she replied - and the interviewer comments praisingly on the confidence in her voice as she answers this question - "None."

I wish the interviewer had asked her, and others of her ilk, questions on her acting prowess instead of her physical charms alone. I point this out for the simple reason that I do not recall ANY questions in that direction, i.e. Acting, anywhere in the interview, whatever little I remember of it.

And I wish that the actress herself had made an effort to veer the interview towards a discussion of her acting chops. Needless to say that like the interviewer, she made no such efforts either.

A telling comment of what sells in present-day bollywood. Sad.

Why, oh why couldn't you have focused on and talked about your acting, Deepika?

How raga Proved His Family's Non-Hindu Lineage

Over the last 5-6 years, the lineage of the nehru-gandhi family has been a matter of hot debate, esp. on social media. It has been debated ad nauseam how giyasuddin gazi became gangadhar nehru, how indira gandhi became maimuna begum prior to her marriage to phiroze jehangir khan, he of the muslim father-Parsi mother lineage (his mother's surname was ghandy), and how the union was blessed by no less than India's answer to Lord Voldemort, who turned fjk into feroze gandhi overnight, how indira (in)famously claimed to be the descendant of babur at the latter's grave (as mentioned by her Foreign Minister Natwar Singh on numerous occasions later), how nehru himself once claimed "By education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, and I am a Hindu only by accident of birth", and so on. Of course, there have been numerous counter-arguments to this as well.

But be that as it may, this latest act by rahul gandhi, it can be said with some confidence, rather firmly puts the stamp of endorsement on the tainted family's non-Hindu lineage.

The Somnath Temple has two guestbooks, one for Hindu devotees arriving at the temple and the other for non-Hindu visitors. By signing the latter guestbook, the scion of India's answer to the Cosa Nostra has effectively admitted that even without his Roman Catholic mother's religious roots, his family is not, and has never been, a Hindu family. Unsurprisingly, it also provides a strong pointer towards the reasons of the family's longstanding and continued hatred for the HIndus of India. 

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Triple Talaaq, Secret Superstar, And Some Random Thoughts on Women's Emancipation

Is the urban Muslim society in India heading for a change in sync with times vis-à-vis the role of its women in society and the arts?

The answer to that, hopefully, is 'Yes'.

The prime basis of this assumption is, of course, the overwhelming support Muslim women all over India have given to the central government's recent move to abolish the triple talaaq system, with a special five-judge panel of the Supreme Court of India endorsing the move and recommending that the government ban the unconstitutional practice by enacting a law. And in the midst of this sensational move to grant Muslim women their much-deserved emancipation from an age-old social evil comes another indication that India's urban Muslims may be opening up to the march of time: Secret Superstar, the movie.

With actor-filmmaker Aamir Khan throwing his weight behind the film as its producer and star, debutant director Advait Chandan's Secret Superstar is the story of brave and ambitious Insiya, a young Muslim girl played by 17-year-old Zaira Wasim of Dangal fame - who aspires for musical stardom.

The urban Muslim society has often had to field accusations of not moving with the times, especially in providing opportunities to its women, though the last four decades or so have seen a marked improvement. The enforced cloistering of Muslim women in occupation and the arts is hopefully entering its final lap, and Secret Superstar, a league different from the orthodox Muslim socials popular in the late-60s and early-70s Mere Mehboob and Mehboob Ki Mehndi come to mind - may serve as a clarion call heralding its end.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Kishore-Lata Romantic Duets: Random Ruminations Of A Hospitalized Pancham Lover

During my recent two-day stint at the hospital, during which I had to undergo a long-pending surgery due to an internal haemorrhaging issue in the lower abdominal region, I had the opportunity to re-visit some of my all-time favourite Kishore Kumar-Lata Mangeshkar duets composed by—who else?—RD Burman. I shared these songs on a Facebook forum dedicated to Pancham, but then, I thought, why not compile the separate entries in one place?

So here it is, my thoughts on some of the finest RDB-KK-Lata collaborations (in no particular order), dedicated to the Nightingale of India, the best Music Director India has ever produced, and the greatest (male) singer of India in his birth month. Enjoy!

[Picture Courtesy: Google Images, edited]

  • Jagir (1984): “Chor tera naam hai”
[Tin Murti (1982): “Churi chhara kaj nei”]
One of the more fun, peppy romantic duets of KK & Lata.
Shakti Samanta in the 70s and the 80s specialized in making Bangla-Hindi bilinguals, like Amanush-Amanush, Ananda Ashram-Anand Ashram, Anyay Abichar-Aar Paar, Andha Bichar-Dushman, ANUSANDHAN-BARSAAT KI EK RAAT, etc. Samanta used to shoot every single scene in these films of his twice, once in Bangla and once in Hindi. Pramod Chakravorty joined the bilingual bandwagon with the superhit entertainer Teen Murti-Jagir in 82/84, but the difference was, Chakravorty only shot the scenes twice; the songs were shot only once, in Hindi, and used in the Bangla version as-is, with the songs dubbed over. This is why the lip-sync is off in the Bangla version. Watch the Bangla version of this song after the Hindi version and you'll know what I mean.
Nevertheless, that does not take anything away from this playful, naughty number. Both KK and Lata were well into their 50s when this song was done, yet they sound as youthful as the lead pair looks. Mithun is at his charming best, and although Shoma Anand could never really make it big as a heroine, she looks incredibly pretty in this song (and a bit like one of my paternal cousins). One other unique thing about this song is: despite being a romantic number, this one is as foot-tapping and dance-worthy as can be.

  • Aandhi (1975): “Tum aa gaye ho”
If “Tere bina zindagi se koi” is a musing on a life of lost opportunities and “Iss mod se jaate hain” talks about the opportunities that stare one in the face at the beginning of youth and love, then “Tum aa gaye ho” is the quintessential ‘while in love’ ditty that completes the cycle by putting in the place the 2nd of the three phases of love.
Suchitra Sen was an unusual choice; she came into the film when the original choice, Vyjayanthimala, declined as she was too much in awe of a certain Mrs. Gandhi, and surrendered completely to Gulzar's vision w/o demanding the slightest change anywhere in the script, unlike an earlier occasion when she demanded several changes in the script and Gulzar was compelled to say no to her. In this song, her heavy-duty makeup and her age show through—she was in her mid-40s when she did Aandhi—but the song itself, and the acting of the seasoned lead pair, one a fan favourite and the other a director's joy, more than make up for it.

  • Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976): “Saawan ka maheena aa gaya”
For me, the USP of this song, apart from the music, of course, is not KK, neither Lata, neither a very handsome-looking Sunil Dutt, but the stunningly gorgeous, the absolutely divine Saira Banu. I'd marry her. Any day.
Feast your eyes, ladies and gentlemen, on this heavenly queen of oomph!

  • Bade Dil Wala (1983): “Tujhme kya hai deewane”
The third of the delightful KK-Lata duets from Bade Dil Wala, and this one is a classic romantic number. “Kaho kaise rasta bhool pade” is playfully romantic in tone, but is not picturised on the romantic leads; “Kahin na jaa” is more about lending emotional support to the partner in times of crisis. But this one hits the sweet spot of the bat much like “Saagar kinare” from Saagar, “Kasme Vaade nibhayenge hum”, and “Deewana karke chhodoge” from Mere Jeevan Saathi.
The one thing about this song that strikes me is how much, orchestration-wise, this resembles the Lata solo “Aisa samaa na hota” from Zameen Aasmaan, which came a year or so after BDW. It is possible that both songs were composed more or less together; BDW came later, maybe as a result of Chintu’s well-known tardiness (but this is conjecture on my part). However, it is entirely probably that whichever song was recorded first occupied RD’s mindscape significantly enough to influence the one that was recorded second. “Tujhme kya hai” has more of Lata than of KK, and RD gives her the same high notes in this one as in “Aisa samaa”. And like “Saagar kinare”, all the BDW songs have a very, very contemporary feel.
And yes, “Tujhme kya hai” also has a lot of similarities with “Jaane kaise kab kahan” from SHAKTI. It's like “Jaane kaise” is the eldest sibling, “Tujh mein kya hai” is the middle sibling, and “Aisa samaa” is the youngest sibling.

  • Bade Dil Wala (1983): “Kaho kaise rasta bhool pade”
A return to gypsy camp after a long time since “Mehbooba Mehbooba” from SHOLAY and “Dilbar dil se pyaare” from Caravan. In the meanwhile, we have been subjected to the terrible “Kamaal hai kamaal hai” by Laxmi-Pyare in Karz, an otherwise fine album. And once again, like “Dilbar dil se pyaare”, it is Lata and not Asha doing the honours.
Musically, BDW is the best album among Bhappi Sonie's entire body of work, much better than anything he did with Shankar-Jaikishen or anyone else. BDW, Saagar, and Sitamgar are like Mere Jeevan Saathi of the 80s: flawless albums, less than desirable box office performances of the films.
For a long time, songs were seen as a tool, a means of releasing the tension that has been building up in the on-screen narrative (“Khaike paan Banaras-wala” from DON is the best example). This one is another fine example of a song being used to ease up on the tension: the hero, accused of a murder he didn't commit (very Vijay Anand-ish), is fleeing and comes upon a gypsy camp, where he and the gypsy girl hit it off and they break into a song. Not a strictly romantic song, but can easily be construed as one, given the chemistry of the singing-dancing pair and the lyrics. Close your eyes and you'll feel that this is a repartee between a romantic couple.

  • Alag Alag (1985): “Kuchh humko tumse”
The music in Kaka's penultimate home production was criticized by some for being “Laxmikant-Pyarelal-ish” for the use of dholak beats. The film, or its box-office performance, takes nothing away from this childhood favourite album of mine. What a delightful song!

  • SHAKTI (1982): “Jaane kaise kab kahan”
Another top-notch KK-Lata number, but one with a twist: all the romantic frolicking turns into a sensuously-charged coming together of body and soul. Note how the tone of the song changes—to one of long-anticipated physical union as the song moves to the 3rd antara.
This is also one of AB’s most romantic numbers, along with “Kasme Vaade nibhayenge hum” and MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR’s “O saathi rey” by Kalyanji-Anandji.

  • KASME VAADE (1978): “Kasme vaade nibhayenge hum”
Along with “Saagar kinare”, this one is THE definitive KK-Lata duet. Do I really need to elaborate on this?

  • Aanchal (1980): "Bas meri jaan bas"
More sensuous than romantic, with Rekha oozing oomph from every pore. Wonder what a certain Mr. Tall Man had to say to this!

Monday, 31 July 2017

On "Aati rahengi baharein": Late-night Panchamania (And Bachchan-mania Too!)

Surprisingly, there are very few songs/sequences depicting things like birthdays, college life, etc. in AB movies. In all likelihood, the larger-than-life image that was created for him by writers and directors, as well as his aura, was responsible for that. Two rare birthday songs picturised on him and with him as the birthday boy are "Inteha ho gayee" from SHARAABI and this one from KASME VAADE.

Unlike the SHARAABI song, "Aati rahengi baharein" is comparatively a lot more low-key and straightforward, shorn of the high-decibel jing-bang orchestration that one gets to hear in 'urban mehfil' songs. There's hardly any hoo-haa either in the picturisation or in the composition. It starts off on a low note, to the mouth organ strains of "Happy birthday to you", and ends on a low-ish note as well, and this goes perfectly in sync with the fact that the birthday is that of a college professor. Just about the only high note is the brief mouth organ piece in the middle (when Randhir Kapoor starts grooving immediately before his antara), and that's in line with the character of the person doing it as well - a college-going, carefree, happy-go-lucky yuppie. This, then, is a song that ties up not only with the situation, but with the characters as well: a triumph of low-key composition meant for indoor use.

N.B.: there is one other indoor song in the film, the mujra number "Pyar ke rang se". Again, fits in with the mood, but does not do much in setting up the characters or advancing the story, unlike "Aati rahengi baharein", which gives the viewer a very good idea about the kind of relationship the three principle characters share.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Yogi And The Halley’s Comet

Comparisons are odious and, owing to the lack of impartial objectivity it brings in its wake, often impractical and inadequate. Imagine the countless hours we, argumentative and opinionated Indians that we are, have wasted in Tendulkar-vs.-Dravid, Tendulkar-vs.-Lara, Uttam Kumar-vs.-Soumitra Chattopadhyay, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay-vs.-Manna Dey, East Bengal-vs.-Mohun Bagan, Kishore Kumar-vs.-Md. Rafi, Messi-vs.-Ronaldo, RD Burman-vs.-SD Burman-vs.-Salil Chowdhury, and Amitabh Bachchan-vs.-Rajesh Khanna debates, which more often than not have escalated into heated debates, raging arguments, and even fisticuffs, leading to ruptured bones and friendships.
Yet comparisons are often useful—they help to highlight the contributions of a person to his sphere of work and his immediate environment, helping the inhabitants and patrons of that universe to understand his importance and influence by juxtaposing his body of work against other, equal or greater influencers of the era.
And in Vinod Khanna’s case, no discussion on him can be complete without putting across the table the man who many felt could have had a tougher time at the stardom sweepstakes if it had not been for VK’s sudden sabbatical from films: Amitabh Bachchan.
VK is the one star-actor who has constantly and consistently been compared with Amitabh Bachchan. Of course, Bachchan being a far better actor was always destined to leave everyone behind and move light years ahead of all competition, but the parallels have refused to be erased and the comparisons have persisted: “What if VK had not taken that sabbatical?”
But for a change, we won’t be looking at a comparative study of the two star-actors in this article, but at some interesting ‘connections’ from the POV of trivia-loving admirers instead. So, read on.

The Sunil Dutt Connection on Debut
VK and Bachchan did several films together in the 1970s, from RESHMA AUR SHERA in 1971 to MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR in 1978, the latter being the second-biggest hit of the 70s after SHOLAY (1975). But did you know that the debut films of both actors have a strong Sunil Dutt connection?
Yes, that’s correct. Directly (for VK) and indirectly (for AB), Sunil Dutt had a hand to play behind the debuts of both VK and AB. VK's debut film Man Ka Meet (1968) was produced by Dutt, while Bachchan landed His first film SAAT HINDUSTANI (1969) on the strength of, among other things, a letter of recommendation written by Dutt's wife Nargis Dutt.

When his rugged good looks cost VK a Salim-Javed film...
When Dev Anand's assistant Yash Johar decided to move out of Navketan Films and launch his own production house, he did so with DOSTANA circa 1977-78. Armed with a Salim-Javed script, Johar signed S-J's blue-eyed boy Amitabh Bachchan, along with Zeenat Aman and VK for the triangular love story, an unusual topic for S-J. To direct the film, Johar got on board Raj Khosla, director of blockbusters like Do Raaste (1969) and Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971). One of the biggest hits of its time, MGMD had featured VK in a career-defining role—as Daku Jabbar Singh—and had also served as one of the prime influences behind SHOLAY.
During the shooting of MGMD, VK and Khosla had struck up a friendship that led to the duo collaborating on four more films over the next few years—Kuchhe Dhaage (1973), Prem Kahani (1975), Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976), and Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978)—so VK was eagerly looking forward to Khosla helming DOSTANA.
The moment Khosla heard the film’s story, he said: “Vinod can't do this film. He will have to go out.” Everyone was stunned! Khosla, one of VK's good friends and favourite directors was talking about chucking VK out of the film! Yash Johar and Salim-Javed tried to explain to Khosla that the actor had already been locked in for the film and had even started prepping for it. The AB-VK combo was a casting coup that had proved astronomically successful in the past few years and financiers and audiences were willing to shell out moonh-maangi keemat for a film starring the two actors, but Khosla was adamant.
Finally, after a lot of arguments, Khosla revealed why he didn't want his good friend in the film: “What is the story of the film? Sheetal (Aman) leaves Ravi (to be played by VK) and goes to Vijay (Bachchan), right? Do you think any woman in her right mind would be able to refuse a man as good-looking as VK? When I, a man, cannot take my eyes off him, how can a woman resist him?”
Johar and S-J gave in to this very valid reasoning and VK was replaced by Shatrughan Sinha. A better choice, many believe: thanks to the scorching AB-Shotgun chemistry, fuelled largely by the real-life friction of egos affecting the former friends, DOSTANA went on to become one of the biggest hits of 1980, with Sinha as Ravi delivering a towering performance that matched The Mighty Bachchan step for step.
Unfortunately for VK, he lost out on the opportunity to work with S-J after the 1974 hit Haath Ki Safai (Sauda, another film released in the same year, was based on a story by S-J, but the writer duo had their names officially removed from the credits when the makers of the film made unauthorized changes to the script).
Incidentally, 1980 saw the release of another mammoth hit. Like DOSTANA, this one too was a triangular love story, featuring two macho hunks as friends and the divinely delicious Zeenat Aman as the woman caught between them. VK played the sacrificing friend with aplomb and earned himself a Best Actor nod at Filmfare. But interestingly, this role had been offered to Bachchan first. The film? The humongously successful cult classic: Qurbani.

Rajput and the Rajesh Khanna Effect
Director Vijay Anand had signed AB and Dharmendra for two multi-starrers, which were to be shot simultaneously: RAM BALRAM (1980) and Rajput (1982). In Rajput, AB was supposed to play Manu’s (Dharmendra) younger brother Bhanu; the role of Bhanu/Bhavani in the film had been written specifically for him. AB agreed to do both films, but on one condition: He requested Vijay Anand to replace Rajesh Khanna in Rajput with another actor. His unwillingness to work with Kaka stemmed from the ill treatment He had suffered at the latter’s hands many years ago while working with him in director Hrishikesh Mukherjee's ANAND (1971) and NAMAK HARAAM (1973). Vijay Anand refused, saying that only Kaka could do justice to the character of Dhiren. Consequently, AB gracefully bowed out of Rajput and VK was roped in to replace Him.

Father to the Friend’s Son
VK played adoptive father to AB's son Abhishek in Players (2012), while AB played VK's son Akshaye's father in DEEWAAR (2004). This is the only instance of AB sharing a reciprocal on-screen relationship with a contemporary actor and their respective sons.

Seriously, where has all the colour and excitement from Bollywood gone?

Have a safe journey, VK.

[I just wanted to write something random but interesting on the actor and came up with this. This is not a "deep, insightful analysis piece", but merely a fun read.]

Saturday, 29 April 2017

"Haal Chaal Theek Thaak Hai": Bidding Adieu To Muqaddar Ka Badshaah

...and Time has claimed one more bastion of the Most Colourful Era of Mainstream Hindi Cinema. The raw, animal, several-horsepower sexual magnetism of Vinod Khanna (6.10.1946–27.4.2017) has passed on into the big Eternity.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]

Tributes are pouring in as usual, most of it focusing on Khanna's handsomeness and machismo and how he had taken the concept of ubercool "maleness" to new heights, in conjunction with Dharmendra and the one man with whom Khanna drew the maximum amount of parallels, aka Amitabh Bachchan.

Some of us, and by that I mean the musically-inclined, have also been discussing Khanna's music on social media. And there, we are encountering a roadblock after only a few steps. You see, the number of truly iconic songs that the hunky actor could be associated with is considerably—and surprisingly—small, especially when compared against what his contemporaries can boast of.

Try making a list of the iconic songs Rajesh Khanna was associated with. The list will travel from the Earth to the Moon and back. Same for Dev Anand and Amitabh Bachchan, both of whom have a fantastic musical body of work to their credit. Ditto Randhir Kapoor and Rishi Kapoor. This is because the lion's share of Kishore Kumar and Rahul Dev Burman's best songs were picturized on these actors. But Vinod Khanna?

Well, let's see. So here goes, in chronological order:
  1. Koi hota jisko apna - Mere Apne, 1971
  2. Ruk jaana nahin - Imtihan, 1974
  3. Humko tumse ho gaya hai - AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY, 1977
  4. Amar Akbar Anthony - AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY
  5. Chaahiye thoda pyaar - Lahu Ke Do Rang, 1979
  6. Hum tumhein chaahte hain aise - Qurbani, 1980
  7. Chhodo sanam kaahe ka ghum - Kudrat, 1981
  8. Bachna rajaji - Jail Yatra, 1981
  9. Teri har adaa hai haseen - Daulat, 1982
  10. Moti ho to baandh ke rakh loon - Daulat
  11. Lagi aaj saawan ki - Chandni, 1989
  12. Jab koi baat bigad jaaye - Jurm, 1990
See what I meant? Hardly a dozen truly memorable songs from a career that started in 1968 and ended in 2017. And even here, many of the songs are not readily associated with Khanna. The AMAR AKBAR ANTHONY songs are associated more with Bachchan, with Kishore Kumar singing for the Megastar; most of the other songs on that list had Kishore da singing for Khanna, but the songs themselves are known more as "Kishore Kumar songs", not as "Kishore Kumar-Vinod Khanna hits". Compare this against the legendary singer's "Main shayar badnaam" (NAMAK HARAAM, 1973), "O saathi rey" (MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR, 1978), "Main hoon Don" (DON, 1978), "Gaata rahe mera dil" (Guide, 1965), "Chingaari koi bhadke" (Amar Prem, 1972), and "Yeh shaam mastaani" (Kati Patang, 1970), and you will realize what I mean.

And yet, there is one song that tends to go almost unnoticed; a rare gem that few seem to be aware of, a song that got overshadowed by its more celebrated sibling from the same film (Mere Apne). But make no mistake: this is a song that is very unique...and uniquely structured. This song.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]

Firstly, the theme. The song is about a group of unemployed young friends, straight out of college, looking for jobs but not getting any: a common picture in the urban Indian society even today. Yet instead of tears and angry rants and bitterness, they channelize their angst through dark comedy and smiling sarcasm. What this also does is, it lulls the audience into thinking that in typical cinematic style, things will be all right by the end. This is why, to first-time viewers of the film, the tragic end comes as a bit of a shock even today.

The second thing is the lyrics, which resemble that of a letter a young college student in the city would write to his parents, esp. his mom, and siblings in his native village: "Don't worry, everything's fine." No flowery, ornamental filmic lyric here. Combine that with the low-key way it has been sung and the very basic orchestration—where the singers use their whistling as an instrument!—and what we have is actually the first-ever 'blank verse' song of Hindi Film Music, more than a decade before Panchamda's classic "Mera kuchh saamaan" (Ijaazat, 1988). Hats off to Salil Chowdhury for this one.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]

To me, more than any scene or dialogue, this song remains the greatest imagery of Vinod Khanna's suave, urbane machismo—the angry young man who has to shoulder his responsibilities as his family's beacon of hope while fighting a cruel, unmerciful system that churns out thousands of unemployed graduates every year.

The MUQADDAR KA SIKANDAR still rules supreme, but the Muqaddar Ka Badshaah is gone. That's how Muqaddar rolls.

Rest in a lot of peace, Vinod Khanna.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

New Technologies that are set to Revolutionize Digital Marketing

Innovations being a prime influencer behind Digital Marketing, these new technologies are set to make a digi-marketer’s life easier.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]
  • Artificial Intelligence: While not exactly a “fresh” concept—think Ash in Alien and Bishop in Aliens—AI stands to revolutionize digi-marketing by reinventing ‘search engine marketing’, especially as “personal, voice-based assistants” like Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri…and don’t forget Iron Man’s Jarvis either! AI can transform digi-marketing from one-way communication to two-way dialogue covering both device-stored and available-on-Web content.
  • Customer Experience Optimization: Providing the customer with relevant, timely and ready-to-use content can optimize Customer Experience.
  • Multichannel Marketing: A shift in communication style from channel-centric to audience-centric, heralded by the social media boom, is enabling digi-marketers to reach out to different audiences through different channels simultaneously.
  • Social Media Analytics: More than catchy designs, audiences are looking for quality and long-term value/relevance, making digi-marketers design campaigns focussed on tracking how many leads or purchases a post actually generated.
  • Augmented Reality: Its newfound popularity—thanks to Pokémon Go’s success—has led to digi-marketers rushing to explore its marketing potential through more app-based games. However, some experts are doubtful about its efficacy in non-app/game areas.
  • Virtual Reality: VR creates a deeply immersive and more ‘personal’ digital space for users. Both Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift have taken off to fantastic sales figures, with scaling of greater heights predicted in the upcoming years. VR can significantly boost online shopping and advertising, though its high cost remains a prohibitive factor.
  • Account-based Marketing: ABM deals with improving pipeline metrics and allocating one’s resources better by bringing the Sales and Marketing departments on the same page.
  • Data-driven Marketing and Advertising: Data Management Platforms (DMPs) are gaining prominence as globally, many digi-marketers are trying to enhance their customer understanding experience—and thereby improve performance—by using their own data, collected from customer communication.
  • Data Visualization: Data Visualization helps to assimilate, analyse and interpret the massive amounts of customer data—a significant customer behaviour index—that can be used to design improved marketing campaigns and customer outreach programmes.
  • Machine Learning Algorithms: This is the ability to learn from and make data-driven predictions and decisions—without being explicitly programmed, or evolving into a Skynet or an Ultron!—based on patter recognition techniques, for example, search suggestion prompts. RankBrain, an algorithm that works with Google’s Hummingbird update to better understand how user searches work, is highly beneficial for digi-marketing.
  • Marketing Automation: There are many tools which allow us to create fresh content or publish on social media. While this makes a digi-marketer’s work easier, it can kill creativity—and ultimately, novelty of content—resulting in non-engaging campaigns. Ergo, audience alienation. Human involvement is necessary to keep the audience connect alive.
  • Internet of Things: People are increasingly introducing into their households smart devices which can be integrated into one central Web-based system and controlled from anywhere. If handled more efficiently—i.e. made more user-friendly—this can be a great marketer-consumer communication platform.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Pleasantly Surprised

Day before yesterday, I visited a bookstore at Powai—a small, nondescript shop that caters mostly to the requirements of schoolchildren in the locality, nothing like Landmark or Crossword—to buy a Marathi textbook for my Daughter, who will be studying it as part of her school curriculum in the Class 1.

As the shopkeeper handed me the book, I discovered, much to my dismay, that I was not carrying enough cash, nor did the store accept credit cards. Since I do not have a Paytm account (yes, we exist) and wasn't carrying my ATM cards either, which would’ve enabled me to take out money from one of the nearby ATMs, paying for the book seemed out of the question. It seemed as if I'd have to make a repeat trip to the bookstore some other day.

And that was when the shopkeeper surprised me by saying (in Hindi, and I translate): "Sir, please keep the book. You can leave your number here and pay me some other day."

To say I was surprised would be seriously understating it. The guy didn't know me from Adam, showed no interest in taking down my address—which I gave him of my own volition—or even saving my number on his mobile, and was letting me go with a piece of his merchandise without bothering in the slightest about payment. In this super-materialistic, super-consumerist age, such things are no less than small miracles. But then, as someone said, this is something that can happen in Mumbai only.

P.S.: I got someone else to Paytm him the money just now and he was courteous enough to call and confirm receipt. Hope for a decent world yet?

P.P.S.: the bookstore in question is Darshan Book Depot, next to Powai English High School.

Monday, 20 March 2017

How Marketing Automation Enhances Brand Value and Business Value

Marketing Automation attempts to streamline sales and marketing in an efficient way through engaging campaigns meant to automatically appeal to customer/prospective customer behaviour by replacing recurring manual processes with automated tasks and reducing human errors. The criteria, possible outcomes and processes are pre-defined; these are interpreted, stored internally and executed by the software.

Right channel + right message + right person + right time
= Greater likelihood of converting prospects into actual sales

Every customer is unique and so are his/her demands, preferences and choices. Consequently, automated campaigns run the risk of failing if there’s a disconnect between what they offer and what the customer is interested in; they stand to succeed more when the gap between their content and the customer’s unique needs is as minimal as possible.

Marketing Automation enables companies to handle lead flows better by optimizing marketing programmes. Improved response rates to campaigns help companies gain better ROI by creating a more productive revenue cycle, syncing results with approach and increasing profits through a better lead conversion rate. Since automation provides a platform for continuous accumulation, assimilation and analysis of data, predicting customer information and behavioural patterns acquires a new edge. Reviews on social sites are also a great way of garnering information in the form of feedback.

While Marketing Automation is an integral part of effective CRM, its scope goes beyond that. It can be used to create an automated-yet-personalized bridge between company and customer by taking the latter from “unaware and interested” to “engaged and loyal” in the Customer Engagement Continuum. It gives the customer what he/she wants, yet imparts a dash of novelty to each serving, thereby increasing profitability by being consistent, relevant and personalized.

Consider old TV ads like “Hamara Bajaj” and “Cadbury Kya Swaad Hai Zindagi Mein”. The Cadbury commercials harped on happiness, which is experienced [when the brain releases serotonin and dopamine] upon chocolate consumption. Similarly, the Bajaj ads focussed on the family-oriented existence of the middle class by playing up the loyalty theme. These ads generated a feeling of being personalized despite being mass-market vehicles for their respective products. This is the ultimate goal of Marketing Automation: creating personalized content despite automated, low-human-involvement processes.

Maximum ROI can be achieved through Marketing Automation by constantly looking out for new leads and striving to understand their needs to be able to provide an optimum solution, analysing customer behaviour minutely, engaging with them rigorously and consistently to be considered ‘renewable’, providing complimentary solutions based on their digital behaviour instead of aggressively pushing unwanted products and services and ensuring customer satisfaction through systematic and regular follow-up.

The whole point of deploying automated campaigns is not to merely cut down on human effort, but to create a design that attracts strangers, turns them into interested and regular visitors, further converts them into prospective leads, creates customers out of them through personalized and engaging communication and ultimately, gets them to act as willing promoters of your brand—without sacrificing creativity and human connect for automation.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Hitting The Right Notes

Ever since my Daughter was born 5 years ago, I have developed a habit of singing my favourite Bangla and Hindi songs (that means mostly RD Burman-Kishore Kumar numbers) to Her. Apart from trying to introduce Her to the Golden Era of popular Hindi/Bengali music, the idea has also been to keep Her away from the "Badtameez dil"/"Beat pe booty"-brand of atrocities. And it seems my efforts are bearing fruit.
Recently, I went to a friend's house with my Daughter. The host, a lover of retro music, started playing some old songs on his mobile attached to a speaker. After a song or two, "Tere bina zindagi se koi" came on.
My Daughter was sitting on the floor and playing by Herself. Suddenly, She looked up, cocked Her ears at the song that was playing, turned to me, and said: "Baba, Baba, Jete jete poth-e holo deri...", and then She started singing the Bangla version of the Aandhi song!
I was astonished at how my 5-year-old had been able to recognize the tune of the Hindi song and correctly identified the Bangla version of it. Evidently I must be doing something right, as far getting my Daughter's ears attuned to good music is concerned.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Old-school ‘Kaabiliyat’ (4.5/5)

Originality of content in mainstream Indian/Hindi Cinema has always been an area of much debate and vagueness, where masters of ‘derived inspiration’ have done battle with champions of fresh thoughts. Owing to the mass market-driven compulsion of catering to a pan-Indian audience, where the lowest common denominator can make or break a multi-crore venture, well-packaged entertainment has by and large lorded over novelty of ideas here, with both ‘manufacturers’ (since film folk nowadays insist on referring to themselves as an ‘industry’ – albeit a most disorganized one) and patrons traditionally preferring the former.

At this juncture, we are faced with a most interesting question: is originality overrated, at least in the realms of mainstream cinema? It can be argued that there are only so many stories to tell, and shrewd manipulation of the theme (and the resources at the maker’s disposal) by way of skillful direction and a smart screenplay often scores over original content, provided the treatment and packaging are done adroitly enough. Look no further than commercial Hindi Cinema of the 1973-1982 period, the era that has been arguably the most influential in defining India’s contemporary pop culture, the age of giants like Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan. Many of their best works (jointly and separately) were inspired by other films, both Indian and international. DEEWAAR owed its roots to Gunga Jumna and Mother India; MAJBOOR took off from Zig Zag; SHAKTI had its genesis in DEEWAAR (and to some extent Thanga Pathakkam); ZANJEER took its inspiration from Death Rides A Horse, AGNEEPATH borrowed liberally from Nayakan, and SHOLAY had too many points of influence to list in a single article. Yet all these films are counted among the most well-crafted pieces of commercial Hindi cinema, having stood the test of durability and in turn becoming inspiration points themselves.

This brings us to Kaabil, produced by actor-turned-filmmaker Rakesh Roshan and directed by Sanjay Gupta, both master craftsmen of the masala entertainment genre. Neither man has ever been a stickler for originality: while Roshan took inspiration from diverse sources such as Return To Eden (Khoon Bhari Maang), Ram Aur Shyam (Kishen Kanhaiya), KASME VAADE (Kaho Naa…Pyaar Hai), E.T. (Koi…Mil Gaya), and Superman (Krrish and Krrish 3), Gupta successfully Indianized A Better Tomorrow (Aatish), The Juror (Khauff), Reservoir Dogs (KAANTE), Oldboy (Zinda), and Seven Days (Jazbaa). Kaabil keeps the tradition alive while serving as a good confluence point of both Gupta’s and Roshan’s individual approaches to filmmaking.

Rohan Bhatnagar (Hrithik Roshan), a young voice-over artiste, is introduced to Supriya Sharma (Yami Gautam), an independent working woman, by a well-meaning mutual acquaintance. It is literally a blind date – both are sightless. They click and before long, Rohan has successfully wooed Supriya. Expectedly, marriage follows.

Soon afterwards, tragedy strikes the lovelorn couple. Local goon Amit Shelar (Rohit Roy) and his friend Wasim (Md. Sahidur Rahaman) rape a vulnerable Supriya when Rohan is away at work. Since Amit is the younger brother of influential corporator Madhavrao Shelar (Ronit Roy), the investigating officers waste no time in hushing up the case; they even help Madhavrao abduct the couple to prevent them from going for the all-important medical examination that must be conducted within 24 hours of rape. Far from helping the distraught couple, the police label them as frauds attempting to blackmail the Shelars.

Supriya commits suicide after being raped for the second time. When Madhavrao taunts Rohan and tells him to stop pursuing the case, the grieving man, who has already given up on the law, decides to take things in his own hands and deliver vigilante justice to his beloved’s tormentors.

Kaabil is a shout-out to Bollywood’s great revenge dramas of the 80s and 90s, the direct descendant of films like ANDHAA KAANOON, AAKHREE RAASTA, INDRAJEET, and Phool Aur Angaar, where the hero, traumatized after the rape and subsequent death of his wife/adopted daughter/sister, sets out on a mission to visit vengeance upon the evil-doers. While the premise itself is nothing new, the treatment is clever, with the protagonists’ blindness adding a new dimension to an oft-told tale, but not without silently outlining how much modern-day Bollywood, despite its nose-turned-up-at-everything-retro attitude, is still dependent upon the formulaic, masala cinema of yore as far as drawing inspiration is concerned.

Hrithik is in fabulous form; this is probably his finest performance since Krrish in mid-2006. The goofy lover, the talented dubbing artiste, the broken husband shattered by his wife’s rape and suicide, the relentless machine of death – he does full justice to every aspect of the role. He moves through the narrative as a Great White Shark might move through the ocean: smooth and unstoppable. The scene at the shopping mall, where the young lover’s helplessness surfaces on getting separated from his girlfriend, and his dubbing scenes, especially his spot-on mimicry of Amitabh Bachchan to impress his new wife, deserve special mention. In many ways, the character of Rohan Bhatnagar is a direct throwback to Bachchan’s Angry Young Vijay of DEEWAAR, SHAKTI, and AGNEEPATH: dangerous, calm, calculating, and a resourceful risk-taker. He reminds one of textbook ‘blind man’ performances such as Sanjeev Kumar in Qatl, Denzel Washington in The Book Of Eli, and Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh.

Yami Gautam is restrained; there is a great deal of poise in her portrayal of Supriya who, even in her darkest hour, puts her husband’s emotional suffering ahead of her own trauma. Rohit Roy is suitably slimy, while Ronit Roy channelizes the innate menace of Madhavrao very well. But it is Narendra Jha, the chief baddie from last year’s Ghayal Once Again, who is a revelation as senior cop Chaubey. Clearly, here is someone to watch out for.

The technical aspects of the film are well-rounded. Akiv Ali’s editing is sharp, while Sudeep Chatterjee and Ayananka Bose’s cinematography is polished. The numerous close-ups capture the expressions of the characters in fine detail. Shyam Kaushal’s fight sequences are ingenious and tight; since our man is blind and has to rely more on his wits and other senses than physical sight, it was necessary to keep the action short and focused. Rajesh Roshan’s music is a bit of a letdown: barring "Main tere kaabil", none of the other songs stand out and the remixed degradation of the Kishore Kumar classic “Saara zamana” (from YAARANA) into an item number is deplorable. Pity – one has always associated Rajesh Roshan with melodious music, right from Khatta Meetha and Doosara Aadmi to KNPH, and though Kaabil does not have much scope for music, one wishes he had done better.

Some of the first reviews of Kaabil mentioned how the screenplay focused more on Rohan than on Supriya and how the plot was regressive in its portrayal of a rape victim as a sullied, broken object. One feels compelled to disagree. Apart from the fact that the film is Hrithik’s home production and was always going to focus more on him than anyone else, Kaabil is Rohan’s story, told from his viewpoint, not Supriya’s. Expecting her to have an equal role would be akin to demanding Radha and Basanti be given as much screen time as Jai and Veeru. Supriya’s importance lies in the fact that her tragedy is the fulcrum on which the machine operates, but Rohan was always going to be the main power switch. (And honestly, did anyone really think the makers were going to bank as much on Yami Gautam as Hrithik?) As for the “regressive” bit, that too is a misinterpretation: as Rohan correctly deduces, Supriya gives up her life not because she is weak, but because she realizes how hard her defenselessness against her abusers is going to hit her husband. Rohan’s silence to Supriya’s offer of walking away arose not from any kind of ‘disgust’ at his wife’s ‘tarnished honour’, but more from a husband’s helpless, frustrated rage at not having been around to protect his wife from her predators.

Kaabil is not flawless – it is not explained how a dubbing artiste could manage to book an (expensive) apartment in a Mumbai high-rise, or why Supriya stopped working after marriage, or why the phone booth owner was always conveniently absent every time Rohan went there to make a call – but these are minor quibbles. The film definitely packs a punch. Watch it if you are a Hrithik fanboy/fangirl. Watch it even if you are not. Because solid old-fashioned entertainment, especially one that does not take recourse to lionization of criminals or distortion of documented history, is a rarity from today’s Bollywood.

[Image courtesy: Google Images]

[A shorter and slightly altered version of this post can be found here:]