Sunday, October 28, 2007

Valuation - what to do?

Valuation is an intrinsic part of any negotiation. Even though we possibly look at in terms of financial transactions, every transaction has the inherent question "What is the value of the service/product" that is being offered.

Valuation is subjective, yes very much. The logic for that is pretty simple, ice to an eskimo is not very valuable. So what is being sold?

First the cash flows:

1) For a BOT, PPA or license, the essential valuation metric is the good old discounted cash flow. The DCF is one of the elegant logical construct that can be used, t'rows cash flows are less than today's cash flows, so once the cash flows are determined, there is nothing much to determine other than the discount rate. Cost of Debt currently is 11.75%(before the PLR cut), even if you assume the impact of leverage ot be minimal then the cost of equity would be > 11.75% ( assuming the firm is not out to destroy value to the shareholders - a fair assumption). So depending on the assumed levarage and the model of cash flows to firm or equity and wacc or cost of equity you are there.

2) The problem of valuation of an going concern is unique:
-The first PE question, what multiple? How do the ratio's compare to that of the industry. As a rule, higher the ROE higher the P/E, higher the earnings growth expected higher the P/E , higher the ROCE, higher the P/E. The question is simply, if firm getting superior returns out of the capital? The key issue becomes interpretation - getting the ratio's right will come in the advanced stage of the business, but during its initial build out phase the ratios will be skewed, both because of the lack of focus there or more likely management disdain/discomfort.

-Industry Analysis: OOh la la, all those consultants cannot help you take a decision here. As my boss loves to say, India it is all about getting the asset up. Once the asset is up you cannot stop it. But if somone where to look at the landscape in terms of a framework: cats dogs & what not - you will most likely come across the same. More importanly, the lack of availability of data (and incorrect data to be precise) kills the end purpose of an analysis

-holy grail: promoter premium. The uniquely indian animal called a promoter. He runs the company (sometimes strategy sometimes everything) and believes he needs a premium. ( the investor would want a discount for precisely the same reasons). Depending on the market most of the deals swing on this aspect quite significantly.

These three simple constructs actually muddle the concept of p/e that its almost imposible to decide on the right metric for everyone, so there is endless negotiation on this. All in all choose your methodology and its implementation carefully.

Perils of being s celebrity



To be or not to be a celebrity? Chiranjeevi must be cursing his luck with his family. Its been a roller coaster for him after the wide spread acclaim that his son's first movie has received. He must have been thinking, "Life's fucking good". Tho' his reverie has been short lived with the publicity that his daughter has received, he hopefully will get out of this stronger. (Yeah that one's from a fan)

His daughter must of have seen enough of his movies to take up the "Challenge" against the "Master" to show everyone who was "Gang Leader". Of course Chiru has been left thinking "Alluda Mazaka"

In the era of TV scrutiny, probably any love story would have gotten its time on the channels, but the way the issue was tossed up across media left a poor taste in the mouth. I dont know (IDK) and I dont care (IDC) about what happened in the Chiranjeevi family, but a father having to apologize to his daughter publicly just for being a celebrity is some thing that I can live without. Chiranjeevi has to maintain his image, he is the king of Telugu Cinema. If he were to to been allowing the girl her choice, he would have be railed as leading youngsters astray (the end consequence of the actual couple's life would be irrelevant). Its got to be understood that Chiranjeevi would be a political force to reckon with if he were to join politics.
And now that he has not given a free reign to his daughter, he is still railed as being not supportive of individuality. (I am of course assuming that the death threat issue is just that an issue, but a theoretical one. If there is proof of a death threat he should be put in jail shouldnt he?).

So the end result, Chiru knows he is damned if he did and would be damned if he dint. So he dint allow the alliance, and cut a sorry figure. So much for the king of the masses.

Service levels fall in mumbai restaurants

Case 1: Out of the blue, we place an order for a dish, it promptly gets forgotten. Desserts orders are taken when the stocks don't exist and worse the bill is overstated in spite of getting it changed twice.

Case 2: Masala Mantar: There seem to be a lot of waiters around, but the drinks and the snacks take an eternity to come. Desserts are out long before the orders are placed. (Waiters dont bother to check before the orders are placed).

These are just two of the instances over the past 6 months in Mumbai. I am not a stickler for service, as long as the basic hings are in order. Most of the waiters are just taught to be polite, which they are, but wtf is the use of the politeness if it does not solve the end result?

The standard stuff?
1) Confirm from the chef what is available before giving the menu to the customer
2) Confirm the full order once it has been placed. I can still understand if there is some communication problem, but you certainly cant miss dishes totally)
3) Change the menu cards atleast once in 2-3 months, its wierd that you see a mangled dirty menu card for months
4) The communication training to the employees should be to ensure that the customers needs are looked after. Its ok, if you tell the customer something is not available at the first instant (even though some customers can go crazy at this).
5) Understand that the customer's time is paramount, the value not only comes form the good food but also providing a great package for the time spent
6) Overstating a bill? Thats almost a joke, you hardly would make a grand a bill, and is hardly worth the reputation loss it would cause.

Polite is good, but not good enough, especially when you consider the 1500/head that most of the restaurants end up costing :D

Monday, October 22, 2007

Religion - the importance under natural selection

Why has religion remained with humans through evolution. As human beings understand logic the need for superstition should have no place and all would need is a sound rational world. We do not understand a lot of things (for example an average buyer of choclate would rarely know how the choclate is actually manufactured) but are comfortable living with it, infact the number of things that interest most of us would belong to a specific subset.

Why then is there a need for religion, to ascribe to a superior force the actualities of a normal life? And what is the reason that every civilization or clan has had some form of religion or the other? What are the end consequences of religion? A set of rules, is it that the rules are required for humans to survive? The set of common principles across religions seem to be

at the macro level

1) Subscribe to a God
2) Believe that your God is better than the God of others

at the micro level ...

1) Monogamy
2) Do not covet the belongings of others ( yes yes women included )
3) Do not engage in adultery
4) Women have an "impurity" cycle (yes, even the religion of the divine mother hinduism has degenerated into this)
5) Do not indulge in excesses ( yeah you can read that as too much sex)

Excesses are to control resources, imagine a few rampaging groups of viruses consuming everything that they see around themselves, humanity could do that if there we no control mechanisms. The idea of monogamy ( or even if you consider polygamy as in Islam) you are still restricted the number of partners. The key being that once a 'pact' of marriage has been signed then it becomes the automatic responsibility to propagate the species, this is achieved throught the medium of security. What if this rule were broken? Theoretically nothing should matter, if we take the average gender ratio to be 1:1 across all ages of the population then mating 1 on 1 should not matter. But what if everybody wants to mate with only the best specimen? What would that do the average specimen? Sooner or later it would lead towards tremendous conflict where in the average specimen would try and decimate the better specimen. ( Note average is purely for chances of mating ). Now if you want to ensure that entire species were to propagate as quickly (in an age where average life expectancy was in low double digits this was paramount) you need a sound next generation of the species,to create which the current generation has to kept together. Bring
in religion here you are on.


The question then is- what if there is an automatic mechanism to take care of children or if you were to alter the needs of women to enjoy motherhood and children the need of being taken care off, lets say every child that is born is reared under a common soceity which would take care of all its needs, then where would religion be? A very silly or very difficult question depending on which side or you are.

My god vs your god? Does mankind have a single evolutionary root? Or are there different channels of evolution ( have to read on this), already i know that homo sapien and the neanderthal had different roots. Could it be that each wanted to protect and propagate his own species ( assuming you can take them as being unique ) and hence the need of his set of rules ( and hence his rule giver, his god) being superior?

Human beings have the highest consciousness (atleas till now) among all the species, assuming all conflict is removed from the soceity we move as a single unit, where all resources are shared equally (yes everyone looks the same has the same intelligence, all genetic engineering ( dunno if that is possible and the genes for conflict are removed) would humans survive till the planet does? Or is conflict the best way for natural selection?

Han humans design themselves?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Facebook.. definitely better than linked in, orkut not even close

Quite late at this game. But here goes.

Facebook is quite remarkable, simply. It combines the standard features of a social networking website and the means of keeping the user engaged. The interaction happens at multiple levles, you have the apps that can keep you busy forever and the helpful updates on what your friends are doing (orkut is trying to copy this feature). Possibly the only reason the Indian community will stick to orkut for sometime is because orkut is easier to load on the servers, whereas facebook is noticeably heavier. With speeds being a problem it could take some time to catch up.

From the social websites I use, Facebook is easily the most user friendly, and there is no reason (as mentioned sometime ago in all the debates) it should migrate the audience of linked in et all. If I can stay in touch, network and connect personally then why not?

It would be interesting to see which of the desi sites would get inspired from facebook, maybe something from the TV18 stable ( they are leagues ahead in terms of tech adaptability).

Of course I am in love wiht the blitz app :D

Building Organizational Loyalty

Morgan Stanley lays of employees after the loss that it sustained. The layoffs come at the time when the entire street is reeling under the problems on the debt side, courtesy the sub prime crisis.

The concept is pretty simple: most of the investment banks have very large debt portfolio's, these debt portfolios are rolled over from time to time. But in times of crisis there are no buyers for these portfolios and then the value of the assets becomes close to zuk. This is what happens, boom.

What has happened with this round of crises is that MS has decided that people have to be laid of off. When there was run of good results quarter after quarter the person who took the good name was Mr Mack ( yeah the MS savior), but this time when the going gets bad the hit goes on 300 bankers. The bonus I hope gets pruned this year. "We are cutting down costs", and there the markets are happy.

What about the poor employees? Well they are cogs that are not important enough? The markets have not called for the head of the guys who ran up the loss in the first place or collecting the money from the bonuses paid out last year ( Investment banks pay upto 40% of revenue as bonuses ).

Most employees in the current environment are used to being laid off. The job marked is primed too, they will find jobs in no time. But if an organization claims high moral standards as MS does, is this the way to go?

Citizen Reporting... the white drums

Citizen reporting has started in India. In the land of media, this is probably the first step towards democratization. Why is media important in a democracy? It brings accountability to the polity. Media if channelized properly is the one tool which can really make the other parts of the democracy work at its optimal pace.

Is citizen journalism sustainable? And what about its own accountability? You cant really have anyone reporting a story and then vanishing into thin air while leaving the population at large to bear the consequences. Yes, Citizen journalism could be the product of an idealistic journalist who wants to bring the news to its grass roots level. But that idea can truly take place if the medium of communication is shifted to a local language, else this idea would be another opportunity for the english speaking audience to have a disproportionate mind share of news.

Next question: What is the business model of the website? :D

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Indian interest rates - they have to go down

Imagine a situation.

House A: The head of the household buys more than he sells. But his household is fast becoming one of the best places to give money to, because they are very productive. Because of rising incomes there was a lot of cash, so the head decided to suck out the cash. Now he has lots of money himself. His money gets added because he buys other currencies so that his exports are competitive.

House B: This household primarily invests. And they have a lot of money which cannot be employed productively within their own assets. So money is cheap. They figure they can easily borrow cheap money from within their household and invest it in the best asset of house A. This is what they do.

House A - India, House B - (basket of $ currencies). $ is cheap and gives low returns, Re is costly and gives higher returns, people want rupees, so rupee will appreciate against dollar. Now if you want to stop that there is only one solution, decrease interest rates. Monetary policy different from that of the fed will be useful only in a few cases, time of join them. Ease out the investment climate that should cool the inflation worries.

Of course the RBI is trying its best, but as Connery says in "The Rock", you also need the prom queen.

Exit, stage left.

Religion - Part 2, is God needed?

God probably is a concept that has run its time. There are tremendous amounts of complex interactions that take place in nature and we are even after spectacular successes, far away from complete understanding it all. But we definitely are well on our way to nullify many of the superstitions that have evolved over centuries. But is now the time to get over the ultimate superstition? The concept of God ( one who sits under the tree types)?

Practically speaking, God has served a useful purpose in the advancement of civilization ( but as i usually say, we can never vouch that we are better off being civilized ), a concept of a God who will punish you in your after life provides a sort of stability mechanism which stops the society from going into chaos (again dunno, whether that would be good or bad). But purely on a practical basis, the reward/punishment of religion's god has probably run its course. Why, because we simply have too much information that cannot be ignored and hence force us to live in a social environment, with clear understanding (hopefully based on choice) of our roles.


But what about a spiritual basis? That life could have a higher purpose and a belief in God would deliver you to the purpose? What about all the saints in the Hindu fold ? Probably they realized that human life is just a link the chain and there is supposed to be no higher purpose than that. Once when you have realized it, you probably attain peace and nirvana and that happiness is the consciousness that everyone ought to reach. But this process can be put in the frame of the individual rather than tying it up in a group environment considering a religious basis.

Religion still probably is the greatest tool in the process of mass hypnotization, but if you collectively deny the use of a under the tree god you possibly reduce the need for religion.

Yeah yeah, i hear you laughing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Religion - Part 1

Religion -The ultimate utopia, that which unites you, gives you the strength to survive, takes you beyond the realm of normal existense, liberates you, energizes you.

Religion - ultimate weapon of the state, can remove choice, will suppress your free will through a set of dogmas and a social acceptability and mechanism for control, straight from divinity itself.

The rise of nations till the advent of technology marked the rise of religions, atleast history looks at them through that lens. The Mongol khans, christian Brit & Spaniards, the Bushist Middle Kingdom and so on. Religion as has often been said is the uniting factor that is brandished by the state to brainwash the common populace into converging to 'single' way of thinking. A state tool cannot be ambiguous, hence you have competition among religions.

That era is possibly coming to the end because the fundamental premise for the success of religion is exceptional uncertainity which breeds strong faith. But in a distorted sort of the life, the hectic pace of the present has left us pursuing a unambiguous dream, of mobility and acceptability. This is the new religion.

The age of uniformity

What is common to the teenager in L.A, the teenager in Japan and that teenager (yeah the guy with the bag over his shoulder ) in mumbai? A lot actually, they probably wear tommy, listen to music on an ipod, debate the right/wrong of the war in Iraq ( yeah at least i want to dream that they might be discussing that because i don't) and are thinking about building exactly similar lives. So, this is the new globalized era - whats new? And of course I am an idiot to compress complex cultural explosions in a few lines.

But then, how far can i be? This is the new India, you have young people who are looking to conquer the world having been brought up on dreams. All of them have put in significant effort to get on the path to utopia, and you will find the utopia could be remarkably similar. Its a gross over simplification, like I always tend to find that south indian engineers remarkably have similar topics of interests ( the actual pool of interests would be mind boggling, but the broad way of thinking) and you find more and more people moving to small multiplex movies. The movies itself are good, but look around you, you will find a similar kind of audience. Of course this trend goes on a give you almost a choke, the kind of similarity you find among the crowd of south Bombay.

What we are seeing is homogenization of culture, remarkable purely because of the rapidity with which it is taking over the country. India could end up being the land of the liberals, because there is nothing else to look to. Even though the craze for Advaita might mike it cool someday, till then the phrases of philosophical texts might go into oblivion, making way for talk about the next episode of lost or the next news event or the next environmental problem.

If everybody is the same, what would be the cost of competition? Not much, it would eventually be like running on a treadmill, you can run all you want but you aint getting nowhere. The average intelligence would go down ( well the individuals could be well rounded because of the more information available, but if were to purely look at it in terms how we would stack up against the early 20th century populace), the systems and the processes would take care of the intelligence part. Eventually the population might even start looking the same ( thats not difficult either with genetic modifications), sex would be free ( yeah thats an important part of why societies are structured in the way they are, the primary motive of any society is self preservation & propagation )

Welcome to the brave new world.

Monday, September 24, 2007

arbit rant against an arbit post of rajdeep

Yes we do need to feel proud of our history. But a few comments:
1) Where do we get the history from? Our education system ensures history is learned by rote and its simply a filler. I even remember talk of history et all being removed as a subject in Andhra Pradesh. We are a nation that is playing catch up in the economic sense,where is the time for history? The media can be the only external influence on providing a sense of history,but please look at the number of times you have done history pieces in your time as the editor? History does not sell, even if it does, you need pop history.
2) It is quite difficult for an average man to appreciate history in India. Our history goes back a few thousands of years, but what do you make of it? The Aryan invasion theory ( or the lack of it)? The mughal ascendancy and fall? (criticize either and you would be hindu right wing or pseudo secular)? The subjugation and repeated failure of Indian rulers to maintain a united front against the British? Partition? Communist support for china during the war?
The point being that as a nation our history is diverse as the people who populate it (just the south indian kings themselves would take an eternity to study, both rise and fall)and before independence we rarely exhibited a 'united' nationalistic spirit.
3) The nation state is dead. National pride is an abstract concept and one that would probably pave the way for other pheneomena (religion, sub-culture etc)
4) The idea of a national resurgence can be truly seen only after the 1991 reform era. This is when the world has come to know India as an entity. History can be taught to understand why the culture of the country is as it is now, but as a matter of national pride? To each his own.
5) Also, Rajdeep that even though we might not have read auto biographies we do have a sense of history. Me and almost everyone I know from Andhra knows about Potti Sriramulu (yeah, had to say that), just as the same would apply. Not encyclopedic knowledge, but then we are not historians. We understand that what we have today was achieved at a price.
6) Finally, if the author is sure that only the part of our Independence struggle constitutes history, then just make the detailed study of it a course curriculum. And include an essay on the independence struggle as a part of selection procedure into colleges at all levels. Put a tax for support of history studies. The state requires history... period.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sanjay Dutt

Yes, Sanjay Dutt has got 6 yrs in Jail. Considering the tough stand that the court has taken in other cases, the verdict probably reflects the best possible solution to the ethical dilemma of the case.

Here was a public figure who has left an impeccable record after the event, the event itself a response to the prevailing situation at that time. Yes, the man admits he committed a mistake. But the fact of the matter remains that the case is that of criminal conspiracy. Justice has been served in its own merit. Whether the larger picture is considered (in terms of setting an example to other high profile people or the fact of him having lead a reformed life) is a mere footnote in the argument. For example it would never be known what role Sanjay’s presence served in the entire terror network.

6 yrs, he has already spent 16 months in jail and would most likely not do the full sentence with probation a strong possibility.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter-Movie Review



Director: David Yates

The franchise goes to a new director this time and he does a decent job of it. The best part about the potter series is that you don't really need to have read the book or seen the previous parts of the movie. I have been told that this part has hardly been faithful to the book and at a runtime of 138 min is the shortest movie of the whole series. Thats probably the reason that the movie comes across as pretty crisp, tho' the ending is rather abrupt.

The distortions of Harry's mind give an edgy feel to the movie, with all the other characters just filling in the places. Radcliffe is definitely a good character, tho' the hype about the kiss is hardly worth it (the theatre did burst out in applause). Of course by now I have come to love Lord Voldemort, he has a funny face, can disappear at will, spout weird dialogues and gets to wear black.

The sad part is you can expect what the movie would be about. Whatever the name of the movie is, the plot is simple. Harry boy goes through some emotions, there is a sinister plot, someone gets conked off in the end and people are waiting for the next part. Maybe I should redo my post on Harry Potter being shallow. If this is the most important book of the last decade, our level of understanding of complexities must definitely be on the wane. Anyway, to people-as they want.

The sets are pretty well done (the shot of Hogwarts from top was nice) and the cast is chosen as the story demands.. err.. not too demanding. Bring on some pondi next time man.The movies solves its purpose I guess, decent one time watch and it makes more money for the Potter pheonomenon. Amen. But then, I am just a muggle.

Rating: 6/10

Cleantech Breakthroughs

Funding Cleantech ventures is a complex process. While the end-user economics has gained some visibility the funding for research is still not a very clear process. According to reports, cleantech research funding was of the tune of $48 billion last year with the govt funding half of it.

But, mainstream adoption of cleantech will only happen if it is customer driven. While adoption of cleantech initiatives on an implementation scale is happening (installation s of biomass, solar and wind) etc, the end users could also put pressure through shareholder activism. Shareholder activism is the force that will help companies justify the large investments that are required for cleantech funding.

Further, it is probably important to understand that most new research in cleantech is going to be incremental. Almost all major technologies have been explored at some time or the other. The climate change debate has just bought these technologies into focus and hence forced companies to come up incremental research to push forward consumer acceptance through better economics.

One of the possible ways to look at cleantech funding would be set up a global fund for each field of research with identified centers of excellence to pursue those technologies. The companies could continue to focus on commercial incremental ventures. But the large breakthrough initiatives would require massive scales of funding where pooling of resources makes sense.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter-Blairite Britain?

The Fin Times has done piece of analysis on the Harry Potter series. I have never been a fan of the boy wizard, having just hardly scraped through the first book. But the fact that literary commentators have taken it upon themselves to dismiss a phenomenally successful series is quite simply weird.

But critics say that, compared with the great children's books of the past, the Harry Potter stories fare badly, appearing derivative, modestly written and superficial.


Hello? Compared to what great children's books? Most of the books I know (Gulliver's Travels, Alice in Wonderland) were more social commentaries first and children's books later.

Some cultural pessimists have gone further still, lamenting the strange tendency of adults to become as obsessed with the Harry Potter books as their children. Here, they argue, was a perfect metaphor for dumbed-down, Blairite Britain: a nation choosing to escape into facile fantasy and revel in the hype, rather than knuckling down to issues of substance and gravitas.


This is probably more interesting, Britain has had a problem in identifying its role on the world stage and also coming to terms with the colonial times. The industries are dying and except as being packaged as the financial center or hanging on to the UN security council veto the British pride appears from outside to be on the brink. Further, immigration, nationalization-privatization and now the war has put further strains on the system. But, Harry Potter = Tony Blair? Potter became famous as Blair rose and Potter series is coming to an end as Blair is done. So?

Language as a medium has changed. An amalgamation of cultures and the need to communicate shortly and quickly (courtesy the communication revolution) has meant that audiences cannot connect with complex language. Also if someone is looking for Floyd lyrics in a Britney spears concert they are simply out of their mind. Harry boy is not an English phenomenon, it has spawned a sub-culture across geographies.

The problem is that culture pundits are probably at the worst possible time in history. While on one the development of language as a medium of communication over centuries is threatened, at the same time the ability of people to choose all kinds of media they will consume, down to the last detail has meant that there is no clear consensus on what kind of culture will dominate. Pop? Classic? Short-term fix or perennial nirvana?

Poor culturists-till then Potter would be ahem "symbol of Blairite Britain"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Press 'con'ference

Last weeks press conf in the sporting world:

Rafa Nadal: I think that my opponent is the favorite. Goes on to beat Youzhny, Berdych and Djokovic (conceded) after saying that.

Gasquet(after beating Roddick): It was a pleasure to play a great champion. He is very very good, but I played better today. (on meeting Federer): It will be a honor to play the great champion. I will try and play good tennis.

Federer: After for once agreeing that he expected better from Gasquet in semis, goes on to say sweet things about beating Nadal.

Collingwood (after being 'Gayled'):
q: how did series go.
woody boy: we learnt a lot, its a young team. there are good opportunities
q: who did WI turn it around
woody boy: our boys competed well. we are quite young and learning
q: what were your weaknesses? the batting let you down right?
woody boy: we see a lot of opportunities

These are examples of the quite weird problem of sports persons taking political correctness to the extreme. We are in the PR era, so your usual barrage of Paris going "i felt claustrophobic, i will change" (), Rakhi Sawant having a cute home, everybody liking everybody else, somebody calling Sanjay Leela Bhansali s movies masterpieces, the congress keeping quiet on the Maran fiasco, xyz donating their undies to children in god forsaken Africa et all, we could at least have clarity in sports atleast.

Come on, its ok if someone says "I beat him because I was better today" instead of "he is a great champion, he competes brilliantly, he was very very close to winning". C'mon Fedex you can do better than that. Sport is one field that clearly proves who is better. Unless for exceptional circumstances (injury, boredom) the ranking and performances shows who is better.

Give me Schumi, Armstrong, Bryant any dny man. Modern sport has probably reached very high levels, but public relations still sucks.

Nationalism, national pride et all

Ideas:swl.

Does being born in a particular nation automatically mean that an individual should be proud of that nation? or should national pride be restricted to cases where there is a case to feel proud?

Judging from the reaction to the Taj vote we are led to believe that the Taj is a true wonder in the world and symbol of national pride. Is the Taj on the list because of the numbers or does it truly deserve it?

Nationalism is a time tested concept, predating the era of the nation state. And any argument of a seemingly dominant culture would automatically lead to conflict with groups having different views outside of the geographic boundaries of nations, but even within it could impinge upon liberal/minority interests. The problem is in a way circular, unless there is universal agreement that birth/upbringing happens purely by chance there is a high likelihood that people would align themselves in different groups. Now lets say if there are no nationalists in one country, its likely that the country would be run over from nationalist groups in another country. So the liberals in different countries whose attentions are primarily drawn towards events on merit will probably need to work harder on making people understand the futility of nationalism vs universalism. But then they are liberals.

The problem is compounded by the thoughts of the major religious/political views. Christianity and Islam are more universalist but would be at logger heads on individual superiority. Jews and Hindus are probably the true exponents of the 'promised land', they would be loggerheads with the others. An understatement.

The fundamental problem is more towards difficulty of the human race to judge for itself. Peer review, acceptance and the need to belong to a social group far outweighs the individuals capacity to think/act rationally. And once the alignment happens, in case of nationalism, its by default then there is very little opportunity for someone to create a liberal view. Or is it?

In a curious way, unless nations feel threatened a large scale war is unlikely to happen in the near future. Now is a good time to re-assess the need for nationalism and visions of superiority of the nation state. As people realize that even their day to day actions are influenced by global events (the internet/global warming) the idea of common usage of scarce resources has its best chance to prevail over existing forms of nationalistic thinking. But this development would have to walk a tightrope with the stabilizing nationalist forces and there lies the problem.

Since we start from such an inequitable distribution of wealth, there would be an relative importance of groups till there is better distribution. Before this happens any sort of dialogue would not be possible. So, liberals be doomed, who cares about them anyway, My country right or wrong.

Outsourcing trends

CNET recently did a piece on trends in outsourcing.

Consolidation: The space here is not very clearly defined. While on the one hand most of the large players themselves have set shop in outsourcing destinations, the markets for some services has not yet taken off (Financial services, Legal Services, Medical R&D processes, High end engineering modeling etc). I believe that the major outsourcing players will raise capital and expand before the first trends of consolidation clearly emerge.

Globalization: Whatever IDC may say India will not lose its edge for the 'English' dominated markets. We already cant cover the Asian markets which could as well turn out to be huge opportunities. Indian companies will open international centers. Companies like Genpact already seek to leverage their experiences in other low cost centers.

Person-to-person offshoring: Now this is interesting, but how big will this market be? Tutoring-definitely, its already a success story. But with issues such as data security creeping in this could likely be only a small piece of the entire pie. Probably the proverbial long tail market here.

Green sourcing: Still the parameters of 'Green' are clearly defined very few companies will have the incentive to look at green sourcing. I believe its unlikely to happen in the next 3-4 years unless the new Kyoto negotiations impose strict penalties on companies based on the green footprint.

Virtual worlds: Very very likely. The market could emerge as a subset of the entire p2p offshoring premise. A part of a world could be created or maintained by anyone with access to the account. How big and how soon? Large scale connectivity would be the key issue.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Google making us dumber?

I would actually think of it terms of the much larger question: are google and wikipedia making us dumber? On first thought my answer would be no- both are just tools of information dissemination. Considering that information control has been a tradional form of suppression how could such tools not benefit us? You have a mediccal condition-google and find out what is being done world over to solve this. You need to know something in physics-search wikipedia. Seen in this way there are a thousand things for which simple availability of information can make life a lot easier and actually empower people(for example: what are the land rates, how much govt budget has been allocated?-the babus wont control the information).

But then, if everything is available on the click of a mouse will humans need to remember anything and put in an effort to understand something? Actually that might not be necessary. The information is just there and if its not freely available there are poeple (or services) that you can trust, who can find the information for you. You might as well use your time more productively, doing things that are of interest to you. (I dont really know whether an increase in the amount of leisure time is good or bad for the average human being). Information helps us make better choices, and hence the more the merrier.

The key question is that-how much of the information is credible? That problem is taken care of simply by peer reviews, in most subjective matters vies both for/against any argument can be found. Now information always from the winners curse, i.e. just because there is some information that is available-is the information the best available measure is a problem of information per se and not the search engine that you use to search for the information.

For example, History is always biased towards the victor. It takes years of painstaking research or possible clear chronicles to understand the perspective of the vanquised. All information is like that- the tabulation/record of the information is because-someone intends to present that information in that way.

So where does it all leave me: The tools for information search are not a problem, the problem is with the quality of information. Now that can only be improved by more and more people using the tools for search, because that would set parameters to be analyzed by the entire group. So run more of those searches please.

PS: i do not own google stock :D

Ocean's Thirteen


Cast: Clooney(Ocean,Rusty(Pitt),Linus(Damaon), Banks(Pacino), Andy Garcia(Benedict)-other mentions Don Cheadle (Basher) and Casey Affleck-Virgil
Direction: Steven Soderberg
Pure entertainment!!

From the time Pitt leaves his team of robbers (" I gotta go") in the middle of a heist to the last scene (almost the ending of the first-this time they stay) this is perhaps the best sequel to come along this year (havent seen Shrek as yet). Pure brilliance wise probably, O11 scored over O13 but O13 leaves you asking for more.

Ocean gets his team together (minus the woman-its not their war) because their team member and one of the 11 has been jacked by Banks during the building of a casino. So they do what they do best, look ultra cool and set up all the games on the floor so that the casino loses more money on the opening night than Banks can afford. Simple? yeah, but you gotta bring on the style.

There is a computer that cannot be hacked-Greco, Benedict wants them to steal some diamonds, there is rating needed for the hotel which needs to be fudged an earthquake to be simulated, dice to be manufactured-dice that dance to a lighter and a whole lot of other tricks.

They bribe some, cajole some, keep some out of the scene and when required bring their awesome skills to the plate. Of course virgil decides to run a revolution after too much of Tequila, of course his bro' cant make him change his mind. Benedict wants to play spoil sport too. But that cannot happen right? Our guys are the guys who ensure everything falls into place and they do.

Over the top probably, but the movie has moments of absolute cinematic magic and brings all the characters from the previous movies. You've got Linus and his dad (after his mom last time), the boobs of Ellen Barkin (they occupy more than 50% of screen space in some scenes-good for someone who was born in 1954 according to imdb), Rusty and Ocean rapartee (relationships, oprah and the family one towards the end), the emotional bonding between Basher and Reuben and the host of cinematic references (including Brody's nose-pointed out by Raja Sen in this brilliant review) , and the whole 'revoluation' angle.

The only negative of the movie is Al Pacinos bad bad hair and his lack of flair (not strong enough-even when he says 'I dont lose') . Great movie making!!

Rating: 7.5/10

Friday, June 08, 2007

Liquidity-whatever is that?

The first thing you hear at a job in equities related market is the important concept of 'liquidity'. There as many culprits for the excess of liquidity or for the lack of it. The usual suspects: the arabs-they dont damn know what to do with their oil money, so they pay money managers huge money just to have some fun moving the markets. Ah the man soros, every time an emerging economy does something funny it would be Soros. Oh c'mon, he is an exploiter, he would be behind this syndrome.. The Japs, if they are collectively not screwing Detroit they are busy thinking up of innovative ways to make people jump into carry trades. The Chinese, oh boy oh boy, they are always in the 'be a man, do the right thing' syndrome and if you dont do what think is right they will soon pump in billions of dollars of reserves that they hold. Add to that the stupid companies that are scared shit of the private equity boys and are putting more cash back into investors and you have money money and moore money everywhere. It does not help that gold and land are going nowhere (in terms of other assets).

So what we have is a heady cocktail of money that is moving around which is increasing asset prices in every damn class you could think. Oh its so different from the earlier crashes. Ya right-what is so different is that the asset classes are so badly linked that diversification is impossible. So any trigger will lead to an orgy not a individual screw up. As usual lots of people make money when the market crashes, but this time it could leave a lot more peoople naked. Meanwhile analysts will always simply say: I told you so, its all a matter of the damn liquidity.

Scarface



Remebered this movie after quite some time. Scarface is the story of Tony Montana, a convict from cuba who goes on to become a crime lord in the US. His motto, as depicted by a united airlines(if iam right) caption "The World is yours". The movie is characterized by Pacino's raw energy and the usage of excess violence as a medium by Brian de Palma (and yeah, oliver stone was involved in the movie too). Of course them movie probably holds the record for the number of F*** that are used by the protagonists.

The transformation of Montana from a cook to a crime lord is rapid and he will go to any lengths to get there. When he finally kills his mentor/boss and takes his girlfriend ( a gorgeous Pfeiffer), the scene runs the trademark music score in the backdrop of a balloon displaying "the world is yours" (which incidentally becomes Montana's own belief). After that Montana soon goes into a self-destructive mode of extreme arrogance and lack of trust of the people around him.

The final battle sequence (shown in the video) is probably one the best ever filmed.
Tony Montana:
In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women

Vidume-How good is this?


Yeah, the choice of the sample does not indicate any vindication of the applicant :D He does appear quite funny though. But the idea of video resume in an age when data can move so fast is in itself compelling. In India Monster is apparently going to launch a video resume. C'mon it could be quite difficult: You need ot look good, sound good and above all the person who has taken the time to view your presentation should feel it was worth the time.

The success of video resume's has come into question (quite quickly I suppose) primarily because it lays emphasis on the resume viewer taking his/her time to view the video. If he is stuck with a bad connection, you are bound to face the consequences. Secondly, the personal experience that is being projected is not so personal after all, because the interaction is minimized (if it becomes interactive or proabably an interview in second life, then you are talking :D ).

I have not used the method (as yet), but would tend to think that the idea of a video resume for all jobs cannot be the question. But for jobs which that need people who are creative, can speak freely to an audience (your video will go around) it can be a good way to showcase those talents. And the good old shock value still holds ( c'mon if you are applying to be a model...a video would help wouldnt it?). If you know there are going to be only a few applicants, why not go that additional step to differentiate yourself? Eventually, the video resume model would probably cater a niche segment, where the viewer and the applicant know what is being sold.

Can you do it?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Net crimes


Wonder what Indian scene would look like? With all the stories of phishing going on I thought it must the be the top of the list.









Source: Internet Crime Complaint Center (US)

Web 2.0: India Snapshot-Take 1

Did read a lot about this sometime back. Will try and put in interesting stuff.

First the masala-Social Networking:
1) Minglebox: Arguably the best content right now. The team seems to have focus and innovation is there.
2) My previous fav's Yaari and Jhoom (music oriented social networking-great concept) are not in the news. Maybe iam missing something there.
3) The all time favorite orkut: Other than adding some video capability, Google has not really come up with anything. Weird tho', they can actually set of a successful business model if ever that was possible with the Indian orkut community.

The key for social networking at this level is getting the teen crowd in. You need more women coming in to get in the guys. And then the repeat usage is purely on the interface and the content you are able to create. The content is something that is difficult to see happening in India because of bandwidth problems. But my friend with a telecom company assures me that the once the underlying cables have been laid, broadband will come cheap and speeds would be high.

The professional versions:
1) Rediff Connexions: Very simple to use. Again another company which has not really taken the 2.0 space by storm surprisingly. They come in with the concepts that are too late for the market (rediff bol). Somebody should tell them to think ahead not backwards. Strategy!!!!!
2) TechTribe: The desi version of LinkedIn. How many VCs there is not something that Iam aware off. Hopefully one day some biz plan of mine shall be funded there. The site is quite user friendly but the topics being debated seem pretty arbitrary.

Other desi versions of concepts that ought to be there (or are already there)
1) you tube (something that easily allows mobile uploads)
2) salesforce.com : Smaller businesses in India have yet to take to life on the net and their requirements could be as simple as setting up a website
3) hot or not(I hear RSS banging on my doors)
4) GigaOm: Common Om Malik, you can support and Indian Version somewhere. Sooner or later most of your audience would be based here.
5) motley fool

Nice thing I wrote this, interesting to look at stuff this way.

And consolidation required in-
1) All the netflix clones. You just cannot provide cheap access without scale and right now just cannibalization are there
2) the job sites: all of them fight on weird parameters like resume views, number of resumes etc. what are they really targeting?
3) Matrimonial: Aren't there 1 million marriage sites? Yeah one dedicated to my dear friend Venkat too? No way so many people could make money unless they add an off the net dimension to it.

What can Bill do for Hillary?

Will Bill be an influence on Hillary? What will be his role? What can he do? A lot:
1) Teach Hillary to keep her mouth shut, until forced to do otherwise. Hillary should have known better than to support the war in Iraq. A nation can be at war, but the rulers have to know that the decision is purely strategic.
2) Encourage her to add some 'spice' up: Too much of this motherhood syndrome, Mother America thing taken a bit too far (not as far as French Royal tho'). If she is seen as having some fun, maybe more people will turn out to vote. White America not withstanding, what % of other communities vote?
3) Get the right people in: Rumsfeld is a PR disaster. Way larger than life. You cannot have too many such names. Bush, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld-disaster surely. Who do I remember from the Clinton era- Madeline Albright, foreign office and the eco guys who created the surplus.
4) Make Hillary understand that America will always be a Nation to be looked up to, to be feared and emulated. Money, free society (not maybe), democracy and pure military might. You dont have to play bully to be acknowledged leader.
But reality remains clear, a Democrat president wont be too different from our man Bush. Yes, even on climate change.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Movie Review: Perfect Stranger


Cast: Bruce Willis (Harrison Hill-whats he doing in this movie?), Halle Berry (Rowina), Giovanni Ribisi (Miles)

Direction: James Foley

Absolute crap!!! The only redeeming quality is the last 10 min of the movie. Ok the lighting effects to show the eye imagery is pretty good and a dark mood is kept up throughout.

Rowina bumps into one of her friends after she is stopped from being a true media journalist and her editor runs out on her. Her friend gives her the info that a famous ad-guru (Harrison Hill) is online sexual predator and wants Rowina to help in exposing him. Promptly the friend is found dead and Rowina decides that Harrison Hill must be the killer and goes all out to prove so. Her help in all this is the perverted Miles who is love with her. Done right, this should turn out decent, right? Far from it.

The director does not have any sort of control on the pace of the movie. The exceptionally weak dialogues and screenplay make you wonder the point of spending any money on this venture. Chat text reads, “Are you turned on?” and stuff. Ribisi can actually hack through anything and he makes Rowina, Hill’s temp worker just like that. He can get files, account numbers and all that jazz. No acting so to speak in the movie. The best scene is probably when Berry uses perfume between the legs. At least more of the same would have ensured some value for money. Instead, you do have some ‘submission’ scenes to throw in some more weird angles to a non-existent plot.

Harrison Hill cant sleep around because his wife will find out and then take away his wealth. Willis might just as well do Die Hard 10. Halle Berry is going down exponentially from monster’s ball. The theme of movie “you just can’t bury someone from the past and forget about it”

I shall try.

Rating: 3/10

Increase in Indian Risk taking ability?

India is the place to be- there are no two ways about it. A very confident corporate India looking to dominate the global market place, an economy that could tend towards 10% growth, rising income levels, positive demographics etc have made the India story a little bit believable. Commentators are now talking about the capacity of the average Indian to think big with the acquisition spree of corporate India being held as a sure sign of increased risk taking ability.

Now the key questions are
1) Are Indians traditionally risk-averse? If so why?
2) Has the risk taking ability increased now? If so why?

The answer to both questions is, Team-work. Indians are traditionally not good at working in teams. Seems counter-intuitive right? After all it is the joint family culture. But, on a closer look the family culture is mainly patriarcal with the female sphere of influence being limited. Further, the Hindu religion is based on "To each his own" philosophy which has lead to a multitude of paths for people to follow (atleast on the rituals side). Education is by-rote (yes again religious reasons-the scriptures were to be learned by hearing alone) with little focus on 'activities'. Sports, again a potent team building exercise does not get importance here, ( whether this is a cause or effect is left to another post). Risk is chance of a loss. It deals with understanding the concept of input-> reward. Do we lack this? No we don't, just that the scale of the reward did not seem to matter. Any evidence for risk-taking ability? Yes, a majority of the populace is self-employed. Self-employment maybe due to lack of opportunities, but it is trend nevertheless.

Where is the current change then? Indians are slowly realizing that their key problem is implementation, not ideas. And to implement anything on a decent scale, you need people working in teams, not silos. Even as we look at successful partnerships of Indians with companies abroad the key theme is 'people working together' and the key theme for stuttering Indian sectors? lack of implementation again.

Is the increase in team-culture due to the recent economic gains? Nope, its because of increased exposure. Cities always tend to create more opportunities because they give a higher reward for the inputs (Think Mumbai). The current global integration has exposed Indians to higher rewards and they have responded by learning to work in teams.

further reading (courtesy-swl): http://indianeconomy.org/2007/04/19/the-culture-of-risk/

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ash-Abhi Saga.- Flimi Chakkar

Random sequence of news events on a daily day:

India just launched Agni -3, we just found out ash is going to wear embroidered undies, Pak takes notice of Rahul bravado, fartometer to be installed at wedding, sachin cried ( don't know for what reason), there was large scale arson and shooting between two communities ( must be happening somewhere), z+ security at wedding, you will not be allowed to take a leak even ( dogs allowed exceptions), Ash designer 'inadvertently' gives out info about the wedding dress, U.P has lot of crime (oh, we cant give people such news), Mehndi would be at this muhurt and so and so deities would be appeased, somewhere... Ash-Abhi wedding is a symbol of national unity, a marriage across regions with people from all communities attending, such marriages will contribute to world peace, what if it rains on the wedding day... how many celebrities would be drenched, what would be loss to the fashion world? Shiv Sena.. Bachan should disown Aishwarya to set an example, only 2 affairs/woman to be allowed, Abhi is number 3-unfair to the aam admi, Mayawati...'ye shaadi manuvad ka pratibimb hai, bahujan samaj ko ladna chahiye', and lo! they start fighting amongst themselves, Shilpa Shetty 'It was his culture', late night show... "i think it was just an attempt by shilpa to steal the thunder from the wedding", Starnews...The savior of people in love....this was all tidbits .. now for the crescendo

fan offers to go on foot to mansaraover (yeah that's me ) if the wedding goes right- tv coverage, some bull shit was seen on the road in 'AA' formation in U.P (yeah somewhere Rahul was campaigning), now seen as diving blessing of the new couple, Indian women are equal to women now, who will undress whom first? Salmon khan put under house arrest, sangeet muhurt, colour of masts in wedding house, colour of the 4 tile from the left corner wall of the third room in the basement, shoes, chains, hair.....one strand of wedding hair to be auctioned at $10000, watches, sweets, pandit-filmi or non-filmi?, ash has learnt Harvanshji poems too apparently...and so on and so forth.....

My country, right or wrong.

Special Mention for all the actual info on the post: Suchitra W L

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Strategy: Resource Based View

Don't know if I managed to ever understand this correctly or not, but this was my favorite strategy concept through b-school. It is very simple and powerful tool to understand if the firm has a competitive advantage because of the resources it commands. Simply put (de-jargonised) , there is competitive advantage based on the resources you command, when
1) Different levels of capability among firms lead to different returns
2) The resource has not been over utilized
3) There is a chance to earn returns before other guys get in
4) The resource should not be substituted easily ( IP etc help isolate the resource)

The resource based view (see wiki reference), is quite powerful in that it tells you how to look at what is present inside the firm. With the general focus on being macro-external (5 forces type), the resource approach helps in driving the famous competitive advantage theory of Prahlad and Hamel.


The Accountability Conundrum- India Cricket


Have read so much about cricket these days that I feel like a comment is due from my side. Funny that I mention reading so much, if its a sport-shouldnt it just be watched and forgotten? Not quite apparently, cricket is more than a sport in India a religion, and what the cricketers do will shape the future destiny of Indian nation. Its only because India lost that Rakhi has painted herself, the stock markets are not performing, the ads and sales have gone down, people farted more.....I thought only the ISI was responsible for such things (ya even for Rakhi, so that the moral fabric or lack of it is destroyed, in fact she is a spy). Anyway without India and Pakistan, somehow its not quite cricket.

But the essential argument is this, as group since these individuals represent the country they have to provide a better face. They have to try harder, take whatever is paid to them and always win. C'mon it does not happen that way. If you want to hold them accountable, will the collective nation ban watching the matches? Companies get a time to perform and after that if there is repeated failure, the shares are shown the boot by the market. Will the real Indian cricket watcher please stand up? I am sure all he wants is entertainment and its like watching a soap opera for him :)
The direct arguments against criticism's are simple:
1) The result is the measure of entire process: the domestic leagues (salaries and facilities), the selectors and selection process, of team and the coach.
2) Isn't it probable that it was your best performance? C'mon we managed 158/9 against 2 attacks SL and B'desh with a strong batting line up? Simply put we are not good enough.
3) Touted as world beaters: This is a good one. When you go out to bargain is there one idiot who would pay the first price quoted in Fashion Street or Burma Bazaar? Nah... you would look at the quality, the statistics and make your own choice.
Now the indirect one's:
1) Aussies win, because they are trained to win from a young age. It matters a lot. They are aggressive and are not even liked by people, but they are professional and win. Accountability is an national sporting obsession.
2) Where is our national accountability? Quite far fetched, but isn't each individual supposed to represent the nation? Someone not paying taxes is also not accountable. Its only collective conscious. The wastage of time (including this piece) is finally just that, a wastage of time. Public memory is short and on the next success we shall be world beaters.
3) Ad money: The chances of an average guy getting to a national team is very less. For a 10 year career he has weathered innumerable odds. He should be able to cash out. Again if someone thinks this is wrong, I would suggest they join unpaid social service jobs.
4) Betting: I for one believe that betting needs to be legalised. Sooner or later people are taking educated bets on half the things in their life. The nexus can only be uncovered if the total net positions can be pinned down to people.
We want our country to win, does not mean that they will win. You should question the result to put a better system in place. No more, no less.
And ya, ask Chappell to shut up.

Movie Review: Little Miss Sunshine


Cast: Abigail Bresnil ( Olive) , Greg Kinnear (Richard), Paul Dano (Dwayne), Alan Arking ( Granddad), Toni Colette (Sheryl)

Direction: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Plot: Olive is a cute little girl who is enamored by beauty contestants and when she gets a chance to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine contest in California, her entire family makes the journey with her. Along the way a dysfunction family, bonds in a unique way.

Its actually quite difficult to classify this movie. I don't know whether the movie is supposed to make a statement or not. Olive’s family is dysfunctional. Her dad is a guy who classifies everyone as a winner/loser and is caught in the warp of his own 9 steps of success. Her brother is a Neitzche follower who has taken a vow of silence and wants to be a pilot. Grandpa is a cocaine snorting garrulous chap. Her uncle (mom’s brother), is recovering from a suicide attempt (due to a failed love affair with a male student). Olive’s mom is the sane character in the middle of this, who believes that she has to let people be, her pressure handling only intercepted by smoking.

The journey across 2 days to California in a mini-bus (as the flight is too expensive) begins with a group of people lost in themselves. The dad loses his book deal and wants to live the success through his daughter, the granddad trains the daughter, Frank (uncle) and Dwayne fight their own demons and are close to breaking down. It is only on the death of Grandpa that the characters realize that probably the little girl deserves a shot at what she has prepared for. The girl though wants her dad’s acceptance of a winner and does the act, a striptease to ‘we are greater than thou’ artificial audience and when the family joins her on the stage for the dance, you kind of feel elated. Feel good, maybe not- but it just is something good. It was a good performance, and each of us are individuals but cannot be stuck in an inward looking gloom. I need to categorize man, so pardon the message from the movie.

Could the family be anywhere on the planet? Yes, only the individuality aspect is probably a little bit American. But we have heard of crazy families, but the act of bringing them together is subtle and the artificiality of the pageant for kids is seen to be believed. Some spectacular music (the guitar piece when the country side is shown), splendid acting and great direction ensures that the movie is probably one of the best of last year.

The girl retains her innocence- ‘Grandpa is in the trunk’, Dwayne(even if he thinks his home is hell) asks his sis to hug her mom, Grandpa reassures dad….Frank reminding everyone that he is a preeminent Proust scholar. And people in families have individual aspirations. How they handle them is the question.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Movie Review: Namesake


Cast: Irrfan Khan (Ashok Ganguli), Tabu (Ashima Ganguli) , Kal Pen (Gogol Ganguli)

Direction: Meera Nair

Adapted from the book of the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri, the Namesake is about the search for identity of individuals. People who move out to a different culture more often than not try and hang on to what was around them when they grew up. When in search of opportunity why is it so difficult to adapt? Why is the need to hang on? When does one become free?

Ashok and Ashima Ganguli are a newly Bengali couple in New York. ( ok Tabu in her classical music rendition looks tam, their love-making scene represents those ‘shakila’ centered mallu movies- saved only by the seemingly proper bong wedding). They name their first born Gogol ( a nick name that sticks around) after the Russian author whole book was responsible for Ashok being alive. The boy grows up to hate the name as he is the butt of jokes in college and girls find the name weird. With enough clich├ęs about NRI’s sticking to desi culture (a nicely done bong identity here), Gogol hates his roots. He changes his name (to Nikhil- Nick), gets a phirang gf and is the architect on the move.

Tragedy strikes when Ashok dies and Gogol comes back to his roots. His journey to realize his true identity and become free forms the rest of the story. The culture trap is actually old soup, the movie would have made more sense 3-4 years ago. Irrfan and Tabu are brilliant. They share an amazing chemistry and each scene in which they are together is a joy to watch. The movie drags in the second half and could be edited a little bit. The direction tells the story in the poignant way and the digs at NRI’s does not go overboard. The perspective, colours, sceneries are all chosen to give importance to the people rather that the surroundings, brilliant I would say. Kal is actually the weak link. He has a dumb expression half the time and manages to do well only in a few scenes. The supporting cast do no intrude.

‘We all have sprung from the pages of the overcoat’ says a melancholy Ashok to damn-care Gogol.

A slice of life in a search for identity.

Rating: 7/10

Movie Review: 300


Cast: Gerald Butler (King Leonidas), Lena Hedley (Queen Gorgo), Dominic West (Theron)

Direction: Zack Snyder

Zimply:

The Spartan King Leonidas decides to defend his lands with a group of 300 warriors against the attacks of the marauding 1 million Persians led by the god-king Xerxes. They hold their own till they are killed by treachery. Guts and Glory.

Masala:

No retreat, no Surrender for Spartans. Spartan newborns are discarded if they have imperfections. Each child is sent away at 7 to be trained in combat and only the best survive the training. Spartans warriors have perfect bodies and wear no armour. Xerxes is a tyrant who will do anything to win. He represents the decadent, immoral, blasphemous civilization that is out to destroy the free man. (No wonder the Iranians too offense).

Is it true: Nope. A small group of men did apparently defend some vague Greek lands, but the book is a movie version of the graphic novel by Frank Miller. Apparently Spartans were the best soldiers because of their armour and not for the lack of it.

Movie: Fireworks. Oh boy! Oh boy! Some sexy and cheesy one liners… I bring more soldiers, only Spartan woman give birth to real men, do what a free man would do (ya right), people will remember that a king and his men fought for freedom (yawn) so on and so forth. The music rocks, there is so much cartoonish killing that you are numb to it anyways and it ends up being hilarious. The animation is both the redeeming feature and spoiler of the movie. The characters are rendered unreal and distant.

“We did what we were good at, what we were trained to do, what we were born to do”

Question- if you are reared to do something were you born to do it ? J

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, March 15, 2007

India Politics: The UP Conundrum

Uttar Pradesh is still the largest state in India and what happens there in the assembly elections has repurcussions over the politics of the nation as a whole. Maybe not, purely in terms of numbers yes, but national trends? Definitely not. Why? simply because UP has become an extraordinary melting pot of short term political machinations which rarely go beyond forming a government. Whats up this time? Have not spent too much time on this, just a macro view. Have to travel in UP sometime.

1) BJP: I like the bbc usage of the 'hindu' nationalist party. It s not so much hindu as hindu far right. Thats what the VHP, RSS and the Bajrang Dal would want. A BJP that goes no holds barred on a Hindutva movement. Again not quite, over the last general election and few assembly elections in the states the BJP and its ideological partners have realized that elections are won mostly on local issues combined with the nationwide problems of 'inflation' and 'employment'. The problem BJP faces is that there is not genuine face of the party. Atalji is gone, Advani always looks like a pirate and Rajnath is desperate. (Last heard his son is coming in to fight in the assembly...ya the electiosn in interior heartlands are supposed to be a literal fight). They cannot use Modi, even the development face of his because he is too sensitive and also he is larger than the party. There have been comments that the party organization is in doldrums at the local level in UP. But, still it is UP, the land of 'Caste' and BJP always has a chance.

2) The Congress (I): The congress g rather, their best bet is to field Priyanka as the beti of the nation. Oh c'mon, this is a sure long term bet. She does not look stupid, can speak Hindi and the mother fearing AP-Tam-Hindi belt would vote in droves for her if packaged properly. Soniaji would be worried (and she would be giving our man Manmohan sleepless nights with all those inflationary 'love' letters), she knows it is very unlikely that the congress woudl get a majority of its own. They have no organization, no strategy and no ideology. They will tag along whoever gives them the largest bite. Unless of course, a god level spin doctor comes along. The congress destroyed UP, from the minority baiting Indira-Rajiv brigade to the alliance mongering congress of the 90's-00's. Salvation? unlikely.

3) S.P: The true survivors. They are perennially the pack of wolves that is being hunted down and they will do anything to survive. They would easily get the biggest share of the minority vote, if there is enough to woo the OBC's, despite the SC verdict and all our man Mulayam will once again be having the last laugh. Amitabh for president. Expect strong show.

4) B.S.P: "Hum jo bhi karenge, Bahujan samaj ke hith mein karenge", haanji--thats why we gave 35% of seats to the upper casts this time. Mayawati knows that its unlikely the OBC's will go away from her, so she is doing all she can to get a few bonus upper caste seats. Will it work? Only if she also manages to wrest a few minorities from our man Mulayam. If mulayam can overlook criminals so can she. Mayawatiji Manuvadi tatwo ke khilaph ladti rahengi. Success likely.

I expect a hung assembly as usual.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland


Cast: Forest Whitaker (Idi Amin), James McAvoy (Dr Nicholar Garrigan), Kerry Washington (Kay Amin)

Direction: Kevin McDonald

Plot: Dr Garrigan is serving in Uganda so as to help the local populace. He is charmed by General Amin and agrees to be his personal doctor. Soon, he becomes entangled in the increasing barbaric, autocratic and paranoid regime of the General, exacerbated by the larger than like of Amin. To complicate issues Nicolas falls for the general’s wife and his possible escape forms the central theme of the movie.

How long can charm work? Looking at history-long enough to destroy a country. Amin rose from humble beginnings to take control of Uganda. His regime was punctuated with extraordinary impressions of mass killings, paranoia and self-aggrandizement. Why do people fall for this? Simple, it is difficult to separate a charming man from his agenda. And once you are charmed, it is very difficult to resist the temptations of playing along.


Whitaker plays Amin to the t. A role probably made for Oscars. The literal over the top performance ensures that the audiences are charmed too and then horrified from the apparent shift from a simple general who is at home with his people to a crazy despot. In India at least the gore is restricted (Amin was sometimes called a cannibal and there is supposedly a museum made of human remains, if I remember right) but the violence is there in the background. “You are my advisor, you are supposed to persuade me” follows “You are nothing but a doctor”, that would send a chill through anyone. The way the director has shown the paranoia develop in Amin is something to be watched for and the right use of voice based-music based expression make the movie a good watch. McCoy is good as Garrigan, but looks a little bit too young. Kay as his lover does her part well too.

The supporting actors in the roles of the general’s advisors look menacing to say the least.

In the end you would remember Whitaker and his over the top performance. Quite impressive. Oscar winner? probably not. I would have preferred DiCaprio in blood diamond or even Departed.

Rating: 7.2/10

Monday, March 12, 2007

Movie Review: 1971


Cast: Manoj Bajpai (Major Suraj Singh), Deepak Dobriyal (Ft Lt Gurtu) , Ravi Kishen (Cap Jacob), Chitranjan Giri (Subedar Ahmed), Manav Kaul (Ft Lt Ram)---special mention to guy who played Malik (cant get his name)

Direction: Amrit Sagar

Another movie which represents the growing maturity of Indian cinema. Made by a young director, the movie shows the pain of prisoners of war (POW s) captured by Pakistan in wars with India. Their existence is held in denial by both governments. When the credits roll in the end with the names of some of the POW’s who were last seen alive in 1988, the poignancy of the portrayal in the movie hits you. Kudos to Amrit Sagar

Plot: A large group of POW’s form the 1965 and 1971 wars are brought to a single place ostensibly to set them free. Major Suraj and his team refuse to believe that to be true. Soon they find out that that it is an effort by the Pakistani Govt to get a clean chit from Red Cross. Six of them plan an escape so as to take their story to the outside world. Will they succeed? Well, for that you should watch the movie.

No masala-heroines are kept away and there are 2 situational songs. There is some sentimentalism which probably drags the movie for about 5 mins, but I believe that should be overlooked. The performances are exception. Suraj is the able leader who keeps the goal in mind with support from Ahmed, Kabir and Jocob. Gurtu, Ram and Malik are the real heroes. Deepak Dobriyal as Gurtu is simply exceptional. From his casual humour to this anguish at losing his friend, to his final narrative, he makes you feel the pain. Malik as the Pakistani pilot is coolness personified. A Dev Anand ‘esque list apart he is the only sane voice in the Pakistani command shown in the movie.

The movie does not launch into vitriol. It is simply the perspective from our forgotten heroes. The pace is gripping and the narrative has some breathtaking visuals. The human rights activist (on the lines of Asma Jehangir I think) brings another perspective, but she having so much rights in a military establishment is jarring. But she gets silenced (implicitly) towards the end.

All that is left is finally…………..hope.

Rating: 7.5/10

Movie Review: Apocalypto


Cast: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernanandez

Direction: Mel Gibson

A pure directorial extravagance, Apocalypto is based on the premise that civilizations destroy themselves from within first. The film apparently uses Mayan’s as protagonists (well, the movie is a foreign language with subtitles, most people would not know the history), but is fraught with inconsistencies throughout. The Spaniards arrived much later than the Mayans and the culture depicted is apparently close to the Aztecs.

The plot is simple. A village is ransacked and after extensive plunder, those who are alive are taken captives. Men to be offered as sacrifice and women to be sold as slaves. Jaguar Paw is a young hunter of the tribe. He helps his family escape and promises them he will return. How he fulfills his destiny marks the rest of the film.

Yes, the movie is gory and brutal for most part. From the time the animal is hunted in the first few moments to when the high priest pulls out the heart from a living man and then chops off his head. You have a pit full of dead bodies, the people responding to orgy of violence, a pregnancy under water and random killings and acts of violence. But, the premise still remains. When Paw finally says “ We go to the jungle, for a new beginning”, that's all that remains. The beginning of destructions of civilizations is always from within. Civilizations, which have been inward looking and decadent or tending to cannibalize nature, have been exterminated through history. Probably the violence is just for cinematic (and directorial- Passion of the Christ was pretty gory too J ) reasons, but the spirit of Paw stands out.

Paw is a man who is consumed by fear of the unknown. His father exhorts him to free himself, but that only happens towards the end. “ I am not afraid”, that is probably the most difficult thing for people to say. His destiny is revealed through a prophecy which gets fulfilled. Cinematic? Sure, let us have some more of that.

Spectacular photograph and special effects make the film exceptionally realistic and hence gut wrenching. Mass of bodies, the execution, the baby’s movement in the stomach, the snake, the Jaguar. The last chase is superb and the movie is a must watch at least for that. Gibson’s direction holds the pace.

Rating: 7.5/10