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

Thursday, March 08, 2007

ICC Cricket World Cup 2007


This world cup, even though being held in the 'poor' conditions of West Indies will prove to be quite intriguing. I say 'poor' because cricket has taken a back seat in the West Indies and so have the fortunes of their team. They have notoriously slow pitches and small stadiums which might make most of the matches an eye sore to watch, but probably that is what will make this world cup so close. Lets hope the management of the world cup get things right.

First, the issue of the associate teams. Of course they need to play more, only if they have a league in the host nation. No point making a a team of rag-tag 35+ players compete against the top teams. Put the money in developing leagues and send top managers/coaches from ICC to these nations to see if things can be worked out. If not the current top cricket nations are enough to sustain the game for some time. Cricket will face its moment of truth some time, unless every one converts to the 20-20 format, the game takes too long to hold viewer's attention in our today's fast paced life.

After that gyaan series: A look at the teams in may order of fav:

1) Australia: Everything will rest upon how much Symonds requires. In spite of the sometimes machine like execution of Ponting and Hussey, they need the spark of Symonds in all departments and to give that 'edge' to themselves. Unless something drastic happens, they will remain the favourites.
Watchlist: Hussey, Clarke, Gilchrist, Johnson

2) West Indies: Lara's last dance. That's all there is to it. The man is a leader, taking pressure, giving responsibility and fighting through. The bowling has improved quite a bit and they know the conditions the best. If only they could stop committing hara-kiri under pressure. But leaving out Runako Morton i think was a mistake. Again, i guess they are banking on the 'gayle' force
Watchlist: Lara, Bravo, Gayle, Samuels

3) Sri Lanka: They have been transformed into a brilliantly tenacious bunch under Mahela. With Murali and Vaas on the the slow wickets, their bowling could stifle any opposition. Batting remains their weakest link and is more often than not determined by one individual making a huge contribution. If the batting clicks, try stopping them
Watchlist: Murali, Vaas, Sangakarra, Lasith

4) South Africa: Oh c'mon, they start every tournament as favourites but then do nothing. Again Smith is a no nonsense leader and would be willing to get the maximum from his players. Pollock, both bowling and batting could well hold the key. Unless rain appears, this could well be their year
Watchlist: Kemp, Boucher, Pollock, Kallis

5) India: 1 billion people rooting for them seems only to make the pressure come on. They should not have any significant problems till they face the Aussies somewhere. The Aussies expose their psychological frailties each time and it takes a long time for us to recover. The form of Irfan Pathan would remain a concern, even though he would probably be chucked once they realize "it don't swing in WI" :). Batting would hold the key.
Watchlist: Sreesanth, Tendulkar, Harbhajan, Dhoni

6) Pakistan: Well errr.. they are Pakistan. They can win any game any day. Inzy and Md Younus can score at will. Their bowling is their biggest weakling but in case of slow pitches Afridi and Malik could come into their own. It is always dangerous to write off Pakistan for any tournament, but this time there might be no surprises from them.
Wathclist: Inzy, Younis, Md Yousuf, Afridi

7) New Zealand: They got beaten by Bangladesh, well well they better wake up. All their recent victories have come on either wickets that offer swing or batting beauties. How they stack up on the WI pitches remains to be seen. My feeling is that they wont do too well, unless the man Vettori creates a web. Form of Fleming would hold a key.
Watchlist: Oram, Vettori, Bond, Taylor

8) England: Maybe unfairly at the bottom of the list, but someones got to be there and England could have the pleasure. Possibly a dark horse if things click as in VB Australia, they are basically an unorganized one day team. Having finally got some sort of combination going, their batting would be key. On their day Flintoff and Pieterson could finish matches, but well they have not till now. This might be their chance.
Watchlist: Plunkett, Pieterson, Flintoff, Collingwood.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Movie Review: Nishabd


Cast: Amitabh, Jiah Khan, Revathi, Naser

Direction: RGV

A non-factory production from the factory after a long time, RGV experiments away form his pet underworld theme this time and the result though spectacular at times, meanders without any possible conclusions.

The plot is simple, a sixty year old falls for the 18 yr old friend of his daughter. The passion of youth rekindles the ‘young’ heart in the old man and brings out all his dormant aspects, to make him want to sing, to make him laugh to make him want to live a few more days. He takes the responsibility, the fall and the asks the girls to leave, while the memory of her would linger in his now empty life, she took what was there before and after she came into his life….

You think, nice…given the sultry Jiah, God Amitabh and a good supporting cast the quality of the movie must be a no-brainer right? Unfortunately, we are wrong. What we have instead is the dull imagination of a director who is trying to get his old charm back. This is far away from Rangeela or Satya (or the directors famous telugu movies), though some indications of his genius shine across. Vijay (Amitabh) taking the right amount of time to say he loves his wife (and the no complaints marriage), jiah saying ‘I love your dad’ and ‘protect your husband’ and above all ‘what are looking through the lens ….there is no color and no life in what you are looking at’, Amitabh willing to give Jiah up because he is not good enough for her……not good enough for a 2 hr movie. Well the colors are brilliantly chosen by Roy (award for him?)

What the movie needs was a little bit more imagination, maybe the perspective from the girl’s side? There is no depth in the love, the camera work (even though spectacular to say the least) leaves no doubts regarding the ever present sexual tension (contrary to interviews …that’s a joke) and pathetic dialogues above all. The dialogues in the final analysis kill the movie, sounding like a b-grade flick. Sometimes you think its actually soft porn. Any ways someone get me a date with Jiah- she looks ravishing and acts surprisingly well. The character is totally hers to enact and she does well. The edgy, damn care attitude would be perfect, but c’mon man…she is half naked all the time (and gets vulgar postures sometimes…that from me is quite something---immature handling simply put.) Amitabh is exceptional in a difficult role. The supporting cast ..for once supports, including Arya as the daughter who finds her dad falling for her friend. A little bit more thought perhaps, and it would have been one hell of a movie.

Rating: 6/10 …if not for anything for the camera work and the songs not being in the movie is a big disappointment.