Ad today, Sad Tomorrow – A Brand Ambassador’s soon to be story!!!

Since the time, Sindhu won a Silver and Sakshi a Bronze for India at the Rio Olympics, their phones (probably endorsed by a Kareena or an Alia) I guess haven’t stopped ringing. Or perhaps their managers’. For, many brands are on their way to signing them as brand ambassadors. For now it’s O.K., for Sindhu or Sakshi to sign on the dotted line in these endorsement contracts and make hay while the medal shines. However not if the Government pushes forth the changes in the Consumer Protection bill which proposes jail term and fine for celebrities in case of misleading advertisements for products they endorse. The intention being to make celebrities also responsible for products they endorse apart from the manufacturers. “Consumers tend to get influenced by the promise made by the celebrities in ads” is the argument behind the proposed move.

As a marketing professional I have never been very excited about using celebrities in ads to push a product. In B-schools every year, one popular project students carry out with the blessings of their professors is to find out the effectiveness of celebrities in an ad campaign. That the study is done regularly conveys that the jury is still out on that. At a superficial level though, it is commonly accepted that use of a celebrity helps break the clutter and differentiate the ad. Though as per me, this is “laid back, lazy creativity” as there are indeed many other ways to break the clutter. Using celebrities is of course a low hanging fruit for those with big budgets and is often deployed as a creative strategy when one can afford. I just realized that this piece is not on whether to use celebrities or not in ads. We will keep that for another Sunday. But on the proposed changes in the law which could stop the party on its tracks for the so called Brand Ambassadors.

Going back in time, I think ads whether print or TV just had people featuring in them and were called as models. And then slowly the practice of plugging in celebrities like actors, sportspersons,… crept in as I mentioned, probably to make the communication stand out. I am not sure when this “celebrities modelling” for an ad morphed into “endorsing the product” and then as we see now becoming “brand Ambassadors” for the company.

She looks like Sonia Sahni to me.

As long as celebrities “featured” in ads for products I guess they were just plain actors parroting some lines. But when they started endorsing brands (making a killing in the process) – that’s when I guess they came into the ambit of influencing buyers’ decision and of course within the prying eyes of lawmakers. In my understanding there are 2 types of celebrity endorsements. First, where a celebrity is used to promote a product which is related to what he/she is doing and is a direct endorsement. For example – A Sachin or a Kapil Dev being used to promote ‘Boost’- an energy drink for children. When Kapil says – “Boost is the secret of MY energy” there is a clear communication to moms that “if you want your child to become like me, do consider giving Boost to your kid”.  Or when Katrina Kaif says – “if you want a smooth skin like mine, use Lux Soap”!

The second category is where brands just use a celebrity as a face in the ads and the products may not be related at all. For example – Amitabh Bachchan featuring in Binani Cement ads.

And probably there exists a third category – where the product is not related to the celebrity’s field of normal work but companies tap into the credibility of the star to push their wares. Though this is not common, we have started seeing this of late. For example, when Cadbury’s wanted to make a comeback after they got hit by the “worms inside chocolate” tornado, they dialed in Amitabh. Amitabh featured in the commercial as “himself”. See the ad here. As you can see in this TVC, he was clearly putting his personal credibility at stake to communicate to consumers that with the many steps taken by the company, “All is well” with the chocolates!

(I’m not considering the social awareness campaigns using celebrities for the moment)

In the whole business of celebrity endorsements, many questions do arise. Do the celebrities who extol the virtues of brands use the product/service themselves? Have they first checked if the claims they are making are true? In the case of endorsing for investment projects,.. do the celebrities vouch for the credibility of the promoters?

The thinking behind the proposed changes in the law seems to be after many instances of consumers landing in the pit after they invested their hard earned money in projects which also had big stars endorsing the same.  At the same time, there have been so many cases where consumers lost money in projects where stars were not at all involved!

It is difficult to believe that consumers are so gullible that they buy a product just because a star endorses it. This premise seriously underestimates the intelligence of a consumer. If just a star endorsement can make a product tick, all those mobile phones with celebrity brand ambassadors must be outselling the I-phone isn’t it???

But whatever it may be, punishing celebrities for wrong claims of a product because they feature in the ads seems a bit farfetched.  A consumer is expected to do his/her bit before deciding to buy a product/service. More so in the case of big investments. Putting the blame on a M.S.Dhoni just because a real estate project he endorsed didn’t see the light of the day is sheer escapism, I believe. I think we should consider celebrities featuring in ads as enhancing the entertainment quotient and nothing beyond that. At the same time as a socially conscious individual a celebrity should be careful in lending his/her name or face to a product which has inherent health concerns a la Gopichand who refused to feature in Cola ads in his prime time! And also do a bit more homework on the credibility of the brand/promoter before signing on the dotted line for the next 1 crore endorsement deal. Or else post the new law it will be “Ad today, Sad tomorrow”!!!

Post script: Will be interesting to know in which category of celebrity endorsements does the Jio campaign featuring our PM fall into???😝😝😝

“Mauna Ragam” – A review 30 years late!

Couple of days back a friend who is equally a big fan like me of the ace director Maniratnam passed me a link of the film critic Baradwaj Rangan’s ode on Mani’s Mauna Ragam.  The piece titled “30 years of Mauna Ragam” flashed me back to 1986 when the film was released. That was during my 2nd year of Engineering when Mani Sir as he is revered now had not arrived though flashes of his brilliance could be seen in his 1st Tamil film Pagal Nilavu. Mauna Ragam had no mega star cast and got released silently without much fanfare. But then those days mega star cast or no star, we almost watched all movies which hit the theatres and contributed our bit to Kodambakkam. Since was not into writing then, didn’t write any review after watching Mauna Ragam. But we sliced and diced all films some times for days together which could have made for decent reviews. So today I am writing this piece as a review for that film Mauna Ragam, (recollecting from the many postmortem sessions we had in canteens, Railway station benches et al) Mani’s first full-fledged film (he wrote and directed) which announced to the world the arrival of a Director of class. With his next film Nayagan, Mani would go on to stamp his presence and influence on South Indian films forever.

mounaragam1 (1)

The narrative in the film was path breaking in many counts as far as Tamil cinema then was concerned.

  • As per me, this was the first film (at least of what I saw) which had a genuine feminist hero (Mohan) who was sensitive to the feelings of his counterpart (Revathi) almost throughout the film. Even when Revathi’s character was at her provocative best in what would seem as taunts at Mohan, he would still react in a calm, composed manner always respecting Revathi’s point of view. He takes all her requests seriously and tries to comply (including going ahead with the divorce) without trying to put forth his point of view.  In a moment of what I call that “directorial touch”, Mohan opens the rear door of his car for Revathi when they come out of the advocate’s office after filing for divorce. One could argue that even MGR was an eternal feminist in his films. But then that was of the Thaikulam (Motherly) variety.
  • For most of the film, the heroine would be shown in rather a stubborn light as one who isn’t willing to move on shrugging her past. Heroines were virtues of everything good in films then.
  • This was again one of those early movies in Tamil where the boy (Karthik) professes his love for the girl very casually in his second or third meeting without beating around the bush so much. In fact that scene when he actually does is only the first of the many scenes in all Mani’s films which establish his credentials as a King of soft romance!
  • I read in Mani’s book that the entire Karthik portion was an afterthought and it was not in his original script. I am now wondering how the film would have actually shaped up without that short but breezy portion where Karthik educated youngsters of those days on ‘pataoing’ girls with confidence.
  • It’s also one of the first films where the hero is a MBA and is a practicing HR Manager. Probably Mani pitched in his own MBA background here and weaved it into the story line effectively. (Union issues, thugs bashing up factory managers and even killing were quite prevalent in the 80’s India). On Mani’s MBA background showing up I must also mention that very memorable “Mr. Chandramouli – Coffee” scene (watch here) in the film. Karthik casually flips Revathi’s book kept on the table and asks her what the book was all about. She says “Econometrics”. A subject unheard of when I watched but which would come to haunt us as the most dreaded paper in the second year of MBA!!!
  • Some of the lines Revathi as a female character speaks early on were unheard of in Tamil films those days. Remember the scene before the first night?
  • In the climax, when the woman (Revathi) sheds her ego and communicates that she doesn’t want the divorce now, the man (Mohan) a HR practitioner who is trained to deal with human egos most of the time at the workplace, finds it difficult to shed his own ego. I thought that the disconnect one encounters between theory and practice was demonstrated very well here. Don’t know if it was intentional or could be I am reading too much.
  • And finally here was a film without any villain per se.

Revathi was super brilliant in the film. She portrays the transition from a college going happy-go-lucky girl to a serious married woman in an unfamiliar land with ease. The hero Mohan was those days called “Poor Man’s Kamal”. When a producer couldn’t afford Kamal they would resort to Mohan. He had limited histrionic skills but did well with the song sequences. And in a superstitious film industry he was considered a lucky charm. But in Mauna Ragam he did manage to emote well and with Surendran dubbing for him superbly, Mohan made his mark as an actor for the 1st time.

Apart from being a trail blazer, the other thing which worked well for Mauna Ragam was its freshness in approach. Just a few characters, set in Delhi, P.C.Sriram’s cinematography, the angles, a no “big star” cast to mention a few.

While I say it was a film with no big stars, I must add though that there was one. Which was Ilayaraja’s music. The songs and the background score integrate nicely into the film and set the mood frame after frame. In that one song – “Mandram vantha thenralukku,…” Raja ably supported by Vaali with the lyrics and S.P.Balasubramaniam with his soothing voice convey the conflict in the minds of the characters so well that you end up feeling sympathetic for both of them! That Raja is the best in the business of re-recording is now beyond dispute.  He demonstrates that in many frames in this film. One such frame is vivid in my memory. In that scene (watch hereMohan asks Revathi to make her choice between “divorce” and “life with him”. As she starts signing the divorce papers, Raja uses the oft-repeated score in marriage muhurtham scenes in Tamil movies – “Maangalyam thanthunanena,…” and that too as very coarse chorus. Nobody else could have conveyed the contradiction and the battle of the mind better!

Not that the film was flawless. I always thought that Mani struggled with comedy. And soon he realized it and jettisoned attempts in forced comedy in his later movies. In this film, the comedy track with V.K.Ramaswamy and a Sardar looked very amateurish and was avoidable. Again a girl who was carrying the ghosts of a tragic love affair in the mind is shown in the initial scenes as a very happy-go-lucky person without any trace of melancholy in her mind. Now you can understand that I am nitpicking and trying desperately to be balanced!

Frankly when we watched the film for the 1st time we were speechless. And then we watched the film again. And talked about it many times over. Why write this review 30 years later, now?? Well just to thank Mani for this and the many other classics he bestowed us.

Postscript: So, it’s 30 years of Mouna Ragam, baby!” I told the wife yesterday as she is also a fan of this film. And she quipped, “Common, in January it’s going to be just 20! You forgot that we got married in 1997???” 😃😃😃

For more Olympic medals, need more Raghuram Rajans!

As I write this piece, the situation is slightly better. Only slightly. A tally of 2 medals – one Silver and one Bronze at the Rio Olympics for India. Just a couple of days ago, as a country it was all despair.  We were staring at a situation of returning empty handed and that was something for a proud and populous country like ours – ‘bilkul Shoba nahin deta’. The usual diatribes ensued. – “A country of 1.3 billion and just 1.3 medals!” “As long as we laud Cricket and applaud only Cricketers, there’s no hope for Olympic sports!” “So long as we keep praying for Engineers and Doctors in maternity wards, athletes will be hard to come by!” “As long as sports administration is in the hands of politicians, there is no chance for medals.” So on and so forth.  And these are nothing new. Every time our contingent returns with a modest performance it’s usually a repeat of the above template outrage.

Our rather modest performance in sports events historically could indeed be due to one or combination or all of the above causes. But I do believe there’s one more important bullet.  And that is the size and state of the economy. As we speak, USA is at the head of the medals table at Rio Olympics followed by Great Britain and then China. In terms of GDP, USA is at No. 1, EU of which Great Britain is a part as of now is at No. 2 followed by China. Russia which is at No. 4 has been a past economic super power.  The medals table at London Olympics looked almost similar.

olympics , gdp

China which has been at the 11th rank in terms of medal tally at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, has been at No.3 or better since 2000. Around the same time when China was deemed to have shrugged off the developing country tag and took guard as an economic powerhouse.

By this logic, we have hope. One would have thought that our good performance at the London Olympics in 2012 would be the tipping point as a country in so far as Olympic performance is concerned. However it seems that’s not to be. Drawing a parallel, doesn’t our economic performance mirror this?  A country which was on fire around 2011/Mid 2012 and gradually sort of lost its way and now seems to be on the recovery path once again.

While I am trying to draw a parallel here between the state of the economy and our sports performance, it could be just a coincidence.  But where I am coming from is, for a country to excel in sports and be at the top 10 of the medals table, it should be doing well economically.

Excelling in sports is today an expensive affair. It is not enough to have strong willed, talented and focused individuals. It calls for financial resources to be poured on infrastructure, training, coaches, equipment and the like.  And in a country like in India not just in cities but in fledgling towns as well which are now throwing up talent like never before. We keep hearing tales of talented girls stopping coaching sessions because of ill equipped toilets. Or those who give up when they cannot afford to spend money on professional coaches or facilities. And those who still cross all these hurdles and arrive at the National scene – need to be exposed at International levels for which you need to invest on foreign coaches or send them abroad for training for longer stints all which costs a lot of money that too when you need to do this not for 1 or 2 but 100’s of individuals.

An Abhinav Bindra did not have the need to fall upon the state or other sponsors to chase his Olympic dream. He was more than financially sound to acquire for himself the ecosystem required to win an Olympic Gold. But then all are not Abhinav Bindras. Ergo, you need the support of the state or private sponsors to adopt potential medal winners and provide all the support required without counting the last paisa.  Even for a noble movement like Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) spearheaded by champs like Geet Sethi, V. Anand, Leander Paes, Padukone Senior,.. with a clearly stated mission “To Support Indian athletes in winning Olympic Gold Medals” the biggest challenge is to raise funds to achieve their mission. A fledgling economy doesn’t count the last rupee to sponsor a Sakshi’s stint abroad or a Narsingh’s 24*7 nutritionist. A struggling economy on the other hand will be hard pressed to focus on other priorities.

In much of our or water cooler or these days WhatsApp discourses, parents who think that their wards are better of chasing an Engineering / Medical dream than that of sports are at the receiving end. I do believe that in general, parents think of only the well-being of their kids. So if they do feel that a career in athletics is not remunerative enough to have a decent life, they can’t be blamed.  However this can change and it is changing. Olympic sports unlike in the past have started getting the attention from corporates who are willing to support athletes for a longer period of time. And just as we saw a few days back the bronze medal winner from HaryanaSakshi Malik is already a dollar millionaire based on the many announcements we heard. This kind of commitments are possible for both the Government and private players if their coffers are growing with tax collections and profits respectively.

So as a country as we transition ourselves from a “developing” country to a “developed” country in the next couple of decades our economy will be in a better position to afford to support the needs of churning out Olympic champions.  So we are back to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign theme – “it’s the Economy, stupid” here as well. Our country has to continue to grow as an economy, lift millions of people out of poverty, collect a lot of taxes which will help pour money on giving birth to Olympic champions. So, for more Olympic medals, we need more Raghuram Rajans to help steer the economy on a continued growth path🙂🙂

#GST is done, now work on GST-II

Finally the GST (Goods & Services Tax) in India is done if not dusted yet after being in the works for a decade.  From a foreign investor perspective, GST and FDI in Multi-brand retail are the initiatives that bracket India as a perennial “Work in Progress” economy.  Now is the time I believe to give a crack on another GST – “Good & Smooth Traffic” that is.

Traffic 2

Consider the situation in all the key cities of India today. In Delhi/NCR as I personally experienced last week, it just took one shower for an hour or so to bring Gurgaon oops Gurugram on its knees.  From the Delhi airport to the end of Gurugram took me 4 hours on a week day evening that too when it was supposedly against the traffic. I was lucky. The subsequent days it took more than 6 hours I was told. The CM had to do an aerial survey to understand the gravity of the jam!

In Mumbai these days you have traffic jams everywhere. In the so called freeways, Expressways, main roads, arterial roads, streets, gallis,.. everywhere.  Yes, in the air too. Flights departing out of and landing into Mumbai post 6 pm are routinely delayed due to air traffic congestion! And as I found today, even supermarkets are not spared of mammoth traffic. The space between racks are choked with oversized trolleys and sea of people that negotiating your way out is worse than Mumbai roads. I see this routinely in the neighbourhood supermarkets every weekend and sometimes on weekdays even. (Based on this, one is inclined to believe that “Achhe Din” have indeed arrived for the Great Indian Middle Class!!!).  Year after year during monsoons in Mumbai, the city resembles a Moon’s surface. May be it rains potholes!! For the Aam admi, every day it is “one small step becoming a giant leap” (as the pot holes are so big, deep and wide). For the city of Mumbai, Niantic the company behind the latest craze in town – Pokemon Go is better advised to go with a modified version “Pothole Go” which could be a runaway hit but slowed by traffic jams.

Ease of commute to work has become the single biggest hygiene factor these days for candidates when they seek a job. So much so, recently in a job interview the candidate asked me if we would anytime shift the office from current location and if yes, will it be still in the vicinity!! It is completely understandable I guess. With commuting and whatsapping sapping a lot of one’s time these days, “me time or family time” is on the shrink.

In India’s Silicon Valley and IT capital, “going live today” has a different meaning these days which is – atleast moving ahead in traffic while on the road. In peak hours it doesn’t matter where you are going and from where. Couple of hours on the road is a given. Columnist and now MP Swapan Dasgupta once tweeted “The unending journey from the airport to anywhere in Bangalore…” I would replace the words “the Airport” to “anywhere” now. The city missed a few crucial years in development when IT was on fire. Today, it is facing the heat of that miss.

In Chennai, if the Govt. spends one tenth of the money the parties spend on posters on building flyovers over key junctions, the city will be a different place to live. I am told that a 30km stretch of OMR (Old Mahalipuram Road) has only 11 signals!!.  Besides the myriad engineering college buses and IT companies transport vehicles, you will be lucky if you get some space to move your humble two wheeler.

In all these cities, the common story is of exponential growth with infrastructure not keeping pace at all. More often than not, a project planned today with certain expected growth in traffic becomes obsolete by the time it is commissioned as it usually takes 3 times longer time than planned. A very good case in point is the Chembur-Santacruz Link road in Mumbai which was opened amidst much fanfare and talk of smoother East- West connectivity and how one can reach the airport from Ghatkopar in 15 mins. 3 years after commissioning its already bursting at the seams. And in all these cities, there is very limited scope for road widening or expansion anymore. So this naturally calls of holistic planning with alternative modes of transport (like Metro) and also project conception and execution today with 25 years hence traffic in mind.

Ease of Traffic which essentially means less time on commuting has to become a National charter now. It won’t be too far when along with Bijli, Sadak, Paani and Bandwidth – Roadwidth gets into the National discourse during elections. So from a political perspective as well, focusing on less traffic on roads will become a game changer in the future. And the party which appreciates that and works on the same gets to reap the dividend. So I urge that the present Govt. to start work on “GST-II” asap. Just like how the central govt has to work jointly with the states for a smooth roll out first and then implementation of the GST reform, on the traffic also the Central Govt. must work with the states to give this a high priority work to a plan in all the key cities.  And like how “One nation, One tax” is becoming a reality considering India’s highly complicated historical tax regime, “Single nation, Smooth traffic” will soon become the need of the hour if not it is already.

I am not sure if the Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari’s children are politically inclined. I would presume so. If he starts work on this idea of a GST-II bill now, most likely it would become a reality during their time!!!

Abki Baar Kabali da!!!

First up – this is not a review of the film Kabali. This post is also not about the Rajini cult. As I was exiting the multiplex in a Mumbai suburb yesterday after my date with Kabali, my mind couldn’t resist from flirting with a very strange comparison. Though from completely different domains – one from Kollywood and the other politics, the similarities slowly emerging between the situations post Kabali release and post Modi Sarkar @ 2 were intriguing.

Here was KabaliRajinikanth’s latest film releasing in July 2016 after 2 successive flop outings namely Kochadaiyaan and Lingaa. For this one, Rajini reportedly decided to come out of his comfort zone of his usual team and work with newcomers right from the Director (Pa. Ranjith) and other technicians. The teaser which hit the screens became a massive hit and took the expectations to another planet.

Rajini-Kabali-Teaser

Similarly in 2014, BJP led NDA was making a bid to return to power after 2 failures at the hustings. This time with a new PM face called Narendra Modi. The Modi campaign hit the right notes with an across the board appeal setting massive expectations not only among voters in the country but also observers all over the world.

Riding on the wave of the pre-release excitement and hype, Kabali released in 1000’s of screens worldwide. The buzz was so much that even folks in North India who don’t eulogize Rajini (or may be they do) so much didn’t want to be left out. 3rd day post the release and as I write this, Kabali has reportedly smashed all Indian box office records for a film opening.

There, cashing on the back of a lacklustre leadership of the UPA regime for 5 years, a promise of strong governance and a string of other promises, Modi lead BJP won an absolute majority and strode back to power.

Catch lines from the film teaser – like Kabali da, Neruppu da,.. became a part of day-to-day lexicon and of course myriad jokes. Memes and Dubsmashes based on the teaser have been setting the web on fire since the teaser released.

On the other side, “Abki baar Modi Sarkar” – the catchy tag line of the Modi campaign became a part of marketing Hall of fame. So much that, David Cameron pinched the punch line to appeal to Indian voters in the UK.

“Magizhchi” (Happy) a phrase which Rajini uses often in the film to sign off with visitors has been appropriated even by my mom these days in phone calls!

The phrase “Achhe Din” (Good days) which Modi promised during the campaign is in everybody’s lips when talking of the present Govt.

It’s my view that the difference between a flop/hit and a super hit depends upon how a film appeals to a casual film goer. When a Salman’s film releases, invariably the bhai’s fans watch it irrespective of how the film is. Ditto for a Vijay’s film or a SRK’s product. But post good reviews and viral feedback when the film attracts the non-fans, it is termed as a good film and a super hit thereof.

Same in politics. A party’s core supporter votes for the party irrespective. But when a party impresses the non-core supporters that’s when they are able to win with a majority or a landslide. We saw this in 2014 Loksabha elections, Delhi state elections and later in Bihar,…

2 days into the release, the reviews on Kabali have been mixed. The diehard fans of Rajini obviously are satisfied with the film and seem to be o.k with it. The neutral or casual film goers seem to be absolutely disappointed with the film. The critics have mostly panned the film as a forgettable one. And in general the view is that though Rajini himself has done a great job he is weighed down by the script. Other view is that if one watches the film sans any expectations associated with a Rajini film, then you will not be so disappointed. Then there are those who put the blame on the over hype created over the movie which eventually just couldn’t measure up.  It’s also possible that even Rajini fans are a bit disappointed but are very nice to express it vocally.

2 years into Modi Sarkar, isn’t the verdict similar to the above? The core BJP voters are of course happy with the Govt. unequivocally. For the non-party affiliated voter, Achhe Din are yet to come. And for critics in the media, the Modi Sarkar has been an abject failure in many counts. In the many opinion polls Modi is still rated very high and still towers over his Govt’s performance.  Many routinely blame the “chunavi jumlas” and the resultant hype created around Black money return, on curbing food prices, 56” in Chaatthi,… during 2014 elections.

So getting the drift?

For both Rajini and Modi Sarkar, considering the situation, it’s easy to say that they should have not created such a huge hype. And that they should have kept expectations low.

The reality is for a film today that too of the scale of Rajini, much of the recovery has to happen within the 1st weekend. With Torrents of the world leaking good prints within few hours of the release the producer obviously is in the receiving end of technology. If a film is not promoted well, he can’t expect any opening. If the film is actually very good probably he has a chance of extending the run for a few weekends and make money. But knowing the audience reaction is an art I guess no film maker has perfected.

Similarly, going back to 2014, If Modi had not run such an aggressive campaign, the results would have been similar to what happened in 2009. The appeal to non-core voters would not have materialized and an absolute majority would have been elusive.

What next for the Superstar? His project Enthiran-2 (Robot-2) with ace Director Shankar is already on the floors. There is a good possibility that it will be a “Shankar’s film” as much as “Rajini’s film” and hence a good chance to redeem himself. But it will be interesting to see Rajini’s next move beyond Enthiran-2 now that the reaction for Kabali is out. What I wrote after Lingaa (Read Here) very much remains valid.

And for Modi Sarkar there are still 3 years to deliver on the promises. We see a lot of positive structural changes being undertaken on the Governance front. Hopefully they will start yielding results come 2018.

Come 2019, we will once again get to witness the two re-runs. A “Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkar” campaign from Modi. And for our own Super star, when his next film after Enthiran-2 probably releases – a more emphatic “Naan Thirumbi vanthutennu sollu” (I’m back,….) cry or so we pray!

Postscript: Similarities end here. When asked to rate Modi Sarkar at 2, many gave ratings of 5, 8, and 9,.. on a scale of 10.

But for Rajini’s Kabali – on a scale of 1-10, the rating is Rajini!!!

A day of Digital Detoxing!!!

It’s not very often that I tune into FM Radio while driving. That space is usually kept for Indian Classical music, Ilayaraja and of late Kishore Kumar. A chance tuning to Red FM 93.5 a few days back spurred an idea which caught my imagination. The station amidst bajaoing the likes of the highly repulsive ‘baby ko bass pasand hai’ and its ilk, was filling in with a new segment called “Prayaas” which they explained was an attempt to create awareness on social causes. So that day’s Prayaas was devoted to what they called as the “digital” disease and described with a funny song how people have fallen into the “Digital Trap” in almost all walks of life. Aimed to be funny, it was thought provoking!

Coming to think of it, it’s a fact that most of the urban and semi urban population world over is today suffering from this “Digitalitis”! It’s an ailment which involuntarily spread itself with technology – first the internet and now the smart phone. Reams or rather terabytes have been consumed on how a day in the life of a human being has changed with the advent of the smart phone, on how a smart phone has made a person dumb and so on. Like the other day in a Coffee shop, one saw a lone guy. No big deal, right? But the surprise thing was he was not checking his phone. And was not on his laptop either. Was just sipping and enjoying his coffee. Somebody commented that he must be a psychopath😄😄. Today, a guy just sitting and having his coffee without being in the “Digital space” cannot be anything else!!!

In these days of waking into your smart phone and closing your eyes in the night after checking and responding to the last messages in the myriad groups in WhatsApp, what happens if you shut yourself “Digitally” for a day? A day of Digital Detoxing??? So that was yesterday for me when I decided to go back to the pre-smart phone days. That means – no WhatsApping even Good morning messages or indulging in weekend banter in at last count 46 groups😄😄. Not logging into Facebook even for greeting friends on Birthdays which I do very religiously now. (For a person who is bad at remembering dates, knowing the Birthdates of near and dear thro FB is a Godsend). No Tweeting, not even the usual satirical one liners (pakau stuff for some)! And no checking the phone now and then (as per the wife – every half a second!!) for business e mails!! And certainly no blogging😄😄

dd2

Having decided to go through this, the first step was to announce this proudly to the wife. (Lest she should not think that her man is not well the whole day😜😜). The immediate reaction was in predictable lines. “One full day of Digital Detoxing??? No Chance”!! I challenge that you cannot cross even few minutes forget a day and all😜” Thoughts of all the past challenges with the wife which you invariably lost came to the mind! But I still muster courage and reaffirm my resolve to be detoxed. So what was my experience???

First up, the digital detox day started off with a bad omen. The tyranny of the I-phone battery ensured that the battery was drained out completely when I got up. So may be that was a good omen!!! After putting it up for charging, I touched my phone only to answer few calls whole of the day! And as an extension to the detox programme, the laptop was firmly entrenched in its bag!

The Omen – Good or Bad notwithstanding, the experience was not bad at all. Not only did I withstood for 12 hours, but went beyond that as well.  It certainly helped that it was a weekend and hence could afford to put away the phone in a corner of the drawing room. Of course there were temptations to check messages in WhatsApp but could resist without much ado.  When you don’t have to catch up with messages in the many WA groups in the early morning, you could get back to the youth habit of reading the newspaper from the “Mast head” to the “printed and published by,…” line. Oops nowadays it is from “one ad for a smart phone” to “another one for an Ecom sale”😄😄. No checking the phone while in signals or traffic jams which is an instinctive thing to do nowadays. Same while waiting in check-out counters while shopping! Could engage with banters with the wife and the daughter without interruptions. The banter went on and on that the wife felt that the regular day was better😄😄. The eyes which get moist in usual days staring most of the time on the laptop screen and straining on mobile screen felt relaxed. From multi-tasking (which is what you end up doing when you are working on the phone all the time) to single tasking, the day was more relaxing I felt.

Couple (only😄) of my friends called to check if all’s well with me – since they didn’t see the 2 blue ticks against messages sent to me over WA all through the day!

By evening, the sister called to check if there was some major fight with the wife at home. (Incidentally the wife also gave a miss to the regular Good morning message yesterday!!!). I had to convince the sister that the situation was quite the opposite – hopefully😄😄

Otherwise nothing much was missed! Today morning, could pick up the thread easily and move on. So maybe I should do it more often. And may be one day isn’t enough to feel the difference. So, to my fellow travelers in the digital age, do try this “digital detoxing”! But please inform your folks in advance that you are on Digital Detoxing😄😄 I will, certainly the next time which is most likely to be for a week!

Postscript:  In Chennai, I came across a restaurant where the patrons have to leave the mobile phones behind in lockers. Last heard – its doing well with the wives😄😄

Governance Delivered – By 140 characters!!!

“EPFO plans to hire social media agency”EPFO

This news bit resembling a 140 character tweet appearing somewhere in a corner in today’s Indian Express caught my attention and set the tone for my this week’s blog post. Has social media in general and Twitter in particular become so important a tool today for delivering Governance? Though our PM Narendra Modi has been in the forefront in using social media as an important medium for direct communication even before he became the PM, it’s only now (may be an year or so) since we started seeing other Ministers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Apart from the Ministers themselves, we are now seeing even official accounts of Ministries, Secretaries and other key officials.

It’s a fact that Indian politicians except a few like Shashi Tharoor or Narendra Modi were quite slow in taking to social media. During the UPA rule when Tharoor as a Minister was quite active and visible on Twitter with day today updates of his work, Congress party admonished him to keep a low profile, we were told.  And that time from the opposition, leaders like Venkaiah Naidu took sly digs at Tharoor for his excessive tweeting!

More than 4 years later, the wheel has come a full circle. Naidu has an active Twitter account with more than 220K followers.  And it has now become the norm for the Ministers and other ruling politicians to customarily post updates on their day today activities and accomplishments on their FB page and/or on Twitter. We as citizens who had to depend earlier upon newspapers or TV reports (who in turn relied on press releases/briefings from Ministries) or Full page ads in newspapers released by parties to tom-tom their achievements (by the way this rotten practice continues to this day by all parties) now can get an idea of what is happening by “following” different ministers. Of course one must know to separate “gloats” from “ground reality”!  Apart from this method of feeding information – the game changer has been the emergence of a medium like Twitter to solve people’s problems.

We all now know how our Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has become a darling of Overseas Indians because she religiously takes actions based on tweets directed at her asking for help. For those who get stuck in unforeseen situations that too in foreign shores, this has become a Godsend to cut across the Embassy security and bureaucratic maze and get the needed attention.  And similarly Suresh Prabhu, the Minister for Railways is another who is prompt in responding to passenger grievances on Twitter. So much so a passenger’s complaint tweeted from one station while he was on a journey got addressed by the time the train reached the next station! Or so we were told.  Routinely we see people tweeting to Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Commerce and Industry about various queries on policy matters,… and she makes it a point to respond diligently. In another positive use of social media, few days back Star anchor Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted about the need for a post office in Pithoragarh a small town in the Almora district – a mountainous stretch in Uttarakhand and lo, Ravi Shankar Prasad the concerned Minister obliged with opening of a new Post Office there I believe in 4 days!!! So it didn’t come as a surprise when the Ministers who were ranked high in opinion polls at Modi Sarkar’s 2 year Anniversary were all those who were active on social media. Not just active by their presence but by earnestly attempting to solve governance problems.

Though an active “twitterer” myself, I was initially a sceptic too. Whether the social media influence on public at large is an overrated phenomenon. After all a Facebook or a Twitter as a medium is still considered very urban and elitist and not one that reaches the bottom of the pyramid in a country where the political “fortunes” actually lie and where the IT penetration is a still a Work in slow progress. In fact, many including me were caught by surprise when a not so IT savvy grass root politician like Amit Shah, BJP’s President announced that one of the criteria for candidates for the upcoming UP polls was that they should have social media accounts and must be active on the same with XXXX number of followers! Is it that Modi is “bully pulpitting” the BJP and its leaders to take social media seriously and take advantage of the same???

May be or may not be actually. For the innately smart Indian politician (whether IT savvy or otherwise) it doesn’t get so difficult to grasp the growing utility of social media. There were many politicians in the pre- social media era too who earnestly addressed citizen issues being brought up to them thro petitions, letters, appeals,… However when they addressed those issues, it was only known to that petitioner or complainant concerned. However, in social media, when a Suresh Prabhu addresses a passenger issue promptly and responds on Twitter it reaches many of his followers. Multiple Retweeting then generates a humongous multiplier effect! And finally, if the story gets picked up by main stream media also then it delivers a huge reach – may be to the actual target audience of the Minister😃

So though social media still is very much urban and caters to a very literate and niche audience (considering India’s size) as of now, it is growing at a fast clip in terms of adoption. And more importantly what we see is social media today feeding off the narrative in main stream media routinely. What happens on Twitter gets lapped up and stories developed by many reporters, anchors and columnists for Newspapers, TV News,…

Yes, the obsession with “Trending on Twitter” by News channels and political parties may be completely misplaced. But if a political party gets also obsessed with using a Twitter as a medium to listen to the common man and communicate, it automatically becomes a very effective tool for delivering Governance. Today, it could be a staid EPFO that wants to be on social media. Tomorrow it could be a more staid Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation😃. By the way, young boys and girls, managing social media has become a very attractive and powerful career option in political capitals!!! (more powerful than the “Personal Secretary” of yore)

P.S: Being very responsive on Twitter to deliver Governance also has its side effects. As Mrs. Swaraj recently found out. Somebody tweeted to her for help regarding problem with his Samsung Refrigerator😃😃 It’s another matter that the astute tweet got huge play and negative WOM for Samsung that I am sure the Tweeter would have got the desired result swiftly!!!