Monday, March 21, 2011

Pass Me By

Wadi. Guntakal. Bhusawal. Mhow. All of these are places I’ve passed, either on road or by rail on my way to bigger destinations like New Delhi and Bangalore.

These names evoke images of a slower, more relaxed time. You jumped off the train for a quick stretch of the limbs, maybe a quick cup of steaming hot chai. You looked in at the A.H.Wheeler, eyeing the Archers and Ludlums on sale, maybe picking up a magazine as consolation on the way back to the train. You had pohe at a roadside dhaba near Mhow and heard stories from more knowledgeable people on how it was a big military base. You wondered about the sudden explosion in hoardings related to pareshani? and advertisements for “Ashok Clinic” as the train hurtled northward passing Bhopal and Gwalior.

All that is gone now, replaced by security checks at the swank Terminal 3 in Delhi and cups of Nescafe from a machine at Pune’s tiny Lohegaon airport. Getting from place A to B in India in under 3 hours is transformative. However, what of the romance that every Indian of a certain era attaches to rail travel and roadside dhaba food?

It’s not all bad. Productive business dealings in distant cities can now end with you sleeping in your own bed. The bulk of short vacations need not be spent in trains or cramped bus seats, increasing your options and actual vacation time.

This isn’t a lament of a tangible loss of some kind. One always has the choice of taking two extra days off work to make a journey by train instead of flying. However, what I do worry about is the loss of perspective. The rich have always been different from you and me, and now they (and this group does include me) needn’t even see the rest of this fine land.

We finally have our own version of flyover country.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


World Cup 2011, ad-fest. Like clockwork, at the end of the over, transmission shifts to an advertisement. Shah Rukh Khan is on a living room couch with a girl half his age. Just as things are about to get interesting, a WWE-style wrestler jumps into the frame, followed by a couple of cricketers, and then a saas-bahu prototype. There’s a LCD TV mounted on the wall behind him. It’s an ad for the HD package of a DTH provider, DishTV.

Wait, rewind that. (I don’t have a DVR, but bear with me here). Didn’t you just see Shah Rukh Khan on TV a few days back endorsing the Airtel phone network? Doesn’t Airtel also have its own DTH service? He’s endorsing two competing brands?

So, you say? What’s wrong with him earning a bit of money on the side for his star power? Oh, none, I say. More power to him. However, I’ve already made the SRK-AirTel connection in my mind, so I unconsciously associate Airtel DTH with him. Dish is getting the short end of the stick. I’ve also linked A.R. Rahman to Airtel, Junior Bachchan  to Idea Cellular, and of course, Saif Ali Khan to some brand of banians (Amul Macho, really?)

Which brings me to my second point. I’m all for Saif Ali Khan in banians and a luscious Katrina Kaif posing with juicy mangoes. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. For the celebrity, for the brand, or for the audience. 

It should be straightforward to state what a brand stands for. And if we’re treating the celebrity as a brand, very few celebrities in India can claim to have that kind of consistency, especially when it comes to their endorsements. The Detroit ad for Chrysler with Eminem, for instance, is a great example of how Eminem’s persona and his Detroit roots can tie in to a good story, enhancing the perception of both celebrity and brand.

The only celebrity in India giving his endorsements some kind of thought is, of course, Aamir Khan. (He does march to his own drum-beat, doesn’t he?). After a moment’s thought, I can instantly say what his general endorsement philosophy is. He endorses mass-market brands that are affordable, but not necessarily cheap – Samsung, Titan, Tata Sky (and Coke). He has an instantly recognizable face, so he plays characters that tie back to a story the ad campaign is trying to tell. His series of advertisements for Coke were quite memorable, and the current Tata Sky Bablu series is another good ad series spread over multiple advertisements.

I do wish he didn’t do the finger-wagging, funda-spouting bit in the Incredible India ads, but that, too ties back well with his on-screen persona. He does do a lot of that in films like Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots. Though that is a story for another post.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lost in Translation


While they say great films can truly transcend language, how do films cross this barrier when language is part of the deal?

I’m thinking of this as I scan reviews for The Fighter released in India last week. I see a lot of Indian reviews dismiss it as another middling-to-good ‘boxing’ film. While I still haven’t seen it, I think that the most interesting thing about it is not the story but the performances (of course, 2 Oscars went to the supporting cast) and the portrayal of the boxer’s family from a working class neighborhood in Lowell, Massachusetts.

What of their accents? Does the portrayal of the matriarch and the family ring true? Are these nuances lost on an Indian audience, or more precisely, on Indian reviewers?

A sense of rootedness places films in context and can enhance your viewing experience. For instance, I can’t think of Omkara without the rustic dialog, or Raging Bull without Robert De Niro’s very New York twang. How much context do we lose while watching foreign films because we may have no way of having it?