Monday, 30 January 2017

Movie Review - Raees

The King is back! And he is back with a real big Bang... after a long time, SRK is back to his best... what a movie! Stunning! Superlative stuff! Welcome back, Shahrukh Khan ... after a long series of movies that failed to impress me - good to see the old SRK we all 40-somethings grew up with! Fantastic movie! This movie was a long time coming; you made us wait one hell of a long time; but when you returned – you did so with supreme panache, classy attitude, letting no one forget that there is only one Big Boss of Hindi Movies – and that is the one and only Shahrukh Khan!

Raees The Movie - FB : Raees The Film

Make no mistake – Raees is Shahrukh Khan from the first scene to the last, this is his return as far as I am concerned; the ultimate entertainer, the showman of the 90s and 00s is back again after a long hiatus! This is the Shahrukh Khan we all loved to watch in college and our 20s  … the King, the Boss, the one with the attitude and screen presence to beat almost everyone, save the one and only {I, of course, refer to Amitabh Bachhan}; this movie is a full-on entertainer in classic Shahrukh Style, with Shahruklh doing what he is unmatched at : playing the Anti-Hero! Who among us fans can forget Darr or Baazigar?

Image result for raees trailer 

I wont tell you. And if you want to enjoy, don’t read or watch reviews that tell its story, period. So there!

RaeesPlayed by the King, SRK…. Anti-Hero… for the rest, find out yourself!
Jaideep MajmudarPlayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Tough Cop, IPS, is out for Raees come hell or high weather!
JairajPlayed by Atul Kulkarni… mentor, crook, smart guy in that order
AasiyaPlayed by Mahira Khan, Raees Wife, Confidant, Strength and Cohort
MusabhaiPlayed by Narendra Jha, Criminal Tycoon…

I have mentioned the screen presence & attitude of Shahrukh Khan; but the two people who steal the show are Atul Kulkarni, with a superbly controlled performance, true to his by-now inimitable and powerful style {Premachi Goshte in Marathi is his best performance till date; this one comes very close} and – Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Now this man, I have to admit, stands upto Raees throughout. Sure, the script is a strong factor in his favour; but remember this is a SRK film, with a role tailormade to SRKs strongest point. Nawaz has faced upto and matched SRK throughout, balancing his presence and depth with a strong performance with awesome control and elan! Take a bow, Nawaz!

The controversial Mahira Khan – well, I don’t really want to praise her, due to her nationality… but I am a fair man. Credit where credit is due…. She fits in to the role, and makes it believable. Effortless performance, she made her mark in a movie dominated by one personality. And last but not the least – Shahrukh Khan… man, what a comeback! A dominating screen presence, no hamming whatsoever, complete unlike some other movies; incredible intensity, depth and range I did not think he had anymore, not after movies like Swades where we all fell for him bigtime!

First of all, thank you for writing a script that is near flawless; the background, the characters, the taut narrative are all spot-on. There are those who may disagree; I can only say I go to the movies to enjoy, not get tense. And this script delivers… big time. And I really enjoyed the mix of Hindu and Muslim characters; Indian cinema is finally coming of age when we can portray Muslim dominated characters and stories on screen, which is a far cry from the 40s and 50s when people had to change their names to Hindu names! It felt realistic, refreshing, and good to see! Well done!

This is the big score; and this, coming from me, is a big praise. I haven’t liked a Hindi song for longer than I can recall; 95% of my repertoire comprises Marathi songs. But it is for the first time after Main Hoon Naa {SRK Again, what can I say?} that I am listening to the songs {even as I type} which is a big first. The music is mesmerizing, haunting and unbelievably classy! A very strong reason for the superlative review I am writing is due to the music. The best number? Hard to state; they are all great…. But I loved  Zaalima, Khwaahishon Ki Dua and Saanson Ke. A small word for the background score : I clearly remember the opening tones as the movie started, and recall thinking, this should be good; and this is a first in my memory. The background score also shines, and adds to the tautness and the intensity of the movie throughout!

1) Saanso Ke

2) Zaalima

You will read average and not-so-good takes on this movie; my advise – Ignore these reviews; watch the movie and decide for yourselves. This movie is a great entertainer, not too over the top, has tremendous music {Now that is an understatement; the music is out of this world!}, a taut and tight script; and superb performances all round from nearly every character. It is not too stressful; loaded with action and hits you hard with the intensity of the overall finished product. And if you are, like me, someone who grew up on the films of Shahrukh Khan, and pine for the vintage SRK – this is for you.

Even if you are not like me, and enjoy a good entertainer; or a classy action movie; or a simply well packaged entertainment product – go for it. You can watch it with family; it is enjoyable and good stuff throughout. This isn’t as good as Shivaay, which was and is in a class of its own; but this is nonetheless a really, really good movie. And, like Shivaay, this can be watched again and again, especially due to its tremendous music score, hats off. Take a bow, Team Raees! Well done – and welcome Back, King!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Protectionism in Trade - Recent Developments Analysed


Worldwide, the rise of so-called nascent protectionist tendencies has seen increasing focus in pink as well as white media; this is almost the flavor of the season. I don’t blame the media – the hyperbole emanating from society, social media as well as the political sphere justifies the focus on this theme. And so long as this focus causes an informed dialogue around this theme, it is a welcome development. We need a serious, informed debate in all Media around this tendency, or perceived tendency.

I say perceived tendency; this may sound counter-factual. But stop a minute, and think through – is it really counter-factual? I am not denying the trendlines increasingly visible the world over; all I am asking is to abandon hyperbole, and focus on the facts. Isnt it a fact, for us developing nations in general – and India in particular {given I am an Indian} – that protectionism emanating from the Western economies has always been the exception rather than the rule? It is only a difference of degree. Why is that degree important is the focus of this article.

First, let us hark back towards history, and consider a few examples from history. Let us start at the beginning – the 50s, when Steel Plant technology was denied to us on flimsy grounds by the USA. What was that? Wasn’t that politics mixed with protectionism? To some, this example may be debatable; to them, there are other examples that can be quoted : Recall the imbroglio over the AMS and Food Security? Solar Panels and Cells? Or Compulsory Licencing and Patent Rules? Preferential Market Access and Localisation Conditions?

Each of the examples above is a clear indication of a powerful western nation - {or nations, if you consider the Food Security issue at the WTO}  - protecting its turf, and very fiercely at that. Other examples readily spring to mind in various fields – IP rights in the Drug field is yet another very evocative example. This is the way of the world – and rather than cry about, let us accept it; and figure out how to fend for ourselves in the midst of these established tendencies.

There is nothing wrong with a globalised world; India thrived on free trade for over 4 millennia. But it takes on an entirely different hue altogether when a state, or a set of states, gang up on another, deny access to capital and/or technology on frankly flimsy grounds. It becomes almost a buccaneering loot {from our perspective} when you fight the ability of the state to provide for its own people as it may impact your profit lines. And that is precisely what the entire Farm Subsidy, Green House Gases, Pharmaceutical drug battles are all about.

I argue that nothing has changed, precisely nothing. What is in evidence is the mere continuance of the trendline I have pointed out above, with clear proof and precise examples. Why, then, are we seeing the updates, events, news and happenings that we noticing nowadays? This is what bears a closer examination, not the bugbear of so-called protectionism! What we call protectionism is simple Human Nature; no point crying about it. It is basic nature to protect your turf; it may not be fair – but this is the way it has always been since we entered Dvapar Yug!

What has changed is that rising prosperity in the developing nations, rising educational levels and favourable demographics combined with cheaper factors of production – especially labour – has led to two movements. First, an emigration of educated and/or talented people to the West, who come with significant economic benefits in terms of lower wages and a harder work ethic; and two – stagnancy in the West as compared to rising lifestyles & infrastructure in the East has bridged the gap somewhat, at least in pockets in some developing nations, leading to other factors getting highlighted.

These factors are, simply, first the markets, wherein the size has made them attractive; and better facilities and educated workers meaning a lower cost of production at a comparative quality. Obviously, in a finite system, if one side manages to attract capital through superior factors of production, it is going to fuel political, economic and cultural undercurrents in the other side. For, at least temporarily, and in some products – centers of jobs are going to shift, and a cultural & demographic change in worker profiles is going to happen in the target economies of the new world.

This, combined with the inability of these economies to create new jobs for the lost ones, and a high burden of social expenses by virtue of the freebies the population in these nations enjoys – creates a whirlpool. These factors taken together are bound to fuel short-term tensions and rises in protectionism. What can we do? Wait it out; hope for better sense – and play sound policies, that focus on the factors of production, making business easier – and consistently pointing out how these tectonic shifts in the past 2-3 decades have had benefits as well, even for the Developed World; that is a story that badly needs to be told, and not just in Indian Media – but in World Media. We have been focusing only on one side of the coin; has anyone systematically tried to point out the benefits flowing from these tectonic shifts that I pointed out above? It needs to be done, and now. 

Book Review : Saraswati's Intelligence

Part 1 of the Kishkindha Chronicles
Author – Vamsee Juluri

A Word About The Publisher
This book is published by Westland Books, to whose products I was first exposed to 2-3 years ago; since then, I have been noting the consistently high quality of their products – both in terms of variety, content as well as external finishing. They have branded themselves through unmatched quality, and attained a level of performance and  a place for themselves in this highly competitive industry. Yet again, we get treated to an excellent book; keep up the good work, Team Westland!

Image result for saraswati's intelligenceThe book is a work of fiction;  a very interesting, fascinating re-telling of a part of The Ramayan : The Story {fictionalized} of Lord Hanuman. This is the first part of a series; a series which focuses on Lord Hanuman {or someone so closely resembling Hanuman that there can be no doubt who the author is referring to}. This is an important distinction to make – as I connect up in the review portion. The series is around Kishkindha, the Kingdom of King Vali {Bali in the real history of The Ramayan}

The book describes an almost mesmerizing, fantastic and completely believable land of total peace {which one can readily equate to Satyug}; a land in which there is no bloodshed, no evil and total harmony. Fittingly, it becomes clear from literally the first page that the series describes the descent of humanity from that high and haloed perch. Again, this is in keeping with the established history of The Ramayan. The extrapolation from history to recreate that time has been superbly done, making for a really fascinating and captivating read.

The story starts from a young Hanuman {I will Jettison the word Lord, since the book refers to fictional characters, not the Lord Himself} playing with the elder Vali and Sugreev. It chronicles how Sugreev and Hanuman fall out of favour when they break the law of peace and bloodshed by pure accident; how they are banished from the society, and traces the path they take. It traces the coming of age of Hanuman, and how he starts to become the all-powerful hero that the Real Lord Hanuman is known to be. The parallels to the real story are near-flawless, and well executed.

The story revolves around the start of fighting in this peaceful land, as the noble people are overcome one by one, until they come face to face with the now-angry peaceful people of Kishkindha in the climax of this part of the series. The enemy is a primordial enemy, less cultured, less civilized, almost animalic in behaviour. It has a rather interesting take on Lord Ganesh {This is an assumption; the name may be coincidental – the further story will tell}; in the book, The Land of Ganesh is populated by Elephants; there is a take on Naraklok as well, with flesh-devouring birds, loosely represented by and named Jatayu. All in all, it contains every element of The Ramayan; and yet is sufficiently different to make it an original fiction story that is at best loosely based on historical events from our ancient history.

First things first : the book is a very interesting, mesmerizing and fascinating re-imagination of our history. The treatment of all characters is tender, well thought out, and does not incite any passions. Now this is a tremendous achievement, given that you are dealing with The Ramayan, a book that is closest to the heart of every Sanaatan Dharmi. Playing fiction with characters as real and powerful as Lord Hanuman, Goddess Saraswati etc is no joke; and the Author successfully manages to keep the two separate in our minds. These have powerful contemporary relevance to the modern follower of Sanaatan Dharm, wrongly called Hinduism, hence the tasteful, tender and logical treatment is welcome.

I have to admit – at no point did the book incite any objection or passion whatsoever, even from a person like me; an ardent reader of our ancient scriptures as well as history, and a devoted Sanaatani. Not only that, the book is written very well indeed from a novel or fiction perspective as well; it is a fast, rapid read, is fun and without any needless side-lines and twists. The author had of course, one powerful advantage – he had no need for detailed characterization, as he could simply build on public memory; this has been skillfully achieved.

The upshot of this, which I call a massive advantage {though Westland and Mr Juluri will differ, quite obviously} is that this is a book specifically targeted at the Sanaatani reader. If you are not a Sanaatan Dharm follower, then this book may not make much sense to you, or may not have much of a connect with you. Make of that what you will; that is my recommendation. The immediate connect the material has is due to the patkatha, the background which we can immediately  recognize. That this connect has been properly nurtured through a host of cultural clues and similarities is a tribute to the skill of the author, who has assiduously built an excellent story based on our cultural history

The biggest aspect of the book lies elsewhere; though this will be clear only to ardent readers of our ancient literature, people with a relatively deep reading of that ancient time. The re-imagination of that time is so logically done, so in keeping with what is stated in the historical literature, that one easily imagines that this is how it could have happened. The Ramayan clearly describes a far long gone time, almost pre-historic; there are many indications of that. And the re-imagination of that society, of the life through small hints, like how the Gadaa came into being seem very logical. This is what impresses deeply in this re-telling or re-imagination. All in all, rated 4 stars out of 5!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Smartphones - India Vs China Markets

Recently, we saw a very interesting, and for Smartphone and Telecom trade pundits and employees, monumental occurring – a recent report of marketshare showing that the top 5 brands in the Indian Smartphone market are not Indian. On top of this is a constant lament by Media and Telecomists {to coin a new term} alike, that Indian Handsets Brands are not making it; that Indian  manufacturing is not picking up in this industry.

Let us try and place things in perspective first, before we try and understand what can be done to improve the situation; or, indeed, whether it can be improved. In this article, I focus only on the perspective, and an overall market analysis of the two markets in general terms as well as specifically Teleocm / Device terms. After that perspective, I then introduce the basics of the competitive scenario. The reason for that is you need to understand the two markets and their difference to make a meaningful comparison, as well as figure out the way forward.

Let us get something straight : we cannot compete against China as things currently stand. This isn’t pessimistic thinking, but a simple statement of facts. You cannot compare chalk and cheese, or as some like to state, apples and oranges. India is a low-income market, while China is approaching middle income levels. Indian Per Capita Income is dwarfed by the Chinese income. As of April 2015, Nominal GDP per capita of China was $11449, while India was at $2672. If you take PPP, even then we are dwarfed : $20004 vs $9327. There is simply no comparison feasible between two markets with such a comparative economic scenario; we are doing ourselves a massive disservice by comparing

Be it Steel Industry or Handset Industry, India is dwarfed in numbers, and this is something that is not going to change anytime soon. The markets as well as the manufacturing scenarios are completely different; China is a nearly 100 Billion dollar Smartphone market, with production in excess of 600 Million units in 2015, although 2016 may see a slight dip. Exports account for more than 2/3rds of these numbers – even so, you are looking at numbers in excess of 140 Million Handsets in 2015, which though comparable to India’s 100 Million plus/minus a few, is still a larger market. Of greater relevance is the footprint of Chinese Exports, which are 450 Million plus – and that is one hell of a lot.

Moving on, the higher numbers in terms of dollars for the Chinese gives them enormous financial clout, flexibility and strength to innovate. Also note that there is a price differential of a full 100-plus dollars in the average sale price of a smartphone in India vs China. That means, China is a more mature Smartphone market than India. Three, Smartphone penetration in China is also much higher, in excess of 68%  - there were 913 Million Smartphones in China in 2015, and 691 Million unique users. China had 208 Million Smartphone users way back in 2012! In & by 2016,  50% of China’s population had internet connectivity – a figure we are nowhere near. The internet advertising market in China is 3 times India’s.

I could go on; but I think the generic and the industry numbers quoted above or indicated above give a reasonably good feel of the two markets – India vs China. It stands to reason that the Chinese players will be more mature, with a better handle & understanding of the technology involved, with deeper pockets and a larger range of products. They are also ahead on the learning curve, and have been growing right in step with the technological developments in the trade; we are only now catching up in terms of keeping abreast in the technological space.

2010-2012 were the critical years for the Smartphone trade, with a rapid evolution in technology, a massive churning in the competitive space. These two factors combined to heat up the smartphone market from 2008-9 onwards, give or take an year. And the numbers tell us that the Chinese market was following closely on the heels of these developments; thus, making any India-China comparison an exercise in futility, and despondency if we are trying to outcompete them playing on their turf!

They have the money and the deep pockets; they have the manufacturing investments; they have the infrastructure; they have the competence in the industry in terms of economies of scale and captive markets as well as a much wider experience in the technology; they have the technology; they have the processes; all of these add up to a significant advantage. There is no point in beating around the bush; we cant beat them– so long as we are playing to their strengths. This does not mean we cant compete; our competitive response has to be formulated basis our market realities. This is what I look at in the next article, wherein I spell out the ground realities of the smartphone market and consumer in India

References : 

Book Review : A Vegetarian Lifestyle

A Presentation by Beauty Without Cruelty

NOTE from Website :
Moreover, there was no point in BWC approaching food manufacturers to fill questionnaires up, because in 2001 the Government of India made it mandatory for all packaged foods to carry the veg/non-veg symbol. Some years later these labels began being affixed by manufacturers on all beverages like carbonated waters. Then in 2014, BWC’s persistent efforts bore fruit, when the new Prime Minister, in response to our request, extended the veg/non-veg labelling law to cover cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and toiletries.

This current guide being reviewed is an old one I found in my family

The title of the book almost says it all; this is a book that is entirely focused around being a Vegetarian; though its primary focus is on Veganism, you can easily find Vegetarianism also in its pages. For the uninitiated, Vegan people don’t take anything associated with Animals, like even Milk. The reason for the same is the underlying animal exploitation that is inherent in most Vegetarian Products that are of Animal Origin – like Milk, and Milk Products as an excellent example.

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This book just goes much, much farther than your dietary habits, and introduces you to Animal Exploitation in products and categories where it isn’t so readily apparent. That is one of the biggest plus points of this excellent guide – for that is what it is, a one-stop guide, a reference book on what is Vegan, Vegetarian and non-Animal sourced, covering nearly all categories one normally encounters in ones daily life. It also goes into products that are Animal sourced, and lists them, which is excellent material especially for fully committed Vegans

The other stupendous plus point is the amount of research that has purportedly gone into this book; the base of the book is a questionnaire that was sent out to manufacturers. Sadly, not all of the manufacturers chose to respond – and here I agree with the book, if indeed you are saying that one or more of your products are 100% Vegetarian, then where is the issue in answering? Hearteningly, in some cases, upon learning that their products were actually not in consonance with the claim, the manufacturing process / ingredients were changed. This is the way it should be – no one is saying they are perfect. But being open and transparent can yield a win-win situation, as above.

This is a book that forces you to think of your choices – especially if you, like me, are slowly but surely increasingly edging towards Veganism, driven by your own internal choices, beliefs and value systems. Like I increasingly abhor leather, wool in all forms; I don’t know why. Leather, I can say for certain that it is due to Animal Slaughter; Wool, well, it happened all by itself. I find it hard to even kill an ant; so for me, with the increasing awareness of age, it began to occur as to why am I participating in killing? In some cases, like in leather, the push was medical, as injury forced me towards soft shoes. In food, I similarly don’t know why a Non-Vegetarian like me is now 100% Vegetarian… it just happened, primarily driven by an exposure to great Vegetarian range post marriage, added to by my natural instincts

But if you are, like me, discovering the joys of Vegetarianism, or is slightly uncomfortable about misuse of Animals and their exploitation, or is a nature and animal lover, then I highly recommend this book. Of course, if you are a non-vegetarian, my advice is to avoid this book. The content actually requires a receptive mind; the non-receptive mind is more likely to spot the myriad practical issues and the so-called unavoidability that is bound to occur in the quest to abandon non-vegetarianism in all its forms. My only take on this : to each his own. And one other point : no one is being adamant or hard about this; do it as far as is practical, like I do. Anyway- individual call.

You will find lists of products, brands, catagories that are listed, after research and/or study, of their contents, as well as {from what I understood}, the manufacturing process, or rather the intermediary products that go into the final product. This part of each chapter is a true stunner – as one gets to learn of a host of normal everyday use products that are almost unavoidable, and yet may be objectionable. This is where I felt the book goes way too far; and almost gets into preaching mode and philosophical territory, as it seems to advocate total Veganism from the tone, at least to me

This is, unfortunately, the way of the world; it is an entirely new discussion and philosophical point as to whether humanity has gone too far; and this is applicable in many aspects, not just treatment of animals. My personal opinion is yes, we have gone way too far – and we need to deeply introspect as to what our species has become and is increasingly turning into. We need to stop, take a deep breath, and really face ourselves in the mirror & see the hard reality of our daily existence. Yes, we have become enslaved to desire, naked ambition, greed, and so-called practicality. Yes, we have gone too, too, too, too far – of that there can be no doubt whatsoever.

But, and this is a significant  but, change doesn’t happen overnight. To be fair, the book makes no such attempt; but the endeavour & and what seemed to me the tone -  of the book was titled towards Veganism, which is frankly not fully feasible in the modern world. Even I would love to live in a simpler world, but as of now, there is little choice. My own inability to fully control my desires, despite being among the few to be aware, is only part of the problem. The other part is that I have to coexist in a society which places near-zero value on these personality attributes, and views such habits as quaint, impractical, ideological, and in some cases, foolish.

And this is where this book scores big time: it gives you feasible choices wherein you can make adjustments to your lifestyle, so long as you aren’t going over-the-board, that is feasible. It gives you information to make an informed choice, gives you choices that are in consonance with your values and belief systems. And, in some cases, {at least one so far as I am aware}, it actually gives solutions to problems or issues that you were facing, as I was in digesting at least one food item, for which I now have an alternative that is readily available… and that is why the title of the book is so apt!