Brand factory

Merchandise increases brand value. I guess this is the mantra corporate goes by to enhance its image and advertise for a lot less on a much bigger scale. It often makes its way into project budgets to show employees that corporate does ‘care’. I leave the decision of proclaiming corporate merchandise to be  useful/deserved to each individual – but what is it actually saying?

It appears one pledges allegiance to the company logo every morning with the shirt, pen, coffee mug, bag, diary and what not. The roads are full of people carrying bags with logos, as if declaring firm pride in their employer. And yet half won’t think twice before accepting an offer from another company and proudly sporting its logo. Sounds like one hangs on to the stuff only because it’s free. There’s a word for that. Some may argue that it is complimentary stuff, a token of appreciation for the hard work put in. If you are appeased by something that is disfigured, discoloured and cheaply embroidered, you are not carrying the brand, you are being branded, Texas hot rod style.

Shuttles after shuttles dropping employees at office campuses makes it seem like the sense of belonging at work is replaced by the sense that one belongs to the corporate. I am tempted to draw an analogy with a dog marking its territory in the traditional way. Current rates of attrition and job hopping are not a symbol of pride but of slavery. And yet people get enthusiastic about getting ‘branded’ stuff at inductions and appraisals. What defines you? The company you work for or the work you do for the company?

I agree that brand value carries a lot of weight but do you have to prove it to everyone by wearing it, using it, showing it everywhere? It’s like an invasion of identity. And it also tends to mark you as a target for unwanted criticism. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. We tend to associate all sorts of rumours, negative pubilcity etc. about a company with anyone wearing a shirt or carrying a bag with the company’s logo on it. An employee’s identity gets compromised by the superimposition of the corporate identity just by carrying a bag to work.

If it’s indeed a token of appreciation of the hard work you’ve put in at your job (which it barely manages to match up against, we all know that), why should it also be a burden?

Only Time Will Tell

Jeffrey Archer’s most ambitious work in four decades? When did tweaking the same plot over and over again like Ekta Kapoor’s creativity become part of an ambition? Only part one is out and I sense dark clouds gathering.

This is the first Archer novel that took me almost a month to switch from page 57 to 58, after which I had to start all over again. I’ve always read all of his works cover to cover in one sitting but this time it seems to be too much of a repeat.

Boy wonder – we’ve seen plenty of those in Sons of Fortune and Kane & Abel. Starting from scratch and hitting the bigtime – classic Archer I would say. But so far, each of his novels provided an insight into the worlds of his characters. A newspaper empire or an hotel business or mountaineering or politics – each of his works have been a masterpiece of research put together with entralling story-telling. However this time the focus is more on the twists and turns in Clifton’s life. Agreed the story throws unexpected surprises now and then which keep you interested, but there’s that dim feeling of having read all such stuff already.

There’s a major Luke and Leah thing going on in the latter part which makes the story slow, with the Skywalker clause thrown in towards the end,  giving plenty of time to think – what was Archer thinking?

There are strokes of brilliance as well. Switching between characters to narrate the story makes you see the developments from each character’s perception. Coming up with plots embedded throughout the novel requires the mind of a genius, with a sense of creativity though. There is the signature Archer ending which leaves you wishing you had the next book in your hand already. So even though it’s a deja vu kind of a read, it manages to keep you glued to it.

There’s too much Bollywood in this one. My memory fails me but I am sure Maisie’s character is an adaptation of one of Meena Kumari’s numerous poor widow mom tragic roles. And the sudden twist at the ending reminds me of the post-credit shot in movies these days. With 3 books to follow in the Clifton Chronicles, I wonder what else will be repeated. Only time will tell.

Sucker Punch

What happens when five girls are roped in from Moulin Rouge to act as the new Charlie’s Angels to fight the orcs from Mordor using Iron Man’s suit while a dragon from the Potter books engages in a dogfight with the Sky Captain while they in a dance induced Inception sweating it out in the Matrix? You get 110 minutes of pure entertainment.

The movie excels in maintaining momentum once the four quests start. I did not find the action sequences to be choreographed brilliantly, but they did throw surprises one after the other. From chaingun slinging terracotta warrior to a dragon engaging a bomber in a dogfight, every sequence has its own element. Expect the unexpected. The monastery fight is a little disappointing, considering it is the first fight, but the battle set in no man’s land in WWI is brilliant. There are things you’d believe are possible just because it’s Hollywood and then there are things which you won’t believe because they seem to be from Bollywood. And that’s the sucker punch.

There are clear references to several movies and characters throughout the movie but instead of looking like a copy, it actually seems to show clearly how all of them would fit together well, almost. I could not help blurting out another movie’s name every now and then but that did not bore me, rather made me more curious about the next possible reference. That’s the entertainment factor of this movie.

The actors would be the weakest link for me. Somehow, having a Paris Hilton lookalike whose expressions do not change at all throughout the movie and a breathless Nicole Kidman impostor could have put up a better performance. But then there are not much lines for them to act out. Despite limited lines, the story does give some food for thought, and I am sure there’s a message buried somewhere. Will take a few more days to figure it out.

A drive in the life of an Indian

Getting up early in the morning and ….no wait… having to get up early in the morning and driving to work is not as simple as two actions. There is emotion, action, thrill and suspense all squeezed in some 40 minutes that separate home from office for me. The ‘A day in the life of India’ campaign made me take a note today of how much happens in these 40 minutes, forget about the whole day.

Emotion – If you hi-five yourself every morning when the alarm goes off then do not continue reading. Switching off the alarm is like hatching a conspiracy against yourself. You are in a disturbed state of mind, battling the desire to snooze for another couple of minutes but the pressure to be at work on time makes those snooze-dedicated minutes the most restless and sleep-deprived. You somehow manage to haul yourself out of the apartment and onto your bike. In my case, all this hatred for work and work related people vanishes at the sight of my bike. The gleaming metal greets you with the warmth which you don’t get easily these days from anything with flesh and blood. But as soon as you hit the main road, you have to find the next petrol station. All admiration and pride is replaced with sense of despair as each month less and less petrol goes in for more and more money. You begin to hate your job as it’s not enabling you to get out there and do it!

Action – Nothing goes straight in this world. Even light has to bend sometimes. Driving to work on a bike is as mad as driving a Ducati in the wrong lane to avoid agents shooting at you while ferrying a guy whose role made no sense whatsoever. Rear view mirrors cannot be trusted, the cacophony of horns throws concentration out of gear. You might be on a six-lane road in Bangalore but the skill of driving in a congested gali-muhalla is what comes in handy. You press the clutch and the brakes as if you are firing a gun with every fire expected to have the precision of a head-shot. Buses, cars, trucks pass you all bearing wounds of this every day battle and yet they persevere. You overtake a white Indica and all of sudden it’s a matter of proving manhood. It’s an epic duel displaying the agility of weaving in and out of traffic with the potential of knocking out a few grannies who appear out of nowhere to cross the road.

Thrill – Ever wonder why Clarkson screams ‘Power!’ every time he says ‘Let’s find out.’ If you are right up in the front at a traffic light, do you or do you not attempt a drag start to beat a-more-powerful-bike-which-is-always-there-next-to-you. It is amusing to see the 100cc bleating Yamahas fight it out leaving a trail of smoke and body parts behind. Every single one of them! I don’t know what it is, but a speeding Audi or a BMW or if you are lucky, a Bentley charges up the whole mood, even though you are not the one driving it.  Driving does not have to be as dull as a gray London morning out of Jane Austen’s novels. The road and the traffic around is pretty much a breathing organism that throws surprises at you at every now and then.

Suspense – So you have had the rollercoaster ride of tragedy and pride in the morning, you have proved your manhood by overtaking and doing your own little stunts on the road. But at the end of it, when you are in the lift whisking you from the parking to your floor, which is by the way the slowest you have gone all morning, you wonder what horrors your inbox has in store for you, whether or not your manager has stepped in before you, what’s there to eat in the cafeteria today etc etc.

So if you think these 40 minutes are just the beginning of a day in the life of an Indian then you are wrong. The most exciting part is already over.

That hand outside the window

How much does a decent car cost these days? 4-5 lakhs? Now how much does it cost without the indicators? How complicated is it to flick the left or right hand signal?

I drive to work everyday and not a day goes by when the window of a car in front of me goes down and a hand comes out, hanging as if separated maimed from the body. As if given a breath of life, the hand starts to twirl. Add few flowers and 50′s bollywood music and it seems a mujra is under progress in the middle of the road.

There is a the classic dead hand indicator, the single finger twirl, the full palm in your face indicator, the tiny-flick-of-a-finger-outside-the-window indicator. The simple act of letting the guy behind you know where you are headed becomes a drama on the road. And if you fail to appreciate it, there are even more gestures thrown around.

A few months back Indian runners at the Commonwealth Games pulled off quiet a few surprises on the tracks. Although we should have seen it coming. If any of you has been on the Bangalore-Mysore highway you must have seen quiet a few skid marks on the road where there are no speed bumps in sight, there are no signals anywhere, not even a u-turn anywhere. Then why the burnt rubber? The answer is the frequent auntijies running across the road thinking they can beat the traffic. There is hardly any warning. You might be lucky enough to spot gray hair peeking out the bushes on the divider, and the next thing you know you are breaking as hard as you can, cursing as loudly as you can, calculating the damages, remembering that you don’t know the local language in the middle of nowhere, figuring out who to call in case of impact all at the same time.

How do you tell by looking at a new car that it is in fact the woman’s first car (Why I use woman? I am not a sexist!) and that she owned a two-wheeler before? The nose of the car will always be poking between buses and other cars, the car will be at weird angles at red lights trying to get somewhere which only the driver can see. Old habits indeed die hard.

Then there are those smoking Yamaha 100cc bikes that weave in and out of traffic like there are a thousand horses powering them, the bulldozer which has to always move in the inner lane of the road, the white taxi which has to honk even when standing at a red light, the thulla who apparently earns minimum wages on the road and yes, the people who drive Dzires. Driving here is a like driving through a gauntlet.

APP’tism’

A few days ago I ran across a line in TOI which said that one of the reason’s for Apple’s success was it being a social phenomena too apart from a technical revolution. Not so surprisingly the app store hit 10 billion downloads recently. Coupled with the fact that I often find myself more interested first in the apps on someone’s phone and then the technical part, it struck me – Is ‘apptism’ really a social phenomena, or an addiction almost a borderline epidemic?

There are apps which decide when is the best time to wake you up, apps which determine how much exercise you’ve had or need, apps which tell you what roads to take, what food to eat, where other people are, know what they are upto…. The list is endless. True all this makes life easier, keeps you well informed and makes you a good contributor in conversations that start with ‘You know there is an app which can….’.

Would you rather take a picture of a person, upload it into an app to determine how ugly he/she is or just look up and judge for yourself? Would you rather go out and try a restaurant or reject it just because an app thinks it’s not good? Judge the character of a person yourself instead of making him speak into your phone and see if he is lying or not? Go out and see how your day turns out instead of just apping out your forecast? What is better – you speaking to a one year old, or an app speaking to a one year old? Do you really need an app to tell you how much battery you have left? And if the phone runs out of charge, your ‘smartness’ about all this goes with it.

Yes I need to access my email when I am not at work or phone. I do want to stay in touch with my friends and family. I would like to know the way before I set out to drive. But there’s a fine line between using the phone to make life easy and completely succumbing to the code behind an icon. I  am not a Matrix theorist here, but code running parts of our lives does sound familiar.

Think about it. Companies like Apple, Google and Nokia spending loads of money and man hours just to make apps which are smart enough so that you don’t have to be. Do I really need a fish to read a story to my nephew? What’s the point of…. me then?

The Green Hornet

What did I know about the Green Hornet before the movie? A series about renegade vigilantes which launched Bruce Lee’s career. Also, no superpowers. So it was going to be all about money and machines. Seems like you need to be unnatural or rich to be any good. Anyways.

The best bit about the movie is it deals with the typical desire of a guy to be a superhero. Reid’s reaction to Black Beauty and its arsenal is what you’d expect from yourself put in that situation. Celebrating landing the first punch, figuring out the best mask is all someone would do if he had the means. However, that someone would be a kid and not a guy set out to clean LA’s underworld. And that’s why Kickass is better.

What went right? The cast. Christoper Waltz’s portrayal of Colonel Landa in Inglorious Basterds gave me the heebee jeebees, and is performance here isn’t bad either. It could have been better if his character were stronger, though there were a few deja vu moments of the Merovingian. Cameron Diaz gets as little as screen space as she deserves. Jay Chou’s action sequences are good, but I guess any actor needs a lot more to fill in Bruce Lee’s shoes. Seth Rogen could have shook his head a little less and not tried doing the gruff Batman thing, but not changing from Bruce to Batman using a mask saves his character.

Come to think of it, this movie does seem like a light weight parody of Batman. Guy takes over dead father’s empire, has a sidekick who is apparently the best engineer in the world, apparently has all the illegal stuff to fight other people with illegal stuff, the DA’s character goes rancid.

The plot is thin, but if this movie is supposed to be an action comedy then its expected. And Britt Reid wouldn’t have been able to figure more complex stuff anyways. The script manages to deliver a few good laughs. Although I wonder if that was how the series was intended to be when it aired in the 1930s. A sidekick having a better resume than the hero also deviates from the serious action stuff. And a hero not driving his own car is not cool. It’s more like glorified backseat driving.Black Beauty certainly packs a lot of punch, but can and has any car ever beat the Batmobile?