Posted on 24-06-2012
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Hindi movie plots ignite diverse emotions in us covering star-crossed lovers, sacrifice, angry parents, siblings that fate separated, rapists, rebirths, mistaken identities of twin brothers, one innocent the other stomping the underworld. Continuing the saga of "Suresh! Tumne mujhe dhoka diya!" summarizing Bollywood fantasy for me, let’s get into themes beyond the melodrama kick-off scene, dance song, crime, political drama and fights you’ve read about last week.

Hate: Bollywood storylines can flow to establish extreme jealousy, greed and passion. This hate factor is Western imitation. Bad and good are not culturally prominent in India. Even our mythological stories convey that something bad for one could be good for another. In contrast, Catholicism that the West largely follows clearly demarcates good and bad. Hindi films have adopted hate, so the hero or heroine, villain or some side actor has to choke over hate, as though its food stuck in the gullet.

Love: Triangular love is a much loved theme. Different men can show overbearing love or secret attraction for the heroine, putting her emotions in critical array. But a woman can’t openly have many boyfriends as is the social reality among today’s young generation. Depicting that would make her a whore. It seems a few movies tried that with no overwhelming acceptance. The girl should love the good man, never the villain.

Foreign tour: Foreign tours were always a kind of windfall in Bollywood movies. Sitting in India spectators enjoy a visit to exotic foreign countries. In this globalization era, an overseas setting has become obligatory. Shooting abroad makes the film relevant for the extended audience of foreign born Indian origin children. Experience shows that a scene shot in a developed country upgrades the film both in terms of its acceptance status and production quality. Consider it Bollywood’s quality development or showcasing of the producer’s power.

Betrayal: Betrayal anchors more or less every movie. The emotional corruption of betrayal can happen between the hero and heroine, with 2 friends, in the family, in business, among gangsters, in politics, also shown through a death. When the betrayer is caught and punished, there’s big applause in the cinema hall.

A lecturer’s dialogue: This is an all-too-frequent Bollywood attempt at education. One character talks directly into the camera as though preaching or teaching society. The cameraman zooms into the actor’s face without stops and commas, so the gyan (lecture) giving session can become one long shot. This translates as the film director’s social conscience, do-good idea of contributing philosophy to society.

Happy end: Most Bollywood movies have the happy end format to not dissatisfy spectators or leave them in unconcluded situations. Of course sad ending films do make an exceptional entry, but the pay-off comes from what we’d all like our lives to be, happy. As Bollywood cannot afford to disturb its paying public composed of under-privileged population and NRIs (non-resident Indian), the formula of every puzzle getting solved in the end is the success factor.

Value-for-money technical effects: Technical effects established exuberantly, never subtly, is the icing on the Bollywood cake. The most advanced art effects are dramatized and felt as part of the storyline. New camera techniques, glamorous never-seen-before-in-Indian-films props, use of advanced digital effects and artistic modus operandi like slow motion, fast forward, morphing, travelling shots, crazy animations are enmeshed into films. They prove that we’re no less than foreign films, and flesh out as bonus for spectators.

Trend influence: The influence of Western trends used to come a little late to Bollywood before, but the gap’s narrowed now. For example, bell bottoms took forever to be seen in Hindi films, but torso-revealing, hip-hugging jeans made it in instant digital time.

Mother and children affection: After listing my observations on Hindi films, I was verifying with Aravinda, who Professor Raghunath says is the most careful driver he’s met, whether I’ve missed anything. Aravinda very often gives me social imagery that I may not so easily see. He promptly answered that I’ve totally overlooked the mother-children affection chapter. Mother is the moral foundation of Hindi films, the mother-hero relationship is very intimate. Bollywood makes it obvious that Indian society values sons over daughters. The hero is invariably the best son a mother can have, and vice versa. Mother-son bonding against all odds leaves copious tears in cinema hall audience eyes.

Telling statistics: Bollywood is top-of-mind but actually the South Indian film industry currently holds 75% of all film revenues in India. Of 1274 feature films that went to Central Board of Film Certification in 2010, Hindi films were only 215. Southern productions totaled 631 with Tamil 202, Telugu 181, Kannada 143, and Malayalam 105. Among other regional players were 116 Marathi and110 Bengali films.

India ranks first, followed by Hollywood and China, in number of films produced. As per statistics from Motion Pictures Association of America, India produced 1014 films in 2002, sold 3.6 billion tickets and collected revenues of US$1.3 billion from theatre tickets, DVDs, television and so on. In contrast Hollywood made 739 films, sold 2.6 billion tickets but generated revenues of US$51 billion.

These statistics make evident silver screen quality vs. quantity. Perhaps Indian movies need a disruption of universal appeal, away from "Suresh! Tumne mujhe dhoka diya!" fantasy, while still being relevant to India and Indians. Indian films go to 90 countries, but it’s the Indian diaspora that lap them up. They don’t become box office hits for natives of these nations.

India’s diverse salt, sugar and pepper culture like multiple gods in one religion is unique in the world. Portraying a storyline outside of cliché fantasy can create another dimension. For example, there’s tremendous history just 255 years ago when Siraj-ud-daulah, Bengal’s last Nawab, lost the Battle of Plassey against the British, 1757. Just imagine, if this untold story could be presented Hollywood-style like The Gladiators of ancient Rome by Ridley Scott, what an incredible film that would be for the global market and India’s reputation.

To download above article in PDF Carried away by Bollywood Suresh

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/carried-away-by-bollywood-suresh/965944/0

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Posted on 17-06-2012
Filed Under (ENTERTAINMENT) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

While engrossed in a scholarly discussion with my professor friend, Dr S Raghunath, the phone rang. “Bhavna has invited us all to see a Hindi movie,” his wife Usha announced. How can we refuse their beautiful teenage daughter? I promptly blurted out to Usha my one-frame resume of 65 years of Bollywood: "Suresh! Tumne mujhe dhoka diya!" Doesn’t this representatively capture the poignant scene of betrayal the heroine suffers at some moment in every film?

“No, no, it’s very different nowadays …” Usha said, so without my disagreement we went to see ‘Shanghai’ the latest dhamaka (hit). At half time, the near-dead hero’s wife came from Delhi to take her husband away, only to discover a girlfriend attending to her husband in hospital. So my contention that "Suresh Tumne mujhe dhoka diya" is Bollywood’s single point focus was proved! Experiencing Bollywood extravaganza after many years has inspired me to narrate these cliches I’ve absorbed. With utmost respect to the millions of spectators who enormously enjoy these delicious films, let me give you typical sensational ingredients that churn out box office hits.

Social melodrama to kickoff the movie: Older films portrayed the underprivileged in the opening social aspect or family complex, but now it’s got Western flair. After all, a large audience base has shifted from Indian villages to children of Indians born in America, England or elsewhere abroad. They may speak with local Yankee or Cockney accents, but their migrant parents keep Indian culture vibrant at home. That “culture” for millions settled abroad happens to be Bollywood mores. To cater to such good custodians of Hindi films, directors don’t stubbornly stick to old winner scenarios; they create Indian family dramas outside India too. Storylines are just a few dozens, with myriad permutations. Heart rendering themes include rich girl running away with poor boy, long-lost relatives, high class boy in love with low caste girl, slum dweller forced to become gang leader, then discovering he’s not an orphan but the son of the merciless industrialist his trade union is targeting to destroy. Tragic death of a loved one at the film’s kickoff establishes the cause of revenge. Most of all, the presentation has to touch very raw nerves, bringing tears to spectator eyes.

Dance song: Songs comprise the film’s core, determining success formula. Everyone knows that actors only lip sync. Playback singers were earlier associated with certain actors whose voices tallied with their harmonious renditions. Some actors carried one playback singer’s voice for their whole career. Only if you’re excellent at playback singing can you become a famous singer in India. I remember in our young days a song would be released, made into a hit, and subsequently the film would ride piggyback on its success. Electronic media has made singers better known today, but their public fame is appended to the hero/ heroine and film’s performance.

The hero always has a crooner’s role, teasing a girl who plays hide-and-seek to display she’s shy and unwilling-but-actually-willing. Rarely would heroines start romantic overtures. Sometimes, reminiscent of Lord Krishna’s girlfriend Radha and her gopis (cowgirl friends), the girl dances with village belles in colourful lehengas in front of wheat fields. Or the passionate couple prances around some forest, garden, mountain, snowfield or sea beach with staccato head and body movements.

From such natural locales, Hindi film songs have shifted to the streets of New York. The inspiration seems to be from Broadway choreography for group street dancing from the 1961 comedy musical, Westside Story composed by Leonard Bernstein. You can distinctively spot the romantissimo couple in Bollywood versions as they’re dressed differently from the backdrop dancers in perfect aerobic routine. Suddenly dancing on foreign streets has almost become mandatory. You see foreigners gaping askance on the sidelines sometimes, but the couple’s oblivious to the surroundings, as people in love are. Dancing to songs builds up the crescendo; so high excitement whistles come ferociously in quick succession at Indian theatres.

Crime: Villains are must-haves, they’re the salt-and-pepper of Hindi movies. Dialogues of the powerful, pan-juice (addictive betel nut and leaf) spitting Boss are memorized for real life play acting by imitative fans. Sometimes they become Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to save the poor. Such villains get heavy applause at movie halls.

Political drama: The plot always features some direct or indirect political corruption. The public is jealous of the politicians’ ill-gotten wealth yet has no voice to check them. So when Hindi films portray politicians being punished for their scandalous corrupt crimes, it thrills the public. The trend still has the law and order machinery backing the right cause, whether that’s true or not. The police station has both good and bad policemen, but the ethical ones always prevail.

Fight: Spiciest of all is the fight. Initially the hero doesn’t win, but you can be sure he will come back to win. The fighting hero is a handsome dude with gleaming biceps. He has the power to fight multiple villains, mix techniques of wrestling, judo, karate. The villain is bad, bad all the way. He’s got crooked teeth or false glass eyes ensuring no girl can fall for him. A gun fight is okay, but its physical dhishum-dhishum fighting that brings every spectator to the chair’s edge. The way you await dance sequences, moving your sitting torso and lips in rhythm, perhaps the fight gives you more involvement. You mentally feel a punch, physically crouch on your seat, take in your breath in quick, short exclamations, or narrow your eyes. A girl may squeeze her partner’s hand and hide behind his shoulder when the scene gets too graphic. That of course is bonus pleasure of watching fight scenes at the movies.

Intermission! Hindi movies cannot be finished so quickly. What about footage on hate, love, foreign tours, betrayal, lecturer’s dialogue, happy end, value-for-money technical effects, trend influence, mother and son affection, all so essential to complete a real Bollywood format? Coming next week…

To download above article in PDF Suresh! Tumne mujhe dhoka diya!

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/suresh-tumne-mujhe-dhoka-diya/962873/0

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Posted on 10-06-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Marketing is supposedly an American invention. But its roots certainly lay in undiluted marketing practices polished over centuries by British monarchy. Last week the UK declared four celebratory days, with holidays for banks, schools, public and private offices on 4-5 June 2012, to mark 60 years reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Since inception with Alfred the Great in 849, British Royalty has undoubtedly been the UK’s stellar brand.

Take how adroitly Royalty managed the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle, the world’s largest inhabited castle. The fire destroyed the castle’s vital historic parts. The question was who will pay the estimated £60 million for restoration? The Queen suggested taxpayers, but Britain’s Parliament under Prime Minister John Major refused as it was a private royal home. British monarchy found an out-of-the-box solution in April 1993. So many people stand outside the huge grilled Palace gates to watch the changing of the Royal guards. Why not raise money from them by opening up Windsor Castle at £3 per entry, and Buckingham Palace at £8 per admission for the next 5 years? The repair finally cost £36.5 million, the Queen’s personal contribution was 2 million pounds. What’s interesting is that the public is still visiting Royal residences, only paying double now, £18 per visit to Buckingham Palace.

While marketing a selling proposition, we always try to find a corridor that avoids the possibility of getting stuck in adversity. People pay good money to learn such marketing theories at Harvard, INSEAD, Columbia and LSE. But without going anywhere, merely by exposing British dynasty loot collected over centuries from various colonies, monarchical marketing found an inventive way to restore Windsor Castle. They simply pumped money from the willing-to-pay public who wasn’t disappointed either.  Aside from booty from colonies, although the British and French never liked each other and had clashed in Waterloo, the British didn’t hesitate to beautify Windsor Palace with French furniture. Former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing commented that he saw more French furniture inside Windsor Palace when he’d lunched there with the Queen in 1977 than in France’s Versailles Palace. It is important to know that French royal furniture and décor from the reigns of Francis I, Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Napoleon have left the grid and benchmark of all time exquisite design sophistication in the world.

Visiting Royal residences, the monarch’s subjects continue to smell the British Empire where “The sun never sets.” This marketing jargon means Great Britain continues to prevail in the cultural imagination of their colonized countries throughout the world for the sun to be shining 24 hours in some or other past or present territory of Britain. Even today Elizabeth II, who’s still head of state of 16 nations, knows how to conduct a monarchical mela (festivity). In the 1000-boat flotilla on River Thames marking her Diamond Jubilee, she’d invited the 54 Commonwealth members to keep alive “The sun never sets on the British Empire” nostalgia. It’s another British monarchical marketing master stroke, from “looting wealth” to Commonwealth. When you see the Indian flag in the pageant, you don’t know whether you should feel pride or humiliation. They’ve destroyed the backbone of our country’s spirit and moral strength by colonizing India for 200 years, yet we are a part of the Commonwealth!

Has Monarchy marketing taken a lesson from Walter Disney who ingeniously built a smelly rat to become iconic Mickey Mouse loved worldwide selling in both their Amusement park and elsewhere in the world? Like selling Disneyland merchandize, souvenir shops outside Royal Palaces peddle ornamental crockery, Victorian pillboxes, thimbles, Guardsmen’s red dress with furry headgear, and aprons saying, “God Save the Queen.” Other merchandise “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen” includes cigarettes, tea, whiskey, chocolates, luggage. Aside from exorbitantly priced Limited and Special Edition keepsakes, you even get Imperial Russian mementoes made through traditional 250-year-old methods, hand finished using 22 carat gold. Such votives were personal gifts exchanged among Russian, Danish and British Royal Families. After all, the last Czar Nicholas II and King George V, grandfather of Elizabeth II, were cousins; their mothers were sisters. Actually countries like Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Spain still have monarchs, but it’s Britain’s Queen who still rules feudal-style over subjects, not citizens.

If you rewind the entire marketing chapter of mass consumption, it strengthened after World War II. There’s a clear demarcation between luxury and mass consumption goods. Unique luxury products, from garments, jewelry, cutlery to travelling coaches, were created for royalty to flaunt and distinguish their superior class from the masses. European countries like England and France with long history of kingdoms have preserved their code of luxury goods that command premium prices in the world. Inspite of US marketing skills, a luxury product can never originate from USA which has no royal tradition. The difference from traditional monarchy is that without possessing Royal blood, you can enjoy their luxurious life if you’re rich. What’s more, the Nobility today, comprising remnants of the disintegrated Roman and other Western Empires, are even selling off Royal titles, so for huge sums of money you can become a Duke or a Countess too.

British monarchy’s marketing machine’s been so active that according to BBC, 80% Britons still want the monarchy. It gained a fillip after Prince William married commoner Kate Middleton. However, anti-Monarchists exist too. Britain’s Republic Party says the Royal family is brainwashing common people to stay subjugated and support its upkeep with public funds. “We are citizens not subjects” is their cry for democracy.  “Parasite go home” is another poster decrying Royal heritage.

In having a President of India we imitated the British monarchy’s titular head system, but will anybody ever buy a souvenir saying “God save the President” when that person changes every 5 years? If the UK Republics have their way and Monarchy is abolished, the UK has to rethink the country’s marketing as its biggest brand pull, Her Majesty, would be lost.

To download above article in PDF Marketing machine of the monarchy

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/marketing-machine-of-the-monarchy/960044/0

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Posted on 03-06-2012
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Is there a link between homosexuality and creativity? This intriguing subject is recognized and debated in the West. Heightened gay creativity, it is reasoned, comes from coping exceptionally to become super inventive as gays traverse tremendous societal pressures. Initially when gay feelings emerge, young people experience confusion about their sexuality. Getting isolated even from the family, they become adept at creative expressions.

Gay creativity is spontaneous, vibrant, deep, intelligent, soaked in sentiment with a soft corner for human society. Let me illustrate. I often go to Italy’s Accademia di Belle Arti Gallery in Florence to see a 5.17metre (17ft) piece of marble weighing over 6 tons. The emotion of the man who sculpted this colossal single marble with an extraordinary expression of a Biblical man never fails to amaze me. You can still see its original uneven marble left as the pedestal. Most people would evenly cut Italian marble of this size as slabs of flooring for luxurious homes, but Michelangelo crafted incredible David, a standing male nude. When studying in Kolkata’s Government College of Art before leaving India, I’d become familiar with David, imagining it to be 5- 6 ft high. The first time I stood in front of this Renaissance masterpiece created 1501-1504, I was shell-shocked not just from its size, but perfect whole body anatomy. This was the master stroke of a homosexual genius. Such unparalleled artistic skill I find only in another gay artist, Leonardo da Vinci.

In 1980s, I was among those millions who worshipped that rare, 4-octave-spanning, Western opera-type voice of my rock-star hero. I’d follow him from London to Buenos Aires to New York just to hear him belt out super-hit songs. Thousands of crazed spectators would swoon and screech with excruciating joy at his powerful, pulsating stage presence. Even his vulgar gestures looked like visual art. This was Freddie Mercury, a pseudonym for Farrokh Bulsara, a Zanzibar-born Parsi Indian. He’s Asia’s and India’s first mega rock-star, songwriter-composer voted in polls by several Western magazines, radio and TV channels to be the world’s all-time greatest singer or second-greatest entertainer after Michael Jackson.

Freddie Mercury’s is a story of another homosexual who died with severe AIDs. His band, Queen, sold over 300 million records; sales continue unabated even after his 1991 death at age 45. His tremendous talent combined all musical genres, revolutionizing music for millions of fans worldwide. Huge Freddie Mercury sculptures stand erect in Montreux Switzerland and London. In 1999, British Royal Mail issued a postage stamp of him in performance. The way Charles Chaplain is considered British although he gained fame in USA and spent his last years in Switzerland, Freddie is a Gujarati who studied in India. What’s regrettable is that India never did recognize Freddie Mercury. Bollywood songs, many copied from Western tunes and genres, have made celebrities of playback singers known through cinema actors. Apart from Oscar or Nobel winners, globally reputed winners created by the masses like Freddie Mercury, also deserve our acknowledgment. He’s an inspiration for young Indians who want to excel in performing arts beyond Bollywood boundaries.

When a city brims with love and sexuality, creativity may reign. Since 16th century, beautiful Paris has recorded several gays in writers Théophile de Viau, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau to composer Jean Baptiste Lully, poet Paul Verlaine to fashion designers Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld among others. In Montparnasse, I’d often frequent Lutetia Hotel for a cup of coffee. On weekend afternoons two men, one tall, the other short, would come in with a small dog. Their elegance was a pleasure to watch. This was Yves Saint Laurent and his companion, brilliant intellectual Pierre Berger, who together created luxury fashion brand YSL. The creativity bubble St. Laurent is no more with us, but I can still visualize this gay couple’s artistic rapport.

In 1991 I’d made a drastic change in Danone’s brand Taillefine, internationally called Vitalinea. Bringing the idea of 0℅ fat and "Cosmetique qui se mange” (cosmetics you can eat) concept, I introduced violet color in yoghurt branding. That shocked France. I’d explained to Danone that L’Oreal products are for surface beauty, but bacteria-based Danone yoghurt acts inside the body to keep real beauty intact. Pierre Berger read my revolutionary idea in the newspaper. Before launching YSL skin care products, he called me. We spent some time on "cosmetique qui se mange." He wanted to hear me talk about the latent trend among women. Most spectacularly, he surprised me with his eloquence on Bengali culture, including writer Sarat Chatterjee.

The universal intellectual brilliance of homosexual writers shaped timeless ideas in millions of readers. Among gay authors are Oscar Wilde, Christopher Marlowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, WH Auden, Gertrude Stein, Andre Gide, Arthur Rimbaud, EM Forster, Hans Christian Andersen, Virginia Woolf. Performing gay entertainers who’ve dented our imagination include George Michael, Elton John, Lady Gaga, Rudolf Nureyez and composers Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein among many more.

San Francisco’s Castro Street with multi-coloured flags manifests hardcore gay culture. I saw gay customers making eyes at one another in the large mirrors of a 1930s-style art deco barber shop. What startled me was Body Shop, seller of ‘ethical’ cosmetics completely customizing to gays. The shop’s entry picture had a man’s nude buttock with words conveying it’s the best cream for sexual pleasure.

Existence of homosexuality has been recorded since ancient Egypt 2300 BC, but its public acceptance took several centuries. Did you know that Greek philosophers from Zeno in 500 BC to Socrates, Aristotle, even Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great were all gays, also Roman emperor Julius Caesar? There’s a contemporary LGBT culture for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender community although not everyone subscribes to this reference term. Without having differentiation among human beings won’t the world become boring?

To download above article in PDF Creativity loves gays

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/creativity-loves-gays/957202/0

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