Author Archives: rabidsherlockian

A Yash Chopra Romance : The Only Preview You Need To Read!

Friend and fellow blogging-enthusiast-without-a-blog Achala Srivatsa is back, this time donning her Movie Critic hat. Her new interest is a movie strangely called “A Yash Chopra Romance”. Lest you wonder why anyone in their right frame of mind would want to see an 82-year old man, who looks more and more like Pandit Jasraj’s long lost twin each day, romancing amid the tulips in Roger Federer’s garden, let me quickly tell you that he is only the director of this new movie – the real stars are ShahRukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma. Presumably, working on this film has been so mind numbing for its creative team that they have run out of steam cooking up a suitable title so far. New rumours have it that it might be called “Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum”. The only thing that needs to be checked now is to see if that title hasn’t already been usurped by a TV serial or two. Because, as we all know, what’s a TV serial if it isn’t titled after a film song that has at least 15 words in it?

Read on for Achala’s hilarious preview!

Singing on the Thames

So I understand that the new Yash Chopra Romance is “loosely” based on The End of the Affair. Which, as anyone knows, is right on top of the pile when it comes to the Doomed Romance category.

Now the intensely brooding Ralph Fiennes combined with the fragility of Julianne Moore makes for a double pack of Kleenex movie.

But we are dealing with Chopra the Elder here – no mean hand in the Doomed Romance area.  What can we expect from the Yashified End of the Affair? Here are my confident predictions.

Act 1

  • SRK is a dashing investment banker  – probably in London or New York. These two cities have the kind of glamour and grit we need. And these Grand Romances do not take place in Gurgaon or Bangalore.
  • There will of course be the fiery and tempestuous meeting, the mandatory romantic song in Switzerland, followed by reckless Romantic Declarations
  • Then the Accident or some random act that results in the hero having his near death experience. Since the original was set against WW II, it would be a bit difficult to match that, but I am sure Chopra the Elder will manage.
  • This is then followed by the heroine’s pact with the Almighty – let him live and I will walk away from him Forever.
  • I would also expect clever subterfuge at this point – Heroine cunningly tries the completely original “I will make Rahul think I am cheating on him” gag. Always a good bet, since the hero, whose brain has turned into bubble gum after singing those songs, is very easily convinced that his girlfriend (a girl who has invested considerably in Bollywood dance lessons for his sake) is two-timing him.  Smiling bravely through her tears etc, she converts his everlasting Pyaar into soul torturing Nafrat.

Act 2

  1. Separation is followed by the Anxiety that goes with it. Maudlin Song Opportunities with at least 2 lines sung by Yash’s Muse –Lata Didi
  2. Katrina (Pooja/Kiran) gets married to an Insipid Sap whose role is to Sacrifice his love in the end to the Hero. Most likely SRK (Yes, yes, Rahul or Raj- why buck a trend?) will marry a suitably long-suffering second heroine (shades of Kabhi Kabhie anyone?).

Act 3

  • Cut to 10 years later. Since SRK is sick of London by now, my guess is the crew shifts to maybe Scotland.  So an accidental meeting with the Heroine, that familiar refrain and boom, we are back in business.
  • Bring out the big guns – swelling music, tears, refrain, Declarations of Love, kick Insipid Sap in the face and…
  •  …the Almighty weighs in on the situation. Aforementioned pact must be honoured. Hence heroine is struck down with an illness that leaves her suitably pale and wan and swiftly dispatches her (but not before that last song).
  • However, there must be a child lurking somewhere… and the story continues.
  • Movie ends on a Love Never Dies motif…?

 

So You Want To Be A Qualitative Researcher

Friend and guest writer Achala Srivatsa is back with some more, highly sought-after career advice. This time, her words are going to tempt you to quit your well-paying job in Finance, Media, FMCG or IT, and dive straight into the world of qualitative market research. And students, please pay special attention!

As some of you may know, qualitative research is all about understanding the innermost needs and desires of consumers so that manufacturers can then design products and communication appropriately. It has come to my attention that a number of desperately young people are wondering if this might be the right profession for them.  Since I am always looking for ways to help, I thought I would give them a peek into this world.

The joys of a focus group discussion

Since your raison d’etre as a researcher is uncovering consumer insights, it stands to reason that you will actually need to meet the above- mentioned consumers. If you are in India, this means you will find yourself traveling to large cities, small cities, smaller towns and tiny little villages talking to people who’ve been enticed to your group with promises of rich gifts of camels, apes, ivory… or maybe a plastic vase + pen holder.

Get used to packing a toothbrush and flinging yourself into planes, trains and other automobiles at the drop of a project commissioning.  A typical week  will see you plodding to Vijaywada or deepest MP by train, hopping on a flight to Delhi and thence to Lucknow, rushing back to the Mumbai suburbs to run more focus groups and then the weekend. The blessed weekend.  These two wonderful days should give you plenty of time to write up those three pesky reports due by Monday.

All this travel will mean that you find yourself automatically reaching for a seatbelt no matter where you are sitting, your stomach will become a cowering, cringing coward that flinches at anything you throw at it and you find yourself thriving on bottled water and biscuits. There are a few who find that after a few years, they can pretty much digest stones – but we’re talking about real people here. You will also get genuinely teary eyed when you have one home-cooked meal in an eight-day stint of travel.

On a more positive note, you will never find yourself short of conversation at dinners and you will acquire that svelte figure you’ve always wanted although the gaunt, hunted look is really not so much the fashion these days. I suggest going Gothic to hide the circles and bags under the eyes. Oh, and you can take pleasure in saying you really identify with George Clooney in Up in the Air.

My own favourite travel story happened a couple of decades ago when I found myself in Bareilly (Motto: The City that Sleeps) staying at a hotel called the Anand Oberoi.  The name of course was a cruel joke and I realized this when I checked into my little cell to discover bright blue aluminium ash trays (you know the kind) and an old-fashioned checkered “kambal” – (the kind old men wear while squatting on a railway platform, quietly babbling to themselves). I demanded a better room and was promptly escorted to a room roughly twice the size of an average ballroom in a 5-star hotel with a completely empty refrigerator that reached the ceiling.  There were also mysterious little piles of a greyish powder at each corner of the room. I was told that this was to keep the rats away. Let me just say I didn’t get much sleep that night.

Food on the road is the fun part of doing multi-country research. Depending on the country, you find yourself on a very specific diet. Since researchers travel with quite a retinue (clients, translators, local researchers), the feeding and watering of all these becomes quite a challenge.

Countries that sincerely believe that the quickest way to a client’s heart is through the stomach would be the US, Europe and the Philippines.  Observing “focus groups” in the US is quite a treat for the client.  It means that they get time away from the office, sit in a quiet backroom getting all their backlog completed, doing a bit of online shopping, a quick FB update and right, let’s eat! The expectation is that there will be a smorgasbord of what they consider light snacks laid out – doughnuts, bagels, cheese, fruit, Danish pastries, pizza and of course jars and jars of M&Ms. It is an established fact that focus groups can be called off in the US if M&Ms are not available in the back room. Of course, coffee machines and a fully loaded mini-bar (nothing alcoholic please, we’re American).  This would be apart from a catalogue of menus for the main meal.

Swedish agencies offer gigantic bowls of licorice and chewy candy and of course, you can have your choice of red or white. The philosophy is Ogden Nashian –  candy is dandy, but liquor is way quicker. Manila, I think, is the only place where a huge bowl of spaghetti is offered as a light snack (I can hear my Filipino friends saying – And your point is…?) The idea in the Philippines is apparently not so much to win over your clients with food as much as to send them into a carb-induced stupor.

Indonesia firmly believes in the power of oil. A mountain of  fried thingies will be laid out ( fried tapioca, fried dough, fried chicken etc) Clog those client arteries and maybe we’ll get another two weeks for the report.

Now that we are done with the basics, you will also at some point find yourself actually doing research. In other words running a focus group.  You, lucky thing, will be in the centre of a group of 6-8 bored people trying to extract information from them on the three – incredibly creative – ads that the agency has provided. The creative agency has a sent a full team to closely monitor you and they are now huddled in the backroom.

  • The junior account executive – whose job has been to keep the creative team and client properly caffeinated since this project started
  • The account planner – who has washed her hands off the whole affair after her suggestions were trashed by her boss and is secretly hoping the groups will prove her point…
  • The copy writer who had half a day to think up three scripts and now has three talismans and some beads blessed by a monk in his pocket and
  • A disgruntled creative director who’s just returned bronzed and fit from Koh Samui and has been forced by the client to attend the focus groups.
  • And last but not the least, an intern who just started work that day and has decided that the dark, cool backroom is the best place for a well-deserved power nap.

Oh, and you also have your boss in there and she’s sent you 48 little notes in the first half hour of the group.

The participants are six to eight men who’ve been told that they will be rewarded for nothing but their opinion and seriously, is there anything more exciting to us than to be actually paid for our opinions? Plus, participants are somewhat less than enthralled by the ads. And your misery should be complete by now. Think of ways to get past a wall of comments like –  “But, Madam… the ads are nothing…. Everything is in marketing… Coca- Cola must completely change the shape of the bottle, drop its price to 2 rupees a bottle. All these ads are for youths only…”  or “the ad is nice” (damned with faint praise) or “this product is good for special occasions” (ah, the kiss of death)

But never fear, you always have the presentation to look forward to. This is the moment you tell the client and the agency that all three ads….ummm are not quite working the way we expected…. And perhaps we need to go back to the drawing board…

Welcome to the profession.

So You Want To Become A MasterChef

So, what does it take to be a MasterChef? Here are some Reality Chef Lessons from Superfoodie Achala Srivasta, who knows a thing or two (or twenty) about what it takes to be one!

 

What? You survived my tandoori sushi tacos??

Food reality shows have been the craze for a while now. To all those aspiring Masterchefs, it’s not just enough to be able to navigate your way around sous vide, pancetta and jicama, you need to have the smarts to navigate your way around the Masterchef kitchens as well. Now, I consider myself in the best position to advise you since I have been closely following Master Chef, Iron Chef, Top Chef (does anyone see a pattern here?) and practically every other show that’s around. Yes, I do need a life. But, on the other hand you, dear reader, now have the benefit of my knowledge.

First, whatever you do you must demonstrate that you have SPIRIT, you want to live the DREAM, you have the kind of can do, walking the talk spirit that tells the judges that you will slit your Labrador puppy’s throat for a chance to be MasterChef.

The actual cooking of the food is of no importance. The more important thing is your attitude as demonstrated at two vital points

  1. The presentation of your food
  2. Your reaction to winning or losing

The presentation of the food to the judges is critical. You will need to size up the judges in order to tailor your approach. You have several options

  1. Napoleonic Confidence – The dish you’ve just made is spectacularly awesome, a party in your mouth, their tastebuds will die and go to heaven. Works best if you are American.
  2. Modest Self -Deprecation – you will demur coyly – you don’t know, mate, but you’ve done your best, you think it’s pretty good, yeah.
  3. Brutal Self -Deprecation – Your dish is probably shit because….but well there it is… Best left to the British.
  4. Glutinous Sentimentality. Works best if you are Indian. Weep copiously and overwhelm your judges with heart-rending sobs. This has been your childhood dream (and don’t be shy about giving them minute details of your trials and tribulations while growing up), you are here to fulfill your parents’ dreams for you and if you don’t win, you’ll slit your wrists right here.
  5. Relative Invocation – the dish you’ve prepared is always a dish you grandmother/mother/aunt used to make when you were a child and if you don’t get it right, she’ll slit your wrists
  6. The Creativity Clincher – Your schizophrenic version of tacos which includes wasabi, tandoori sauce and truffles must be attributed to a huge surge of creative self expression. This is YOU – on a plate.
  7. Covering your posterior: In every competition, there comes a time when you know you’ve completely stuffed it up. You know your beef/chicken is so raw a good vet can bring it back to life with resuscitation. Your rice hasn’t even softened. You could, of course, tell them the truth but then that would pretty much be the end of it. Alternatively, you could throw yourself at the mercy of the court (I knew it was burning, but I had 8 other things to do.. it’ll never happen again etc) but that’s hit or miss.

No, the far more manly thing to do is to brazen it out… let me illustrate

i.      Yeah, my steak is bleeding but that’s the way I like it.

ii.      The customers at my restaurant prefer my risotto crunchy

iii.      Salmon has so much more of a clean, ethereal simplicity when it’s pink and translucent and raw, doesn’t it?

iv.      At home, we feel our potatoes have a much more earthy and robust flavor if lumpy

Follow these few words of wisdom, and I am confident you will be the next Top/Iron/Master Chef. I will follow your career with keen interest.

Now if despite my advice and your heroic cover up efforts, you should lose or get eliminated, resist your instinct to fling a sharp object (and you will have the means and the opportunity to acquire quite a few of these in the kitchens) at the judges. You have three options

  1. Slap your opponent on the back – hey, it was a good fight and the best man/woman won.
  2. Wipe back brave tears. You did your best but it wasn’t good enough. You’ll be back/ follow your dream to be a great chef/open a restaurant…
  3. Weep uncontrollably – you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let your family down… you’ll never forgive yourself

On that note, go forth and cook…

A Giant Leap Backwards

Friend, observer and sartorial historian Achala Srivatsa is back with her latest keen observations. This time, on what the Young Bangalorean (or is it Bengaluruite?) can look forward to wearing to college this year. Read on!

At the risk of revealing my advanced age, I will freely admit that I joined Mount Carmel College in 1980 as a First Year Pre-University student. My father, who had until then taken zero interest in my wardrobe decided to buy me clothes.  We went to Green Shop on Commercial Street in Bangalore and bought several lengths of light tropical wool and suchlike fabrics. I had several short pencil skirts and blouses tailored (sleeveless and sleeved).  I had classmates who would wear fashionably skinny jeans (remember Wranglers?), capris, halters and mini skirts. Mount Carmel College was fairly fashion forward even then. I do not remember anyone beating off rabid, drooling men at the gates nor do I remember any staff outrage.

Why this boring foray into my sartorial past? I will explain. I read in the papers a couple of days ago that Bangalore colleges had laid down rigid dress codes for young men and women.

Bangalore College principals are fully confident that this will make the world a better place with colleges churning out modest, noble and chaste young men and women. As one principal proudly put it –  “Last year I banned my students from wearing T-shirts with messages, this year I plan to introduce uniforms”.

From what I understand:

  1. Jeans and T-shirts are out…………..salwars are in. And as we’ve seen, T-shirts with messages are clearly the work of the devil. Pure Indian male minds – hitherto only accustomed to the nun-like sartorial bent that our Katrina Kaifs, Rakhi Sawants and Kareena Kapoors favour – will presumably be driven mad with lust.
  2. Kurtas are out………kurtis are in. Or maybe it’s the other way around. And actually maybe its time for me to make a jagged segue into a topic that’s been giving me sleepless nights. Exactly what is the difference between a kurta and a kurti? Are they related ( like a mama and a mami?) Is a kurti a more cutesy pie version of a kurta. Anyway, I digress. I am also reliably informed that journalism students (those wild reprobates) are allowed jeans and kurtis , but MBAs must still stick to the sanctity of the salwar.
  3. Checkered shirts are out…….and solids are in. Say what? I am not quite sure what statement a checkered shirt makes to the fevered mind of a college guard. Reminds him of his shady past? I’m sure Freud would have had something to say.
  4. Sleeveless is out……..and this is a biggie. Who knows what apocalyptic events may take place at the sight of a bare arm. That little vaccination scar, that shoulder, the curve of the elbow and that wrist are apparently capable of rousing the basest instinct. No more urges to wear your heart on your sleeve, nothing to keep up that dratted sleeve. The principal will sleep well tonight – “Something attempted, something done… has earned a night’s repose” as old Longfellow would say.
  5. Leggings are out… and I imagine broad palazzo type pants are in. Again the contour of the female leg covered in thick black fabric …. Aiyo!
  6. Low-waisted pants are out … and I don’t even want to go there.

Apparently, the people who are entrusted with the task of enforcing these rules are security guards who have been recruited from rural Karnataka. These men can decide on the spot what clothes are offensive or provocative and send students home to change their clothes. I submit that what constitutes a “provocative” outfit to him must be taken with a grain of salt. Are these guards given a manual (length of sleeves, length of trousers, distance between navel and waistband… length of kurta/kurti) or do they just eyeball it?

Enough of the rant. If you followed the dress code to the letter , you could have any of the following scenarios which I sincerely hope the colleges will consider

  1.  Star Trek. I suggest unisex StarFleet uniforms – Command Gold for Staff and Red for students. Since the women in Star Trek wear teeny skirts, we can alter that to ankle length skirts. And everyone should wear uniforms two sizes too large. This should make everyone happy – Global, Nerdy and Modest.
  2. Back to the seventies – Broad, loose bell bottoms and long sleeved floral patterned shirts with dog collars for both men and women
  3. Back to the ‘30s. Pants for men that buckle at the neck, and sarees for women.
  4. Full Burqa for women – the new fashion statement –Burqa is the new black.
  5. The Osho/ Sri Sri Sri Ravi Shankar look – loose, flowing saffron robes
  6. The ubiquitous Indian Nightie/ Maxie for women with a saree underskirt– Voluminous, modest , hideously ugly and totally asexual. That should keep men away.

 

So You Want To Produce A TV Serial…

Achala Srivatsa is back doing what she does best – give helpful career tips! It really is your lucky day because this time she is dispensing valuable lessons in the field of TV Serial Production, just one of her many, many strong suits. Let’s just say, Remarkable Success is just around the corner if you follow her sage advice.  

So you’ve managed to talk daddy into parting with some hard-earned (or perhaps not so much) to produce a serial of your very own. Your buddy has watched every season of every serial ever produced – boy meets girl meets saas, boy-meets girl meets murderous ex, boy hates girl but marries her anyway, girl meets boy meets murderous ex, boy meets girl meets palace intrigues (in the form of an evil Rajmata) and so on. He is now confident he can whip up a little something in the way of a … let’s call it a script for fun.

The real question now is, are you guys up to speed in the make up and accessories department. On the off chance that you might not be, I’ve decided to put down a few helpful hints.

a)     Let’s start from the top. Regardless of the fact that a large number of Indian women have unbraided and cut their hair short and are now tossing around glossy, silky hair to establish their empowered status and to prove that they are worth it, the rule of thumb for serials is very clear.  The Virtue of the Woman is inversely proportionate to the length of her hair. This is particularly so for the Saintly Wife (refer to Rickie Khosla’s  path-breaking work on this creature – http://reekycoleslaw.com/?p=66). The longer and straighter the hair, the more steadfast and strong the saintliness. Sunsilk apparently works on your hair and your moral rectitude (as an aside, this gives new meaning to the phrase straight and narrow) Fearlessly invest in hair extensions and wigs. Extensions are better.

b)     Moving on to the eyes – the mirror to the soul etc. The key thing here is to bear in mind is – Iago. Yes, he of the Othello fame. You recollect of course that he referred to jealousy as a green -eyed monster.  You must take this quite literally.   Your serial will doubtless have an Evil Skank. Or perhaps just an evil woman or just a skank. Anyway, the point is to ensure that she is readily recognizable by her eyeshadow. Her eyes must hit at least 4 shades of green on a colour palette. Our Indian audiences are simple. Quite often they may not listen to your dialogue (and who’d blame them, really?) But they’d take one look at Green Eyes and go… “Right, I know her- Evil Skank”. Also, her false eyelashes must be fully 2 inches, which makes that whole heavy-lidded, bedroom eyes look that much easier to achieve.

c)      The eye make up for the Saintly Crowd tends be inspired by their character – “earthy, son of the soil, saintly” etc , again taken quite literally – look for the browns , nudes and saffrons on the warm side of the colour palette and you’re safe.

d)     Moving on to lips. I must quote Anthony Lane and say that you must make sure that all women (of the non-saintly disposition) look like their lipstick has worn lipstick. A couple of coats of Siren Red followed up by two coats of gloss (Eerie Glow) will do very nicely.  Saintly women will stick to – you guessed it – Matte Beige, Earthy Dirt Brown etc.

e)     Nails will follow suit.  And add two more inches to the nails of our ES.

f)       Fortunately, in the matter of apparel, all women can wear similar clothing. The key thing here is to have every shade under the sun in each saree with as many sequins and sparkly things as you can afford.  Modern skanks will also need tiny skirts and oddly designed dresses.  If your serial is a costume drama involving royalty, all men should unflinchingly wear heavily embroidered sherwanis or jodhpurs/ breeches all. the. time.

g)     And last but not least – accessories. Since we are running out of time, I have only one word for you – jewelry. All women and men (in costume dramas) must be festooned in jewelry – poundage is as critical as colour here. Rich Saintly Women will wear jewelry that weighs them down so much they have no option but to keep their head submissively bowed.

Now that you are all set… go forth and produce.  We anxiously await your completely original family thriller – Mere Saas ko Kisne Maara…