Monday, October 29, 2007

When success is a two-edged sword

This article was originally written for and published on on 27th November 2007:

Some months back I read the book review of 'Orson Welles: A Biography' by Barabara Leaming.

I have always known Welles as the creator of the great 'Mars Attack' hoax on radio. This article however was focussed on Orson Welles, the director of 'Citizen Kane' (for those who don't know, this movie repeatedly tops the list of 'Greatest Movies of All times').

Barabara Leaming has argued that the initial acclaim that got associated with 'Citizen Kane' and hence with Welles has been a double edged sword for the prolific writer-actor-director-producer Welles. On one hand, it established him as one of the 'greatest' creative geniuses in the cinematic world and on the other it robbed him and the world of so much that he could have done. (She says that many film critics feel forced to include 'Citizen Kane' in their favorites' lists because it is 'considered' to be such a great film!)

According to Leaming, after the grand success of 'Citizen Kane', Orson Welles spent many years and many millions (of studio money, ofcourse!) trying to recreate something as grand and successful. But very few of his works after 'Citizen Kane' got to see the light of the day, and they too were hardly a patch on his on own previous work.

I have always thought of similar stories in Hindi cinema where too much early acclaim has had not-so-good impact on the makers.

Mahesh Manjrekar : I have not seen 'Vaastav' (actually I went inside the hall, but had to leave because my sister was with me and I thought obscenities were too inappropriate!) but I remember that almost all the critics hailed Manjrekar as hope of new generation 'aggressive' cinema. He changed gears and delivered 'Astitva' and proved that he could handle sensitive issues as deftly. But after that the downfall started! 16 flop and insipid films tell tale.

Vikram Bhatt: He could have at the top of this list but for an occasional hit like 'Awara Pagal Deewana'. With 'Speed' Vikram just scored his 10th consecutive dud. Sample his recent outings: Speed (2007),Life Mein Kabhie Kabhiee (2007),Red: The Dark Side (2007),Ankahee (2006),Deewane Huye Paagal (2005),Jurm (2005),Elaan (2005),Aetbaar (2004),Inteha (2003).Vikram Bhatt is one of the topmost DVD directors of India and one of his most successful films Ghulam was a ripoff of 'On the Waterfront'. So were 'Kasoor' and 'Raaz'. He is still busy ripping Hollywood but whatever happened!

E. Nivas: 'Love ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega' was bearable, but the man who debuted with 'Shool' seemed to be finished with first outing itself! What followed were disasters like 'Dum' and 'Bardaasht'! Surprising indeed. Let's hope 'My Name is Anthony Gonzalves' and 'De Taali' are better.

Sujoy Ghosh : This may seem pre-mature and I WANT that it proves to be. Because I loved 'Jhankaar Beats'. This was a farm fresh film with a farm fresh attitude and amazing style of narration. Everything that could go right was, and I can watch reruns as many times as they show. But what was 'Home Delivery'? Ghosh got lost in his own style and delivered such a great dud, not only commercially but also creatively that it was almost heart breaking!

Ram Gopal Verma: Ahem! I know you are ready to kick me for this one, but I really think that if someone has been spoilt by acclaim, it is this gentleman. He is supposed to be a 'maverick' and taking risk with new themes and newer talent is his favorite pastime, but has it gone to his head? I think it has. Making inane movies and then remaking them (anyone remember 'James' and then 'Shiva'?) hardly sounds to be the stuff coming from the director of 'Rangeela', 'Satya', 'Company' and 'Sarkar'. But then 'truth is stranger than fiction!'

Also mentioned:
Farhan Akhtar: Surprised? Well, though I believe 'Lakshya' was not as bad as critics made it to be and 'Don' also was ok, I don't think these two came anywhere near the cult status quality that 'Dil Chahta Hai' earned rightfully. But I believe he has still lot to deliver.

You may agree, you may disagree with my list. I am ready for the brickbats, but all I would want to say is that I would be more than very happy if these people make me eat my words!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Since cricket is of 'national importance'

Now that the euphoria of victory in T-20 World cup has subsided after losing the One day series against Australia, I think this is the time to raise some questions.

If our courts believe that Cricket is such a matter of national importance which made them curb the freedom of private enterprise causing it major losses, then why is cricket allowed to be run like fiefdom?

I am talking about making Neo Sports share their feed with Doordarshan. For those who don't know, honorable Supreme Court had ruled that since Cricket is a matter of national importance, every citizen has a right to watch it. Hence poor Nimbus had to share its feed with DD with a 50% revenue sharing on Doordarshan's advertisements. (So DD gets a cool 50% without doing anything!)

To be honest, I am a supporter of Nimbus. These guys have years of sports coverage and they used to produce some really great programs for DD and other channels. The sudden influx of ads in their recent cricket telecasts seem to be the result of what I said earlier: revenue loss due to feed sharing. (For those who don't know, Nimbus bought 5 year telecast rights from BCCI, of all cricket matches played in India at astronomical prices. And industry watchers have predicted doom of Nimbus since then!)

Now what I wanted to ask is that if Cricket is so important to this country then why is allowed to be managed by non-professionals, called BCCI? What is most shocking is that unlike other sports federations, currently BCCI is not answerable to anyone officially. This is what Times of India reveals about BCCI:

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) -- a private society registered as an association under the Tamil Nadu Society Registration Act, 1860 -- was formed in 1929. It is affiliated to a limited company registered in the British Virgin Islands called the International Cricket Council (ICC). As a private society, the BCCI is not compelled to reveal to the general public its handling of cricket, sponsorship, telecast rights details, income and expenditure statements. The BCCI is accountable only to the Registrar of Companies.

Why is a game of such 'national importance' allowed to run by such a body?

And it is no secret that since BCCI gets fat on telecast rights, the gate money (ticket price you pay when you watch a match in a stadium) doesn't mean much to it and hence India has perhaps worst cricket stadia as compared to other countries. Why are citizen's rights being ignored here?

Media and (publicity hungry) politicians have already sought out ways to gain from our love of Cricket. I just hope judiciary keeps its head in place!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Tale of Retail

Finally Reliance has decided to close its Reliance Fresh stores in UP and Orissa and move out. I don't know about Orissa but in UP this step was taken after protests and vandalism at Reliance Fresh stores in some cities. Mayawati Government ordered closure of some stores citing 'law and order problems' and gave the local administration in all the cities to order closure wherever they felt any such incidents might occur.

Considering that Lucknow had highest first-day sale as compared to other Reliance Fresh stores across country, this move undoubtedly costs Reliance heavily. What I am not able to understand is why only UP ordered this mass closure, leading to exit of the company?

I understand the concerns of smaller retailers, but I believe that these concerns are not limited only to UP businessmen. Losing customers to big retailer is a problem for shopkeepers across country and there have been protests everywhere, but no other government saw such a massive 'law and order' problem and ordered closure of stores. Whereever required stores and employees were given proper police protection, till the protests cooled off.

Will Government behave in same manner when Reliance or Bharti-Walmart come calling with their retail chains? You bet it will and the lame approach it has taken will only encourage the self-appointed protectors (read local politicians and their goons) of shopkeepers' interests to behave in a more violent manner and polotical armtwisting. But may be this won't happen, simply because these companies won't bother to come to UP at all! There are 25 other states to go!

OK, I am not so much bothered about big retailers, but yes I am miffed with treatment extended to R-Fresh. Everyone understands that declining trend in Agricultural sector can be reversed only if this sector becomes organized and entry of retailers is the only way this was going to happen. Reliance has invested heavily in setting up cold-chains across country and equally on transportation and sale of perishable goods, like vegetables and fruits. This will lead to lesser wastage of food products, a task Food Corporation of India has never been able to do and which is not possible without private funding. The farmers get much better price of their produce and we the consumers get the stuff at lower prices. The local sabji-waala suffers but only for a short-term when spill-over customers start flocking him again. And if he is thela-waala then it gets even better. (Also in Hyderabad, I have seen some small sabzi-walas buying from R-Fresh stores!)

I have witnessed this in Hyderabad, where Reliance Fresh stores debuted. And do you know who is the most stiff competitor of Fresh stores here? 'Fresh @' stores from Heritage, an A.P. Government enterprise, till now in milk and milk-production cooperative business. And I don't know of any protests from anyone here.

Frankly, I see this feet-dragging approach by U.P. Government a politically motivated step and I am afraid that Government will do so, whenever any corporate comes to establish any business in U.P. I remember a Shell project being dumped near Allahabad. Anil Ambani's Dadri project has run in rough weather. With such an unfriendly attitude towards private industry, I definitely believe UP is missing the bus to modern trends which are becoming norms all over the country now. Hum to aise hi hain 'Bhaiya'.