I like the heat, presently stay in Chennai, and don’t mind getting tanned. (I must also be the only person in Chennai writing that line.) So, I go for a walk / jog in the morning sun, and sometimes, especially in summer, for a swim. Thanks to all this, my body is currently tri-coloured: red earth-like face (which is the most exposed to the sun, after my hands, but my hands are Anil Kapoor-hairy and so ward off the rays); brown sand-like body, which is exposed less when walking / jogging but more when swimming; and white sand-like butt, which is obviously not exposed when swimming (and no, I have never gone skinny-dipping). So, I presently look like a multi-layered ice lolly. I just hope, also as delicious.
Our movies are so escapist, we moan. And merrily keep going for them. Because after all… We want to be like that on-screen person, or we want to be with that on-screen person. We want that plush house we see them in, and / or we want that Eurail trip we see them on. With or without song and dance.
I like the movies, I like them as much escapist as realist (only sometimes as the same movie), and so don’t have a problem with this. As Zoya Akhtar carped to Karan Johar on his show recently, “They say my movies are about rich people! So tell me, India goes to the movies to… see poverty?!”
However, as someone who watches his movies almost exclusively at the theatres – even when I catch them on TV, they are DVDs of flicks I’ve first loved in the theatre – and has been doing so for the longest time, across various cities (Maharashtra-born and bred, largely Calcutta-educated, and currently roosting in Chennai), there’s another kind of movie escapism I’ve noticed, which has less to do with what’s happening on screen and more with what the venue has to offer. Allow me.
First up, the ecstatic but exasperated couples, married and unmarried alike. Not finding even half a place to snog in peace, with increasingly claustrophobic metros and eternally alert cultural guardians, the dim environs of the theatre provide the perfect sanctuary for these Jacks and Juliets. And the theatre operators seem to have kept this audience segment in mind too. A popular multiplex chain in Chennai has couple seats, which seem like two seats fused into one, much like the bodies it anticipates. In Bombay, most chains offer discounted fares for morning and early afternoon shows, aimed at hormonally high college kids getting off from college or bunking it, as well as BPO millennials, getting off work at… 9am. So, while the on-screen couple wages war to land up in each other’s arms, these ones appear to have already crossed that hurdle.
Seeking a different kind of comfort are folk who come for some shut-eye. These are usually individual men in their early 30s or thereabouts, most probably married, but perhaps with not much room or quiet at home for a good night’s DND sleep. This is typically in the afternoon, with many also coming to kill time before a meeting. Their movie of choice is unsurprisingly not a hit one – or one before it becomes… a sleeper hit – as that means less people around to disturb and more aircon to absorb. I’ve also found many not returning after the interval, and thus not knowing whether the couple ended up with each other, or more aptly in the case of our movies, how.
This next one – to paraphrase a line from ‘Sex and the City’ (the series; the movies of course I watched on screen and soon after got the DVDs) – for the cheap seats in the front. And this might be exclusive to Chennai. Where the people love their movies and their superstars, and where the government seems to want them to continue doing so. Ticket rates have been capped at a very pleasing Rs 120 for almost a decade. (Compare this with the heartburn-inducing 500-1000 or upwards it can get to on weekends and holidays in some multiplexes in Bombay.) Here, there are seats, right in the front, kissing the screen, for as low as 10 bucks. Wooden or at least a bit humbler than the better-upholstered ones just one row behind, tickets for these are available about 10 minutes or so before the show and typically at a counter on the sidelines. These are aimed at, the best way I can put it, the man (am yet to spot a woman on these seats) ‘even commoner than the common man’, but with no less zeal for silver-screen servings. With the long-standing demand to increase ticket prices, the rates for these seats should perhaps remain where they are. Even as these folk find ways to move up the auditorium-seating ladder.
The last one took me a while to figure out. The mature / middle-aged solitary man, coming in for almost every movie. Hmm, perhaps not too different from me; and I shall sportingly come to that shortly.
I would first speculate, ‘Movie reviewer’? No, the reviewer – and I’ve bumped into and spoken with a couple of them more than a couple of times – behaves differently. They are time-strapped, most probably rushing to another movie soon after this one or to write this one’s review, and are very focused: no eats, no phone checks, no nonsense; no doubt to take mental notes of every dialogue and note.
So, is that middle-ager lone ranger a connoisseur? No, this breed is quite different too. The aficionado is usually more relaxed than the reviewer, and is more often than not open to having a casual chat with a random stranger (me) about the ongoing movie, as well as movies in general, though never during the movie. We wouldn’t be cinema-lovers otherwise.
Mr Party-of-One (again, these are mainly he’s), from what I’ve observed, is similar to the sleep-seeker, but with more weighing him down than just lack of space. He is perhaps seeking to disengage, if only for a while, from an undesirable situation or station in life: a fractured marriage, a joyless job, an empty nest, benumbing loneliness, or some other vex that three hours in a dark cocoon can provide some solace from. He takes his seat, watches the proceedings on screen devoid of emotion, doesn’t get anything to munch on, and leaves, with the same stoicism with which he came in. Or am I reading too much into it? Well, if there’s a better explanation, the comments section awaits.
Me now. I am an escapist movie-goer too, and not just to be transported mentally to the Swiss Alps or to Super Achievement. I have both exciting and not-so-invigorating drivers that have me heading to the multiplexes.
Exciting first. I love the variety of eats at Indian theatres. Besides the ever-popular cola-popcorn pair-up, there’s a mini-Swiggy at the concessions: samosa, chaat, iced tea, ice cream, cold coffee, pizza, burger, nachos… What theatre operators can’t get by ticket rates, they are clearly aiming to get by the palates.
Not-so-exciting now. I end up ordering and enjoying those treats mostly on my own. Over time, with more and more of my friends having crossed over to marital “bliss”, and not nursing similar “aspirations” myself, I have found myself booking fewer and fewer seats at the movies, until it has almost always come down to just one. That was in Bombay. In Chennai, where one hears as much Hindi as one witnesses raindrops, I head to the movies to get some of that tongue into my ears. (I see how that sounded.) And so, I’ve gone for the insipid ‘Irada’ and the frivolous ‘A Flying Jatt’ with the sole irada (intention) of having some Hindi flying into my ears. But these films have been so listless that I’ve promptly been lulled into la-la-land, ending up exactly like one of those dozing types I identified earlier.
However, like all these things go, the movies and the theatres don’t seem to be doing their escapism-providing job very well these days. Or maybe, there are just so many distractions now. Screen captures at the hero’s intro; annoying luminescence from FB / WA updates during a lull on screen, and from Temple Run playthroughs during a song; those canoodling couples not stopping at canoodling; that snoozer in the depths of slumber and the heights of snoring; businessmen conducting their business in loud monologues and telling you to shut up and mind your own business when you request them to do so; corporate have-nots having to provide updates to belligerent bosses at any required time of day, thanks to the diabolical and no-doubt HR-invented concept of “work-life merge”; invocations of patriotism just before the movie begins; fervent vigilantes doing a beacon-like eye-sweep for paraplegics who aren’t standing in honour… And if all that isn’t excruciating enough for folk like me who really like their cinema, then my pet peeve: same-language subtitling. Because people don’t have the patience to decipher a foreign accent, because 100-crore-seeking moviemakers don’t want to lose these audiences, and because when you visit the Big Apple, New Yorkers will be walking around with speech-to-text display boards around their necks.
Sigh. Maybe it’s time to escape from the movies. And maybe those video-streaming sites have come to India at the right time.
I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD
An Irfictionary post after a long, long time. Irfictionary? An Urban Dictinary-esque series on my blog. This time’s is inspired by soon-to-be-ready new apartment.
A couple of months ago, I went to check out the apartment in the final stages of completion. It’s a 1BHK, just like my earlier flat in Bombay / Mumbai. However, on seeing it, I realized, Chennai builders don’t know to make 1BHKs like in Bombay. There, due to the space crunch, 1BHKs are most in demand. So, builders there pack in the most into a small area, making it look not so small after all. Here in Chennai, I guess, people are still getting used to the idea of apartments. Here, houses have been the norm for the longest time, but now I guess with many people from the rest of India coming here for work, things seem to be changing. So, the apartment plans are very different from those in Bombay. In fact, there seems to be no plan at all. Yes, my flat’s hall is decently sized, the bedroom and attached bathroom modest, the wash area separate. But the kitchen is a killer. It’s at the entrance and tiny as the keyhole. Why, it’s so small, it gets over even before it started. And so, should it be called ‘kitchend’?
As an ad guy and a branding- and logo-lover, I not surprisingly find myself scrutinizing the same in ads I view. And as an ad consultant, I often find myself emphasizing the need for this to potential clients. However, perhaps because the potential clients at my level and stage of working – I started out on my own just about a year ago, that too in an Indian metro not really known for its ad industry (Chennai), compared with the earlier metro I was in, which is considered the Mecca of Indian advertising (Bombay / Mumbai) – are “relatively small”, I find them not quite getting the necessity of having a baseline to emphasize their promise to their potential customers, or at the very least, to accentuate their branding.
So, when I get a chance to come up with the baseline / tagline of a brand, that too of a category I love (food / hospitality), that too for a restaurant I have been to, loved and blogged about, how can I pass up the opportunity?
Thus, when the relatively new upscale Maharashtrian restaurant, Meena Tai’s, announced a tagline contest on its FB page, I dove right in. Into my scribbling pad. I sweated and swotted over it for a few days, then as the end date approached, decided to go for gold by not just putting it in the comments section of the post as most folk seemed to be doing, but creating a PPT for it. Complete with a ToC, notes, routes (Maharashtra-based, Tai-based, Maharashtra- and Tai-based, Marathi-based), and yes, even an end Thanks slide. Any surprise then… that I ended up winning!?! That, and the fact that I love the restaurant, and was born and have lived in its source state for the better part of my life.
Below are some of my entries, the one that won, links to the blog posts I’ve done on it (from a vegan perspective, of course) and the site’s own links. Check them out while I go do nom-nom. The prize is a dinner for two.
The first of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one a prologue: Meena Tai’s – Prologue
The second of my two blog posts on Meena Tai’s, this one the main post: Meena Tai’s – Vegan / Friendly
Meena Tai’s on FB: MeenaTais
Meena Tai’s on the web, or should I say, bheb: meenatais.com
Social Beat is a, or even, the leading social media agency in Chennai. They’ve handled digital marketing (DM) and social media marketing (SMM) for clients ranging from start-ups to conglomerates. But that isn’t why I’m talking about them. And no, I don’t consult with them either.
Once a month or so, since January this year, Social Beat has been organizing these DM / SMM chat sessions called Digital Chai pe Charcha (DCPC). These are open to all and free of charge. (Why, Social Beat even sponsors beverages and biscuits for attendees.) Each session is around a chosen topic – which they publicize for about 10 days or so before the session – and goes on for about 1-1.5 hours. So far, there have been sessions around content marketing (one of my areas, which I ironically missed as I was out of the city / country), digital advertising, Instagram, ROI on DM (Social Beat’s baby, as ‘ROI’ is there in their baseline too, and thus obviously what their agency focuses on), and the first one was a generic one.
The sessions are beneficial for multiple, though perhaps expected, reasons: networking, knowledge-sharing and gaining, and in my case, refreshing. I had taken up a course in DM from NIIT about a couple of years ago when I started working in a digital agency. However, I didn’t start applying the knowledge until I started off on my own. These sessions at Social Beat thus act like monthly checkpoints, showing me how much more I know since yesterday or the last time and what gaps I need to fill. And even where I don’t seem to know much (like with the Instagram and ROI sessions), I still seem to end up being quite a vocalizer, as I am then eager to know more, or even all.
DCPC has also been good as it has led to one work, or rather showcase, opportunity. I blog a lot about vegan stuff (under the series, IrfindingVegan). So, when Social Beat organized a food bloggers’ meet for On1y, a brand of gourmet herbs, spices and seasonings, I requested them to accommodate me, although I don’t really consider myself an “influencer”. (I don’t have too many followers on my blog, but that’s because I blog about several things – which is what my blog tagline says too – and I’m okay with this.) The good folk at Social Beat (am connected with most of the senior folk on social media) were kind enough to do so, and I eventually found myself at The Raintree, Anna Salai one Friday, first listening to a presentation about On1y and then tasting some fine dishes sprinkled with their range. I of course touched only the vegan dishes. Happily enough, all of On1y’s range is vegan.
The sessions seemed to have served their purpose for Social Beat too. I’m guessing they initiated this to be seen as thought leaders / experts in what they do, network with potential clients and other professionals, and provide a forum for DM / SMM / start-up discussions.
Not surprisingly then, I look forward to these sessions, and ever since they started being held on a Saturday evening (as against Friday evening earlier), it’s become even easier to go for them. Last time, they even asked us what we’d like to discuss next. Some suggestions that came up were influencer marketing, growing a brand organically on DM / SMM, handling negative comments (trolling) on SMM. I can’t wait.
And oh, why did I pen this piece? Is it some form of content marketing for them? (No, don’t think they need it, although any positive press never hurts.) Work opps from them or other professionals and clients coming there? (Nah, the info coming from there is precious enough for now, though again, chats with potential clients and new connects never hurt either.) Well, simply to return the favour. I don’t like freeloading.
And that’s not why I don’t touch the beverages and biscuits. One’s unhealthy and the other unvegan. But then again, the sessions are refreshment enough.
Chaining them. Caging them. Thrashing them. Training them (for the circus, where this practice still goes on, or training them beyond limits if at home). However, something equally “criminal” we can do with a dog is… giving them a commonplace name.
I won’t go into home-dog territory (as I’m more of a street-dog lover), but I’ve lost count of the Tigers, Leos, Brunos and Caesars I’ve heard). Even among the streeties, the few that some folk deign to name, they show equally lazy thinking. Moti, Raja, Sheru, among the Hindi vernacular; Tommy, Rocky, Johnny, among those who know English; and down South, Lakshmi, Mani, and well, Mani. (Coming to this in just a bit.) Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth / prosperity) is such a popular name for street dogs in Chennai / Tamil Nadu that almost every second dog I come across that I haven’t named seems to be called so, including… the male ones. Arrey, at least check properly and then call him Lakshman, no? But no, a goddess has higher standing than a god’s brother, right? As for that double Mani thing, it’s a prime example of the height of laziness (and that’s why the double hyperbole). Two dogs who hang around together are both called Mani. How does which Mani know which Mani is being called? And with the equal number of men who seem to be called that, how mani, sorry, many men will also turn when I shout that name?
Well, I’m here to correct this anomaly. An ad guy, especially a branding aficionado, and a (street) dog lover, I’ve decided to put these two powers together to put together a primer of sorts on how to name a dog you come across (on the street, who you decide to become friendly with) or one you decide to bring home (if doing so, do bring one from the shelter; there’s too much cruelty in buying a breed dog, but more of that some other time).
So, dog-loving ladies and gentlemen, I give you… Wags in a Name. A short sub-series within my animal series, Irfanimals, on how to name a dog, so that, as the name suggests, you’ll see their tail wagging. Another way of looking at it is, the name should sit well on the dog, just like their wagging tail. I’m so clever, no? That’s why I’m in advertising, I guess.
Anyway, wag, er, watch this space. Woof!
My new piece on thREAD, The Hindu’s online segment on perspectives, comment and such, on the fear psychosis of sorts in two Indian cities. Curious? Read on. (Though my blog post has slightly additional content.)
In the recently released Phobia, Mehak, Radhika Apte’s character, an artist, is molested by the driver of the cab she’s returning in late night from her art show. Resulting from that trauma, Mehak develops agoraphobia, a fear of being in perceptibly threatening places. She is panic-stricken and feels paralysed at the thought of just stepping out of the apartment door. Even when her boyfriend moves her out of her home to a rental, he has to drug her to do so. (Mahek is compelled to move out as her sister, who she is living with and is married with a son, begins fearing for how Mahek’s mental state and her resulting actions will affect her child and thus also begins getting exasperated with Mahek.) However, her condition doesn’t necessarily improve in the new place, and she sweats and palpitates like, um, crazy for a simple activity of putting out garbage bags.
Chennaiites seem to be in the grip of a similar fear presently. That of the rains. The moment they feel the drop of a drop (for the past few weeks, the city’s been intermittently receiving off-season, convective showers), images of horror and feelings of misery rush into the collective psyche. Thanks, or rather, no thanks to the floods of last year.
However, as someone who’s stayed here only for a few years, my reactions – and I don’t mean to be insensitive in the least bit – seem to be more like those of people around Mahek: puzzled at the mass fear, so to speak. During the rains / floods too, I was baffled first by the amount of rain the city received (a city that I had heard has only one season, hot, or three: hot, hotter, hottest) and then by the reactions of both the city and the people: anguished, broken, crushed. And this isn’t because I stay in a part of the city that seems to have better civic amenities. Or because I wasn’t able to see the effects in the other parts; when the lights came back two days later, on TV, we finally got a sense of the plight all around. So, before you seem baffled in turn by why I was bewildered by the city’s and the citizens’ what-I-initially-considered “magnified” responses, and therefore come across as callous and uncaring, let me share why.
I have stayed in Bombay / Mumbai for the longest time, and before that, in Calcutta / Kolkata or pretty long too. Two coastal cities, just like Chennai, but that receive a lot more rain than Chennai, so much so that in both metros during monsoon, there are occasional floods, or at least regular water-logging.
In Mumbai, people’s reaction to the rains moves along with the months of the monsoon. May end, when people have been burnt to the bone, but sense the first rumbles of the clouds, hearts begin fluttering in anticipation, much like the office-goer’s at Friday 4pm. When the first rains hit (usually around end May or early June; this year, they are set to debut around now), those hearts, and people to who those hearts belong, begin dancing. They rush out, drench in the first rain, on Marine Drive, at Juhu, or just in the compound. Everyone feels like a merry Bollywood couple. Young, old and wet alike, they hum classic rainy songs, brim with poetry, and talk of quaint things like “the redolent petrichor”.
A month later, the mood is, well, May-December. After four weeks of grimacing through slushy streets, wet clothes, wetter shoes, soaked shirts and skirts, sitting or standing next to other soaked shirts and skirts in the local or metro, the Mumbaiite is already begging for a reprieve. And Nature responds in true Nature-ishtyle, by giving them… July. When the rain is at its most belligerent and leads to the breakdown of most civic machinery, especially on one day Made in Hell. This is either mid or late July; 26/7 is another beleaguered date in Mumbai’s long list of such dates, and similar to Chennai’s 1/12.
Train services and trees collapse, people are stranded in offices, on roads, at stations. Or take hours to get back home. When they finally do, all they want is a comforting hot bath. Only to find there’s no electricity. By which time, they are cussing the corporation in ways that would do the Delhi Sardarji proud. The next day, of course, everything is considered off: offices, schools, colleges, services. Sounds the same as what happened recently in Chennai, right? (See, I told you I wasn’t being insensitive.) And this occurs year after year, without fail. In fact, if it didn’t, people would think something was wrong with Mumbai, or with Nature. But the next-to-next day, the city, as has become hoary to say by now, “bounces back”. Everything is back to normal, or some semblance of it.
Before the puzzled Chennaiite wonders how, this isn’t all because Mumbai really has some “never-say-die” spirit (in fact, with all that the city’s endured over the years, Mumbaiites feel that statement is a cruel irony), but also because, due to its location on the country’s west coast, which receives the south-west monsoons, the main rains in India, it has built a largely decent and decently working drainage system, despite the burgeoning population. The lack of which, many admit, did Chennai in during the Rains from Hell. As also the unmindful construction of buildings in low-lying areas and marshlands. And of course, faulty coordination and decision-making when it came to the matter of that dam-water release. All of which have given many a Chennaiite many a horror for many a month at the sound of not many a rumble.
So, does Mumbai have nothing to flinch about then? Nope, many a Mumbaiite has a phobia too.
If Chennai has been witnessing large-scale unauthorised construction due to its emergence as a software and manufacturing hub, its firm position as the South’s film capital, and thus the constant influx into the city, and therefore the need for massive new commercial and residential spaces, Mumbai’s tale has been no different. After it finished reclaiming land from water (the city was built from seven islands and now even has a sea link connecting some of them) and then claiming the air (high-rises), the city, due to similar reasons of being a financial, marketing, and glamour capital and thus having non-stop immigration, has been devouring land, like a super-starved T-Rex. And after eating up most of legit land, it’s been turning its attention to… the forest.
Builders, unscrupulous and unknowing alike, aren’t just building close to forest land, they are also building on it. I myself have stayed in a few such places. One complex, built on official forest property, had a long fence put up by either the builder or the residents, demarcating the “residential space” from the “forest land”, as if to give the complex legitimacy. (After a long-drawn-out proceeding, the owners – mercifully, I was a tenant here – had to pay compensation to prevent their flats from being razed. And this is proving to be more the norm.) Another area, very rapidly developed, where I actually was an owner, has been created by carving a big, long road through what was earlier considered a jungle and enveloping the city’s national park. It still has signposts urging people to watch out for crossing animals. In other areas, buildings and complexes are coming up either on hills or by breaking down hills. At this rate, Mumbai may soon need another mode of transport: ropeways.
Now, when you build on land that was earlier the animals’ and thus enter what was their terrain, the animals, devoid of an exclusive territory, are (apart from many dying as a result) forced to enter what is now “your terrain”. And I’m not talking wild pig, snake or fox here, but… big cat.
So, if every year, the whole of Mumbai has to bear the brunt of brutal rains for one day, every two-three years, for a month or so, the people living in these encroached areas are seized by big-cat fear. One day, someone spots a leopard, or worse, claims a leopard attacked and killed a child or small-sized adult, and everyone, obviously, begins panicking. Wildlife authorities are called in, people are warned not to go out alone in the dark, residents are advised to keep their surroundings clean (the big cat comes for street dogs, who are found near dumps, as its food source is getting rapidly depleted in the rapidly disappearing jungle), banners with messages on reaction and action points are put up. When the fear reaches crippling levels, typically with numerous sightings (though many of these might be unfounded), there is pressure on the officials to “do something”. What they typically do is set a live-animal trap for the cat. If it works, they go release the animal into deep jungle or a distant forest area. (This typically doesn’t work; there have been cases of leopards that have made their way back 100+ kms, as they are known to be the smartest of the big cats and, like all beings, prefer their own territory.) The people seem satisfied though.
During that month or so, though, people are understandably super-paranoid. A former colleague who lived close to my place told me she would jump on seeing a branch shake at night. In the same area, when returning late through a 750-m straight, dark stretch with buildings on one side and forest on the other, I would be nervous myself, not knowing if the two lights in the distance are a small car’s or a big cat’s. And so I would take the auto right up to the building entrance, asking the autowaala to wait until I had gone in. In this other area, when I had visited an animal shelter during the period of a “big-cat strike”, the director told me a leopard had come a couple of nights (smelling potential prey), walked up and down the boundary wall, but had gone away, as the shelter had made sure all the small animals were locked inside. And when leaving my building for work one morning, I heard a clutch of young mothers exchanging fearful notes (at that time, two leopards, a male and a female, had “struck terror”, something like The Ghost and The Darkness), with one lady exasperating, “Yeh kahaan se aaye hain??” (Where have they come from??) The animal lover (and somewhat expert) in me retorted, in my mind, ‘The animals could be saying the same thing about you…’
One city afraid of water from above. Another of cats from around. What they really need to fear – in case it isn’t clear already – is rapid, rabid, unthinking, unplanned growth. Mull over that while I go check whether that slow, gaining sound outside is a growing drizzle or a growling feline.
To rest people’s minds a bit, let me resort to the words of several wildlife campaigners in these “leopard-infested” areas in Mumbai, who now rather than aiming to remove the big cat from its territory are attempting to educate residents that it’s possible to “live with leopards”. They say, “If you’ve seen a leopard once, it’s seen you 20 times by then. And yet, it chooses not to do anything (to you).” I can’t resist adding, who really is the better species here?
Check out this link: Living with Leopards in Mumbai