Monday, June 28, 2010

Germany 4-1 England: German Blitzkrieg ends English campaign

Watching England fall to a young German team last night brought back memories of the time when I used to religiously follow the travails of Team India. There are many similarities between the English football team and the Indian cricket team.  The popularity they enjoy across the globe, the money they make in comparison to other teams in their sport, the intense scrutiny that their private lives are subjected to by the media, and last but not the least, their continued inability to perform when it matters.

Just like Team India was blessed with superstars like Sachin, Azhar, Dravid, Ganguly, and more recently, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Sehwag etc, the Three Lions also have amidst them some of the most recognizable brand names such as Rooney, Lampard, Gerard, Terry to name a few. Individually, these superstars are considered the best (arguably) in their roles/positions. However, put them in a team together, and they are so abject that it is almost embarrassing to watch them play. Although there are many instances of the Indian cricket team at their abysmal best, since this post is primarily intended to comment on the English performance at the World Cup, I will end the comparisons here.  Of course, the intent of the comparison was to drive home a point, and I am sure it has been.

Last night’s match against a young German side highlighted some of the long- standing frailties of the English national team. The way the famed English defense disintegrated towards the end is ample proof that, Fabio Capello and his Italian toughness be damned, the English are fragile when they are under pressure.  John Terry and Mathew Upson were caught ball-watching too many times, and as a result, the left-back and the central midfield were drawn out of position leaving gaping holes on the left for a marauding Mueller to first drive the nail in the English coffin, and then hammer it shut beyond any chance for an English resurrection.

The match began well enough with both teams showing passing ability and attacking intent, before the Germans resorted to character and chose to take the Route One for their first goal. John Terry, now more popular for his sleeping exploits off the field, decided to bring some of those talents on the field as well when he decided to take a nap to let a hapless Upson try and stop the towering Klose from scoring. The result was inevitable, and Klose, with one flick of his right leg, put the ball past David James, who was caught in two minds between coming forward to collect the ball and staying back to block the shot.

The second goal from Germany was a work of art, with Podolski drilling a fine left footed shot past David James. Podolski, a Bayern cast-away currently plying his trade at lowly FC Cologne where he scored 4 goals all season, showed once again that success or failure in club football may not mean much at a World Cup. Wayne Rooney and his English colleagues will serve as bright examples in support.

The English revival through an Upson goal was just reward for their industry and when Lampard’s shot crossed the goal-line, the revival was complete. Or so everyone thought. Except the referee and his assistant who ruled that the ball had not crossed the goal line. FIFA and its weird ways are beyond explanation.

The second half began with England pushing all the way for the equalizer, and despite another Lampard effort crashing against the post, there was no respite for them. As they committed all their men forward at set-pieces, the German’s decided to teach a footballing lesson in counter-attack. The English, due to a combination of exhaustion and lack of desire, did not do enough to track back and close down the flanks when the German’s surged forward, and a 20 year old Thomas Mueller, playing on the right just behind the center forward, duly obliged with a well taken brace.

The last few minutes after the German blitzkrieg seemed like an ordeal for the Englishmen who were, understandably, in no mood for anymore fight. When the referee blew his whistle ending what turned out to be rout, Fabio Capello and his team were left to rue what could have been had the Referee not “screwed” them with the disallowed goal.

With yet another early exit from a World Cup, the “Golden Generation” of English football has probably played their last World Cup, without winning any major trophy at international level. The trial by media now begins.  The likes of Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerard will find new challenges and controversies to get embroiled in, to take the attention away from this failure. A certain John Terry and his pal Ashley Cole would be getting together to discuss their new partnership, as the rest of their team-mates at Chelsea FC hold on to their wives and girlfriends even harder in these times of distress.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Wonder Years

Every generation has a golden era. For my generation, it was the 90's. Most kids on the cusp of adoloscence found their calling in the eventful period that preceded the Y2K euphoria.

As a bunch of early teens just discovering the birds and the bees, the 90's heralded an exciting phase in our boyz-to-men journey. Coupled with the changing political and economical situation in the country, the period was significant for the various influences it had on us.

As India, under the able yet eventually discredited P.V. Narasimha Rao, opened its doors to the world in a clear cry of capitalism, the first noticeable change in our lives was the advent of satellite TV. For a bunch that found its entertainment in a single channel on the state run Doordarshan for years, the sudden exposure to a variety of international channels, and the liberal dose of skinshow that they brought along, was a shock that took a while to adjust to. The influences of those early days, after a long period of latency, is now clearly seen in the way the youth of today dress.

The exposure to Satellite channels also opened the doors to international pop music, and as we later found out, so many other genres of music that we had previously never known to exist and had therefore, grouped under the convenient umbrella of Pop music. Out went the tapes of Mukesh, Rafi, Latha, Kishore etc, and in came the likes of Michael Jackson, GNR, Def Leppard, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams etc. The period also saw the advent of the Remix music. Old Hindi classics, that had lost ground to the more appealing International music genres, resurfaced in a new remixed avatar, the most notable being Bally Sagoo's remixed version of "Chura Liya" which became a rage during the times.

This period during the early 90s is also memorable, for my generation, for the adoloscent crushes and the experience of first-love. The song "Pehla Nasha", from the classic JJWS, could not have come at a more apt time and became the anthem for all kids my age. The song, till date, continues to be the perfect ode to teenagers experiencing the magical sensations of first love.

The mid 90s heralded the beginning of a new wave of Bollywood movies. The industry had already started to move away from the abhorable stereotypes of the 80s, thanks to movies such as QSQT, Maine Pyaar Kiya, Hum Aapke Hain Koun etc. The baton had already been passed from the previous generation of superstars to the new one. In 1995, when Shah Rukh Khan played his now legendary character of Raj in DDLJ against Kajol's Simran, the Bollywood transformation was complete. SRK became the superstar and Yashraj films found their formula to a fortune.

In 1998, when a debutante director Karan Johar announced his arrival with "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai", made clearly using the Yashraj formula, the whole country laughed and cried with SRK, Kajol and Rani. With a generous dose of heavy duty emotions, and a world devoid of petty issues such as poverty and crime, the Yashraj- Johar formula offered the audience a chance to dream of a world that they would love to be a part of. The formula was used over and over again, and continues to be used, mostly to great effect since the movie going majority in India and the NRI population abroad just don't seem to tire watching rich people and their merry making, with a dash of tragedy and romance, and embellished with melodious music and fashionable clothes that also facilitate liberal skin show.

As the decade came to a close, my generation had also completed the metamorphosis from the excitable kid to the cynical adult. Student life had given way to professional life, and the innocent dinners at roadside dhabas had been replaced by expensive parties at exotic restaurants and nightclubs. Money and ambition had started to drive our lives, and we had no time for the simple joys anymore.

As the nineties gave in to the new Millennium, it also marked the end of an era- of innocence, romance, passion and self-discovery. Fond memories and strong influences of the era continue to shape our lives even today, and as an entire generation that found its calling in the 90s will agree with me, those were the days of our lives. For us, those were the "Wonder Years".

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

3 Idiots- The Review

At long last, after the whole world, and then some, has already watched it, I finally managed to watch the year's biggest hit "3 Idiots". On my laptop, mind you. Yet, despite the constraints of the medium, the sheer magnificence of the movie remained unmitigated.

There are very few movies that can be called perfect. Even a classic like "Rang De Basanti" had its share of detractors dismissing it to be too preachy and impractical. This latest offering from Rajkumar Hirani, however, is flawless. I know I am sounding like a fresh-off-the-boat fanboy here, but truth be told- the movie is perfect. 

While there are conflicting views on how much of the script is based on Chetan Bhagat's novel, and since I have not read "Five Point Someone" myself, I'll be generous and give complete credit to Hirani and his team for such an engaging story and screenplay. Despite the obvious temptation to make it preachy, the director manages to keep it breezy and witty. The messages are all there, but cleverly packaged amidst some very funny situations and one-liners.

Among the 3 idiots, Aamir as Rancho sleepwalks through a role that he has played so many times to perfection in the past decade (Dil Chahta Hai, Rang De Basanti). It is to his immense credit that, at 44, he can still convincingly play a 22 year old. However, it is not an act that deserves a "Best Actor" award. But, knowing how the awards work, I would be surprised if Aamir doesn't win most of the awards. It is ironic considering that Aamir never won the awards for the movies when he really deserved them, back in the early 90s (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke etc).

Madhavan, as Farhan, the wildlife-photographer-trapped-in-an-engineer's body, plays his role well although the real revelation is the 3rd idiot, Sharman Joshi. Sharman as Raju, a lower middle class youth carrying the weight of his  family's expectations, is the best actor among the three. He displays great maturity in portraying the phobia-ridden Raju who is forced to choose between his family's expectations from him and his loyalty to his friends. If anybody deserves an award, it is Sharman although it is technically only a supporting role.

Kareena deserves a mention for the freshness and exuberance that she brings to every scene that she is in. Boman Irani, reprising his obnoxious dean role from "Munnabhai MBBS", does perfect justice although he risks becoming typecast in such roles.

A special mention for Omi Vaidya, who plays Chatur Ramalingam or "The Silencer", the hyper-competitive NRI kid who is a diametric opposite to Rancho, and who detests Rancho's philosophy of "Learn to excel, and not just learn to succeed". Chatur, on the other hand, believes in toeing the oft-trodden path and champions the "learning by rote" idea. In many ways, Chatur represents the Indian education system, and its over-emphasis on grades and bookish knowledge without regard for the application of the knowledge. The annual day scene where Rancho messes up Chatur's script, leading to a hilarious speech very aptly brings out the point about learning without understanding.

The movie comes a full circle when the rest of the protagonists eventually find Rancho, who had absconded for 10 years after graduating from Engineering, in a remote village in Ladakh to realize that he is actually somebody else- an elusive scientist named Phunsukh Wangdo, who is sought by American (Chatur represents the American interest) and Japanese industrialists for his 400+ patents. When Chatur finally accepts defeat and strips to his innerwear to offer his salutation, in the characteristic college style, and goes "Jahanpanah, tussi great ho, Tofu kabool karo" in his inimitable accent, you know that "All izz Well". Indeed.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Pyaas

Everyone I know, and their uncles, have either recently published a book or in the process of writing one. Clearly, authoring a book is the "in" thing this season. He has done it, she is doing it. And if everyone is doing it, I too must jump on the bandwagon.

The only thing I need now is the genre, theme and topic to start penning my future best seller. I have thought of a few genres to begin with.

I could try my luck with fiction since I do have a mean imagination. However, I don't quite have the ability to sensationalize the  mundane, which is a must-have for fiction. Also, I believe in using the least number of words to put forward a point, which clearly does not agree with the fiction genre. Further, fiction requires the author to ramble on for pages describing the scene to create a vivid imagery. I, on the other hand, do not delve on imagery and would rather jump straight into the plot. Clearly, fiction is not for me.

Which leads me to consider writing non-fiction. Maybe a celebrity biography. But then that might require me to do a lot of research. I don't mind research normally but I am not particularly fond of reading gossip columns and spicy magazines since that’s where all the juice about celebrities can be found. Also, biographies can attract controversy, and I am currently not looking to become a millionaire this early.

The only non-fiction that I could contemplate attempting is about my own life. The good part about that is most of the research material is already in my head. And whatever else I need to know about myself I can find out from my friends, and more so, from my enemies. However, at my tender age, I do not have too many interesting experiences in life to fill up a book and therefore, non-fiction must wait.

Having ruled the two main genres out, I am left with few options. I could attempt to write an extended commentary on the geo-political landscape in India, examining the various factors responsible for how the country turned out, and also evaluating what could have been if certain things about the country could have been corrected before it was too late. It could be a life-changing experience for me as an author, but chances are that it could also be a life-changing experience for me in general. In India, certain topics are taboo, and I am not too sure if I want to attempt a topic that can put life and property at risk. So this too, I shall have to pass.

The only remaining options are humor and sports. I love sports and am fairly knowledgeable about most sports. I can also conjure some wicked humor. And in India, sports offers immense opportunities for humor- the IPL drama, the Indian Hockey federation and its constant squabbles with the players, Sania Mirza and her love life, etc. Clearly, there is much fodder for me to chew on. And I can even venture overseas occasionally to munch on some EPL, La Liga, Seria A, MLS dope- the likes of John Terry , Cashley Cole and the WAGs contingent are born to be made fun of.  The Galactico circus in Madrid offers great potential for comedy as well.

This is great. I think I can already see a book coming up. And nobody who has ever played a sport will be spared.

On a closing note, shouldn't it be safer to make fun of an athlete since he/she is expected to be a good sport anyway?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Housefull - The Return of the King

This past Saturday, we caught the evening show of “Housefull”. After nearly 3 hours of continuous entertainment, we walked out with a smile on our faces. “Housefull” will remain memorable for years to come.

With an impressive ensemble star cast of Akshay Kumar, Deepika Padukone, Riteish Deshmukh, Lara Dutta and Arjun Rampal, director Sajid Khan has managed to pull off mind-boggling action with mind-numbing comedy, in what is a thoroughly entertaining journey into madness and absurdity. The movie does not even attempt to pretend to be an intelligent movie, and clearly calls for the audience to “leave your brains at home” to be entertained.

The story, in short, is about a man (Akshay) looking to find true love to turn his bad luck into good. In this pursuit, he marries Jiah Khan, only to find out she loves someone else. True love then makes an entry in the form of the leggy Deepika Padukone, and the rest of the movie is all about how Akshay, with the help of Riteish and Lara, manage to convince Deepika's brother (Arjun Rampal) for his consent. In the process, Lara and Riteish also have their own sub-plots, to add to the confusion, leading to a crowded climax and happy ending.

There are many great performances in the movie, not the least of which is the short yet impactful “Blink and Miss” performance of Jiah Khan. It takes a “big heart” to accept an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, bit-part role, and yet manage to display such immense talents. Yes, Jiah has indeed outdone herself, as well as the other two girls- Deepika and Lara. It amazes me how such a petite, gentle girl can possess such immense talents. At times, you wonder how she could keep such talents suppressed all this while, and how she could suddenly pull-off such a well-rounded performance.  One also wonders if one can really be born with such talents, or if these are acquired ones. Regardless, she has used her talents well to bounce back from the debacle of her debut movie. Especially in the scene when she emerges from the sea to Akshay’s amazement. Jiah’s scenes are the “Mind-Boggling Action” scenes, in case anyone wondered.

The rest of the movie is all Mind-Numbing. Clearly, this is in the “Singh is King” mould, and uses a generous dash of slapstick to cover up the lack of real humor. Nevertheless, when you have actors like Akshay and Riteish, you can pull off even slapstick and make it seem fun. The scene where Akshay brings home a Tiger is funny, although clearly devoid of sense, for the intelligence use of word-play. Likewise when Riteish word-plays on "Phone-Tubble" in a rare show of actual intelligence from the script-writers.

Akshay Kumar finally returns to his forte, after a less than satisfactory report card last year, in his role as a jinxed loser. He is so pathetic that a Casino actually hires him to jinx a winning table to cover its losses. It’s zany for someone to actually think of such a job, but trust Sajid Khan to think of exactly such zany stuff. Riteish has carved a niche for himself playing the funny side-kick to the hero, and is a natural in his role as Babu Rao a.k.a. Bob, a dealer at a Casino in the UK. Arjun Rampal is strictly tolerable as an Intelligence Officer cum over protective and suspecting brother of Deepika. 

Among the girls, Lara turns in a fine performance, and is both funny and sexy. Deepika is hot and pretty, but acting, clearly, is not in her genes. As regards Jiah, where do I start? She is truly an asset. Or two.

The rest of the cast is competent- Boman Irani, Lilette Dubey, Randhir Kapoor, Chunky Pandey and the British Royalty Look-alikes. Special mention for Chunkey- he is quite a charmer as Aakhri Pasta, the flirtatious but well-meaning Italiano.

In short, Houseful is a fun movie, and a great weekend watch, especially after (or even better, with) some beer. Strictly frivolous and completely wacky- Akshay Kumar is certainly back. And the two Sajids (Producer and Director) are laughing all the way to the bank.

As for me, it is a memorable movie as this was Vivaan’s first movie in a theatre. Not only was he well-behaved, but also quite enjoyed it. The scene with the Tiger was his highlight of the movie. As a family, we enjoyed the movie thoroughly. I had my own reasons.
For Vivaan, it was the Tiger. For now.

Smart or Intelligent- The Consulting Question

There is a common misconception, that being smart is the same as being intelligent. While there are many situations when the two might converge, there is still a clear difference between the two traits.

I have often come across “Smart Consultants” who have a fantastic way with words, and can paint a picture out of the most mundane things. They can handle customer situations very deftly, and can "smartly" contain many situations from getting out of hand.

However, most of the times, they don't deliver, in the most objective sense of the word. A smart consultant will find a way to evade blame or accountability without really addressing the core problem. They can, with their mumbo-jumbo, confuse the client to a point where the customer starts doubting his or her own understanding of the situation. In the “convince or confuse” debate, the smart consultant, more often than not, chooses the latter.

If consultants are paid purely for the time they spend in engaging the customer, a smart consultant is the ideal employee to have.

However, with the Management Consulting world converging with the Business Consulting world that the likes of Accenture and IBM have found their niche in, the pure-play Management Consulting industry would soon have to move away from its tried and tested Time & Material commercial model to a fixed price delivery based model, in order to keep pace with the bigger, full-services consulting players.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to breed "Intelligent Consultants". This is a breed that differs from the Smart Consultants in the fact that their objective is to solve the problem, regardless of the dependencies and challenges. An Intelligent Consultant is driven by the need to deliver in the least amount of time and effort, since he or she is paid on the end result rather than the time they put in.

As customers have started to realize their historically wasteful spend on Management Consultants, who focus more on identifying the problems rather than envisioning solutions, there is a clear role for the Intelligent Consultant to play.

Armed with traits such as empathy, ownership and accountability, an Intelligent Consultant would solely focus on the end product and, in the process, will own and drive all the intermediate activities. While he or she will identify the risks, there will not be any risks transferred to other parties. Instead, he or she would drive the risk mitigation strategy to closure.  As opposed to a Smart Consultant who would look at the problem at hand in terms of what is in his or her scope and what are the out of scope activities, for an Intelligent Consultant, the problem is the scope and the scope is the problem.

Of course, some of the traits of a Smart Consultant are still very important even within the Intelligent Consultant realm, specifically the ability to engage the customer and manage expectations. However, these traits would have to be applied in collaboration with the other traits that I have discussed in my previous paragraphs, to truly add value to a customer.

In conclusion, in the battle between the smart and intelligent, I am going to put my smart money on the intelligent ones. Aren't you convinced yet?