Nil Battey Sannata (#14 of 52)

Background : I first noticed Swara Bhaskar in Tanu Weds Manu II or Returns, a movie I found tremendously overrated and little patience for. I found her character as Kangana Ranaut’s friend to be the high point of the film – someone for whom you could use all the cool sounding adjectives like zesty, spunky, bubbly and high-spirited without them seeming force-fitted. I then followed her on Facebook where she seems to make the right noises and appears to be a balanced individual who has a life and voice outside the characters she plays, not yet a part of the caricatured B-town swish set and hence perhaps a little more refreshingly open. An article in support of some of the JNU vaudevillans was heartfelt and well thought-out, even if you chose to disagree with the basic premise. It’s through her then that I found out about this release called Nil Battey Sannata, and initial week word-of-mouth snippets and Facebook/Twitter sentiments seemed positive. I’m always game for an experiment – especially when the core protagonist is one you like in real-life as well as reel-life. But the issue with such ‘smaller’ movies is you rarely get a chance to view it again if you miss the first week. And so Baaghi released, and Nil Battey Sannata was wiped out and chalked down to one of those missed opportunities.

And then a few weeks later, a random high-spirited Friday evening, a friend very strongly recommending even travelling a huge distance to watch this movie. The next day, casually flipping through the mobile app – surprise surprise, it’s actually playing in a multiplex right down the road : word-of-mouth actually did work. And hence, off we went – without watching a trailer, without understanding the meaning of the title and still without an iota of an idea about what the movie is even about.

When you enter with that blank a canvas, it allows you to paint really experience it without tripping over any serpents of anticipation. And Nil Battey Sannata really draws – no -sucks you in.  Apeksha isn’t a great student – especially in Math, and her mother Chanda is obviously concerned at her belief that she should never aspire to be more than a ‘bai’, since that’s what her mother is. Chanda dreams many a dream which her daughter isn’t interested in. Enter the helpful employer Dr. Diwan who provokes Chanda to join the same school – and class! – to keep an eye on and drive Apeksha on to the right path. I will not bother into getting into the minutiae of the story here, but it’s a film full of cuteness and sweetness as the premise indicates.


I thought one of the most unique things about the movie was the fact that a mother-daughter relationship was explored in a non-stereotypical, non-patronising manner. We’ve seen a lot of father-son relationships (Udaan, Wake Up Sid are a couple of recent ones which come to mind), but that a youngish mother and teenage daughter are more peers than a hierarchy is wonderfully refreshing and positive. At the same time, it doesn’t hold back to show how mean (and not just ‘difficult’) kids can really be – I feel that while they can be honest and empathetic and unpolitical in a way adults can’t, they can also be really difficult and insensitive when they want to – and a part of that hit really hard in some scenes here. As a lot of people have pointed out, the fact that there’s a woman at the helm stands out in the way women are shown to be central characters and males in the background, contrasting to movie stereotypes. So Dr. Diwan’s husband is seen but hardly heard – as are most Indian men with their household help in my experience, and we’re I absolutely loved loved the fact that the fact that Chanda is a single mother is conveyed through a couple of normal, everyday anecdotes and it’s not milked for the difficulties it brings in. I generally stay away from writing about acting and performances beyond the perfunctory Level 1 analysis (see Kirk-Patrick), but in Nil Battey Sannata it’s unfair to separate the movie and the characters from the actors playing them. Swara Bhaskar and the young girl Riya Shukla have a stunning chemistry, great control over the local tongue and do really moved me in the powerful solo scenes they get as well. And no praise is enough for whom I believe is the stand-out hero of the film – Pankaj Tripathi – who does a role with quirks and eccentricities without making a mockery of it. His principle is what Boman Irani should have been in 3 Idiots, Anupam Kher & Rishi Kapoor in some other movies I can’t recall where their portrayal was simply put – insensitive.The scene in the assembly right in the beginning is perhaps one of the high points of a film which really has some incredible scenes which do stand out.

It’s also a movie which I felt keeps its distance from realism in more ways then one, taking essential cinematic liberties to what I believe the director must feel essential to ‘drive the message home’. The whole joining the same class – while explained – is a bit of a stretch, the other kids are too nice and where do the extra hours of the day suddenly come from is never explained? I also felt it veers towards trivialising and infantalising 16 year olds – surely that’s an age where love, sex and drugs lurk closer than these extremely sanitised kids. And a couple of cliches towards the end which really took the film from the ‘potentially great’ to the ‘good’ category for me – the lazy stereotype of the all-knowing, well-meaning nerd who brings about a hriday parivartan which in itself came about way too easily. And the last flash-forward, an IMO unnecessary attempt to wrap the bow neatly on top of the movie to make it picture perfect with the ‘kyunki mein bai nahin banna chahati thi (sic)’ a tad condescending.

The unfortunate part is that this is a movie (or story actually) that needs to reach a large audience. The reality is it’s likely to reach primarily multiplex and metro audiences. And it’s been packaged for this audience as well (which is why I used the word ‘story’ in the previous line) without making anything seem to dirty, or insurmountable. All said and done, the harsh realities of a lower economic class lifestyle have been romanticized and kept pretty lest it hit to hard and not be a feel-good, nice family movie. Nothing wrong with that of course, except that it gives urban metro dwellers a faux sense of ‘things are moving’.

Alas, I wish I hadn’t got into that digression. The honest review was what I tweeted after watching the movie calling it the nicest, sweetest and most touching one of the year. And despite the over-analysis, that does still remain stand. It will bring some tears to your eyes and a smile to your face that will stay.



John Brooks : Business Adventures (#9 of 26)

I don’t quite remember how I found and picked up this rather esoteric book, I assume it lurking amidst the pile of books that Amazon’s recommendation algorithm keeps churning out – and mighty successfully at that it seems. For the uninitiated, this is a irregular choice because this is a book written – hold your breaths – in 1965. To drive the point home more effectively, that’s over half a century ago. There’s an interesting story on how this book rose into prominence after being recommended by Bill Gates on Forbes.  Long story short? It wasn’t even a best seller by any means. It was out of print, was revived from the dead by Gates’ comments, given CPR by an enterprising firm which specialised in actually converting old tomes to e-books which then watched as the previously dead & buried work proved it was alive and kicking as it raced to the New York Times’ Bestseller list.

CaptureReading this book isn’t the easiest of experiences though. I feel I keep mentioning this time and again with every book I read and I’m trying to think why. I guess the reason is that we’re all pretty pressed for time in our lives today. And the only reason I’m reading a non-fiction work over a nice fictional one is that I’m hoping to learn something from it while enjoying the experience of reading as well. The moment that experience is no longer fun (and it has to compete with my smartphones, movies on the television, IPL games and a multitude of other distractions) and the book starts to seem like a textbook – the incentive to actually willfully take time out to enjoy (or ‘relish’) it goes down.

Some expectations from a 50 year book are to be had. That the tales will likely be out of date (I’m assuming even Bill Gates read it many years ago and not in 2014). That the writing style would be considerably different and indulge in plenty of perambulation before getting to the point. Examples may be difficult to relate to due to a generation gap and them being Wall-Street (read : America) centric. And most of them are true. Especially the one about all of them being too long. That however doesn’t take away from the book’s mission if you’re looking to learn something, there’re definitely things to pick up and imbibe if you read it properly. After ploughing through 3 chapters and with this in mind, I’ve decided not to shove it down my throat all at once but read a chapter at regular intervals. I shall keep adding about each of these ’12 classic tales’ over time here.

1. The Fluctuation – The little crash in ’62

Information #1 : There was a large stock market crash in 1962, second only at that time to the Great Depression of ’29. This tale seeks to explore why that may have happened and the machinations on the ground as it actually did. It was a week of heavy fluctuation in the stock market in May 1962 – it’s now apparently known as the Flash Crash of ’62. Intersting to observe how stock markets actually worked in a pre-computer era : ticker-tapes with details printed on them were churned out throughout. As more and more activity happened on the floor of the exchange, the more of a ‘lag’ the tape had which led to its own set of complications. Mysteriously, the markets rebounded though – unlike what happened in 1929. Why? They didn’t know in ’29, Brooks’ can’t put a finger on it in ’62 and almost 50 years later – reverse engineering aside – we still didn’t quite know for sure what hit us in 2008 either.

Although a computer that can read the NYC phone book in 7 minutes was a big deal then. Heh. How far we’ve come yet how little we’ve progressed.

2. The Fate of the Edsel – A cautionary tale

I’m kind of embarrassed as a management student that I hadn’t even about the Ford Edsel – the greatest failure in the automobile industry in history then, and I guess even today? Then I remember we’ve probably been used to looking at more recent ones like the New Coke. This is a solid post-mortem of the entire experience – of the dream car which was almost assumed to be a monster hit but which for reasons unfathomable, tanked. Brooks’ spends a good deal of time here separating rumour from fact, this is the classic case-study model which you will see in business schools across. Was it the poor naming? Was it the design? The excessive faith in consumer surveys? None of these as per Brooks who tells us why none of these really were the real reason. He doesn’t necessarily give a clear answer to what the real root cause was either. In the end it was probably bad timing of launch, taking too long from inception to launch, internal cannibalization, poor attention to detail for some of the initial batches which created poor first impressions and a dollop of managerial hubris. The colossal damage did not do much wrong for Ford which 50 years later is still going strong.

3. The Federal Income Tax – It’s history & peculiarities

I thought this would be a bit of a drag given that I’m not particularly comfortable with tax systems of my own country, let alone that of another one but was pleasantly surprising. There’s a bit about the history of income tax systems,  the evolution of the income tax in the US, the principles of taxation and why they aren’t necessarily true anymore (the tax the rich more principle), loopholes in tax systems and how they came about : capital gains tax, restricted stock options and amongst others, a mysterious option of saving tax for oil-well owners which I assume is quite redundant today. It also looks at the possibilities of changing the tax collection system and alternatives, why they won’t work, the tightrope between a simple tax code (which is likely to be unfair) and an extremely complex one (which allows for exceptions and exceptions to make it fair and equitable). There’re nice perspectives such as the focus on voluntary compliance and how that culture was evolved, versus an IRS which goes knocking on everyone’s doors; how taxation has actually given rise to a generation of smart people who’s skills are being to the test to save rich people more tax money and surprise-surprise : how people are ending up business and pleasure just to save tax (basically to defer personal meetings & entertainment as official ones to make them exempt of tax). Quite a few things really don’t change!

Ram Sivasankaran – The Peshwa: The Lion and The Stallion (#8 of 26)

51R9j1jYE-L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThis is one of those stories that needed to be told. When Bajirao Mastani starring the who’s who of Bollywood released in late 2015, it wasn’t a great film. Whether it was historically accurate or not could be debated, but it was definitely historically inaccurate. But such is the void of quality material on history – across media sources – available to our generation, that for lack of a better option it became the closest substitute to a history lesson for most. I’m not proud to say this but I’m from Maharashtra, studied in a state board school – but my knowledge of Bajirao Peshwa – a significant figure in modern Indian history by any means, was close to negligible before I watched the afore-mentioned movie.

So sheepishly, after watching the movie I tried to look up the book on which the director had apparently ‘loosely’ based it upon – a book named Rao by N.S. Inamdar. Sadly the book was only available in the original language, and those were some old editions as well. How unfortunate in the era of the super-movie with merchandise tie-up’s for everything from lunch-boxes to t-shirts, the original book which the movie owed so much to, still had no seekers. Surely a translated version in English and Hindi, an Amar Chitra Katha-esque comic book series would have flown off the racks? Can’t help but think it’s an opportunity missed if there was ever one.

So we move to The Peshwa : The Lion and the Stallion by Ram Sivasankaran which seemed to be the only non-textbookish book around. I read an interview of Sivasankaran where he said that he’d been writing this book for a while and the release coinciding with the movie ( a week or so afterwards) was just a coincidence. A very very fortuitous one then if one is to take this at face vaue, for it has been the recipient of all the latent interest spilling over from the movie.

The characters are engaging, so are the times they lived in and the challenges they faced. Unfortunately Sivasankaran’s writing style is stuck somewhere between a text book and a literary tome and can never quite achieve the easy and breezy tenor of literary fiction that the William Dalrymple’s of the world seem to manage. To be sure it is tricky to toe that thin line between making sure the characters are larger than life while conveying the gravitas & manner of that age  or ending up with caricatures who take themselves seriously. Unfortunately, Sivasankaran for me end’s up on the other side more often than not. Especially when characters think to themselves, or affectionate conversations – father/son, husband/wife – seem clunky and unreal, seeming like a drama on-stage where everything has to be exaggerated rather than a movie where you can be up close and personal and be the protagonists.

And it’s a pity really because he spins a good tale. If you were expecting a masala-version of the movie, The Peshwa isn’t going to give you that. It – just like its characters – takes itself very seriously. The story also limits itself to a part of Bajirao’s reign which allows it to get into detail and not spread itself to thin. We start of with the old Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath, who mentors and guides his son on initial missions, Baijrao’s growing into power and his first and perhaps most crucial mission. It has a storyline as distinct from the movie as possible, the focus is very much on Bajirao – the diplomat/politician and the soldier and not on the lover or the reformist. There is a nice segue for a sequel to flow however…

Historically well researched (and I’m assuming accurate), The Peshwa is a great primer on the times of Bajirao and the Maratha’s in fact. It’s a period of history – which as I mentioned before – most of us haven’t studied too well, and in those respects this book gives us a perspective and an understanding of the systems, the key players, the political structures of the age. Wish it could have been more fun though…

Entertainment Quotient : ★★★
Education Quotient : ★★★★★
Readability : ★★

Role of Social Media in Hiring & Recruitment

A variation of this appeared on Careerizma :

Social media recruitment is the buzzword in recruitment circles. It essentially refers to using social media channels to hire employees instead of more conventional ones. Advantages typically include a wider and a more organic reach, direct contact with prospective candidates and lower costs. You can read more about this in these posts:
How recruitment works
Referral recruitment

So as a prospective job seeker, Social Media Recruitment (or Recruitment 2.0 as they like to call it) is potentially beneficial to you. It allows you to get in touch with organizations directly and let’s you find out about opportunities through your connections if you leverage it properly – as many have. However at the end of the day – as long as you eventually get the job you want, it doesn’t really matter how you got it – does it?

But the use of Social Media in Recruitment is a different ball game altogether. And this is one which today does impact probably almost all job seekers and candidates. The difference in terminology may be slight but it is one which permeates all levels and sources of hiring. More importantly, it is probably something you as a job seeker can control.

So what does the use of social media in recruitment broadly encompass?

It involves organizations – and that includes recruiters, managers and leaders – using social media channels to:

  • Understand better the candidates whom they will be interviewing, meeting and hiring
  • Attempt to validate various hypotheses formed during interviews and the hiring process
  • Do surreptitious background checks in a more convenient manner

Is it ethical to use social networking sites for recruitment?

Before the how, the why. The morality and ethics of using social media for recruitment are still up for debate. There are probably three major issues here for us as candidates:

1) Using personal social media information without consent

Background checks have been used by organizations as a pre-recruitment screening technique since ages. Social Media has just made this much easier.

While the nature may have changed from whispers in the Old Boys’ Club to more formal consultants who’re paid to verify objective details of background – these background checks have probably always existed in some form. A lot of jobs and educational opportunities require you to formally share references whom they can call up and speak to – and these are about as unbiased as a mother would be while talking up her kid.

Most recruiters and managers ‘use their networks’ i.e. call up people whom they know who would have worked previously with a prospective candidate – and see absolutely nothing wrong in it. Also there is an inherent subjectivity in this exercise, depending on whom you speak to the feedback you receive may be starkly different.

If you were hiring someone and had an alternative between picking someone who’d worked with a friend and was strongly recommended, versus picking someone completely unknown – most of us would side with the known one, which is pretty similar to this.

The only difference now is, that the modern recruiter doesn’t even need to speak to anyone and can avoid any biases. A simple Google search can give you the information you need and let you form your own opinions.

2) Information Asymmetry

The point made here is essentially – look it would be fine to use social media for recruitment if you use it for all candidates in the same manner. However, information available for everyone is in differing levels of details – the continuum may extend from no information at all, to professional information only, to a mix of personal and professional information in varying levels of details. Ergo, drawing any inferences from such information is not fair.

This is however a choice made by every individual – you may choose to share your life on social media or you may not. Just like you may choose to share your personal details when asked in an interview while someone else may not be comfortable doing so.

And yes, if you share details it may tell the interviewer more about you, give him or her more data points which may or may not be beneficial; while on the other hand revealing nothing may not hurt you but also cannot help you. Once again, this is a standard real life issue being magnified thanks to technology and social media.

3) Demarcation between our personal and professional lives

This is probably the part which most candidates find the scariest. Yes, it is creepy in a way and difficult to accept that a stranger whom you may never have met before knows everything about you. However we’re well on the way to this becoming more and more valid in every facet of life.

The boundaries between personal and professional lives are blurring and will probably continue to do so even further in the near future. Persona building is an expected science in sales and a good salesperson is expected to do his homework about a potential client – right from which IPL team he supports to what kind of music he likes. This is written off as being able to strike a chord, make conversation or build a relationship.

Hiring a candidate is probably no different. And we’re already seeing that this will only increase as we go ahead and our lives coalesce. We already have applications and websites which allow us to login with our Facebook IDs, even a call from another number on Truecaller has a photograph from a Facebook profile.

As the era of switching on at 9.30 am and switching off at 6.30 PM goes, so will the ability to be one person at work and another in reality. Organizations hire you more and more for ‘more than just a job’ and would not want potential candidates to wear a mask while at work and turn into someone else after that.

I’m sure there is enough research and philosophical quotes on pretty images available on the internet to say that the best work happens when work doesn’t seem like work – or life in fact.

Thus the desire to know the real ‘person’ behind every candidate – how does someone look after 8 straight hours of work on an MS Excel sheet which get corrupted and isn’t saved? Or how does he or she react when forced to use Internet Explorer on a slow internet connection. These are the moments of truth an interviewer seeks to find!

What can job hunting candidates do about social media?

Unless you decide to become the Monk who sells his Ferrari and abstains from all of social media activity, this is one beast which probably can’t be fought. So the way to go is to probably embrace it the way that best suits you.

Figuring out your outlook and approach towards how you use social media is probably the most important and introspective step of them all. To what extent are you okay with parts of your life being public? Would you rather that you share a picture of what you’re like yourself than it coming from someone else? Are you or are you not comfortable sharing personal details, your opinions and beliefs (even at the cost of them being unpopular or politically incorrect) with complete strangers?

There is no right answer to this – we all know people who’re intimately private, people whose life is an open book and then there are those who fall somewhere in between. It is just important to understand the ramifications of these in every aspect of your life, and any recruitment process you are or would be involved in is just one of those.

Different platforms approach privacy in different ways. For the more professional ones like LinkedIn for example, everything is fair game. For others such as the ubiquitous Facebook, there are complex and disputably effective ways of restricting who can see what.

Finally, for all the Twitters, Reddits and Pinterests of the world, you may always choose to use a pseudonym if you would like to keep that persona of yours distinct.

Unlike what a lot of candidates tend to suspect, most judicious recruiters and rational hiring managers would not be concerned about views which differ from theirs – as long as they do not directly affect the kind of job you do or are contrary to the organizations public stance on the same (journalism, PR and roles in the C-suite may be areas where they do matter!). For everyone else, as long as you make sense and seem well reasoned out it’s healthy to be opinionated.

What you may want to refrain from is something like disparaging or maligning your employers and bosses, even after a very frustrating day – most recruiters will believe in the past is an indicator of future behaviour. And if you do want to watch something, watch your grammar!

Managing your activity on social networking sites

This is not necessarily the same as ‘managing’ your profile – it just means understanding that an interviewer, or any individual you have a planned formal meeting with has probably looked you up before you actually meet. So it’s a good idea to have a general awareness of what they may already know about you.

Considering the number of platforms most of us are present on, it may be a good idea to actually look through all of them to see what you’ve posted or said, to at least rejig your memory. And remember, in an interview, on such matters – don’t bluff or change your stance basis the way the wind is blowing. Stick to your stand.

Also don’t conceal or distort details about previous jobs, roles and work you’ve done – finding out references, connections and mutual contacts has never been easier

In a good way perhaps – social media may at least be making us a little more honest!

Sairat (#13 of 52)

I write this barely a few hours after viewing Sairat, in the middle of the night to boot – because this isn’t an easy movie to get out of your system. And this is no review (I never try to write ‘reviews’ – I don’t think I’m qualified! – but sometimes your fingers get the better of you).

sairat 1

Watching a movie outside of where you expect to watch it is a much more immersive experience than a regular movie is likely to be. So when you watch a Marathi movie outside Maharashtra, that time you spend in that darkened movie hall is a time which truly does transport you to another world. And that’s what movies are for aren’t they?

So Sairat released a week ago but only get’s 2 shows on the weekend. So it took some effort, planning & travel to actually go watch it. (Unlike what we’re used to anymore isn’t it? We’ve become so accustomed to the entitlement to pop into a multiplex close by where of course there’ll be a screening within a time zone we want to watch it in…). To add to that, on the way I found out that this is a close to 3 hour movie. And I inwardly groaned, because despite all the nice things I’d heard about it, inspite of all the critical acclaim – the thought of a 3 hour love story left me skeptical.

So what is Sairat about? It’s essentially a movie in 3 parts. The first part is the set-up, the romantic comedy. Poor-lower caste-boy-like-rich-upper caste-girl, boy-woo-girl, friends make it happen, girl-takes-charge. This is the fun part, with lots of zany local humour, two awesome sidekicks, lots of leg pulling and generally to make you feel good with lots of cliches and takes a really long time. It is running however with a sinister backdrop – which we know will come – and when it does, segues seamlessly into part 2. This is a chase & run story – a variation of the classical trope. Angry family hunt for couple on the run. It seems hopeless at times and scary at others. But because, because the first part has taken it’s time and got us really invested in the characters, we genuinely care and root for them with a pounding heart in a mission where the bad guys are the Goliath and our protagonists are puny David’s. And then we move to phase 3 – romance-gone-wrong-then-gone-right, which is a drama exploring the mundane herculean-sities of every day life in a nuanced manner.

Sairat is a movie of cliches. It has every cliche in the book if I can recall – poor boy – hardworking, industrious & nice alpha male, 1 sidekick from another religion, 1 sidekick with a physical challenge,  spoilt brat girl, spoilter brattier sibling, politician dad, vengeful henchmen, village life through bathing in wells, fishing & shooting the breeze near the lake,  chase which goes wrong, well-meaning ally who’s cornered, dignity of labour issues, using mineral water to show class divide, spoilt girl not being able to cook, guy having envy issues, a white collar v/s blue collar career path (relatively), the Indian version of the American dream – phew – this was without any notes.  I’m sure there’s nothing in this movie which is unique.

 And in line with what we celebrate and seem to want these days, that shouldn’t work in it favor. We’re an audience who wants shocks, surprises and stuff we’ve never seen before. We want to be hit with something new, something stunning. But Sairat doesn’t really do that. It made me realise that a good story, just told as a good story – is a great experience in itself. It doesn’t even have a message at the end! And cliches are cliches for a reason – we can relate to them. Telling cliches well, with a twist to them is where the directors skill comes in.

And telling the story well & realistically is what the director does. I’m a big fan of ‘realism’ in non-fantasy movies, because I feel my involvement or engagement with the movie is tangentially related to how believable what’s shown on screen is. So while it’s filmy, it’s cliched – it’s never unrealistic. Not even the fight scenes (if you could call them that) are exaggerated. It also tells us you don’t need stars to tell a good story, nor do your protagonists need to look like Adonis or an Aphrodite. Having them look and feel like real people probably makes your story more relatable. And an escape from reality can be relatable & masala, unlike the standard defence for a lot of poor movies. Both the protagonists are magnificent by the way. It is difficult to believe that the girl who played Archie (Rinku Rajguru) is just 15 years old!

sairat 3

Sairat is also a very intelligent movie. Just watching the trailer after the movie indicated to me the significance of a lot of images and dialogues which you wouldn’t necessarily grasp on first viewing. It shows a lot, but it also doesn’t show a lot – with some jumps from point to point. More importantly, and this where I have an issue with a lot of Indian movies – it  doesn’t over-explain everything. There’re parts where I wondered what was going on, and how could something not be spoken about or explained, but as the tale progressed, I realised the answers came to me or were better served allowing me to mull over them. As I grow older, I think I’ve grown to like directors who trust you to draw your own conclusions. Sairat hold’s a mirror to us in a way, allowing us to see what’s good, what’s bad and what’s really really ugly.

My metric to define how good a movie is these days is how many times did I check my phone during the movie. And for a definitely slightly longer than needed movie, if that number was Zero, then I’m convinced about how good my heart is telling me it was. Nagraj Popatrao Manjule – take a bow. Sairat hit’s you, and how.