Thursday, April 23, 2009

'2 minute' karte karte 25 saal !!!!!

Urban India's favourite snack is turning 25 !!!! And Nestle, rightly so, is celebrating it by inviting people from all over to write in their memorable Maggi moments.. see here. Looking back now, a childhood with Maggi seems almost unimaginable. Right from the time I used to come back from school and get treated to a bowl of piping hot Maggi Chicken by Mom to today, when my wife still serves up Maggi Masala in a jiffy for breakfast, Maggi has always been part of my, and indeed, all our lives. And all of us have our memorable Maggi moments. For me, the one I remember most was during my B-school stint, where Maggi was the hot favourite at the night canteen. Well past midnight, when the world was asleep, the hostels were buzzing with activity, and very few were as active as the guy at the night canteen. With an almost un-ending demand from the hungry night owls to contend with (till about 2 am), he used to simply process a batch of a dozen packs a time in a big vessel and around it would gather the students, eagerly waiting to lay their hands on those beloved strands of yellow flour. Just went to show how universally liked Maggi was, and still is. 

So whats your favourite Maggi Moment ???


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Post script to my previous post..

In my previous post, I had made the point that as a community, we Maharashtrians need to be more inwardly looking in order to address the shortcomings within us. Especially in the area of enterpreunership and running business, there is a lot that we need to learn. Two incidents regarding this which I myself have observed:

a. On more than one Saturday morning, I have got out of home trying to find a good Maharasthrian breakfast (Misal Pao, Pohe, Khichdi etc). Now there are three decent eateries serving the above-mentioned items (and more) within walking distance from my place. However, much to my dissapointment, I have discovered that these eateries do not open before 9 am, whereas the idli-wallahs and vada-pao stalls are out in force before 8 am !!!!. Surely, 8 am is not too early a time to expect people to have their breakfast at !!

b. Last Saturday, I encountered a unique incident. I had gone to a famous Maharashtrian restaurent in Girguam along with my wife. The restaurent had recently opened an AC section (presumably to attract more non-Marathi customers, since most of us would think twice before going to an AC restaurent, but that is a different point !!!). So attached to that AC section was the rest room, with tastefully designed wash basins and three toilets. However when I went to use the rest-room, I found out that the toilets were locked !!. On inquiring with the waiter, I could not believe my ears when he said that there was a common key to those toilets that had been misplaced !!!!. I simply could not comprehend why anyone would like to : a) Keep a loo under lock and key and b) have a single key for all. And if this story was indeed true, then god alone knows for how many days the toilets were lying unused while customers had to look to someplace to lessen their misery. And if this was a made up story, it is even sadder for it showed that the management was not keen on customers using those places. So why were they built anyways ???. Needless to mention, I left the place not wanting to return (even though the food itself was great) simply because of the complete lack of customer sensitivity on view. And I could not help myself wondering that such a thing could have been made possible only at a Maharashtrian owned business !!!. I hope so much that I am wrong !!!..


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Marathi pride awakened ??? Not quite..

The plot could hardly have been better.

- A community that has long felt marginalized and has been reduced to a minority in the capital of its own state.
- A community that has seen the winds of progress blow past it, while it has been busy leading a typical life: working in a bank as a clerk, earning enough to enable the family to survive, bringing up their children with all the right values, investing whatever little savings they have in good old fixed deposits and pension funds and then finally retiring peacefully.
- A community that harbours more than a grudge against the so-called ‘outsiders’ perceived to have taken over their city and livelihood but fails to realize that somewhere most of the blame lies inside
- A community that prides itself on its simplicity and loyalty but has somehow not really translated that into success and prosperity

So who better to awaken this community from its deep slumber than the person whom they regard as closest to God? A warrior, who by his exploits more than three centuries ago, still holds complete sway over the heart and mind of every member of that community ? In trying to bring this plot to life, ‘Mi Shivaji Raje Boltoy’ had everything going for it. However, to put it in a nutshell, while the movie does raise some valid questions, it does not go the full distance. And I, as a proud member of the above-mentioned community, confess to being more than disappointed.

Dinkar Bhosale epitomizes the middle-class Maharashtra community in modern Mumbai. He is a common man with not so uncommon problems in life. His ancestral bungalow in the heart of Mumbai has caught the eye of a builder who, of course, is willing to go to any lengths to get it. His nagging wife never ceases to remind him of their dull existence. His son resents him for neither having the will nor the resources to pay the donation required to get him into an engineering college. And his daughter is willing to get her ‘down-market’ surname changed so that she can be ‘accepted’ into Bollywood and fulfil her acting ambitions. And for Mr. Bhosale, his daily life is confined to dutifully going to his bank each day, longingly staring at the shirt in an upmarket store which he likes but cannot afford, bringing the same ordinary fish for dinner rather than the prized ‘paaplet’ and finally listening to his family members ranting about how insignificant their lives are. After one particularly rough night at the bar, Dinkar comes home bruised and beaten and longs for inspiration to rescue him from this non-consequential existence. And inspiration finally comes in the form of his namesake and Maharashtra’s demi-god, Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale.

At this juncture comes the movie’s high-point. Dinkar is transported into the Chhatrapati’s darbar atop Pratapgad fort. And the Chhatrapati gives him an earful about how he himself is to blame for his ordinary life. There the king (and through it, the director) makes the right noises. One particularly hard truth is the fact that most Maharashtrian restaurants and sweet-shops take pride in announcing ‘Aamchi kuthe hi shakha nahi’ (‘We have no other branch’) where in fact, they should be looking at expanding their business and generating income. Having made these, and other, painful truths clear to the audience, one was hoping that the remainder of the movie could been utilized for sending a powerful and hard-hitting message to the Maharashtrians as to how their own lack of ambition is partly responsible for the state they find themselves in, and further forcing them to introspect and possibly revive the ‘Marathi asmita (pride}’ within them (albeit in a constructive way !!).

Sadly, the remainder of the movie does not have anything specific to Marathi or the Maharashtrian community. It details how Dinkar (taking inspiration from the deeds of the Chhatrapati) transforms himself to a social crusader, fighting the powerful builder-politician-goon lobby and of course, his own internal demons. The common-man-fighting-the-system plot has already been revisited again and again by Bollywood. Hence, to that extent, the post-interval movie does not have anything significant to offer. Both the Bhosales are reduced to just any other names. And that, to me, is the movie’s biggest letdown. The first half of the movie has a strong Marathi connection which is simply let go of in the crucial second half. I have a sneaking suspicion that the makers might have been unnerved by the strong political and social reactions that an out-out ‘Marathi awakening’ movie would have generated and hence opted for a typical common man v/s system saga with only the principal characters being Maharashtrians. Whatever be the reason, it finally diluted the impact of what could have been a great path-breaking movie into just another good movie. As for the performances, Sachin Khedekar is excellent as the protagonist, conveying both the pathos of the middle-class weakling as well as the steel of the born-again Dinkar in the second half, with equal ease. However, Mahesh Manjrekar does not quite look the part of the Chhatrapati. For one, the get up makes him look too old. A younger Chhatrapati might probably have looked better (remember that he was only 53 when he died). And it also reinforces the notion that known actors do not make good historical characters since the audience ends up looking at the actor rather than the character.

To sum up, ‘Mi Shivaji Raje Boltoy’ is worth a watch if you enter the movie hall with lesser expectations. And if you can leave the hall with a desire to awaken the Marathi manoos in you, it will be worth the experience.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Wall Street in the 80s: unplugged and unravelled !!!

Wall Street in the 1980s was, by all accounts, on hell of a place to be in, provided you were at the right place at the right time !!.. Commonly reffered to as the 'decade of greed' , this was the heyday of new and esoteric financial wizardry (or 'conning' depending on where you stood) that seemed to engulf the American financial system. The "glory times" of the 80s have been portrayed in several forms of media, notably amongst them the 1987 movie 'Wall Street' starring Micheal Douglas and Charlie Sheen ("Greed, for want of a better word, is good") and in several books including 'The Bonfires of the Vanities' and Micheal Lewis's brilliant semi-autobiographical story ("Liars Poker") of his days as a bond salesman in Saloman Brothers ("Never before in the history of humanity have so many people become so rich with so little"). One amongst the several phenomenon that came into prominence was that of the leveraged buy-outs (LBO), wherein a group of investors take over a company using large amounts of borrowed money (hence leveraged buy outs). The second half of the decade saw numerous such deals, none of which was bigger or attracted more attention than the late 1988 takeover of RJR Nabisco. And the fascinating battle for control of RJR Nabisco has been chronicled in the all-time classic book 'Barbarians at the Gate', which I have just finished reading the second time (the first one was during my B-school days).
Written by then Wall Street reporters John Helyar and Bryan Burroughs, 'Barbarians at the Gate' has been widely regarded as one of the best business books ever. And few real-life events in the business world have been depicted so throughouly and thrillingly. However, along with the drame involved in the takeover battle, the authors also give us a glimpse into the mind of Wall Street in those days, where a number of so-called 'investment bankers', brokerages and lawyers made millions of dollars as fees advising Corporate America on everything including take-overs and LBOs. Also, it focusses on the king-size egos that the leading players in the drama had, none more evident that when the warring factions (the management team, Shearson Lehmann Hutton and Saloman Brothers on one side and Kohlberg Kravis and Drexel Burnham on the other) were close to joining forces, an otherwise minor detail on who should run the junk bond offering required to finance the deal resulted in a collapse of talks and resuming of hostilities. And as the hostilities increased, the bid value zoomed from $ 75 a share to almost $ 110, making it the costliest takeover of a company in American history (at $ 25 billion). All this and much more has been put to paper in a most engaging yet simple way, so that one need not be a finance graudate to understand the technicalities of the goings-on.

'Barbarians at the Gate' is one book that no one should miss !!..