Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Happy New Year!

First up, Wish you all a very happy and prosperous New Year.

It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? The tradition across the blogosphere nowadays is to blog about lists – 2008’s list of good events, bad events, improbable events, good movies, bad movies, resolutions, number of girlfriends etc etc – the theme goes something like this: list what went on in 2008, list what might go on in 2009, thereby dancing in the trance of hindsight and probability.

Or as Shelley said, very succinctly ‘We look before and after, and pine for what is not’.

In line with the tradition, here goes my personal note (Preview of 2009 from a generic scenario post coming up in the next couple of days) –

2008 – When I look back at this year, I can define it as the Year of Accumulation. Personally, this year was not as wild and crazy as 2007. This was a year where I consciously put my head down and worked on little things, accumulated a lot of things and in general surprised myself when I discovered rather surreptiously what worked for me and what didn’t. Lot of friends (online and offline), Lots of adventure and sport (Rafting, Golfing, Shooting{yep, semi-automatic and revolver}, Bowling) and Lots of learning on the professional front. Nothing very great, nothing very significant and yet they add up to being a decent year. Frankly, I don’t know what was the best part and what was worse in this year. This has probably been the longest time I have been away from home and my close set of friends back in India. (At this point, I thought and thought for about 20 minutes and my mind is just blank to write anything more – probably indicating to the fact that no ‘goals’ were set and hence achieved in 2008. It was, as I said, a year gone by in accumulating and understanding myself better).

2009 – Lot of things lined up for 2009. First thing, I need to take care of my investments. Being in the US has cut me off from the stockmarket and other investing avenues in India – laziness and timezone difference beingg the primary factors. If not for the timezone difference, I would have short the hell out of the stockmarket and made some decent money. Not to be. Secondly, on look out for a better profile professionally – probably looking at a P&L role in the current organization or any other. Thirdly, by end 2009, should be on the board of a startup (product company) – need to see how far it goes. Fourthly (is there such a word?), working on a couple of social entrepreneurship ideas which might take off in some manner by mid-2009 (What I have realized is I am good at ideation and market execution, but absolutely have no clue about coding. If you think you are a decent coder, get in touch with me – we can work something out). Skydiving and Bungee jumping are high on the radar and might happen anytime soon. Last but not the least, I got to start writing a book or atleast collaborate in writing a book. Not sure of a 2009 completion though. Blogging, hopefully, should be more frequent than 2008.

With all that personal history and futuristic view aside, having fun is more important than anything else. Here’s raising a toast to a happy and fun-filled new year 2009.

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Best and Worst movies of 2008!

With the year 2008 coming to a close, the custom of listing down the Top movies for the year beckons (what purpose does this listing solve? – well, if not anything else, I might want to revisit these movies at a later point in time). The majority of the post covers Bollywood movies although some Hollywood reference is mentioned in the passing. I might not have watched all releases this year (Bollywood alone had more 100). The following is a compilation of the best and the worst movies I watched. Let me know if I have missed any good/bad/awful movie.

Let me start off with the WORST movies of 2008.

1) Drona – Terrible, Horrible, Pathetic. Even 3 negative words is an understatement. Enough said.

2) Ghajini – If Mangal Pandey was worse, Ghajini topples it. With a horrible rip-off of ‘Memento’, customized for Indian audiences by placing songs where none were required, the movie drags on and on. When Aamir starts fighting 20 villians at a time, you do know to say ‘nee Rajnikanth ya Ghajinikanth ya’ (Are you Rajnikanth or Ghajinikanth?). Ohh yeah, that bad!

3) Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi – When Shahrukh says ‘Punjab power, lighting up your life’, I loved him. When he started being himself by saying some mindless dialogues like ‘Phir milenge, chalte chalte…blah blah blah’, the movie became a bore. So boring that even Rab (God) dozed off by intermission.

4) Karzzzz – Whether it is one ‘z’ or ten, Himesh will go down in history of Bollywood as one of the worst actors ever. Yes, even Tushaar kapoor will rank higher than him. With a weak plot and a disgruntled Himesh, it easily ranks as one of the worst.

5) Bombay to Bangkok/Dostana/EMI – Three movies vying for the joint 5th spot as one of the worst movies in 2008. Each movie had some laugh-aloud moments but none even came close to being a wholesome entertainer. While Nagesh Kukunoor disappoints in B2B, and EMI ran empty theaters by the noon show on the first day of release,  Dostana’s only bright spot was the ‘hot’ Priyanka Chopra. Forgettable performances by Abhishek and John trying to make a mockery of themselves.

I avoided watching certain movies like ‘Chamku’, ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Love Story 2050’ to save my health. I am sure these movies would topple the 5 movies listed above atleast 10 times over.

Onto the BEST movies of 2008….

1) Mithya – Easily the best movie of 2008. With powerful performances by Ranvir and Neha Dhupia (oh boy, she can act!) and a very different storyline, this movie is bound to become a cult classic in times to come.

2) A Wednesday – Can Anupam Kher act this good? Really? With a strong storyline, in line with the current times of terrorist activity and mind-blowing performances by both Naseerudin Shah and Anupam Kher, ‘A Wednesday’ is definitely a thriller not to miss.

3) Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! – A very refreshing movie. More so for Delhiites. Abhay Deol easily slips into the role of the slippery thief ‘Lucky’ in this fun-filled, weirdly romantic movie along with Neetu Chandra. If you can deafen yourself for the weird music at some points in the movie, its totally worth a watch.

4) Sarkar Raj – Abhishek’s best performance till date. Period. He excels at serious roles, and for once Ram Gopal Verma gets it right this year. With able support from Aishwarya Rai, this movie was intense and gripping from start-to-end.

5) Welcome to Sajjanpur/Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na/Dasvidaniya – Again, tying for 5th spot are three movies I immensely enjoyed. Shreyas Talpade in ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’ is so natural, you wouldn’t even feel that the same guy played Iqbal. Immensely hilarious. ‘Jaane Tu…’ was good and the only reason it didn’t make it into the top four was its story – the same old bland friends-become-lovers-get-married story of the yore. Dasvidaniya is an out and out Vinay Pathak’s movie and as with all his movies, his performance is spectacular. With death at his doorstep, the protagonist sets out to fulfill a list of items he always wanted to do, but never could. Poignant and Fabulous.

Other honorable releases which couldn’t make it to the Top 5 were

a) Rock On (same old, same old) b) Maan Gaye Mughal-e-Azam (out and out comedy, totally enjoyed it – don’t look for logic in this movie pls!), c) Jodha Akbar (impressive Hrithik and Aishwarya but too long a duration for my taste) d) Fashion (decent attempt by Madhur Bhandarkar, but he is getting predictable, superior performance by Priyanka though) and e) Aamir (gripping story, brilliant screenplay)

Hollywood movies (Only the Top 3 BEST movies mentioned)

1) Slumdog Millionaire – Easily the best movie of 2008. It’s about a protagonist who is from a slum background and goes on to win a millionaire quiz contest. I would easily rate this as the best movie I watched in all of 2008 across all xyz-wood.

2) The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger, hopefully, is going to get a posthumous Oscar for his role as the Joker. Christian Bale as the Batman can only look on in horror as the Joker dismantles every belief of Batman. Immensely watchable. Movies definitely don’t get better than this.

3) Wall-E – Show me one person who is not in love with the Wall-E character after watching this movie and I will give him the DVD of ‘Karzzzz’  🙂  Pixar is brilliant – actually, brilliance is an understatement. Awesomely awesome.

Review – www.WishesnGifts.com

Disclosure: www.WishesnGifts.com is a start-up aimed at customers who want to send gifts from any International location to India (specifically, Hyderabad and Secunderabad for now). The review of this website/startup in this blog is purely objective, although the startup is owned by one of my friends (along with another friend of his). As usual, no bias included in the review. I would urge you to use this website and send feedback to the promoter/owner or me (I will pass on the feedback to my friend).

WishesnGifts.com was an idea long time in the making. My friend told me about this idea more than a year ago, and it came to fruition just last week. As I stated before, this website is aimed at customers currently based out of International locations to send gifts back home to India (specifically, Hyderabad and Secunderabad for now…gradually ramping up to other parts of India too). Gifts range from cakes, flowers, gift cards to very interesting stuff like a family movie outing and karate classes.

Here are the list of Pro’s and Con’s of the website.

Pro’s:

1) Very clean interface: The usual shopping websites are cluttered with advertisements trying to force-sell me different products. Personally, and probably universally, people are attracted by pull-selling rather than push-selling. This website has a refreshing look, various gifts neatly into categories and a very pleasant header.

2) Prices: This is easily, one of the very unique propositions of the website – the gifts’ prices being lower than the usual shopping websites. Generic products such as Cakes and Flowers do not have much difference (given economies of scale, I guess this should come down) while other unique products like the ‘kuch hath ke’ category products are much cheaper.

3) ‘Kuch Hath Ke’: This category was what intrigued me the most in the entire website. ‘Movie ka Funday’ (gifting your loved ones a family outing to a movie), ‘Nunchuk classes’ (gifting someone to learn karate) are easily a standout. Talking to one of the promoters the other day, he mentioned that ‘Salsa classes’, ‘Rock climbing training’, ‘Dine, shop and back home’, ‘Kids package’ are to come very soon. Easily a significant value proposition.

Con’s:

1) Commodity business: Unfortunately, shopping online has become a commodity business. This essentially means that the barriers of entry are very low, and replication of this website’s products is very easy. Price will become the differentiating factor, unless the service of delivery is extremely superior. Similar competitors use tactics such as ‘taking a pic with the gift’ for enhancing service delivery. It would be interesting to see what the promoters would come up with in this space.

2) Google search: I could not answer one question ‘Why should I shop at this website rather than any competitors website?’ In fact, the question of ‘what is this website all about?’ has not been answered anywhere on the website (probably, the promoters thought this was a no-brainer!). The second question is easy to fix on the header of the webpage, but answering the first question needs a lot of brain-storming. What’s more, I don’t think the website has been optimized for Google adwords nor does it come up in the first 10 search results for queries like ‘gifts to hyderabad’, ‘gifts to secunderabad’ (supposedly, the selling points) etc. I don’t know the extent to which the promoters have marketed this website, but online presence in Twitter, Facebook, Shopping forums is easily a must. Whipping up a frenzy in the online world is slightly difficult, but the efforts are worth it.

3) Look and feel – The last and the final grouse. I agree that it is a very clean interface, cutting out all the clutter that makes me rush out of any website. But the choice of colors and some text is appalling. ‘About us’ and ‘How to order’ in Pink??!! C’mon guys, you can do better than that.  These two, along with the FAQ section are easily the most visited tabs in case of a startup. I am sure, such deviant differentiation is worth avoiding. Please do revamp the FAQ section – answering 3 questions (with bad formatting) will not serve any purpose – in fact, it may drive away customers. Registration, Ordering, Deliver, Payments and Disputes are atleast 5 categories that come to my mind immediately. Testimonials section easily needs a revamp (I hope you avoid pink there too!).

Debatable:

1) Registration required: I was slightly taken back as to why Registration was required for me to order gifts. This point is debatable – the historic argument between customer stickiness versus easy ordering. I would leave it to the promoters’ decision as to what the vision of their business would be.

I am sure, with time, all these Con’s would be taken care of, more and better product lines would be up for gifting loved ones and the service delivery would be impeccable.

As a friend (and not a reviewer only for this line), I wish him all success in his endeavor. I will probably do another review say, 6 months down the line to comment on the progression the website and service delivery have made. Till then, all the best.

What has India done and What should India do!

1) It is strange that each one of us would be willing to be involved in some form of cathartic activity to demonstrate our opposition to terrorism. We suddenly had a spurt in the number of ‘I hate terrorism’ communities/groups on different social networks like Orkut and Facebook. It was as if we suddenly woke up to the fact that terrorists were scheming right across the border only from yesterday. Another form of highly visible but least efficient way of opposing terrorism is to hold candle rallies and signature campaigns. As far as I can remember, none of the above activities proved to be even as effective as a squirrel’s ass to prevent terrorism or for our politicians to make ‘Anti-terrorism’ a part of their party agenda.

2) Another extreme form of cathartic activity seems to be heavily arguing for bombing the hell out of Pakistan – smug with the feeling of ‘we are bigger and stronger than them and hence we’ll win’. There is no doubt that we would win but at what cost. The US might be willing to attack and bomb countries which are thousands of miles away from its soil. There is little cost in terms of human lives/development except for outrageous outflow of money. Would the US attack with same fervor, say Russia which is across the Alaskan border? Forget the fervor, would it even attempt to attack at all, say even with snow dinghies? Talking about winning is one thing, getting atleast 3 or 4 of our major cities bombed is another. The cost of human lives and to the corresponding development would be enormous.

3) My friend asked me a question the other day ‘Has India as a whole gone so aloof – why did some states let Congress win inspite of their non-performance and incompetence to tackle terrorism?’. Performance has never been a hallmark of any political party since our Independence. In fact, I would go so far to say that we have had this tremendous economic development, not because of the government but inspite of it. Secondly, looking back at history, India has always been a conglomeration of princely states. We never were one single country except under the aegis of Asoka and Akbar. Expecting the rest of India to be tuned and sensitive to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai is a far call. The rest of India might in turn ask difficult questions like ‘What are you doing about the Naxalite movement in Chattisgarh?’, ‘What are you doing about the ULFA in Assam and NE states?’, ‘What are you doing about the Gujarat riots?’. There is no one right answer to any of these questions. Finally, politics in India is and probably never will be based on one single issue (or any issue for that matter). Identity politics is rampant – and I particularly don’t see any immediate solution to move away from votes based on caste, creed and religion. Congress has won/BJP has won in those states purely based on anti-incumbency and not on any particular issue.

4) So, what can we do to prevent terrorism? Again, there is no one answer – rather the approach should be multi-pronged. The biggest and the greatest weapon we have is our education and favorable demographics – in other words, our economy. We need to get stronger and stronger in our economy, through entrepreneurship, investments and growth in general. It is an open secret that politics in the global world is nothing but managing the imbalances in economies. Given that state, we need to improve our economy multi-fold. Another approach would be to cripple Pakistan’s economy through tough economic measures (cutting off trade, holding off on bilateral talks etc) and probably getting it declared as a terrorist state. The present government is taking the right steps in that direction. This approach however, is fraught with risks as a unstable Pakistan with a crippling economy is a disaster to India (excessive immigration, legal or otherwise, more people resorting to terrorism due to hunger etc.) It is indeed a fine line between the two approaches – the question really is, do we have the leaders to lead us through the fine line? Honestly, I don’t know the answer.

Some interesting links…

The time of the year probably has come to do a ‘Best of the ‘ series. I will probably do it in the next week or two. Meanwhile, enjoy these links. Pretty busy on the work front, will try to put up a meaningful blog shortly this week.

1) To all those wanting-to-be, waiting-to-be reporters, here is your ideal. The sheer perseverance is commendable and the dialogue delivery succinct and crystal clear.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7hbrPLteNU

2) Seemingly, and I seriously didn’t know this – India is waging a war against a peace-loving nation like Pakistan. Such lines, and more such WTFs in this video. This video will easily make it to the ‘Best of the ‘ series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eij5o7XizIA

3) Totally, totally NSFW (not safe for work). But insanely funny about atheism.

http://www.freethunk.net/humanistsinlove/deistontop.php

4) Again, NSFW, but this one too, bhery bhery funny. In fact, the xkcd guys should be awarded a Nobel prize in creativity. Almost all of their webcomics are brilliant.

http://xkcd.com/487/

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