Tag Archives: india

Indiano? No Indiano!

Sophia B- SueWhen mentioning to my buddies that my last name resembles an Italian name, I used to get scoffed at. While reading Shantaram today, I came upon a curious cultural comparison that left me feeling somewhat vindicated.

“There is so much Italian in Indians, and so much Indian in Italians. They are both people of the Madonna – they demand a Goddess, even if the religion does not provide one. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy; and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop corner .For them food is music inside the body and music is food inside the heart. The language of India and the language Italy , they make every man a poet and make something beautiful from every banalite. These are nations where love –amore, pyaar- makes a cavalier of a Borsalino on a street corner, and makes a princess of a peasant girl , if only for the second that her eyes meet yours .”

I know, it’s not really related to my claim. No matter.


Amul: The butter, the raconteur: Best of ’08/09

Amul- the legendary Indian butter, has continued to churn out some amazing ads that capture the zeitgeist, from the Beijing Olympics to the US Presidential Inauguration. To see some of their earlier work and understand their brand philosophy, check out my last post on Amul.

So here we go, with the best of 08/09…

Amul: The butter, the Indian raconteur


When Betty Botter said that a bit “of better butter will but make my butter better”, she was probably thinking Amul .  This co-operative organization was a catalyst for the Indian ‘White Revolution’ and now has a turnover of USD$1.05 bn.

Amul is one of India’s most resounding success stories, and due to its advertising, one of the most heartening. Marketing expenditure is only about 1% of total turnover. Yet the brand name is ubiquitous because it has for so long captured the Indian Zeitgest, or spirit of the age. Amul’s USP is that it is quintessentially Indian, and its 30yr+campaign focuses on issues important to the common man,  the ‘aam aadmi’: sports, politics, pop culture, religion and festivals, and the trials of daily life.

I’ve been up all night, caffeine-free, going through their entire ad archive , and I’d like to share some of my favourites.

The first few speak about Indo-Soviet relations, the next lot about America, the next few are clips from pop culture, snippets from sports, Indian life, festivals & religion, the Indo-Pak conflict, and finally newsmakers.

I love this. I am in awe of what technology can achieve, but I love this. Pencils & crayons, a mischievous mind, and an uncanny ability to tap into the mass mindset; that’s all it took to seize the public’s imagination. And we weren’t just ephemeral captives; thirty years on, my mom still talks about the Amul ‘butter baby’ ads. Amul was a pioneer in the sphere of Indian advertising; they set a precedent of wit and gentle self-mocking that still resonates today.

*Some readers may not get a few of the ads, as they deal either with uniquely subcontinental issues (such as the great load-shedding), and/or the punchlines may be a pun in Hindi/Urdu. Apologies for this, readers are welcome to shoot me questions in the comments section.

Utterly butterly yours,


Fevicol: Stick With it

Another ode to Indian advertising. The client is Fevicol Adhesives, which enjoys a 60% market share in India. Most of their brilliant works contain a Hindi punchline, but this one is pretty universal.

This ad gets several things right- it piques the watcher’s interest, delivers a real rib-tickler, and endears one to the brand. Kudos Ogilvy India.

Slumdog Millionaire: A Transformative Film- Best Picture Oscar!


Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (Q&A- the novel that the movie is based on)

Cast: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar

*Warning: May contain spoilers, although I have attempted to make them cryptic

A caveat: I first saw Slumdog Millionaire five hours after the first terror attacks in Mumbai on the 26th of November. A sense of shock and denial had blanketed me, and the movie managed to transform my mood completely. That’s how powerful and personal it was to me.

Synopsis (courtesy of Fox):

The story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out.



Bombay, to borrow a phrase from Suketu Mehta, is a ‘Maximum City’. It contains in it the entire spectrum of human circumstance, from abject poverty to riches Croesus would envy. It is the most alive city on the planet, bar none. If New York is fast, Bombay is a metropolis on methamphetamines. It is for many an inspiration and a golden songbird; for others a nightmare and a curse. For some, it’s all these aspects existing simultaneously.

Danny Boyle appreciates this multichotomy (word?). He doesn’t shy away from it, instead using it to make his movie irresistible. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him in which he discusses shooting in India.

A director is a controller, you’re a control freak; you bring a crew, look at a bit of life, you stop it in its tracks, and then you recreate it, positioning your technicians around it to capture it, and repeat it endlessly, till you’ve got it just how you want it. You can’t do that in India. It’s uncontrollable. It’s just constantly motion, it’s just constant, and so you just have to go with that. And that means, you’ll end up spending two-thirds of a day and you’ll achieve nothing. But then, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it comes back, suddenly this wave comes back, and you’ve got your film, or your bit of it that way. Something is given back to you. Sounds hippie, sounds just like a load of nonsense, but I’d say that’s the way it works.

He gets how Bombay breathes, and the result is a powerful, touching movie that shakes you with impact. This is one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time; a visual treat, music that thrills, and a highly entertaining blend of despair, triumph and adventure. The flashback scenes that explain how Jamal knows the answers are bloody brilliant. The acting is stellar. In particular the two sets of child artists are excellent. They have some hilarious dialogues (“Plenty of pussy in Bombay maan”), and some gut-wrenching scenes (Latika’s quiet acceptance of her impending rape is difficult to watch). A.R Rahman hits new heights as a composer; the music is stunning and is a major element of the movie’s appeal, yet is good enough to stand alone as an independent record.

I am not a part of the cinema cognoscenti. My technical knowledge of movie making  is limited. This caveat stated, the most impressive feature of this movie for me is the relationship between the cinematography and the music. They are affectionate playmates in a fierce battle for domination, and the result is a surreal sensory experience. The boys are hustling on the train, scheming, selling and stealing. There is pandemonium, urgency. The camera echoes this; fast and blazing, at comes at you from multiple angles and at various speeds. In defiance, MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ plays on, creating the sensation that the boys could be relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean.  On occasion, the music and visuals play nice; A.R Rahman’s ‘Oh Saya’ rises in volume and tempo as it chases the camera through a rioting Bombay slum. The camera careens through gullys(alleys) and around sewers, but it can never quite escape. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is the climax of the slum chase; the camera steadily zooms out to give us a birds-eye view of the slum while Rahman’s unique voice reaches a crescendo.

If you nitpick, you can find many flaws in this movie, particularly in the plot. But you won’t be bothered to, because the movie has so much to offer. For instance, one scene shows the boys sleeping in a drain pipe to shield themselves from the rain. Out of nowhere, Latika is seen standing in the downpour. She walks up to them when Jamal calls her over and goes to sleep immediately. Why, how, it ends up not being an issue because the scene is so poignantly shot. One is just glad that Latika is dry.

Watch this movie. Slumdog Millionaire completely captures your imagination. It leaves you feeling more hopeful, more impulsive. You feel like causing mischief; you are compelled to climb atop a train, to sing horribly off-key, and to chase the woman of your dreams. You connect so completely with a city that may have never been yours. You understand Jamal’s shit-plunge because you craved that autograph with your entire being. You experience revulsion for Salim, that gangster, that traitor. You feel adoration for Salim, that big brother, that saviour. You accept Latika for who she is; she is perfect for you and that’s all that matters. You are, throughout the duration of the movie and much beyond, the D’Artagnan to its Three Musketeers. You may not know all the answers, but no matter. It is written.


*Notable Goofs:

1. Unlike as shown in the movie, the real ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ has multiple ‘guaranteed winnings points’, so once you cross certain dollar milestones, they are the minimum amount of money you walk away with. The quizmaster in the movie repeatedly warns Jamal that he stands to lose everything if he gets the answers wrong.

2. Alexander Dumas? C’mon!

Plot 6.5 Visual 9.5 Music 10 Acting 8.5 Direction 8.5 Entertainment 9 ‘Feel’ 10 Overall 8.5

Track Listing:   You can dl the OST here

“O… Saya” performed by A. R. Rahman, M.I.A.
“Riots” by A. R. Rahman
“Mausam & Escape” by A. R. Rahman
“Paper Planes”# performed by M.I.A.
“Paper Planes (DFA Remix)” performed by M.I.A.
“Ringa Ringa” by A. R. Rahman featuring Alka Yagnik, Ila Arun
“Liquid Dance” by A. R. Rahman featuring Palakkad Sriram, Madhumitha
“Latika’s Theme” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Aaj Ki Raat”#2 performed by Sonu Nigam, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Alisha Chinai
“Millionaire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Madhumitha
“Gangsta Blues” by A. R. Rahman featuring BlaaZe, Tanvi Shah
“Dreams on Fire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Jai Ho” by A. R. Rahman featuring Sukhwinder Singh, Tanvi Shah, Mahalakshmi Iyer

Bombay Burning- 3rd Update & Photo Essay


Heartfelt thanks to Alan Taylor@The Big Picture for compiling this photo essay depicting the Mumbai terrorist attacks that began on the 26th of November, 2008 and in some ways will continue for a long time . It hurts, but it’s important.

Also wanted to give you the latest headlines from Mumbai. Catch NDTV or IBN to know more.

  • The last terrorist inside the Taj has been shot and killed. All hostages and guests have been evacuated.
  • Involvement of Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba strongly suspected
  • Casualty count: 195 dead, 350+injured

Bombay Burning- Thoughts


I am semi-freewriting this, so please bear with me.

38+hours and the battle rages on. One cannot step back from the situation easily, as hostages remain and the casualties keep mounting. Yet, it is essential. Mumbai is quiet. That is almost unprecedented in a city of 18 million people. Bombay is fuckin quiet. There is movement on the streets, but muted. The trains are running, but there is a haunting statistic- they are running at half-capacity or less. In a city whose trains normally contain crowds that exceed the legal limit for cattle, this speaks volumes. The city is hurt. The country is hurt. And for once, because of the foreign nationals involved, the world is hurt.

This is no simple cross-border conspiracy. This is not just a solitary Mujahideen group wishing to make a name for themselves with terrorist theatre. This is not some two-bit force of frenzied fundamentalists fighting in the name of God and Jihad. This is more. These are soldiers, assassins driven by a complex system of beliefs that allows them to commit massacre with equanimity. This is an intricate syndicate that is well-funded, highly trained and intelligent, and displays an intimate understanding of symbolism and how the international media works.


A local train blows up, and people pray for the souls lost and go about their business. International news condemns the attack but most of the world’s powers are not sucked into the vortex of fear and bedlam that Mumbaikars faced. So, change the game. “Quality, not quantity” said my advisor when I was preparing to write university essays. “Quality, not quantity“, say the masterminds of this attack. So they target the symbols of Bombay’s status as a global city, and by extension the symbols of India, India the nouveau superpower. They arrive through the Gateway of India. They hit the Taj the Oberoi and the Trident, innkeepers to the Goras, the fashion models, the cricketers, the czars of commerce. They hit the CST (formerly VT), the most recognisable symbol of Colonial Bombay. They hit Nariman House, headquarters of India’s Hasidic Jews. They specifically ask for Europeans and Americans and honor them with hostage status.What happens? The international media is forced to pay attention to this crisis, as theirs are being targetted, theirs are in danger. Thanksgiving turkeys are trounced, terrorism takes over the telecast. The masterminds rejoice. This attack makes the headlines, this attack generates images, grief, shock, concern, anger, agitation, fear, terror. This attack is a success. This attack is beautiful.

I hope people understand what we are up against: daring, political and strategic acumen, huge funding,  no dearth of desperate volunteers and above all, the will to do what India as a democratic nation cannot. The only way to counter them is to make the entire world a hostile zone for terrorists. You CANNOT point fingers at one nation (initial reports indicate that some of the terrorists were Pakistani and that the attack may have been masterminded there). You CANNOT single out a particular religion.  Please watch this excellent video with Deepak Chopra (Doctor, author and spiritual guru) explaining the problems of alienation and perpetuation. Thanks to Danial Jameel for letting me know about it.

Instead, religious groups and governments must rally together to ensure that the entire world becomes a ‘hostile zone’ for terrorists. Don’t spout vitriol such as Islam=terror, or this/that nation is responsible. One must understand that the masterminds of these attacks are brand wizards; it is in their interest for Muslims to feel humiliated and condemned as it creates a state of desperation, and brings recruits to their doors. I am not a Muslim, but I know that their religion, along with others must be respected because in many nations (especially in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent), religion is a cornerstone of identity. Consider the numbers. There are 1.5bn+ Muslims in the world, and deriding them as a whole is bound to cause alienation, distrust, and eventually hostility. India itself has 200mn + Muslims. If they collectively decide that their country has turned its backs on them, and each one picks up a knife, the entire security force of the country is in no position to counter them.

This is not an idealistic viewpoint. This writer recognizes that the history of aggression between India and Pakistan and the masterminds’ careful brand stewardship make finger-pointing inevitable. Yet it is my hope and belief that countries can come together at this tragic time and commit to creating an atmosphere of possibility. Co-operation, intelligence sharing, and a united mindset will leave the terrorists hard-pressed to breathe. And you can’t bomb if you can’t breathe.


In prayer for the victims and their families and in hope of international solidarity on this tragedy,