Cinema and Politics in South India

The association of cinema and politics has got a long history in Southern India. The political landscape of southern states (especially Tamilnadu and Andra Pradesh) has been significantly altered by actors turned politicians. The Telugu superstar Chiranjeevi joined the league yesterday by launching his political party ‘Praja Rajyam’ from Thirupathi. Almost all the major news channels covered the party launch. He literally swept the media by storm with attractive statements about various issues faced by people of Andra Pradesh. Nothing new — yet another film star joining the party!
Cut to 1970s! The Tamilnadu state was primarily governed by Congress party, which was systematically toppled by the Dravidian moment. It was a significant change for the people of Tamil Nadu, which provided a platform for film stars enter into main stream politics. Primarily the Dravidian moment was launched by Periyar in 1925 to restore ‘self respect’ among lower caste, which formed the lower portion of the society. A powerful yet simple medium was required to reach these uneducated, rural and poor people to proliferate the Dravidian ideology. Initially it was people like Karunanithi, who fueled the Dravidian ideology by writing revolutionary thoughts in form of movie dialogues. Even today nobody can forget movies like ‘parasakti’ (first movie of the legend Sivaji Ganesan) which planted these thoughts among common people. However these dialogues always acted as a ‘back-end’ and needed a powerful front end to mobilize the mass.

That front-end came in the form of M G Ramachandran, who was popularly known as “MGR”. These “three letters” literally became a chanting mantra of every poor in Tamilnadu. After becoming a popular hero, he became the primary vehicle to promote Dravidian ideologies. It was sent to a common man in multiple forms including dialogues, songs, jokes packed with his own “MGR” style. He was the first person successfully tied the cinema with politics in a very significant way. In almost all movies he played role of “savior-of-poor”, who helped them to fight against a Zameendhar for their basic rights, thereby raising their self esteem and self respect of the poor. During pre-independence times multiple forms of dramas (puppet-shows, street plays etc…) were used as a medium to communicate the need of independence. It was very critical because not everybody understood the deep ideologies of Gandhi and his Satyagraha. An illiterate farmer living in a village can connect to these dramas much better rather than listening to radio or reading a newspaper, which was too “high-fi” for these folks. They needed a very a simple form, which they can connect with and internalize the message.I call it as “version 1.0″ of media playing significant role in altering the political landscape the country. Then the “version 2.0” came in form of the movies, to communicate the self-respect Dravidian ideology, mentioned above. Whatever may be the future, one cannot rule out the impact of these movies among people of Tamilnadu. It has caused such a deep impact that the Dravidian parties are ruling the state for the past 40 years. It was a well planned act by Dravidian politicians to reach out the people.

On the other side, not everybody really understood the real ideology behind the dialogues delivered by the hero (read it is MGR). They started seeing MGR as their “savior” who will lift them from the miserable life they was leading. He was admired as an undisputed super-hero. This image gave him the much required popularity, to mobilize the people, attract them and make them vote for his party. He was so powerful that, in spite of splitting from his parent party DMK, people voted for him just because it was “MGR’s party”. He remained in power for 10 years (from 1977-1987) till he died. I can draw similar lines with N T Rama Rao (NTR), who was the popular “Krishna” among the people of Andra Pradesh. Upon moved by the question “Sir, we have treated you like a God but what have you done for us?” by one of the audience, he started his Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Similar to MGR, NTR was seen as their savior. The lord Krishna image gave him a huge leverage.

Now, why am I talking about MGR and NTR in 2008? The reason is simple — Even today uneducated, rural, poor people see movie stars as their “saviors”. It’s nothing but “version 3.0” of the South Indian cinema! If it was MGR and NTR in ’70s and ’80s it is Rajinikath, Vijayakanth, Chiranjeevi in 2008. Nothing else changed except time. The educated, urban, middle-class gets ruled out in this whole saga mainly because they won’t vote. No amount of globalization, urbanization, economic policies, media, and Internet has changed the basic psyche.

If Rajinikath can become rich by selling milk in the movie ‘Annamalai’ people still believe that he can do the same in real life; If Vijayakanth fights and kills many militants in Kashmir (that’s what he does in most of his movies) people believe that he can provide solution to the long-debated Kashmir issue; If Chiranjeevi can play the role of a professor, who fights against corruption in the movie ‘Tagore’, people still believe that he can cleanup the whole political system; Even today people believe that cinema and real life are same. They are living in their own world, which is far different from what the media projects as “modern India”.

I have high regard for Version 2.0 politicians of Tamilnadu, because they had a strong ideology behind them. Their moment was very powerful, mainly fight against societal backwardness. They played significant roles in various Dravidian parties apart from cinema. What do these 3.0 actors, turned politicians have done? Nothing! What ideology, policy or societal ground work they have done? Nothing! All they have done is very simple — played modern day super hero roles and created a fan following.

The launch of ‘Praja Rajyam’ by Chiranjeevi and the support he received shows that the vote bank has not changed in the past 62 years of independence. Instead of taking individual responsibilities, everybody wants their “super-hero” to come the save their lives like he does in the movies. And the system we have built up is having such a fundamental flaw that it has still not provided the basic knowledge and education to an average citizen. Generations have changed, years have gone by — but many of us still live in a “dream” world not even knowing the basic difference between cinema and reality. All we have is big dreams, but no actions!

BOOK REVIEW : Go Kiss the World

Author : Subroto Bagchi

Price: 399 INR

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Book review: High performance Entrepreneur

Book release: Go Kiss the world

The first book of Subroto ‘The high performance entrepreneur’ primarily depicted various aspects of Entrepreneurship. If the first book is all about ‘work’ the second one ‘Go kiss the world’ is all about ‘life’, thus completing the ‘work-life’ hemispheres. In the year 2006,Subroto delivered his famous speech to the students of IIM-Bangalore on the same title, where he shared some of his life lessons with management graduates. This book is an extension of that speech covering many aspects of his personal and professional life. This book has couldn’t come at a better time where India is going through a huge transformation. Thanks to economic policies and availability of talent pool, the number of jobs for young professionals is growing at an exponential phase. Well paid global jobs are getting poured into the country in every industry including — IT, ITES, Finance, Law, Services and Manufacturing. Its really amazing to see professionals walking with six figure monthly salaries, buying houses in their early twenties and getting global exposure. At the same time these young professionals (which includes me) need to learn and understand the importance of values and critical real life lessons. In this context, Bagchi shared some of his life lessons in the book, which turns out to be very for a young professionals who are ready to take on the world.

Initial chapters of the book talks about Subroto’s family members and his early life. As his father’s job had many transfers, he ends up spending time in many of the semi-urban/rural places of Orissa. He vividly shares about tiny but beautiful anecdotes of his early life and some of the lessons he learned from his parents and elder brother. As a town brought up, I was able to connect much better with them. After completing his graduation in political science, he started his career as a lower division clerk in the state government. He fondly recollects his first boss Khuntia babu, from whom he learned how to open a file. Upon not knowing where to go and what to do (typical issue faced by any person from town), he starts looking for a better job. After multiple rounds of interview he gets a job as a management trainee in DCM, which was a premium job during those days. After facing some adversities and internal politics, he quits the job and takes up an entry-level sales job with HCL by taking 40% pay cut. It was totally a different industry and job where the sales job teaches him hard realities of life. However HCL played a significant role in Subroto’s life by providing an entry into ‘less-known’ IT industry.

After working for a few IT companies in sales and marketing function, he takes early plunge into entrepreneurship along with few few friends by starting up a company called Project.21 in early 1985. The objective of the company was to provide computer training to working professionals from many companies. Even though the company was able to generate cash in the initial days, it gets into problems from multiple angles. In fact this is what happens to many entrepreneurs when they don’t have holistic understanding about building a business. After three years there, the company comes to a grinding halt after which he decides to get onto some job where he can expect some stability and a decent growth. The main turning point comes in the form of his job with Wipro, where he served for 10 years. As his initial job provided him shop-floor level experience, Subroto was able to clean up the sales function of Wipro and quickly raise in the corporate ladder. He explains some of the exceptional persons he met in Wipro and learnings from each one of them. The subsequent assignments in Wipro takes him to the US, where he builds an ‘on-demand’ R & D lab from the scratch.In pinacle of his career with Wipro, driven by internal “call” Subroto starts Mindtree along with his like-minded individuals. The subsequent chapters talks about how he and his team went on building Mindtree, providing leadership during adverse situations (during 2000/2001 downturn) and taking up the role of ‘Gardener’, inspired by servant-leadership.

The beauty of the book is not about knowing Subroto’s life and his career growth. As mentioned in the prologue of the book, he used his life as a canvas to share his significant learnings with external world. As a young professionals many of us think that a job from a company X or salary of Y or position of Z will take where we want to go. In reality the success or happiness is not all about a job, position or money but the amount of learning and value system an individual carries along with him. That way the biggest reward in life is the journey itself. Without understanding this, many of us crib, worry and complain about many things in their jobs. How many of us in the IT industry even think that the salary we draw is at least 10 times more than what our parents earned even during as their last month salary before retirement? How many of us thank the veterans who built the IT industry in early 90s where the western world didn’t even know where India existed in the world map? How many of us are able to see the difference between job and career? What is the amount of learning happens at the workplace, on a daily basis? How many days did we spend not complaining about our bosses, company or a colleague? It takes a big heart and humility to enjoy, learn and make a difference to the world we live in. As young professionals we need to learn a lot from veterans like Subroto and live a complete life.

In a way this book plays a significant role in planting thought process mentioned above.Instead preaching (which the young professionals hate anyway), Subroto used his life as an example and shared many things. In many places I felt a chord hitting my head heavily, thereby opening up many avenues to think. I would like to take a moment and thank Subroto for sharing his life lessons openly with the bigger world. I am sure it will make a difference to many people. I can proudly say I am one among them!

Hey Ram

On Independence Day, one of the TV channels aired Kamal Haasan’s ‘Hey Ram’. I have a long, transformational and emotional journey with that movie. Way back in 2000 I watched it during my college days along with one of my friends, upon his compulsion. I felt it was a total junk, where I commented that Kamal put together multiple documentaries to form of a movie. I hardly understood the movie and cursed my friend for wasting my time and money. After all, spending 14 rupees for a movie ticket along with 6 rupees for the transportation (share-auto) was a big deal in 2000.
Cut to Bangalore. It was the year 2005 (Oct 2nd, Gandhi Jayanthi to be precise) and the same movie was shown in Sony channel. I was alone at my home as my room-mate had gone to office to fix a customer facing issue. As no other movie was aired during the same time, I started watching the movie with more concentration. By 2005 I was mature enough to understand the world better and read few chapters from Gandhi’s ‘My experiments with truth’. I was able to connect to the movie much better this time and watched each and every scene with full attention. By the end it, the message of the movie hit me very hardly. I am not a very sentimental person, but tears started rolling out of my eyes without even me realizing it. Vow! What a wonderful movie about a great person.

For people who are not aware about Hey Ram here is a brief about the movie. It is basically a fictional story made by Kamal Hassan which revolves around India-Pakistan partition, violence that shook the country during partition, plot behind Gandhi’s assassination and raise of Hindutva ideology promoted by Veer Savarkar. Kamal plays the role of an Archeologist (Saket Ram Iyengar) who’s Bengali wife Aparna (Rani Mukerjee) was raped and killed by their Muslim servant. Upon disappointment and anger, Saket starts killing every other Muslim in the neighborhood. In the bloody, violence hit Calcutta streets; he meets a Hindutva activitist Shriram Abhayankar (Atul Kulkarni) who plants Hindu fanatical thoughts in Saket’s mind. Abhyankar also tells that Gandhi is the whole reason for Muslims getting undue advantage in a country, where Hindus form 85% of the population. Then the movie takes multiple turns where Abyankar and Saket were chosen to kill Gandhi. Due to an unexpected accident, Abyankar becomes bed ridden and Saket moves to Delhi to do the job. The main turning point happens in Delhi, where Saket meets his old Muslim friend Amjad Ali Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) in a communally tensed area. The series of incidents and Khan’s death transforms Saket and confronts that blood-for-blood is an incorrect ideology. There on Saket becomes a Gandhi follower and lives reminder of his life by following Gandhi’s principles. The last 45 minutes of the movie (transformation of Saket) is really a wonderful piece to watch.

Even after 62 years, many Indians feel that Gandhi’s ideology and non-violent way of getting independence to India is incorrect. Many still believe that he played significant role in making Indians as cowards, by not making them fight against the British face to face. They also believe martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekar Azad did the correct thing by killing some British folks. Especially after ‘Rang De Basanti’ these martyrs have become superstars among young Indians. While I am not discounting the sacrifice made by these great martyrs, I feel Gandhian way is the most appropriate way to get independence for India. Here are the some of the reasons.

First, India is the most diverse country in the world. There are multiple languages, customs, religions and rituals are followed in various parts of the country. It’s impossible to unite them in the name of language or religion (which was in case in other revolutions happened in the world) other than Nationality and non-violence. If not for that method, Gandhi would have failed to unite the whole country. Taking the rebellious path and shooting somebody would have resulted in short term benefits but it would not have resulted in a democratic India. Every other country which got independence with the help of the gun couldn’t sustain them beyond certain point.

Second, India was ruled by a lot of kings in the past. The country was divided into many pieces during different rulers. The colonial approach of the British once again kept the country under their rule for more than 200 years. From there India matured into a powerful, vibrant, constitution based democracy today. According to me, this change is really huge which required a properly planned transition. If not for non-violent approach, it would not have been possible. During the same time, Pakistan took the dictatorship approach and everyone knows the pathetic political situation even today. Even a country based on Muslim religion couldn’t sustain itself with dictatorship, let alone diversified country India. It would have been torn into pieces, which would have resulted in a civil war. Gandhi’s non-violence sowed seeds for a mature approach.

Third, Gandhi’s approach was inclusive. It included women, who were not accepted in the society for centuries together. By making them participate into nation’s independent movement Gandhi, made them realize their self worth and esteem. Apart from women, he also brought the downtrodden Harijans, who were treated like animals by denying basic rights for thousands of years. If not for this inclusive approach, we would have still not given basic voting rights to women and continue ill-treating Harijans even today. I am not saying all the problems against women and Harijans are addressed, but Gandhi’s thought process set stage for reforms and changes to be brought to address every other sectors of the society.

For me understanding Gandhi is a continuous journey. From debunking Hey Ram in 2000 to adoring the same in 2008, I have come a long way. Looking him and his ideologies at periphery might not make sense but deep thoughts do clear many things about him. It is his leadership and non-violent movement made India what it is today. Movies like Hey Ram play a significant role to pass on the message of Gandhi to future generations.

Infosys and TOI

Not sure why every other news about Infosys covered by TOI. Some samples:

MTR won’t cater to Infosys, Wipro anymore

Hardware, Software and Parenting

The first one talks about MTR pulling out of providing catering services at Infosys and Wipro. And I clearly remember another news in TOI (not able to get the link) when MTR was given the contract in Infosys. My question is simple — whats the big deal? There are many other companies in Bangalore, where cateres change every now and then for many reasons. Does it worth publishing it? These things are not necessarily unique about Infosys.The second one is even funny. It talks about a intranet portal launched at Infosys for providing parental guidance to their employees. This also just another gimmick from TOI. Many of the MNCs operating in India have much advanced counseling and networking platforms regarding many life issues like stress management, maintaining work-life balance, parental issues etc. In fact my organization has appointed 1 to 1 help for providing such services.

I have high regard and respect for Infosys and Narayana Murthy for the work they have done so far. Every middle class educated Indian is proud of the achievements by Infosys. That doesn’t mean that anything and everything they do should be glorified. What difference it is going to make if I get to know that MTR is not serving in their employee centeen? More than Infosys, it shows the cheap news that TOI is publishing to fill-up their business column by using tags like “Infosys, NRN”.

In future I wont’t be surprised if TOI has a news titled “Infosys provides computers to every employee” 🙁

Long live TOI and their excellence in journalism.

Related link: In search of a good newspaper

Its not the critic who counts

Came across this wonderful quote from Andy’s blog. Its so true in Indian context, where there are more talkers (critic) than doers!

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

“Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910


Last week I was watching ‘Innovation at work’ program in CNBC-TV18, which covered some case studies done in India on the field of innovation. It was interesting to see IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd) as one of the cases, which showed how they built the online reservation system ( as ‘incremental’ basis. Started off in the year 2000 with mailing the printed tickets (i-tickets) to customers, IRCTC has come a long way by offering multiple services like e-ticketing,package tours,budget cab booking and season tickets. Check out some their list of achievements here.

Yesterday I was traveling back from my native place to Bangalore in a newly introduced train. In order to confirm train timings I called 139,which turned out to be pleasant experience. There was a well designed IVR system and the support staff was providing a professional quality service in the local language. Upon digging more I learned that IRCTC has outsourced support functionality to a private firm.

Public sector firms have a long way to go, but it was nice to see professional service provided by them.

Related post: Indian Railways : The sleeping ‘Giant’ ?