BOOK REVIEW: A biography of Charlie Chaplin (Tamil)

Author: N.Chokkan

Price: 80 INR

Whenever I see TV advertisements, short comedies or mimicry programs I cannot stop appreciating the creative thinking that goes behind the scenes. Over the years I am able to entertain my friends circle using my amateur imitation shows and I can very well understand the challenge to entertain people. Making others laugh is one of the toughest job and requires very high amount of creativity, timing and constantly coming up with innovative ideas. Added to that, the comedy artist needs to give a peak performance in a very short period of time, failing which will lead to negative impression among the audience. This book talks about one of the all time great comedian who entertained the whole world only with his actions (without words) using his amazing creativity. He is none other than Charlie Chaplin and this book talks about his life. Even though people know him only by comedy, his personal life is one of the standing examples for ‘rags-to-riches’ success stories.

Born in a very poor family, Charlie had no formal education and begged in London’s streets. He spent most of his childhood on the roadside, hardly ate three times a day but finally made a mark in the world history. He made history only by his sheer hard work, determination, hunger for success, commitment towards his profession and never ending passion for providing quality entertainment to the worldwide audience.

Shortly after Charlie’s birth his father deserts the family and the whole family responsibility falls under his mother’s shoulders. She was an amateur stage artist and hardly made a living by performing small roles. But she always used to tell Charlie that one day he will become a great artist and her son is the smartest kid. In spite of all odds, his mother planted sowed seeds of self-confidence in him. During one of the programs, Charlie’s mother gets throat problem on the stage and she was forced out of the stage by the audience. Now in order to save his mother’s skin, the young Charlie appears on the stage and starts entertaining the audiences in an effortless way. This way Charlie’s first stage performance gets on the way and there is no full stop for him after that.

After slowly getting popular among small plays, Charlie joined the ‘Karno’ troop as a theatre artist and slowly becomes popular in London. The urge to perform better forced him to constantly re-think and re-invent his acting. Finally it resulted as the ‘tramp’ character (most of them remember Charlie only because of this character) by which he became world famous. As his plays were more of a mime, it attracted audiences irrespective of the language. Till the end Charlie was very adamant and made only one feature film. After gaining popularity in London, Charlie moves to the United States in order to achieve more in his career. Initially he joined Keystone as a movie artist and slowly moved to Essnay and Edna. Every time he moved to get more autonomy in terms of movie direction and also made sure that his pocket is growing in size. After multiple job hops Charlie understood the pain of working for others (like any other professional) and co-founded his own production firm names ‘United Artists’ along with some of his co-actors. His vision was to provide quality entertainment to his worldwide audiences at any cost and finally lived up to it.

As Charlie comes from a very poor background, he always created characters belonging to downtrodden and labor class. This was mistakenly interpreted by CIA and the ‘communist’ tag was stamped on him. By that time the success of USSR and communalism has already caused huge amount of concern among Americans and Charlie became victim of this suspicion. After giving everything for America and Hollywood he was forced to move out of the country. This made him to move to Switzerland where he spent his final days and died in 1977.

This book is the first attempt to capture Charlie Chaplin story in Tamil and it is well written. The author has written the book in a conversational, story-telling type which makes this book an interesting read. In conclusion Charlie’s life is a standing example for commitment, self-belief, innovation and sheer hard work. Reading his biography is definitely an energy booster.

BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Author: Richard Bach
ISBN: 0380012863

This is one of the ‘thin’ books I have read and the message conveyed is like a ‘capsule’. So just swallow it blindly! It is written in with simple but powerful words, which coveys a strong message: Don’t keep doing mundane things and get frustrated with life! Passionately explore and learn to the fullest extent’. The author Richard Bach conveys this message thro’ a fictional story of a seagull named Jonathan. Looking more deeply, this book touches the basic philosophy of life. In a way this book is similar to another book ‘The Alchemist’ which I have read couple of years back.

Coming to the story, Jonathan belongs to a seagull family whose main activity is to scout for food and survive. He belongs to a flock of seagulls, which keep doing the same task and never thought about anything beyond that. They don’t understand the purpose of their life and the reason for their existence. Frustrated by this, Jonathan wants to explore his passion for flying at very high altitude in high speed. He keeps practicing this alone and the fellow gulls including his parents feel it is not worth doing it. ‘I don’t mind being bone and feathers, Mum. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just want to know’. With this curiosity and the great joy of flying high, Jonathan keeps flying alone. Ultimately finds two other gulls like him in heaven.

These new gulls take him to a ‘higher plane of existence’, where he meets other gulls who love to fly. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him ‘a gull in a million’. Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to ‘begin by knowing that you have already arrived’. After learning these new flying techniques, Jonathan feels the need for teaching it to other seagulls in the earth and comes back to earth.

Here is where the story makes a transition from inspiration to leadership. Jonathan selects a group of gulls, who are interested in flying and teaches them his techniques. Here the author indirectly conveys the essence of inspirational leadership. The simplest form of leadership is very simple and very hard to demonstrate: ‘leading by example’. Jonathan teaches the joy and excitement of high flying to some of his fellow gulls from the flock and helps them to realize the purpose of their life as well. He teaches them ‘The only true law is that which leads to freedom’. This is in consistent with Stephen Covey’s 8th habit: ‘Find your Voice & Inspire others to find Theirs’.

Overall it’s a very small and nicely written book. Truly inspirational!

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Reflections on ‘The Guru’

I like only two type of movies: serious and comedy. Since Mani Rathnam’s ‘THE GURU’ belongs to the first category watched it on the theater (after a long long time). Overall the movie was pretty good at the same time raises lots of questions about building businesses in India. Before getting the business, let me quickly run thro’ the movie.
The hero Gurukant Desai, who hails from a small village in Gujarat moves to Turkey for employment and make some quick bucks. Because of his hard work and commitment (and of course his shrewdness)he raises very fast, but comes back to India and starts his own company. The first set of scenes itself says that ‘Guru’ is the story of Dhirubai Ambani and Reliance. If not for anything I would appreciate Mani’s attempt to make movie based on real life heroes. Long time back he made an excellent Tamil movie called ‘iruvar’, which was a neat sketch of lives of MGR and Karunanidhi. Unfortunately it was a commercial failure but I liked the movie. Unlike the typical ‘pyar mohabbath’ time-pass movies this movie conveys a message to aspirational, middle-class, hardworking people.

When the hero Guru starts his ‘Sakthi trading corporation’ in 1950s ‘license raj’ environment he faces lots of problems from the government and nethas. In order to race ahead in this adverse conditions Guru ‘bhai’ gets dowry, tilts the government, irks the authorities and finally emerges as India’s biggest business powerhouse. Now what is the message conveyed? In order to become successful and wealthy do an individual needs to take Guru’s path? Do we need to consider his strategy as a formula for success? Before coming to the conclusion let us analyze the ‘license raj’ a bit more.

In his book ‘India unbound’, author Gurucharan Das explains very clearly about the license raj and how it ended up as a zero sum game for India’s economy. After independence, ‘India’ (read ‘India’ as Nehru) embraced ‘socialistic-democracy’ as the main ideology inspired by the erstwhile USSR. Unlike USSR, in India it worked in reverse way by as it ultimately ended ‘capitalism for rich and socialism for poor’. The big, rich, fatty businesses were growing leaps and bounds whereas the poor suffered big time. The impact on corporate sector is even worse. Every corporation was owned by the government and in order to open a private business house, one has to go through all sorts of pain by applying for licenses. The word ‘competition’ was literally wiped off and the Entrepreneurial spirit was burnt in the infancy stage itself. Except for family owned businesses (which was more inherited from forefathers) new ventures were totally out of the scene.

What does it lead to? One end it lead to incompetent, lazy, red-tape public sector organizations and in another end small businesses were killed. Today all public sectors (except a few) have become ‘sick units’ and government is trying to slowly get rid of them by ‘disinvesting’ its stakes. Even some of the very few successful PSUs failed miserably and made no difference to people’s lives. I don’t see any device made in BHEL or BEL or NTPC is ever been useful to any average middle class Indian. They might have built boilers, electronic voting machines, power grids or transformers but where do they stand today? Did these organizations built any products at low cost? Did they invent any device which made life easier for a farmer? Did they create any product which is competing at the world level and stand for any unique values? Did they create any healthy competition? The answer is BIG NO.

In this kind of environment if an aspiring individual starts his business how can he think of making it big? That too going by the rules of ‘sahibs’ of ‘license raj’? And anybody (like Guru ‘bhai’ in this movie) tried to ‘work around’ this system we call them ‘un-ethical’. There was only one way out and where is un-ethical comes into picture here? If we call that as un-ethical what about today’s knowledge industry? Can we call all companies in the world are 100% ethical? What about ENRONs of this new world? What about insider trading that happens in the services industry? How many of us are aware of one engineer billed under two different projects? How many of us know about companies cook up their employee’s resumes to get a new project? Is it not un-ethical?

In my opinion the ‘idealistic’ environment never exists and ethics is totally subjective. Why do I say that? Let me take one example from from Ramanaya and Mahabharath as well. How did Rama kill Vaali, brother of shughreeva? Is it the correct way according to the war principles? Didn’t lord Krishna shout ‘Ashwathama hata’ (to confuse dronacharya), which eventually killed drona? We accept them because it was done to protect ‘dharma’. I would augment my opinion to that and say whatever Guru ‘bhai’ has done is to protect ‘business dharma’ which created a lot of wealth, generated lots of employment which has a significant positive impact in the society. In fact this is what Mani Ratnam clearly conveys thro’ Guru’s final dialogs in the court.

Overall it was a nice movie with a lot of messages!

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Leadership and Management

The new year is on very much and I trace back one of my initial blog titled ‘The manager mania’, where i briefly touched upon leadership and management. It made me think more in that direction and sharing my perspectives in this blog. Whether you are a corporate guy or a government employee,these two words are gaining more and more importance. At the same time attributes of leadership and management has gone through changes over time. What exactly do I understand by leadership? What is management? How different they are? How important for an individual to know about them? Read on.

What is leadership?

According to me ‘Leadership’ is all about setting a clear direction for a great vision by empowering and enabling individuals. It is more about understanding the present, visualizing the future and leading to the future. This term can be applied to any particular discipline. Some examples are ‘corporate leadership’ ‘thought leadership’ ‘technical leadership’ ‘political leadership’ ‘personal leadership’. Depending on the discipline the vision and mission varies but the core principles remain the same.

Basically leadership comes only in two forms: Power leadership and Inspirational leadership. The former is more about tight control and top down approach. The leader is given certain authority or power to lead people. Adolf Hitler’s leadership comes under this category. The later is more of bottom up where the leader leads by example by inspiration by setting example. Gandhi’s leadership is a wonderful example for the same.

In today’s world the inspirational leadership is more suitable and applicable because of two main reasons. First, individuals are much more aware of the happenings than ever before. In today’s knowledge are the amount of information is in abundance and it empowers people. Second, the ‘democracy’ is emerging throughout the world which believes ‘for people by people’. Because of the two reasons the world has moved to ‘interdependence’ state from the ‘dependence’ state. Individuals and countries are connected in terms of trade, bi-lateral relationships, sharing resources. From the psychological point of view, human brain is having left and right hemispheres. The right side of the brain is more intuitive, visual, imaginative and dream oriented and left side is about analytical, number crunching and execution. For individuals the right side of the brain plays more role when it comes to leadership.

Grilling down to personal level, leadership starts with taking ‘responsibility’ with a strong character which is driven by a dream or vision. Our Indian philosophy is an excellent resource for learning personal leadership. My first remembrance for leadership goes to my my childhood days, where I was taught wonderful verses from ‘thirukkural’ (two thousand years ago by thiruvalluvar). Later on I was exposed to ‘Bhagavad Gita’ and ‘Artha Shastra’ as well. All of them are mainly focused towards character building which is the foundation for leadership.

What is Management?

The word ‘management’ is all more about execution. It is a structured approach towards solving a problem in a optimized way. The leadership is all about ‘focus’ and management is about ‘speed’. Focusing on a particular direction in a high speed is the only way to achieve the vision. This also means leadership and management goes hand in hand.

The Analytical thinking and optimization plays important role in management as management is all about methods and practices. The western world have designed wonderful, proved management techniques. They have built great organizations and corporations based on excellent management methods which generated huge amount of wealth in those countries. For example Hewlett-Packard has got Management By Walking Around (where managers work closely with engineers by walking in the shop floor) and GE’s Fix-sell-or-close (The management principle introduced by Jack Welch for GE’s businesses).

In conclusion, I would like to say leadership and management are two sides of the same coin. One looses value in absence of the other and they are two sides of the same coin. So let us take the leadership lessons from the Indian philosophy and management from western world. In a way this will ‘synergy’ between opposite corners of the world.