Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Slumdog Millionaire – The Most Over Hyped, Most Average Movie Ever?

Posted in Current Affairs, TV, Entertainment & Movies by Amit Paranjape on January 30, 2009

Disclaimer – I am no film critic, so read this review (more of a rambling…) with a pinch of whatever it is you take J. If you agree with my views, thanks! If you disagree – sorry about wasting your precious 5 minutes!

 

Imagine its early 2009 and aliens from a distant galaxy ‘happen’ to visit earth. Technologically they are 1000s of years ahead of mankind…proven just by the mere fact that they made it all the way here J. Yet they are completely confounded in their understanding of the human mind! After researching through each and every human behavior pattern and psychology, they still cannot figure out why these homo-sapiens are so crazy about this new hit movie called ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. And it’s not as-if they didn’t do their homework!

 

Thanks to their superior screening and learning abilities, they have already internalized all the great Hollywood classics from the past eight decades. They admired the depictions of space travel in Star Wars, the portrayal of prehistoric worlds in Jurassic Park, the history lessons from Ben Hur to Gladiator; and the drama in God Father. A simple love story that translated into probably the biggest all-time movie, ‘Titanic’ also aroused their strong interest. All these movies had terrific music, direction and cinematography.

 

These aliens have even tried (admittedly, with less success) to understand India’s ‘Bollywood’ and have studied great musical works of A.R. Rahman such as ‘Roja’, ‘Lagaan’, to name a few. After all, the language of music translates across galaxies J.  They have seen stark and realistic depictions of harsh realities of urban life in the developing world, in movies such as ‘Salam Bombay’ and ‘Traffic Signal’.

 

And now they are hit with this new challenge…How in the world (Sorry, How in the Universe J  ), to explain this phenomenon of Slumdog Millionaire! I and a few others (it seems for sure…) sympathize with their predicament.

 

I mean, there’s nothing wrong with the Slumdog movie, for starters. But there’s nothing, absolutely nothing great either! An average story, with hardly any plot! Music that doesn’t even come close to any of A.R. Rahman’s better efforts. Cinematography that primarily revolves around some ‘slum’ shots and some ‘train’ shots… Acting is probably the only one above average component in the movie…but calling it great, is a stretch as well!

 

For this ‘original’, ‘realistic’, ‘unique’ and ‘special’ depiction (of an extremely typical ‘Rags-To-Riches’ story format) – why is the movie stuck with those extremely stereo-typical India portrayals? Taj Mahal, Railways, Call Centers, and Slums – this theme doesn’t look that original and imaginative.

 

There is so much hype; to the point where it is getting long standing ovations?! Is the hype coming out of the doom and gloom that majority of the world finds itself today, following the 2008 Financial Crisis? Is the situation so bad, that such a movie can ‘uplift’ the mood of so many people? ‘Look at the misery around the world, and you are thankful for what you have’ – didn’t some philosopher say something like that?

 

Or has India suddenly become the flavor of the season? Or, are the rest of the movies (I haven’t watched any of the contenders) from 2008 so bad, that the juries of prestigious awards are stuck with this one?

 

Well…just as those aliens, we would probably never no! J 

 

 

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10 Things I would like to see before Seat-Belts are made Mandatory in Pune

Posted in Pune by Amit Paranjape on January 29, 2009

I have been hearing that Pune is planning to make wearing car seat-belts mandatory. This is a good development, and hopefully an indication that the authorities are increasingly worrying about the safety of drivers.

 

The fact that seat-belts are a useful safety measure – no one would ever argue against. But why stop at seatbelts?! Why not a driver-side airbag? Why not dual airbags? Why not side-restraint airbags? Why not collision warning sensors? Why not mandatory front and real crumple zones?

 

Ok, I think I might have already made my point…But to elucidate it further – While all safety equipments are useful, prioritizing simple (and often times more effective) ones over more complicated expensive ones, is critical. Just think of how many injuries can be prevented by simply enforcing existing traffic rules, instead of creating new ones?  

 

Typical Pune City traffic moves (‘crawls’ is probably a more appropriate description) at an average speed of 20 km/hr or less. At that speed, one wonders to what extent seatbelts would be really effective. Seatbelts become life-savers at highway speeds. In case of accidents, they help in restraining the driver and the passengers, as the vehicle comes to an abrupt standstill.

 

Here is a list of 10 basic things that I think can make a greater impact on road safety on Pune City Roads. I am sure there are many more that can be added to this list. Note – I am not commentating on how and when these issues can be implemented / addressed. That’s for the various authorities/agencies to decide. I am simply pointing these generic issues out to highlight their priorities versus additional and newer safety regulations.

 

 

1. Road Dividers

 

Wherever feasible, road dividers need to be put in place where none exist. Many accidents happen due to head-on collisions, and these can be prevented by segmenting traffic by dividers.

 

Existing dividers need to be fixed with proper barriers, so that pedestrians can cross only at pre-designated points.

 

2. Better Traffic Planning (One-Ways, etc.)

 

This is a broad point, but I will add some specifics. Effective one-way planning helps a great deal in streamlining traffic and preventing traffic chaos. Many times though, citizens end up being big opponents of one-way plans, since everyone in Pune wants to go to where they want to, by the shortest direct route!

 

3. ‘Road ownership’ – Construction Sites

 

There is no clear ownership of ‘roads’ near a road-construction site. Hence there is no proper demarcation of where the construction ends, and where the proper road starts. Many months after the construction is supposedly over, one finds debris lying nearby. This creates major traffic hazards.

 

 

4. Improper lanes/absence of any lanes


Lane traffic is virtually non-existent in Pune. Most roads are too narrow; however that should not be an excuse for not having lanes in the first place. Drivers have no concept (and training) of lanes and drive in a ‘crisscross’ manner. Here again, there is a need to demarcate clear lanes, and then enforce lane discipline (they do it very well in Mumbai).

 

5. Enforce Signals

 

This sounds so basic; yet a critical need. The number of drivers who jump signals or utterly disregard them is increasing. Enforcing signals through the use of technology (cameras, etc.) is something that can be looked at.

 

6. Mobile phone users

 

A scary sight in Pune is a 2-Wheeler Driver having an animated conversation on his/her cell-phone! This is serious. In some ways, this can be as dangerous as drunken driving! (A little exaggeration may be…but the most important thing in driving on these busy roads is focused attention!)

 

7. Rash Drivers (all vehicles)

 

Rash driving is rampant in Pune. This is applicable across all categories of vehicles. Not sure how each and every rash driver can be disciplined, but this is one of the biggest risk areas as far as Pune traffic is concerned.

 

8. Pedestrian pathways, crossings

 

Some blame (and corresponding corrections) should also go the way of pedestrians. Understand that many places there are no good crossings/foot-paths. But even if they are there, pedestrians routinely don’t use them and literally walk in the middle of the road. School zones are scary with children running all over the place in a busy intersection.

 

9. Parking Rules

 

Parking rules are very important. Improper parking creates traffic chaos and leads to other traffic problems, including accidents.

 

10. Highways Rules

 

For highways, I do agree that making seatbelts mandatory would be very useful. However, as discussed earlier – implementing the basic traffic rules is also critical. Two fundamental problems that cause many highway accidents are: a) Overcrowding of vehicles, b) Drowsy Drivers. These need to be checked as well.

 

  

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10 Ways In Which Indian Retail Chain Stores Need To Improve

Posted in Retail Management by Amit Paranjape on January 24, 2009

Indian Retail Chain Stores saw a meteoric rise over the past few years. Many ‘major’ brands entered into the segment with big plans. Now, as often happens in any crazy boom, the inevitable bust followed. Today many of these chains have put their expansion plans on hold, fired a bunch of their executives, and are off to do some soul searching. Few others have been less fortunate and are completely out of business.

 

While there are many reasons with respect to what went wrong with this retail hype (a topic a separate, more comprehensive future article…) there are a few very obvious ones. For example, what’s wrong at the store level?

 

I have listed 10 things that need to improve at the store level for these Retail Chain Stores. What is interesting to note is that some of these issues are not at all difficult to implement. Quite a few are just plain simple commonsense!

 

Just go to a corner ‘Kirana’ mom & pop grocery store and you will find many of these issues being tackled really well! My personal favorite in the supermarket category is the one-off Pune grocery supermarket store; a real Pune icon of the past many years; ‘Dorabjees’. I hope every retail manager and executive gets a chance to visit this store to see what I am talking about!

 

 

10 Ways In Which Indian Retail Chain Stores Need To Improve

 

1. Inventory Management – The clear #1. How often do you walk into an Indian Retail Chain Store and not find what you are looking for? Happens to me all the time! These Retailers need to learn from the local corner ‘Kirana’ store about how to do basic inventory management.

 

2. Merchandizing & Assortments Some person sitting in corporate comes up with these decisions – as a result they are often times completely off target for a particular neighborhood. These stores hardly stock what you are looking for!

 

3. Customer Service Customer Service is extremely pathetic in many of these chain stores. There are quite a few store employees who literally loiter around the aisles, but are usually pretty clueless and in no real mood to help me find what I am looking for. The others, particularly near the cash registers are too busy speaking with each other…the customer can just wait! I have often asked for a store manager. Often times, he is absent from the location, and if present doesn’t really shed a lot of light on the problem. Worse, if I push him real hard about the store problems, he conveniently starts blaming everything on ‘Corporate’!

 

4. Store Layouts – I understand that space is always at a premium, but there is a lot of room to be a little innovative about how aisles are laid out. A little bit of commonsense would go a long way here!

 

5. Store Lighting & Ventilation – A lot of money is spent on these stores, but somehow lighting seems to take a lower priority. A well lit store is a rarity. Natural light is virtually absent, and so is any natural ventilation. For whatever reasons (maintenance/cost-cutting/etc.), the A/Cs never seems to work properly.

 

6. Cleanliness of Stores – The less said here, the better! I have wondered if some of these stores are ever cleaned at all.

 

7. Quality of Fresh Produce – I personally never buy any fresh produce from any of these stores. Just the appearance of the vegetables and fruits stocked in there would want someone to turn the other way. This, when the same stuff available right outside with the regular ‘Bhaji-Wallas’ is nice and fresh!

 

8. Temperature of Cold Storage – I am not exaggerating when I say that I have been to stores where the ‘cold’ storage areas and refrigerators felt like they were at room temperature! I would never want to buy any frozen or refrigerated stuff at many of these places. One store tried to be a little ‘honest’ about it’s refrigerator by putting a thermometer in there. Many of the items in there had a recommended storage temperature of 4 deg C, and the thermometer was reading a nice 15 deg C!

 

9. Availability of Exact Change – Haven’t found a store that has given me exact change in return, till date. It’s easy for the cashiers to blame the banks for non-availability, but how come many of the traditional stores (e.g. Chitale in Pune) have exact change, with many times more traffic? And oh, by the way, the credit card machines also do not work in many cases!

 

10. Loyalty Program – Unlike the traditional stores, these stores have no concept of ‘inherent’ customer loyalty. In traditional stores, the owner knows me quite well, and will go out of his way to help me. In chain stores it is to be expected that the store manager won’t provide me with that level of ‘personalized’ service. But the idea is to use technology (in terms of loyalty cards, etc.) to compensate for that. Almost all stores talk about having some ‘loyalty program’. In realty, its never clearly implemented, no one in the store quite knows all the details and en-cashing ‘points’ is often quite difficult.

 

 

 

 

Would like to hear your thoughts and experiences regarding these retail chain stores. Recently, I wrote an extensive article about the story of a ‘fictional’ Indian Retailer ‘MahaMart’ and how it tackles various challenges, for PuneTech.com. This article goes into depth on addressing some of these systemic issues.

 

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How Did ‘Maha’ DeshMart Survive The Economic Slowdown And Thrive

Posted in Information Technology, Retail Management, Science & Technology, Supply Chain Management by Amit Paranjape on January 14, 2009

I recently published an article on Retail SCM (Supply Chain Management) in PuneTech.com. The article discusses the key SCM Business Process Workflows in a typical Retailer. It also highlights some of the critical challenges, management best practices and policies. The article talks about a story of an India based retailer ‘Maha’ DeshMart.

‘Maha’ DeshMart is a large (fictional) supermarket chain with a pan-India presence. Special emphasis is put on the importance of ‘Information Technology’ and how it enables ‘Maha’ DeshMart to run one of the most efficient Supply Chain & Operations. Benchmarking is also done with global industry leaders such as Wal-Mart. 2008 represented a challenging year and we will take a look at how specific Supply Chain Processes and the other aspects of Retail Operations react to the global economic challenges, and can still deliver on the overall goals and objectives of the company. This fictional story about the fictional ‘Maha’ DeshMart is in continuation of PuneTech’s series of articles on Supply Chain Management.

To view the complete article, please click here, “How did ‘Maha’ DeshMart Survive the Economic Slowdown and Thrive”

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Did India Skip The 20th Century?

Posted in Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on January 7, 2009

The title will seem an obvious exaggeration, but I am using it to drive home my point that the recent spectacular progress seen in India around the IT revolution has often times masked the core foundational development of any developing country. It is this core infrastructural development that many of the countries we see today in the developed world, painstakingly went through in the early part of the 20th century. India it seems, is moving directly from the 19th century to the 21st century.

 

Post independence, and especially in the past two decades post liberalization, India has made some good progress. The Green Revolution, The Domestic Heavy Industry Development, The Dams & Irrigation Projects, The Space & Atomic Energy Programs, Setting up of Educational & Research Institutions, in the first four decades is worth highlighting. There have been some hiccups along the road, and the rate of progress has been slow. The 1990s saw India’s rise as an Information Technology powerhouse. Along with this, many of the advances of modern technology such as the mobile phone literally became all pervasive.

 

Go to a small remote village today, and chances are you would find no roads, no sanitation, no organized retail shops, no school or hospital; and in spite of all this, don’t be surprised to see farmers chatting on their ‘Indianized’ mobile phones.

 

This picture is often used to cherish the ‘progress’ India has made. Unfortunately, it clouds a huge reality. That mobile phone in the farmer’s hand is a great indication of how India has adopted the 21st century. However, just look around the village and you will find it time warped in the 19th (or even earlier) centuries. What’s wrong with this picture? To me, this is a classic case of moving from the 19th century to the 21st century while completely bypassing the 20th! Why worry about those mundane 20th century advances such as public education, town planning, sanitation, water supply, electricity, road transportation??

 

Now let us take an example at the other extreme in urban India. What better than that bastion of Indian technology education, IIT, in the commercial capital of India. Note I am focusing on IIT Bombay, since I happen to be an alumnus and can relate to the changes on the campus over the past couple of decades. But before getting to the core issue, I will make a small digression and relate a ‘thought experiment’.

 

IIT Hostels are famous for many things; amongst them include the late night ‘discussions’ in the hostel wings that can literally cover any topic under the sun. These can run for hours into the late night, and some wind down only around the arrival of the morning sun.

 

It was in such a discussion session that we discussed and debated the topic of ‘IIT 2010’. To set the appropriate context, this was in 1991. The topic for discussion was grand as usual! ‘Where will IIT be in future?’ To pick up a future point of reference, we arbitrarily picked 2010 (to roughly coincide with 50 years since establishment of IIT Bombay). Here are a couple of points we pondered and envisioned for IIT 2010.

 

1. Every hostel room will have a ‘computer’. This computer will be connected to the central library computer, as well as the department computers (sitting on the desks of every professor and each lab). Students can research material, submit assignments, and interact with one another, while sitting in their rooms and using their computer. Note – at that point of time, the PC we could relate to was an IBM 286/386 or equivalent, and the only computer ‘network’ we were familiar with was ‘LAN’. ‘Email’ was an alien concept for most of us.

 

2. The hostels would be centrally air-conditioned so that the ‘crème de la crème of the Indian students’ can get good environment to study, in the oppressive Mumbai weather. The rooms would be bigger and have some additional basic gadgets such as TVs, Small Refrigerators, Microwaves, etc. And yes, one more point – clean and well maintained bathrooms & corridors! (Note – the presence of consumer gadgets in each room obviously seemed farfetched at that time, but this was not a complete dream scenario. Many graduate dorms in US and Western Europe had these facilities in the early 1990s…).

 

Fast forward to today, and unless some incredible miracle happens in the next 12 months, we all know where we stand with respect to these predictions. Yes, the hostels did get ‘internet enabled’. If not in the room, the hostel common rooms did get internet and computers a while back. Many students today also have laptops, not only in IITs, but in many other colleges as well.

 

But what about the hostels? Last I visited an IIT hostel was about a year back. It was quite sad to see that the hostel ‘infrastructure’ was exactly how it was in the early 1990s. I know, some people might point to the brand new hostels that have been recently built. But the vast majority of the 10+ old hostels remain where they were (there have been a few repairs and upgrades carried out over the years, only to keep them from worsening further…). One gets the same picture in the various Engineering Departments as well. Large amounts of funds have been raised by IIT, resulting in some good new labs being setup with the latest equipment. However, many of the old Departments still lie in a (for a lack of a better word) ‘dilapidated’ state. Now I am not expecting central air-conditioning anywhere…but some basic infrastructure? I guess the definition of what constitutes ‘basic’ itself needs revision.

 

The roads to Powai from the Eastern Express Corridor or the Western Express Corridor are as bad today (probably worse) compared to how they were in the early 1990s.

 

I have discussed these two examples, but many others can be cited. I don’t want to pick specifically on the IIT campus – there are countless other such examples. In fact in retrospect, the IIT Bombay campus is amongst the better places in Mumbai!

 

India offers a classic example of 19th century coexisting with the 21st. We proudly talk about developments in the IT field – but completely forget the steps of a city development that we skipped!

 

We have great telecom networks, but no good roads or public transportation networks (another 20th century development) in most cities. We are the world leaders in Software Services and have the capability to execute extremely complex and large projects. Yet, we cannot implement the most basic ‘Town Planning’ strategies…something that the developed world started active pursuing at the turn of the 20th century. We can guide customers and travelers halfway around the world through our call centers, and still cannot provide the most basic information to our citizens.

 

We often talk about the ‘contrasts’ in India. Commonly discussed ones highlight slums and five star hotels, situated side by side. However these examples focus more on the rich vs. poor divide – not that I am denying it. However, I also want to contrast the ’19th vs. 21st’ century divide. It is not just an issue of wealth – it is an issue of the state of mind, an issue of priorities. It is an issue of focus, an issue of planning, an issue of foresight, and last but the not the least an issue of ‘attitude’. People in India are quick to blame the ‘system’ for all this, while many times not realizing that their own ‘attitude’ is also an inherent part of that ‘system’.

 

Don’t get me wrong – I admire the 21st century achievements done here in India. We should however be cognizant of those who are quick to brush the limitations in India and by over hyping these advances. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to progress. Similar to a school program, India as a country, as a society, cannot skip an intermediate step of development!

 

 

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