Friday, October 31, 2008


October has ended, or is about to end in a few hours any which way and it has been a rather surreal month. To quote my fellow Lewis-fan Shyam from his Twitter feed (yes, I'm a social media junkie too) - "If you were to short life, you would invest in a failed relationship using borrowed emotions." But then again, you can argue that we're constantly short-trading on life!
The problem is that one can't really short a media business, especially if you have invested a ton of money in 'license' rights which actually means that if you have bought the India rights to something, you will have to pay a ton of money to walk out. Unless you set up your own show, like Conde Nast India, but then, like General Motors, you might get fried because your main revenue-generating operation is sinking. And here we were hearing rumours that Portfolio was on the anvil in India. But seriously, a lot of plans are on hold - after the entire drama earlier this year with people leaving and no leaving, it seems the FT-18 venture might be on 'pause' as well as could 'Money Mantra'.
Accha, the organisations I spoke about in my last post are both up for sale, which rules out Bennett, HT Media and India Today Group and also DNA, which, despite putting off some launches and supposed simmering issues between Zee and Bhaskar is not on the block as yet. However, some new launches by even the healthier groups could be in trouble, because the chaos of the past two years had driven salaries to insanely high levels, particularly for loss making products.
I'm being pessimistic because of this, and organisations would rather hang onto their Rockstar's and Diva's rather than asking them to take 10 per cent cuts (and these are guys who recently got massive salary hikes) which means the 20-somethings will be out of jobs. And why am I being so pessimistic, because even though NDTV is profligate in its expenses, its results were shocking to say the least (OK, launches aside, but still - anyway, the markets have pummelled the scrip, down over 80 per cent from its highs, though TV18 has lost 86 per cent of its value and both scrips have sunk further while the markets have climbed today, is that indicative of something?) and the situation is as bad in several other places even though the losses might have been papered over with smart accounting. Some commodity prices have fallen, but distribution costs for TV channels and newsprint costs for newspapers and magazines haven't. There is an AIG type hole in the Indian media scene.
Wait and watch, this winter ain't gonna be fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Looking for buyers?

At least two large English-language led publishing houses are on the block, several more regional language publishers and television channels are having serious problems raising funds which are also drying up for large broadcasters - one of whom I believe has only six months worth of cash left in the bank. Despite Chiddu's statements and the Congress protecting those who are close to them (and have historically been close to them), some bailouts might be very difficult to push through. And even if a bailout package is well designed, banks will still charge usurious rates though not the 25-odd per cent they're charging realty firms. Yes, funds will be found for the big players, but lets not beat around the bush, things are bad. Organisations which splurged on launching new products are regretting the investments and I really won't be surprised if you see a big-name casualty before the end of the year. Even if it is claimed to be a pause.
Nothing of course is as terrible as the stuff that is masquerading as US Election coverage in ET - which is absolutely pointless, but I have to admit US coverage by correspondents based there - including Chidanand Rajghatta, who is a pretty good writer and has made sure that ToI has a clear lead in US coverage, has been very poor in this an election year.
Too much agency copy, no feel to the reportage. I know the chips are down, but it would have been nice to send a seasoned Indian political reporting veteran over to the US - say a battleground state like Ohio, Virginia or Florida. US Election coverage, and lets not kid ourselves, the next US President will impact all our lives immensely, would have made for interesting reportage. And election reportage is always best written. I mean here we are heading into an election ourselves where we can vote out the most incompetent government in decades, maybe we could learn how the Americans are going about doing the same thing. Even coverage in the news channels has been mediocre to say the least, though UndieTV (which might soon lose its undies) has been decent.
I went to watch Russell Peters perform at Siri Fort last night, and despite the crappy traffic and ratty seats (though my friend who got the tickets ended up with some pretty awesome seats) the show was great fun. Well, unless you happened to the Uncle and Aunty with the two hot daughters sitting in the front row. Other than the fact that the uncle happened to be Pawan Munjal of Hero Honda, it was pretty good, but to be fair to Munjal, when he left the auditorium his face was as deadpan as it always is (and he got ribbed worse than Vineet Jain at last years show). Great show, I haven't had so much fun in a while.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Be worried

Forget the run on banks on the markets the last few years have seen some very unviable investments in the media business. One of the largest media organisations in the country – NDTV –has declared several consecutive quarters of abysmal results abnd the situation isn’t better elsewhere. Even though several print media organisations have managed to keep costs in check – the current meltdown hasn’t seen newsprint prices collapse – as yet, but I am worried about the precarious state of health of certain overleveraged print firms (one magazine publisher desperately looking for a buyer in particular). And we’re not talking about Bennett here, which remains India’s richest media company (can’t be so sure about the entire Private Treaties bit now - but that applies to everyone who got into that bed, and those who got in later got shafted the most), but I’m seeing thinner and thinner issues. Advertising is yet to collapse, but I’ve got a bad feeling about this winter.
And I’m not talking of 20-something’s losing their jobs, we’re talking of 40-something’s with families losing their jobs (as happened at the ill-fated Sakal Times). Unless and until you have demonstrated value, or at least measurable value, to your organisation, be scared, very scared. I’m not scared for my job, but I’m worried for a lot of folks I know. The stories are getting more and more frightening, one recently founded media company which we wrote about a lot earlier this year is not able to meet its second round commitments and with investors cutting their taps to PE firms (the benami way of owning media firms) the troubles will only get worse in 2009. There are already unofficial hiring freezes in place in all major organisations and while the good journalist will still get a job, even those opportunities will dry up.
Remember one thing – an ‘Offer Letter’ and an ‘Appointment Letter’ are two different things altogether. Hey, if you think I’m being a pessimist, I just looked out my balcony and the Delhi skyline is unnaturally clear. And today is chotte Diwali. I think we all need a drink. The good times are over, if you work in a company whose revenue model is flimsy (lifestyle advertising based for example and there are several - backed by realty money then forget it) or still cash-flow negative, you should be worried. Forget new launches (Forbes, Fortune and DNA Bangalore), even recently launched products and channels should worried – hell if you made a statement like this you should be frightened. The recent slience during the various 'Fashion Week's' was an indication that 'Lifestyle' is not a business plan.
Sorry to sound so down on the day before Diwali, maybe because I’m listening a lot more rock – even though I didn’t care much for Death Magnetic, I seemed to like Black Ice. And if you believe this article in The Guardian, if AC/DC are #1 again, times are really bad. And you must try and listen to the new Oasis album.
So go home (I wrote ‘how gone’ there – I’m now convinced I’m dyslexic), open a bottle of nice wine and drink yourself silly (and downturn or not, this is the season for interesting things to flow down from the northern hills) – or just go play cards somewhere. Call a crazy variation like that silly ‘Waterfall with Acid’ (which I still don’t get) that a friend made me play.
Listen, if you know me or meet me, you know that I'm a fairly optimistic person on most things other than my own personal life, which is a frikkin' minefield, but I made my own bed there. Hell, I still believe that Arsenal can win the English Premier League and that Lerwis Hamilton will not mess up at Interlagos. I believed that Nadal could win Wimbledon, but this time last year I realised that things just didn't add up (I wrote this post three years ago). While the media dissed cocaine users (only Delhi reporters mind you, some Bombay reporters knew better for reasons best left unsaid), a lot of the madness can only be explained if it is attributed to crazed cokeheads, because only on coke can you get yourself into such doo-doo (GWB might have given up the bottle, but I'm not sure he gave up the powder). No I'm serious, the last four years saw an explosion in cocaine usage in India - it became the drug of choice, even in media firms.
And see what happened!
Anyway, Happy Diwali folks, and sorry for the negativity. Take care!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And before I sign off for the weekend...

Just thought I would bring something to every one's notice, though I'm a bit late to the party.
Raju says that Sunita is a 'thief' (or at least employs thieves). (would this be called Copyright 'Infringemint' in this case?)
SpicyIP's take on the issue - (this is a great blog for anyone who tracks IP matters in India).
Such fun! Stay tuned for more and wait until Sunita's 'dear friend' Suhel wades into the issue.
PS: Anyone else planning a trip down to watch Russell Peters in Delhi? And Vodafone please stop sending me twenty SMS's a day with messages that I can win money and women by calling a special number.

EDIT: I've been sitting in office waiting for playbacks and generally surfing around - found a fantastic blog which a sure sign of the times!

Nice article

I've always found Scott Carney's articles in Wired very informative, surprising that the international media often covers India better than we cover ourselves. Of course, they don't need to face political masters or advertisers in the same way that we do (though very often some articles seem to have a surprising lilt to the left and use far too many cliches, but not all of them), but as I was reading this month's magazine, I found this article on the land mafia in Bangalore very good. However, if you're reading this Scott, my favourite article of yours was this one last year.
After attending a rather insane cards party last night, and though I was priced out of playing, I am not so sure the economy is as bad as I thought it was. Or maybe it was the last hurrah before things get really bad. The TiE conference at the Maurya was one large denial session though some at the dinner pointed out that this would be of the last 'free daaru' parties for a while. Though I doubt we'll drink less Scotch! That said, I believe that some networks are looking at cutting back 'subsidiary' channels that they had started over the past few months. Some networks, including one funded by real estate isn't even taking off. I feel really sorry for the chaps who quit for huge sums of money... Anyway, I won't badger a former target but their 'Government' page a few days ago was horrific - advertising in the guise of editorial content. Ouch! Can't really reclaim the bastion like that.
PS: Note to Vogue India - Victoria Beckham??? Why? If you had to do a WAG - why not Cheryl Cole or Louise Redknapp.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I realised on Monday that this was going to be a bad week, as schedules have been brought forward and work has to be done faster than usual. Worse still, for me, my prior commitments meant that I had to show up at certain places bang in the middle of the day. As it is, I'm charged up on far too much sugar thanks to the Diwali gifts that we can accept - such as chocolate - so I've really not thought much of working till late and then finding a nice card party to go to so that I can win some cash and drink myself silly. Well, don't give me a moral lecture, because I'm like this only. Right now, I could do with a drink, a really stiff one and one without some of the insects that have decided to make Delhi their home over the past few days.
We live in interesting times and after today's markets and the continued denial of anything being wrong by the powers that be, I don't really think that we're headed into good times. Already certain channels are slipping back on payments and the recent events at Sakal Times which launched and is now quickly trying to un-launch itself is just an indication of what is going to happen. Even larger, fairly profitable organisations are putting informal hiring freezes in place and peripheral operations - such as supplements are going to see budgets slashed. Already, some realty supplements are under pressure, and this is just print. Television will see far, far worse. The reporters who were reporting on the Jet fiasco will face a fiasco of their own and I really think some channels will shut down fairly soon if they don't start letting people go.
I'm not being a fear monger, but one reason I've been slogging my ass off is because I know things aren't good. But that doesn't mean that you should not pick up a nice glass of Scotch and down it. Cheers!

Monday, October 20, 2008

One of those days...

When you just want to go home, pour yourself a big drink and pass out with something completely inane playing on the telly. But then again, I had the entire weekend to prep for a bad week - you know the time when you see a big painted Tata truck driving on the wrong side of the road screaming towards you, but you still don't take evasive action, because this is India after all. But then again, my day could not have possibly been a tenth as bad as Ricky Ponting's. I'm actually thinking of running off to catch a few days of the Test in Delhi next week, though the city's smoggy overhang, particularly after Diwali will make for interesting air quality to say the least and I wouldn't want to hang around a place not protected by air filters, i.e: the open.
OK, now to get home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thank God for iPod's!

Really, because I was too tired to go out last night - I can't believe I'm writing such things but honestly, after a long time, I didn't get a second wind of energy at nine at night. I even passed out with NDTV India running - surprising how insane the the Hindi arms of NDTV and IBN are, in fact IBN7 is positively scary at times with a combination of half-truths and fear, really, they make India TV look intelligent. NDTV India is often an ideological counterweight to NDTV 24x7, which makes more interesting to watch sometimes.
I am taken aback everytime I travel out of Delhi about how insane the 'media boom' has become in this country - there seem to be nearly 50 Telegu channels. That is one hell of a lot and while I understand that AP is a rich state, 50 channels does seem like a bit much. Just like we have a few airlines too many, across the country I think we have about 500 channels too many. I just have a bad feeling that like aviation which came crashing down to the ground this week, the media gold-rush could see a lot of sullen faces rather soon. I wonder if the launch plans of the channels that we were supposed to see will carry through. I guess ET-TV will, because Bennett is not running short on cash, but the others - the ones funded by the real estate boom for example. I just wonder if some Audi's and Merc's will have homes anymore!
Anyway, the new Kings of Leon album is really, really nice, and I really suggest that if you like good old style rock, that you should listen to it. The first single is nice, but the rest of the album is also pretty good, excellent in fact.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shit+Fan = A stinking bloody mess

Not an impossible equation to work out really - but yesterday at Hyderabad mallya was answering in platitudes and slagged me off for not knowing type ratings (when I asked about the fact that there is virtually no commonality in his and Jet's fleets) and how to run an airline. Obviously forgetting the simple fact that evidently nor does he. To be fair to Naresh Goyal, at least the chap has slept on the floor at one time in hisd life and actually sounded apologetic about firing people. Anyway, I don't want to make this an aviation post, but I really think that government money should not be handed out to rich mofo's who can't run their businesses properly. And since I believe that at least ten per cent of any bail-out package will fund the NCP, well that pisses me off further. By the way, India's favourite son-in-law (and I don't mean Dr. Tankha) was at the air-show today looking up private jets, Mummy-ji is making noises against the 'statuesque' Mayawati but Robert is already looking for a plane to fly out of India if things get hairy in April. Hmmm...
Plus, how on earth do people in Hyderabad read such tripe,, between them ToI Hyderabad and Deccan Chronicle have next to no news. ToI Hyderabad seemed to have missed the firing story concentrating more on the fact that there was an airshow where the Minister spoke - instead of the Laurel and Hardy act of NG and VJM (And I will get hell for what I just wrote)... but anyways. Oh and DC is well, horrible is maybe too harsh a term, but thank god for the internet. More when I get back to the city - tonight is Biryani night!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Going slow...

I will not be at home base over the next few days and while I have set my desktop to download as much Sasha Grey as is possible, along with some music thrown it for good measure - and talking of music, do listen to Kings of Leon's new album. Anyway, as usual I digress, I hear people writing in saying that letter was an answer to sanctimonious twits and yada, yada. Anyway, I'm, in Hyderabad for the aviation summit, so I'll see you later people.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Contrarian View

Yes, I like reading Mint and no I'm not angling for a job there - even though Mint pays bucket loads of cash, even if you barely have enough experience. But, let us not go there. I got this rather angry email from a reader who wanted this printed - this isn't defamatory or scurrilous sadly, but to the guys at Mint who read this blog, pass the contents of the post below on to RN, since it is addressed to him (this blog is only the notepad).
PS: Before the post, I hear that our Sonia's Goebbels is on his death-bed? I have no love lost for Priya Ranjan, but the guy supposedly has a collapsed left ventricle. I doubt there will be dramatic changes in media policy if PRDM were to go now, but he did a fantastic job herding the masses during the Nuclear vote. As for Indian football, well we languish in the 120's now, but there have been flickering signs of life lately.
Dear Mr. Narisetti,
I'm a believer like you are. I believe in the transformative force of journalism, and the written word in particular. That's why I've braved low salaries, professional humiliation, inflated egos {"I'm as good as Henry Luce, if not better," proclaimed one editor in a closed door "knowledge" (I hate to use the franchise-contracting, vernacular expression "gyaan") durbar he loved to hold}, and virtual ostracisation from my community in one little corner of the country that your paper loves to homogeneously lump as "south of the Vindhyas".
I believe that human beings—artistes, politicians, writers, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, and even journalists—are at their creative and innovative best when they set out to create wealth. There's no greater joy and excitement in this world than chronicling that process of wealth creation. Business journalism gives you that vantage point. I shared your belief about the crying need for "lighthouse" journalism as opposed to the "lamppost" journalism being practiced in much of the mainstream media in India. It sounded like a line from one of your SAJA convention speeches, but on face value, it did sound most noble.
Looking at the rather eclectic collection of bylines in your paper, it appears you don't have time of the day for anyone who hasn't been a general assignment reporter, or at least an office help at Smyrna Post or such like. I'm not so sure if you'd take someone who's hardly crossed the shores of this country inhabited by the great unwashed, too seriously, but here's my two paise worth anyways.
I read you blog "Kudos to The Economic Times" dated September 28, 2008 where you manifest your elation at the business news market leader The Economic Times waking up to the fundamentals of good journalism. Maybe it's my blinkered worldview, but I'm not so sure if it befits the editor (who in private circles claims to run the only world class print product in India) to reproduce the internal memos written by a rival editor. This when you can't even be 100 per cent sure of the letter's provenance and veracity. I clicked on the top right corner of your website to check if the Mint "Code of Ethics" has any clues. "Editors, by virtue of their positions of authority, must be ethical role models for all employees. An important part of an editor's leadership responsibility is to exhibit the highest standards of integrity in all dealings with employees, customers and the world at large. Editors must avoid even implicit or unspoken approval of any actions that may be damaging to the reputation of HT Media, and must always exercise sound business judgment in the performance of their duties," says para VII. If it is transparency and the readers'-right-to-know that you put above everything else, wouldn't your paper have served such interests better by explicitly naming the trouble besieged private bank that was borrowing short-term funds at a scary 20 per cent-plus interest rate? Surely, sir, the goings on at a bank that has safe keeps the hard-earned monies of millions of Indians is more important than the internal machinations of a paper you and your closest colleagues loathe.
Mint's coverage of the media as any other business sector was a refreshing change. In an environment where proprietor interests made it virtually impossible for journalists to write objectively about rival media houses, Mint's reportage was praiseworthy till you undid all the good work by putting out a biased and self-congratulatory audit of news reports soon after Budget 2008. Mint not surprisingly came out smelling of roses having got nearly every Budget related story right whereas, you primary rival ET, according to your painstaking research put out just about 10 accurate stories out of 15 in the run up to the annual February end exercise that one of your most important lieutenants had consigned to the dustbins not so long ago. You claim to know little about ET's editor Rahul Joshi. Neither do I (I've only heard about his legendary ambidextrous prowess with the Blackberry, and his ability to text at the speed of light) nor do I hold a brief for the paper he edits. But as a reader, I'm certain ET carried more than the 15 Budget stories you cared give it credit for in you audit. On the matter of reproducing the letter (and not for the first time in your paper) in question, do I detect a voyeuristic pleasure? You claim that "the reason to applaud ET is not to make this a back-handed compliment". A few sentences later you quote your deputy's bottomline. "Let's continue to focus on what we do and need to do and not on what others don't do." Well if that wasn't a back-handed compliment, show me another.
Actually, your deputy is right. You'd do well focus on what you should do. For a start, give the readers news, and stop pretending to be WSJ's facsimile edition. All this "unbiased and clear-minded chronicling of the Indian dream" appears quite like the "discovery of India" trips undertaken by the green horn heir apparent of the country leading political party. Just as he discovered the plight of Vidarbha cotton farmers last year, one of your editors too woke up to pleasures of hailing a radio taxi in our metros, a good two years after some of these happy chappies made their crores in this business. And in the latest (beer sodden) issue of your much acclaimed weekend magazine Lounge, you told us about the abundant supplies of craft beer in India (or was it Gurgaon?). Helpful tip: It helps to get out of your gated Delhi colonies, and swanky condos to look for a story.
Sir, honourable practitioners of this profession did exist (the owner of this blog, for example) before you decided play the knight-in-the-shining-armour. And this was by no means a Mickey Mouse journalism league, for you, and your fellow brown sahibs to come rescue. Get off your high horses, stop the grandstanding (this country can't handle two N Ram's for gods sake), and remember it's not the White Man's Burden anymore. As businesses discover everywhere in the world, arrogance towards the local market is the highway to Erehwon (Kellogs found that out, and maybe in the course of time you too will).
Your friend Lefley in Cincinnati won't disagree.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Raju Narisetti

Romantic Realist is a nice alliterative title for his blog, but I think Raju's blog is far more realist than romantic and definately the most entertaining signed, official blog of any editor. I'll be honest, some other Mint blogs are dull (I'll skip other adjectives), and the writers would do well to learn from Mr Narisetti. The same actually applies for several other 'official' media blogs, even those written by senior editors - the blogs on IBNLive are boring. I mean, you won't see a post like this on other blogs - talking about the rival paper in a good way. It is no secret that I have become a fan of Mint, yes their corporate news could be better, but I genuinely find that paper a fun read. Is it because (as RN argues) because of the 'Charticles'? I don't know, but I do sincerely believe that Mint is fun to read, now, I don't want RS coming me claiming I don't think that Mint is serious. No I do, but I enjoy reading the paper. A newspaper should be fun to read, or at least you should look forward to reading a newspaper. I read papers often because I have to as part of my job, or because (in the case of ToI) I need to just to keep up. Otrher than ET, the other business papers claim that they have higher circulation, but I'm convinced that Mint has a higher 'mind share', and this is not me making a sweeping, unverified statement. There is a certain 'fondness' with which certain senior executives talk about Mint. And there is decent web-only content on their website. Some people will send in comments saying that the paper doesn't make money and yada, yada. That really doesn't matter to me as a reader. And trust me, I would rather read about a bloodbath on the markets than about a bloodbath on the streets somewhere in India. That said, Mint really must beef up its policy and politics coverage - one could argue that pages 2-3 of ET are poorly written (and extols the Sangh) but they do allow the paper to punch above its weight.
And a note about yesterday's post, I am criticising any person or anchor. I just pointed out the ridiculousness of having a show called 'Wealth Creators' on at a time like this. CNBC's programming has beefed up its features as ET-TV gears up for launch soon (and there is a strong suspicion that ET will have good business features), but they could have held back instead of launching shows slap-bang in the middle of chaos. I mean not exactly a good time to talk about private jets with gold faucets is it? And I wonder if this will mean that even ET-TV will delay their launch. Also, I managed to catch Undie Profit the other day at a hotel, and they do look a bit better, much better than before actually. But there is that 'top of mind' thing with television. I'm not saying that can't be changed, Times Now, despite Arnab is the best English News Channel to watch.
Anyway, Lewis is on pole for tomorrow's race (Go Lewis!) and I'll be watching that on Airtel TV because those guys insisted I try it out. I was amazed that Sunil Mittal's company has after one decade of trying discovered customer service. It was a smooth, nice installation and I'll see if it is any good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The shit has hit the fan!

And I'm not talking about the blatant misuse of copyrighted material by newspapers. Which almost invariably occurs in the Edit pages of newspapers - wonder if edit page editors stuck in a 1960's time warp don't quite understand the concept of copyright. But, some argue that Chiddu is really not to blame, after all Chiddu (and the desi economy) is but a mere victim of global greed and GW not content driving the US into ruin has managed to drag the entire world into chaos. I wonder if my mother's idea of withdrawing money and buying gold a few months ago has become an act of sheer genius.
But seriously, Udayan's face during initial market hours as the market collapsed a thousand points in early trade was in marked contrast to the faces of absolute horror that the CNBC US anchors last night. Those guys almost went hysterical with fear and rage - while UM seemed strangely dispassionate, almost Zen-like. Two extremes within twelve hours on the same channel, and I'm not quite sure I was a big fan of either. Well UM was not bad, and I get the idea that one should not perpetuate panic, but now even the language channels have caught on - and even the mainstream CNN-IBN is asking 'Is your money safe?'. Note that CNN-IBN asks crazy rhetorical questions such as 'Have Christians lost faith in India?' where the Congress sends a spokesperson there who says that 'those people' (the Sangh) are going on about Ram-something or the other." Interesting way of pissing off 'those people'. Note to the Congress send erudite people preferably from the majority community to answer criticisms, unless you admit that a large majority of your party is scared of taking action against the Bajrang Dal, lest Hindu votes consolidate against the Congress.
True, the religious whacko's manage to go mad just before election season, but you could almost sense that this was coming. The problem is that all those who claim that they feel strongly against the whacko's on TV and Print won't vote. I hate the whacko's but I cannot possibly vote for this inept government again and I will vote. As much as I think that V.K Malhotra is an old coot, I can't vote for the party that gave us the crappy BRT - even though god knows what can be done with that stretch of road short of re-doing everything.
Anyway, back to the media now I guess. I'm just wondering how Ratan Tata and Bennett have kissed and made up a few short years after the Tata Finance fiasco. The only exclusives before the launch of the Gujju Nano were to ET and ToI. Makes you wonder really. As they say, there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, maybe even Ratan Tata is a lot more pragmatic than people think. I mean the concept of 'Indian pragmatism' not business pragmatic - since the Jaguar-Land Rover is probably going to end up sinking Tata Motors, though apparently they could have even bought General Motors for the same amount of money going by yesterday's share price of GM. I wonder, GM's desi unit CEO, a Brit called Karl Slym is selling a three-year free service program for their cars here, I just don't think that there will be a GM in three years time. Heck, a hell of a lot of other companies won't be there in three years time.
Actually, the economic slowdown has put a cramp on the launch plans of several networks - apparently Triveni TV, the guys who just launched Voice of India TV are holding back on their lifestyle channel launch. Which is a good idea for a while, but what about all the people they hired for massive salaries? And how long will a channel hold on before cutting back staff for unviable channels? As it is appraisals in 2009 will be on the lower end of the scale. And a note to CNBC-TV18, I know that you guys have revamped your feature shows line-up - but isn't this a horrible time to have a show called 'Wealth Creators', nothing against Mitali, but the name of the show and the timing of its launch are a double whammy right now - and Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is not exactly a hero of the investing classes right now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Shubho Bijoya!

Hey Shubho Bijoya everyone! Or Happy Dusshera if that is your thing.
And I have to stop playing cards!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


No Comments, but the stuff written about is interesting to say the least! Thanks for the plug. Sort of!

Whatever you say...

The government might put its head in sand and pretend that everything is still hunky-dory but just look at these charts and then pretend that everything is OK. Denial works if you are the parent of a teenage daughter, or a son that smokes far too much pot. What you can't see, you don't worry about. But these numbers are in clear view of Chiddu. Who must still be too busy looking up skirts as usual after he has finished counting money. And the Sangh is more interested in going after Christians than the bigger picture - wonder how many of their kids went to convent schools?
Anyway back to the numbers. Since January 2, 2008 - the first day of trading on the markets the BSE Sensex has lost 44 per cent of its value. That is a lot in any book, and even if you think that the India story does not depend on the few who make a pile of money from the exchanges, it is hard to deny that we live in difficult times.
I got a lot of positive notes and comments about the Vodka post - though hints I gave there allowed even more people to figure out who I was. Anyway, if you are in Delhi anytime soon and want to have an interesting lunch, and money is no issue, please do try out Varq at the Taj Mansingh. I did lunch there again and I must admit I was impressed yet again. Food might be expensive throughout Delhi, but my god, the city has a ton of options. Plus, I might be Hyderabad next week, and I'm travelling there after a while (spending a night, rather - plus I'm looking forward to the new airport) so if anybody would like top suggest something interesting to do in the evenings, please either email me or leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


My political sympathies are fairly well established, but events of the past month or so make you cringe. If the BJP or NDA has any plans of staying in power for a sustained period of time they desperately need to get over the politics of fear that they have successfully managed to exploit using the loony right. The same clowns who try to lecture us on moral policing - about holding hands. Get a job, please - this government will vote itself out - don't shoot yourself in the foot.
But I've also been fascinated by the recent 'raids on raves' by the Rajasthan and Mumbai Police. Strange that when the rich get arrested, talk of human rights comes to the fore. The police obviously don't know what human rights are - invasive procedure like blood tests cannot be done sans a warrant. But what amuses me most is that the parents of these kids say they don't do drugs. The next thing you know, they'll say that their kids don't have sex either. Listen, Delhi and Bombay are hopped up on drugs - they found 850 drops of LSD at that party. Which, even accounting for police over-estimation is a hell of a lot.
But, I won't go there because I don't have to. I'm just waiting for the 'rave' sting operation or one of the Hindi channels asking one of their reporters to experiment with LSD (Maybe if an anchor took LSD before going on air - would the cameras look like monsters). maybe, they should do a 'rave sting' operation and do a lot of eccies - see the love people, see the love! What if you gave acid to the anchor of India's most pompous talk show - that would be something worth watching. But I'll wait for the illiterate to start writing crap and these are the same guys who claim they like Pink Floyd. Oh well!
Remember kids, drugs are bad for you - very, very bad, that's why... well to each their own. But before popping something in your mouth or up your nostril, know what you are doing.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Interesting Times

A friend working in the financial sector in Hong Kong laughed and said that we "Live in interesting times." I guess that is one way of looking at it, the world is imploding, a lot of the luxury revolution that we saw in India over the past three years was on the back of illegally imported planes and yachts. Food prices are going up and if Chiddu thinks that India will be isolated from global pain, he has something else coming, though knowing current trends he may not be Finance Minister to pick up the pieces of the mess next year.
However, the fallout on the media has still been fairly limited. So far. Demand does not seem to have softened, but there is this awkward feeling that marketers have that something will give very soon and the impact will not be nice. Of course, we all still believe in the India story - it is a remarkable story where despite any government not providing any basic facilities such as decent roads, education, power, water or health care - the country still manages to grow. Mainly because the private sector has taken over that role. But I've just got this feeling that even the private sector is at breaking point - why should service companies also be large taxi fleet operators and generate their own electricity. And really, why should the rich - the $100,000 earning male that a certain new magazine is targeting (though this is the male who has probably been hit hardest by recent events) be making money by scamming the government?
Strange, a country that keeps growing at eight per cent, which has impacted such a small sliver of the population, it is really ironic. The rest of the country is almost tribal in their reaction to provocation - the dichotomy of modern India sometimes amazes me. This country needs a leader - not one who goes and tells the world's resident clown that all Indians love him - but a good leader. Instead, we get clowns, from every party - and that is a rather sad fact.
Anyway, the Puja's have started so to all you Bong's out there - have a great time! Subho Saptami! And really, putting bot comments here piss me off - I stand by my assertion that GQ India's first issue sucked big time. It was not of the standards that I expected GQ to be, and it looked and felt like a high-end fashion magazine. Karan Johar's interview of Aditya Mittal was weak, there are a few good stories, but the magazine dis not have any decent content beyond the photographs. Nothing that can't be repaired, but friends who read the Indian edition of Vogue tell me that even that magazine has dropped off to become just another magazine in the big crowd. But GQ India has started off that way - at least Maxim India has a killer cover shoot every time.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Not a Nano tale!

“"You cannot run a plant with police protection, you cannot run a plant when bombs are being thrown, you cannot run a plant when workers are being intimidated"
Ratan Tata, Kolkata, October 3, 2008

This is not an academic piece, but something I am writing based on my experiences of what I saw. I did not see the massive protests engineered by Mamta Banerjee and her cohorts – which surprisingly included the erudite and (I once thought) smart Derek O’Brein (If you are a industrial house, you might think about hiring him again - and given how RNT holds grudges, I doubt a Tata company will have him on their New Years cards list). I hope I’m proved wrong, but today’s announcement means that West Bengal has managed to shoot itself in the foot, actually shoot itself in both feet.

About six weeks ago, before the onset of Mamta Banerjee’s mad obsession to sit in Writers Building got the better of her, I went to the site of the now erstwhile Tata Nano plant in Singur. What I saw was a textbook example of a violent minority taking over the agenda. Listen, I am all for rabble-rousers, if we claim to be a vibrant democracy we need crackpots, because behind their ramblings and their incessant need to have television cameras pointing at them, they so make sense and they do stand up for people who may not have a voice otherwise. Yes, even Arundhati Roy, who makes me wince just as much as Sarah Palin makes others wince.
But Mamta had virtually no locus standi, because, and this bit is true, I will narrate a bit from my rather memorable meeting with Bacharam Manna, Mamta’s local leader at the site also the vice-chairperson the Singur Administrative Block. Now, I wish I could narrate this in my probashi Bangla, and even have Manna’s rustic accent, but you will have to imagine…

“So you will protest?”
“We will protest even if we have to celebrate Durga Puja on the highway.”
“But why protest? I’ve seen local Trinamool leaders support the project because they are making money through the ‘syndicate’?”
(Note: The ‘syndicate’, was a group of local men, mainly displaced farmers from Beraberi, the main panchayat impacted by the Nano project – 70 per cent of the land was from this village – who put together the funds from the land and started supplying the constructors of the Nano plant with construction equipment, even though it was often illegally mined sand and rocks. And as many of these guys told me, they made a killing, much more money than they ever would have from the land.)
“So what? We don’t want this kind of industry.”
“So you want this area to stay poor?”
“No we want industry.”
“Not this kind of industry, we want agricultural-led industry”
“What sort of agricultural industry, food processing?”
“There are a lot of potatoes that grow here, in Russia they make Vodka from potatoes, we will make Vodka!”
(Eiyekhane anok aloo hoye, tumi ki jano Russia te oora aloo theke Vodka banaye. Amaraoo eiyekhane Vodka banabo! – that is as good a transliteration I can make)

Now, this really happened.
I kid you not, this really happened. I know that journalists should rarely be trusted, but I’m not lying. I might lie about running late for meetings or to girls on why I stood them up, but that is a guy thing.

I have done some strange interviews in my career, and until August my strangest episode had been interviewing (hardly) Vijay Mallya in the Andaman Sea off Havelock Island (I mean ‘IN’ the sea with waves crashing around and various Swimsuit models skipping around) but as far as surreal sentences go, this one is one of them that really takes you aback (Ironic that I managed to bring up Vijay Mallya when I thought of Vodka – instant association). This is one of the answers that make you sit back on a ratty old chair and try and rummage your brain for a response.

And mine was…

“But nowadays most Vodka is made from grain…”
(Kintu aajkal beshibhag Vodka gom theke hoye – not exactly Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin)

“What are you saying?”
“I’m serious”
“But in Russia, they do it that way.”
“I don’t think they make too much Vodka from potatoes”

The next few minutes of the interview was on the relative merits of Vodka, where I couldn’t really argue. I mean, I like a good Vodka Martini just as much as the next bloke, well maybe not in this case, but sometimes you just get thrown a curveball. So, this guy actually suggested that the car be given up for booze, maybe there was some sense there – get smashed so you don’t need to go out in the first place. But then again we live in a country where there is still a ‘Directorate of Prohibition’, what can you say.

Back to the point, I really did meet many, many people who supported the project, and not on the main road, I bothered to drive through some really terrible roads and met villagers across the affected villages. Yes, occasionally you met people who did not support the project and wanted their land back.
While at least one anchor on television lamented the fate of Buddha, I think the arrogance of the Communists in power is responsible for the crisis. In most other states – just look at Tamil Nadu for an excellent example – antagonist political forces can align themselves to develop industry. The Indian Communist movement is marked by a disturbing streak of arrogance, and the refusal of the West Bengal government to involve the opposition from the very beginning meant that the project was going to face roadblocks.
Not that Mamta is any heroine – her primordial urge to win votes using the land bogey will boomerang, since Mamta’s vote-base is in the cities. Bengal needed investment and on the road past rajarhat in Kolkata you see some signs of progress, but if you look at Howrah from the Ghats near Vidyasagar Setu, you see an industrial wasteland, which is also the most tragic thing of taking the Rajdhani to Kolkata. Kolkata’s fate is almost as bad of the industrial towns in Northern England. The people just won’t stay, my ten year old cousin already knows he won’t live in Kolkata, my 16-year old sister is already plotting her escape. The tragedy with democracy, some say is that it gets you the politicians you deserve, sadly Bengal got idealistic thinkers and louts and not go-getters. No much people might celebrate Jyoti Basu, he was the worst thing to happen to Bengal ever, and it takes a lot to be considered worse than Mamta Banerjee.
But I really didn’t believe that the project would be derailed, and the ironic bit is in all probability the project will head over to a BJP-ruled state – Gujarat, Karnataka or Uttarakhand. I know that little factoid is incidental, but then again…

James Nachtwey

First, I did not know Soumya Vishwanathan but the mysterious events surrounding her death are peculiar to say the least. Quite C.S.I episode some might argue and hopefully like the sleuths on C.S.I (or C.S.I NY and C.S.I Miami) the Delhi Police will solve this case. One can always hope can't they?
James Nachtwey is a renowned photojournalist and as part of the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conference initiative - the TED Prize he wished for help in breaking a news story in a way that demonstrates the power of news photography in the digital age. You can point your browsers here to see how they do it, and embedded below is a video of Nachtwey's wish.

PS: It appears that Tata Motors have pulled out of Singur. It seems horribly sexual, but I guess the Tata's pulled out without consummating the act!