Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Indians are obsessed with family dramas

Shah Rukh Khan in Fauji

Shah Rukh Khan in Fauji

If Shah Rukh Khan had been born ten years later, would he have got a chance to play Fauji’s Abhimanyu Rai, the TV role that took him closer to superstardom?

More importantly, would Fauji have even been made now, when all you see on TV are weeping bahus, scheming in-laws and talent shows where the talented rarely win?

If you are among those who wonder why a nation that lapped up classics like a Tamas and a Hum Log now insists only on watching endless family dramas, you might find your answer in Venita Coelho’s new book.

Soap! Writing and Surviving Television in India is tagged “A Handbook For Aspiring Writers”. But you don’t need to be an aspiring writer to enjoy this one.

Venita’s insights into the history of Indian television, peppered with her own experiences – from being a “runner around” at UTV during the Doordarshan days to being the Vice President at Sony Entertainment Television – make this book a priceless read.

Stories on family politics, she says, will never go out of fashion because they are what Indians have loved most down the ages, right from the time of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.

And though we follow the Western structure of story telling in the movies, where there is a beginning, a middle and an end, Television is where the Indian structure of story-telling is alive and well. Our great narratives, like the Panchatantra, never end: One story leads to another, Arabian Nights style.

The book traces the evolution of the Indian soap and explains why despite the red tape and the bureaucracy, the Doordarshan era was the golden age for fiction-based shows. It speaks of TV bosses  who were sacked while they were choosing dessert during lunch hour, of program heads with no creative bone and no Hindi, of burnouts and impossible deadlines.

For aspiring TV writers, Soap is a book like no other.

With live examples, Venita explains how to work your story, how to sell your story to the channel, how to sustain the pressures of having a daily show on air and how to use flowcharts, graphics and power point presentations to track characters, family trees and the plot.

The book goes right down to the basics: it tells you how to copyright your idea, how to deal with the health hazards of being a writer (carpal tunnel, a bad back…) and even how to demand – and get – the money a channel owes you!

A must-read for anyone interested in the strange world that is Indian television.

Interview with Venita Coelho: The woman who ran away from Television

Soap! Writing and Surviving Television in India is published by Harper Collins.  Buy a copy here

Sarita Ravindranath


Why does Kashmir seem so far away?

Violence on the streets in Kashmir

Violence on the streets in Kashmir

A friend of mine made an interesting observation on Facebook the other day.

“Parliament suspended after two UP farmers were shot by police, 58 and counting in Kashmir,” she said.

My first thought was – “That is true, but practically everything matters more than Kashmir.”

To me (and I suspect to a lot of other people as well) Kashmir is just something I watch on the news channel for 15 minutes before moving on to watch Indian Idol. I guess you could call it viewer fatigue.

Oh don’t get all angry at my lack of sentiment.

I know I should care about Kashmir…and Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chinese oppression, global warming, animal extinction, Greenpeace, Maoists and even the whales that Japan insists on butchering.

But right now what I really care about is dinner. It has an immediate connection (I am hungry), I am familiar with it (I eat a lot) and I know exactly how to solve the issue (the Dominos downstairs beckons me). That is everything Kashmir is not.

It’s too far away for any connection ( I am in Chennai), I am totally unfamiliar with it thanks to decades of censorship (Free press? Don’t make me laugh!) and when it seems Kashmiris themselves have no idea how to solve their issues,  what do they really expect me to do about it?

And most importantly – the only Kashmiri I ever met never spoke about Kashmir, is currently back in Kashmir and still not very talkative or in touch.

They say all that the young of Kashmir have ever seen is oppression and terror.

Well, all I have ever known is – Kashmiris are treasonous separatists, Pakistani puppets and always out on the roads throwing stones like barbarians.

Of course this is not the truth. Words like military rule, POTA, judicial murder, rape, theft, human indignity and others fight for space in my mind. But first impressions are everything.

What I should be reading are Kashmiri pamphlets handed out by my local chapter of “Free Kashmir,” frankly informing me about
the latest atrocities this nation has committed.

I should be listening to soulful ‘freedom’ songs composed by angst-ridden Kashmiris. 

I should be watching a Kashmiri movie about their plight. A movie made by Kashmiris,  not a bad Bollywood version.

I should leave the theatre so moved that my wallet loosens and I make a donation into “Free Kashmir Fund” box, helpfully placed outside the theatre along with “I support Kashmir” buttons and stickers. Kashmir needs a better, bigger campaign – one that doesn’t dishonour her name.

Ninety-five per cent of India is too far away from the valley and 90 per cent  of our people don’t care because they don’t know.

There is a difference between political movements and anarchy – a small difference.

After all, if you can get enough people to care, you change the world.

Vinayak Hegde

Popular Raksha Bandhan songs

Dev Anand & Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna

Dev Anand & Zeenat Aman in Hare Rama Hare Krishna

Where have all the sisters gone?

In Hindi cinema, she was the strong silent one in the background. The frail one for whom the hero played protector, wreaked vengeance. The one whose marriage or studies were on top of her brother’s mind when he entered a dubious deal.

And come Raksha Bandhan, there would be the mandatory song celebrating the brother-sister bond.

The ‘Rakhi’ song went out of fashion in the 1990s, and hasn’t made a comeback as yet.

Fortunately, there were enough of the older songs that steered away from the stereotype and remain classics to this day.

Here are a few of them:

Phoolon Ka Taaron Ka (1971)

Two siblings share a song and a moment before they will be cruelly separated by their parents’ divorce. This song from Hare Rama Hare Krishna is still the top request on Raksha Bandhan

Years later, the song is the only link between the brother (Dev Anand) and sister (Zeenat Aman)

Bhaiya Mere Rakhi Ke (1959)

Nanda plays the title role in Chhoti Behan, with Balraj Sahni as the doting brother.
Mere Bhaiyya Mere Chanda (1965)

The brother is a priceless gem for Meena Kumari’s character in Kaajal.

Chanda Re Mere Bhaiya (1980)

The music, and this soulful Lata Mangeshkar song, is the only thing memorable about Chambal Ki Kasam
Behna Ne Bhai Ki (1974)
This Shankar-Jaikishan song from the Resham ki Dor has come to epitomise the festival of Raksha Bandhan
O Meri Laadli
And finally, we end with a Mohammed Rafi classic

Sify Movies Desk

Commonwealth Games: Where the money could’ve gone

Commonwealth Games

Money Games

I feel proud when I realise that India is hosting the Commonwealth Games. As an Indian, it inculcates a sense of patriotism in me.

But the moment I read about the expenditure on the Games – a whopping 30,000 crore and counting – the sense of patriotism evaporates.

India is a country where sports still languishes – apart from cricket, other sports still grapple hard to get their due and most sportspersons have to put up with lack of adequate finances and recognition unlike luckier counterparts like Vijender Singh (boxing), Pankaj Advani (billiards) and Saina Nehwal (badminton) to name a few.

Sample this: In July 2009, Indian hockey goalkeeper Baljit Singh sustained a career-threatening eye injury while he was practicing at a camp at Pune. He was treated at the AIIMS and later in the US.

Hockey India footed the bill as he was unable to fund his treatment in the US.

In January 2010, the disgruntled national men’s hockey players staged indefinite boycott of the World Cup preparatory camp to protest the non-payment of their dues and incentives.

Barely a week later, even women’s hockey players staged similar protests to demand their dues.

And this is no flash in the pan, there’re lot more issues and gloomy stories that go unnoticed.

While a cricketer, with a minor injury, rushes abroad for the best possible medical attention, other sportspersons lack that financial might.

The reason being that most of the sports get neglected due to lack of funds and infrastructure and  sportsmen/women struggle to find a foothold even to make a decent living.

And now after Urban Development Minister S Jaipal Reddy comment that a total of Rs 28,054 crore have been spent on the Commonwealth Games, out of which Rs 16,560 crore was given to the Delhi Government for upgrading the capital infrastructure and building of various stadia, I can hardly fathom the necessity for a country like India to host a event of this magnitude?

When sports in our country suffers due to lack of funds, and sportspersons lead an awful life, it was hardly necessary for us to conduct the Games.

Even Mani Shankar Iyer, former Sports Minister and a staunch opponent of Commonwealth Games, had voiced his concern.

“Those who are patronising the Games can only be evil. They cannot be God. Thousands of crores are being spent on circuses like these while the common children are being deprived of basic facilities to play,” Iyer said.

Think of it.

If we could have used all the money allotted for staging the Commonwealth Games for developing sports alone, our country would have benefited.

The Indian Olympic Association could have toed on these lines to benefit Indian sports:

1) Having a Comprehensive National Sports Policy
2) Providing Funds to State Associations of various bodies
3) Upgrading infrastructures in collaboration with Sports Authority of India (SAI)
4) Form a committee to spot talents at the grassroot level – be it football, hockey, archery, badminton, swimming, boxing or any other sport
5) Provide quality coaching etc…

These are few suggestions that could have benefited Indian sports as a whole, but now with a few of the Organising Committee members of the CWG involved in unbridled corruption, we can hardly believe that there will be a proper utilisation of the taxpayers’ money.

I even doubt, with news of rampant CWG corruption deals coming to the fore each day, whether the Games will be successful at all.

I doubt whether India can project itself successfully as a tourist hub due to this Games.

Once the Games get over, there may be lot of post-mortems.

But one thing will remain the same.

Indian sports will struggle to find that healing touch and its sportsmen/women will sulk in despair for that decent living…

Suvendu Mohanty

Can a Computer Virus Read Your Mind?

He grows biological brains in a dish and connects them to robots. He calls the brain “a squidgy mass of biology.”

He infects his own body with a computer virus.

He plants rays of electrodes into a colleague’s spine and simulates involuntary movement using electrical impulses.

No, this is not out of a science fiction novel or a horror movie. He is Dr. Mark Gasson, a distinguished scientist at the University of Reading.

Recently, Dr. Mark Gasson became the first person to transfer a computer virus from himself to a database, and from a computer database to himself. Here are excerpts from his interview with

You recently managed to transfer a computer virus to yourself. How did that happen?

A little over a year ago now, I had an RFID device implanted in my left hand, and I used it for accessing my building at the university, and my laboratory.

What we’ve done is used the tag to conduct two experiments. One is infecting the tag with the computer virus, which means that when I try to access the building, the computer virus is actually transferred to the database which controls secure access to the building. So when we infected the database, that in turn infected other devices which were used to access the building.

The other experiment we’ve done is infecting the computer system first, and then allowing that to transfer itself to my device. So in effect, we’ve got a virus spreading from my implant to the building, or from the building to my implant.

How does infecting a chip affect the person?

If someone created a virus which could interfere with the functioning of a heart pacemaker, then that puts the person’s health at risk. A lot of medical devices don’t have any security or access control. So if you know how to talk to these devices, you can go right in.

Is the idea that at some point, you can download and upload information into human beings, a far-fetched one?

I don’t think we can say it’s not possible. Two or three hundred years ago, they’d never have thought it would be possible to walk around with a box that you could communicate with someone in a different country. So even though to us, something actually doesn’t seem possible, I don’t think we can dismiss it.

To find out why, learn about his experiment with growing biological brains and read the rest of the interview, go to

Nandini Krishnan

Commonwealth Games: Can Manmohan Singh do a Ratan Tata?

Baichung Bhutia, Sourav Ganguly pass on the Commonwealth Games baton

Baichung Bhutia, Sourav Ganguly pass on the Commonwealth Games baton

Before the Commonwealth Games, the games with the common wealth.

Over the past few weeks, we have been deluged by news of one Commonwealth Games scam after another.

Even the British queen, a report says, is in cold fury over some of these allegations.

But what of the Indian government?

Our learned Prime Minister continues to stick to his mauni baba routine.

As for the Sports Minister MS Gill, he was busy on Sunday lamenting the sad state of Indian football in the country after the Santosh Trophy final that he “watched (on TV) with great interest” and which Bengal won.

With this being the state of affairs, it was left to Corporate and Minorities Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to state the government’s stand over the weekend.

“Our first priority is the smooth conduct of the Commonwealth Games. Let the games be finished, we are hopeful that the Prime Minister will take an appropriate action (on alleged financial irregularities),” he was quoted as saying.

We are hopeful indeed! What a load of codswallop!

Remember that unlike in the so-called IPL scam, where despite all the sound and fury concrete proof is yet to be produced, there is a pile of evidence at hand in the Commonwealth Games scam already. And yet the need of hosting a successful Games first is being advanced by those in power as a convenient excuse to shield the shocking inaction of the government.

The politics of convenience has already seen the great telecom scandal of our times being virtually hushed up during this government’s tenure. Can we expect any better in a Games scandal that seems to involve not just Suresh Kalmadi and Commonwealth Games committee but also many members of Delhi’s babudom and political class?

In a country where corruption is endemic, can’t the government instead see this as a great opportunity to come down hard on this evil blighting our society? It could spark off the revolution we need, and while nobody wants to see the corrupt hung from lampposts or guillotined, they must be made an example of.

I am reminded in this context of a stirring Tata example of recent vintage, recounted in Morgen Witzel’s just-released Tata – the Evolution of Global Brand.

The biggest financial scandal to hit the Tata Group was the collapse of Tata Finance, its investment arm, in 2002.

The company had been doing very well at that stage, but “some at Tata Sons smelled a rat”.

After the independent review that they commissioned came up with a dodgy report, Tata Sons decided to conduct their own review, which discovered “evidence of widespread irregularities”.

Ratan Tata admitted to Witzel seven years later that the softer option “would have been to quietly plug the hole, make good the financial losses and sweep everything under the carpet”.

“But I could not do that,” the Tata Sons chairman went on to explain. “We would have been allowing the guilty to walk away. I felt that if we did not make this public, then we were implictly saying that this sort of behaviour was tolerable.”

So, he and the rest of the Tata Sons blew the whistle on the scam themselves.

That decision becomes all the more commendable when you consider that it cost the Tata Group a company and somewhere between Rs 500 crore to Rs 700 crore, the money they had to dole out to make good the losses suffered by their customers.

But Witzel goes on to mention how in the long run it only served to enhance the Tata Group’s already shining reputation. When people of India think of Tata Finance today, he observes, what they remember first is not the fraud, but the honourable way that the Tata Group dealt with it and took responsibility.

Probably Manmohan Singh and his band of merry men need to remind themselves that brand India is also in need of a similarly luminous example.

Many a culprit has walked away scot free in the past because of governmental inaction, stoic and otherwise.

At least in this instance, let the government strike when the iron is hot.

We have spoilt those in power rotten till now. It’s high time we followed Ratan Tata’s example.

R Rajesh Kumar