Monday, 29 March 2010

Ad nauseam

It’s a sequel. Failure, it seems is woven into that one simple word.

No, it’s not a movie I am talking about. Neither is it a game or reality show.
It is a series of TV ads featuring characters called Zoozoos.

My nine-year old daughter doesn’t find this year’s campaign funny. Of course she is tougher than the jury at Cannes. (The jury at Cannes didn’t find the Zoozoos funny enough to merit an award last year too. But that’s another story.)

Apart from the genetic disadvantage of being a sequel, why aren’t the Zoozoos successful this year?

Flashback to the TV commercial that launched Liril Soap. A young girl in a swimming costume bathes under a waterfall with Liril. All hell breaks loose at the cash registers (the phrase 'moral police' hadn't been invented then), and advertising history is created. Copywriters and art directors dream of the day when they will think up path-breaking advertising like this. (They do, but most script narrations don’t go beyond, “Film opens on a hot chick in a bikini...”) MBAs, yes, there was a time when MBAs voluntarily chose to join advertising, write case studies about it.

In the years that followed, Liril became exactly that – history. Year after year it had some of the most repetitive advertising. Why was that so? The answer, to my untrained mind (I don’t have an MBA; I wouldn’t have one if he or she was given to me free, or in chains), the proposition of Liril was freshness, the reason to believe was its lemon ingredient and its expression was a girl under a waterfall. The last one was a great and unprecedented way to express freshness and it broke the category convention of showing women bathing in showers and bath tubs. But someone probably thought that the idea of Liril was 'Waterfall and semi-naked girl'. So year after year, young and upcoming models were put under waterfalls and had to retire prematurely due to pneumonia.

Back in a flash to the Zoozoos. Maybe there is someone who thinks that the idea of Zoozoos is Zoozoos. Every script that begins with, “Film opens with a Zoozoo or two dozen...” is being sent straight to the sets and is being shot and not shot down. The other, more acute problem is that the Zoozoos are so much noisier this year. It’s like Bollywood comedy: It’s not funny unless the funny guys don’t talk as if they were shot on location in a fish market. (I would love that: The entire cast of a Bollywood comedy shot after being made to hang around in a fish market all day. For the shooting, I would recommend a high calibre gun.)

That is sad. Because the Zoozoos in their first birth were a fun lot. They made my daughter laugh. Then what could have gone wrong? Neil French, ex-Creative Godfather, WPP Group of ad agencies once said, “The first condition for writing funny stuff is, you have to be funny”.

And while I am in the mood for ad bashing, here’s more:

Again, it’s the daughter: She reads the statutory disclaimer before a motorcycle ad, ‘The actions in this advertisement are performed by professionals. Do not imitate them’, and remarks, “What’s the point then? You can buy any bike, no?”

I didn’t know sarcasm was hereditary.

Then, there is the ad for Videcon mobile phone services describing the various kinds of ‘signals’ you get: The, ‘I love you signal’ from boy to girl, the ‘Papa don’t go signal’ from baby to father and the last one that pisses me off: The, ‘Even this job is gone’ signal a guy gets when he sees an attractive woman in a short skirt walk in for an interview for the same job as him.

For the bloke who thought that bit up, I wouldn’t recommend a high calibre gun. A fisherwoman with her machete would be more like it.


Friday, 26 March 2010

One coffee please, black, but with sugar on the side.

I check into a Barista Café. I switch on the computer. Or get the pencil and papers out of the bag. The coffee arrives. I empty the sugar sachet and stir it. It is an intuitive activity – stirring sugar. The mind is blank and the action stirs memories or dreams. Both hold the possibility of a story, memories more than dreams because dreams are in monotone; whatever happens they usually end in ‘happily ever after’. However desirable that is, this ‘happily ever after’ business, it comes with the precondition of being repetitive. These open-eyed dreams take only happy roads and pass through dark alleys with their eyes shut.

I pick up the cup of coffee, take a sip and look at the world outside the window. Mothers walk children to school, traffic flows, halts, flows again, cars honk, teenagers hold hands, crows swoop down in impossible arcs, male pigeons mutter and go around themselves in frenzy, men look at women, women look at women, a peanut vendor blows on a bowl of coals in his basket, an old man stands confused on the pavement with a piece of address in his hand, a dog attacks a flea, bites itself instead and goes back to sleep.

I don't find a story everyday. Sometimes I find only hurt. Or regret. And on rare occasions, a smile. On the days when I find one, I open a back drawer and put it away for some other morning in the café. I reach the bottom of the cup, drag my eyes back to the laptop screen and I double click on a folder called, ‘Work’.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Truth: Now in a soft squeeze tube.

This week Future Group, owner of Big Bazar, Pantaloons and other large format retail stores, launched a toothpaste. (Read the story here.)

In a market dominated by Colgate (the market leader in 75% of the countries in the world), what is it that Future Group brings to the table, or rather bathroom counter, that can give it a chance against the global Goliath?

Our own little David aka Sachin Tendulkar.

In a cricket-crazed nation where tiny tots wake up at 5:30 in the morning and lug kit bags three times the size of an average child, it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

Mom: Wake up son, you have cricket practice.
Son: Mumble-Grumble-Snore.
Mom: Don’t you want to grow up and become like Sachin?

Son jumps out of bed and rushes to the playground. No. He doesn’t. After dragging the son out of bed, the mother has to convince him to brush his teeth. And what better argument than the same one that got the kid out of the bed?

Mom:  Go brush your teeth son...
Son: Mumble-Grumble.
Mom: Brush son; don’t you want to grow up and become like Sachin?
Son: Vigourous brushing sound.

'Ah', the Future Group must be thinking, ‘The perfect sling-shot against Toothpaste Goliath’.

Of course the toothpaste pack has a picture of Sachin, but unlike perfumes named after celebrities, the toothpaste is not named after him. Instead, the Group has made Sachin shorter. No, not Sachin the man, Sachin the name: The toothpaste is called Sach, (for my non-Hindi comprehending friends, Sach means Truth).

Mom: What are you doing in the bathroom?
Son: Brushing...
Mom: For so long?
Son: Yes Ma, Sach!

But jokes apart, in my grumble opinion this could very well be the beginning of a whole new trend in branding and marketing. I can already see a host of cricket and Bollywood celebrities lending a part of their names for a range of varied products.

Dhoni: ‘Dho’ Washing Powder

Aamir Khan: ‘Aam’ Mango Drink

Sehwag: 'Wag' Dog Food

Yuvaraj: ‘Yuva’ Age-defying Cream

Lalit Modi: 'Lit' Safety Matches (no pun on matches please)

Priyanka: ‘Yank’ Toilet Flushes

And surely Katrina can walk into the Hindustan Unilever offices and demand a handsome sum for using her name to endorse ‘Rin’ for all these years.

Who knows, the multi-nats might latch on to the trend. The day might not be far when a bank endorsed by Julia Roberts will be launched:

ROB Bank

For once, they will be speaking Sach.

Friday, 19 March 2010


The Times of India, Mumbai carries a PTI news report from the Daily Mail, London. The headline says:


Didn't we always know that? No, not about the presence of BanLec, a naturally occurring chemical in bananas that is as effective against AIDS virus as two anti-HIV drugs now in use...

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

It's not your fault; you were hypnotised.

Recently I saw a notice put out by the local police station informing women about the modus operandi (two Latin words that mean that the cops know how crooks operate but are too lazy to do anything about it), of (gold) chain snatchers and road-side con men.

Since the modus operandi of a chain-snatcher is, ‘Slow down motorcycle, snatch gold chain and zoom off', the cops suggest that you, ‘Walk on the footpath’ ‘Scream if your chain is snatched’ and ‘Take down the number of the motorcycle’.

The fun begins when it comes to instructions to save yourself from the con men:

1. Do not believe it if a man asks you to remove your jewellery and hand it over to him because there is police checking ahead.
I love this: It is the closest we can get to a public admission from the cops that the man and woman in the street believe that the cops will rob them of their jewellery!

2. Do not believe it if a man tells you to remove your jewellery and hand it over to him because there are riots ahead.
As if the rioters have run out of bricks and stones and are now using jewellery plucked off passers-by to pelt whatever they are pelting – most likely cops at the police checking!

3. Do not believe it if a man tells you to remove your jewellery and hand it over to him because a little down the road a rich man is distributing free saris to poor people and your jewellery makes you look rich.
Thank heavens the man doesn’t ask you to remove your sari as well! Or maybe that one is reserved for a notice about sexual assault.

What kind of moron falls for these stories? Apparently, there are more than a few who do. There are also suggestions that these con men hypnotise you; difficult to believe because the victims remember the stories told to them by the conmen. (How else would the cops know about them? You really don’t believe the cops have caught anyone and found out? Alternately, the hypnosis stories are cooked up by the victims so they don't appear stupid.)

But then I think I know exactly the kind of moron: The one who attends the event or adds applications like, ‘NOW YOU CAN SEE EVERY1 WHO VEIWS (actual spelling) YOUR PROFILE!!’ or, ‘Who is looking my album?’ (actual grammar), on Facebook by sharing his or her profile details and friends’ lists. (Apologies to my friends who’ve added the application. And a suggestion: If the application has given you a list of your profile checkers, please call one of them and ask him/her if he/she really checked on you recently.) For my detailed post on the profile checker scam/spam, click here.

And I am looking forward to the notice the cops from the cyber crime department will send out about the Facebook scam.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Can't get over The Hurt

A cowboy walks into a rough town. The bad guys have struck again and the town has just buried the fifth sheriff and the local cemetery officially has a five star tag. The cowboy is the fastest gun in the Wild West and when all the bad guys are shooting at him none of their bullets are on target but all it takes for him is one bullet, one bad guy. No, he is not lucky. He has balls of iron and… You get the drift: It is the classic Western. It is classic Hollywood. It is classic Formula. And you have seen them all.

Including the latest: 'The Hurt Locker'.

Sorry. Oscar-sweep notwithstanding, that’s what 'The Hurt Locker' is. How a cowboy walks into Baghdad and single-handedly, breaking all rules of engaging terrorists and bomb-planters, keeps defusing bomb after improvised bomb with the unerring aim of The Cowboy. In a rather gritty sequence, this bomb disposal cowboy also shows he is a quintessential (a word that means, ‘the guy who finds it essential to squint through the sights of a gun for a living), cowboy by, you guessed it, taking out an enemy sniper with dead-on-target marksmanship.

Did someone say realism? Here’s an excellent link that debunks the realism of 'The Hurt Locker' in one simple post.

Arty, that’s the word you are looking for. Not realism. 'The Hurt Locker' is Rambo in arty camouflage.

It is also Superman, Spiderman, Batman all rolled into one. Except here, the hero removes his costume/uniform to exhibit his balls of iron. (There is something strange about that metaphor, but I don’t want to touch it.)

Then again, balls of iron might not be an asset in hot Iraq.

All in all, 'The Hurt Locker' is the classic Hollywood story of Ordinary Joe. Of how one Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on the bad guys and emerges triumphant and in doing so reinforces your faith in the Great Formula Movie. 

When in reality it is a movie that romanticises war by creating super heroes and over-simplified solutions where there are none.

Now for 'The Hurt Locker’s' Oscar competitor with equal number of nominations, 'Avatar': I haven’t seen it. I will see it when I forgive James Cameroon for 'Titanic'.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

In memory of blood

17 years ago I was young and stupid. Things have changed now. I am not young any more. It was a Friday like it was yesterday and I was into my first job in advertising and in the afternoon, during the lunch break we discussed some rumours about bomb blasts in some parts of town. The client servicing director, a man with an impressive beard and spectacles, made more impressive by a paunch and a tie curved over it, confidently asserted, “Hyah! I just came back from a meeting in Fort and nothing!” The senior art director and I, encouraged by his words (less) and by the deadline (more) took a cab to Bohra Bazaar where the digital typesetting unit had its office.

Busy in our efforts to perfect the layout of the ad we were working on, we vaguely heard murmurs of bomb blasts at the Stock Exchange (ten minutes’ walk away) and the Air India building (ten minutes’ drive away) and heard the owner of the unit complaining that the phones had gone dead. Just after five in the evening, my colleague and I went out to get a snack. There was a crowd around a guy selling Gujarati newspapers. I understood the script enough to understand that there had been bomb blasts at several locations in the city. Many were dead. More were injured. We hurried back to the typesetting unit and shared the news. There was disbelief and shock, but everyone went back to work. We tried calling home without success. It was 1993 and there were no cell phones, internet or celebrities tweeting about how shocked they were and the never-say-die (even if you are dead) spirit of the city.

We decided to go home. My colleague stayed in far-off Dombivali and he requested that I travel with him by train. I used to stay at Dadar then, a short 10-minute train ride away. We reached VT Station to find it surprisingly empty. On a normal weekday, we would have had to jump, push and fight our way into a train that entered the station. Not today. We stood near the door. There was a strange hush in the compartment. People avoided each others’ gazes and looked around as if this was not a journey they took every evening but was something that had no destination, no purpose and absolutely no sense of adventure or routine associated with it. It was a fast train and the second stop was Dadar, one of the busiest stations on the suburban train line. I got off without effort. By the time I had reached there, I had a fair idea of what had happened while we were busy getting the design of one press advertisement right: There had been bomb blasts at Stock Exchange, Air India building, Worli Passport Office, Plaza Cinema, Shivaji Park, Sea Rock and Centaur Hotels and other places. The details were sketchy but the tension in the train station was real. In the sodium yellow light, the normally fish-market like crowded station looked like a graveyard with the spaces between platforms looking like long and deep graves hungry for coffins.

On an impulse I took a slow train going back towards VT and got off at the next station. There was deathly silence in the air as I walked through the old mill area of Parel. There were huddles of men who looked up as I passed by, their gazes of fear wrapped in masks of hostility. Soon, I was at KEM Hospital, trying to convince the watchman that I had come to donate blood for the victims, trying to avoid looking inside at the bodies that lay crammed in the spacious lobby. Finally, a tired looking intern in a white coat came to the watchman’s rescue, “We don’t have the manpower to spare for blood donors,” he said wearily and walked away without waiting for my reply.

The next morning I got off at Churchgate Railway Station on my way to office. As I made my way out of the station, I saw a long queue of people. Curious, I went to its head. They had put up makeshift hospital beds and partitions in the station premises and were having a blood donation camp. Just as I was about to turn back to join the queue a young girl in her twenties walked up to a doctor and enquired in a whisper, “I am having my periods. Do you think I can donate blood?”

That was when I finally broke down.

Monday, 8 March 2010

An absurd phobia. Is there any other type?

I have an irrational fear. (Is there something called rational fear? We will leave that question to qualified people like shrinks whose major qualifications are owning a couch and a facial expression described as sympathetic. The really good ones also have this ability to grunt while sleeping with their eyes open.)

The fear, or phobia as some shrink would describe it if he (or she) were awake, is that of leaving messages on answering machines and on voice mail boxes.

The sound of a friend's voice, albeit with a slight electronic twang, saying, "Hi, we are sorry we cannot answer the phone now but do leave a message after the beep and we will get back to you soon", makes my tonsils bloat up, gives me a running cold and blocks my sinuses. No, it doesn't. But the effect is the same: I lose my voice. I hear the beep and sooner or later hang up. I stopped doing that a couple of months ago when a woman friend told me that she gets these calls on and off, where the caller just leaves the sound of his heavy breathing on her answering machine. I suggested that he might have a cold but she insisted that she was getting caller identification to trap this 'stalker'. Since then I hang up before the ominous beep.

After hanging up I usually wonder what is it that my friend and his or her spouse are doing at this time of the day that would stop them from coming to the phone. If it is a client, I wonder if he has an attractive secretary. But since you didn't provide your age proof and credit card details when you logged onto this site I can't share those thoughts with you.

There are nights when I dream of answering machines and voice mail boxes chasing me through endless and dark corridors and I wake up, you guessed it, with my mouth open and no scream coming out of it. Sometimes I doze off during the day and imagine scenarios like these:

A typical conversation with an answering machine in my nightmare, or day-mare since this happens during siesta:

Hi! This is Deven.
I just called to say that I was wondering if we could push today's meeting by an hour?
What do you say?
Why don't you say something?
Why don't you ever talk to me? 
Have I done something wrong? Have I hurt you in some way? 
What is it?
Are you seeing someone? Are you! I am sure you are! Oh, you are so predictable... All I have to do is be late a few times and there you go...
Whirr... Khrrr... (Sound of tape running out.)
Long beep.

Then there are days when I read books like, 'Interpretation of Dreams' and come up with dumb theories to explain my phobia:

The machine beeps. I leave a message. The answering machine owner doesn't retrieve the message and my voice remains trapped in there forever. I, of course, roam the earth voiceless and dumber than I am now - for the rest of my life, waiting for my voice to be released.

Last week I decided to confront my fear. I said to myself, "This can't go on forever". I admitted to myself that my fear was not only irrational but it was also absurd and it was time I took drastic steps to cure myself. So yesterday I mustered my courage, checked my bank balance and called a shrink for an appointment: 

I got his answering machine.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Have I unearthed a scam on Facebook?

See Everyone Who Views Your Profile!! is an EVENT on Facebook. Here are the details, taken from the Event page on Facebook: 
Type: Education – Workshop
Start Time: Sunday, 28 February 2010 at 06:30
End Time: Wednesday, 30 June 2010 at 09:30
Location: Internet
Now its 100% possible to see that who views your profile or spying you!!*
Follow these simple steps to see it:
Join this Event "Click on Attending"
Invite all your friends to this event.
Final Step is to Signup from link given below** :
(Copy this link & paste it in your address bar and then press enter)
(You must Signup/Login & change your privacy settings in order to see who views your profile)
● How you Can Join????
● In "Your RSVP"
● Click on "Attending" From Right Side

Note: After clicking on Attending Please Invite at least 50 of your Friends to This Event to Confirm your Membership.

  • Its works with feboz only
    ** You can signup with toolbar (Toolbar is used only for signup and make easy to use network. Toolbar has no connection with above mentioned feature)

This event has
 76,904 confirmed guests
I visited the url and discovered that Feboz is a social networking site and its logo looks suspiciously like a Facebook rip-off.

A message from the administrator of the Event says: 

To sum up:
See Everyone Who Views Your Profile!! is a 4-month long educational workshop that is being conducted in a location called the Internet.
To attend it, you have to invite ALL your friends  (or at least 50 of them), visit a website that looks like a Facebook rip-off, download a toolbar, CHANGE your privacy settings and first 500000 members of this Event will get IT free, without specifying what IT is.

The Event is created on Facebook by a guy called Arun Ganguly who has 54 friends (on FB).

Arun Ganguly’s Facebook page:

Now add all that information up, read this article at on how unscrupulous advertisers/elements exploit loopholes in the Facebook system (and our lax attitude to security) to access personal information, and the ramifications can be scary.

I don’t want to find out by ‘attending’ this Event. If someone out there is ‘attending’, tell me I am wrong.

Or, maybe I am just over-reacting.
I hope I am.

How a Film Fares & Awards

           Today’s Economic Times Mumbai has dedicated its entire back page to cover the Filmfare Awards.
           (Today’s Bombay Times has dedicated its entire front page to the same report and apart from a few extra details like sweet little Katrina Kaif waiting for three hours with make-up on her face after giving up her performance slot to Salman, there is nothing to distinguish one from the other.)
           Apart from a list of winners carried separately in a box, the report has nothing to do with the award-winning movies or the people.
           Instead, it is a report of how the twin Masters of Ceremony entertained the audience for over three hours: The jokes they cracked, the potshots they took, the pants they dropped, everything.
           That, and the various song and dance performances in the ceremony.
           That’s weird because the Filmfare Awards are audience choice awards. That is, readers of Filmfare Magazine vote to select the winners. You would imagine the people who haven’t watched a particular movie would want to know what other people think about it. And if a movie or performance was voted as award-winning by other movie-goers, they would want to go and watch it.
           Not here. Not in this case.
           Because almost all movies in the winners’ list are not showing in cinema halls any more. In fact, a movie that won two awards, Best Actor – Male and Best Actor – Female, is being aired next weekend on a leading general entertainment television channel.
           To say the unthinkable, it’s as if no one believes the awards are in any way connected to a movie or a performance being great. Not even the guys who make the movies.
           I guess then the reporters have no other choice but to write about what a great show it was.
           Or maybe the show was simply more entertaining than the movies that won awards.