Monday, April 01, 2019

High Time Dan went Brown

Dan Brown's Origin has his regular protagonist Harvard professor Robert Langdon collaborate with Ambra Vidal, the Guggenheim Museum director and future queen of Spain, and an AI wizard named 'Winston', to decipher a 'poetic' password that will unlock a closely guarded secret that the flamboyant futurist Edmond Kirsh, Langdon's former student, wished to share with the world but could not...

However, Origin happens to tell us more about Destinations given that Brown takes us in and around Spain (making us endure the pain of inconsequential paras, much-abused adjectives, and needless encyclopedic references) only to declare that he has indeed arrived: as a high school English teacher who's cleared the Turing Test and now leads the AI revolution for the benefit of mankind.

Brown's mean machine 'Winston' has already mimicked, nay surpassed, the human brain, faster than Rajni sir's Chitti. Pity Winston didn't bother to validate Langdon's exact feelings for Ambra Vidal throughout their sojourn (and vice versa) if only to reassure the reader, given few lines here and there that indeed raise suspicion; maybe he was kept busy by Langdon on purpose.

The success of Origin should enthuse Brown to offer a masterclass on predictive intelligence as well; his bestseller sermons would then sound even more credible. No point analyzing Origin, given Brown's cult status which is clearly above probe. Instead, we would like to suggest that Dan should go Brown for his next.

Robert Langdon must come to India now; Mumbai will please the explorer in him given the fascinating contrasts of the city born out of a volcanic eruption dating back 5 crore years, a metropolis blessed with a rich heritage of 15 centuries and more than 600 years of foreign rule. Langdon will marvel at the method in madness, order amid chaos, clarity blended with confusion, and hope despite the despair that only Mumbai can offer. As an added bonus are the city's historic monuments to ensure a generous sprinkling of Wikipedia-style monotones that Langdon simply can't do without.

What's more, he will find many unsung versions of Edmond Kirsch (Dan, please don't have them killed, they will make the world a better place one day, and they are unpretentious unlike the showy Kirsh) working tirelessly in ill-equipped labs and yet deprived of VC funding (Most of it is earmarked for food aggregators, learning apps and online grocers.) To replace Ambra, we can have our own Priyamvada Gokhale or Priyadarshini Galgale (entirely Sir's choice, we won't bother him with parochial recommendations).

Most important, the presence of Bollywood is ripe with phenomenal possibilities. Tom hanks of course will have to make way for our rock-solid desi demigods. Ranveer Singh will come close to wearing the crown, amid the mad rush of the ageing Khans, kapoors and Kumars to strike Gold. Alia Bhatt should find little competition whether as Priyamvada or Priyadarshini. And yes, Chetan Bhagat can be roped in as a handy collaborator armed with relevant experience.

We can already visualize Brown sir 'conjecturing' with the one and only Karan Johar over coffee and winning the coveted hamper on National Television.

Danji, aap kab aa rahe ho?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Lights, Camera, Action

When I set about producing a web series on a theme that I had penned almost 10 years ago, I was highly skeptical about the prospects that seemed to tease us from the mists of the unknown. Devoid of adequate money, best of breed equipment, lavish sets and tailor-made locations, this project could only soar higher on the wings of unconditional support from selfless people. Miracle of miracles I got exactly that, and in very good measure.

Praveen Hegade, Sreechith Nair and Swaraj Lenka, my heartfelt gratitude to this terrific trio that has been with me through thick and thin and helped me overcome some near-fatal and downright tricky situations. Thanks to their steely resolve, I have been able to steer the project inch by inch towards fruition. They have given me the comfort to solely focus on the script development which needs to happen on the spur, in line with actor and location availability. If I had to operate the camera, I could never have helped each actor appreciate the need to probe deeper into their characters, to internalize them and to make them even more convincing through the well-timed punctuation of natural gestures, causal utterances and definitive pauses. It's still a long way to go but now we are enjoying the journey ahead of reaching the destination...

Swaraj, Sreechith and Praveen

The tall, lanky Praveen Hegade is an IT professional who somehow finds time to double up as my DoP and editor besides playing a key character in the web series and also contributing as my God sent casting director. For a hobbyist who looks at cinematography as a pure passion, he has truly done wonders, and his editing has been particularly noteworthy, in that it was the first time he attempted the intricate and largely thankless job. His single-minded devotion to both disciplines easily condones the mediocrity that often creeps into the final product; more so with respect to framing, perspective, depth of field, depth of focus, lighting, and seamless movements on screen. Such inconsistencies are part and parcel of a project of this nature, where things invariably happen in a jiffy and one doesn't have the luxury of fancy cameras, sturdy sound equipment, and decent locations. On top of it, actor availability is always a challenge.I know how Praveen toils day and night on plain vanilla, ill equipped locations with a single DSLR to tell the story I imagined a decade back. Praveen, I can't thank you enough in words.

The super flexible Sreechith Nair does another thankless job with a broad smile - he's the Human resource manager who bears the brunt of the whims and fancies of the group, in trying to organize shoot schedules, invariably at short notice and amid the pressures of his office work. Over and above, he directs in my absence, and does full justice to the scene authentication. Of the whole lot, he is very high on maturity and has powerful shock absorbers to sustain the harshest of criticism that often touches upon sensitive matters. But instead of sulking in solitude, he prefers to introspect with me, often at odd hours, on the areas where he must move up the value chain. Sreechith Anna, I am going to make a Mallu film with you very soon!

Now coming to one of the most interesting characters I met during the audition phase - Swaraj Lenka, the unassuming powerhouse of self-springing creativity. This man has no idea of the tremendous talent he possesses, that's perhaps also the reason why his temperament is also superlative. A budding poster artist with a phenomenal sense of design, he spearheads the art direction and costume departments with complete devotion. His staple facial expression of confusion is completely in contrast with the clarity of his conviction. Swaraj bhai, you have no idea how happy I am to have a friend like you. And I couldn't have asked for a better 'Ulta' - thanks for playing him in your inimitable style.


Also, thanks to the perpetual dreamer Akksheye Sinngh Rajput, a proud alumnus of Anupam Kher's Actor Prepares (Sushant Singh Rajput beware), as also our film's principal protagonist, for being a bundle of joy and enthusiasm and a ever-ready Man Friday on the sets. His help in production design and scouting for locations is particularly priceless. Ganpat bhai, lage raho, apnaa time aayega!

Akksheye Sinngh Rajput

Finally, to those few who relish pointing out the flaws in the end-product, here's an appeal: Why not become our partners in progress and contribute to our crowdfunding pool, lend equipment, property, assets and space, or bless us with brand sponsorships.

Not possible? No issues,simply enjoy the film which tells an enduring tale of universal significance. Our content drives the show, the show doesn't drive the content.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Kohlinomics: Investment lessons from the ace cricketer

Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | March 23, 2016 09:20 IST

Batting maestro, chase master, heartthrob, poster boy, fitness freak, role model...Virat Kohli means different things to different people. Though his staple flamboyance doesn’t make it apparent, his incredible life story - of many a trial and triumph – is a treasure trove of priceless lessons for just about everybody including investors – aspiring and veterans alike.

See more at:

We share the top five lessons in the form of this Kohli primer that would help you put investment plan in perspective before you expect to reap rich rewards from it. Here goes:

A long term plan is MUST

This mantra may have been chewed like gum before but Virat Kohli has made it the in-thing, almost as glamorous as him. As soon as he comes out to bat, his self-belief is evident, you know he’s here for the long haul, ever mindful of his stay at the crease including that tiring and trying phase of little or no action. He has a master plan complete with contingency routes to counter unexpected developments. He knows periods of lull are not only an integral part of the game; they are accident prone too. Not every shot during this time would be fulfilling but he’ll get enough opportunities to unleash himself and steer his team to victory. He relishes the responsibility.

One can gainfully adopt the same approach to stocks – the markets go up and down from time to time and there are several junctures where you are tempted to make ad hoc emotional entries and exits in the heat of the moment. If you firmly believe in the long term story like Kohli, you will stay put. But this is possible only when your investments follow a well-researched plan in the first place in line with your money needs at key life milestones, financial capacity (current and future), and risk appetite. Once you have made your thoughtful pickings based on your master plan, you won’t read too much into the transient market movements. At every stage, you will evaluate short term gratification for the likely long term consequence. It does take time and effort to get into that “big picture” frame of mind in the living waters of field action but you can take heart from the fact that even Kohli went through a curve on this front.

This is not to negate the value of short term gains but the best investments are essentially ‘buy and hold’ picks that beat inflation and build wealth for you. A good plan will account for life events, short term included. So don’t confuse volatility with risk and play for the long haul …just like Kohli. Relish the responsibility.

Count on Common sense, not sixth sense

Virat Kohli is always open to opinions, advice and suggestions but he trusts his instinct the most. In an age of tech-enabled decision making and analysis, he likes to keep things simple, in paying attention to smaller details that are often discarded as humdrum. His common sense approach is his most uncommon trait powering his successful strides. He prefers to build his strategies in the guiding light of actual experience. There’s no divine intervention to help the cause. It demands hard work of self-analysis at the end of each game which Kohli invariably seems to do. No wonder, he’s able to come up with smart counter plans, proactively thinking of all possible attacks the opposition may have planned for him or deciding on strategies in line with pitch conditions on the given day (and never shy of neatly articulating them during award presentation ceremonies)

Investments also demand this level of articulation aimed at demystifying concepts for practical use. Of course, one must seek expert advice especially in areas where knowledge and experience both are in short supply but borrowed wisdom is no substitute for thought. It’s elementary to know the “what, why and how” of your plans in entirety. Simply put, you need to know your portfolio constituents in and out – what’s their mix and why, what purpose they would serve, what are the underlying risks, how liquid they are, what are their expected highs, how long should one hold them and the like.

Think Risk and Return intuitively

Kohli is one of the few players who are ever conscious of risk-return trade-offs. This assessment is embedded in his though process. He contemplates every delivery for the perceived risk and return in the exact context: how’s the delivery like – what’s the risk involved – is the situation demanding. No wonder, he is never found ‘too correct for comfort’ or unduly slow. At the same time, he steers clear of rash strokes and waits for the right opportunities to free his arms (save for the very few occasions when he falters and so does India following the Tendulkar pattern) Both his aggression and defense are never hard coded functions of time, they change with situations. And he doesn’t let them get adversely impacted by the failures of his team mates.

Same holds true for stocks. It’s always recommended to consider every asset class, every entry and exit action, and every market situation matching Kohli’s pace and precision. Of course, things could go wrong against your expectations at times but never lose sight of the risk-return trade-off that influenced your choice of investments. In other words, you should never fix your portfolio without answering two fundamental questions: what’s your readiness to reshuffle it in the event of unforeseen circumstances and is it in line with your intrinsic risk appetite? Then you won’t mistake volatility for risk.

It’s imperative to manage the manageable about your investments. The markets can be elusive, economic cycles are beyond your control, but your financial goals and risk appetites are your own. One’s risk-taking ability is linked to the kind of person one is, not the kind of instrument. Often investors are risky, not the investments.

Build a wholesome portfolio

Unlike many cricketing stars that have developed their niche spaces, Kohli has stamped his authority in all three formats – Tests, 50 over format and T20s. His adaptability is of course superlative, as sparkling as his ability and agility, but his success is also because he has no preconceived notions about any format. So his core remains the same – he doesn’t throw caution to the winds just because it’s a T 20 game, nor does he turn a tortoise in tests. This way, he learns more about the real nuances of each format with that much more clarity that enriches his experience game after game. He can leverage this versatility for career progression as a failure in one format can be offset by the success in another.

Like Kohli, one needs to get rid of pre-conceived notions about equity, debt, real estate, gold and other asset classes. Each class has a unique value prop and follows different trajectories in line with governing market movements, so a balanced portfolio will most likely fetch you consistent returns over time through the collective churn of different asset classes. If one fails, the other will make good the loss or minimize it. That doesn’t mean you should buy a slice of all asset cakes or fake knowledge of intricate products like Futures & Options but you should be certainly be more open to learn more about as many in line with your financial capacity and innate interest. Who knows, you may find a new avenue of handsome gains. In any case, irrespective of your life situations, you always need predictable cash flows of fixed income instruments as well as the inflation-beating prowess of equity and real estate. Why not make the best of both worlds?

Update and upgrade all the time

Not only does Kohli think on his feet, he learns from past mistakes in real quick time. That’s precisely why the database of his weak spots, superb graphics notwithstanding, becomes redundant very fast as Kohli is ever conscious about weeding out the grey areas the moment he spots them or they are brought to his notice.

He’s a proud student of the game. He continuously works on his mindset, tries to probe deeper into the nuances of the game, and learns by observing other greats or discussing cricket with his coaches and even friends who wish to learn more about the game.

Investments also call for fast learning from past debacles, blunders, careless actions and even trivial errors. It could be anything – too many funds locked up in ‘year-end’ tax saver funds or bank FDs, too much or too little insurance, investment in asset classes or mutual fund schemes with the least idea of how they work, trusting tips and half-baked analysis more than sound research, holding on to duds and selling booming stocks at lower prices with contrary expectations in mind. Be a proud student of the game and you’ll have more clarity about where you tend to go wrong or succumb to the lure of windfall gains and short cut routes. The database of your weak spots will then require constant updation like in Kohli’s case. It will also be sparsely populated over time.

If investors emulate Kohli in true spirit, there’s no reason why they can’t celebrate success in true-blue Kohli style, minus the cuss words of course. That is one lesson you don’t need to learn from him, Virat will profusely agree with us. Happy planning! Happy investing!

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Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Dead Right

It's really funny how some of us like to be dead right about everything in life, but wish to steer clear of anything that's even remotely linked to death.

Try to hide it under the garb of anxiety disorders and irrational fears, call it Necrophobia, Thanatophobia or some other phobia, the fact of the matter is we discreetly hate the dead and departed, despite the 'anniversary' love we shower on them without fail, for ceaselessly and circuitously reminding us of our own impermanence and mortality. Hence that special timbre in announcing that so and so is no more, or the crafty use of words in the loose motion of emotions pervading the all pervading Facebook memorials, as if to say: heaps of salutations we'll continue to pay, but pray, for heaven's sake, stay away!

And of course, we have the pet intellectual notion called the fallacy of infinite regress to claim that the tangible soles of our shoes down below matter more than some absurd reference to few imaginary souls watching us from up above. We are in any case very selective about our choices: when to peddle our muddled notions of cultivated pragmatism, and when to pledge allegiance to good old family values and traditions.

We demand a frame of reference for everything we wish to avoid, both in thought and conversation, but we know very well we don't have the right frame of mind to demand any frame, whether of reference or preference. And there is one frame, we feel, is too lowly for reference: the frame of deference.

We are dead right. More dead than right - dead right!

Friday, October 05, 2018

Corporate acting – Whose line is it anyway?


Aptly used, corporate acting, role playing in corporate situations to be more precise, is a powerful tool to address a host of people issues - both within the personal and professional sphere. The essence is in re-creating business situations based on client specifications to unearth the elusive human element wrapped in business interactions, finds Sudhir Raikar.

More often than not, the patterns that emerge out of a role playing session challenge convention and fuel innovation. Measurable business value is guaranteed, provided the “learnings” are conveyed to the target audience as an integral part of the enactment, carefully plotting the refinement road map for individuals/groups.


Talent recognition & Management - Developing sensitive, focused and business-centric interviewers, bridging the academia-industry divide to enhance classroom-to-workplace transition.

Addressing conflicts & challenges - How to convey the “bad” news with grace, how to minimize the “stress” associated with an “exit”, how to inculcate the right work culture, how to promote ethics at the work place, how to eliminate acrimony among groups and improve camaraderie for effective performance management.

Change management - How to inculcate the desired culture across the enterprise in ripple-causing situations like M & As, takeovers, technology adoption, diversification and business fluctuations.


Corporate acting runs the risk of being reduced to a ‘fun time’ exercise in the absence of adequate care and precision. The sessions conveying the importance of brevity and preciseness of role play sessions to participants need to be made as elaborate as possible. Else, many participants seem lost on defining the purpose of the role play session.

Role players need to be conveyed with more clarity that this platform is not for displaying their acting prowess, but for “living” the role of a guinea pig which subtly helps participants understand the umpteen hidden aspects of human interaction.

Since the employee participants are the ambassadors of the program, it would be a good idea to recognize and reward good performance, such that the good word spreads across the organization. This will help convey the message that role plays deliver measurable business value and help mitigate the popular contempt against this tool of being a “non-business” pastime.

Even though the role players need not grasp the depth of the domain/technical knowledge, a curtain raiser can be arranged by the facilitators for a quick summary of the essence of the role.

The observers – both actors and participants - can be powered with more authority to be able to control and monitor off-track and derailed situations rather than citing them in offline conversations.


The actors play a vital role as conveyers – they have to “breathe” the roles they play – whether a disgruntled employee, pompous manager, matter-of-fact project manager or a patronizing business owner. The art is to release enough clues through the enactment such that the session is not subjected to sudden jerks, periods of lull or derailment. If the actor “plays to the gallery” or is seeking applause, the session becomes self-defeating.

It’s imperative that the actors should be well aware of the dynamics of corporate situations – routine and otherwise. An emphasis on grasping the domain and technological specs of the work environment proves highly rewarding – as the participants gain momentum only when the actor begins to “speak their language”. A good actor salvages a near-hopeless situation by shrewdly keeping the conversation on track with a great sprinkling of wit and wisdom. A good actor subtly helps participants with clues for better performance.

So, where does one find such actors? More often than not, one has to depend on the mini markets masquerading as mega disciplines; including acting and personality development institutes, on line and offline catalyst organizations, audition facilitators and scores of lateral companies claiming to employ theatre techniques for effecting and facilitating learning & development.

The most glaringly disorganized of the whole lot is undoubtedly the audition market which simply cannot rise above vital stat measurements and Bollywood-brand look tests. On the demand side of this bazaar, we have desperate wannabes of different shapes and sizes, from all corners of the country, waiting only to be the next Khan, Kumar or Kapoor. On the supply side, there are scores of dreadful agents, without the slightest idea of their principle duties, entrusted with the critical job of talent recognition and acquisition. Hiring a product of this bazaar will only prove self-defeating.

Most of the personality development organizations pride on a silver bullet fondly referred to as “soft skills”. Try scouting for an actor (finished product) there and they’ll ask you to enroll for their forthcoming life-changing seminar. Among the acting institutes, where content is often overshadowed by presentation; most of the student actors feel they have already arrived and dictate their terms even before you have spelt your need.

Look for actors working with companies claiming to specialise in drama techniques and you have to face a different flavour of melodrama. Many among these providers are busy flaunting the “overseas” connection and the borrowed wisdom, one that appallingly ignores the dynamics of region-specific culture sensitivities. Their actors are conditioned in the embedded learning; they will instinctively try and force-fit a one-off experiment done in the corporate environment of some western country into the work settings of a SME firm in New Mumbai. And when the recipients look sufficiently dazed, they call it a ‘learning gap’.

Ideally, the above mentioned talent providers should collaborate with each other to deliver corporate acting projects by creating a pool of trained, incisive actors suitably exposed to the realities of the corporate world as also the finer aspect of acting. As of today, such value chains are only a distant dream. One has to necessarily go through the grind, training employees of client organizations, handpicked for their felicity of expression, if not flair for acting. When measurable value is at stake, a compromise is always better than experimentation.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Of Genes and Reins

Genetic predisposition – a two-way street
Courtesy: My content capsules for a healthcare start up

People talk a lot about genetic risks these days, the risk of developing a particular health condition evaluated and quantified using statistical entities like odds ratio (OR), relative risk (RR) and absolute risk (AR). It's true that Gene expression influences how various foods are processed and absorbed within the body but a commonsense approach often helps us provided we are ready to help ourselves.

Although Genes manifest at inception and do not change for life, their expression can be modulated through the person’s environment (Diet, lifestyle and activity).Learning more about and adapting to one’s predispositions and genetic tendencies significantly improves the quality of life and maximizes health benefits. Practice two pranayams without fail: Kapalbhati and Anulom Vilom. They will set right all ailments and disorders with the 'blow hot, blow cold' effect (not idiomatically, but literally - Kapalbhati is Sun and Anulom Vilom is Moon).

Don't go for pricey genetic assessments, listen to your body - it will tell you what it needs, which may or may not be contrary to what you crave for. Don't worry about your genes, allow your body to hold the reins.

If your 'feeling of fullness' after a meal is sub-optimal, switch to a Fibre & Protein-rich diet: Whole grains, millets, fruits, green leafy veggies, cereal- legume combo meals, nuts, yoghurt, salads & sprouts

Enjoy meals of smaller portions of defined quantities, practice mindful eating.

If your snacking pattern in between regular meals is sub-optimal, then this prescription may help you:

Regular meals: Omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseeds, walnut, fish); milk & milk products; cruciferous vegetables; and brussel sprouts

Mid-morning snacks: Whole fruits/ fruit salad, yoghurt, nuts & dried fruits

Evening snacks: Green tea, roasted soybean, sprouts seasoned with pepper & olive oil, vegetable salad, raw vegetable, stuffed whole grain sandwich