Sivaji: Marketing At Its Best

The release of the Tamil Superstar Rajnikanth’s recent flick, Sivaji – The Boss is a perfect lesson in marketing. Its unclear if the entire marketing campaign was a planned effort or it just came to be. In any case, it was the most brilliant marketing effort in desi tinsel town in a long long time. It all started with the original announcement of the film over 18 months back. The coming together of leading lights of KollywoodAVM Productions, Director K. Shankar, AR Rahman and Rajnikanth for India’ most expensive film ever (supposedly over 75 crores) . From then on, there were incessant leak of stills, youtube videos, the speculation over choice of leading lady (Ash to Rani, to finally the relatively less known Shreya), the storyline, reports of how the superstar had accepted only Rs. 1001 as advance for the film etc. etc.

More recently leading portals like Rediff dedicated a separate tab from their home page to track progress of the film. With portal players in the game, this meant that almost everyday some news or the other related to the film had to be posted including interviews with all and sundry even remotely related to the film. Prior to this, the songs of the film (tuned by AR Rahman) were released and there was plenty of press resulting from this as usual.

Then, the release date of the film was moved out time and again until 15, June was settled on as the big day. This had already driven the expectations (not to mention patience) to a frenzy among the scores of die-hard fans. All along there was frequent news about the sale of overseas rights, Telugu rights, Kerala rights and what not.

The otherwise reclusive star himself appeared before the English media in a rare 2-minute interview on the eve of the release of the film. The simplicity of the man and his humility won him more well-wishers (like he needed more!). In a further attempt to win broad support for the film, the superstar arranged for separate private screenings for politicians Karunanidhi, Jayalalitha and Chandrababu Naidu. The Channel rights of the film were sold to Karunanidhi’s Kalaignar TV channel for a record sum (Sun TV losing out on what would usually have been their deal, given Maran’s recent fall-out with Karunanidhi)

For the first time, several corporates joined in the drama by signing up for shows of the film in droves for their employees en masse. As for the print media every single magazine and newspaper imaginable had a report about the movie and the frenzy surrounding it.

The producers and distributors of the film decided to cash in on the mania by releasing the film in an unprecedented 850 screens across 25 countries! (a clear record for an Indian film). Tamil Nadu accounted for 350 of those screens showing clearly that the star has a huge following well beyond the state. This widespread release ensured that even if the film was a flop the sheer initial momentum will ensure at a minimum a recovery of the investment. In any case, the film has been running to packed houses. Rajnikanth is easily the Boss of the box office by a long long way.

Overall a brilliant marketing effort, planned or otherwise.

Hamas vs Fatah

As Fatah and Hamas openly clash, the media is awash with pro-Fatah reports. All you hear in the media (especially the Western media) is about how extreme Hamas is, the fact that they won’t recognize Israel, etc. While its hard to understand the true picture on the ground, it is good to read views from both sides for a change. Check out this piece in the NY Times. This is a rare (nevertheless self-serving) piece which gives the Hamas side of the story.

Democratic Presidential Candidates: Debate 2

Last night’s debate confirms that the front-runners are still very much Hillary, Obama and Edwards. As for the rest, while they clearly make the debate more lively, its only a matter of time before they exit the race and hope for a VP spot on the ticket, unless one of the front runners slip up significantly. Among the front runners, Hillary literally took center stage this time. She was so much more at ease than ever before and seemed very much in control. She might have “goofed” when she said that “America is safer today but not safe enough”.

Obama on the other hand seems to be gaining with experience. He does sometimes get caught up in legislative detail and struggles when he has to give a concise answer. On the other hand, he was very quick to seize the opportunity and sound leader-like when he attacked the question about the National language issue by saying, “This is the kind of question that is meant to divide…”. On a side note, Obama was the only one who could pronounce “Pakistan” correctly (perhaps showing his attention to detail!).

The top punch lines of the debate where easily, Hillary Clinton’s reference to “This administration sometimes send Cheney on diplomatic missions…” and Obama’s “You were late by four and half years on leadership on this issue” response to Edwards’ complaint of the lack of leadership among Senators in bringing the war to end. The quality of the questions from the audience was a little disappointing.

Joe Biden seemed so angry for most of the debate! I guess he figured fireworks might get him some attention. Bill Richardson might have a good resume, but he was far from convincing for what was essentially a TV contest. Dennis Kucinich is perhaps the only one who is significantly different from the rest, but the man is completely unelectable in today’s big money world of American politics.

Indian Team Coach: Desi ya Videsi?

Its time for the BCCI to pick the next Coach of the Indian Cricket Team. Greg Chappell had a disastrous stint while his predecessor John Wright had a far better record as Indian coach. According to media reports the search has been narrowed down to a race between Arjuna Ranatunga and Graham Ford (Graham who?). While the former is a well-known, and respected figure in cricketing circles, the latter is a relative unknown. However what makes this appointment interesting is the preference of the senior players in the team for a foreign coach. The former cricketers (Madan Lal, Wadekar, Kapil and others), on the other hand, are very critical about the choice of foreign coach. In a recent statement Kapil Dev while criticizing the present senior players for their preference went as far as reminding them that some of them might be aspirants for the job in the not too distant future! Some go as far as referring to it as “colonial hangover”.

The reality is that cricket is increasingly becoming a very commercial sport and the stakes are getting higher by the day. This is driving the need for a far more sophisticated approach to the game in general. Unfortunately for India’s former players, none of them really have been exposed to a rigorous, methodical approach to the game, as seems to be needed these days. The odds of someone more knowledgeable in modern techniques coming from Australia is far higher than say India. Mohinder Amarnath, the desi contender for the Coach last time, took 45 minutes to fire up his laptop/presentation despite help from a computer expert. Besides, you only have to listen to the commentary of some of India’s former greats, to understand their abilities (or lack off it!) when it comes to analyzing the game. By and large the videsis do a better job at least on this front. The next generation of Indian retired Test and ODI players might actually be better equipped to serve as coaches having been exposed these modern techniques themselves.

It is true that cultural issues are bound to crop up when a foreign coach is in-charge. But that is an area both the players and the coaches need to adjust. The downsides of having a desi coach far outweigh the positives. The biggest downside of a desi coach is that they might have an axe to grind of their own, not to mention that they can often come under pressure from their respective zones. Most of them have their favorites in local cricket, not to mention their sons playing at the domestic level in many cases. Having a zone-based representation in the selection committee is sufficiently complicated. There is little reason to extend this complication by having an Indian coach. The intent of picking an Australian the last time, was a perfectly legitimate one. However, India picked the wrong candidate when it came to a Moody vs Chappell choice.

Its time to learn from the Chappell experience. High profile, super talented players seldom make good coaches. To make matters worse if they tend to be dominant personalities, (as many star players tend to be) it can be a complete mess as in the case of Greg Chappell.

The biggest value a coach can provide Team India is in strategy. Having a bowling coach, a batting coach and fielding coach and a head coach is a complete overkill. When it comes to strategy, there is bound to be a needless clash of ideas. Its best if the number of individuals involved in team strategy is restricted to the captain, his trusted senior players and one coach. Anything beyond strategy such as fitness routines, physiotherapy etc. should be handled by support staff and not specialized coaches.

Ranatunga, a shrewd captain in his days, certainly scores very high on the strategy scale. Ford is a relative unknown but the fact that he is low profile is a good start. At least it removes potential ego-clashes from the list of issues to fear. Nazir Hussain is another name that comes to mind but is seldom mentioned. He might be the best desi-videsi compromise India can find! 🙂

Movie Review: The Queen

Title: The Queen
Language: English
Starring: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen

The movie is based on how the British royal family deals with the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. The key characters involved in the script are the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Tony Blair. As the title goes the movie is focused almost entirely on the Queen and her challenges in balancing the groundswell of goodwill for Diana among the public, her dislike for the Princess, the Royal norms and traditions and the personal tragedy for the grand kids. Despite focusing primarily on deep human emotions and conflicts, the movie is sufficiently fast-paced. Helen Mirren’s performance as the Queen earned her the Oscar. I haven’t seen the other movies that were nominated. Her performance in this film was certainly very impressive. Michael Sheen as Tony Blair was excellent. The role gave him plenty of scope for portraying a range of emotions and he has made full use of this opportunity. Prince Charles is portrayed as pragmatic and tactful while Cherie Blair is shown as having little respect for the monarchy in general.

The movie is extremely well-made. A tight script ensures that the focus on the main theme of the film is never lost. At the same time all the characters are explored in depth and fits very well with the overall film. Overall, a good film, worth watching.

Cricket: Insights into Fitness Problems

The amount of international cricket played each year has dramatically increased over the years. Very frequently we hear about fitness problems, particularly in the Indian camp. Just the last series against Bangladesh witnessed injuries to Manoj Tewari, Sreesanth, Munaf and possibly others. Several questions have been raised about the lack of fitness but no solutions have been found for what appears to have become a serious, recurring issue.

Here is an insightful and very interesting article on the issue, where the author refers to Cricket as a game for the unfit!

Google Gears: Early Fuss As Usual

Anything Google announces is big news, and understandably so. Google’s recent street view extension to maps, etc. and the most recent Google Gears are all really cool and opens up tremendous possibilities for the future of software and technology in general. (Here is a brutally honest investor focused perspective).

As the author points out, Google is fundamentally a search and advertising company. Most other products or services from Google have been variations of existing services such as photos, gmail, groups. etc. and have produced little or no revenue. But for all the hype and hoopla over Google Gears, it is still going to be a while before Google can really threaten Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop.