Movie Review: Chak de! India

Title: Chak de India (means Go India!)
Starring: Shahrukh Khan and a bunch of new comers
Director: Shimit Amin

This is a film that is very different from conventional Bollywood productions. Besides, for a change, Shahrukh Khan is not playing a romantic hero!

The film revolves around how a former Indian hockey captain takes on the role of coach for the Indian Women’s hockey team and transforms the team into a World Cup winning unit! The movie seems to have been inspired by the constant media coverage of Greg Chappell and Team India for a good two-year period. The move makers chose hockey and a women’s team instead. A clever twist that helped highlight a number of issues: women’s empowerment, neglect of hockey, cricket’s overwhelming dominance, the role of a sports coach, team work, unity, the constant pressure on Muslims who represent India.

Shahrukh Khan plays the lead as Kabir Khan. The new comers together make up the Hockey team. The Director deserves credit for remaining focused on the main story throughout with no distractions like song and dance, romance etc. Even the comedy parts were nicely blended into the story line. The cricketer character in the film and the scenes involving him are very well handled. However, the script/direction is not without holes. Kabir Khan disappears for 7 years and there is no mention of what he was up to during those years. When he re-appeared as coach, the media surprisingly didn’t care to talk about it either despite he having taken on the job of coach of the women’s national team. He transforms the team in 3 months! There was very little use of technology in the coaching process either. Kabir Khan’s dressing at the games appeared out of place. Shorts or track bottoms would have made more sense. Instead he was looked like a guy dressed to go to work in an office!

For once, Yash Chopra and crew reached out for characters beyond Punjab and Bombay to other parts of India. Heading south was seemingly painful –the selectors refer to a player from Tamil Nadu, but it later turns out to be a player from Andhra Pradesh, who eventually had little to do in the movie but make up the numbers.

Shahrukh and the rest of the cast put in a fine job. He deserves special credit for experimenting with an off-beat theme like this one instead of sticking to formula. The movie is well made and definitely worth watching. Even if you have a dislike for Shahrukh Khan (for some reason!), this is one of his special films. This is a movie you can easily watch with the kids.

Google Apps: The Good, The Bad and The Evil

Google Apps is by far the best product/service that Google has delivered after its universally accepted search service (plus Adwords and Adsense). Google Apps is a blessing for any small business for sure and possibly for medium sized enterprises, schools and other organizations as well. At a high-level it is Google’s attempt at replacing the conventional intranet/shared server and email with a consolidated hosted alternative. It gives you access to group calendars, Docs & Spreadsheets, a customizable login page, URL etc. In case you are considering Google Apps or are an existing customer, here are a few tips based on my experiences.

The Good

Email Management: The biggest value of Google Apps is its complete handling of email. Of late managing email for small to medium sized businesses has become a major effort. With increasing amount of spam, and endless viruses, maintaining and managing a mail server is a significant ongoing undertaking. Google Apps does a terrific job of handling these tasks and automating its management.

Ideal for Gmail lovers: If you like the GMAIL interface, then Google Apps becomes all the more easier. However, if you don’t like the gmail interface you could easily POP the email to your mail program.

Powerful Filtering:
There are useful email filtering capabilities that lets you sort and automatically move incoming mail to appropriate labels. The best part is that these are easy to setup (assuming you like the Gmail interface with labels etc.).

Simplified, UI driven: Common email management tasks (which requires most people to be extra nice to their often temperamental IT support staff) such as creating and deleting aliases, accounts, forwarding emails, setting up vacation notices etc are extremely easy through a fairly easy to use UI.

The Bad

Overly Aggressive Spam: The Spam filtering in Google Apps tends to get overly aggressive with the result that emails that don’t belong in spam often end up there. It is a good idea to search through spam before deleting it.

Elusive Support Email: The worst and most frustrating part about the free Google Apps is that it incredibly hard to send Google a support request! It takes you quite a while to find a page where you can send them a support email. As for a support phone number, don’t even think about it. At every instance you are pointed to some annoying discussion page or some online FAQ where you can never really find what you want.

Paid vs. Free: Google Apps has both a paid service (Premium) and a free service. The paid service comes with support and other features (you can turn off ads, archive old emails etc), while with the free service your on your own (or at the mercy of Google as I realized later). I was using the free service for several months and was perfectly happy with it until one fine day Google decided to turn off access to one of our mail boxes! On login the following message was displayed:

Sorry… account maintenance underway

We’re currently performing some unexpected maintenance on your account. While we can’t predict exactly how long it will take, we’re working as quickly as we can to restore access to your email–apologies for the inconvenience.

If you have questions, please contact us at

We sent several emails and received no response whatsoever. All other email boxes worked just fine except this particular one. I suspect that we were receiving too much spam on this account for reasons unknown to us and beyond our control. To make matter worse emails sent to the mailbox received a warning message as follows:

Technical details of temporary failure:
DISABLED_USER: Account temporarily disabled

It would have been more appropriate and less alarming to recipients if the message said something to the effect that the account was undergoing maintenance, we apologize etc.

Thankfully, switching back to our original mail server configuration (by passing Google Apps) to start receiving email helped us ride the crisis until Google re-started access to the mailbox after 6+ days.

The Evil

Reality: We have used Google Apps for close to year now and believe that Google Apps is a terrific service that I would highly recommend to anyone, especially those who are frustrated by perennial email problems. However, the reality though is that you run the risk of Google arbitrarily changing the rules of engagement, turning off access, not responding to your email and leaving you completely in the dark (among other things!), especially if you are using the free service. Email is an essential, mission-critical service and one can’t afford to run a business or an organization without a fail safe arrangement. So here are some tips in case you are considering a switch to Google Apps.

  • Have a Plan B: If you chose to switch to Google Apps be sure you have a Plan B. i.e., have your email server setup and ready to temporarily switch back in the event of a crisis.
  • Reduce spam: Once you sign up for Google Apps there is a setting to accept all emails that come to your domain and then move the ones that don’t belong, to spam. The other option is to reject/delete emails right away those that don’t match any addresses on your domain. Choosing the later option dramatically reduces spam.
  • Sign-up for the Paid Service: You get what you pay for. There is no free lunch. Both of these are apt descriptions when it comes to Google Apps. Sign up for the paid service (so you get support via email, phone and chat).

Google offers you a great service for free and then enslaves you to the service and then makes life hard for you until you subscribe! Google critics could easily argue that with Google Apps, Google gets evil, contrary to its “Do no evil” philosophy. Nevertheless, a great product/service.

Cricket: World Cup Lessons Not Learned

The Indian team does not seem to have learned from its disastrous world cup performance. The 7 batsmen formula has simply not worked consistently for India in ODIs and seem unlikely to work even in the long run. Team India’s best bet is to go with six batsmen and five bowlers and pray and hope that one of the bowlers evolves into a batsman without losing his bowling (remember Irafan Pathan?) skills. Both Romesh Powar and Piyush Chawla are capable batsmen in their own right and it won’t be far fetched to expect them to come good with the bat over time.

In the first ODI against England dropping Powar, who has been a consistent ODI performers and most importantly a wicket taker, was a poor decision. Three seamers and two spinners (Chawla and Powar), followed by the part-time bowlers would give the bowling a better balance. As for the batting, Gambhir at number 3 is a needless re-adjustment for someone who is essentially an opener. The team can better served at this spot by either Dinesh Karthik, Yuvraj Singh or M.S Dhoni.

The 7-batsmen formula is a product of the Saurav Ganguly era. It worked in the 2003 World Cup but almost never thereafter. It’s time for Rahul Dravid to break out of the past and develop a new approach. Hopefully, the Indian think tank will re-evaluate its strategy for the second ODI else the euphoria of the Test series victory might soon be forgotten giving way to cries for more young blood in the ODI team.

Sreesanth: Small Town Boy Struggles to Cope with Fame

In the midst of the euphoria of India’s recent series victory, Sreesanth rapid deterioration has gone relatively unnoticed. What would otherwise have been major topic of discussion has been sidelined to a supplemental story. India’s best bet to exploit the English conditions was a complete failure. Ganguly had gone as far a referring to him as India’s “dark horse” for the series.

Sreesanth is a classic example of a small town boy who seems to have lost his way in a sea of big money, media, sponsorship and fame. You can’t drive a few kms in Kerala without seeing a hording with Sreesanth on it. Being the lone player from Kerala in a long time, he is heavily sought after by the regional media. The media in Kerala is obsessed with every move of his. Some papers have even reported on what he ate for lunch!!

In his rise to fame, Sreesanth seems to have traded his small town looks for a Bollywood inspired look of stylized hair with highlights, and earned a notoriety for acting tough on the field (the recent needless clash with Vaughan being an example). In the midst of the Test match he was repeatedly seen signing autographs on the fence instead of concentrating on the game. His comments to the media make little sense and in no way displays a deeper understanding of the game (Sreesanth inspired by Ganguly‘s bowling (!!) and his name being Sree Santh as opposed to Sreesanth among the many gaffes with the media). It appears as though he is performing in front of the camera as much as he trying to play the game. It will be interesting to know if Sreesanth ever had a reputation of being tough on the field in the domestic circuit. It won’t come as a surprise if this were not the case.

It is a pity that the young fellow has not been positively influenced by seasoned stars in the team like Sachin, Kumble, Dravid and Ganguly who have their feet firmly planted on the ground while still being superstars in their own right.

The selectors and team management perhaps chose to drop Sreesanth from the ODI team partly because he needed the break both to get his act together and to be brought down to earth. His inclusion in the 20-20 is baffling but quite typical of the selectors. The 20-20 series gives Sreesanth an opportunity to redeem himself in a form of the game that might not suit his natural bowling style which is best suited in Test cricket. The England tour was a completely wasted opportunity in his career. If he continues to focus on the cameras and less on his game, chances are he might be another Kerala born talent on its way to obscurity.

Bengaluru or Bangalore, Still a Mess

Bangalore — now officially renamed to Bengaluru — the most sought after destination of the expatriate Indian community looking to relocate to India is a city that is gone completely out of whack. It is one huge parking lot! Infrastructure and growth have no relation whatsoever and there is no respite on the horizon. The city roads are clogged with traffic throughout the day and most part of the night. Efforts are underway to build a new airport a good 20-30 kms away from the city. Getting to and from that airport is going to be a challenge in itself.

As for cost of living in Bangalore, it seems to be out of control. NRIs who have re-located to India find it more cost-effective to carry cereal boxes from the US rather than buy them in Bangalore. A Margarita is more expensive at TGIF in Bangalore than in Silicon Valley.

Perhaps the only redeeming feature of life in Bangalore is the climate. It is a lot warmer than it used be a decade or two ago (one more for Al Gore fans!), but it is still the closest to Silicon Valley weather one can hope for. With the name change behind them, hopefully the Karnataka state officials will remain focused on improving the city’s worsening infrastructure.

Chennai, which went though its name change a few years back seems to have a head start! But for its weather, Chennai appears to be a much better planned and growing city in comparison.