May 11, 2018

Lessons from the Walmart-Flipkart Deal

Walmart's acquisition of Flipkart for $16 billion is the most exciting news for a variety of reasons and means a world for Indian Retail Industry. It is exciting because for a team of co-founders who braved the odds of running an E-Tail startup against all rejections, criticism and hardships for 11 years, this deal is the proof of concept that startups in India can not only succeed or become a unicorn (having valuation above $ 1 Billion) but get scaled upto a level that attracts the attention of the world's best investment bankers and giants like Walmart, Amazon (in the way its been pumping before and after the deal was announced) and Alibaba (who is also eyeing the Indian E-tail space). The deal happened to a company that is yet to enter "teens" but it will fire up the imagination and enthusiasm of millions of young people in India and South Asia to dream big in startups. The deal is also going to make bankers sit up and take notice as many of them are still unable to determine using conventional templates how to value and finance a company having negative EBITDA or higher cash burn rates. There has to be a way for project-financing bankers to participate in growth opportunities without collaterals. On the day of the deal announcement, Flipkart had accumulated losses over Rs.24000 crore (almost $ 4 Billion) but the ones who will make money from this deal will be Softbank (if they exit), Tiger Global, Accel Partners, Tencent Holdings and others who took risks. The deal is going to sizzle up the Investment Landscape too - with Alternative Asset-Class becoming worthy of Investment-grade by UHNWIs and HNWIs. OF course, not every deal will be a runaway success but we are at an inflection point today just as we were when we only had Templeton, UTI and Canbank and Indbank peddling Mutual Fund Schemes. The deal is also going to make all those Billionaires in India wake up to threats of their brick-and-mortar businesses without focusing on areas of impact - Artificial Intelligence-based Algorithms, Supply Chain connectivity, Top-notch managerial talent and Financial Innovation. And finally, the deal is just a scratch on the surface of the $750 Billion Retail Merchandise industry. Walmart is known to upend most of the Retailing oligopolies wherever they set foot and their move here will sure trigger agitations and backlash from existing stakeholders in India's vast Retail order but it is one of the tipping points for a host of reasons as above. There have been enough poison-pill reports by startup commentators in the last few years about whether India is going overboard with obsession over unicorn valuations and startup movements. This deal is an answer to all that fuss over valuations. The next time someone kicks their job to start up a company (even if it is not IT-related) or gets a campus offer from a startup or raising funds via crowdsourcing, respect them and wish them well - there is honor and promise in such risk-taking. Lastly, welcome to the benefits of Flexible thinking. We live in an era where a Tech-averse Warren Buffett has mended ways to invest in potential $ 1 Trillion tech companies like Apple. Follow the cheese, wake up and smell coffee! Congrats Bansals. #FlipkartDeal #WalmartFlipkart

May 4, 2018

Air Chief Marshall Idris Hasan Latif - A complete life of 95 years!

Air Chief Marshall Mr Idris Hasan Latif is no more. I have been privileged and fortunate to know and handle his finances as far back as in 1996 when I was a greenhorn in Financial Advisory. When I was handpicked to handle him, I shuddered. The first time I met him and his learned wife Madam Bilkees Latif at the bungalow which is now Saakshi TV Headquarters, I was floored by his hospitality, his congeniality and his charms. Wonderful imported tea, foreign cookies and elaborate spreads used to greet me every time I met him. Even though his office was a stone's throw from my office @ Karvy, meeting him meant comprehensive, nerve-wracking preparation and unmissable punctuality. All those meetings steeled my greenhorn ways into becoming Pro at work, very early in my career. Everything from writing out his name to the way you spell had to be spick n span. You put an extra "S" into Hasan or you miss the AIR CHIEF MARSHALL in reference, you get a glare that will shame you. Taught me a lot about professionalism, importance of name as wished to be written by a client, knowledge as a conversational input and the relentless need to be punctual as well as expedient. He kept minutes of the meeting as detailed as I and was cordial but firm in reprimanding on slippages in service. There was one complaint made against me for some shares not being dematerialized for which Karvy was not the registrar. Once again braced me up for pacing my speed of followup and expediency. Mutual Funds were just about to take off those days but somehow I felt despite the frenzy for Morgan Stanley Mutual Fund, I must not give Mr Latif the application and hardsell. I used to tell him, " Your portfolio has the best of the bluechips that is the envy of even fund managers. Don't sell it now. Sell it when you think you won't have time and energy to manage yourself." Neither did I tell him to put money into many of the Fixed Deposits marketed aggressively by Karvy which went kaput later. Mr Latif appreciated my advice and my convictions in simplifying but not over-complicating the portfolio with needless risks and diversifications. His family way back in the nineties itself was a global family - sons and daughters in China, US with foreign citizens as daughter-in-law and sons-in-law. He had the most exquisite artifacts sourced from all over the world from days of travel in Airforce to the days of being a French Ambassador.

His command over languages, English, French, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and bits of Telugu was inspiring. Years later, it inspired me to learn French when I was working for a french bank BNP Paribas almost the same way he taught himself when he moved to Paris. He used to maintain a lovely collection of books most of them coffee table books and inspiring biographies. Some of the less-important ones were kept on the staircases dotting the steps. He maintained pets, mostly cats and dogs and plenty of birds safely protected from the canine creatures in a separate aviary in the backyard of his house. Madam Latif always greeted me to acknowledge my presence and perhaps moved away to do her chores, of which I later gathered were mostly writerly. Her books on cooking and remembrances of things motherly have been iconic best-sellers. Throughout their lives, Mr Latif and Mrs Bilkees Latif were never apart from each other and even to the parties and rendezvous events, they were in it together, mostly seated in the first or primordial row.

Mr Latif was also a raconteur and sharp-witted but never slighted the guest. Those days, I used to drive an LML Vespa. And he had already few cars parked at the front of his house. For all others his guard kept the door closed for business disposed from inside but for me he instructed my Vespa be driven right inside and parked next to his cars. His kindness and goodness bowled me over and taught me that treat everyone with respect and dignity of a human being. What is small today can be large tomorrow. Years later when I met him, he told me he sold all his shares plonked into Mutual Funds and he is quite happy with the returns. He appreciated the thought that I told him that one day Mutual Funds will be as big as shares and until the variety improves, stick to your stocks. We met a couple of times   later after he moved away from that sprawling bungalow on Road No.1 to a place not afar on Road no.2. But I will always admireAir Chief Marshall Mr Idris Hasan Latif for the things he taught me, the way he treated me when I was small and for the opportunity to learn. I wish he ascends to Jannat in peace and happiness from a life so richly lived. One of the privileges of being a Financial Advisor is the free entry pass you get inside the lives of the rich, the famous and the most successful. Air Chief Marshall Latif Sir was all of that. A lot of the ninety five years of his life has a load of lessons. I hope his children will put his life's work in publishing domain.

#AirChiefMarshallIdrisHasanLatif #IdrisHasanLatif #BilkeesLatif #CitizensOfHyderabad #LessonsOnWealthAdvisoryFromClients

January 25, 2018

Actress Krishna Kumari is no more.

Sad to-  know of actress Krishna Kumari’s passing at age 85. In the history of Telugu Film Industry, Krishna Kumari will remembered as one of the most glamorous heroines in the B&W era making her presence felt in a range of plots from social to folklore to mythologicals. Acting in over 100 films, her strength is in projecting her classical looks into any role which demanded feminine grace, virtues of patience and generosity. What she lacked in versatility of her contemporaries like Savitri and Jamuna, she made up sheerly by her good temperament and immaculate dressing. From NTR to ANR, from Kantha Rao to Krishnam Raju, she was always ready to pair opposite anybody unmindful of her dizzy star power – which even overshadowed her own sister Sowcar Janaki who sprung into films much before her. Winning State Awards was easy for her because of the soberness she carried on screen and one never second-guessed whether she had any mirth off-screen except for those adventurous Janpad films she got paired alongwith Kantha Rao and Rajasree. The twist of history in Tollywood reveals that Krishna Kumari emerged like a dark horse (actually not dark!) when the film industry had an embargo on actress Jamuna after her tiff with NTR. The boycott lasted about five years enough for Krishna Kumari to double down on as many roles, meaty as well as one among the three heroines. Industry heaved a sigh of relief that there is a good alternative to Jamuna. But the gap was short-lived and Jamuna bounced back with her memorable performance in “Gundamma Katha”. Nevertheless, Krishna Kumari created an identity for herself in the South Indian Film Industry with a good mix of pace, initiative and tactfulness. The late NTR was so smitten by her that there is a rumour that both of them wanted to marry but NTR’s wife wouldn’t approve of it. That’s why some of the most romantic hits like “Bandipotu” etc came in that era.

It goes to the credit of Krishna Kumari that her feminine grace and dignified performances ensured that the most magical musical output of the golden era came as lilting songs featuring herself and heroes serenading her. You name any of Krishna Kumari’s films, and scores of melodies and superhit songs count – be it “Vagdaanam”, “Constable Kooturu”, “Kula Gotralu”, “Lakshadikari”, “Bharya Bhartalu”. Women in the 60s and 70s universally identified with her roles and the mesermerising music and the multi-star cast that usually earmarked her films ensured she is enshrined in our memory. She was also keen not to appear older or diseased in her films, a facet that kept her glamor quotient high even if it didn’t aid her career greatly after the nuanced Jamuna staged a comeback and other heroines like B.Saroja Devi, Kanchana, Vanisri etc surfaced. The best part of Krishna Kumari’s life and career is that she kept her dignity throughout, staying closer to her blood sister S.Janaki. Her part in elevating a heroine’s character without qualms and skin show is what is her greatest legacy. Also, if you go through her entire filmography, you may just find very few films like “Sampoorna Ramayanam” where she is seen as aged widow of King Dasaratha. Her obsession with only appearing in fairy tale visuals and happy frames is what makes her the original fruitcake in Tollywood. She reminds me of the Shakespeare quote and I would hence say: Some heroines are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Krishna Kumari is a heroine where Tollywood thrust greatness on her.

#KrishnaKumari #Tollywood #TFI #GoldenEraHeroines #TeluguFilmHeroines

January 22, 2018

"Arjun Reddy" (Telugu Film) premierre on Television

"Arjun Reddy" is finally telecast on Television Premiere yesterday. I dreaded how it will come across on TV because it was rated "A" when it released. Amazon Prime has no qualms about releasing profanity disguised as class wrapped inside a "Cult " film. But TV Premierre had to show a sense of responsibility higher than that. The original version released in theaters had almost eleven censor cuts with few minutes of mute in an unusually long film for a modern-day version of Devadas. I realized that from the day the sensational posters of the film got released that here is a film that is going to rock by catering to the youthful audience, the hostel variety. While I have been reviewing Telugu films, unofficially, since 1991 (while I was still a sophomore), I have never seen so much curiosity raised for a film like "Arjun Reddy" ever for a film review. Many of my kin and kith and fellows on FB have texted in multiple ways to ask me to review the film. I did see the film and followed all the heaps of praise that it garnered but I didn't want to review the film because of many reasons. One of the main reasons is that I wanted the boy to do very well - Vijay Devarakonda - I have interviewed him for ( and have high respect for him for choosing different scripts and carving out a niche for himself in a star-struck tinsel town without any Godfathers.

After completing the full run of a powerful show at the Box Office, and later, winning plaudits at Amazon Prime and finally getting aired on TV yesterday, I thought it makes sense to see the film for what it said and what it stands for. With all due respects to the makers of the film and the crew and the team, I personally feel "Arjun Reddy" is a freakish, once-in-a-lifetime intense account of a love story with a poetic ending. Any other interpretations would make us read more into it than what the director Sandeep Vanga Reddy himself never intended us to see in the first place. The film was aimed only at the youth audience, the go-getter generation who will their lives their way, stray occasionally, fall again and get themselves up even if they lose a phase of life or parts of themselves. There is no message here for the society because the character of Arjun Reddy is so intense and real that the story is told in tell-tale fashion with riveting authenticity of a self-obsessed medico who falls in love with a college junior and later loses her, loses himself to take to drugs, loses his way in home, practices as a surgeon, loses his grandmother - the only other lady who empathized with him, finds his father's affections again, re-spots the love of his life just as he embarks on a holiday, and finally rejoins with her and the unborn baby to lead a happy life - just where it started all over before marriage.
My issues in interpreting the film have got nothing to do with issues of a live-in relationship or consensual sex the hero and the heroine carry on in their lives but the contradictions that abound in the narrative which the director conveniently side-steps while giving us an impression he is honest. Every director dreams of a honest film, if he is not honest about his motives and objectives, what is a director for then? But in this film, the director creates situations and characters which do not lend consistency. Let me come to come to the facts straight away.

The hero is shown to be fiercely independent in the first few minutes and gets punished by the Dean of the medical school. He doesn't see any girl but the only girl he falls in love with, his junior, he goes over-protective about her, dotes on her, ensures her projects are finished on time because a lot of it is done out of his promise to be a Guardian caretaker as promised to the girl's father. And then it becomes consensual relationship. But he never shows any remorse that he has breached the trust given to the girl's father nor disclosed it when he has violated it first time (or every time!). Forget his own ibby-jibbies, he fails to even convince his father to go and talk to the girl's parents at a crucial juncture and mumbles to explain why his "father-in-law" is upset with him. While a decent relationship exists between Arjun's brother and grandmother, both of them fail to rein him in to fall in line with control of emotions and anger and suffering. If the hero is really so attached to the grandmother, the grandmother would have never told him, "All suffering is personal and let him suffer." Neither is she ever in a mood to counsel her grandson, neither is he in a position to ever listen to anybody - a lot of everything that greets the hero is self-inflicted. And a lot of problems that the hero gets in his life are all coming from lack of self-awareness and self-control. When you lack self-awareness, you live like an animal without any sense of good or bad, and then you rely on your instincts which without an overlay of received wisdom or avuncular guidance to rein them in, it leads to more and more disastrous consequences. This is what happened to the hero in the film: in an attempt to create a modern paradox of a Devdas, we see a hysterical control maniac who wants everything his way and doesn't use reason or sage counsel to help him. At a crucial juncture when someone tries to molest his love, he chases down the culprit to assault him into submission but later makes the same offender stand guarantee to ensure no further offenses happen. How bizarre!
Yet another gaping hole is when in an important moment, the hero's friend Ramakrishna is the one who introduces the hero to weed, coke and drugs. However, we find it is the friend who keeps bailing the hero out of trouble most of the times. If your best friend is the one who introduces you to drugs and then bails you out every time you land in trouble, is he your best friend? Which friend will make you lose your marbles and then stand by you each time you try to find your way? Then the hero in a bid to fortify the love of his life makes remarks about others commenting on fat air hostesses but he himself picks a fat girl as a roommate to ring-fence his girl from others' attention. The episodes about his medical practice are another thing and would have led to public outcry had the owner not belled the cat later. Is that a good example to the students again? And admitting to it, would it absolve the breach of trust earlier? All along, the hero plays such a bully in reel life and protects the girl but fails to build self-confidence in the girl so much that she doesn't retaliate at moments when they were about to get separated or she was about to get married. Can communication be so bad and yet the girl walks out on her marriage, to take care of the pregnancy. In another instance, the hero goes home after learning about the grandma's death and lectures to father that life is all about reaction to birth and death 90 per cent of the time and the ten per cent is all about those events of life and death. How silly! Is that all the wisdom the director wants to project about life? Is that the essence of life? Is being available to greeters of death the only thing that matters?

On the whole, I somehow couldn't relish watching the film though I enjoyed the narrative of the film in its full-blooded intensity and staggering length. If more commercial films are attempted with the tell-tale honesty of director Sandeep's approach, we will have more stories to experience immersively. In that sense, make no mistake, Vijay Devarakonda's performance is the performance of the decade, Ramakrishna's characterization is one of the most entertaining ones as a side-kick to the hero, and music by Radhan is one of the most enchanting scores to listen to. But the film has a disturbing straw to its narrative which makes you think which way the boys and the girls can stray into in ways which can affect your peace of mind. The director has done well to highlight a meme that infected the protagonist but it is a dangerous meme. Could any other director attempted this story differently, in more responsible ways? Like Shekhar Kammula or Nandini Reddy or Tharun Bhascker or Indraganti Mohan Krishna? I like to think so. The real test of Sandeep Vanga Reddy's mettle as a director is to immediately make his next film and then we will know whether "Arjun Reddy" is a freak film or the director has managed to shake off the experience of a character like Arjun Reddy in his memory.
Finally, the film grossed over Rs.50 crores in theatrical run and managed to stump everybody's projections. Does that make it a cult classic film? Is it like "Shiva" and "Sholay"? I do not think so. A cult film usually changes the perception of how movies are made by showing a new perspective, taking or style. A classic film is one that is universally acclaimed by all family audiences. A cult classic film is endearing to all family audiences and is clean U rated. "Shiva" was a cult film but not a classic because a section of audiences did not like the degree of violence in the film. But it was neat for all ages. Ditto for "Sholay". "Arjun Reddy" would be a cult film because of the way it let the mind of a director focus with a single-minded narrative of a character as real in flesh and blood as Arjun Reddy who is full of contradictions, surprises and shades of grey - that interval bang, for example of a hero pissing in his pants out of incontinence is a master stroke which no hero would ever dream of attempting. But Tollywood has talked about many cult films in the last two decades and every time a movie was hailed as a cult film, they said the industry is going to change for good. They said it when "Shiva" was released. They said when "Sitaramayya gari Manavaralu" got released. They said it again when "Pratighathana" was released. They said the industry has evolved when the film "Aithe" another cult film got released unleashing a new director Chandrasekhar Yeleti. They said it when "Anand" and later "Happy Days" got released. But cult films only last as long as the next style or signature of a newly-minted director is not yet in sight. But a classic film like a "Mayabazaar" or a "Shankarabharanam" or a "Sagar Sangamam" or "Athadu" or "Mutyla Muggu" they will remain in limelight forever. Unfortunately, "Arjun Reddy" is not a classic film because a. it is not a "U" certificate film and b. it is not a classic film, as simple as that.

I would have rated the film 2.75/5 if I have seen the film first time. And while I feel happy for the boy Vijay who has stormed the bastion of Tollywood (and all the aged and dynastic heroes who are pissing in the pants for the audacity of the new age youth icon Vijay Devarakonda), I hope he selects responsible scripts in future to consolidate his career.

January 18, 2018

"The Post" (English)

In the twilight years of his career, director Steven Spielberg has been trying to tell different stories in different genres. The latest film "The Post" is quite an exciting story - the story of how rival newspapers tried to pip each other to the post (pun unintended) in publishing "The Pentagon Papers" (the papers which reveal damning confessions about how the American public in particular and the world at large was led to believe that the Vietnam war holocaust was fought without a cause. Playing the key roles in this episode is Meryl Streep as the legendary Katherine Graham, publisher and owner, The Washington Post and Ben Bradlee, the famous editor, The Washington Post. In approximately 115 minutes, Spielberg gives a riveting account of those episodic moments in his typical fluent but linear style of story-telling, though following the same drumbeat routine - a prologue of a war where an element of reporting takes out a chunky box of classified information by subterfuge and the narrative afterwards as to how two of America's most vibrant newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post trying to assert each other's snoopy adventures get to the finishing tape by reaching the source. And finally, the brilliant climax where a celebration of the Freedom of the Press ushers in with a dramatic Supreme Court verdict and a lot of maudlin moments for Kat Graham and Ben Bradlee.

On the whole, the movie is absorbing with all the details that Spielberg narratives reconstruct - the excitement of how newspapers worked in the times when nobody else , not even the Television was breaking news by the minute and mobiles and internet were unthinkable and the humongous pressures that newspaper editors and publishers went through during the worst Presidency years that American media has ever seen. The good part is the vividness and the emotionalities retained without too much fussing, aided by persuasive and nuanced performances by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Music by Speilberg's favorite composer John Williams is piercing yet non-invasive - the director and the music composer have shared so many lifetime's work between each other that they don't need to make an effort to fall in sync with each other - once again proved by the output of BGM in the film. The ending is a bit dramatic and formulaic with self-congratulatory glances exchanged by the two protagonists- Streep and Hanks as if they have done iconic expose. All they did was to publish papers and re-interpret history of several presidencies before and during Nixon's tenure  as to the true motives of the Vietnam's war. Spielberg's strengths have been in story-telling but his weaknesses are in ignoring the larger pictures that emerged later on giving some post-script insights.

For instance, more than 3.5 million people were killed in the Vietnam war and over 58,000 American soldiers died during the war leading to devastating economic consequences. No cursory mention of the same is made except just dramatizing the efforts to reach custody of the secret papers. Do those who followed the  war know that those war years are what changed the economic landscape of the world forever- Nixon was forced to abandon the Gold Standard as the dollar took a beating and hyperinflation rose? There were two books written by the protagonists - "Katherine Graham: A Personal History" and "Yours in Truth: A personal portrait of Ben Bradlee" which give exquisite insights into the effects of the War and the fallout on the American economy as well as on the Foreign policy (of which nothing has changed). This being a limited excursion into the adventurist spirit of a noted American publisher, Spielberg can be excused lapses of interpreting the larger unintended consequences of historical blunders but in my view, it is a golden opportunity missed by the director in enhancing the reportage value of the narrative. Was "Platoon" a better film than this on the Vietnam War? Unfair because the anecdotes depicted are totally different but just a food for thought whether Spielberg has the objectivity of an Oliver Sone in re-imagining political potboilers. What we can take home from the film is the general depreciation in values of Press Freedom and an unhealthy uptrend in generating "fake news" and whataboutery. Two golden lines from the film will resonate with everybody who values press as the fourth estate to keep an eternal vigil on democracy: "The principal duty of the press is to safeguard the interests of the governed, not the governors". And "The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish it." A good film to watch if you care about   some of these lofty ideals which are becoming rarer than rare-earth metals. Spielberg could have also used a narrative to mention the episodes which later led Warren Buffett to bite into the shareholding of The Post and later, much later, how Jeff Bezos took hold of the venerable newspaper just as it was about to fold up.

My rating: 3/5

#ThePost #StevenSpielberg #JohnWilliams #TomHanks #MerylStreep #TheWashingtonPost #Amazon #WarrenBuffett #VietnamWar #PentagonPapers

January 11, 2018

Anvar Ali Khan - A Legend in Indian Advertising

Anvar Alikhan. One of the most creative brains of Indian Advertising passed away on December 27, 2017. I have known him since the start of my corporate career at Karvy and have bumped into him many times. What endeared anybody to him is his affectionate persona, almost avuncular, which draws out the best in you. Even with those unconventional grey-purple eyeballs, Anvar was always enthusiastic and curious about everything in life and had engaging skills to get the conversations going on and on. The last time I met him was at a book launch party and I remember how inquisitive he was about the roots of the Global Financial Crisis. Coming from an Advertising Man, I was surprised he had such organic understanding of the issues that engulfed the world economy in those gloomy years of 2009-10. He remembered me from my Karvy days as a banker and picked my brains always but we never got down to serious business, which I regret. "Are you ready?", he used to ask me and then I moved on to a new assignment just as yet but he did tell me he was getting ripped off by his bankers. I wanted to maintain a non-financial, intellectual friendship with him though he asked me to come down to his office several times; I valued that to be the greatest price than a banking relationship. And I followed his body of work remotely as well as through his network of friends in Hyderabad, many of them are too close to me.

As a descendent of Jung family of aristocratic muslims, Anvar Alikhan has been an impeccable Ad professional who has combined the essence of his multi-faceted personality to deliver continuous value in media. He was the pillar of strength for Mindset EY before it got acquired by J Walter Thompson Associates and created some of the most memorable campaigns alongwith Santha John. He truly understood the process of creating a brand that lingers on long after you passed the signal where the bill board ran the campaign. Yashoda Hospitals is just one example of the beauty behind Anvar Alikhan's crusades. It started with a simple slogan: "We hope you never need us." Later, the campaign moved on to interesting and innovative best practices at Yashoda Hospitals but the advertising campaign always relied on delectable visuals with a crisp headline - it could be a robotic surgery, or the first lung transplant or new technology to quell kidney stones. Anvar's campaign built it up with visuals even a child can relate to - so the lungs were visualized as a broccholi and the kidney was an image of a cauliflower - stuff like that made his brand-building campaigns both fun and vivid. So many brands of Hyderabad and other cities from across industries - financial services, healthcare, pharma, utilities, entertainment etc were built by his agency with precision and impact. Many of them also won the plaudits - which is rare for an Ad professional. Like David Ogilvy, he knew the DNA of what makes a good brand ever-lasting.

In many informal meetings with him at media events in Hyderabad, I realized that Anvar's child-like curiosity was always building massive pigeon-holes in his mental library about anything. I remember at one of the book launches, three of us including Anvar were in a conversation about the markets and suddenly, he realized the third person was from the defence industry. For the next forty-five minutes, Anvar was thawing out information about the parts that go into a Bombardier jet with annoying details. He told me later that this is something that he is at the drawing board for a new signup and he needs to soak as much information as possible. Again, conversationalism at work but it shows that a master is always at work because insights can come from innocuous banter. He was also a regular at Derek O'Brien's Brand Equity Quiz and won several prizes almost single-handedly. Derek's quizes were not puritan but it helped Anvar's cause that he could work with both sides of the brain effortlessly to zero in on the Quizmaster's answers pronto. The screening of Cannes Awards was another annual do that brought out the gleeful ad enthusiast like a child to partake in a feast of ice-creams.

But did Anvar have life outside advertising? His close friends vouch that he has a richer life outside the Ad world - which is what makes legends tick. And Anvar’s creative juices never ran out of depth. He was an incurable quiz enthusiast that laid the foundation for all the insights and knowledge he acquired over a lifetime in advertising and travelling across the continents. Anvar used to write for the Outlook magazine, commissioned by Vinod Mehta, usually the travelogue page, the backpage; it was wide-ranging like covering a recent trip to Turkey or Lucknow or giving us trivia about some gastronomical delights. Anvar also edited few anthologies on Indian Advertising and Diaries besides writing many informative and encyclopaedic pieces for The Scroll about trivia – it could be about a lesser-known shareholder in Tata Sons who invested in a single share or about the nuances of India’s Biryani dishes or about Rushdie's anonymous years as an Ad executive. Anvar also covered some of the most famous Indians resident in Hyderabad or visiting the city in Channel 6 magazine as part of “Lunch with Anvar Alikhan”. Some of India’s famous fitness gurus, andrologists, chefs, artists and businessmen were profiled in these pieces which were quite a draw while the magazine played out. His writing style had a unique voice and detail-orientation without sounding laborious or pompous – blended anecdotal reportage with a connoisseur’s touch. Could have been crisper but the final reading left an impact - just as the man always did when you met him. He was gentle, convivial and in blithe spirits and curioser about everything around him. He knew the art of reclaiming conversation from anybody as long as he knew there is gold to be mined from the other side. His humor was also subtle and his manner of speaking was not impresario but persuasive. Friends around him never had a dull moment. He was planning a menagerie of bibliophiles and quizzers shortly but his lung infection took him away sooner. Ironically, one of the posts on his Facebook timeline was about an article written by Serish Nanisetti about why feeding pigeons can harm your lungs. These pigeons cost all of us dear because the infection spread from pigeons in his backyard.

Anvar was also at his best when it comes to curating aspects of Hyderabadi heritage, cuisine, or history. The only person who can beat him to it is the legendary Narendra Luther, IMHO. Anvar, truly, is a gifted personality who has enriched our lives and built a body of work that will endure forever – not only in advertising but in his writings, his anthologies and in the twinkle he kindled in many of his associates, mentees, friends and juniors. Not always an inveterate autograph-hunter, I was always going gaga when I spot Anvar in Hyderabad media events. He never missed an opportunity to catch an interesting event and stayed clear of controversies of whatever variety bred from narrow minds. One of my high points was when I discussed the book of memoirs by the legendary copywriter Neil French “Sorry for the Lobsters”. I could see the disappointment in his face when he admitted he hasn’t read it nor knew about it. That’s what happens when two quiz enthusiasts accost each other. Farewell, dear Anvar Alikhan. You will be missed but your legacy of work will inspire many others to lead a life full of multi-disciplinary approach that created value in every sphere you touch.


"Agnyaathavaasi" (Telugu Film Review)

There is one inviolable rule in making milestone films. Either beef up the content to match the momentum of the milestone or reduce the hype. In case of "Agnyaathavaasi" starring Pawan Kalyan, Keerthy Suresh, Anu Emmanuel and Khusboo, the director Trivikram failed to give us content that is usually multi-layered and consistent quality. Result: the film is the biggest disappointment in the career of a director who is usually respected for blending meaningful stories with plausible entertainment. In this film, it appears that Trivikram lost his marbles and missed many vital aspects which otherwise make his films very tight and well-knit. At some point when the director introspects where he had gone wrong he will know the answers why the film is a farce wrapped in an absurdity wrapped inside an epic disaster written without much care.

The story may be inspired and masterfully copied from a French film but any flaws evident in "Agnyaathavaasi" (Agn) are dumber and uniquely attributable to Trivikram and his gang of half a dozen Assistant Directors (whose credits roll a the end of the 158 minute ordeal). At every stage of the story development, there are serious gaps and errors. For example, the main plot is about Abhishikt Bhargava (Pawan Kalyan) who is living incognito as a heir apparent to a Billionaire father Govind Bhargava (Bomman Irani) who along with his other son gets killed by the villains. Under the subtle guidance of the surviving mother (or step-mother) Indrani Bhargava, Abhishikt enters the corporate citadel of his family business empire as a personal assistant to find the real killers of his father and sort out issues of CEO succession. Just when you thought the plot is promising, the treatment will be the most bizarre and incomparably illogical.

Trivikram and his think-tank add layers of artificial romance between Abhi and two girls Anu Emmanuel and Keerthy Suresh and build out some of the silliest gaffes and cheap comedy ever attempted by a Superstar which only dilutes the intensity of the original plot. Besides the original plot which could have been a good excursion in corporate espionage thriller like a "Naanna Ku Prematho" or a "Premaku Velaaya Raa" (Remember SV Krishna Reddy's film starring Soundarya, Chakri and Prakash Raj). Instead, we get Pawan Kalyan do all kinds of gymnastics and acrobatics with cheap, inimitable but mostly effeminate mannerisms which make his role itself unjustified. This makes the film a theatre of the absurd where the audience feels they are being taken for a ride by the director with liberty after liberty.

For example, just for the sake of showing variety and spicing the narrative, the opening shot of the hero is in Assam. That's okay. But later, in a crucial flashback we see the billionaire and his associates flee from Africa with the patented vaccine under threat of an MLA. An MLA in Africa instigating people against the company founder? Then comes another plot point which was never justified - why did the billionaire flee in a plane with all associates but abandon Ajay - which lapse leads to serious casualties on the other side? Because of lack of cohesiveness in the basic plot like these instances, the emotional connect between the hero and his mission in life - to nab the killers and ensure CEO succession - goes largely missing. Neither the scenes between Khusboo and Pawan Kalyan nor the fleeting moments that Pawan Kalyan spends with his father, none of these brings out even a tear drop in you or make you pine for justice. While the romance itself appears half-baked, there was never any valid justification for the hero using such violent means for ascending to the top of the company. For the first time, you get a feeling of watching a routine factionist film with urban setting because of the unique ways in which the hero attacks his attackers.

At the outset of the film itself, the hero uses the analogy of a wooden armchair. He says behind the design and creation of even a simple chair so much of destruction of trees and violent carpentry is at work. This is utter nonsense. This so called "Mini-Yuddham" (Mini-war) is applicable to inanimate things or objects, not fellow human beings. If that were so, like ivory, even wood and other materials would have been banned by now. How Trivikram messed up logic here is ridiculous. Not just that, in a crucial scene in flashback, a particular associate Ajay is abandoned by Gautam Bhargava in his flight from Africa when his factory is under siege. There was never a valid reason for abandoning one of the three friends and invite wrath of his kin. Or, you have to infer this is because Gautam may have seen a brotherhood between the MLA and Ajay. Even then, why did the mob sent by MLA lynch Ajay? No idea. Even to that the hero says some sacrifice is inevitable to lay path of employment for several others. It is this ludicrous rationalization of mindless violence that further welds a strong disconnect in the hero's character. Result: nowhere do you feel either exulted or anxious about all the stunts in the film just like there was no emotional quotient in rest of the interplay sequences between the characters.

A few lines here and there by the characters of Rao Ramesh, Murli Sharma and Vennela Kishore give some comic relief though they remind you of the 80s where Rao Gopal Rao and Allu Ramalingaiah played many comic roles in tandem.While the first half passes a shade better than second half, the content and the treatment is highly flippant and unbecoming of the caliber of Trivikram. Instead of building an elaborate drama of wits and scheming of how the hero tames the villains and overcomes attempts to eliminate him, Trivikram's concentration has only been on using the bells and whistles of a corporate drama without doing proper homework. This reminds us of his ignorance in an earlier movie "Jalsa" where in a dialogue he says,"You guys are auctioning everything from water to oxygen to sand." Of course, these are national and economic resources but it is because of them that government is raising resources and building employment. Nothing comes free. Similarly, someone should have told Trivikram that in "Agnyaathavaasi", in all the elaborate machinery built around a listed company and the quest to establish legitimacy of a successor who is in "exile", he forgets that a billion dollar empire listed on the Wall Street has no succession planning via formation of a Trust or a digital will or the works. It is surprising the founder has a plan B of storing in unsafe banks in Eastern Block countries like Bulgaria instead of safe havens like Switzerland and that too in non-digital format. If a will is written and registered, why does it take so much irrational drama to anoint a legal successor - because it is not getting contested? Even the company's headquarters doesn't show one visual which gives an impression that this is a vaccine making company (and whoever told that TB or BCG vaccine makers are billion dollar companies!). No testing equipment, no animal husbandry visuals, no lab chemists. Instead, the campus in which our Prince AB rolls down his sleeves making fun of people and torturing villain suspects with leather belts looks like a cross between Google campus and Mindspace interior - it is funky and too flaky for a vaccine company. I guess the team of Asst Directors advising the director don't know the difference between a Biotech company and a tech company!

Besides the theatre of the absurd that goes on in the name of entertainment, there are gaping holes in every reel as it progresses. For example, a fellow called Koteswar Rao (Raghubabu) keeps harassing lady co-workers for ten years and nothing happens to him. The security muster is so weak that you can use your ID card for two people at a time. The litany of loopholes in the film can actually trigger a Public Interest litigation and it is so depressing that Trivikram has taken so much of crowd-IQ for granted. In addition to these errors of omission and commission, he has given a narrative which confuses the audience as to the location and time while giving a good audio-visual overlay thanks to excellent cinematography by Manikandan and some exceptional BGM by Anirudh. Music by Anirudh is way more re-imagined than the pace of Trivikram's scene interpretation but atleast that made the movie half-watchable - some of the best stringed instrumentation can be experienced in the Re-recording attempted by Anirudh. But do the audience know he is the music director (because as the lackluster titles roll on, instead of naming the music director, it says "An Anirudh musical" - again proof of consistency check missing in the titles). The songs are good on the audio but poor on visual, another reason crowds are walking out as they unfold on screen.

One of the problems the director had is over-complicating the plot by adding so many characters and accommodating so many villains. In the process, the screenplay went berserk without any character getting registered. One of the main villains Aadi is also wasted with just a few dialogues and swashbuckling characterization. That our Telugu heroes are insecure is proved once again whenever such talents are trivialized. Another problem is the verismilitudes - you feel you are watching a condensed filmography of all of Trivikram's past glories - Sampath's investigation as a SIT officer reminds you of "Athadu" but his character disappears after an intense scene that dumbs down the plot for the audience, a number of scenes right from the way the hero manouevres into the company to the climax just sound like a leaf out of "Atharintiki Daaredi", the whole plot seems a modern fable that is a mixture of "Lion King" and "Baahubali" (as far as the preference of step-mother to the step-son goes). Because Trivikram hasn't stuck to the basic knitting as a writer-director and attempted a silly, complicated plot with high-falatin connotations to urban drama, the film has to be the low point in his career. Perhaps his adulation and veneration for the hero has got the better of his directorial capabilities and sensibilities. This is also the most unsuitable film to be released for Sankranti - there is visual grandeur but hardly anything to do with agricultural splendor - intact far removed from it.
For Pawan Kalyan, this is a forgettable silver jubilee film which didn't click. His histrionics and body-language in the film may appeal to the fan who demands more of him but it will not appeal to the viewer - there is too much "I, me and myself" to it in ways similar to what "Mahesh Khaleja" did to Mahesh. His dressing looks monotonous in the film though elegant and his dancing seems better in Koteswar Rao song but his timing looks still way below what we saw of him in "Jalsa" or "AD". Both the heroines look pretty but their scope is not fully explored by the director - and the final message in the film pointing towards bigamy is in bad taste, not expected from a superstar waiting to take another leap of faith in public life. On the whole, "Agnyaathavaasi" is gross and grating - it is as if a lazy but talented writer has attempted a Seenu Vaitla film by re-mixing his own old versions.

Rating: 2.25/5

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