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Archive for November, 2007

Listening to your customers

Posted by anandrr on November 27, 2007

nokia 1200

 

India famously adds about 8 million new cell phone customers every month. That’s about 100 million new customers a year. Most countries have less people than that. Needless to say, if you’re Nokia you’re listening closely to what those customers are saying. And what they’re saying is that it sucks to have to carry two instruments: a phone and a flashlight. Other countries can have their phone-camera combos and phones that double as GPS devices. Here in India we want our phone to double as a flashlight because we never know when our utility will leave us in the dark. Indeed, Nokia’s ad for the phone touts 3 features: its ability to act as a phone, its ability to keep you in touch with your cricket goings-on(! not sure what this was about), and its ability to provide light.

Ford apparently used to pooh-pooh customer demands claiming that if he had listened to his customers he would have built a faster horse. Nokia, on the other hand, did listen to its customers and built a phone that lights up. Perfect!

Posted in Business, Mobile Phones | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flying, Paramount style

Posted by anandrr on November 27, 2007

paramount banner

Vikram had assured me that flying home on Paramount would be mega-fun also, the best experience at the best prices. My flight was at 9:15, and I was at the airport at an early 8:30. All checked in and ready to fly soon after, I went through the metal detectors and seated myself waiting for the flight to be announced. I popped open my trusty laptop and set to work while I waited, and before I knew it, it was 9:10 and my flight hadn’t been announced yet. I walked up to the Paramount booth and asked if they had any intention of flying us out that evening. “Oh we’re not from Paramount,” the guy told me, “why,” he asks, “did you have a flight out soon?” “Yes,” I replied, “in about 5 minutes to be exact.” He shrugged, as if to say, that’s how it goes. I started calling people frantically to see if I could roust out a Paramount employee or two, and I also noticed that nobody else seemed unduly worried that a flight was due to take off in a minute or two and nobody from the bloody airline had shown up as yet. Eventually, the Paramount folks showed up at 9:30, shepherded us on to the flight in about 5 minutes, and the flight took off at 9:45! Let’s hear it for efficiency. And horrible customer service.

Posted in Airlines, Business | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Flying, Indian style

Posted by anandrr on November 23, 2007

kingfisher airlines

Sure India has its discount airlines, but we also have airlines that remind you that flying can be pleasant. Take my flight from Bangalore to Chennai. I flew Kingfisher, run by our own Vijay Mallya trying, as we can see here, to be our own Richard Branson (Mallya also publishes an annual Kingfisher swimsuit calendar, but of course). Chennai to Bangalore is a mere 300 km, which means that the flight begins its descent almost as soon as it has completed its ascent, the plane spends just over half an hour off the ground. It costs about Rs 2000 ($50). Bangalore airport is but a glorified bus-station. Passengers are treated a little worse than cattle, there is a permanent state of mayhem, and God forbid you’re there a mere 30 minutes before the flight leaves, there is really no hope of navigating your way to the plane on time. Everything about the experience from the time you get in the cab to the airport to the time you get on the plane serves to remind you that the place is booming far ahead of its infrastructure needs. But once you get in the flight, it’s an entirely different story. As soon as you get in the flight, you’re served a cold beverage. Follow this up with a little token gift bag: your headphones, a token gift (a branded pen in my case), some candy, and a freshener, all complimentary. I mean really, the headphones cost them so little, they don’t want them back. As soon as the flight takes off, they handed me a meal, quite rich for an early morning breakfast: a granola bar, a “desi sandwich,” a cookie, a bottle of water, and coffee (or chai of course). And you land even as you finish off your meal. Quite excellent service. Just what you expect when you pay top dollar to go from point A to point B. (An equivalent train fare between the same two points costs about 10 times less).

But I can’t shake off the feeling that this richness is not long for the world. On a Rs 2000 flight, almost 75% of which went to taxes and surcharges of different kinds, all of this service and meals and so forth must have put them back at least Rs 100. When business is booming and there is no dearth of customers at any price point, this is all well and good. But at the first hint of margin pressure, what easier way than to cut this and gain about 20% on margins? After all, wasn’t it the case that flying Pan-Am was all fun and sophisticated until the discount airlines and the discounter airlines came along, redefined the lowest common multiple, and these days domestic travellers in the US consider themselves lucky if the flight attendant flings a bag of peanuts in their general direction so they and their two neighbors can all compete to see who gets it first?

I also felt like I had a wider seat and more legroom than I was accustomed to. I’m not entirely sure whether it was really the case that Kingfisher has plenty of legroom and seat width, or that I was now in a country where obesity isn’t an epidemic.

Posted in Airlines, Business | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

We’re really quite alike when you think about it

Posted by anandrr on November 22, 2007

fruit vendors

Actual conversation between my dad and a roadside fruit vendor:

Dad: How much for the pineapples?

Vendor: These are Rs 10 a kg, those are Rs 15 a kg

Dad: And what exactly is the difference between these, they all look the same to me.

Vendor: And we look alike too, but surely you admit there’s a difference between us?

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

More Ex-CMs than you can shake a stick at

Posted by anandrr on November 21, 2007

mukhyamantri chandru yediyurappa

Ex-CM Yediyurappa and forever-CM Chandru. Photo stolen from The Hindu

I was going to write some more about my wondrous experiences getting a cell phone and flying around and such like, but events overtook me. In particular, our Chief Minister Yediyurappa has resigned within 8 days of assuming the post. Here’s the curious thing about Karnataka: unlike our neighbouring states that at any time have a steady state of 1 CM and 1 ex-CM who keep swapping titles every election every 5 years or so, my own glorious state has always had a procession of Chief Ministers. I’m barely 34, let’s assume I was dimly aware that we had a CM around the time I was 5, we have elections every 5 years, and yet here’s the list of CMs I know of: Devaraj Urs, Gundu Rao, Ramakrishna Hegde, Veerendra Patil, S Bangarappa, Veerappa Moily, Deve Gowda, S.M. Krishna, J H Patil, Dharam Singh, H D Kumaraswamy, and, of course, Yediyurappa. The running joke in Bangalore is that it’s more important to be an ex-CM than a CM. All people jockey to be an ex-CM. After all a CM is here today, gone tomorrow, an ex-CM lasts forever. And now Yediyurappa who rushed to become a CM seems to have quickly achieved his life’s dream of being an ex-CM.

In that way, Sunday the 11th was a great day for Karnataka. Not only did we get ourselves a new potential ex-CM, we also got ourselves a new potential ex-captain of the Indian cricket team. Anil Kumble was appointed captain of the Indian cricket team. I’m quite certain it’s not the captaincy he cares about as much as the ex-captaincy. Suddenly his post retirement options have vaulted from being a mere ex-spinner who gets to inaugurate the occasional bank branch to globe trotting expert commentator on ESPN.

Now here’s the really interesting thing: Karnataka has had this procession of CMs. But one thing has stayed constant: the guy who plays the corrupt snivelling CM in any movie that calls for one. That guy is so dialled in to playing a CM, his screen name is: Mukhyamantri Chandru, i.e. Chief Minister Chandru. See, as always it’s showbiz that gets it right. The rest of them might fight for ex-CM honours because that’s the only thing that’s permanent, but in show business, once a CM, always a CM.

At some point, I also want to talk about the absolutely horrible political antennae at display in this episode involving Yediyurappa and Kumaraswamy as well as the episode featuring Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. In both cases, one party lured the other into his den with promises of power, and once in, both found themselves trapped with nowhere to go. You would think politicians would be smarter than that.

Posted in Politics, Showbiz | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Flying In

Posted by anandrr on November 20, 2007

bheja fry poster.

On the flight to Bangalore, I ended up watching 3, count them 3, Hindi movies. Effectively this doubled the total number of Hindi movies I’ve watched in the last 11 years. (Not exactly, but close). The good thing about this was the pleasant surprise that they were all reasonably good movies. At least one of them was adapted from a Hollywood movie, another had a borrowed soundtrack, but who’s quibbling?

First up was Bheja Fry. This was the best movie of the three. It stayed funny all the way, taking a completely implausible premise and working on it and making it even more ridiculous as it got funnier and funnier. This is how comedies should be made.

I then moved on to a Chinese movie, Infernal Affairs III. It has been a while since I watched Part I, and the crosses and double crosses were already a dim memory, so the movie stopped making sense very quickly. At some point, I need to rent all three and watch them back to back.

An hour or so into III, I gave up and found Cheeni Kum. This was the worst movie of the three. It’s actually an interesting premise. Unfortunately the second half of the movie is weighed down by a train-load of melodrama. And any movie during the course of which we learn about 4 characters as being dead, or dying imminently and uses two of them to move the plot along needs a thorough rewrite. The soundtrack has good music, but either Ilaiyaraja got lazy or the director demanded that he recycle his old songs. Both songs are well known Tamil and Kannada songs from way back, the Kannada song was particularly nastily butchered.

Finally, I settled down for Life in a….Metro. Because this is a modern movie that makes us smarter, it has a few different threads running through it. But one of the major threads that keeps the plot going is directly ripped off from The Apartment. I suppose Bombay is now going through the same growing pains that New York did some 60 years ago, you’re very unlikely to find rows on rows of people poring over their work in modern day NYC, all those jobs have now been outsourced to India. The movie was eminently watchable, and for various reasons, I did end up watching a great deal of it twice. I have no idea how anybody takes a man named Shiney seriously, but that’s Bollywood for you I suppose.

The one big lesson I learned from movies 1 and 3: in today’s India every middle class person is sleeping with somebody they shouldn’t be sleeping with. And in Cheeni Kum, we don’t pass such moral judgment but we certainly notice that one of those middle class people is 30 years older than the other.

Update : I’m told now that Bheja Fry is also a remake of a French movie, so that makes us 3 for 3 on borrowed ideas. Well, anyhoo.

Posted in Films | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »