Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crowds: a photo essay

Crowds gather for various reasons. The reasons can vary from political strife to employment opportunities to carnivals to sports to refugee camps. Here’s a collection of images in which there are crowds who have assembled in a place for a particular purpose.

The Glastonbury festival is best known for its contemporary music, but also features dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and many other arts. The festival in Glastonbury is heavily influenced by hippie ethics and is held in open air and people camp in tents and caravans in Somerset, England.

The infamous French students riots in Paris, May 1968.One of the slogans that came out from which was ‘All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

Euphoric fans celebrate the return of FC Barcelona after they won the UEFA champions league in 2009 in Rome beating Manchester United in the final 2-0.

La Tomatina festival in Spain gives new meaning to the expression ‘playing with your food’. Held on the last Wednesday of August in Buñol, Valencia when the town’s streets turn into a salsa riot, with over 20,000 revellers pelting each other with large, red, squishy tomatoes.

Campus LAN party in Mexico City, known for its nearly infinite sea of blue screens and lightning fast internet connections attracting youth for a week for a week of science, technology, and digital innovation.

Refugees from Kosovo settle spontaneously in a makeshift camp in the no man's land at border between Macedonia and Kosovo, near Blace.

Hundreds of African migrant workers crowded at the top a truck full of luggage in the Saharan desert braving the heat returning from work.

North Korea, the most militarized country in the world today, with the world’s fourth largest army parading in Pyongyang.

A float from Imperatriz Samba School wafted high above a Carnival crowd Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Everybody ♥ Tina Fey

This has been a good month for Tina Fey, her sitcom has hit 100 episodes Thursday night , and she had her memoir ‘Bossy Pants’ released which has been met with glowing affirmative reviews.She also broke the news on Oprah of her expecting her second child with husband Jeff Richmond .The timing seems perfect as 30 Rock airs its season finale in May and she is due in September.

She is a darling of the critics .And Tina Fey's high profile can be credited to a great extent to the success of Liz Lemon, the main character in 30 Rock, which she created and stars in. 30 Rock for 5 years now has remained quirky, cerebral, fresh, original with great comic acting, weird in a good sense of manner and side-splittingly funny. Even an average episode is twice as funny as other network sitcoms. Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon as an unorganised dishevelled geek dealing with life in a studio at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza as the lead writer of a late-night comedy show-‘TGS with Tracy Jordan’. Liz Lemon leads a hectic lifestyle and finds herself both succeeding and usually failing due to her crazy writing staff, personally involved boss Jack Donaghy and so called celebrities as stars of the show.

The trials and tribulations of Lemon is fun because Fey plays her with such likable goofiness, warmth, vulnerability and self deprecation. Lemon's insecurities, combined with her independent New-York third wave, college educated feminist persona make her role model for many modern women. Her humour like her surname Lemon is acerbic. Episodes are well thought out with continuous punchlines and rants which each character in the show gets in proportionate measure. Her inspirations come from anywhere, mostly through observation. Fey has previously credited her 5 year old daughter Alice with inspiring some of Liz Lemon's most memorable lines, such as, ‘I want to go to there.’ Further she excels in social commentary and barbs can be directed at anyone, just about anyone.

She had a huge cultural impact in 2008 owing to her satirical portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in a series of guest appearances on Saturday Night Live. One hopes that one resembles a movie star to get famous by doing an impression of them .Nobody waits around for a female politician to crop up who looks like themselves. But Fey’s career rocketed after that impression on Saturday Night Live ,closely followed by Emmy win that year. Fey made such a caricature of Sarah Palin, feeding on her obvious lack of nous for the job she was campaigning for that she dented her whole campaign of the Republican Party .

It’s difficult to know who is real and who is the impersonator, if you don’t know about either one of them. Quite uncannily, much of Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock is similar to herself in real life. Lemon and Fey are intimately bound up with each other. After all, Fey was lead writer on Saturday Night Live from 1999 to 2006 and is a successful woman in a man's world of comedy television.

30 Rock bears more than a passing resemblance to Saturday Night Live. They often address the problems of being a woman in the comic world, usually in funny and surreal ways. Lemon’s rants sometimes take a charmingly naïve philosophical note, like her world view 'All of human kind has one thing in common. The sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.' Watch the clip here.

Certain sections critique her for being on the cover of fashion magazines which are seen to perpetuate photoshop myths hence culprit to the objectification of women. I say, not true...she is not reed thin. In fact anything but, she has got curves because of her pear shaped body structure.

And while it is true that she might not have that successful if she were not attractive, it also unfair for the world to expect her to stand for feminity. She is doing her job and an outstanding one at that. That is a statement in itself. And then if she goes on to be on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar or Cosmopolitan or Esquire, it is just an occupational perk for being good at what you do and it shouldn’t matter.

I don’t have a life size crush on Fey, but she is an inspiration. Television writing is not easy and its serious business. Its remarkable how in the west the television is controlled by the writers. They do wield enough clout and power. And in that Fey has successfully ran a show and managed to build herself as a brand now which is why she is respected. Even her critics are her fans. And hence
I Tina Fey, Everybody Tina Fey.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Rio is part adventure part love story of Blu and Jewel – the last two blue Macaws left on earth. Blu – a rare blue Macaw gets captured by exotic birds’ smugglers and is shipped off to Minnesota in the US. When the box carrying Blu falls off the back of the van that's transporting him, a kind young girl, Linda (Leslie Mann) finds him and takes him home to raise him. The lovable Blu is much loved and pampered by Linda as they become best friends.In the domesticated atmosphere, Blu never bothered to fly, instead preferring his hot chocolate with its perfect chocolate to marshmallow ratio.

Things change when a Brazilian ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) turns up and persuades Linda to allow him to take Blu back to Rio to join the last remaining female of his species-Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway. As fate has it, the two extremely rare birds are captured and chained together by another bunch of smugglers who are looking to smuggle them out of country during the Rio carnival. Somehow they manage to flee the captivity but there are other hurdles this avian pair need to cross to gain freedom.

Carlos Saldanha who helmed the 3 Ice-Age films, and also hailing from Rio De Janeiro makes fantastic use of his breathtaking hometown for the backdrops in the film. The opening shot is of the Sugarloaf Mountain and as the narration proceeds we see all those iconic places and visuals that are have been associated with the bustling metropolis that is Rio. The beaches, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the samba dancers on the flamboyant carnival floats and also, creditably the slightly out of posters Brazilian favellas too.

The film does stereotype Brazil as the land of the exotic. However for all the sun, sand and frolic, the fascination for samba and football, it is done a positive entertaining way.

Undoubtedly the animation is beautiful, with such a vibrant canvas to replicate! The film’s strength is also the incredible voicing talent that is on display; led by the trademark talking nineteen to a dozen style of Jesse Eisenberg and the vivaciousness of Anne Hathaway who is entirely different from when last seen and heard in Love and Other Drugs. The quick repartee and taunts that she fires on Eisenberg’s Blu for not being able to fly are funny and charming.

George Lopez is the energetic Rafael who helps the blue macaw pair- Blu and Jewel in need of his help .Tracy Morgan as the bulldog Luiz, Jamie Foxx and as Nico and Pedro lend supporting voices. Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords voices Nigel the villainous cockatoo who pretty much is a scene stealer in every scene, especially his entry song. Another nice scene is when he intimidates a pack of monkeys to do what he wants. The monkeys are street thugs who steal from tourists and who have found a new way of communicating – cell phones. One of their texts reads…Ooo! Ooo! Aaa! Aaa! :(I).

Yes there are themes like wildlife black market and species conservation but Rio rides on its fantastic voice talent and the spectacular visuals. Rio is an on screen travelling brochure for Rio De Janeiro. It banks on the same theme as a fish that can’t swim and tiger who can’t roar; but that formula works. That Blu would fly is for certain, but the ride and mayhem before that is no less entertaining. There are films that you go watch when you are in a good mood and come out happier than when you went in. Rio is one of those films. It is a fun, fun film. J Ting!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When cable came to India

Cable has been in India for more than 2 decades now. What many have forgotten is the arrival of it. When AsiaSat1 was launched in 1990, it was the first privately owned satellite communication network covering all of Asia. Its owners were a consortium led by three firms: the Hong Kong based Hutchinson Whampoa, Britain’s Cable & Wireless and China’s CITIC Technology Corporation. In 1991 Rupert Murdoch backed STAR TV launched a joint venture between Hutchinson Whampoa and its Chairman Li Ka –Shing.

What a lot of people don’t know is that cable was present in India a few years before the 90s too, albeit in a more crude and rudimentary form. Even before the arrival of STAR TV and the other satellite and cable networks, an informal, illegal, and unregulated form of cable network was already operating in India.

Cable had unofficially begun in India in 1984, spreading from tourist hotels to apartment blocks and finally to individual households. Videocassettes players, linked centrally to a cable network, fed the networks based on subscription. The numbers slowly crept upto 3450 such cable networks by mid 1990 .In four major Indian cities Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata- over 330,000 households had been formed ,totalling an audience of 1.6 million. A potentially massive market that hungry salivating capitalists would have dreams about.

In 1991, STAR’s package of four channels initially offered news, sports, MTV and general entertainment ;the target audience being the educated urban , middle-class viewer. Around the same time, the economy was liberalised by then Finance Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, when he presented the union budget in Feb 1991.This made India a very lucrative, emerging market which resulted in a scramble from leading global media companies like SONY,TNT,ESPN and CNBC to enter the Indian market. Subsequently there was a wave of Western programming that was lapped up by the average Indian viewer, who was starved of content for years because of the sole state broadcaster -Doordarshan.

Quite naturally, with the mention of cable comes to mind the cablewallah. Unlike the west, the satellite television didn’t spread with set boxes but through cable. It was delivered via cables and the local cable guys dealt with the households .Although dish reception is legal with licenses, cable redistribution is technically against the law. By an archaic Indian Telegraph Act of 1885, it is against the law to dig roads and lay cables without permission by the Telecom commission.

To circumvent this, the cable operators simply ran their lines over the streets and through the branches of trees and lampposts. The satellite and cable revolution was realised on the basis of this by-passing of law and the lack of the policing to tackle this flouting helped the setting up of an unorganised band of cable operators ,who simply set up satellite dishes at one end and with a few rudimentary wired network over the locality would beam programs and made easy money.

Add to those cables lines the overhead electricity wires and telephone wires. And now you know why we have such messy network of wires hanging all over the cities in India!

After a few years, the consolidation effect kicked in and the local operators with more financial clout acquired others or made them sub- contractors and expanded their business. This also resulted in investment in better networks and amplifiers for better signals. These cable operators are known as multi system operators (MSO) who started acting as middlemen who took signals from the broadcasters and passed them on to local cable operators. The cable operators interacted with the viewers, collecting payment and installing connections.

What is interesting is that nobody can keep track of the number of subscribers and the MSO’s deliberately underreported the numbers so that the cost can be kept down to the viewers as well as getting them more channels from the broadcasters who sold their channel for a particular fee a month. There was massive under –reporting and one person who saw its potential was Lalit Modi .He however could not rake in much moolah during India’s cable revolution.

In 1993, Modi established Modi Entertainment Networks (MEN), and entered into a joint-venture agreement to broadcast Disney content in India; the next year, MEN agreed to distribute ESPN across the country as part of a 10-year contract worth $975 million. These were the early days of cable television in India, and ESPN, like other foreign channels, needed local partners to collect revenues from the cable operators scattered across the country and he too would under-report massively.

The entire business was very shaky and the stranglehold of the cable guys and MSO’ like INCABLE NET of Hinduja Brothers continued for well over a decade. Remember the CAS system that was supposed to come in 2003/4? It was government’s way of regulating cable. They couldn't .But now, with the advent of individual satellite dishes for each subscriber, the industry is undergoing change again. Corporate players like Airtel digital, Tata Sky and Dish TV, offer the viewer more control of his choices, money and remote.

Note: most of the information was obtained by reading a very good book –New patterns in global television by J. Sinclair and Elizabeth Jacka ; Third picture from top by Vatsala Goel (Mumbai), a rooftop in Mumbai .

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Story of the World Cup.

The Indian team’s victory yesterday night in Mumbai has given a generation a lifetime of bragging rights that they witnessed it live! Here is the story of the World Cup.