Every movie of his is an event. Enough to get people working away from the state back home for days of celebration. His posters are bathed in milk and every time he makes an appearance on the screen, the crowds go insane. He is the phenomenon that few are able to describe in meaningful terms because the man himself is close to 60, without the physical build or the conventional good looks that people seem to swoon over. His appeal cuts across age groups as well as socio economic sections of society. Unlike Western stars who have a very well-defined set of fans, Rajnikanth has got the whole world in his grasp. His movies play in Japan and Malaysia and South Africa. The music, the mannerisms and the milieu are alien. Yet, he gets past all of them effortlessly  and gets  more admirers as people come to watch his films. May be some future anthropologist will be able to decipher what makes him work.
He has such a mesmeric effect on the economics of his films that all he has to do is to give his assent. The rest of the film just follows. The script  is written after, not before. There are things he has to do - His entry is what the script writers labour over and what gets the whistles and adrenalin flowing in the theatre. It's like a climax within the first few minutes. From then on, he dominates every frame. Everyone else is just a prop. His fans just want a variation on the same theme, not completely different plots.
In Chennai, there were as many as a 100 shows a day in different theatres of his latest film , Sivaji - the Boss. You were lucky if you managed to catch the film in the first couple of weeks. His 'Fan Clubs' buy out tickets for months. And they keep coming back to see the film tens of times.
Rajnikanth's films are never negatively reviewed. No editor would dare to run down a film and face the wrath of his fans. If you Google for Sivaji, what you will get are not references to one of India's most famous kings but website after website going gaga over the king of celluloid - the superstar.
The actor has never endorsed a brand in his entire career. In a world where fame is transient, he seems to bend it to his will


It was a name that Indians could never pronounce. So they devoted a couple of commercials to letting people know how they should ask for it. Even when the traditional 'family' commercials were made, they had some good touches like kids who were smart enough to know of every hiding place for Alpenliebe.
The latest execution works because it takes an Indian expression - Lalach Ka Magarmach ( loosely translated as Crocodile sized greed) and does a great twist on it. Kajol unwittingly feeds the croc with an Alpenliebe and now, it follows her like Mary's little lamb. The graphics are terrific, the croc actually looks cute in a couple of places and the film has great comic timing. Quite unlike that Cadbury's stuff I wrote about a couple of days ago


The autos in Chennai are a law unto themselves. They never flip the fare meters on and they zip through the tiniest spaces with careless abandon. They are colour blind to signals and prey on unsuspecting newbies who arrive in the city. You can't wish them away but they are still the best way to get around the city if you're in a hurry - and if you don't mind listening to 'hard luck' stories while you get scalped.


It's a 'school bus' for parents who can't afford the monthly payout of the regular school bus. It's the classic Indian solution to a problem. Not safe, not sure but a makeshift solution that gets to be permanent and soon, unremarkable enough to blend into the landscape. Until there is an accident


Park your car for even 15 minutes in T Nagar and you're likely to see it covered with these toys. The display goes up in less than a couple of minutes and goes off just as soon as you arrive back at the car. In the meantime, a couple of dolls may have been sold. I  haven't ever bought one, so I don't know how these people ever make a living  but full marks for ingenuity


With 4GB, 10GB and 20GB hard disks, people are carrying around in their pocket the equivalent of entire studio selections.

There was this reference saying that 1000 songs or 4GB was the ideal storage size for personal use. Say you listened to 10 songs a day, it was enough for the next three months before you had to play a song again (This is, of course, presuming that people will listen to their selection in an orderly fashion)

This is where I think the remote control syndrome kicks in. When you had five channels to watch, you watched . When you have 100 channels, you surf. The remote is used more as a tool to avoid boredom. End result? You end up with 'content overload' and nothing is satisfying. It's like coming into conversations midway and exiting before anything substantial is said or listened to.

Take chatrooms for example. It's like a cacophony of voices, except that you don't hear them. Trying to pick one lucid thread of conversation is impossible. It's like looking at jumbled lines of text on interminable pages and pretending it is a conversation.


How ridiculous can you get? The latest Cadbury's commercial for 5 Star shows three tramps looking bored with the world. One of them takes out the bar of chocolate, eats it, and disappears. When his two companions eat what's left, they proceed to disappear as well, but in parts. The VO says " 5 Star khao aur Kho jao". 'Kho jao' also means to lose yourself but this tasteless pun is just as mindless and clueless as the film is


PC Ramakrishna’s is the voice you will hear on practically every Audio Visual produced out of Chennai. He has become the tried, the true and the most predictable voice over guy in the business. He’s got a good voice that he uses to great effect. But that effect has gone on for almost a couple of decades. Niladri Bose and Neelakanthan have emerged as the next generation. But they all try to master the ‘announcement’ mode of delivery. Deep voice rising to a crescendo every few sentences, almost as if every paragraph was a mini climax.

 The problem is one of ignorance. Not too many people know that such a career is possible. So, the old guard holds steady. Experimentation is a complete no-no. How can we waste time over a new voice that needs several ‘takes’ to get even a sentence right? How will they maintain their voice at the same pitch level? Their intonation isn’t right. Their pronunciation leaves much to be desired.

So we have the same voices playing several roles. They vary the pitch and speed and try to pass of as younger or older characters. Is the paucity of good radio scripts the problem? Or are advertising agencies writing boring stuff because they think they can’t pull off something original?
Even  Mumbai, which is the capital as far as most advertising commercial productions go, has its group of tried and tested voices. Chetan Shashitlal is the one exception. The man can change his voice and his tone faster than a chameleon. He can be the country bumpkin or the henpecked husband. He is the Hindi voice over for practically all the Disney dubbed versions of serials. And for ads where you require characters as opposed to the regular proclamation voice. ‘Introducing… blah, blah, blah
If it’s an English voice over that you want, there’s Nikhil Kapur. Or PP Bajaj. Both gravelly voiced ‘Darth Vader’ soundalikes.
In a country of over one billion people, where millions are employed by the BPO industry, it is amazing that we have so little to choose from. There are so many trainers available – they do everything from accent neutralization to teaching people who can barely speak English to converse in fluent ‘American’ I guess that is the next treasure trove agencies need to tap if they really want to make advertising sound more interesting.


Chennai is full of billboards or 'hoardings' as they are locally known. They mask entire buildings, climbing precariously into the sky piled one on top of the other at all major traffic points. Everything from movies to diapers to mutual funds are advertised.
In some ways, they act as a cover for badly painted or rutted buildings but there  are many places where they obscure the view  or completely  dominate the skyline. Since its an extremely lucrative business, they can come toppling down in a storm and simply spring up the next day as if nothing ever happened


Have you ever heard a spot on the radio that you liked? I’ve wracked my brains and the only one that comes close to being acceptable is the series of spots for Appy Fizz. The ones about the ode to the refrigerator or the TV. Otherwise, it’s as dumb as you can get. From Bindu Appalam to God Knows What peddled at Audio at Max level, screeching brand name repeated 10 times in 30 seconds and the same set of voices playing everything from young college boy to aged aunt. (That’s the subject for another post – the amazing lack of variety in voice overs in India) You get the same tired set of voices and you can jump through hoops with them but they have essentially done every variation you can think of. Like Shah Rukh can only be Shah Rukh, whether he plays Devdas or Emperor Asoka. One in traditional Bengali attire, the other in a period outfit with smooth shaved torso showing.

I prefer the cacophony in the car to the cacophony of traffic outside. I must have listened to nearly 800 hours of programming - everything from FM Rainbow to Radio Mirchi to Suryan FM to the recent entrants - Big FM , Hello FM and Radio City. What is astounding is that you can switch between Smiley Sulabha and Mirchi Suchi and barely make out the difference. It's all the same one minute banter, 30 sec general gyaan, 30 sec. traffic update - this is normally to tell you that all the streets in Chennai are blocked or free.

The listeners are all asked the same questions - What's your name? Where are you from? All fine at home? Will you sing a song out of tune... or...answer some dumb downright stupid question? And guess what? They flunk most of the time.

Then we get to hear the same 30 songs in various permutations and combinations. I've heard the latest hits - New York Nagaram to Paarta Mudhal naalil...oh, lots of times. It's not the songs that grate as much as the sameness. There's a bland South Indian breakfast item - Upma, made out of wheat. It's OK once in a way, but if it's served day after day, 15 times a week...it makes you pick up the remote and change channels. Only to get another variation on the same theme from the other one. I wonder what all those programming executives at Radio stations think about. Let’s have a Call-in show. Or go around asking people which song they like from which film. Whoever said that Change is the only Constant  has not listened to radio stations in Chennai