Babubhai Mistry: The Father of Indian ‘Trick Photography’

For well over two hours, I was hunting across the narrow by lanes of Ville Parle (East), asking all and sundry whether they knew where Babubhai Mistry lived. Considering that his name was much in circulation till about a decade or so ago, I was hoping to find my way to him, through hard labor. Sadly, not one person could help us, and I was just about to give up in exasperation. In a last ditch effort, I asked a laundry fellow, whether he knew Babubhai Mistry, the ace cinematographer. Since, he could not fathom cinematography, I decided to dumb it for him. “Trick photographer, woh jo purana filmon mein sab bhagwaan log ko assman mein udaata tha aur heroine se train rukwata tha“. Something clicked and the laundry wala lit up like a bulb, “Arre, tumko woh Trick-scene photographer se milne ka hain, ruko mein le ke chalta hon“, he stated enthusiastically.

That is what the state was of Babubhai, when I met him in 2008. Sadly, Babubhai Mistry is a name not many are able to recall; even in Bollywood. The few that do, are completely oblivious to Babubhai’s (as he was fondly known) state of affairs; whether he alive or is no more. And yet, just a few decades back, he was a star in his own right, dubbed as the ‘trick scene director’, he was the person who made it possible for Hanuman to lift the Gandhamadan mountain or Hatimtai to fly on a magical carpet in Hindi films. For over 50 years, Babubhai was the man who gave wings to film maker’s and viewer’s fantasies, he was India’s premier special effects director with around 300 films to his credit as director or special effects cinematographer. Many dub his most active years, from 40s to 70s, as the age of the mythologicals (in another words, the age of special effects).

Once the computers and youngsters took over, he retired and settled down with his old memories at his place. Fortunately, I got to spend a few hours with him, as I was working on a story for my magazine. Over these hours, we spoke about a time, how things were and how changed they are today. In spite of his age, he was touching 90, and not keeping good health, he spoke with much excitement through his interlocutor (who was his nephew). And in the end, he shared with me, a couple of hand-written pages in Gujarati. “It is my story, full filmy chhe,” he smiled.

Since, I did not understand Gujarati, I did not pay much attention to it and almost forgot about it. The vagaries of life and work, kept me occupied. Till one day, Pa called and said that Babubhai was no more. Considering his age and state of affairs, it didn’t come as much of a shock. But I was much saddened by the news, more so by the apathy of the industry at large, who seemed to be quite oblivious to the passing away of a legend.

It was then that I picked up those pages (my friend, Jasmine Desai and her mom had them translated in English for me, long back) and decided to share with the world, the story of a man in his own words. So, here below, you will find Babubhai Mistry’s autobiographical take on how he started and how he went on to be the most celebrated trick photographer of his times. It is an interesting story, much like the films he directed. There might be some loses in the translation, but more or less, we have stuck to the original script.

Without much ado, let Babubhai tell his own story and may his soul rest in peace..

P.S. In the end, there is a Youtube link, on which I have uploaded a short video of Babubhai sharing his exploits. Continue reading

Tutul’s pics

Due to popular demand (by Tutul’s numerous aunties of course), I am hereby posting the images of the lil’ one. Clicked during the days in the hospital, Mr. Idhant Chaturvedi  (Tutul’s official name) seem to be quite disinclined to the camera, it’s unbelievably tough to capture his fleeting smile on camera. And when I keep the camera focused on him, he will maintain a meditative pose with his eyes glued shut, only to open when I have shut the camera out of mere exasperation. As of now, Biwi does not let me ‘pinch awake’ him, so these photos are very rare indeed.

A request: As there is no kaala tikka on him in the photos,  so be careful with your nazaar. So, even if you find him irresistibly cute and extremely handsome (father’s inheritance surely), don’t blurt it out  😛

In his dreams, pouting his lips for a snap or kissing a femme fatale

In his dreams, pouting his lips for a snap or kissing a femme fatale

Finally, eyes open, exploring the world around.

Finally, eyes open, exploring the world around.

There comes the elusive smile.

There comes the elusive smile.

In deep (and constant) contemplation.

In deep (and constant) contemplation.

To (H-1)B or not to be?

Criticism against the H-1B visa program is mounting with easy passing day with increasing job losses in the US. Will Indian companies, IT sector particularly, be able to whether the storm as they were the chief beneficiary of the program?

November 4th, 2008, will forever be remembered as a historic date, as it was the day a black man (Barrack Obama) was elected as the 44th President of the United States. His victory against all odds was wildly celebrated not only across towns and cities in the US but also across the globe. Thousands of people across different continents were seen cheering and celebrating Obama’s election to lead US for the next 4 years. But back here in India, there was muted scepticism for the new president. Though overtly, there were congratulatory messages being exchanged and right noises being made, deep down inside there was a niggling fear of Obama as a policy maker and Democrats in large.

The trepidation was not without reason, the world at large and the US specifically is facing one of the biggest economic challenges in the past few decades. Prompted by the Sub-prime crisis, the US economy has been going down, and going down fast. With factories shutting down and jobs being retrenched, Obama promised a policy that was a complete anti-thesis of the Republican pro-toh102_31march2k9business line. He talked about pumping money in the economy and more importantly ensuring that Americans did not lose their jobs to migrant workers (read Indians). In fact, he had even spoken against the H-1B Visa program, wherein companies were allowed to bring in specialist workers for some 6 odd years in the US.

The main beneficiary of the H-1B Visa program were Indian tech companies, namely, TCS, Wipro, Infosys, likes that sent their workers in the US on deputation. Using H-1B Indian IT companies could offer a range of outsourcing services to corporations across the US. But as the job losses seem to be at historic high in the US, the shrill against the H-1B program is growing stronger by the day. In fact, the latest data released by the US immigration authorities, shows that Indian IT majors received the maximum number of H-1B work permits in 2008 (see table). It is certainly not a new trend as Indian IT majors had dominated the list of H-1B recipient list last year as well. Last year 163,000 immigrant workers applied for 65,000 slots. These figures are being used by the critics of H-1B program, ranting against the dominance of Indian IT firms.toh103_31march2k9

The Noose tigthens

Protectionism is indeed on the rise in the US. There are numerous senators who are lobbying hard to have the H-1B program be scrapped or have severe restrictions imposed. Not surprisingly, last month, when President Obama presented the $787 billion federal stimulus bill to the US Congress, he spoke about how restrictions would be imposed on H-1B use by financial-services firms that receive bailout funds. On the other hand pressure is also rising on the US MNCs asking them not to employ H-1B workers, for instance, Senator Chuck Grassley sent letters to Microsoft mentioning that the company had “a moral obligation” to put the jobs of US citizens ahead of H-1B immigrant workers amidst layoffs.

There was also much hue and cry among the Indian community in the US over the three-month deadline to leave the US for H-1B visa holders who have lost their jobs. U.S.-based organisations of Indians have asked for an extension of the deadline as a falling market it is difficult for returnees to sell their assets and settle their affairs.

Back in India, the response has been much refrained. While quite a few politicians have decried against any sort of protectionism, not much has been forthcoming from the IT sector. Nasscom for its part expressed ‘serious concern’ at the turn of things. Government officials in India are lobbying with the US government to work out an amicable solution to the issue.

Likely Impact?

So, how bad is the news for India and Indian companies in particular; is the big question that is on everybody’s mind right now. There is a body of thought, that in order to stay competitive companies in the US will have to looks at ways and means of increasing productivity while at the same time cut costs and hence they cannot do away with outsourcing all together. It is simple economics and no amount of politics can really score over it. Also, the fact remains that in spite of his Democratic antecedents, the Clintons (former president Bill Clinton and current secretary of state Hillary Clinton) have been supporters of the H-1B program. In fact, the wind seems to be still blowing in favour of the H-1B program, as Obama chose Senator Judd Gregg as the Secretary of Commerce. Gregg had in the past stood out in the Senate in strong favour for expanding the cap on H-1B visas from the current 65,000 per year.

In the meantime, companies and job seekers are again gearing up for applying for the H-1B visas that will become available in financial year 2010, which begins in October. The USCIS will receive application for the 65,000 visas on April 1. Business icons like Eric Shmidt (Google) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) are known proponents of the H-1B program. Thus, there is the likelihood that all the words might not really translate into action, and Indian companies might continue to benefit like they have done in the past.

In the end, it all boil down to the economics, if the crisis worsens and there are more job cuts and losses in the US, the opposition against outsourcing in general and H-1B in particular will increase by manifold. Banks and financial institutions that have been bailed out by the US treasury will be under enormous pressure to hire American citizens over immigrants. With a bevy of banks being funded by the US government, this is certainly not a great scenario. Also, if perchance the massive bailout fails to enthuse the economy President Obama will be coerced into adopting more radical means of kick-starting the US economy.

On the other hand, if in the next few quarters the pall of gloom lifts and there is an improvement on the ground in terms of the US economy, the tirade against the outsourcing will lessen. Indian companies are desperately hoping and praying for the same as their own health is intricately linked with this scenario. The big question is will it happen that way? And what if, it doesn’t?

(This article of mine had been recently published in Dataquest)

Interview: Filippo Passerini (Head, P&G GBS)

In an interview, Filippo Passerini spoke about the changes wrought by him at P&G and how he transformed P&G and the company transformed him.This story was published in the Dataquest Magazine.

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One of our strategies has been to anticipate the future, to stay ahead of the change

In his 27 years at P&G, one thing has been constant for Filippo Passerini; his quench for thirst and his pursuit of excellence. And in these years, he has held a series of leadership positions the UK, Greece, Italy, the U.S., Latin America and Turkey before taking the leadership of P&G’s Global Business Services (GBS) organization.

GBS is responsible for providing key business support and solutions to 138,000 P&G employees working in over 80 countries worldwide.  In addition to IT, the services provided include finance and accounting, employee services, strategic sourcing, facilities management and consumer relations.

Hailing from the ancient and wondrous city of Rome, Passerini has earned his Doctorate in Statistics & Operating Research. On being asked about his passion, pat he replies, “I am passionate about learning, as I believe you always can do better or do more. Lessons can be learned in every aspect of your life+.  In my youth, I used to play competitive chess. This taught me that you can only think so long; at some point, you need to move. This lesson is extremely relevant to the work we do in GBS. In a world that is accelerating faster than ever before, we must be able to develop our strategies — and act — quickly.” Little wonder, till date, GBS already has saved the company more than $600 million through shared services alone.

Climbing his way through the corporate world, Passerini is an avid mountaineer in his real life as well. He has scaled three peaks higher than 15,000 feet. He lives with his family in the US, working in P&G’s Cincinnati headquarters. In an extensive interaction with Dataquest, Passerini talks about the various issues that are critical to success of a company that was founded way back in 1837 and currently has 23 brands that have more than $1 billion in net annual sales and another 18 have sales between $500 million and $1 billion. Excerpts.

How is IT used to string together a mammoth enterprise like P&G that spreads across over 80 countries and having an employee base of over 138,000?
When we set out on our journey we had a clear IT vision. We wanted to bring the back office to the boardroom – leveraging IT as a driver for business transformation and growth. The approach we took was global, holistic and founded on partnership. First, we looked beyond IT, positioning ourselves as the “go to” organization for all key business services. Today, our Global Business Services organization covers over 85 services in the areas of employee services, finance and accounting, strategic sourcing, facilities management and consumer relations too. Secondly, we decided early to globalize our operations. Just as an indicator we standardized 72 systems in 70 markets in just 3 years and focused work in 6 global service and data centers. Finally, we reached out to grow relationships with strategic partners who support us in our work. Our IT partnership with HP is a great example here. Together, we have not only achieved above-projection cost savings with better services, we have also been able to tap into HP’s innovation capabilities and become much more agile. Continue reading

I lived in the time of Obama

There is little doubt in my mind that in the coming years when I grow old and haggard and sit down for a chat with my grandchildren telling about all the things that I have witnessed in my lifetime, November 4th 2008 and January 20th 2009 will be two important dates.  I will mention the fact that the biggest and the most powerful nation of my time, for the first time ever achieved what it used to proudly proclaim, liberty and equality. It took nation some 232 years to finally deliver the promise it had made. By becoming the 44th president of the United States of America, Barrack Hussein Obama has finally proved that the nation is one of dreamers and achievers, not of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, or Mormons. Today the White House in Washington, DC, is no more just a white’s house.

Surely, my grandchildren will wonder as to what was so great about an African American becoming a president, when there were a huge number of Black Americans in USA. With a benign smile, I will tell them of the class struggles, how the Blacks or African Americans were niggers in the past. How through the ages, slave traders from Spain and Britain used to capture innocent people from Africa and make them lead a despicable existence in some farm. I will divulge how in spite of all tall claims of modernity, the American society was very much fractured on the basis of colour, though it might appear otherwise. I will give examples of rampant discrimination in every form, be it schools, colleges, workplaces, restaurants and even public transportation, talking about the life in ghettos, full of crime and penury.  I will also tell them about an incident that I had known about the race riots in America, after a Black (Rodney King, hopefully) was mercilessly battered by a few White cops.

In this context, I will paint Obama as a bigger hero than he was.  I will proudly boast of how I was in the US when the elections results were declared and how I witnessed the frenzy. Even as I talk, I will reach for my cupboard and from therein I will pull out yellowing copies of SF Chronicle and NYT dated November 3 and 4th, 2008. I will also show off the round pin-up batches of Obama campaign that I had picked up from an old vendor from San Francisco, with a small American star and stripe flag. I will preen about those days, reminiscing about how the entire world was completely wonderstruck and joyous about a Black Democrat being the President of the USA.

And then, I will tell about January 20th 2009, when Obama took the oath of office in front of millions of individuals that had thronged the White House.  I will briefly mention the whole ceremony, and also tell them of how Obama spoke to the world at large from the podium.  I don’t think I will be able to tell much about what he spoke, since his speech was not up to the historic moment.  Even now when I think of it, there is little that I can recall about his speech, it was just like the hundreds he has made over the past year or more. I will rue in front of my grand kids of how I sat in front of the television, waiting for every word from his lip, hoping that he will touch my chords, make me proud of this moment, reassure that course of history has been corrected, paint a picture of beautiful and equal future and how Obama did noting of that.  I will give them the example of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech on India’s freedom, “at the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps..”.

Hopefully, I will have a lot more to tell my grand kids about Obama and how his presidency was vastly different from the rest, that he was not merely a Black or an African American President but a great one and that he might have made history by becoming the supreme commander, but he left a bigger mark on history as the supreme commander.

Just in case, my memory fails when I am older, I will read this post written on that historic night of January 20th, and then ask my grand kids to gather around me and tell them the story of a certain Obama and how I lived in his times.

1000 already. how many more?

Over a 1000 Palestinians dead in the past 18 days of conflict, the news caster announced with a deadpan face.  The statistics might not be big enough to scare, after all what is a mere thousand, when hundreds die every day.  In a typical day, a couple of hundreds meet gory death somewhere in Middle East or Asia, if the terrorists are in the mood. For instance in the recent strike on Mumbai by terrorists (BBC prefers to call them gunmen; they are terrorist if only they hurt US or Brit citizens), within a span of 72 hours some 183 people lost their lives. Or in any of those car-suicide-blasts in Baghdad, 50-60 people getting blown away in bits is not uncommon. So, when one looks at 1000, somehow that does not seem all that much. After all, how many hundreds died when F16s dropped cluster bombs on Bosnia, just so that President Bill Clinton could divert the attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair (if one believes Michael Moore).

But that’s the trouble with statistics, they can look alarming or innocuous simply by the comparison one makes. Thus, compare the 1000 deaths in Gaza to the hundreds that die every day across the globe it doesn’t seem much. Now, think of your own personal loss, death of a close relative or at a close friend’s home. Picture now, a 1000 fathers, a 1000 mothers, a 1000 children, and a few thousand others wailing and beating their breast in anguish. Imagine the pervasive drops of tears that refuse to subside. Consider the anguish and the pain that a single traumatised family goes through. And suddenly this 1000 becomes depressing. Continue reading

No ‘Jai Ho’

Sitting in front of the TV, yesterday, I was bit by the slumdog. All the news channels were going gaga over the fact that the film was a major hit at the Golden Globe Awards, walking away with four awards. But the biggest news was that our very own AR Rahman had broken the shackles and landed a golden statuette, crediting a “billion people from India”.

Since then, every news channel makes me want to puff my chest in glory and take pride in the fact that an ‘Indian’ had won the coveted award. Every one that is anyone is talking highly either about the film or about AR Rahman; the actors in the films are traipsing from one studio to another talking animatedly about how close they are to Rahman and how wonderful Slumdog Millionaire is. But that isn’t all, Karan Johar has penned an article about his experience at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California in BT. Then let Shahrukh Khan land in India, there will be a whole lot more stories of how Bollywood is now as great as Hollywood. Continue reading

Why demonise Raju?

It is a sad irony that what took 22 years to be made, crumbled in a span of 2 weeks. Satyam,one of the biggest IT players in India, would never be one again, not at least in its current form. The fear that is stalking every one’s mind is it an ill omen of more blood bath on corporate street, more skeletons tumbling out, more biggies taking a bow. If B Ramalinga Raju, the recipient of the Dataquest IT Man of the Year Award 2000, E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Services award 1999, the Asia Business Leader Award 2002, and the Golden Peacock Award for Corporate Governance, cannot be trusted, who can be?

But let’s clear one thing, though Raju cheated the investors, clients, etc. he is certainly not a corporate thug out to make billions. Unlike Kenneth Lay from Enron, or Bernie Madoff, Raju claims to have been a personal fortune from the whole fiasco. The accounts being fudged at Satyam, were because of accounting indiscretion, what he referred as, “The gap in the balance sheet has arisen purely on account of inflated profits over a period of last several  years (limited only to Satyam standalone, books of subsidiaries reflecting true performance). What started as a marginal gap between actual operating profit and the one reflected in the books of accounts continued to grow over the years. It has attained unmanageable proportions as the size of the company operations grew significantly (annualized revenue run rate of Rs 11,276 crore in the September quarter, 2008 and official reserves  of Rs 8.392 crore).”

Don’t forget, Raju’s philantrophic interests, the Byrraju Foundation (that operates numerous charitable clinics, schools, hospitals in rural Andhra Pradesh), the Satyam Foundation, and the much appreciated 108 EMRI service in several states.

So, while might be very fashionable to compare the whole Satyam saga to WorldComm and Enron, it is important to distinguish between the two. The only time that Raju speaks his heart in the letter to the Board is when he says that the whole fraud exercise was akin to “riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”

If that is indeed the case, then lets punish him for his follies, but lets not start a witch-hunt and demonize him. Even the mighty err, so could have Raju. The only thing that upsets me, is why didn’t Raju own up to the thing earlier, even as the things were going down he was reassuring everyone that all was good. If only he would have owned up then, B Ramalinga Raju would not have been such a maligned name, neither would have Satyam become a synonm for corporate fraud and treachery.

Continue reading

The Holiday Manifesto

Years back, whenever I was in between jobs, and that was a rather frequent occurrence, I used to take off for a trip to some far-off place all myself. Thus in 2000 when I shifted from Nazara to Free Press Journal (FPJ), it was a 15-day tour of Himachal Pradesh, roaming from Dalhousie, Khajiar, Mandi, Rewalsar, Varanasi and back. In 2002 on quitting FPJ, I landed up in Delhi wanting to etch my names in the annals of journalism, and all I could do was, manage a desk job at Financial Express. But on joining that place, I made short trips to Jaipur to view all the magnificent forts and also to Dehradun, rather Mussorie to meet Ruskin Bond. Sadly, my Delhi adventure was short-lived, and year and more later, I had to bid adieu and shift bag-baggage to Mumbai, but before I did that, it was a 15-day tour of the North East, from Guahati, Tezpur, Shillong, and more.

Alas for the past many years, I have been grounded so as to say. It is not that I haven’t been travelling; I scanned the cities of Trivandrum, Kochi, Nagpur, Baroda (Vadodara), Kolkata, Chennai, and also made trip overseas, to the US, New York and San Francisco, and China, Shanghai. But all these trips have been borne out of some work or assignment. Since, I was not unattached and there was a purpose behind these trips, somehow even the trip to New York pales in comparison to my adventure in Dalhousie. The reason is pretty simple, I haven’t switched job for a long time, it has been over three years at a single place (the longest ever).

And the trouble is: I have been leading a very ‘purposeful’ life for the past few years. Most of my actions and deeds are guided by some notion of worthiness; options are weighed on the scales of worthiness and selected based on their merit. Anything that is pointless or inconsequential in my life, the mind like some fresh IIM MBA keeps debunking those based on what gains will accrue over time. Thus, anything trivial or frivolous is instantly discarded. My friends term it as 30+ Syndrome, a situation where you want to be as uncaring as you were a decade back but can’t be as you have an eye on how life will pan a decade later.

So, as I am caught between these two worlds, I have decided to hang my shoes, albeit temporarily, for some 20 odd days. Taking a holiday from work, thanks to the numerous PLs that were languishing in my account, I have decided to make the most of these days by trying to achieve as little as possible. In fact, I intend to make these 20 days the most ‘worthless’ days of my life, I want to do all the things that I want to do, and not the ones that I should be doing. To start off, I have made a list of all the ‘worthless’ things that I intend to do. Here it goes:

Peace with Mondays

Continue reading

New Year (Green) Tidings for You!

Greetings and salutations! 2009 is upon us and as we embark on a new journey, I would like to extend my heartfelt tidings to you and your loved ones. May this year be filled with love, joy, prosperity, cheer, peace and good health. May all that you have hoped for and wished for, come true in the ensuing year.

In many ways, 2009 is a very symbolic year, dubbed as the International year of Astronomy by the United Nations, it marks the 400th anniversary of the first recorded astronomical observations with a telescope by Galileo Galilee and also the publication of Johannes Kepler’s Astronomia Nova in the 17th century, containing the results of the Kepler’s ten-year long investigation of the motion of Mars. It has been 400 centuries, since we have started exploring the cosmos.

Meanwhile, even as you read this mail, two interplanetary space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, traversing at some 16 km/s, are crossing the heliosheath (the very edge of solar system) and heading off into interstellar space. Both the probes are the farthest any human object has ever been; it takes light waves some 15 hours to traverse one-way between the crafts and us. Mankind has in, a very tiny wave, left a lasting mark on the vastness of this universe.

And it is not only in the vast interstellar space where we are leaving an imprint; right here on this beautiful planet we are doing the very same, albeit in a way our future generations will rue. Due to indiscriminate human actions (termed as anthropogenic factors by scientists), there are great changes taking place; glaciers and polar caps melting, sea-levels rising, forests disappearing, temperatures on the rise, species getting extinct, the list just keeps going on. Climate change is a reality that looms over our very survival as a species. Sadly, the whole issue has been caught in the net of governments and states that have often have blinkers on their eyes. As is the wont of such institutions, there is little action and lot of debate.

But all is not lost, as a race we are very resilient and resourceful and I very much wish that 2009 will mark that change. Hopefully in this new calendar year, each one of us in a very small way will take the onus to combat climate change. Let’s take an oath to not waste any of natural resources, be it food or water or even the pages that we indiscriminately print. Be conscious of our own individual carbon footprint in every action be it the exotic fruits that we purchase to the mode of transport that we take. Switch of all our appliances, and most importantly give up the use of harmful substances like plastic and the rest.

Long years ago, Mahatma Gandhi had given us a mantra that helped a nation rediscover itself. He had extolled the masses to “be the change, that you want to see in the world“. This mantra is still very much valid even in this age and time and I sincerely hope 2009 to be a year of change (like the one brought in the US) for the globe and for humanity.

On this note, I yet again wish you a very happy year ahead, hoping that it is wonderfully green as well.