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April 28, 2006

Anurag Kashyap

For a man with no released films, Anurag Kashyap may be the single most talked about director in Bollywood. The acclaimed writer of Satya which jump started the Bollywood underworld crime genre in the late '90s and Kaun, a daring three hour thriller with three actors, multiple twists and zero songs, has seen two of his own creations languish in limbo. His debut, Paanch, a dark tale of a dysfunctional rock band is stuck in censor hell. His followup, the excellent Black Friday, has been stayed by the Supreme Court of India. Anurag was in LA recently for the Indian Film Festival of LA where DesiTrain caught up with him. Some excerpts:

Before Paanch

There was desperation and frustration with Bollywood. Anurag wanted to make movies but no one was interested in a non-entity. His desperation to make movies and earn an income led to him making various compromises courtesy the producers and financers.

On his other projects

Among the recent releases, he has written "Water" and "Mixed Doubles."

Most of his time is spent doing films for people who are new and have no money (his own words).

On the other hand he's offered obscene amounts of money by producers who approach him with Hollywood and Asian DVDs. They simply want Anurag to write copies of the originals.

Two of the copies he wrote for producers was "Main Aisa He Hoon" and "Kaante"

On the need for original writers in Bollywood

Bollywood does have many original writers. There is no shortage of talent. The problem is they have no "backing" and no financers who want to invest in new comers.

On where he learnt writing and directing

His main source for learning writing and directing was… movies and Batman comics. He did mention a few illustrators of comics, but I could not catch their names.

Anurag may have the largest personal DVD collection in India.

And, on a brighter note, there's this bit of info:

Paanch has been cleared by the Censors. And will most probably be released in June. Anurag also expects Black Friday to release around the same time.

His current project is Gulel and Mumbai blogger Kim has seen a rough print as part of a workshop Anurag conducted. You can find her impressions here.

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- April 28, 2006 4:03 PM // Bollywood

April 25, 2006

Google's Amitabh Valuation Part II

Some followup up thoughts to How Much Does Google Value Amitabh Bachchan?:

  • I omitted USA from my list of countries in the initial version of the article when I did include it in the list of territories covered by AdWords. Courtesy an alert reader, that's fixed. Thanks Arnav!
  • Desi stars are still cheap. Grab 'em while you still can! Even the Big B, barely compares to the average keyword price which, according to Fathom Online's quarterly roundup, is $1.39. As DesiPundit noted, he's still cheaper than "asbestos."
  • One reason for the actresses costing more than male stars on average could simply be prurience. If you don't believe me, try searching your favorite web search engine for "Aishwarya Rai" with and without the adult filter turned on. Now repeat for "Amitabh Bachchan" - see the difference? These adult web site owners know something about search habits. That, of course, still doesn't explain why Shabana rules the roost.
  • Wondering whether my ego could handle the bruising and aiming to get a baseline value, I tried finding out the value of my own name. Alas, Google gave me an Online Pharmacy ID Required warning. Apparently, "Soam Acharya" appears to contain pharmacy-related content while targeting the United States.. Most excellent! Consequently, despite her protests, I punched in my better half's name. I won't tell you what value came up but Sunil Shetty and Paresh Rawal can surely cheer up a little. I had to spend considerably more than that on flowers though - hopefully she'll start talking to me again soon.
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- April 25, 2006 9:59 PM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Technology

April 22, 2006

How Much Does Google Value Amitabh Bachchan?

Thar's gold in them keywords, son.

Ever wondered how Google (and, to a smaller extent, Yahoo) get a large chunk of their revenue? Well, you don't have to look very far. Take a look a closer look at your results the next time you do a web search - those little ads that dot the top and side of the page add up to an awful lot of money. "What does any of this have to do with Amitabh?," I hear you say. Well, the ads that show up here are usually related to your search query. For example, if you are searching for Amitabh, there are advertisers willing to pay Google (or Yahoo or MSN) for the privilege of showing up alongside the search results. If you should then happen to click on the ad, the advertiser will pay Google a fee, perhaps a relatively small amount but over the course of many many clicks, it adds up.

Exactly how these prices are determined vary from search engine to engine but popularity plays a big part. You are much more likely to search for "Sachin Tendulkar" than, say, "Robin Singh." No offense to Robin who served India most honorably indeed but Sachin just happens to be one of the most popular cricketers on the planet. Consequently, his name is more likely to be searched, hence there are more advertisers (say sports sites) competing against each other to pay for a higher ad placement on Google resulting in a higher price for Sachin. There are other factors involved, hence a fatter wallet is not a guarantee of top placement, but it certainly doesn't hurt! The upshot is this: words now have monetary value. And what is in a name? A lot of money indeed, particularly for the right one.

Now that we have a mechanism for measuring relative worth, I, of course, had to zoom in on Bollywood. I was curious - who was the most expensive fillum celebrity in the virtual firmament? Did any of our diaspora actors and actresses even rate? I devised a method to find out. I started off by going to Google's start page for advertisers. Once there, I picked the standard edition which allows you to select the territories where you'd like your ads to appear. In addition to the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh), I added countries with high desi populations (USA, UK, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia) as well as a sprinkling of smaller territories (Fiji, Qatar, Hong Kong and UAE). Next, I created a fake ad with the title "Come to desi talk." and description "Come to a site to find news about desi celebrities." I provided Dishum Dishum, as the destination url. The penultimate step was selecting keywords for my ad. I entered my celebrity name here and Google then whispered, "want to purchase the most clicks possible?" This was Google's recommendations as to the budget and price per click (ppc) necessary to place my blurb near the top position for all possible impressions. Bingo! The ppc was the value I wanted. I started off with male actors. Here's the resulting list:

Desi Male Actors

Amitabh Bachchan $1.36
Kal Penn $0.40
Om Puri $0.36
Naveen Andrews $0.36
Shahrukh Khan $0.34
Salman Khan $0.28
Anil Kapoor $0.25
Naseeruddin Shah $0.21
Aamir Khan $0.20
Abhishek Bachchan $0.20
Sanjay Dutt $0.20
John Abraham $0.18
Nana Patekar $0.15
Boman Irani $0.10
Sunil Shetty $0.07
Paresh Rawal $0.05

Well, they don't call him the "Big B" for nothing! Amitabh extends his dominance over all things desi in the cyber arena as well. His name is worth as much as $1.36 a click. That's more than double the next contender, Kal Penn's rate of forty cents. Additionally, Kal "Kumar" Penn has Shahrukh, Salman, Aamir and all of the other Bollywood stars beat. What's more, the Khans are actually behind Naveen "Lost" Andrews and character actor Om Puri as well! What's going on here? If I had to guess, it would be that barring the diaspora, internet penetration (and consequently search based marketing) is still relatively low in the subcontinent. A lot of searches for desi terms is still going to come from the internet population at large - i.e. USA, UK and so on. Hence, diaspora actors who have made a name for themselves in the Western hemisphere but who are still relatively unknown in India will still be worth more. Perhaps Om Puri, by also having an international career (Salon wondered whether he was our greatest living actor?") in addition to his Indian one, avoids this sidelining as well. The Big B, of course, is in another plane entirely.

Some other observations from the list:

  • Old stalwart Anil Kapoor is hanging in there despite all the competition from young blood.
  • Aamir Khan is tied with Abhishek. Bluffmaster has a ways to go before we can start comparing him to his dad. But we knew that already, didn't we?
  • Old stars just refuse to fade away, don't they? Sanjay Dutt, recent bomb blast court case problems notwithstanding, continues to rate. Does Munnabhai have it in him for another charge up the charts? Stay tuned.
  • Young gun John Abraham has yet to completely escape the character actor ghetto occupied by Boman Irani and Nana Patekar. Nana's recent exploits in "Taxi No. 9211" haven't been enough to drive him up the ppc sweepstakes.
  • Spare a thought for poor Sunil Shetty and Paresh Rawal, occupiers of the cellar. Mr. Shetty's Bollywood profile has been pretty low for a while but I would have thought Paresh "Malamal Weekly" Rawal had done enough to escape the dungeon.

Moving on to actresses, we have:

Desi Actresses

Shabana Azmi $0.69
Rimi Sen $0.50
Rani Mukherjee $0.43
Mallika Sherawat $0.40
Lisa Ray $0.40
Sushmita Sen $0.30
Lara Dutta $0.30
Parminder Nagra $0.30
Aishwarya Rai $0.28
Kareena Kapoor $0.25
Preity Zinta $0.23
Archie Panjabi $0.21
Priyanka Chopra $0.20
Riya Sen $0.20
Bipasha Basu $0.20
Neha Dhupia $0.20
Purva Bedi $0.20
Sheetal Sheth $0.20

This list draws more questions than answers. How on earth is Shabana Azmi topping the list? Her ppc of $0.69 is actually more than all the male actors barring Amitabh! How does Rimi Sen manage to beat out reigning Bollywood queen Rani Mukherjee? What's Aishwarya Rai doing in the middle of the pack? My previous high-international-profile theory might explain Shabana's preeminence but, by that logic, Aishwarya should be topping the list. She isn't. On the other hand, Mallika Sherawat, despite having starred in a fair number of bombs of late, continues to rate. The diaspora actresses, although virtually unknown in India, are hanging tough as well. Over to you - let me know if you have any theories that fit the bill.

Disclaimer:. This article is for entertainment purposes only. Hat tip to a fellow Yahoo, Amr Awadallah - his original post inspired this article.

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- April 22, 2006 5:17 PM // Bollywood , Diaspora , Select , Technology

April 17, 2006

Local Productions

Catching up on local productions, we start with Hijra, a production by the New Conservatory Theatre Center . The Chronicle has the goods:

Ancient gender-bending traditions of South Asia reach into the New York of the Indian diaspora in Ash Kotak's "Hijra" at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. Sometimes funny, at times enlightening and generally engaging, the handsomely designed American premiere that opened Saturday is a mildly promising effort a bit too weighed down by sitcom ideas and filmic structures to take flight onstage.

What's most interesting about "Hijra" is the extent to which Kotak sheds light on its titular subject. This is "hijra" not as one of the more common alternate spellings of the "hegira" of Muslim history, but as the ancient group of male-to-female transgenders of mysterious origin and long tradition who often appear, uninvited, to dance at and bless weddings in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The role of hijras in South Asian customs is apparently a blend of Islamic and Hindu traditions, and many held high positions in the courts of the Muslim kings.

Though the review of the production itself is lukewarm, Dishum Dishum patron Maya Capur escapes unscathed. To wit:

It isn't always easy to tell how much in love Nils and Raj are supposed to be. Kotak's dialogue is much more quip- and plot-driven than concerned with character or emotional development, and neither director Andrew Nance nor his actors have been able to fill in the blanks. From Venkatesh's boyishly standoffish performance, it's hard to tell whether Nils has any more real interest in Raj than Sheila until late in the second act. By then, Raj, disguised as a woman, has arrived in New York -- and so have Madhu, Sheila and her ferocious mother (crisply played by Sukanya Sarkar).

With an exceptionally nosy neighbor (a very nice turn by Capur) stirring the pot, Kotak sets the stage for farcical complications he only partly develops.

Way to go, Maya!

Meanwhile, could Carma be the first indie film to promote itself using a Flash mob? The idea involved four women dressing up as one of the characters from the film and chanting:

Normie Burns took an axe
Gave his mother 40 whacks,
When she saw what he had done,
She said proudly, "that's my son!"

This went down at a screening in Stanford last weekend. Here's a picture of the mob:

Also, FilmThreat has a review of Carma here.

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- April 17, 2006 8:11 PM // Bay Area , Film , Theater

April 14, 2006

Cost Cuts

I received this notice recently from my city of residence:

In an effort to standardize and simplify the City's utility billing schedule, all bills will now be generated and mailed on the 28th of the month. Customers can expect to receive their utility bill at the end of the month, every other month. This change allows the City to take full advantage of bulk mailing rates in an effort to contain costs.

As far as cost cutting is concerned, they're off to a great start. In the space of two days, I've received five separate letters all proclaiming exactly the same thing. Perhaps some genius in City Hall is taking the "bulk" in "bulk mail" a little too literally.

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- April 14, 2006 10:45 PM // Bay Area

April 13, 2006

Smuggling Desis

News from AP:

SEATTLE -- U.S. and Canadian authorities announced yesterday they have broken up a human smuggling ring suspected of illegally shepherding dozens of Indian and Pakistani nationals into Washington state from British Columbia.

A U.S. federal grand jury in Seattle has indicted 14 U.S. and Canadian men for their roles in the alleged scheme. Twelve had been arrested as of yesterday.

Investigators on both sides of the border worked on the case for more than a year, apprehending roughly 50 people who had allegedly paid as much as $35,000 US apiece to be smuggled into the United States, said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle.
...
He said the network in Vancouver is part of a larger smuggling organization spread across Canada.

A couple of points come to mind here. The obvious one is, of course, the porous nature of the US-Canadian border and the resulting security implications. Additionally, consider a) organized desi gangs spanning both USA and Conada and b) that they are charging an extraordinary amount of money for passage. $35000! Are folks still that desperate to come to the US? Even more interesting, human smuggling may well be a lucrative side benefit to what these organizations really do. From an article in Salon last year:

Since then, however, the Homeland Security patrol has been finding mainly marijuana on the boats it searches -- industrial quantities of a potent strain known as B.C. Bud, named in honor of the Canadian province where much of it is grown, British Columbia.

More than 2 million pounds of B.C. Bud is thought to reach the U.S. market every year. The whole industry is thought to be worth $7 billion. The product surges into the United States like water flowing off a mountain, finding its way through every crack. It is dropped by small planes or helicopters into the raspberry fields and parks of Washington state. It is walked across the mountain forests in backpacks, stashed among frozen berries and driven in articulated buses or in the back of vans on country roads. Or it comes by sea, on a flotilla of unassuming watercraft.
...
It is a big pie everyone seems to want a slice of. A lot of the smugglers caught on the border are from ethnic Indian and Pakistani gangs in Canada.

Oops, up goes the model minority ethos in a cloud of aromatic smoke. But fear not! There are heroes in our midst. From the AP article:

Winchell said two undercover agents infiltrated the alleged smuggling operation, which slipped most immigrants across the border in between patrolled ports of entry.

Although, it's not explicit, I don't think the infiltration would have been possible unless one was of South Asian extraction. Desi undercover agents perhaps? The mind boggles.

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- April 13, 2006 6:59 PM // Diaspora

April 9, 2006

FUSE THIS

Yes, I've been away for the past week or so but all for a good reason. You see, I was commissioned (ie. "volunteered") to re-design the lobby at my workplace. The other floors in our campus were in the hunt too with a grand prize of $3000 going to the best defacement. Anything went. Carte Blanche and all of that good stuff. The only caveat? It had to fit the company theme: FUSE (Find Use Share Expand). Last Thursday (April 6th), everybody walked up and down the floors, surveying the extent of the damage in each lobby. Some enterprising folks had converted theirs to a Hawaiian bar. Another lobby had transformed itself into a London underground station. Still another had a live band cranking out oldies. I didn't wait around to see if they were taking requests.

And what did we do? Well, my co-conspirator Maya D. and I took an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the whole thing. Many hours of sweat, swearing, toil, head scratching and last minute pitching in by many people on our floor produced the following:

  • Three purple balls for unwary visitors to bump their head against as they came into our lobby.
  • One wheel of fortune game with categories from one of our own properties.
  • Purple filter gels to cover the lobby lights and give it that Prince-like ambience.
  • Whiteboard panels covering most of the lobby walls complete with pictures and markers for visitors to make comments. Create your own content indeed!
  • Hundreds of jello shots
  • Even more home baked cookies
  • Video projector 1 complete with webcam showing time delayed footage of people wandering through. This was projected on the ceiling.
  • Video projector 2 looping edited interviews of folks on our floor. Also projected on the ceiling.
  • Best of Green Day blaring from the speakers.
  • Streamers and our theme sign, "FUSE THIS," hanging from the ceiling.

Add in numerous bemused and amused partygoers plus webcam, do severe time lapse processing on resulting footage and you have this video below. Hours of mayhem reduced to a 1 minute and 48 second clip courtesy Rob McCool and Rajesh Shenoy. And if you haven't guessed my workplace by now, the little logo at the center of the Wheen of Fortune in the video should give it away. Enjoy!

Launch in external player
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- April 9, 2006 7:46 PM // General , Technology