Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Law Breaker

Anjali Gopalan won the battle against India’s homophobes this year
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 26, 2009

Read it at Forbes

She is: The founder of the Naz Foundation
Work: Has given HIV positive people a chance to live with dignity through Naz
Big day: Campaigned for homosexuality to be decriminalised in India. After eight years, she achieved a victory when the court said the law did not extend to consenting sex between adults

Anjali Gopalan has been thrown out of court, out of women’s groups, and out of NGOs for children. She’s been told she’s not gay or lesbian and so homosexual harassment wasn’t her problem; that she was wasting her time working in the fields of HIV and AIDS; and that condoms weren’t necessary.
Eight long years were spent challenging the Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which had been used by the police to go after same sex behaviour among consenting adults. As a result, Gopalan received threats from people around the world bearing the same message: You’re destroying the fabric of society.

“Anyone else would have given up. But she has this incredible persistence, and she took up the case on behalf of the organisation,” says Anuradha Mukherjee, who left a 13-year-long stint at the Center for Advocacy and Research to become programme manager at Gopalan’s organisation, the Naz Foundation.

“With Anjali, even when what she says goes against what many others say, somehow, eventually everyone finds that they agree,” says Mukherjee.

It was 1994 when a man came into Gopalan’s office in Delhi and abandoned his HIV-infected nephew there, saying there was nothing he could do for him; Gopalan’s response — “Well, this is it, now we start a care home.” And so was born

Friday, December 18, 2009

Phoenix Rising

A year after 26/11, the Taj Mahal Hotel is not just reclaiming a past, but also creating a new identity — room by room
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 11, 2009

Read it at Forbes

When terrorists entered the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower heritage wing and sprayed the grand staircase with gun fire, the Sea Lounge and Ballroom on either side were devastated. In the centre of the staircase, the iconic hotel’s founder Jamsetji Tata looked on stiffly. But throughout the entire ordeal, the marble bust of the man remained unscathed.

“If you had seen what the place looked like, you would not have believed it,” says Ajoy Misra, senior vice president, sales and marketing at Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), Taj’s parent group. “There are many legends among the staff that Tata is the protector and preserves the Taj. The bust adds to that legend.”

While Tata’s bust was left untouched, most of the rest of the Palace heritage wing was decimated on 26/11 and the days after. The hotel that had withstood a great earthquake in the early 1900s, a fire and bomb in the port areas in the early 1940s, and acted as a hospital during the First World War could not withstand this sort of attack.

Historic Moorish and Florentine architecture, hundred-year-old and 1960s art deco design, as well as notable artworks were damaged beyond recognition. The country’s first licensed bar, first Sichuan restaurant, and most iconic sushi joint were badly hit. The art deco ballroom, elaborate suites given to top industrialists and heads of state, and the sixth floor that housed the general manager, too, were burned or otherwise destroyed.

The Taj senior management’s first reaction:

Blades of Glory

From Switzerland to Colaba, the Swiss Army Knife has come a long way
by Elizabeth Flock | Dec 1, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Open a beer bottle. File your nails. Even tighten a screw. The Swiss Army Knife, born 125 years ago from one man’s nationalism, has since been widely used by armed forces, boy scouts and the common man alike. Celebrated for its ability to function in a hundred different situations, a single knife tool soon evolved to include a screwdriver, magnifying glass, and some ten other tools. Today, one avatar includes an MP3 player, USB flash drive, digital altimeter, LED light, and digital clock.

That’s a far cry from where the knife started. Before World War I, a lowly surgical equipment maker in Switzerland, Karl Elsener, found out that the Swiss army’s pocket knives were made in Germany. Elsener’s patriotism was offended and he decided to manufacture his own from Switzerland. He chucked out many of his original models until he found a spring mechanism — the pivot point — which allowed double the tools to fit inside that just nine centimetre-long red handle. The first knife had a wooden handle, large blade, screwdriver, can opener, and reamer. The Swiss armed forces loved it.

When Elsener’s mother Victoria died two decades later, he decided to name the company that soon manufactured not just knives but also travel gear, cutlery, and watches, after her. And because the knives were made of stainless steel, or ‘inox’, the company was aptly christened: Victorinox. The knife itself originally had a name that was much harder to pronounce — Schweizer Offizier Messer. US soldiers couldn’t say it, and simplified its name to just the Swiss Army Knife.

When World War II rolled around, the knife became a turncoat. Elsener found himself

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Big Goa Land Grab

Foreigners came seeking paradise; they’re now in a complicated legal hell
by Elizabeth Flock | Nov 11, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Last December, Nicholas Papa and Michael Cooper got an early Christmas present: A show cause notice from the Directorate of Enforcement (DoE). It carried two messages: Your home may soon be confiscated; you will be fined three times the land’s value.

Papa and Cooper (Nick and Mick, as they call themselves) moved to Goa from the UK nine years ago. In Aldona, a few kilometres from the beach, they bought a bungalow for Rs. 30 lakh and spent another Rs. 18 lakh renovating it, intending to retire there on Cooper’s pension fund. Under the stress of possibly losing their life savings and home, Cooper, 65, had a mental breakdown this January. “They want us to leave,” says Papa, “but won’t let us sell our house, won’t let us gift it. We gave up everything to come here, and now we will lose it all.”

More than 400 foreigners — mostly British — have received similar notices from the DoE.

Paradise Lost
The story of Westerner’s choosing Goa as a place to settle down began when Western hippies first discovered Goa’s beaches. Certainly, laid-back North Goa lured many smitten visitors to set up home there. From 2000 to 2005, the number of foreign landowners swelled. Many were Britons who planned to retire there, on pension or dole money.

By 2004, land values — and tensions — were rising. Many

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Different Ways to Make ESOP work

Two different ways of making ESOPs work
by Elizabeth Flock, N.S. Ramnath | Nov 3, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Axis Bank
UTI Bank, which changed its name to Axis Bank in 2007, was one of the earliest in the banking sector to experiment with employee stock options. It launched a scheme as early as 2001, starting with the unreserved objective of covering all employees, based on performance.

Over the years, the scheme has undergone changes, teaching the bank an important lesson: Not everybody in the organisation wants ESOPs and even for those who do, the current market price is an important consideration.

When Axis Bank first designed the ESOP scheme, there was much debate about how broad-based it should be, says Snehomoy Bhattacharya, president of human resources.

The bank chose to include all employees except the poorest performers. “In surveys, we were below our competitors on cash performance bonuses. Also, we did not have an aggressive variable pay plan. So, we decided ESOPs would be a good way to compensate employees, even at lower levels,” he says.

At first, employees didn’t take well to the new plan. Only when the stock price started climbing, they saw the point and embraced the scheme. The first major change came in 2004. Axis Bank had been accounting the difference between the price at which options were granted and the prevailing market price as an expenditure on the books. “We noticed we were taking a hit,” says Bhattacharya. So, the company changed the formula for pricing the options.

It switched from the 52-week average to the previous day’s close as the basis for the grant price. This helped the company eliminate its accounting expenditure, and also wiped out the arbitrage the employees enjoyed between the two prices.

The next year dealt a bigger blow to ESOPs. The government brought them under the ambit of fringe benefit tax (FBT). Any difference between the fair market value and the vesting price came to be taxed at 33.99 percent. The industry was enraged at what it saw as an unfair levy, but the government did not budge.

At Axis Bank, the management decided to pass on the FBT burden to employees, taking advantage of a clause in the tax laws. This and the new pricing formula had a telling impact on the popularity of ESOPs. Employees have exercised far fewer options from 2005 to the present than they did in the first four years of the plan. In April 2004, more than three million options were exercised, up from one million at the start in April 2001. However, in April 2007, that number had dropped to less than 3 lakhs. The amount of wealth created had exceeded Rs. 100 crore in April 2004, but had dropped to just Rs. 10 crore in the same month three years later.

The year 2008 saw a big shift in Axis Bank’s ESOP strategy. In April, the company decided to narrow the scope of the plan to only employees in the middle management and above. Staff in the
lower rungs was excluded.

There were two reasons for this. Previously, the company was growing at an exponential rate, but growth slowed down and they could not give options to everyone anymore. Also, lower level employees appreciate a cash bonus more than an ESOP. The bank had looked at the plan as a long-term wealth creating exercise, but the employees didn’t.

Axis is now toying with ideas such as phantom stocks and restricted stock units. “These options may result in cash outflow. We want wealth creation without impacting the bank. But in these conditions, we may be forced to explore options for better compensation of employees,”
Bhattacharya says.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Princess Diaries

Shahnaz Husain converted her teenage passion into a thriving beauty business. Now she must let it move on beyond her
by Elizabeth Flock | Sep 29, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Shahnaz Husain is larger than life. And that has been the beauty secret of her brand of Ayurvedic products that promises to not only care but also cure. It’s not just the imposing figure she cuts, with her sweeping Louis Vuitton robes, lion mane of hennaed hair and the massive diamond studding her nose. It’s not just the bowing servants calling her Princess, the house decorations fit for royalty and the photographer and videographer trailing her at all times. It’s the fact that at 65, Husain is still spending 20 hours a day rushing from press conference to factory to office to press conference again (often in other countries) with the same gusto and conviction, despite the younger generation clawing to take over.

“If it bears my name, it catches on,” says Husain, the lady who turned her teenage passion into a Rs. 250 crore a year company, Shahnaz Husain Herbals (SHH). Today, branded Ayurvedic products are dime a dozen, but in 1970, Husain was the first to take age-old beauty treatments largely practiced at home, and sell them across the counter. Over the past four decades, she has franchised out 400 beauty parlours where well-heeled women gather for beauty treatments made from extracts of diamond, gold and rose petals.

“If it bears my name, it catches on,” says Husain, the lady who turned her teenage passion into a Rs. 250 crore a year company

She never advertised but made sure no product went without her face. SHH expanded to more than 100 countries as a result of Husain’s constant wooing of the media around the world.
But today, after being synonymous with beauty care for four decades, Husain’s business is showing signs of greying. The things that made SHH work — niche, expensive, unadvertised brand — might now be the chinks in its armour.

On the one hand, international brands such as Clarins, The Body Shop and L’Oreal are taking away the attention of the younger generation. On the other, beauty treatment has spread beyond the elite and embraced the mass market. But SHH has stuck to the formula it developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Its old world charm is not able to attract new-age customers. Ask Husain about it and she brushes off her competitors: “We don’t have any competitors. Dabur is into health. Clarins doesn’t do cures. No one does cures but us.”

But her salons in Delhi are populated by ageing women who are ever in need of her anti-wrinkle cream, and are noticeably absent of teens who might use her kajal. “The company is losing its sheen, whether Shahnaz is around or not. There are now so many mass market products and so many options. It needs a more focussed way of getting to the consumer,” says Sonam Udasi, vice president, research and group head - consumers at Brics Securities.

The Right Mix
In 1958, when Husain got engaged, she was all of 14. By 16, she had her daughter. The young mother was quite bored and wanted to do something new. “Mr. Husain was posted far away. So I started mixing in my house…” For about 10 years, she ran the business informally from home. But when she saw the success of a friend’s parlour, which she had help set up, she wondered why she couldn’t do the same.

In 1970, she opened a small salon in Delhi. Funding was not a problem as she came from an illustrious family. “My father and grandfather were chief justices. On my mother’s side they were commander-in-chiefs,” says Husain. But it was not the money that made it work; it was the idea of branding Ayurveda. The potions she had concocted at home established her as one of the most well-known brands in India. That was the situation until now.

But Husain is ageing and may not have all the answers to the company’s problems in the future. She must find a successor to carry on after her. Unfortunately, her son Sameer who could have inherited the business, died last year. Husain isn’t willing to discuss her alternatives. “I’ve had no thought of teaching or planning a takeover,” says Husain.

What she does not say is that the company is already able to operate without her. Ever so slowly, Husain has — unwittingly or not — primed more than a few people to be able to take over and they are bucking at the reins to do so. They are already changing the face of SHH, perhaps for the better.
At first glance, the likely heiress is her daughter Nelofar Currimbhoy, president of SHH, who sports a similar lioness head of hair, husky voice, and glamourous animal print clothing. Currimbhoy, who handles local distribution, business expansion and research and development, grew up knowing just her mother’s business.

“I can’t think of a point when I joined the business. I was born and will melt away into Shahnaz Husain Herbals,” she says. Currimbhoy has made significant contributions to the company, such as conceptualising three of Shahnaz’s most popular lines — gold, pearl, and flower power. But she admits she doesn’t have the same fervour as her mother. Nor does Currimbhoy have the star power her mother has.

While Shahnaz Hussain does not declare her grandson as heir Sharik Currimbhoy says,
Image: Amit Verma
While Shahnaz Hussain does not declare her grandson as heir Sharik Currimbhoy says, "Well, I am the inheritor."
Chips off the Old Block
But there was someone else who would have been the successor to SHH and was in many ways Husain’s own facsimile. Sameer, Husain’s son, was a relatively well-known rapper and loved the limelight as much as his mother. Though Sameer Dada was “very much into becoming the next Michael Jackson,” according to Husain, that was just a hobby in comparison to his dedication as president of the company. But in January 2008, Sameer died after falling from the third floor of his in-laws’ flat in Patna.

A law suit was never settled over whether Sameer had jumped to his death or was pushed.
There is one more member of the Husain family who can hold the limelight. “My mother works only by instinct. Some people just have the business instinct. I don’t,” says Currimbhoy. “My son does.”
When asked about her succession plan, Husain does not mention her grandson. But it is clear the 28-year-old is already very much in charge. One of the first sentences out of Sharik Currimbhoy’s mouth is, “Well, I am the inheritor.” The mix of pride and fearlessness is the same as his grandmother’s. It’s also clear he is the only one who can turn around the company.

After studying at Columbia University in New York, Sharik started an infotech company. After selling the company in 2003, Sharik came back to India in search of something else. “One day I was sitting with my grandmother and she said ‘why don’t you take over the franchisees?’ I thought, why not? I’ll do that to keep myself busy and decide what I want to do next. But then I found out I was really good at what I was doing like selling things to people.”

Sharik didn’t just take over the franchisees. He also took over the entire export business, hiring, marketing and pricing. Husain does concede this much: “He has new ideas all the time, and the ideas are visionary. He is a tomorrow child.”

For one, Sharik overhauled pricing internationally. When he started, SHH was pricing products the same in every country and a shop would mark it up however it liked. Now, Sharik looks at the end price and works backwards, so that a product is not sold for the same price in the Middle East as it is in the UK.

Sharik has other ideas that go directly against the SHH modus operandi. One such idea is to take the niche brand mass-market. But, Husain insists this was her idea. Two years ago, she claims, a girl chased her down in Delhi, nearly killing herself running across traffic. “She wanted my autograph and I said do you use Shahnaz? She said no, it’s too expensive. And from that moment on, I decided to do mass marketed products, to make products for her.”

Old ways of mixing by hand will give way to automated processes at SSH
Image: Amit Verma
Old ways of mixing by hand will give way to automated processes at SSH
But over the last two years that product line hasn’t come out. “We’ve been hearing rumours about Shahnaz Husain Herbals going mass market for years,” says Vikas Mittal, vice president of marketing, at Dabur India.

Sharik seems to have finally pushed that line into completion and is expected to release by the end of this year under the name Shahnaz Forever. (The international version has already launched).
Consumer product analysts think the mass market is just what SHH needs. “The only way for them to grow, whether Shahnaz is the anchor or not, is to tie up with a partner, or go mass market,” says Udasi of Brics Securities.

Udasi also thinks SHH should tie up with a mid-tier FMCG company in India, so it can utilise the partners’ distribution line up and get much better margins. SHH has no plans for such a large-scale partnership domestically, although it has 400 distribution partners, through which 90 percent of its products are sold. Sharik has also pushed through key partnerships internationally, such as renewing a partnership with the New Medical Center, one of the biggest FMCGs in the Middle East.

Changes in the DNA
SHH became a talking point at Harvard Business School many years ago when professors were wowed by the fact that it did not advertise. “I was invited to speak at Harvard. They say you violate every norm we teach. They say you need a certain amount of money to launch. We have made a huge brand [which is] internationally recognised without any advertising at all. I just call the press,” laughs Husain.
But both Sharik and his mother have decided it’s time to make a change in Husain’s no-advertising mantra. The new Shahnaz Forever line will be fully advertised. “I don’t think in a business there should be a rule forever,” says Currimbhoy.

Sharik also has long-term plans for diversification. He gives the example of Dabur, which started out in healthcare but later expanded into other businesses. “Twenty years down, we might even own a power plant,” he says, laughing — that is, if his grandmom lets him have his say.

Things are changing at SHH’s factories too. The 150-employee Noida factory is semi-automatic, because Husain insists that she’s “selling civilisation in a jar” and because she wants more employment, says the factor’s manager, Javed Iqbal. One employee even manually adds rose petals slowly to a mix. Iqbal says, “If I had a chance, I would remove half the guys working here for the last 15-20 years. They aren’t needed.” At the manual machines, 3,000 products are made in eight hours. Iqbal points to the fully automatic machine line, and grins, “Twelve thousand products are finished on this line in eight hours.” The new SHH factory in Roorkey will have just 100 employees but three-four times the production level of the Noida plant because it will be fully automatic.

Husain isn’t unhappy about the changes. “He [Sharik] hasn’t changed things. He has just combined my vision with his vision. I’ve never said no to him for anything he wants to do. I pay the price, the next generation bears the fruit.”

After Shahnaz
SHH is sure to change after the enigma of Shahnaz Husain is gone. But Currimbhoy is confident the company won’t miss a step, as it is no longer as much about the magnetism of her mother as it is the strength of their products.

Others disagree. “It’s been difficult for any new entrant to the mass market in recent years. Distribution channels are a problem, getting to the younger generation is a problem. I have doubts that they can be successful,” says Udasi. Sanjeev Malhotra, managing director, Alia Group, which represents SHH, agrees that distribution will be a challenge, especially in rural areas. But he thinks the company is in a sweet spot because of the loyal customer base and addition of new distribution partners.

When you ask Shahnaz if the company will go on after she is gone, she sighs. “Well, nothing lasts forever. But a company goes on. If the roots are strong, it might stagger, but it will go on.”

Being Vegan in India

Veganism as a concept is practically unknown in India, as this starry-eyed idealist learned when she attempted to keep the faith
by Elizabeth Flock | Sep 26, 2009

Read it at Forbes

When I moved to India, I thought it would be a vegan’s Mecca, a place where, at last, I could mingle with others who practiced a lifestyle just as fervently as I did.

I had chosen veganism a few years before because the whole animal slaughter thing became too difficult to ignore. I knew that most often the motivation for vegetarianism in India was more religious than animal-inspired, but the idea that an entire country could strive for ahimsa towards animals seemed both astonishing and perfect.

That first day in India, taking in the barrage of things foreign and unknown on Mumbai’s streets, one thing stood out: Nearly every restaurant had a sign that marked itself as “Veg” or “Non-Veg.” Entire restaurants devoted to vegetarianism? I had died and gone to heaven!

Later that day, traipsing through the supermarket with naïve glee, I revelled in the system of labelling in which vegetarian products bore a green dot in a green square and animal-based products bore the label in brown. Very few vegetarian labels existed in the US.

The Jain family with whom I was staying told me how pleased they were that I had chosen vegetarianism even though I was American. (Translation: They were glad that even though I was from a heathen country where a typical dinner was a hunk of meat, I had chosen to forego that.)

The notion of the sacred cow, which I loved ingenuously as a kid, I saw in practice: Buses and cars bunched up in traffic to let them pass. It all seemed too good to be true. And it was.

You see, while India can lay claim to the earliest records of vegetarianism, adopted for similar reasons to mine — “Thou shalt not kill to eat” — the more than 30 percent of the population who are vegetarians in India are lacto-vegetarian. Vegetarianism comes in different categories, and it is these crucial distinctions that make my trusting vegan assumption so wrong.

Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, and this country consumes a lot of them. India is the number one milk-producing country in the world, and dairy products are a vital part of the diet, in both rural and urban areas. I soon realised Amul’s milk, butter, and cheese were as ubiquitous as their ads.

Veganism runs against all of this. As a diet and as a lifestyle, it excludes the use of any animal products to produce food, clothing, or anything else you might use in daily life. So, not just no milk, curd or ice cream; it also means no silk sarees, leather shoes, and making the sometimes Herculean effort to use alternate toothpaste, shaving cream, and other basic products. Even sugar, which can be refined using charred animal bones, is taboo. (The first time I was told this by a zealous vegan cash register girl, I sheepishly removed the sugar from my shopping cart, and wondered if I would ever enjoy dessert again.)

Going to a restaurant was the first test of my veganism in India. My ignorance of Indian dishes at that time aside, there were few items on the menu which excluded dairy products.

Actually, that first time, there were none. Undeterred, I asked the waiter to please leave out the following: sugar, butter, milk, and any other dairy products. He looked at me without expression, though in my self-consciousness, I sensed derision. “Par wahi to khana hai,” he said, take all that away and what’s left? When the food came, I realised the dal had the glorious-yet-prohibited taste of ghee, which I had forgotten to mention.

After lunch, we went to get roadside tea. The vendor happily agreed to leave out the milk. Later, I found out the flavouring agent in the tea came from animals.

Just like in the US, animal products were intrinsically woven into the daily fabric of life.

As for vegan non-food products in India, forget it. Toothpaste? Bone powder. The beautifully-patterned shirts and sarees I had always longed for? Silk. Most cosmetics have wax. And alas for my premature excitement over supermarket labels: The same manufacturers who are so stringent about green dots and squares often do not list milk in their ingredients. That is, when they bother to list ingredients at all.

In a country that loves dairy products, and uses so many other animal-produced luxuries, I wondered dejectedly — but with a lingering sense of American superiority — was veganism even possible here?
Manish Jain is a vegan, and the creator of, a portal which promotes veganism in India by stressing ethical reasons, debunking myths and employing health experts for back-up.

Jain lives in Indore, and he says he can easily find all the necessary plant-based products needed to replace animal ones.

“Maybe it would be a problem in a small town. But in any city, you can replace dairy products with soya products, which are cheaply available. Instead of ice cream, you can eat gelato. We even order vegan cakes home.”

I was confused. Mumbai obviously had a wider selection of foods and products than Indore, yet I hadn’t found vegan products to be cheap, or easily available. Soya tofu that had any sane level of fat cost Rs 150 for a small pack, when a satisfying vegetarian meal in a restaurant cost just Rs 40. Seitan or tempeh, two Asian substitutes for meat, which are readily available in the US, were nowhere to be found.

Image: Abhijeet Kini
Jain tries another tactic. Many Indian foods, he says, are naturally vegan, such as dals, pulses, and legumes. He names bhindi masala and khachu as two delicious and purely vegan dishes. He was right. And after time, I found out how to specify exactly what not to include, instead of telling waiters, “Muje sirf ek bottle paani chaiye.” I soon found pure vegan restaurants in Mumbai, and even vegan groups in various cities around India.

While I had felt sheepishly jejune after realising I had confused vegetarians with the likelihood of a vegan lifestyle among them, I wasn’t completely off the herbivorous mark. The term ‘vegan’ was first used in the UK in 1944; a proper vegan community had already been in place in India for 20 years. Goodbye, lingering sense of Western superiority!

And yet, nearly 100 years later, that movement is still in its infancy in India. There have been some baby steps, and even large leaps, lately. McDonald’s, best known for its carnivorous menu of burgers and shakes, began to offer vegan meals in India in 2006.

The Indian Vegan Society, a branch of the Vegan Society in the UK, is bringing veganism more mainstream through concerts, book events, and excursions. Even Café Coffee Day now has a vegan shake.

But while restaurant menus can be modified, and most dals don’t have ghee, staying vegan sometimes isn’t possible. On domestic flights, for example, vegan food isn’t an option. Most Indian airlines, so careful to offer one or more vegetarian options, have nothing to offer to vegans.

I know what you are all thinking. Is this vegan thing even healthy? Forget India for a minute. Can a person subsist without dairy products, or any animal products, anywhere? I assure you they can.
To be balanced, I must say that the vegan lifestyle has long been criticised. In June last year, the debate came to a head when a 12-year-old girl in Scotland, whose parents kept her on a vegan diet, was rushed to the hospital with a degenerative bone condition. Back in 2001, a 10-month-old baby died from that diet. But while the parents were taken to task for their grave mistake, most health experts eventually decided the problem was the age of the children in combination with the diet, not veganism alone.

A few doctors in the US, India, and elsewhere, have told me that veganism isn’t healthy. Having someone tell you the way you are living is misguided is not easy to swallow. But its true that many vegans miss out on protein, calcium, iodine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids, they say. I thought it sounded like a lot of mumbo-jumbo until I found out about the problems deficiencies of these vital elements can cause. For instance, children who are fed an unbalanced vegan diet can get anaemia, rickets, or cretinism. (Read: Extreme fatigue, soft bones, and stunted growth.) Adults may be diagnosed with osteomalacia, softening of the bones, or hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland, which can cause a host of other problems.

Most doctors agree, however, that the vegan diet is not the problem. The culprit is the poor dietary planning that often results from that diet. Many vegans substitute dairy products or meat with unhealthy processed foods. Mea culpa: I often submit to the allure of deep-fried banana chips instead of a real banana.

Dr. Deepika Malik, CEO of and Dr. Deepika’s Wellness, two widely-consulted health portals, stresses that vegans must make an extra effort to include certain elements in their diet.
“A person needs one gramme of protein per kilo that they weigh, daily. So a 60 kg person needs 60 grams of protein, which vegetarians can get through soya. Vegans must especially focus on calcium, which lacto-vegetarians get from dairy products. They can eat sesame seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables, or take calcium supplements to satisfy this need.”

Image: Abhijeet Kini
The parents of the little girl in Scotland weren’t giving her enough calcium, which is why she ended up with a bone disease. The balance just wasn’t there.

Even more likely than calcium deficiency is deficiency of Vitamin B12. Jain concedes that vegans can never naturally include B12 in their diet — it is a bacteria not found in plant foods. He suggests vegans take a B12 supplement, soya milk fortified with the vitamin, or get the B12 shot, which is increasing in popularity. Before I added a B12 supplement to my own diet, my skin started to turn more sickly pale than usual — I had a mild case of anaemia.

Yet for all its detractors, veganism has its share of health experts on its side. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says that if properly planned, a plant-based diet is healthier than many others because it includes much more fruit and veggies. The group created a new food pyramid to replace the pervasive older one, this time with four food groups: Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes.

The American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada join the cluster of advocates by insisting that vegans often have lower cholesterol levels, lower saturated fat levels, and a lower body mass index. After I became vegan, all three lowered for me. I also felt more awake (I stopped needing coffee), more satiated after eating, and didn’t get sick nearly as often as I used to. Vegans, the two dietary associations point out, also generally have a lower risk of colon cancer and heart attack, the two biggest killers in India.

Whether veganism is healthful, detrimental, or, well, weird, it cannot be completely ignored. Manish Jain estimates there are 500 or so declared vegans, and a whole lot more who don’t use the word but aren’t consuming dairy products; for example, many Jains.

Regrettably, I’m not among them. The attempts to read labels that weren’t always there, to ask a family hosting me to make pao bhajji with a different bread that contained no butter, and to brush my teeth with baking powder or toothpaste shipped from the US — it became too much. I couldn’t maintain a healthful, balanced diet in the face of all these road bumps. I felt a fraud, and still do, for losing faith just because I didn’t reach the Promised Land. I came with an ideal, and I will leave with a stomach full of sugared, milky sweets.

But there are some who remain, and their numbers in India are growing.

Someday, ahimsa might means vegans rule the planet. If so, India would be leading the charge.

Do Happiness and Billions Go Together?

Should we include happiness in how we measure the economy?
by Elizabeth Flock | Oct 15, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Counting Error
Let’s face it. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the most accepted measure of national economies, but hardly an accurate one. It leaves out so many variables that it shows many countries to be richer or poorer than they really are. GDP ignores the depreciation of capital, be it disappearing forests or ageing labourers, says Romina Boarini, an economist at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And GDP nonsensically goes up after a natural catastrophe. When an epidemic spreads and people spend on medicine, it goes up again.

Bhutan shows the way
At least one country has known the value of happiness all along. Bhutan has been measuring its Gross Happiness Product as its standard of living since 1972. It seems to have worked somewhat. Bhutan was ranked the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world by a University of Leicester survey in 2006. Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness Commission and in 2008, the government found that 68 percent of Bhutanese classed themselves as being happy. Its first democratic elections were held last year. Yet the Bhutanese economy remains one of the least developed. You decide.

Bhutan has been measuring its Gross Happiness Product as its standard of living since 1972. It seems to have worked somewhat
Image: Hemal Seth
Bhutan has been measuring its Gross Happiness Product as its standard of living since 1972. It seems to have worked somewhat
Measuring Smiles
Will happiness work as an indicator of economies larger than Bhutan’s? French President Nicholas Sarkozy thinks so. He even set up the International Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress and asked economist Joseph Stiglitz to chair it. A report by the commission, authored by Stiglitz and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, says the inclusion of happiness and other factors of well-being would cut the per capita GDP gap between the US and France by
at least half. Currently, US’ per capita GDP is 14 percent higher than France’s, according to Financial Times.

Subjective Indicators
The problem with GDP is its objectivity, says Ed Diener, professor at University of Illinois. He says subjective indicators tell the story much better. For example, people who are happy with their jobs are likely to stay in these jobs, boosting the economy. Sarkozy’s commission found that GDP may be a good indicator of the level of the financial economy, but could hardly fathom the depths of the social economy. Stiglitz says, “The loss of a job has a greater impact than can be accounted for just by the loss of income.”

The value of money
More money doesn’t always bring happiness. A study cited by the Sustainable Scale Project in the US during 1957-2002 showed that as incomes kept rising, happiness levels increased up to a certain level and reached a plateau at some point. David Myers, professor of psychology at Hope College, Michigan, says, “Once people have enough money to feel secure, more money appears to yield diminishing returns.” This is seen in our daily lives too. “If I’m three times richer than my grandfather, and my car goes 65 mph faster, am I happier? It’s not a sensible measure,” Andrew Oswald, a member of Sarkozy’s commission, says.

Happiness is imperfect too
The problem with happiness is it is not easily quantifiable. Diener insists measures of happiness can be incomplete because it has both both broad and narrow connotations. It cannot accurately convey what should be assessed when guiding policy decisions. For countries like India, the need for measuring financial success will not go away for a long time. Oswald explains, “For developed nations, we need to move toward a focus on mental health. [But] countries where there is not enough to eat have different problems. For now, they still do need to measure the growth of their economy [through GDP].”

Friday, August 21, 2009

The fine art of Investing in Fine Art

A quick guide to the art market labyrinth
by Elizabeth Flock | Aug 21, 2009

Read it at Forbes

As an investment, art is growing in acceptance and prevalence. Historically, it has proven to perform better than other asset classes, especially in downturns. Studies by Barclays Capital and The Economist (in 2003 and 2005) showed that art outperformed both equities and property over both short and long periods of time.

But, like wine or stamps, art has always been considered an ‘alternative’ asset. It can be as volatile as the stock market, cannot be easily liquidated and is at its best as a long-term buy, as the last year has — painfully — shown. And, well, it’s art. It’s difficult to put numbers to it.

Milind Sathe, founder-director of, puts it succinctly: “In a world where you monitor companies and stocks on an hourly basis, well, that does not happen in art. There are no indices on artists.”

As a result, there’s a ferocious amount of pure BS floating around in the art market. So, yes, the downturn means it’s a buyer’s market, and a good time to buy art, but how the heck do you figure out all the nebulous claims and insider jargon?

The Numbers Game
What are the numbers art does give us? When the downturn hit, gallery sales of top contemporary artists were down by up to 50 percent.

Yet the figure for contemporaries has already returned to about 30-35 percent of original retail values of 2007 and 2008, says Sharmistha Ray, director of Bodhi Art Gallery, Mumbai. But wait, Ray cautions: “These are not scientific figures, they are based on a loose average of gallery sales.”

Other unscientific pulse-readers: The Indian Art Market Confidence Indicator by London-based ArtTactic dropped 23 percent from May to October 2008. And since then it’s gotten worse. Art funds that are soon maturing are scared to liquidate. Average auction prices are down too.

Is it all terrible? We can take some comfort in knowing that the seller always expects the best price, that expectations are always higher than the market. “Expectations are built overnight,” says Ray, “but take a long time to dismantle.”

It’s all about perception. Like the Sensex, art market values plummeted due to falling expectations. They are already going back up as perceptions improve. Sotheby’s auction of impressionist and modern art raised $55.1 million at the end of June, well within pre-sale estimates. It’s not all rosy yet, but try to think long term.

The Recession Is Your Friend
Very belatedly, artists are now negotiating prices. Like real estate or oil, art is getting healthier with much-needed price corrections. Aditi Khurana, former Senior Manager of Palette Art Gallery in Delhi and current project head of the arts initiative ‘Contemplate,’ says the boom meant people stopped differentiating between good and bad art, which is correcting itself now.

And the art itself will get better. Khurana says, “When demand was high, artists were producing works at a fast pace, and it affected the quality of their work. In a way, the slowdown is the best thing. Now there is sanity, correction, and maturity.”

Business ethics should also improve. Khurana thinks the art market is becoming Darwinian: Only the best artists will survive.

Beware of Contemporary Art
The bubble has burst. And about time too. Contemporary pai­ntings that were being sold for the price of a Mumbai suburban flat — plus your kids’ education abroad — are now going for much cheaper.
Take contemporary artist Anju Dodiya. In 2000, she was selling at Rs. 1 lakh through galleries. She sold the same kind of work in 2007 for Rs. 50 lakh! And now, prices for her pieces have fallen 30 percent, back to rational levels.

ArtTactic estimated in June that the average auction price of all contemporary art saw a 76.2 percent fall. Contemporary art followed the shape of the sub-prime market. Up breathtakingly fast. Then back down again to sensible levels.

Deepak Shahdadpuri, art collector and board member of SaffronArt, gives a more famous example: Subodh Gupta. The man’s art work took the same rollercoaster as Dodiya (though to even higher levels). Currently, his art is selling at prices between $150,000–$200,000, 85 percent below their peak, and a much more sane level than the boom time.

“But at least his works are selling,” Shahdadpuri says. “Many other artists who rose during the boom have no buyers today at any price.” He attributes the fall not only to inflated prices, but also to the difficulty of assessing how artists with little track record will develop over time.

In early July, a series of auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s saw old master paintings outperform the summer’s impressionist, modern and contemporary sales for the first time in several years. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the ancients.

Ignore the Hype
Contemporary art is just one glaring example. Henry Ford’s father, William Ford, famously said, “The world is filled with so much hype and PR bull. Frankly, it all comes out in the end.”

Sathe points out that it’s not very difficult to hype up an artist, a body of work, or a show; investors must try to see through that. “Any investor in art has to develop the ability for himself or find someone he can trust to decide if the work of an artist will stand the test of time.”

Shahdadpuri says the best way to do this is to visit museums, galleries and shows. “Speak to artists, collectors and curators. Read as much as you can about the artists, art history and understand its relevance. You need to have a passion for art. Buy what you like. If it is only about the money, [the investor] will probably end up losing money in this ‘investment.’” And you probably won’t see through the hype.

Erm, What Exactly Stands the Test of Time?
Admittedly, it’s not always easy to tell. Decorative art — art intended for ornamentation purposes, that you buy to match your living room’s shade of paint — certainly doesn’t. As investors’ pockets have gotten shallower, many are falling into the decorative art trap. But experts agree it is never a shrewd investment. It’s just... pretty.

Cheap Is Usually Not Good, and Expensive Has to be History
Collectors and dealers are now being forced to offer art at much better prices than the lunatic levels of years past. Watch out for good deals at competitive prices, but be wary of bad art flooding the market on the cheap, which has been happening for the last few years. Make a promise to yourself only to buy pieces which qualify as high quality art. Sathe says that you should look out for the “thinking artist, an artist who uses his skill to make a comment or express something, and respond to a social situation.” As we said, no decorative art. Ray stresses a mantra she once heard from a French collector: “Only spend $100,000 or more on art work if you are buying a piece of history.”

Stay Close to Home
This is a buyer’s market, and the market is at your door. Well, sort of. The total auction size of the Indian art market grew from $5 million in 2003 to $150 million in 2008. Subodh Gupta, M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Anish Kapoor and Raqib Shaw commanded million dollar sales even after the downturn hit.
(UK-based phenomenon, Damien Hirst, laid off 17 members of his staff that made the pills for his multi-million-dollar medicine cabinet series, according to the Guardian.)

The rest of the world is waking up to the value of Asian art, too. In August, Sotheby’s moved auctions of Asian contemporary art from New York to Hong Kong; dealers said this showed Sotheby’s growing commitment to the Asian art market. But remember: The art market bubble has burst. That includes Indian and Asian art. Ray says an investor shouldn’t focus on whether it’s Indian or Asian — it depends on the artist and the work.

Don’t be Afraid to Buy a Ningyo Doll
Paintings are not even one percent of the art out there, yet somehow they get all the attention. It’s time to balance your portfolio. Crafts, statues, antiques, toys, and other art objects are currently selling at low prices in India. Experts expect they will ascend into the stratosphere in the next 10 years.

Osian’s Auction House recently got into Japanese samurai helmets and armours, African tribal masks, Polish film posters, Chinese and Soviet political propaganda artefacts, magic memorabilia — and those mysterious Japanese ningyo dolls.

Ray suggests investors look at India’s heritage: Miniatures, Picchwais, Bengal School, antique jewelry, and old-period sculptures. And Sathe sees potential for significant growth in the market for memorabilia and photography. Newly popular types of art like these are the best investment right now. Basic investing rules apply, Sathe says. “For any portfolio, an investor needs to spread the risk.”

No More Queues
In the boom period, art collectors were plagued by galleries who refused to sell to buyers not well-known in the art world, forced quick decision-making in the fear of losing the work to someone else, and long lines to wait for artworks. “The artists and galleries may be cribbing about the downturn but collectors, especially collectors who have liquidity are thrilled. They can now focus on building their collections without getting in queue and begging for works,” says Shahdadpuri.

Before You Buy…
Decide how much money you want to spend. “Putting in $100,000 will get you some good buys,” advises Ray. Consider investment timeframe, risk factors, the right price, and authenticity; they all seem pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many investors forget them. Too many have bought high-priced art without adequate documentation. And because the art market at present is especially dynamic, risk factors are ever more relevant.

Sathe gives this example: “Some people don’t make sure the material will last and then the painting deteriorates in 10 years so it’s not recognisable.”

More than any asset, it’s important to be sure of longevity. Like a car, it should last at least until the time you want to sell it. “Focus on four-five artists you really believe in and buy them in depth. Be discriminating in selecting only good work by these artists and then pay a bit more to get good works,” suggests Ray.

Not Convinced? You Can Still be Productive in the Interim
If you really want to sell, first get rid of the works you can live without at a price good enough for them. Like those über-trendy, doomed contemporary art pieces (though it’s best to wait for the market to go back up). Network with art connoisseurs; research planned investments; maintain your collection; insure your artworks; catalogue and document them. And may be, just may be, buy a little ningyo doll.

An American's Guide To American Food in India

Uncle Sam's favourite foods are found all over the country
by Elizabeth Flock | Aug 8, 2009

Read it at Forbes

Homesickness grabs you by the throat, but food-sickness sinks its claws into your stomach and won’t let go until you get that back-home food you crave: The dish your mother fed you as a kid; the after-school snack you looked forward to all day; the meal only your hometown can get right.

Finding American food isn’t easy — tougher still because the cuisine defies easy definition, being inspired mostly by immigrants — but for any one born in the USA, they know what it is. I thought it impossible to find the New York Deli sandwich outside of Manhattan, or the zing of Cajun fish outside Louisiana. And certainly not the Jewish water bagel.

American food is here, all over India, and not just in tourist towns or five star hotels. So, if you’re a homesick expat, or an Indian looking for that nebulous “American” cuisine, come ’n’ get it!

The All-Day Breakfast
A meal that will leave you loosening your belt and closing your eyes in a food hangover for hours afterward, but it’s well worth it. Fluffy waffles, stacks of pancakes, fatty burgers, hot dogs, malts and shakes are ubiquitous 50s American diner food, and the All-American Diner , New Delhi, has it all in true greasy form.
The All-American Diner, Habitat World at India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi.
Tel: 011 43663162

The East Coast Jewish Bagel
The bagel with cream cheese is the staple New York American Jewish breakfast. The ideal bagel is topped with salt and malt and then boiled in water before baking it in an oven, and is puffy with a moist crust. At the Bagel Shop, Mumbai, their holey bread isn’t exactly the real deal. But I won’t kvetch too much — because although they skipped out on the salt and malt, they do make real ‘water’ bagels. That alone makes it worth the trip, even for goys.
The Bagel Shop, Anand Villa, 13 Pali Mala Road, Bandra West, Mumbai.
Tel: 022 26050178

West Coast Raw Foodism
American health gurus embraced raw foodism, and California totally adopted it. The promise: eating uncooked and unprocessed food promises a beach-ready body! (Believe it or not, it can also taste great). At the hippie-inspired Mocha Mojo (Chennai and Mumbai), you can eat a whole raw food garden lasagna before you realise they used almond paste instead of cheese.
Mocha Mojo, 72, 1st Avenue, Indra Nagar, Adyar, Chennai.
Tel: 044 42337025

Down South BBQ
Summer and backyard get-togethers and Independence Day celebrations just wouldn’t be complete without a dad in an apron messing with the charcoal grill, hovering over the meat. At The Barbeque, Taj Bengal, Kolkata , they use a gas fire, but the result is the same: Sizzling chargrilled chicken, pork chops and lamb.
The Barbeque, Taj Bengal, 34B, Belvedere Road, Alipore, Kolkata.
Tel: 033 22233939

The New York Deli Sandwich
A Deli sandwich says a lot about a person. What kind of bread? And which cold cut do you want: Turkey? Roast beef? Then choose your cheese; and then how many toppings; and what kind of sauce; the type of wet salad. The counter of the Indigo Deli , Mumbai, is so well stocked it’s nightmare for the indecisive. But it’s an NYC foodie’s dream.
The Indigo Deli, 5, Pheroze Building, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharishi Marg, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai.
Tel: 022 6655 1010

The Cops-on-Breaks-Inspired Doughnut
American movie fans know that all highway cops really do is hang out in coffee shops and eat doughnuts. But hey, everyone in America loves doughnuts, even Homer Simpson. At Mad Over Donuts , Mumbai, they clearly share the love, serving ringed donuts and filled donuts and iced donuts, with kitschy names like Nutty Buddy and Mamma Mia.
Mad Over Donuts, 63, Bhulabhai Desai Marg, Breach Candy, Mumbai.
Tel: 022 3211 0000 (Plus three other locations in Mumbai, and two in Delhi)

Louisiana Cajun
In New Orleans, Cajun is king. The seasoned, spiced, hearty meals of rice and game and fish go down real smooth with jazz. India’s well-versed on spice, so Arthur’s Theme , Pune, does a pretty good imitation of Down South jalapeno and cheese poppers, fish with cayenne pepper, fish croquettes, and chicken marinated in Cajun sauce with ailioli.
Arthur’s Theme, 2,Vrindawan Apartment,Lane No 6, North Main Road, Koregaon Park, Pune.
Tel: 020 26132710

Wood-Fired Oven New York Pizza
You can’t get a real Chicago-style pizza outside the Windy City. But you can get a damn good replication of its cousin, the thin-crust wood-fired oven pizza, at La Terrasse, Pondicherry. The simple semi-open-air joint has pizzas with every kind of cheese imaginable and toppings like pineapple that will truly melt between oven and your mouth.
La Terrasse, No 5, Near Beach Corner, Subbiah Street, Puducherry Ho, Pondicherry.
Tel: 413 2220809

The New York Deli sandwich

The New York Deli sandwich
The California Maki Roll
When Japanese Sushi chefs flocked to LA in the 60s to make their fortunes, their experiments brought the inside-out California roll into existence. Containing cucumber, avocado and crab meat or imitation crab stick, and an outer layer of rice, it’s the perfect starter for the uninitiated. And at Harima, Bangalore, their Japanese chef got the California roll just right.
Harima, 131, Devatha Plaza, Residency Road, Bangalore.
Tel: 080 41325757

Tex Mex Fajitas
In the southwest US, Spanish colonial settlers, Native Americans and Mexicans brought mouth-watering fajitas across the border. The dish of grilled meat served on a flour or corn tortilla, with added veggies, sour crème, and guacamole can be found in all its glory at the Rodeo Bar, New Delhi, along with mock saddles for seats and cowboy-hat-wearing waiters.
Rodeo Bar, 12A, Connaught Place, New Delhi.
Tel: 011 23354859

American Vegetarian
Vegetarians exist in the US, believe it or not. And it’s clear that Bean Me Up , Anjuna-Vagator, Goa, was started by an expat American. It gives you the whole range of substitute meats: Tofu, seitan, and tempeh, the organic salads Californians love, vegan cakes and pies, and of course soyabean, which the place does justice to with soya whipped cream and even soysage! You can almost pretend you’re at Portland’s hippest new vegan café.
Bean Me Up, 1639 Deulvaddo, Anjuna-Vagator, Goa.
Tel: 0832 2273479

Seattle Coffee and Cakes
Seattle is known for two things: rock music and coffee. After all, it’s the place Starbuck’s was born. In this town, coffee is a religion. And just like chai goes with biscuits, American coffee must be accompanied by a muffin or cake. At Moonpeak Espresso, McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh, you can get just that: A slice of Seattle with your Tibetan meditation.
Moonpeak Espresso, Temple Road, McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh.

Fried Chicken
Don’t go to KFC, I beg you. The breaded mixture or batter for fried chicken is something you have to get just right. And at Apple Bee Inn , Uttarakhand, they get it. May be it’s influence of people like Tom Alter’s parents, American missionaries long settled in the area. Or may be that it’s not a fast food joint. It’s a good thing the restaurant doubles as a hotel; proper fried chicken has a tendency of weighing you down, and you’ll want to sprawl out on your bed after gorging.
Apple Bee Inn, Village Masrana, Dhanaulty Road, Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.
Tel: 0135 2115290

The Health Food Craze
After McDonald’s, health food became obese America’s new obsession. At Eco-nut , Kodaikanal, in this town founded by Americans, you can find every variation of US dieting made delicious: Granola-y cereal, dried fruits and seed mixes, and even home-made yoghurt. Eat up and you’ll be ready to master Kodi’s hills.
Eco-nut, PT Road, Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu.
Tel: 04542 43296

American Style Burger
Since the time the cheeseburger originated in Pasadena, California, a true American burger has evolved to include the works: Pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bacon, sauces, and ... that’s just the start. At Café 0294 , Udaipur, they’ve just got lettuce and tomato but the meat patty is juicy and the buns are soft.
Café 0294, Hotel Raja Place, Burman Chambers, UIT Bridge, Saheli Marg. Udaipur, Rajasthan.
Tel: 0294 25600400

Elvis Presley’s Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich
Elvis may not have invented the sandwich, but this was his favourite snack. Him, and most American kids, who wolf them down as an after-school snack. And at Peace, Puri, they’ve figured out the perfect ratio of spread to banana.
Peace Restaurant, Chakratirtha Road, Puri, Orissa.

Thanksgiving Dinner — Turkey, Cranberry and the Works
Arguably the most American of meals, it has its origins with the first European settlers and their feasts with Native Americans. Every holiday season, Le Brasserie, Le Meridien, Bangalore , serves up an authentic imported Butterball Turkey and cranberry sauce. If only they had American football on big screen TVs, and cousins, and drunk uncles, and the Macy’s Day Parade... well, maybe food can’t get rid of all homesickness.
Le Brasserie, Le Meridien Hotel, PB No 174, 28, Sankey Road, Bangalore, Karnataka.
Tel: 080 22262233

All you need to know about Business Suits

Get yourself tailor-made for the business life
by Elizabeth Flock, Nilofer D'Souza | Jul 25, 2009

Read it at Forbes

hey’re alien to that amorphous thing called Indian culture, and a decidedly unwise choice for the weather in most parts of the country. But in the climate-controlled corridors of the business world, you’d have to be extremely successful — and brave — to get away with a suitless wardrobe. It must be said: Women in India have more choices. Many of our top female executives favour the traditional elegance of a sari. Men in the boardroom almost exclusively wear suits.
Our more seasoned readers are, we know, well-versed in matters sartorial. But, for the benefit of the ones starting out on their journeys to high places, Forbes India, with some expert help, put together a quick, but comprehensive guide to the business suit.

The Experts
Men: Tom Ford, creator/designer of the TOM FORD line. James Bond wears TOM FORD suits
Anna Zegna, Image Director of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group, Italian fashion house
Gautam Singhania, Chairman and MD, the Raymond Group
Zulfi Shahpurwala, Managing Partner, Kachin’s, a Mumbai-based tailor for bespoke suits.

Women: Charu Sachdev, CEO, TGS International, a franchisee of the Stella McCartney brand
Sathyajit R., COO, Allen Solly, Madura Garments
Helena, Bangalore fashion designer.

When it comes to styles, says Tom Ford, “A man should always choose a style that he feels comfortable in — that is the key to dressing appropriately.”

Italian Narrower, with strongly padded shoulders and tapered sides, no vents; best for the tall, slim man.

British Regal, military-like, with double vents, moderately tapered sides, and minimal shoulder padding.

American More casual, usually with a single vent; conveys a relaxed, younger image.

Mandarin Influenced by traditional Eastern cultures; with a high, square neck. (Image Crobis)

Body types

The suit should be shaped at the waist (but not made too slim), with a full body and broad shoulders. Pants should sit below your navel.

Large Waisted
A double-breasted suit will hide the paunch. Pants may sit above or below the stomach — as per personal comfort.

Pinstripes are a bad idea, you’ll just look too tall. Go for a well-tailored, double-breasted suit.

A single-breasted two- or three-button suit will make you look taller.

Counterview Singhania says, “I don’t believe in body types. I say wear what makes you comfortable. I like a double-breasted suit. But it’s about what you want to project.”


Gold goes well with dark skin, silver with lighter skin. (Image: Omega)
Should match your shirt, suit and skin.
Money Clips
Wallets are too bulky for suits; a money clip can hold your money, credit cards, keys and mobile all in a flat, lightweight place.
Beware, tie-clips can appear flashy if the design or metal is too bold.
Pocket Squares
As subtle as possible.

Fabrics, colours
When it comes to fabric, Singhania is emphatic: “Wool is the most comfortable, because it’s made of natural fibers, and has breathability. I only wear pure wool.”
Poly-wool, a polyester/wool hybrid, is cheaper and easier to maintain.
Can you wear a linen suit to a meeting?
The experts say yes, but at your own peril; it crushes and the creases remain. Linen states that you’re laid back. It’s best for summer.

Some colours are best avoided. White went out after Travolta and Mithun Chakraborty. Baby blues, greens and the like are decidedly uncool. Stick to black, navy blue, and grey. Eighty percent of suits sold in the world are in these colours. Keep brown, and its off-shoots, mushroom, beige, and olive, for casual meetings.
Tip: Zegna says beige suits will be big this summer.

Shahpurwala says, “There are two kinds of people in this world — a blue person, and a black person.” And he insists solid colours are best: “Nothing too obvious or jarring; the colour should be subtle.” Singhania thinks a man can pull off any colour, as long as it’s in a darker shade. That is, if it’s burgundy, it had better be dark burgundy.

The Rules
Zegna says if you can remember one thing, it’s this: “It’s important that a man wears the suit, rather than the suit wears the man.”


Singhania says the knot is the most important part of the tie. The most easy and popular is the four-in-hand or Windsor. Keep the pattern simple. Don’t wear the same colour tie and shirt.

¼ inch of the shirt should show at the collar while standing, and ¼ inch at the cuff.

Unless you’re a Michael Jackson-standard dancer, no white. Socks should be one shade lighter or darker than your pants and reach mid-calf.

Shahpurwala warns that if the jacket isn’t perfect, it will ride back, and if it’s too tight, the shirt will pull down and hurt your neck.

Tom Ford says, “Men should always have their jackets buttoned. It is the easiest way to sharpen the silhouette and lose 10 pounds.” Shahpurwala differs — he suggests keeping one button unbuttoned while standing and unbuttoning all buttons when you sit.

Should flow smoothly down the legs, with no bulges. Not too tight at the crotch. Must rest gently at the top of the shoe.

Black goes well with black and grey suits; brown is good for navy suits.

In style THIS YEAR
Side vents give an accent to your waist
Peaked lapels for single breasted suits
Three-piece suits, wait for winter!
Wider ties are replacing skinny ones
Jackets wider, with stronger shoulders
Double-breasted and classic two-button suits

The best suits are bespoke, custom-made for you. Shahpurwala says, “The suit needs to fit you like a glove.” While it is the most expensive option, bespoke is cheaper in India than in the West. Slightly cheaper: Made-to-measure, where you can pick a suit off the rack and get it altered for you. And, of course, international designers, like Zegna, Valentino, or Ford, make amazing off-the-rack suits.
Jackets are made in three ways:

Fused: The cheapest option.
Semi-fused (half-canvassed): Half-stitched, has two layers.
Sartorial (canvassed): Made entirely by hand, the most comfortable and most expensive. Has a middle floating layer that you can find by pinching the suit. “The construction is essential to ensure an elegant draping,” Zegna says.

Contemporary A more fitted look, usually with shorter jackets. Cotton, linen, silk or satin, and in a wide range of colours. Best for the more daring soul moving away from the classic.

Mix it up a bit: Go for the classic cut, but with more modern fabrics and colours. Or tone down the formality with a bright tank-top instead of a shirt.
If you’re comfortable in a skirt, a timeless A-line or a pencil skirt works best.
If you plan to buy suits every season, indulge in passing trends like pleated skirts.

Classic Jacket with padded shoulders and pockets; a straight fit, over formal shirt and trousers. Typically black, blue or grey wool. Works best if you’re a recent suit convert, or if you have no clue what the person you’re going to meet is like.

Body types
Women’s figures can be broken down into three main categories, within which there exist many more.


A three-button jacket tones down the heaviness on top; high-waist pants balance out the bottom half.


Short jackets with boot-cut pants hide the flaws.

For both the top- and bottom-heavy figures, if you prefer skirts, choose the A-line; the pencil skirt will not be flattering


The hourglass
Most women hate you. Never mind. Play up your figure with a three-piece — waistcoat, jacket and trousers — or use just a waistcoat. Try tapered trousers or pair your waistcoat or jacket with a pencil skirt.

In style this year
“The Jumpsuit is a big trend internationally,” says Charu Sachdev, CEO, TSG International. “Also, this season the suits are slouchy and slightly oversized. The suits can be used as separates — the longer boyfriend jacket with the strong shoulder and the pushed-up sleeve can be worn over little cocktail dresses or with cropped pants.”

Jumpsuits are worth the investment if you have a lot of evenings to dress up for; as a business suit, it doesn’t make the cut.

Tapered-fit pants have become very popular, but for most Indian women, it doesn’t work. Tapered pants accentuated the hips, so they work best if you’ve got a narrow waist.

A one button pant suit is a polished and easy look to pull off. It accentuates your neckline and can be worn with a blouse or tee-shirt underneath.

The Rules
Women’s business wear has more variations in styles and colours than men’s suits, and far fewer conventions. There are, though, a few sensible guidelines.


You must have that gorgeous white shirt. Choose frills in front if you are small-busted, or a simple fitted white T-shirt with a V-neck if you’re big in the bust. Fabrics can range from cotton to silk to even crepe. Stock up on the kind that fits you best, hiding the figure flaws.

Nail polish in blacks or blues come across as very loud. Keep it simple and elegant with pearly whites or beiges.

Even when seated, the skirt should fall below the knee to be office appropriate.

Don’t overdo the make up.

Women’s jackets are usually stitched with the lapels right-over-left, the opposite of men’s suits.

The second must-have: A pair of tried-out heels that give you all-day comfort. This helps you avoid blisters on those trying days when you need to walk across different kinds of surfaces (gravel, concrete, marble, carpetted hallways, stairs).

Jewellery Pearls — white, pink, or grey — are the safest way to dress up a classic business suit. To notch up to the contemporary look, a simple long chain with stud earrings, or, conversely, long earrings and a short chain coupled with a chunky bracelet.

Shoes For the classic look, stick with regular pump heels. A bit wilder: Wedge heels with a gladiator look — but they may be a bit too much for a formal meeting.

We recommend keeping it simple and functional. If you tote a laptop and files, choose one that holds the lot plus essential purse contents. It projects a crisp, clear-cut image; better than staggering into conference rooms festooned with several bags.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bill Gates' Indian Education

Elizabeth Flock, 07.15.09, 06:00 PM EDT
Forbes Magazine dated August 03, 2009
His $258 million Avahan project on AIDS in India got lost between B-school and brothel.

Read it at Forbes

On a humid afternoon former prostitute Fathima welcomes a group of illiterate women still in the trade and needing protection from AIDS into the Mukta clinic in Pune, India. As a "peer educator," she has the job of conveying to them the message of safety. But the visitors shuffle tentatively amid the expensive-looking English-language posters that paper the walls around them.

Why would a clinic serving illiterate, non-English-speaking visitors use more English than Indian languages?

The answer lies in where that money comes from. The Pune clinic is part of a network of 100-plus nonprofits working under the umbrella of Avahan, an AIDS-prevention effort. Avahan, or "Call to Action," is the brainchild of the world's most generous philanthropist, Bill Gates.

Gates announced the ten-year, $100 million Avahan during his much-publicized visit to the country in 2002. This was, and still is, the largest-ever initiative in India for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To See The Gates Foundation's Response Click Here

AIDS in India has become an epidemic after nearly two decades of piecemeal efforts to counter it. Millions of poor people have been exposed to the virus; government agencies and private groups didn't have the money to preach safety or treat the infected. Gates showed his seriousness by later raising the Avahan outlay to $258 million.

Seven years after Gates' visit, Fathima (we've changed her name) has counseled the women at the Pune clinic, given them condoms and sent them back home. It is time to worry about the future. The bad news is that Avahan is ready to pack and go soon from the Pune clinic, and Fathima is set to lose her income. (In March Avahan began handing over the reins to the government-run National AIDS Control Organisation, which is unenthusiastic about inheriting the venture.) She doesn't want to slip back into prostitution. At age 45 she doesn't have much of a career in that, anyway.

When it hit the ground in 2003, Avahan set itself three goals: arrest the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus in India, expand the program across the nation and develop a model that the government can adopt. Now, as it begins to wind down, Avahan finds that it hasn't achieved any of these goals. Doubtless the effort has made a dent in the problem, but the impact is small in relation to the spending. When NACO takes over, it will try to prune the costs of the program. Salaries for peer educators will go.

When the Gates Foundation got down to work in India, Avahan was ready to spend what it took to get the best bosses; it started its search at McKinsey, the consulting powerhouse. The recruiters zeroed in on Ashok Alexander, now 55, who had spent 17 years turning Indian businesses into global challengers. "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Alexander recalls, sitting at his plush office in New Delhi. "I liked the ambitious arch of the HIV/AIDS program, and it was a chance for me to do something new."

Soon 15 people were hired. Ten of them had come from private-sector backgrounds. They tackled the virus much as they would a problem at McKinsey. Alexander's office is papered with data and maps containing colored dots plotting the spread of the disease across the country. The argot is sheer B-school: Avahan is a "venture," the prevention program a "franchise," a prostitute a "consumer."

At Avahan Alexander and his colleagues oversaw the work of more than 100 other groups. The lack of practical experience at the top manifested itself in different ways. When Avahan introduced sleek mobile vans to bring clinics directly to the brothels, the expensive-looking vehicles were sometimes met with intense suspicion. At the Mukta clinic, Dr. Laxmi Mali says the women initially thought the van was from the police or the government. They refused help.

Accounts of the early missteps are largely anecdotal. But in 2005 an internal evaluation showed a big portion of Avahan's efforts had gone to waste. As many as 31,000 people had been contacted by Avahan's outreach program, but only 11,000 had visited the clinics. The Avahan executives had assumed that the peer educators would already know what the prevention services were without explanation; the reality was that they didn't.

Avahan's craving for scale also meant it overshot by a lot. It started with a bang in six states, with 50 sites for truckers in the south. But by mid-2005 only 12% of truck drivers were even aware of its services, and only 7% took advantage of them. This forced Avahan to reduce the sites to 20. For similar reasons Avahan's 6,000 centers for treating sexually transmitted diseases were reduced to 800.

At the core of Avahan's failure to make a serious difference in India's fight against AIDS is the way it spent money. In a country where a branded condom sells for 10 cents, where did Avahan's money go? It's difficult to say because Avahan's finances are largely opaque. Avahan's outlets sell 5 million condoms a month and give away another 10 million. Asked how so much could be spent on condoms, Alexander laughs, saying, "It's a bit more complicated than that." Probed further, Alexander says he doesn't know the financials offhand. Nor was he able to give them later.

Travel was one drain. Jonty Rajagopalan, Avahan program officer from 2006 to 2008, says she would take flights every month from her base in Hyderabad to her focus areas in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, instead of being based in a focus area.

Another chunk: salaries. Alexander's compensation was $424,900 in 2007, the second highest in the foundation globally, not including presidents and operating officers. Avahan's "targeting intervention officers," who oversee the field work, are paid three or four times what a typical NACO officer is paid.

Avahan's marketing was done in style. Eldred Tellis, head of Sankalp, a Mumbai group fighting AIDS that has worked with Avahan, says he has seen a lot of money go into fancy publications reporting the program's work. Very little went to the people on the ground. Vijay Mahajan, the chairman of Basix, a microfinance institution, comments on Avahan: "There is too much money and too many really smart people, with too little coming out."

Knowing that it would have to inherit the project, NACO sent out evaluation teams to sites in four states to get some clarity on costs. NACO's head, Sujatha Rao, says the evaluation threw up one clear message: Large parts of the program are not sustainable by NACO. "We told them you can't create a huge number of assets and then just leave and expect the government to take over everything," says Rao.

But Alexander disagrees. "We are not perpetual funders. We try to be catalytic," he says. "In five years we would hope the HIV/AIDS epidemic is contained enough that we will no longer have to be involved." Either way, it will have to be: Avahan is now repositioning, focusing on maternal and newborn health.

Ashok Row Kavi, consultant for Unaids and chairman of the Humsafar Trust for gay and transgender health, says Avahan's expectations were unrealistic. "They wanted HIV to disappear in five years. For that to happen a lot of people would have to die."

NACO's annual budget is $225 million, none of it currently spent on Avahan. Rao can't find enough money to continue the project. "We can never offer a replicable model. And if we are unable to sustain the program, all of their effort will be for naught," she says.

When probed about the difficulties of handing over the program to the government, Alexander says the transfer is going just fine. Kavi differs; he says that the transfer discussions between NACO and the Gates Foundation are stymied. Costs need to be brought down, but they can't figure out how. He also fears Avahan's now experienced M.B.A.-degreed field monitors, facing shrinking salaries, will depart. The question of running air-conditioned clinics the way Avahan did doesn't even arise.

The biggest hole in quality will appear where it can hurt most. Hussain Makandar, HIV counselor at the Mukta clinic, is worried about condoms: The ones from Avahan are lubricated; the ones from NACO break and the prostitutes stop using them.

Alexander insists that only a tenth of the project will transfer to the government this year, and the rest will happen slowly over the next five. "We're doing a transition program. We're not saying, 'Oh, here's the program, and we're off.'" But NACO and Mukta officials, among others, are watching the calendar, confused.

Adapted from FORBES INDIA, a licensee of Forbes Media.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Who Will Bell the Copycat

Hollywood is watching Indian movies! Not just for their spectacular visuals, but to see which plot is ‘inspired’
by Elizabeth Flock | Jul 22, 2009

Read it at Forbes

W hen a smart, love story-infused revenge saga like Ghajini sweeps the box office, becoming the only Indian film to earn Rs. 100 crore across the country in under a week, it hardly surprises anyone. The film, starring Aamir Khan, was refreshingly unusual for Indian audiences.

But what if the extraordinary story wasn’t screenwriter A.R. Murugadoss’ own? By now, most movie-goers know it wasn’t. They may have even seen the original, American academy award-winning film, Memento (2002).

For many years Bollywood producers have been greenlighting derivatives of foreign films — many of them American. As Sanjay Chel, screenwriter of Partner (2007), which many agree is a replication of the American movie Hitch (2005), says, “We get inspired.” All this while, Hollywood — thousands of miles away and largely unaware of Indian cinema — did not notice that its films were being copied.

But the jig is up. Since the turn of the century, when the government granted official status to Bollywood as an industry, the US slowly started to become aware of Indian cinema. And now, the collision of Los Angeles and Mumbai has put the spotlight on intellectual property rights (IPR). In Bollywood, growing awareness and enforcement of IPR is pushing producers toward more original, local fare. As for Hollywood, it has started going after the copycats.

On June 15, the Bombay High Court stayed the release of BR Films’ Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai, which 20th Century Fox alleges is a remake of their 1992 Oscar Award-winning film My Cousin Vinny. In April, Warner Bros. issued a public notice against any adaptation or remake of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, following rumours that Vipul Shah was making a copycat film.

Mirchi Films was sued by Warner Bros. in March 2008 for the similarity in title between its new release Hari Puttar and Harry Potter, its biggest franchise.

And in 2007, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment threatened a $30 million lawsuit against David Dhawan’s Partner for its flagrant imitation of the movie Hitch.
Ghajini has escaped Hollywood’s wrath only because it is technically a copy of Murgadoss’ earlier Tamil film by the same name — that film is the guilty party.

“After blatantly going all out copying movies for years and calling it their own, it’s finally catching up to [the Bollywood industry],” says Tarun Adarsh, editor of the Mumbai-based Trade Guide Magazine.
But Hollywood faces many challenges in making a case for copyright infringement in India.

The Quagmires of Copyright
Hollywood’s most common mistake is that it often waits until close to the movie’s release date to take legal action because it is not aware of the film until then.

“When the court sees that so many crores have already been put into a movie, they rule in favour of Bollywood,” says Purnima Singh, senior associate for legal firm AZB & Partners.

IPR becomes more complicated when proving the case across cultures. “How do you prove a film is a copy when the audience, judge, or jury has not seen the original?” asks Mohit Kapoor, advocate for Universal Legal Advocates, who deals with entertainment law.

Besides, the Bollywood industry is fragmented, making it harder to take legal action against it. “The Bollywood industry has so many lines of distribution. You cannot attack them all,” says Kapoor.

Entertainment lawyers agree that the key is to get an injunction, but Hollywood has yet to emerge decisively victorious in any copyright case. The Bombay High Court stayed the release of Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai, but Fox has yet to win the $1.4 million it seeks. Hari Puttar was released after a month’s delay. Partner’s case never went to trial, and it was released to box office success.

But Singh says there are several factors that may favour Hollywood in future. International copyright is protected by both the Copyright Act of 1957 and India’s membership in the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works — they just need to be better enforced.

And while there haven’t been any financial disasters for Bollywood yet, the industry has begun to feel the effects. Valuable time has been wasted (weeks for Hari Puttar and Partner) and many lakhs lost. Gautam Jain, who did the marketing for Hari Puttar, says of the lawsuit, “We began to worry about the reach of the film. It took up a lot of our time, and was a distraction from our focus.”

Although Partner was released, Hitch’s producers, Sony, acquired the global exclusive satellite broadcasting rights of Partner. (It airs on Sony Entertainment’s Television Asia.) This is a pittance compared to the $30 million they threatened.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a sort of Hollywood watchdog, has also moved. In February, it set up offices in Mumbai to “protect and promote the American film industry”, according to director Rajiv Dalal. It will go after DVD pirates, but also work with Bollywood producers to prevent copycat films. “Before Hollywood was only doing this through consultants. Now we will be more successful because we are here working with the local industry,” Dalal says.

While Hollywood struggles to make its case, Bollywood faces just as many challenges in proving its innocence. Kapoor says the biggest quandary is deciphering what is copyright infringement and what is not. “Copyright is a dynamic issue. If there is exact copy of dialogue, you can easily prove it to be infringement,” he says. “For other aspects — script, screenplay, performance, actors, location — this is difficult to prove one way or the other.”

It is just as thorny for Bollywood to defend itself when working across cultures. Mirchi Films realised this when Warner Bros. approached it about Hari Puttar. The challenge was to explain that ‘Hari’ is a common name in India, and that ‘Puttar’ is the word for ‘son’ in Punjabi.

Inspiration or Copying?
Ronnie Screwvala, CEO of UTV Motion Pictures, insists that there is not as much plagiarism as is made out to be. Directors, too, are dogged in their defense of ‘inspired’ films. Rakesh Roshan, who has been accused of taking inspiration from Hollywood since his first film Khudgarz in 1987, which many say is a replica of the American Kane and Abel (1985), explains it this way: “There are only five or so subjects in the world. We make films on these subjects. We take inspiration from all around, what we read, what we see. These are not copies.”

Even when the case is more transparent, as it was with Partner and Hitch, which most concur was an example of a near-carbon copy, Bollywood is ready to defend its originality. Chel, who wrote the dialogue for Partner, says that any inspired film is ‘Indianised’ and thus cannot be a clone. It all boils down to this: Bollywood and Hollywood are struggling to draw the line between inspiration and copy. But if Hollywood continues to take legal action, and is successful, will Bollywood stop parroting altogether?

Perhaps it already has.

Robbers, No More
Bollywood has become increasingly cognizant of IPR. Singh says the film industry has come to recognise the work product as an asset. “They are starting to wonder, ‘Does this belong to anyone?’” she says.
Singh cites the corporatisation of Bollywood as a major cause of this newfound awareness. A shift from word-of-mouth, trust-based agreements to more clear-cut, professional ones means it is becoming harder to get away with plagiarising.

Rakesh Roshan learned this lesson in April 2008 when he was forced to pay Rs. 2 crore to musician Ram Sampat for a song in his film Krazzy 4 (2008) that Sampat alleged was a near facsimile of his work.

“Everyone knows you can’t cheat any longer,” says Sanjay Bhutiani, CEO of BR Films, who maintains Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai is not a copy. “Indian movies and TV are… now beaming all over the world. Audiences will know when things are lifted from somewhere.”

The new generation of filmmakers don’t want to mimic because they may face legal action, but also because they know audiences will respect them more if they don’t. The last five years has seen a sea change. Screwvala says the industry has undergone a major evolution. Before the turn of the century 90 percent of movies were copies; today, he estimates, 90 percent are original. One factor behind the change is the rise of multiplexes and the exploding middle class, which means a higher-paying and smarter audience with a taste for more creative, original fare.

With more money being made from increased franchising, higher-priced tickets in multiplexes, and the growing diaspora, filmmakers are starting to take more risks. With less government regulation of content, subjects and themes are permissible now that weren’t in the past. But enforcement of copyright may be the real impetus for Bollywood’s transformation.

Production companies are increasingly releasing a host of original, definitively local scripts. UTV Motion Pictures, for example, has moved toward films that reflect a distinctly Indian experience, such as Rang de Basanti (2006), Mumbai Meri Jaan (2008) and A Wednesday (2008).

In the past few years, cinemas have increasingly shown films that have been less formulaic, such as Taare Zameen Par (2007), Chak De! India (2007) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008). Box office numbers show that audiences are responding to this original fare — all three grossed more than Rs. 4.5 crore in the first month of release, as reported by

Filmmakers have also begun to tackle delicate subjects in a realistic way, as in Water (2005) and Black Friday (2004), though both were not initially accepted by regulatory bodies and audiences.

Roshan may even be changing his stripes. He says Indian cinema has become more creative and global, and his new project Kites (2009) is a film in English and Spanish. The corporatisation of Bollywood coupled with Hollywood’s tough stance on infringement has put IPR in the minds of filmmakers more than ever before. And this has caused Bollywood to move toward better quality films.

Better films will garner greater respect for the industry globally, and attract foreign investment. Hollywood won’t, then, be just a bully or a cop. And Bollywood won’t have to run. As for Ghajini’s hero, Aamir Khan, he will next appear in Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s much-anticipated Three Idiots. The film is still ‘inspired’. But this time it’s homegrown — a loose adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s famous novel Five Point Someone. It looks like Bollywood might be growing up after all.

In June, the Bombay High Court stayed the release of Ravi Chopra’s Banda Yeh Bindaas Hai. Earlier this year, Fox gave permission to BR Films to make a film loosely based on their 1992 hit My Cousin Vinny, but it maintains it did not give rights for a complete Hindi remake. Fox wants $1.4 million in damages, and an injunction against the release of the film. BR Films claims it has made an original movie.

In March of 2008, Mirchi Movies was sued by Warner Bros. just before it released the Lucky Kohli-directed film Hari Puttar. Warner Bros. said the similarity in title was too close to its biggest franchise, Harry Potter. It said the title “unfairly sought to confuse consumers and benefit from the well-known and well-loved Harry Potter brand.” Mirchi Movies CEO insisted the plots of the films were in no way similar, and that ‘Hari’ is a popular Indian name, while “puttar” means “son”.

The Delhi High Court rejected the lawsuit filed by Warner Bros. The court said Warner Bros could have brought the case in 2005, when it first learned of the title, but delayed taking action until now. It also said that the audience could easily distinguish between Hari Puttar and Harry Potter.

Hari Puttar was to be released on September 12, 2008. It was delayed because of the court case, and released September 26 in India. It also released in the US and the UK.

In 2007, Sony and Will Smith’s Overbook Entertainment threatened to sue Eros Entertainment and K Sera Sera, claiming that David Dhawan’s Partner was a direct lift of its film Hitch. It reportedly filed for $30 million. It was to be filed in a UK court, where Eros and K Sera Sera are both registered. This was the first time an international film company decided to take legal action against an Indian entertainment company for plagiarism.

Eros, K Sera Sera, Sony, and Overbrook Entertainment have all refused to comment on the outcome of the case. It is believed that the case was settled out of court. Partner was ultimately released, but Sony Entertainment Television Asia acquired the world exclusive satellite broadcasting rights.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When Grandfather Wants To Be Godfather

Anand Deshpande of Persistent Systems thinks he can build global scale and multiply revenues by five times with his new but riskier model
by Elizabeth Flock | Jul 16, 2009

Read it at Forbes

I nscrutable, intense and extremely quiet, Anand Deshpande looks like he has all the answers. He does: If you are talking databases. For the last 19 years, giants like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have relied upon Deshpande and his company Persistent Systems to remove the bothersome bee from their database bonnet. He is considered the grandfather of outsourced product development (OPD). OPD is when an Indian company does work for tech big daddies like IBM and Cisco and not tech users like Citibank and General Motors. Persistent, cast in the mould of its founder Deshpande, is all about substance and rigour.

It is also a slow-coach. After huffing and puffing all these years, Persistent has a turnover of only $100 million. When Wipro was 20 years old (in 2000) it was six times as big; Infosys was four times as big in 2001 and Cognizant, just 15 years old, is already 28 times the size of Persistent.

There are a couple of explanations for this slow growth. The first is bad childhood memories. Deshpande had to struggle for two years to get land and bank finance to start the company. Then, during its formative years, Persistent’s main customer shut shop. Professor Ed Robertson, who had taught Deshpande at University of Indiana, recalls those days, “I don’t think Anand ever forgot that. He learned a valuable lesson about what can happen to risky start-ups.”

Such experiences made Deshpande very cautious. He avoided the big risks and thus the big opportunities. “Deshpande has never lost money,” says Promod Haque, managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, and an investor in Persistent.

There is, of course, the “infant industry” argument. “Outsourced product deve¬lopment was only properly born in 2002. Companies are now going fabulous on one or more product lines,” says Peter Harrison, CEO of Global Logic, an OPD firm in Bangalore. Most Indian firms were providing software services. Persistent steered away from that beaten track and followed a different growth trajectory. Deshpande has just this to say, “There is a steady growth at which one likes to operate.”

Steady growth looks great when a company is $5 billion but when it is just $100 million perhaps it is time to be a bit more aggressive.

Now, finally, Persistent is doing exactly that. The grandfather now wants to be the Godfather.

The New Way
Till now, customers told Persistent what to do and then paid for it by the hour. Now, Persistent will propose a solution and get to keep the upside from its sales. It will also get to keep the secret sauce (intellectual property) that it uses to develop the solution. Later, the intellectual property can be reused the same way Google reuses its search technology across the Web, email and documents.

It was crisis that brought opportunity. As the recession took hold, Persistent’s clients took a hard look at their technology spending. Deshpande says he felt the need to change when he saw a presentation from Sequoia Capital. The Silicon Valley venture capital firm projected doomsday in one of its “infamous” presentations on the market, and told all companies, in which it had invested, not to spend. Following that presentation and other gloomy predictions, most of Persistent’s customers reduced their budgets by 15-30 percent.

Not content to remain stagnant, or let Persistent’s reputation bring in business, Deshpande decided to go beat the bushes. “We wanted to go meet them right away in October, but we had to wait, because people were too scared then,” he says.

So, in early January this year, Deshpande finally left for the US, with plans to meet the CEOs of every single customer, and ask what he could do to help.

The scared, cash-strapped CEOs who met Deshpande all told him the same thing: We want you to take responsibility and ownership of the products. Here is our product — show us how to make more out of it. And then, to Deshpande’s disbelief: Can you take some risk on this? You will get some reward.

“When people are down, they are more humble, right?” Deshpande says. “The market is tough. So there is so much more room to discuss new ideas. Even they don’t know what they’re doing right now. So we are taking advantage of that.”

Putting money upfront is clearly one new idea. Take, for example, the work Persistent did for a customer who brought an American product to India in June. Here, Persistent developed its Indian version. The product has now been released through banks in India and Persistent will get paid depending on the number of users that sign up. If the product flops, so does the company. “It shows our willingness now to put our skin in the game,” says Hari Haran, president of Persistent.

Shailendra Singh, principal at Sequoia Capital, who has invested in OPD companies such as Global Logic, talks about the enormous revenue opportunity in doing this. “OPD companies can really move the needle.” Kiran Karnik, former Nasscom president, agrees, saying the risk-revenue model is very appropriate for right now, and that it will even be the model going ahead.

For the model to work, Persistent will need to own the intellectual property. If it has to reinvent the wheel every time, it won’t travel far. Persistent builds drivers, the computer programs that allow higher-level computer programs to interact with a hardware device. “We used to just build drivers for one company. Now, we are building drivers for that one company, and for all their competition,” says Deshpande, smiling at the improbability of it.