Friday, November 26, 2010

An excellent example of an interview-based local feature

Commitscion Dipankar Paul (Class of 2009), who was also a co-editor of the college newspaper, recently interviewed Christel DeHaan, the founder of Christel House International, a network of schools in four continents. (Dipankar, a copy editor with India Syndicate, which produces MSN India's content, has taken all the photographs, too.)

The interview is up on the MSN website: "When poverty met Christel DeHaan, and lost".

Isn't that a great headline?

And read that intro (first two paragraphs) again to see how well-written it is, how it complements the photograph placed above it, and how it leads up to the crux of the story in the next three paragraphs.

And also study the transitions in the paragraphs below don't they work perfectly? 

DeHaan selects the principals of each school herself. She has promised to bear all administrative costs for the rest of her life. She has pledged her $4.3 million home to Christel House after her death.

"I feel blessed to be able to make a difference in the lives of so many children," she says. "The childhood I had was tough."

Tough does not convey half the story. DeHaan was born in Germany at the height of Nazi power. While Hitler was stomping all over Europe, her father, a German soldier, was killed in an American bombing raid.

DeHaan was raised in the ruins of post-War Germany by her mother. "My mother was my inspiration: I have learnt so much from her," she says.

Even though they were living in a time of need, "there was always place at the table. The neighbourhood children would often share our food." DeHaan says her mother never let her feel they were deprived.

And this, DeHaan says, is what brought her to what she does today. She had always wanted to help people, but it was an epiphanic trip to a children's home in Mexico in 1998 that made her realise how to.

In fact, the transitions throughout the article work beautifully. Well done, Dipankar!

  • UPDATE (September 5, 2013): Mark Nichol, the editor of the excellent Daily Writing Tips blog, has put together some helpful guidelines for those who want to know how to prepare for an interview and do a good job of it: "10 Interviewing Tips and Techniques".
  • UPDATE (December 2, 2013): In Mint Lounge today, Pavitra Jayaraman conjures up an accomplished feature on a regular Bangalore event: the Thursday mass at the city's Infant Jesus shrine. Read it here to understand how to extract the extraordinary from the seemingly ordinary: "Bangalore Bhath".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The awe-inspiring story of India's first paraplegic major-general

Sixteen years ago he was part of a crack team in Kashmir sent to rescue women taken by the Lashkar-e-Toiba as sex slaves.

He recounts killing two terrorists. The third fell face up. “I thought he was dead, but he fired,” he says. “The shot went through my abdomen, my intestines spilled out and my spine broke. I knew I would never walk again. Yet, I shot him dead.” He refused to be evacuated till the encounter was over, sustaining himself on self-administered intravenous drips. He was later awarded the Kirti Chakra.

When we seem to be beset on all sides by stories of rampant corruption at the highest levels of politics and business, this saga in The Week of the unflappable Major-General S.K. Razdan is so awe-inspiring. It serves, perhaps, as a reminder of the triumph of the human spirit. It also reinforces our belief that "positive thinking" works; it's not just a concept.

COURAGE PERSONIFIED: Major-General S.K. Razdan

One year after he was shot, Razdan went back to work. Rekha Dixit, who met Razdan in New Delhi for this profile in The Week, writes:
The general has a demanding career, he often returns by 8:30 p.m. “Fortunately, the Army preferred to see the skills I have instead of the disability,” he says. He is now assistant chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.  His speciality is counterinsurgency.

At work, the biggest challenge is to perform like others; he hates sympathy. “I am lucky I have not received help I didn’t want,” he says. The Vishisht Seva Medal he received last year is testimony to his professionalism.

And take a look at his morning schedule:
Razdan’s day starts early; he does his ablutions without help, then exercises. The self-designed regime includes push-ups, stretches and a session on a self-made pulley-operated gym. In the sunny front yard, Razdan demonstrates his exercises, pulling off his sweatshirt to reveal enviable biceps.

The paragraph continues:
At this moment, his wife, Manju, steps out. “Arrey, what are you doing? Are you Salman Khan?” she says, taking in the scene. “Salman Khan, wow, let me have a glimpse, too,” giggles a neighbour from the balcony upstairs. Manju is in a hurry; she has to run several chores. Razdan reluctantly puts back his shirt. “I will take her to the bank and then we will continue,” he says. He wheels himself to the car shed and shifts without assistance from wheelchair to the driver’s seat. “It is important to know driving,” says Manju. “If I could, I wouldn’t be so dependent on him.”

This is a feel-good story like no other that I have read in recent times.

You can read the profile in full here: "Generally speaking".

PS: The magazine has some heart-warming pictures of Major-General S.K. Razdan that are not on the website.
  • Photo courtesy: The Week

If you want to understand the "spectrum scam tapes" controversy fully... these stories on the Outlook website:
A petition before the Supreme Courts shows the rot within. It is not just the 2G Spectrum but the entire Republic of India that seems to be up for sale, with the dealers being a group of powerful telemarketers — corporate houses, lobbyists, bureaucrats and journalists

2G Spectrum Scam
Four transcripts that were submitted to the SC along with a total of eight recordings in May 2009 covering the cabinet formation, DMK politics and who'd get telecom portfolio

2G Spectrum Scam
The conversations with M.Karunanidhi's daughter M. Kanimozhi about keeping Dayanidhi Maran out from negotiations with the Congress and to get the telecom portfolio for A. Raja

2G Spectrum Scam
In these Radia wants Sanghvi to tell the Congress not to negotiate with Dayanidhi Maran. He tells her that while he has been meeting Rahul and can't "get into Sonia in the short term" he would "try and get through to Ahmed"

2G Spectrum Scam Audio
Recordings of conversations with the likes of Ratan Tata, Ranjan Bhattacharya, Barkha Dutt, Shankar Aiyar, Sunil Arora, etc.

Also read:

        'It should be clear that the real story is about the collusion of business and politics'

        For the most level-headed response to what some are now referring to as "Radigate", read Salil Tripathi's column in Mint. Excerpts:

        After you read the transcripts printed in the magazines Open or Outlook and listen to the recordings of the astonishing and entertaining conversations between the formidable lobbyist Niira Radia and some of India’s leading businesspeople, politicians and journalists, it should be clear that the real story is about the collusion of business and politics. Journalists who appear larger than life in their media profile play a small part here — as willing go-betweens, ferrying messages between politicians at Radia’s (and in effect her powerful corporate clients’) request. That isn’t illegal, nor is it necessarily corrupt. But it shows careless judgment and weakens the media’s credibility.


        Dutt and Sanghvi are right; journalists do have to meet all sorts of people, and cultivating contacts and relationships is an essential requirement. Stay too aloof, and stories dry up; but get too close, and you lose perspective. When contacts become friends, lines get blurred. Maintaining access with the powerful does not mean doing away with propriety. Upright judges think before accepting invitations. They know that it is silly to get close to corporate lobbyists and others who might appear in cases before them as litigants. Journalists are no exception. Credibility is the profession’s sole currency. They must listen to all views — but they must also challenge all views. 

        Read Tripathi's column in its entirety here: "Over the thin red line". Media students and not a few journalists can learn much about journalism and journalistic values by reading this piece.

        "Not so long ago, inside newsrooms, we'd describe these stories as 'plants'. Today, these stories sometimes go under the garb of 'breaking news'."

        Indrajit Gupta, the editor of Forbes India, writing on his blog, says it's the self-imposed need to hurtle from one sensational story to another that puts journalists at the mercy of spin doctors and lobbyists. An excerpt:

        At one level, the tapes expose something I’ve suspected for a long time: the level of dependence journalists have developed for a regular supply of “stories” from public relations firms and corporate lobbyists. Not so long ago, inside newsrooms, we'd describe these stories as "plants". Today, these stories sometimes go under the garb of "breaking news". The question to ask is: why are newsrooms indeed under so much pressure to let down their guard?

        The simplistic answer is that covering contemporary issues in business and policy has indeed become a lot more complex. Any good journalist covering the Reliance gas court case would know just how hard it had become to sift the facts from the slanted and often one-sided views put out by spin doctors from both sides. In that cross-fire, it wasn’t easy to keep your focus on independent, unbiased reporting. Especially when with an explosion of news channels and print publications in the past five years, there is pressure on every publication to outdo the other to "break" stories.
        Read Gupta's blog post here: "Journalism's Achilles Heel".

        Tuesday, November 16, 2010

        (2) Facebook rants to make you think about bad English vs good English (6-8)

        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 6: Why do we write "miniscule" when the correct word is "minuscule"? (Strangely, the best-edited magazine in town, Time Out Bengaluru, used "miniscule" in its Nov. 12-25 issue, Page 25 — "The number of Indians checking into geo-social networks is currently miniscule...".)
        Friday at 11:39am
        Sudhir Prabhu I am liking all these rants. But what about the silly typos in TOI these days? How can they be so ignorant and careless? Which news paper do you think is better? Though I read everything online news paper is a must for me. :)
        Friday at 12:05pm 

        Ramesh Prabhu Sudhir: In Bangalore, DNA is the best, in my opinion. But every newspaper has its share of typos, its share of Indlish. Here's why:
        Friday at 12:09pm · · 1 person 

        Sudhir Prabhu Nice blog and interesting book. Ordered through flipkart. :)
        Friday at 12:33pm · · 1 person 

        Sharon George i never knew dat...been using it all my life.

        Friday at 1:18pm · 

        Samarpita Samaddar Sharon: Are you serious??? 

        Sharon George seriously fact its even defined in the online dictionary... check it out
        Friday at 3:03pm · 

        Samarpita Samaddar OMG! "miniscule - very small; "a minuscule kitchen" -- What is this?!
        hahaha Jeez!
        Friday at 3:05pm 

        Sharon George i know...evry1's confused
        Friday at 3:08pm

        Sharona, Sam: I can't find "miniscule" in standard dictionaries, though it's in the FreeDictionary and also in as a variant of minuscule. Here's an enlightening usage note from

        —Usage note
        Minuscule, from Latin ......minus meaning “less,” has frequently come to be spelled miniscule, perhaps under the influence of the prefix mini- in the sense “of a small size.” Although this newer spelling is criticized by many, it occurs with such frequency in edited writing that some consider it a variant spelling rather than a misspelling.

        Friday at 3:27pm 

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane So Ramesh, shall we use your own argument against you and close this rant with an agreement that it is a variant, especially in India where we tend to spell as it sounds rather than as it was written ages ago by southern (as in Southern England) accented Englishmen?
        Friday at 3:57pm 

        Samarpita Samaddar Sir: It will be minuscule for me. Always.
        Friday at 4:00pm  

        Sunil: Minuscule comes from "minus" meaning "less", and it has nothing do with "mini", and nothing whatsoever to do with "as it was written ages ago by southern (as in Southern England) accented Englishmen". Accents have nothing to with it,either. So how can we be okay with a misspelling? I am not.

        Also, FYI: The "antonym" of "minuscule" is "majuscule".

        Friday at 4:16pm 

        Ranjini Narayanan Sir, I noticed this in today's (Friday) Bangalore Mirror too. Page 2 last paragraph.


        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 7: Sandeep Mishra (Sunday ToI) interviews a sexagenarian slum-dweller in Bhubaneswar and quotes her as saying, "They (her daughter and family) occasionally visit me and extend some pecuniary help." Extend some pecuniary help? Who talks like this? Not me and certainly not a sexagenarian slum-dweller in Bhubaneswar.... I stopped reading the interview at that point. Mr Mishra: Please read Indlish, by Jyoti Sanyal.
         Top of Form

        Suthan Kokila pecuniary? how quaint. btw who is sandeep mishra... sorry for being so ignorant. been out for too long :-)
        13 hours ago 

        Ramesh Prabhu Kokila: All I know about Sandeep Mishra is that he is the author of the interview published in ToI. I don't know if he is on the staff, though. I blame the subs, too, in this case the Desk should have changed that line to read: "They help me out by giving me money." Even "They help me financially" would have been better than "They ... extend some pecuniary help."
        7 minutes ago

        Bala Murali Krishna Ramesh, journalism practice in India doesn't demand that what you put inside quotation marks be the exact same words used. I see it as a larger problem. Coming to pecuniary, it's sure peculiar to use such a word but I suspect we see a lot of it in the Indian press.
        2 hours ago 

        I know, Bala. I used the quote marks here only to indicate how I would have changed the quote.

        As for "Coming to pecuniary, it's sure peculiar to use such a word but I suspect we see a lot of it in the Indian press", Jyoti Sanyal explains in "Indlish" our unfortunate fondness for abstruse words when simple ones will do.
        2 hours ago · Like 1 person


        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 8: Santosh Kumar RB writes in DNA (Nov. 15, Page 5): "The police SAID that Gowda REPORTEDLY told them that she was suffering from depression and was getting treated FOR THE SAME" (EMPHASIS mine to highlight the BAD ENGLISH). Mr Santosh Kumar: Please read Indlish, by Jyoti Sanyal. 

        Kirti Bhotika OMG! This takes the cake!
        about an hour ago 

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Good English would be "Gowda apparently told the police that she was suffering from depression and was being treated for it"...okay?
        about an hour ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Better: "The police said that Gowda told them she was suffering from depression and was being treated for it."
        about an hour ago 

        Ramesh Prabhu Attribution is important here.
        about an hour ago

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane I thought "apparently" covers "The police said that Gowda told them"
        about an hour ago

        Ramesh Prabhu ‎"Apparently" also implies doubt.
        about an hour ago

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Oh yes, I see...also appreciate the voice of journalistic experience!! Hope to see you also talk about the content aspect of journalism besides the form?
        about an hour ago

        Oh, there's plenty about the "content aspect" on my blog, The Reading Room. For example:






        Bottom of Form

        Plain English may not be on its deathbed yet, going by this email from Commitscion Dipankar Paul (Class of 2009), who is a copy editor with India Syndicate, which produces all of MSN India's content:

        There's still hope that 'Indlish' isn't permanent.

        I just overheard this in office:

            50-year-old Business Editor: There's this great book, Elements of Style by William Strunk, that I read every day. It's the perfect guide to good journalistic English.

            23-year-old Sports Editor: Can I borrow it?

            BE: No, I gave my copy once to a junior. I never got it back. I had to buy another copy.

            SE: Oh, OK. I'll search for it online.

            Ten minutes later...

        SE: Yup, got it. I just ordered one copy.

            BE: Bravo!

        Friday, November 12, 2010

        If you are a book lover, how can you not want to possess (and read) Pradeep Sebastian's The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love?

        I was alerted to this gem of a book by a review in The Hindu Literary Review earlier this month. Referring to it as "a stylish, cultural landmark communicating one man's passion to a larger audience", reviewer Suresh Menon wrote:

        Sebastian's essays make erudition accessible, as he discusses the French philosopher Diderot, C.S. Lewis, Amar Chitra Katha, Shakespeare & Co and other bookshops, Umberto Eco, antiquarian books, the first editions of J.D. Salinger's novels, Nabokov, book thieves, collectors and much more with an easy familiarity. And all this is done without once showing off, which is an achievement in itself.

        (Read the review in its entirety here: "A modest miracle".)

        Well, I just had to get my hands on the book so off I "went" to Flipkart, my favourite online bookstore, to order The Groaning Shelf. Ten minutes ago, it was delivered to me at home. Which is why you are now reading this post. And which is why I am now going to log off so that I can go curl up with my latest possession.

        Meanwhile, if you like, you can take a look at my Flipkart wish-list here. And you can check out my library on Google Books.

        Do we like the same books?

        UPDATE (November 18, 2010): It was serendipity that led me to read Suresh Menon's review of The Groaning Shelf, and I am so grateful. Pradeep Sebastian not only loves books, he also knows how to get other people to love books.

        Not every essay in The Groaning Shelf will appeal to all readers, but there's so much in this book that will get you thinking about reading and writing. It is here that I first learnt about Michael Dirda, the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic of the Washington Post Book World who has written many books about the joy of reading. I just had to have one of Dirda's books and I am now reading and enjoying Classics for Pleasure, first published in 2008. And Classics for Pleasure has introduced me to another wonderful book, The Lifetime Reading Plan, by Clifton Fadiman, which I have ordered on Flipkart. (Clifton is the father of Anne Fadiman, the author of At Large and At Small and Ex Libris; book-lovers will find both to be delightful reads.)

        So thank you, Pradeep Sebastian, for introducing me to new ways of thinking about books and, especially, for reinforcing my belief that we are what we read.

        UPDATE (June 4, 2012): Here's another terrific book, which I have just finished reading: Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? And Other Instances of Literary Love, by Veena Venugopal.

        Wednesday, November 10, 2010

        Facebook: Boon or bane?

        Sometime in September 2009, I came across "How Facebook Ruins Friendships", an entertaining Wall Street Journal article by Elizabeth Bernstein who commented on, among other things, the status messages of Facebook users and the quizzes they were taking with frightening regularity. I sent the link to Commitscions with a note: “Should you read this before you take that next Facebook quiz or update your status message? Tell me.”

        And tell me they did:
        • From Anagha Gunjal (Class of 2011)
        I totally agree with the writer. But sometimes we are so bored or jobless that we change our status message very often. And if you ask me why anyone would want to read your status message, I would say if they did not want to, then they would not be on that social networking site in the first place. It is a good pastime for some.

        As for this one particular point in the article — “Facebook can also be a mecca for passive-aggressive behavior. ‘Suddenly, things you wouldn’t say out loud in conversation are OK to say because you’re sitting behind a computer screen,’ says Kimberly Kaye, 26, an arts writer in New York. She was surprised when friends who had politely discussed health-care reform over dinner later grew much more antagonistic when they continued the argument online.” — I have been thinking so much about it lately because two of my friends actually spoke to me over instant messaging on Facebook only to “sort things out”, which they could have done in person. This is like a 'crutch' you use when you want to avoid confronting some unpleasant situations and I do not like it. :(
        • From Harish Agarwal (Class of 2004)
        Just like the social media, people writing on social media never cease to come up with something new!
        • From Anjali Muthanna (Class of 2006)
        What I don't understand is that people actually have the option of hiding their quiz results on Facebook. But they continue to publish them on their feeds. I’ve even posted a status message to that effect :)
        • From Swagata Majumdar (Class of 2006)
        We don’t even realise the nuisance till someone shows us the obvious. I simply loved the line "My question is this: If we didn't call each other on the phone every time we ate before, why do we need the alerts now?" How true! :)
        • From Sneha Abraham (Class of 2011)
        I don't know about everyone else but when I sign into FB I love to scroll down my home page and read my friends' status messages. In my view people think uniquely and their status messages are little windows into their personalities. I like reading them no matter how zany they may be. :)

        In the article, Elizabeth Bernstein says that relationships can be 'ruined' due to these status messages (I refer only to status messages here). I'd like to tell her that if relationships are indeed ruined because of status messages, then those relationships weren't important or strong enough in the first place. I'd like her to mull over that one. I've noticed that in Western countries, people seem to be mostly self-involved and don't care about what others are doing. I'm fine with that, it's their lives, yada yada yada. BUT... how can Bernstein generalise and say that such status messages are complete time-wasters for everyone? I'm sure feelings about status messages would differ from country to country.

        And if Bernstein thinks they're useless why doesn't she just go the whole hog and ignore all of them? Honestly, it's not like FB doesn't function until you finish reading some status messages.

        As a parting compliment I'd like to tell her to keep her generalisations to herself.
        • From Priyanka Saligram (Class of 2009)
        I completely agree with the author. Even though I'm not on Facebook, I can imagine how annoying those status messages can get after a while considering I find them annoying on GTalk itself!

        It's like everybody wants to desperately be a celebrity and look like they have a life. Frankly speaking, if someone really had a life, they wouldn't have that kind of time to spend on FB, updating their status.

        It reminds me of that T-shirt slogan: Don't worry about what people think of you because they aren't thinking of you!
        • From Padmini Nandy Mazumder (Class of 2011)
        I agree with Elizabeth Bernstein completely. I'll check myself before updating my Facebook status message from now on. :)

        It's a really good piece. Simple English, yet effective. Thanks for a good weekend read. :)

        For (possibly) the last word on this subject, did you know that when you take a Facebook quiz, you're opening up your entire profile and almost all your personal information to whoever wrote the quiz? For more information, read this enlightening article, “Is Your Facebook Profile As Private As You Think?”.

        The lines between our social and work lives have blurred and more of us are using social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with friends, cultivate industry ties and find new jobs. But when does the information become too racy, too forbidden and too much?

        This is the question posed by L.M. Sixel in a column written for The New York Times and reproduced in Mint. If you use social media, and who doesn't these days, you will find the article interesting and helpful. Read it here. (Sixel also provides useful advice on office etiquette, for instance: this feature on office wear and a column about a website that may be able to solve your pet peeves at work.)

        Ban it and lose out on countless opportunities. That is the thrust of Mala Bhargava's column in Businessworld. Here's an excerpt:
        Facebook, Orkut, etc. can be compelling time-wasters and a huge amount of fun. But blocking these sites is addressing the wrong problem and taking the easy way out.

        What a company should be looking closely at is its performance metrics. If an employee is not doing his or her job, tackle that specifically and head on. That the employee was on Facebook when he should have been working isn’t as relevant as one may imagine. If it weren’t Facebook, it would be something else. Look at overall motivation and engagement with the work, look at whether there’s a supervision breakdown of work, and so on. Look at whether the right people are being hired for the job in the first place. What’s Facebook got to do with it?

        Read the column in its entirety here.


        UPDATE (May 26, 2011): There are many things you can do to take control of your Facebook data and the way you use your account. For example, you may want to avoid the unwanted photo tag, cut off the ads, and even remove yourself from Facebook and Google search. Interested? Check out the very helpful feature in Mint by Shweta Taneja: "Take charge of Facebook".


        UPDATE (June 10, 2011):  I feel like gnashing my teeth and tearing my hair out when I see the atrocious spellings in Facebook status updates and comments. So it made my day when Commitscion Sanaa Abdussamad (Class of 2008) sent me the link to a website that features sarcastic, witty, and biting comments on some of the illiterate sentences posted by Facebook users. Click on "The 65 best obnoxious responses to misspellings on Facebook", check out the list, and make sure you don't feature on it one day.

        Also read: "Yes, recruiters are using Facebook and Twitter to screen candidates".

        What do filmmakers think of film reviewers?

        That is a tantalising question, isn't it? Going by an eye-opener of an article in Open, filmmakers have a point when they carp at reviewers saying they have no qualification for what they do:

        When Hollywood comic Rob Schneider attacked Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein over his comedy Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, he argued that Goldstein was unqualified because he had never won a Pulitzer Prize. Roger Ebert came to Goldstein’s defence against Schneider. He said he was a Pulitzer Prize-winner and “Your movie sucks.”

        Here in India, write Madhavankutty Pillai and Pratibha Singh, actor Ajay Devgn has the same complaint:

        "I know critics are important, but do you know there are some 400 critics today? Every channel, there are two people discussing films when they don’t even understand film-making. You’re harming someone’s business, career; a producer could have put in all his life savings. It’s not fair. There has to be some kind of qualification before you become a critic."

        The article also refers to the digs made at critics by Salman Khan and Sajid Khan and it then explains that, sometimes, it is not just the reviewer but newspaper policies which determine how opinion is shaped:

        For years until the early 2000s, a filmmaker would have to try really hard to get a kind, non-sarcastic word out of The Times of India’s critic Khalid Mohamed. After he shifted jobs, the newspaper went to the opposite extreme. It almost seems paranoid about offending filmmakers. Rarely does any film get below two stars.

        Or take the case of DNA. It has outsourced its film reviews to the owner of a trade magazine. He was replaced a couple of months ago with the owner of another trade magazine. A trade magazine essentially provides information about the business that movies do, upcoming launches, etcetera. Mainstream newspapers will not shut shop if the Hindi film industry stops advertising; trade magazines will. Also, a lifetime of tracking box office numbers does little for one’s ability to analyse a movie. At one stroke, both objectivity and competence are called into question by such an appointment.

        Harsh words, indeed. But they ring true. How can you be objective and competent if you are beholden to the industry you are critiquing?

        There is one glaring flaw, I think, in an otherwise interesting and enlightening piece. Where are the critics' views?

        Read "Review of Reviewers" and tell me if you think Open should have given us film reviewers' opinions on the matter, too.

        'Film criticism in India has become a joke'

        Noyon Jyoti Parasara
        Commitscion Noyon Jyoti Parasara (Class of 2007), who is an entertainment journalist and film reviewer in Mumbai, comments: This is one thing I have been talking to people about for ages now. I agree film criticism in India has become a joke; most times it is pointless criticism.

        I can only speak for Bollywood cinema. The industry is at a very interesting stage, with a change in the type of films that are being made. Movies such as Udaan and Tere Bin Laden, and filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap, Shivam Nair, Shimit Amin, Onir, and Rajat Kapoor are trying hard to do something that has so often been rejected; when it comes to movie-viewing, they are trying to put the audience through rehab of sorts. But these directors often end up being booed by certain reviewers who cannot identify with these films because they grew up on the ’80s movies and now just chug along with the (same) flow.

        On the other hand, there is a young generation of reviewers who welcome the change. And in their excitement they sometimes show the green light to just about any movie which pretends to be 'new'. These reviewers also go about blacklisting any 'mass entertainer' labelling them 'same old trash'. What makes things worse is that most of them are kids who have not seen half as many Hindi films as they have seen Hollywood movies. I know people in their early twenties who have been reviewers for a couple of years but they have not seen the films made by Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, or B. Subhash. While the first two made classics, B. Subhash gave us Disco Dancer!

        Hence, there is a lack of balance.

        On a personal note, I was pushed into reviewing clients of the media company I worked for at the time wanted reviews. There are many others who get into reviewing just as I did because it's a job and it needs to be done. I refused to do Hollywood reviews though, because I thought I was not qualified. But I love watching Hindi films so I carried on with it.

        "You don't expect everyone to like a film. I loved Tere Bin Laden; some hated it. I hated Housefull; some loved it."

        Over time I have learnt the ropes and I have also openly admitted that I have been wrong about my judgment on many occasions. Today I believe a film is fine if the director tells the audience what he wanted to tell in a good way. That's one thing that probably should be kept at the top of one's mind while reviewing movies. You don't expect everyone to like a film. I hated Housefull; some loved it. I loved Tere Bin Laden; some hated it. That depends on what kind of humour you like. I found Golmaal Returns better; my friend and fellow-Commitscion Victor Mukherjee found Golmaal 3 better. The point to be considered is this: Did the director manage to do what he set out to do? And if he didn't, what were the issues?

        That brings me to something very important: Reviewers cannot take their preconceived notions into the cinema hall. While reviews are supposed to be opinion pieces, reviewers have to be ready and willing to critique all kinds of films. It is their duty to watch the film and give a perspective to the audience on what the film is about and how to look at it. Just because I hate horror films doesn’t mean I can slam every film in that genre. What I should ideally do is tell people that this is a horror film and if you like the genre, this is for you. If you don't like horror films, you need not watch it, but, nevertheless, the film has been made well.

        "More often, people end up bashing a film, completely ignoring anything good in the film. Even RGV's Aag, which seems to be the epitome of trash for many, had good things about it."

        But, more often, people end up bashing a film, completely ignoring anything good in the film. Even RGV's Aag, which seems to be the epitome of trash for many, had good things about it for instance, it had better sound than many of his previous films. And then there are people who just can't stand an actor or a director and slam the film. One trade person panned MNIK so severely he used exactly 3,242 words to tell readers what he thought of the Shah Rukh-starrer.

        Finally, all the above holds good only for true-blue media outlets. For me, I cannot be dishonest in my reviews. I write what I think is right. And if the readers find that I am in sync with their tastes they will continue going by my opinions. Many media houses are already losing followers because the ratings the "stars" awarded to each film by the reviewer are for sale, and, apparently, Rs.1 lakh per star has become the norm. I learnt about this "star" racket when someone once asked me if I had been offered a 'package' after I said I liked a film that many others had panned!

        Tuesday, November 9, 2010

        The power of writing

        I have had occasion to write about Roy Peter Clark on this blog earlier. His Writing Tools column on Poynter Online is not only a great read but also a terrific learning experience. Take, for instance, his post on what writers can learn from Glee, the smash-hit musical that was shown on Star World recently and which was phenomenally popular with youngsters.

        First, in the introductory three paragraphs, Clark gives us the lowdown on Glee even as he explains why he is a fan.

        Next, he discusses why Glee works so well, listing four points:
        • The power of mixing
        • Diversity of cultural expression
        • Depth of characters
        • Expect the unexpected
        In "The power of mixing", Clark warms to his theme by going back in time to Shakespeare and comparing the Bard's approach to writer-director Ryan Murphy's finesse in Glee:

        Shakespeare was harshly criticized in the 18th century for his violations of the classical unities of time, place and action. Unity of action, for example, would never have permitted the comic Porter to play the bawdy fool immediately after the assassination of the king in "Macbeth." The Bard's ability to mix theatrical modes is one hallmark of Shakespeare's greatness. In the same spirit, the creator of "Glee" teaches us the power of mode mixing.

        Murphy has done something with "Glee" that may be unprecedented in the history of television: blending the best aspects of comedy, drama and musical expression without making the audience experience the show as a cacophony.

        Clark also gives us the comparable examples of I Love Lucy, M*A*S*H, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

        Then, in "Diversity of cultural expression", we read about the many different characters in the show. As we read on we understand why the story works. And if you have watched the show, as I have, you will experience an epiphany, as I did, when you read that last sentence:

        Authentic diversity can never be expressed through tokenism. The stereotypes in the show, out of context, would constitute, at best, a guilty pleasure for the audience. What makes "Glee" work is that no single character bears the burden of representing a whole group.

        Next, Clark tackles "Depth of characters". There's so much thought that has gone into the writing here, as Clark continues to expound on Murphy's magic:

        Every significant character has something at stake, some defining issue that gives the writers an opportunity to explore character. Artie (Kevin McHale) dreams of dancing, but is in a wheelchair. Quinn (Dianna Agron) is president of the Christian crusaders for chastity, but, of course, winds up pregnant.

        Kurt worries that his father cannot love him completely because he likes show tunes and interior decoration and not football. Rachel (Lea Michele) has a world of talent and an unquenchable need for stardom, but an empty place in her heart caused by a mother she has never known.

        Finally — and this is so important for viewers and readers, and therefore so important to writers — comes the principle of keeping the audience on tenterhooks: "Expect the unexpected".

        Each time you think you understand a character fully, the writers throw you a curve.

        Clark then sums up his exposition by outlining the seven lessons to be drawn from Glee for writers. And because he talked about Shakespeare earlier, Clark ends his column by giving us his theory on the link between Lady Macbeth and Sue Sylvester, the coach in Glee.

        Read Roy Peter Clark's article in its entirety here: "What writers can learn from 'Glee' ".

        Isn't it amazing how watching a TV show can result in such an explosion of ideas?
        • If you want further proof of  Clark's greatness as a writer and journalist, you must read "Three Little Words", his touching story about a journey of trust, betrayal, and redemption. Make time to read it. You will marvel at the writing style — this is what journalism is about.
        UPDATE (June 15, 2013): An e-mail from Roy Peter Clark that I will always treasure:

        From: Roy Peter Clark <>
        Date: Sat, Jun 15, 2013 at 12:13 AM
        To: Ramesh Prabhu <>

        Ramesh, thank you for your kind thoughts and your generous words.  I'm delighted that "Writing Tools" is working for you and your students.  And cheers to you on your own devotion to the craft.  -- Roy

        Roy Peter Clark
        Vice President and Senior Scholar
        The Poynter Institute
        801 Third Street South
        St. Petersburg, Florida 33701
        office:  727-553-4227

        author of:
         "The Glamour of Grammar:  A Guide to the Mystery and Magic of Practical English"
         "Writing Tools:  50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer."

        • Both the books mentioned above are available in the Commits library.

        Monday, November 8, 2010

        (1) Facebook rants to make you think about bad English vs good English (1-5)

        Rant No. 2: Why do we say, "Send me a mail", when we mean, "Send me an email"?
        Top of Form

        Vedant Varma Just a thought...are the two any different these days?
        15 minutes ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Very different, Vedant. "Mail" is the collective term for "post", all the letters addressed to you, for instance.


        letters, packages, etc., that are sent or delivered by means of the postal system: Storms delayed delivery of the mail.
        a single collection of such letters, packages, etc., as sent or delivered: to open one's mail; to find a bill in the mail; The mail for England was put on the noon plane.
        Also, mails. the system, usually operated or supervised by the national government, for sending or delivering letters, packages, etc.; postal system: to buy clothes by mail.
        a train, boat, etc., as a carrier of postal matter.
        electronic mail; e-mail.

        So it is correct to say, "Let me check my mail" if you are going to log on to Gmail, for instance, and access your in-box.

        But to say, "Send me a mail"
        that's just horrible.
        10 minutes ago 
        Like ·2 people

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane To Ramesh: Because that is the default means of communication...even that is changing what with Online Messengers, Mobile SMSing, social sites wall communication (Facebook, Twitter) etc. Incidentally...mail viz. India Post has become dysfunctional, in Gurgaon at card posted by me has reached it's destination!!
        9 minutes ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Sunil: I am talking about NOT using bad English: please read "How to write PLAIN English".
        7 minutes ago

        Saurav Sen @Ramesh: Sad though, the commoditisation of the English language has long loosened the grip of Wren & Martins, Fowlers of even the Oxford or Chambers. Have been witness to the gradually expanding spectrum of "acceptability" of just anything, as long as the target audience gets to comprehend the message/expression. American English, Queen's English, Hinglish, SMS lingo, colloquialisms have all entered the common melting pot of monetisation. If there was any left, the advent of social media has hammered the last nail into the coffin. I say sad, because I wonder if the generations to come would ever get to learn good English, EVER!
        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane To Ramesh and Saurav: The conflict between the old school and the new generation will persist. Meanwhile, we need to also recognize evolution of the English language; e.g. new words are formed using hyphens, then after a few decades the hyp...hen disappears and Oxford and Websters accord recognition to it; illustrations: aircraft, bandwagon, cooeprative (also co-operative) etc. which were hyphenated in the past. In the corporate world communications, "email", "mail" and "note" are used interchangeably in formal business communications. What was bad English when we are young, viz. "I'm good" instead of "I'm fine" has become okay today and might become recognised by Oxford and Websters down the time-line!!
        22 hours ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Valid point, Sunil. Language will, and must, evolve to keep pace with progress. I am all for it. And I am also all for going by what the standard dictionaries say.

        But "send me A mail"? I am not at all for it.
        22 hours ago 

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Looks like there's agreement about accepting new English words for formal business and journalistic use provided that it is endorsed by well known dictionaries e.g.Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (OALD), Websters and Chambers.
        21 hours ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Of course, Sunil. But "send me A mail"? Never. :-)
        21 hours ago

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane To Ramesh: Never; incorrect grammar!! I'm only talking about WORDS... not syntax. By the way, who or what standard beside Wren and Martin are the final authority on English language syntax?
        21 hours ago

        Ramesh Prabhu I use the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners at work; at home, I refer/defer to Chambers. A good online dictionary is
        21 hours ago

        Tania Sarkar the 'e-mail' factor!!! :)
        2 hours ago 


        Noyon Jyoti Parasara - is "email me" correct?

        Shalini Sen - Isn't it "send me an email" or "email it to me"?

        Ramesh Prabhu - Shalini and Noyon: I prefer Shalini's options, but "email me" is colloquially correct on the analogy of "ring me" ("phone me").


        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 3: Why do we say, "I am tensed" or "I am tensed up" when we mean, "I am tense"?
        Top of Form
        Samarpita Samaddar Because some of us live between present and past? ;) ha ha ha
        26 minutes ago · Like · 2 people

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Indish or Indlish
        about an hour ago

        Ramesh Prabhu Yes, Sunil, and BAD English.
        about an hour ago


        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 4: Why do we say "one of my friend...", when we should say "one of my friends..."?
        Top of Form
        Sharon George list of ur pet peeves?
        2 hours ago 

        Ramesh Prabhu Yes, Sharona. Go to for Nos. 1 to 3. :-)
        2 hours ago · Like · 1 person
        Medini Mangala can u believe it... i was actually waiting for rant no. 4 ... argh
        about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

        Paromita Chakraborty Know what Sir, once every year we should have these updates from you... just to brush up on our English :-) thank you.


        Ramesh Prabhu Rant No. 5: Why do we say "12 noon" and 12 midnight" when "noon" and "midnight" will suffice? (A Bangalore Mirror news report yesterday referred to "12 midnight".)Top of Form
        Samarpita Samaddar hahahaha :D BM is well-known for these ... I love them nonetheless.
        6 hours ago  

        Vidya Nayak i suppose we say 12 noon, so if someone has missed out hearing the first part let them hear the second.
        actually cant think of any other wacky reason
        6 hours ago 

        ‎12 Noon and 12 Midnight are required when denoting that precise time because of the following:
        A. Noon & Midnight by themselves are interpreted as a broad band of time not precisely 12 pm and 12 am respectively.
        B. Many people get confused ...if they see "12 am" and "12 pm" as they are not sure if it is midnight or noon hence they are avoided.
        5 hours ago 

        Sunil: Here's the definition of "noon" from --

        1. midday.
        ...2. twelve o'clock in the daytime.

        And the definition from Macmillan:

        Noon: twelve o'clock in the middle of the day

        MIDNIGHT (from
        the middle of the night; twelve o'clock at night.

        And the definition from Macmillan:

        Midnight: twelve o'clock at night

        So I don't buy the argument that "12 Noon and 12 Midnight are required when denoting that precise time".

        I also don't buy the argument that "many people get confused if they see 12 am and 12 pm". Are these people educated but illiterate? (That's another pet peeve of mine, by the way: What's the point of being educated if you're illiterate?)
        4 hours ago 

        Medini Mangala sirie: breathe in... breathe out...
        4 hours ago · Like · 2 people

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Thanks Ramesh...I know, you know, but some junta don't know..therefore you do a Bangalore Mirror!!
        4 hours ago  

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane Sorry...wrote too soon...didn't click on "See More"....if newspapers were distributed only to well educated people, their circulation would plummet drastically!!
        3 hours ago 

        Ramesh Prabhu Sunil: Newspapers are for EVERYBODY who can read and is interested in reading them. No general newspaper wants to be known as one read by only "well-educated people". My point is the one I raised earlier: "What's the point of being educated if you're illiterate?" :-)
        3 hours ago 

        Ramesh Prabhu In fact, I have a Reading Room post with the headline: "What's the point of being educated if you're illiterate?"
        3 hours ago 

        Sunil John Valentine Sonawane I'm with you in your "literate but not educated" rant (been lamenting about it since my school days). Let's try and design an "Education Quotient" Test...ideas welcome from all who see this.
        3 hours ago Like · 1 person

        Ramesh Prabhu Medini: Re your "breathe in... breathe out..." advice. Thanks.
        Don't worry, though, because Sunil and I (we go back a long way -- college -- 1975-76) love a good argument, as you can see. :-)


        dipankar paul - Reforming the world... one rant at a time...
        But, if 'chill pill' and 'TTYL' can make their way into the dictionary (due to repeated usage), do you think the time's up for 'noon' and 'midnight'? 

        Ramesh Prabhu - Dipankar: For "12 noon" and "12 midnight", you mean? Never. Except, perhaps, in an Indlish dictionary, to be used by Indlish newspapers.

        Bottom of Form