Tuesday, April 25, 2017

South Africa... wildlife and magic

This is just a list but one I've been meaning to put up for a year. We went to South Africa last year and over the course of 2 weeks here's a list of wildlife we saw (including flightless birds). What a truly extraordinary country... I can't imagine a better place for children to discover nature. Whether it's sitting 6 feet away from a lion or seeing whales in the ocean, there is magic every day and the miracle of this planet surrounds you every single moment. 

If you haven't been to South Africa yet, just go!  

1) Seal colony of over 5000 seals plus 4-5 other seal sightings 
2) Great white sharks 
3) Ostrich
4) Emu 
5) Springbok 
6) Baboon
7) Penguins 
8) Ring tailed lemur
9) Black and white lemur 
10) Spider monkey
11) Vervette monkey
12) Hanuman Monkey
13) Spectacle monkey
14) Blue Duiker
15) Capuchin Monkey
16) Squirrel monkey 
17) Golden handed Tamarin monkey 
18) Indian flying fox bat 
19) Brydes whale 
20) Humpback whale 
21) Warthog
22) Kudu
23) Elephant
24) Zebra
25) Buffalo 
26) Blessbok
27) Black backed Jackal 
28) Impala 
29) Wildebeest 
30) Giraffe 
31) Steinbok
32) Bushbuck
33) Hippopotamus
34) Common duiker
35) Lion 
36) Vulture 
37) Waterbuck 
38) White Rhino
39) Chameleon
40) Water monitor lizard 
41) Nile crocodile 

Friday, March 17, 2017

How Technology is Changing the Face of Entertainment

I was asked to write an article on how "Technology is Changing the Face of Entertainment" for ET Online, a version of which appeared on ET online on the 17th. However since the editing has butchered the piece and made it incomprehensible I decided to post the original piece here. 

Technology changing the face of entertainment

We live in an industry that is eternally optimistic, where everyone assumes the business of media and entertainment will continue to grow. Newspapers believe they are all powerful and television believes it is destined to perpetually be pervasive. The movie industry looks at China and believes we are going to jump from five thousand to thirty thousand screens. People look at OTT platforms like Netflix, Eros now, Amazon Prime and think they will mean additional streams of money over and above the conventional revenue model. Everyone believes that the entertainment industry is only going to get bigger and stronger and more lucrative thanks to technology.

What people fail to understand is that technology is disruptive and that the nature of technological impact is not incremental.  All traditional sources of earning revenue and consuming entertainment are under threat, nothing is sacred, nothing is unbreakable and ten or fifteen years later many of these things from newspapers to movie theatres may not even exist.

I work in an office, where most of my team is under 30 years of age. If you ask them, what was the last advertisement in print that you saw in the last seven days or even a noteworthy headline, they would not be able to recall it. They consume news and information on Facebook or Twitter or an app like ‘in shorts’ , and not from newspapers. When this generation starts driving 60-70 percent of consumer spends, they will not suddenly start reading newspapers overnight. Just imagine the consequences of this on the newspaper industry in the future.

Television has been the primary source of entertainment for the average Indian family in smaller towns for almost 3 decades. Restaurant, bars, malls and even movie theatres are not regular sources of entertainment. There has always been a fight for the remote control in single screen families. The transition which is happening in the span of five to ten years is about Indian families going from a single screen family to a multiple screen family. This is going to have tremendous impact on consumer behaviour. When everyone is sitting and consuming entertainment of their choice at a time of their choice, at a place of their choice, without having to worry about what content caters to everyone whether from the perspective of interest, taste, morality or demographic, why would someone sit and watch personalised content in a collective environment? Besides big movies, sports or award ceremonies what other content would be watched by every single member of a family from age 5 to 65 together? What does this mean to the TV a industry as we know it?

With regard to movies, the scenario is very similar. For a single movie experience, the costs vary from anywhere between Rs.1000- 2000 on a weekend for a family of 4 if we include travel, popcorn etc. Very rarely does a movie - like a Jungle Book or a Dangal - which is a shared visual experience for the entire family come along. But if you look at a smaller movie, which has something to offer but has a more targeted demographic, I don’t understand why it should be a Rs.1000 experience as opposed to a Rs.50 -100 experience for the one single member of the family' who is interested in the film. There may be hundreds of thousands of people who want to watch independent cinema but are unable to make this a 1000 rupee group experience.

The whole revenue model of the entertainment industry is going to change. The pillars of media and entertainment are all going to be destroyed in the next ten years, namely radio, television, newspapers, and movie theatres. When we look at things like NETFLIX; Amazon; EROS now, I don’t think these are ways for traditional media to make extra money; these are ways to destroy traditional media.

Some people believe that at least the larger visual experiences will continue to happen on large screens.  I don’t understand how that is true, except for live events, because the biggest funding in the west in the field of entertainment is in the field of augmented and virtual reality.  Today, you can go to a movie theatre, and watch the movie come alive by virtue of 3 D spectacles and it’s a great experience, but it isn't yet a fully immersive 360 degree VR experience. If the price of a VR handset drops in the future, to an affordable range of Rs.1000 or so, one would be able to sit comfortably in your living room and enjoy a truly immersive experience where you feel you are right in the middle of the action. I do not understand what the ‘big’ experience would be in future.

So when one talks of a technology and disruption, our perspective tends to be very conservative. I don’t remember who said it but this really stuck - when you look at a 5 year horizon the world doesn’t change much, but if you look at a 10 year horizon, the world seems unrecognizable. If you look at your life 5 years ago, things will not appear so different, but when you look at your life 10 years ago- from your gadgets; your music, your books, it seems you were on a different planet.  People rarely have the ability to look beyond a 3-5 year horizon and understand how rapidly change happens. If you were to extrapolate the rate of change on a 10 year graph, you will be able to realize that the world is transforming at an unprecedented speed.

One thing that will not change is that content will be consumed and the creators of content will be valued. We talk about how many people share a video of toddlers stumbling into a BBC interview on YouTube, and say that any and everyone can become a content creator. But even if you look at YouTube which is the biggest user generated platform, the people who are making money are actual professionals like Lilly Singh. They are modern day content creators (true creative voices) who do this for a living and all that technology does is just distribute the content these professionals create. 

So what is going to happen is that all the change is going to happen at the distribution level. The tools of content creation may change, and the ways of distribution will change, but what will not change is that there will be creative voices that are creating content. I feel that for anyone to be relevant 10 years from now, if you are in the entertainment business, the question that you should ask yourself is not how consumption or distribution will change, because no one knows and anyone who believes they know are lying. The question is how do you stay relevant in the process of content creation?  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Short thoughts on the Miracle of the Camp Nou

So I just saw the PSG Barcelona game again. First off, let's be clear, Barca deserve to go through. They do because of their mental strength, their quality and their sheer bloody minded will to win. 

That being said I have to say this could have had such a different score line on another night, because of a few inches, a few bounces.. I have never seen anything like it.

The own goal and the moronic defending on goals 1 and 3 alone granted Barca 3 goals. Without them and the Suarez dive penalty Barca would have scored 2 goals, not 6. The Cavani and Di Maria chances could easily have given PSG 3 goals and not 1. That's even leaving aside Cavani hitting the post and the 2 penalty shouts against Mascherano. It's not like Barca was battering the PSG goal or creating clear cut chances except the last 8 minutes.

Basically this game could have actually been a 3-2 win for PSG on another night. It is a game and a result that was nothing short of a miracle. The result of one teams indomitable will to win and self belief meeting another teams complete and total mental breakdown and complete loss of self belief. The result of luck, genius, mistakes, bounces and the destiny that winners make for themselves. PSG fans can blame the referee but the truth is Barca won because they were meant to win. Because sometimes the perfect storm meets a miracle. And that's what happened that night. 

Friday, March 03, 2017

Don't fall for the bullshit... here's what the Gurmehar Kaur issue is really about!

So much has been written about the recent incidents regarding Gurmehar Kaur, that we seem to have forgotten what the issue is in the first place. In this echo chamber of rage and outrage, between celebrity posts and political piggy-backing, the facts and real issues are forgotten. So let's remove the hysteria and emotion and remind ourselves what the issues here really are.

1) Gurmehar didn't suddenly leap into the spotlight last week because of what she said about war or Pakistan. She made that statement in April of 2016 and the statement came and went without causing any ripples. This whole issue started because of what she said last week when  she protested against political violence in Delhi University. 
She didn't attack the PM. She didn't attack the Government. She didn't attack the BJP. She didn't attack the country. 
Yes she named the ABVB but I don't think anyone disagrees that in this specific instance it was the ABVP that was involved in violence.  
I don't understand how a statement condemning the ABVP for a violent incident and saying she refuses to be scared of them makes her anti-national.

2) Criticising the ABVP violence doesn't mean that in this specific instance she was endorsing any other political party or their youth wings. Anyone who has studied in DU knows that none of the youth political parties are particularly clean. But if in this specific instance it was the ABVP that was responsible, why would she criticise the NSUI or anyone else?

3) I don't understand why normal people who are not ABVP members took offence at her protesting against them. We are a country where far too many people have neither the courage nor the interest to care about issues that affect society at large. I work with young people everyday and I am reminded of the Roman Circus with movies, celebrity gossip and shopping replacing gladiatorial combat while the issues that actually affect our lives are blissfully ignored. 
In an environment like this we should all celebrate a 20 year old who girl cares enough to speak up against political violence, to say that she isn't scared of goondas masquerading as student leaders. What exactly is offensive here? I wish more people had her courage. 

4) What is offensive is that after her initial post, she was inundated with abuse and threats of rape, murder and other forms of violence. As a society, should that not be a non-negotiable? That a 20 year old speaking up against political violence shouldn't face the kind of disgusting abuse and threats she did. Even if for some reason you think she said something wrong, or think she is anti-national (though I don't know why, look at point 1), can you really justify and support the threats of violence, rape and murder against her?

5) The issue only got politicised in a meaningful way when a central government minister attacked her for a statement that she had made in April of LAST YEAR about war, a statement that had NOTHING to do with the current issue. Again I don't understand why Kiren Rijiju attacked her. She didn't attack the Government or the BJP. Why did a Government spokesperson choose to enter the conversation? What exactly was he defending? Even if you assume was right to criticise her anti-war campaign from last year, how was it relevant to the current issue of political violence in DU? How did it reduce or diminish what she was saying right now? What is it about Gurmehar that angered Rijiju? That she condemned violence? That she said she wouldn't be scared of the ABVP? Does that mean he feels that the violence was justified? Or that students should be scared of the ABVP? Is that the official Government position? 

6) When a government spokesperson chose to wade into the issue, why criticise just Gurmehar and not the ABVP members who threatened her, the people who abused her or, for that matter, the violence itself? BJP MP Pratap Simha tweeted comparing her to Dawood Ibrahim? Who exactly reminds us of Dawood? The frenzied mob threatening to rape and murder a young girl? Or a child standing up against violence?
When an incident like this happens, I expect all our leaders, regardless of political party, to reject and criticise the threats of violence, rape and murder that she faced. Failure to do so sends out the message that if you disagree with someone it's okay to threaten and intimidate that person. That's not how democracy works! 

7) Why don't people realise that the issue here is not Virender Sehwag or Randeep Hooda or the BJP or Kiren Rijiju or Gurmehar's father or anti-nationalism? There are just 2 issues here and they are very simple:
(A) A young girl criticised political violence and said she won't be afraid of a youth political party that threatened violence. There is NOTHING wrong with that sentiment or statement and she deserves only applause for it. 
(B) She was abused and threatened with extreme violence for making that statement until she had to withdraw from her protest and leave her home and city out of fear. There is NOTHING that makes such a response justifiable or acceptable in any way.

So strip away the media noise, the politics, the Government and the opposition, the labels of left and right and liberal. It comes down to this. A country where the young speak their mind, reject violence and refuse to be intimidated is a country to be proud of. A country where courage and a rejection of violence faces a torrent of abuse, threats and intimidation is a country to be ashamed of. We need to decide and create the kind of country we want to be. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

On my grandmother's passing...

After 38 years
You walk into
An empty room
With an empty bed
In an empty house 
Where an empty breath 
Echoes with the silence
Of 94 years 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Rise and Rise of Bombay Canteen

When Bombay Canteen opened a few years ago, it quickly became the buzziest restaurant in Mumbai. But it wasn't the best. The place had some great dishes (the Eggs Kejriwal was the hottest dish in the city), but not every dish worked and nor did every drink. Sometimes the creativity came together magically but at other times the dishes felt confused, neither one thing nor the other. But what they lacked in consistency, they more than made up in effort, warmth, ambience and buzz. It quickly became one of my favourite restaurants, a place where you were guaranteed a great time, and if you knew what to order, the food would be more than good, it would be close to excellent.

But actual excellence is rare. The restaurants in Mumbai that consistently hit excellence could be counted on one hand.. restaurants like The Table or China House where no dish could ever go wrong. Bombay Canteen was the hottest restaurant in Mumbai. But it certainly wasn't the best. 

What it did have going for it however, was ownership that was looking at a completely different way of running a restaurant. Sameer Seth and Yash Bhanage weren't satisfied by just bringing down one of the world's great Indian Chefs Floyd Cardoz to design and supervise the menu. They decided to empower the local team, to invest in research, to spend money on letting their team travel, explore, and understand the infinite variety of flavours, techniques, ingredients, vegetables and more that can be found all over the country. Whether it was home cooking in Kolkata or chaat in Lucknow the team at Bombay Canteen consciously explored food like few other restaurateurs in India do. In 29 year old Thomas Zachariah, they also discovered a chef who was passionate about exploring the food served in households across India and recreating them in his own way. 

I said last year that the hottest trend in food, the holy grail that all chefs aspire to, is the ability to marry creativity/surprise with comfort. The gimmicky creativity of the molecular gastronomists is dead, but it's not been replaced by simple home style cooking. People still want to be surprised and amazed by the food they eat, to feel that   it is cooked with a creativity that distinguishes it from normal home food and makes it worth stepping out for and spending money on. And they want all this with fresh produce and high quality ingredients. 

Which brings us to Bombay Canteen today. Most restaurants that start on a high only go downwards. Bombay Canteen, on the other hand has ridden on a young chef finding his voice to become to my mind the best restaurant in Mumbai today. At 31, Thomas Zachariah is combining comfort, surprise and produce better and more consistently than much older and more experienced chefs.

Their Barley and Jowar salad with puffed grains, pomegranate seeds and spicy hung curd dressing is the best vegetarian dish I ate last year, a dish of subtlety and imagination in terms of texture as well as flavour. So I was excited to try their winter menu and see what they did with seasonal produce. But the food I ate there this week exceeded my highest expectations.

There is a haleem with green wheat, fresh ginger and mint that has all the flavour of the original one but is lighter than a thick soup. The pork sheekh kababs had the hearty texture of beef, the familiarity of a sheekh kabab in Nizamuddin and the juicy flavour of pork. I've never eaten anything like it before. 
Every dish was bursting with innovation whether it was the beef short ribs pilaf or the hara channa hummus salad with toasted almonds, gooseberries and homemade tapioca chips. At the same time every dish left me with a hearty, satisfying feeling that only food cooked with love and soul can give you. 

Mumbai's food scene has exploded in the last 2 years. Prateek Sandhu is pushing the boundaries at Masque. Kelvin Cheung is bringing fun innovation to the suburbs. Manu Chandra is conquering our city one restaurant at a time. Riyaaz Amlani is rewriting every rule about the restaurant business. Gresham Fernandez is probably the best chef in India today, ahead of Manish Malhotra. Alex Sanchez is still perfection personified.

But at least until Toast and Tonic opens, Bombay Canteen sets the pace as the best restaurant in Mumbai today. Two years into their journey, that's quite the accomplishment! 

Monday, January 23, 2017

#blahvsfood: A Biryani secret

So here's a little secret...some of the best Biryanis in the world are made in South India. In fact I find it easier to find superb Biryanis in every South Indian town and city than to find a truly satisfying dosa. I was reminded of this today while driving from Coimbatore to Coonoor when I ate an amazing meal of mutton Biryani, chicken Biryani and chicken 65 served from a giant degchi at a hole in the wall called Thalappakattu Biryani. 

When we think of Biryani we automatically think of Hyderabadi or Awadhi (Lucknowi) Biryani. We think of Biryani as being a quintessentially Mughal-inspired dish and even the great Bengal style Biryani's at Arsalan and Aliya are a humbler iteration of the Awadhi Biryani. I grew up with this fallacy and used to believe that what made a Biryani great was the subtlety and the fragrance, the extraordinary jugalbandi as the flavours of the meat soak into the rice.

No one thinks of Biryani as a South Indian speciality but it's true! There is another diametrically opposite way to make Biryani, one that takes a completely rustic, humbler approach to the Biryani and across every town in every state in south India you cannot be disappointed if you go looking for it. 

People in Bangalore are familiar with the Andhra style Biryani at Nagarjuna but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether it is the "donne" Biryani in Bangalore wrapped in a leaf, the moplah Biryani in Kerala, the Chettinad Biryani in Tamil Nadu, every region in every state has its own Biryani with endless variations in spice, fragrance, cooking styles and flavour. Even within states, the prawn Biryani in Kochi is different from that in Calicut. The Biryani in Ponnusami in Chennai is a distant cousin of the one in Junior Kuppanna a kilometre away. Even in Hyderabad, the city of Biryani, you can either have a spicy Biryani at Rayalseema Ruchulu or one with avakai pickle, chicken and horsegram paste in Ulavacharu. 

I could go on and on, but here's my point. There's more to Biryani than you realise and that one dish represents a multitude of amazing meals and an extraordinary journey of discovery. Don't be fooled by the five-star hotels and their bland Lucknowi rip-offs or believe that any meat dish cooked in rice and doused in masala like Cafe Noorani is a Biryani. 

A Biryani was created because it comforted the soul. Whether it was the sophisticated nawab or the humble soldier who served him, a Biryani was meant to be one of life's great pleasures. So if it doesn't leave your soul satisfied and with a sense of well being and happiness, it's not a Biryani. 

Happy eating!!