Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Bewakoof Brands

Gopi Ram used to run a small eatery in Giridih (now in Jharkhand), in the year when an unknown batsman named Sunil Gavaskar, made his test debut. The food was good but still, not many were trooping in to grab a bite. A worried Gopi channelled his inner Philip Kotler and announced a discount on all items on the menu.

The move had an unintended consequence. More people walked in and ate heartily but everyone called him a bewakoof (Hindi for fool) for pricing his food so low.

Peeved, Gopi decided to publicly chide himself, by rebranding his restaurant as the ‘Bewakoof Restaurant’. The bizarre new naming worked. Overnight, it became the go-to destination for honest food. Today, around 11 restaurants in Giridih, are raking in the moolah using the same trick!

If you really analyse, the success of Bewakoof lay not in its catchiness but in the act of self-deprecation. Several rock bands have been using this strategy for years. Before Kurt Cobain hit upon Nirvana, he ran a punk rock band called Faecal Matter. The idea behind the crappy name was to lower the bar of expectations. Just when you’d expect trash, they’d wow you with their songs.

Rap metal band Limp Bizkit took a similar approach. After wrestling with more honourable options like Blood Fart and Bitch Piglet, frontman Fred Durst chose Limp Bizkit as a pre-emptive strike on those who could label their numbers as ‘lame’.

The rewards reaped by the ones who belittle themselves has inspired a spate of names that reek of false modesty. David Bryne, Will Oldham and Michael Brunnock have just formed a rather offensive band called ‘The Pieces of Shit’. No matter how bad their creations, the critics would be at a severe loss for words while panning them. Then there is this Chicago-based theatre group, ‘Nothing Special Productions’. They focus on bringing new works and artistes to light. NSP makes you abandon your baggage of biases and forces you to see the plays with a totally open mind. The t-shirt brand ‘Ordinary Clothing’ exploits the same sympathy-for-the-underdog feeling. So the lesson to learn is: when beautiful doesn’t sell, brand it as ‘Ugly’.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Celebrating with a six.

If you were a luxury lifestyle tabloid would you even think of publishing a weekly column on names? Especially when you have other weighty choices like carrying eruditely written tattle on who is sleeping around with whom in the higher circles of excitement-starved Chennai!

Indulge from The New Indian Express, didn’t even hesitate for a moment, in deciding to run with Nama Sutra. On behalf of millions of my imaginative and imaginary readers I’d like to thank the lovely folks at Indulge for indulging us.

To commemorate the sixth anniversary of their Chennai edition, we shall raise a toast to six sparkling names birthed by the city in the last one year or so. In times like these, it’s best to sit back and enjoy the ingenuity of the immaculately engineered names.

‘Sumar Moonji Kumar’ is our first awardee. Vijay Sethupathi played that character in the just-released Tamil comedy ‘Idharkuthaane Aasaipattai Balakumara’. Sumar Moonji aka ‘Average Looker’ is not your usual lead character name. It’s quirky, in-your-face, very anti-hero and surprise, surprise, it creates instant viewer empathy for Vijay Sethupathi. To transplant a side-kick appellation to your trump card, requires audacity. And that chutzpah made us flip for it.

‘Kaapi Cheenu’ is another underdog we love. A home-grown play on ‘Capuccino’, the teensy little filter coffee kadai in Alwarpet also cleverly embeds the nickname of its founder Manu Srinivas.

‘Fishwaroopam’ is perhaps the best named pizza doing the rounds. Spawned during the Vishwaroopam controversy, the fish-laced pizza is a product of the much-adored Pizza Republic who to their credit have been consistently putting out tongue-in-cheek names including Vegabond, Mushmellow and Prawnography.

For giving wings to a raunchy Madras slang word, the drink ‘Jalabulajungs’ at Zha Cafe gets my vote for pushing the spiciness quotient up by a notch or two.

‘Acoustic Rascals’ is the one local band name that caught our fancy. It’s irreverent, intriguing and fits into the ‘rascala’ stereotype that many Northies carry in their head about Southies.

Among start-ups, ’85 AD’ is the one that gets our golden spoon. Simply because it offers the scope to tell a story that the company is a collective of 85 Architects and Designers. That’s it, guys. Time you cheered Indulge and the Super Six.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pun on a platter.

Pun is like pizza. The cheesier it gets, the yummier it appears for connoisseurs of bad taste. Long before us numbskulls could figure it out, some smart minds in the food industry decided to milk the possibilities of this idea.

Restaurants began to mushroom with seemingly dim-witted names. If a pizzeria tried ‘Basic Kneads’, a fish and chips store experimented with ‘Frying Nemo’. If a Thai eatery chose ‘Thai Tanic’, an Irish kebab chain floated ‘Abrakebabra’. If a Norwegian coffee shop flirted with ‘Coffee Annan’, a mom and pop beverage joint explored ‘Has Beans’. In short, pun inspired pun, and takeaways started courting fame by feeding off each other.

The proliferation of puntastic names was so rampant that at one point, food lover Ben Brusey was actually tempted to put out a book titled ‘Pu Pu Hot Pot: The World’s Best Restaurant Names’. His personal favourite was the rather obscenely named ‘Phat Phuc Noodle Bar’ near South Kensington. Apparently ‘Phat Phuc’ in Vietnamese means ‘Happy Buddha’. So much for your smutty thoughts!

The choicest sizzlers from his compilation include: ‘A Salt & Battery’ in New York, ‘The Meat’In Place’ in Kent, the hot dog outlet ‘Award Wieners in a Supporting Roll’, the Middle Eastern Toronto take-out ‘Syriandipity’, the French fry heaven ‘Lord of the Fries’, the bagel house ‘Lox, Stock & Bagel’, the clever cocktail bar ‘Tequila Mockingbird’, and the sandwich house ‘Pita Pan’.

Surprisingly many not-so-flattering puns made it to his list. Like the food & fuel station ‘Eat Here and Get Gas, the knuckleheaded ‘Nim Com Soup’, and the unappetising ‘Pee & Poo Steakhouse’. His logic: even a self-deprecatory name works, as customers get a hearty laugh without paying a penny.

I don’t buy the lousy name theory. Why would anyone invite ridicule by visiting ‘Pu Pu Hot Pot’ when all it does is to remind you of fecal matter? I’d rather pick the poetic ‘Earth, Wind & Flour’, the literary minded ‘Life of Pie’, the historically themed ‘Boston Sea Party, the geographically inclined ‘Maine-ly Lobsters’, the linguistic word play ‘Juan in a Million’ and a ‘Mrs Sippy’ that sounds like Mississippi. After all, a restaurant name should be sweet as honey rather than sour as vinegar.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Very Original Fakes

By now, everyone and their great grandchildren, would have heard of Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association. They were the Natwarlals behind the ingenious ‘Made in USA’ labels seen on many wannabe American accessories made in our country during the electric eighties.

Anyone who bought a watch, or a bag with that tag, knew it was an elaborate sham. But still the befooled masses played along because they found the charade as amusing as an ‘original’ Bappi Lahiri song!

Come to think of it, the ability to induce a smile is really the charm of a well-minted counterfeit. Since China abounds with knock-offs, it’s understandably the fountainhead of some cleverly named copycats. The rip-offs are often called Shanzhai brands - Shanzhai being an allusion to the mountain pirates who defy the rule of law.

There are two types of Shanzhai brands. The deliberately dyslexic and the creatively re-engineered. Nyke, Ribok, Odidas, Penasonic, Barby and Koka-Kola are examples of the former. Rural India is famous for this variety.

The second type is the stuff that mirth is made of. Here are some rib tickling samplers: Imagine naming your pizzeria as Pizza Huh. From far, it will resemble Pizza Hut and as you get closer, you’ll go huh! A friend of mine keeps bringing up the name P. Uma. Doesn’t that sound very South Indian? And yet, feels like Puma!

A.R. Mani the tailor is another name pregnant with possibilities. What if he stitches shirts and coats under his label…won’t it look like the long lost twin of Armani? When the Chinese wanted to clone Johnnie Walker Red Label, they hit upon, Johnnie Worker Red Labial. Wonder why the stress on red lips. Maybe it’s for cross dressers!

Talking of imitators, there are many more worth naming. Hike takes Nike to a new level. Samsing is a noteworthy reminder of Samsung. Ninetendo is a quantitative leap over Nintendo. S&M’s a sadomasochistic interpretation of M&M’s. Fony is a sincerely spurious take on Sony. And Dolce & Banana will leave you with peels of laughter vis-a-vis Dolce & Gabbana. So the bottom line is: If you can’t make it, fake it. But fake it in style.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bands With Balls.

Cricket has so much in common with music. It revolves around players who work up a sublime rhythm on different pitches for compiling that perfect score during sell-out tours with an assortment of swingers, bouncers, and sliders for company.

Which is probably why, more and more cricketers are notching up hits with a rocking band of their own. Brett Lee is the most visible face of the movement to mix Coldplay with Speedball.

He began his musical avatar with Six & Out, an Oz band with five first class cricketers in its line-up. Named after the gully cricket rule that declares a batsman out if the ball gets lost when it’s whacked for a maximum, Six & Out, went on to create gems like ‘Can’t Bowl, Can’t Throw’.

Brett, the vocalist and bass guitarist, later moved on to set up White Shoe Theory with songwriter Mick Vawdon. The name of course is whimsical and was born out of a Eureka moment when the two dudes discovered that everyone in their bar were wearing white shoes, except them.

English spinner Graeme Swann’s rock band should easily win the sweepstakes for the naughtiest name. Called Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelation, it’s apparently a nod to Dr. Alex Comfort, the author of “The Joy of Sex” that was pithily summed up as the ‘Kama Sutra of the baby-boom generation’ by the New York Times.

Another musically inclined bowler Curtly Ambrose teamed up with his former captain Richie Richardson to form the Antiguan reggae band The Big Bad Dread and the Bald Head. For seekers of meaning, Dread is one who believes in Rastafarianism and a Baldhead is the term for a non-believer. When some band members left, bassist Curtly & rhythm guitarist Ritchie rechristened their act as ‘Spirited Band’.

Towel trickster and banned test match player Sreesanth is the pioneer of cricket bands in India. He formed the pop group S36 with six of his pals. The S refers to Sreesanth and 36, they say, is his lucky number. Considering he’s been unlucky to get caught, maybe he should rename his train-bogey-like S36 into the cheeky Caught & Bowled.