Thursday, August 28, 2014

Whiff of a tribute

He’s the walking, talking, writing, acting, singing, dancing, eating, breathing, wikipedia of world cinema. He is equally at ease dissecting the craft of Brando, Bergman or Balachander. With a gobsmacking career spanning 54 glorious years spent with four generations of actors, directors and technicians, it can be safely said that no one knows the Tamil filmdom better than Kamal Hassan.

Once in a while, he lets us fan boys take a sneak peek into the kind of giants who shaped him by dropping clues through his lovingly made films. ‘Avvai Shanmughi’ (based on Mrs. Doubtfire) was a tribute to two people – the talented Mr. Robin Williams and the unsung Mr. TK Shanmugham.

Most people wouldn’t know TKS. The doyen of Tamil theatre and a thespian of the classic mould, Shanmugam was Kamal Hassan’s first mentor when he joined his drama troupe as a child artiste. TKS is still remembered for his outstanding portrayal of the lady poet saint ‘Avvaiyar’. The cross-gender performance earned him the sobriquet ‘Avvai Shanmugam’. So when Kamal Hassan tried his hand at playing an old lady, he thoughtfully remembered to doff his hat to the master.

‘Pammal K Sambandam’ was the second instance when the ulaga nayagan overtly paid homage to an inspirational figure like Pammal Sambandha Mudaliar, the founding father of modern Tamil theatre. Although the role essayed in the 2002 comedy had no connection with the reverential Mudaliar, Kamal perhaps chose the referential title to immortalise a man whom he adored.

That brings us to ‘Papanasam’ – the ‘Drishyam’ Tamil remake starring Kamal Hassan. At a locale-level, Papanasam might make for as good a setting as Thodupuzha in the original movie. At a literal level, ‘Papanasam’ means ‘destruction of sin’ and ‘despoiling of a child’ which is in sync with the theme of Drishyam. But I have one more theory. The movie title could be a semi-ode to Papansam Sivan, one of the foremost music composers of Tamil cinema. Why I am saying this is DK Pattammal, a Papanasam Sivam protégé, was once coaxed by Kamal Hassan to sing ‘Vaishnav Janato’ for ‘Hey Ram’!

Another legend held in high esteem by our man was SS Vasan. I am tempted to arrive at this conclusion as Kamal Hassan has nicked three of Vasan’s titles till date: ‘Sathi Leelavathi’ ‘Apoorva Sagodarargal’ and ‘Raj Tilak’. Talk of coincidences!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sweet taste of software

How do you whip up a massive appetite for boring lines of code among the developer community and make the content-starved media go into raptures over an incrementally new version of your product? Well, if you are Google, you’d accomplish the task deftly, by simply codenaming the gazillionth version of your mobile operating software, after desserts that leave a scrumptious after-taste.

The nomenclature strategy of covertly labelling the key releases of Android as ‘Cupcake’, ‘Donut’, ‘Eclair’, ‘Froyo’, ‘Gingerbread’, ‘Honeycomb’, ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’, ‘Jelly Bean’ and ‘KitKat’ was indeed a masterstroke. Honestly, no one would have given a squat about Android 4.3 or Android 4.4. But when you call one ‘Jelly Bean’ and the other one ‘KitKat’, it does tease the senses and multiplies the buzz manifold.

Contrary to popular belief, the practice of choosing confectionery-themed cryptonyms wasn’t exactly invented by Google. South Korean multinational LG beat them to it, at least by 3 years, when they launched the cell phone codenamed as ‘Chocolate’. They followed it up with another series called ‘Cookie’. Unfortunately, even before LG could explore the full beauty of what they had hit upon, Google unveiled its seemingly ingenious naming architecture.

Google’s alphabetical line up of desserts has lent itself to fascinating guessing games about future names. The next release of Android tentatively titled ‘L’ has already started fuelling frenetic speculation. Some think ‘Lollipop’ would make a befitting pick. ‘Licorice’ has an equal amount of backers. IIT Kharagpur grads have apparently been rooting for ‘Lassi’. Business competitors mockingly feel ‘LOL’ would be perfect though.

Despite being a clever marketer, I think somewhere Google missed a trick in milking the full potential of what they’ve created. I say this, because none of the smartphones actually carry the fancy codenames in the device settings. Instead, they still use bland numbers like Android 4.4.1. The tactic is as retarded as inviting guests over for ice cream and serving them capacious empty scoops!

Cribs apart, I was wondering which Indian sweets would fit into the Android scheme of things. In my view, there’s still hope for Laddu, Mysorepak, Modak, Payasam, Rasagulla, Rasmalai, Shrikhand, Sandesh, and Tilkut. But the big question is: will Google bite?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

That Madras Place

There was a time when Chennai foodscape was all about three ladies and three gentlemen – Sangeetha, Vasantha, Ratna, Saravana, Ponnusamy, and Velu Military! Then things changed a wee bit.

The Northies got their odd Dhaba. Mallus were blessed with Kalpaka, Andhraities thanked heavens for their Amaravati. Gujjus struck gold with Gujarati Mandal. And the rest had to make do with the Data Udupi type hotels, the Kaiyendi Bhavans, the neighbourhood cafes and the overpriced food joints in overhyped locales.

Jump cut to 2014. Things look a lot different. The depth of culinary delights on offer now can be judged by the breadth of variety in restaurant naming. Leading the pack is the self-deprecating ‘I Fake’. Located in Egattur village on OMR, the restaurant’s speciality is mock meats. If you’re a vegetarian who wants to vicariously gorge on non-veg without going ‘shiva shiva’, this could be your Mount Kailash.

Perchance, if you’re in the mood for bacon, sausages and ratatouille for breakfast, hop over to RA Puram and walk into the French bistro ‘L’Amandier’ (meaning: Almond Tree). Chances are you’ll end up saying, ‘c'est delicieux’.

Off RK Salai, there’s even a prison-themed restaurant called ‘Kaidi Kitchen’ where jailbirds will be served yummy Indian and Chinese food in a cell-like ambience with handcuffs and all, by prison wardens who promise you a treat with an arresting taste.

Talking of multi-cuisine joints, there are plenty to choose from in the city. Among the new kids on the block is ‘DiMoRa’ whose signature dish is wood fire pizzas. DiMoRa is a portmanteau of three seasoned foodies: Dinesh, Murugaananthan and Ram. Dimora, by the way, means ‘abode’ in Italian.

‘Avenue 195’, near Khader Nawaz Khan Road, also offers continental fare that straddles Indian, Italian, Chinese and everything in between. Apparently the 195 is a nod to the 195 countries that make up the United Nations!

For those want a whiff of the Irish, there’s the Somerset Maughamesque ‘Moon And The Sixpence’ at Hablis; Mediterranean buffs can look forward to ‘Lavash’ (Armenian flat bread) in Nungambakkam; world street food lovers can flock to ‘Spoonbill’ (the bird with the spoon shaped beak) on TTK Road; brownie and cupcake worshippers have the cleverly named ‘Mind over Batter’ in Besant Nagar; Punjabis have ‘Pind’ (village) in Velachery, and Bongs have ‘Petuk’ (foodie) in Thoraipakkam. All in all, everyone has a nice excuse to go ‘sappda vaanga’ (come, let’s eat)!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is 'Vistara' a good name?

India's newest airline was unveiled today. Christened 'Vistara', the airways from TSIA (Tata Singapore International Airlines) will officially take off sometime in October 2014.

Derived from the Sanskrit word 'Vistaar' which means 'to expand, to widen or to multiply', Vistara is the sixth Tata brand to start with the letter 'V'. Vivanta, Voltas, Vitax, Indica Vista, and Tata Venture being the other five.

Named by Bangalore based Ray & Keshavan, Vistara is said to be 'the perfect cue for an airline that will push back the boundaries of air travel and create seamless experiences. It also conjures up the image most associated with a smooth flight– an endless, blue horizon' according to the official spiel.

Let's analyse and see the level of perfection of the name. The best way to go about it is to pose a few simple questions:

Hell no. It's a fairly common name. is the internet home of Illinois based Vistara Construction Services, which apparently does some aviation projects among other things. Founded by Ramesh Nair, the company's been around since 1994. has been blocked by Vistara Voyages, a Bangalore based travel company that's been in operation since 2010. Luckily for the Tata Group, Vistara didn't file for trademark. Else, they would have been in deep trouble. Then there is the cloud computing start up Vistara is also a primary school in New South Wales, in Australia. If that was not enough, Vistara Therapy is a speech therapy organisation working out of Chennai. Tata SIA and Ray & Keshavan were obviously aware of these issues. Which is why they booked the URLs - and knowing fully well that anything else is out of question. Incidentally a Hyderabad company beat the Tatas in booking Now they've put it on sale. My advice: Better to buy it out to avoid any future embarrassment.

Actually the name has many layers of meanings. Apart from the obvious positive cues, the dominant part of Vistara is 'Vista' which is synonymous with a pleasant view. The 'Tara' bit in Vistara is the Sanskrit word for 'star' which implies stellar performance. @AirVistara is the twitter handle...if you shrink it, it reads as A.Vis or Avis (the latin word for 'bird')! Another clever move is, vISTAra embeds the letters TSIA (the name of the company). All these add to the endearment.

Vistara is essentially an Asian airline. With a deep focus on India. From that angle, choosing an Asian name made eminent sense. Singapore owes its origins to Sanskrit. That could have played a role in the choice of a Sanskrit name. Compared to SpiceJet, Jet Airways, IndiGo, Air India and Go Air, Vistara really stands out as it feels more Indian. The 'expansive' meaning of the name kind of captures the ambition of the airline. Net net, Vistara feels much better than 'Air Tata' as Tata has an ominous 'goodbye' feel. Given the atmosphere of crashes and missing aircrafts, Vistara feels sufficiently uncontroversial.

Not, really. But the politically inclined in India will point out that MISSION VISTAR is the codename for the overhauling plan of the Aam Aadmi Party. Those NaMo bhakts who hate AAP might get reminded of their favourite hatefigure when they fly Vistara. On a lighter vein, as a few Tamilians are pointing out, the Vistara seems a poor cousin of actress Nayantara (a starlet in Kollywood).

Yes, it will. Although not easy on the tongue, the 3-syllable name will hopefully find traction over a period of time. Another upside is that the feminine nature of the name, might strike a chord with women passengers more than the masculine sounding 'Jet', 'Kingfisher' or 'SpiceJet'.

Taking a helicopter view, Vistara has more positives than negatives. So I'd give it a 3 on 5.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The 400 Crore Question

One question has dominated the consciousness of every Indian male for the last fortnight or so. No, it’s not: ‘Will we ever get to see acche din?’

Take a second guess. Did you say, “Will Rohit Sharma ever outgrow his Nohit Sharma nickname?” Wrong! Go on, give it more shot. Sorry it’s got nothing to do with Alia Bhatt’s IQ.

It’s the alimony, dammit! That Suzanne Khan Roshan is supposed to have asked our poor Hrithik for the favour of dissolving their marriage. The staggering 400 crore figure - which has been rubbished by the celeb couple - made all the males of our society wonder secretly about the exorbitant price they paid for tying the knot.

Being a name smith and a bachelor boy to boot, the larger question that weighed on my mind was: will Suzanne drop her surname in her new state of Splitsville? That might be a tad unfair for her kids Hridhaan and Hrehaan. Because they might want to tap into their dad’s equity when they grow up.

But then again, what happens to Suzanne if she decides to see someone else? Obviously the Roshan tag is a telegraphic way of saying, ‘Look I still haven’t gotten over my first husband’. So the obvious temptation would be to switch back to the maiden name which happens to be Suzanne Khan.

A real knotty issue will arise if and when she weds the second time. Would she swap Roshan for her new hubby’s surname? Or would she stick to Khan given her past experience? These are the kind of dilemmas faced by most Indian women. Strangely not much thought is given to these problems. Thankfully we have enough case studies to guide us.

Jennifer Aniston changed her legal name to Jennifer Pitt after marrying Brad Pitt but she was smart enough to continue using Jennifer Aniston as her professional name. So divorce or not, it didn’t affect her one bit.

Susan Sarandon (born Susan Tomalin) on the contrary decided to stick with Sarandon as she found it ‘a very good name’. Pop star Tina Turner’s excuse for retaining her husband’s name even after break up was far more practical – it was the name that made her famous.

In my view, actress Elizabeth Taylor has a lot of lessons to offer Suzanne. She married a record 8 times. But she was always the same old Liz Taylor!