Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Branding of Friendship

It began at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The student-friend who is getting some research help cancelled her appointment. "I kind of forgot its Friendship Day today and my best friend called up…alll of us are planning to hang out."
Aah, I said, fine. Have fun, and all that.
On Radio City, celebrating Kishore Kumar’s birth anniversary, the RJ played "Yeh dosti, hum nahin, chodhenge…." And said it was for Friendship Day, too.
On the way to M.G. Road later in the day, Naga movie theatre shows a huge hoarding of a new release: Hrithik Roshan, with flaring nostrils, shining skin, overflowing eyes and that grinny-grinny, goody-goody papa’s boy face. Wanna see "Mujhse Dosti Karoge.?"
Down at M.G. Road and nearabouts, Bangalore’s new coffee house culture is vying hard with pubbing, and there are lots and lots of friends hanging out this Sunday. House full everywhere.
Most of the pubs, noisy and beery, feature groups of men or 20-something guys and "gals" taking time out from writing software code on weekends. Its quite common to see trendy jeans, shampooed hair and Bareilly Hindi mixing in Bangalore’s excruciatingly pleasant monsoon air.
But we are on to coffee houses this Sunday. And suddenly the sociology of the new culture seems blurred.
The three new icons who have jostled to replace ole, grimy-looking Koshy’s have their own unique airs, and also not sooo crowded. But not today.
Usuallly, Java City is for sit-down-service and old-fashioned ambience…you can smoke amid the dim lights and friendly bearers, and the music can range from fusion, Bollywood chic and live jazz at Church Street on Sunday evenings.
Barista is well lit, pizza-boy type bar tenders and its plush, spacey, airy, steely self-service interiors is naturally for the yuppies and with-its, most of whom are usually well dressed in a see-and-be-seen ambience.
Café Coffee Day, with a bright red logo and glassy exteriors, is sort of crowded with teenagers, many of whom buy cheaper takeaway coffees and squat on the stairs outside or watch TV inside with some contemporary pop.
Today, the difference has gone for a six over mid-wicket.
There are lots of excited kids, college types and high-school types feeling like college, and all are collectively killing these brands to build that bigger brand: Friendship.
I walk past a crowded Java City in Church Street and a crowded Barista at St. Mark’s past yet another crowded, spanking new Coffee Day at Lavelle Road and just about grab the only table available at another Java City.
Through the looking glass of dark espresso, I see more teens. A girl who seems undernourished wears lipstick and offers a card, presumably the Friendship Day stuff, to a goateed, bulky, young man in a flowered shirt. I see flowers clutched in hands at Brigade Road.
On the way back home, I see two pairs of girlie-teenagers cheek-cheeking as they say their byes to each other from scooters.
On good old All India Radio, the RJ, stutteringly, dedicates "Careless whispers" ( "Shoulda known better to cheat a friend…..blah) for Friendship Day.

Does Anil Moolchandani know?
To think that some clever supply chain economics lies at the root of Friendship Day is both lilfting and depressing…
Aah, The Might of The Brand.
The tale of Dhirubhai Hirachand Ambani turning from a gas pump attendant to a cloth-meets-polyester-meets-petrochemical-meets-naphtha-meets-refinery-meets-petrol pump tale is part of the year’s folklore for the departed Gujubhai, but few would remember or know anything about the Clint Eastwood poster.
As a teenager selling his family’s cloth in Kamla Nagar, strategically next to Delhi University’s sprawling campus, Anil Moolchandani found a strange customer asking for a teenybop poster of Eastwood. (Is that for sale, the lady asked. It was really not).
The poster had been been acquired by Anil on one of his "phoren" trips in those Indira Gandhi days. One thing let to another, and Archies was born as a greeting card brand, growing from posters. Its tacky, unabashedly me-too brand is now a household name.
Its early rival, Giggles, must have stopped laughing while Anilji, working from his shed-like Naraina Industrial Estate factory in West Delhi thrived on the business of feelings and laughed all the way to his banks, listing on the Bombay Stock Exchange along the way.
Anil had cards for all the year around…or nearly.
From Raksha Bandhan to Ganesh Chaturthi to Dusshera to Id to Diwali to Christmas to Holi to what not, cards flow easily from Archies. But then, there was a supply chain and inventory issue. You see, August was not really card prone, unless you count August 15. You need to keep the distribution and card printing plants buzzing to make more business sense.
Uncle Moolchandani figured that youngsters loved the friendship-and-feeling thing, and invented the Friendship Day…like Uncle Sam’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
This is for the same reason why Domino’s wanted to build pizza parlours at Ambala. (Don’t know if they actually did).
With a centralised kitchen near Chandigarh and a key market in Delhi, one way to make use of the route was to build pizza outlets all along the a Rath Yatra or something for the pre-whatevered pizzas before they get baked for the delivery boys and hungry-kya phoners.
Also a bit like Coca Cola, given free to school kids in early days so they could get used to the strange taste.
So Friendship Day was born…the first Sunday of August, he said…and so they all believed the Gospel of St Moolchandani.
You see, Moolchandani reasoned, August 6 was when the Yanks nuked the Japs…Hiroshima and all that. And Friendship being the first "chachera bhai" of Peace, what better day than Aug six. But you can’t hang out or make card journeys on working make that the first Sunday of August.

Hiroshima, mon amour?
Just as well they didn’t make it on that very date.
I do not fancy holocaust memorials and teeny exchange of cards coinciding…though you never know these days.

P.S. Long after Moolchandani told me his tale and long after I wrote this piece, I heard that the Friendship Day was originally proposed in the US by some politician. Am still not sure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Manohari Singh--The Man With the Sax Appeal

"Roop Tera Mastana"
A coy Sharmila, a besotted Rajesh Khanna, and what was then a sultry, sensual scene. The song from Aradhna was a milestone in Bollywood music, no less helped by the saxophone that sets the jazzy undertone of the scene.
Manohari Singh, the man who played that tune and many more, is no more. He died on July 13, 2010, aged 79.
I was hoping to meet him some day to catch up on R.D. Burman to whom he had served as an assistant.
Manohari has played with other music directors including Laxmikanth Pyarelal.
Samanth Subramaniam has written a fine obituary to the man in Mint but it omits an interesting development.
Towards the later part of his career, Manohari teamed up with Basu Chakraborty, another assistant of Rahul Dev Burman, to compose music for a couple of movies (perhaps more). The biggest of them was "Sabse Bada Rupaiya". Here is my favourite, "Wada karo janam"....
But I would remember Basu Manohari for the score in Yasmeen, a flop that perhaps never got released. The song goes, "Aa humsafar, pyar ki sej par, kuch kahen kuch sunen, jaag ke raat bar."
The songs have a definite Pancham (RDB) touch.