Thursday, December 31, 2009

Learning from Other States........

When a Hartal was declared in Kerala on Dec 28,2009 by the BMS (Yes, not too many of us know about it, it is the Sangh Parivar's labour union), the usual cacophony of voices in the media and on many a blog broke out decrying Kerala's "Harthal culture". Many a "Hartal Counter" ticked over and the critics went back to slumber, feeling smug at having done their civic duty. Of course, the usual line would have been "look at Bangalore or Hyderabad, and learn from them", but this time that common refrain was curiously absent or rare.

The usual level of smugness that many non-resident keralites (the "I-work-in-Hyderabad/Bangalore and we don't have hartals here" brigade) was kind of spoilt by the three week long shut down that Hyderabad has been experiencing over the Telengana issue. The poster-child for many of how a city can evolve into an IT hub even when much of the surrounding State continues to languish in abject poverty, Hyderbad's IT industry, the fourth biggest in India, has been almost paralysed as employees could not reach their offices on many days. So much so that many top firms have either put up key staff at hotels near the IT parks or announced holidays altogether. CII's flagship event which had been scheduled at Hyderabad, was shifted helter-skelter to Chennai. And to top it all off, the US has issued a travel advisory against travelling to Andhra Pradesh, which never fails to proudly show-case Microsoft, Google, CSC et al as its top investors.

And if you think the situation south of the border in Bengaluru is any better, you would be very wrong. I just got off the phone with a close friend in India's IT Capital who was telling me that crowds have been going berserk after the death of Kannada film star. The city has got an unwelcome sense of deja vu when the ugly scenes witnessed after the death of another film personality were repeated, almost as if someone was shooting a faithful sequel. Offices and shops were stoned, cars burned and roads blocked. Even more bizarrely, there were suicides over the filmstar's death by cardiac arrest.


My friend told me that posters of the late star have been put up in front of IT parks and malls, in the hope of avoiding a few well aimed stones. Moreover, some buildings have put up nets as a final defense. Apparently, if you don't have a stock of Kannada CDs in your car when you are stopped by a mob, there is a significant risk of having the windscreen bashed in. Cosmopolitan city, indeed!

While I have all respect for the fallen matinee idol and the need for self-determination felt by a section of AP, the point is that it is downright dumb to point out only Kerala as a state of frequent disruptions. Strike actions are prevalent everywhere, most notably in the NCR and Mumbai (the Shiva Sena and the MNS being the star performers, of course!). And it seems even more of a travesty when malayalees single out their own home state for blame.

Over the last few years, the amount of disruption to daily life and industry from strikes have drastically declined in Kerala. In fact, as Dr Thomas Issac pointed out at the India IT Summit 2009 in Trivandrum recently, Kerala experienced fewer man-days lost due to political disruptions than many States which are often show-cased as the champions of industry. Technopark, which is the largest employer in Kerala, experienced zero disruption, which is a lot better than what Electronics City, Whitefield or Gachibowli can claim.

Rather than sitting around and complaining, why not we venture out on a strike day and prove these critics wrong? I was out on Dec 29th, and the last time I checked my head was still where it belongs. No one stoned my car or broke my head. There were plenty of cars and bikes out on Trivandrum's roads. KSRTC did a great job running many of its services (the Volvos stayed off the roads, of course!) and the major institutions like Technopark and VSSC operated as usual. In fact, the German Ambassador to India visited Technopark on the same day and was very impressed by Kerala's IT hub. Trivandrum's a city of 1.5 million people, I am sure a few hundred activists cannot be everywhere at the same time to force a shut down.

The usual response to a Hartal is to kick off our shoes and relax on an un-declared holiday. In Cochin, the best way to realize there was a hartal or general strike the next day was to see long queues in front of the local liquor shop on a week-day evening. And if one's not in Kerala, but in Bengaluru, Dufai or the United States of America, the usual response is a bunch of holier-than-thou criticism of how things back at home have to improve and how the idiots still living in Kerala should learn from other States.

Let's stop all that and see if we can do our bit to make things better. And perhaps, other States will learn this too from us as they have learnt so much!

Monday, December 21, 2009

IFFK 2009 - Film 6

Film: Operation Danube
Language: Polish - Czech - Russian
Year: 2009
Director: Jacek Gomb
IFFK Section: World Cinema
Theatre: New

This hilarious film tells the story of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces in 1968 to prop up the communist Government. A tank crew of misfits, driving a WW II vintage tank smashes through into the pub of a small Czech town. What starts out as hostile exchanges eventually settles down into a symbiotic relationship and finally into complete cooperation. Things go to such an extent that Poles and Czechs get entangled in romantic relationships and decide to elope together to Vienna on the tank.

Though shot with humor in nearly every frame, the film showcases the fact that beneath the rhetoric which is the cause of almost any conflict, the ordinary people on either side have a lot in  common and little problems with the other side.

The screening was attended by the Director and a couple of his crew members, and the audience gave the a bout of rousing applause at the end of the film!

IFFK 2009 has managed to improve on the already enviable standards set by its 2008 edition. Innovations like the SMS booking facility were probably seen for the first time at any major international film festival.

With over 8000 registered delegates, it was not surprising that many shows were packed even in large theaters like New or Ajanta. We got crowded out a couple of times. The trend of the increasing proportion of youngsters in the audience over the past few days is very encouraging for the future of cinema in Kerala.

Once again, IFFK cements its place as one of the biggest and richest cultural experiences in India. Some of the delegates I spoke to reaffirmed the opinion that IFFK has left IFFI in its wake. No wonder that the Chief Minister pointed out that IFFK had become the main cultural event of the State. Hopefully, this means that the dream of a permanent central venue in the State Capital will be realised soon.

Looking forward to IFFK 2010.

IFFK 2009 - Film 5

Film: Stars in the Day (Pakal Nakshathrangal)
Language: Malayalam
Year: 2009
Director: T Rajeevnath
IFFK Section: Malayalam Cinema Today
Theatre: New

Yes, we went to a Malayalam movie too, would have not to do so in a Film Festival being held in Trivandrum. Perhaps the other way round, but what the heck! 

T. Rajeevnath recounts the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of a famous film director through the investigation carried out by his writer-son. The tale is full of twists and turns as the director's life and the many women in his life are laid out. The plot also takes a supernatural twist through a couple of seances and portray the protagonist, played by Mohanlal (yeah, he got cheered even by the IFFK audience), as a man who takes abstractness to the extreme.

Nice twist in the end, and a good movie overall. The screening was attended by the Director, and two members of the cast, Anoop Menon - who also wrote the screenplay - and Lakshmi Gopalaswamy.

IFFK 2009 - Film 4

Film: Bad Day to Go Fishing
Language: Spanish
Year: 2009
Director: Alvaro Brechner
IFFK Section: World Cinema
Theatre: Remya

The bitter-sweet tale of a con-man who exploits a burned-out East German wrestler and how they get into their last bout in a middle-of-nowhere South American town - Santa Maria. Shot with lots of hilarious episodes and a flash-back suspense style, the movie shows how the duo are pitted against a gutsy young woman and her strong-man boy friend. The ending is very poignant and unexpected, as the tale ends with a lesson about the almost inevitable death of fame.

Another good movie at IFFK 2009. 

IFFK 2009 - Film 3

Film: General Nil
Language: Polish
Year: 2009
Director: Richard Bugajski
IFFK Section: World Cinema 
Theatre: Remya

A beautifully executed tragic tale of a Polish war-hero who finds himself painted a traitor by the new Communist Government of his homeland when he returns from captivity. It poignantly tells of how the old general tries to bend his principles for a peaceful life but when that fails, goes back to being a proud soldier who goes to the gallows without a blind fold. A perfect example of how even the status of national heroes can change, relative to political beliefs and changing sensibilities.

Solid thumbs up!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

IFFK 2009 - Film 2

Film: Invisible Waves
Language: Thai
Year: 2006
Director: Penek Ratnaroung
IFFK Section: Penek 
Theatre: Ajantha

Based on good feedback on the same director's "A Transistor Love Story", we went to watch this tale of murder, betrayal and passion. In the end, it turned out to be little more than a pot-boiler where the protagonist commits a murder for profit, is double-crossed and on returning to seek righteous vengeance, lets his target go when he realises that the latter has a lot to lose while he has nothing left to live for.

Passable, but nothing more to write home....err...a blog post about.

IFFK 2009 - Film 1

Yes, India's biggest and most popular film festival has rolled in for the 14th time to its permanent home, Trivandrum. With over 250 movies being screened at 9 venues and over 8000 delegates attending the festival, IFFK is now in a league of its own.

The festival's organisation has also been getting better over the years. While online reservation started last year, the 2009 edition also introduced SMS-based reservations for almost all the venues. And considering the rush at many of the screenings, that was a well-conceived idea. The rush was such that film fans were routinely sitting on steps for some films and Korean and Iranian films witnessed the kind of scenes usually witnessed at the opening shows of Mohanlal or Surya blockbusters.

Film: Alphaville
Language: French
Year: 1962
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
IFFK Section: French New Wave
Theatre: Kripa

Image Courtesy: The Motley View

Viji, her brother Sanu and I went on the promise that it was French and sci-fi before the advent of CGI. With the exception of yours truely, the rest of the band were francophones, but sadly, Alphaville was far from a Forbidden Planet or Metropolis, and looked more like a poor, B&W imitation of a "Captain Vyom".

Solid thumbs-down!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Intelligent Trivandrum

I had written about the India IT Summit 2009 a few weeks ago. It was held at The Leela Kempinski, Kovalam on December 10 and 11, and I had the occasion of attending it, along with a couple of friends from TDF.

While a detailed update of the two day event will follow shortly (I hope), let me waste no more time in introducing the latest initiative of TDF in our constant drive to promote Trivandrum,

 (Yes, the acronym is IT and that's no accident!!)

Since the audience at the Summit would include a large number of CXOs of IT/ITES firms while the speaker list included some of the Whos-Who of the industry, including the leadership of Infosys, IBM, TCS, Cisco, Wipro, Microsoft, British Airways, IIT Chennai and so on, TDF realised this would be as good an opportunity to showcase Trivandrum as an IT/ITES destination as any.

And considering the fact that anyone else was unlikely to do so, we tied up with Technopark to create a concise brochure and video presentation to showcase Trivandrum.

Do take a look at the 8-page Brochure first.

And then see the 6 minute video.

The video ended up being the high-light of the presentations at the Summit, while the brochure was distributed to all the attendees. Members of TDF also got to interact with some of the IT/ITES industry leaders present at the Summit. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

And please do pass on both the brochure and video to all your friends and anyone interested in Trivandrum. Next time, someone asks you about your city, this could be part of your answer!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Trivandrum Life by Srijith

A quick post to laud the efforts of my friend and fellow Trivandrum-lover, Srijith, for setting up TvmLife, a blog-portal dedicated to Trivandrum.

I hope to write for just as I contribute to another city-focused portal, TechnoparkToday now and then.

Srijith's current article is well worth a read, especially to those of us who reject helmets, seat-belts, red lights and other sundry traffic rules!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Vizhinjam on the Web

Kerala's biggest infrastructure project - the Rs 8000 Crore Vizhinjam Deepwater Port and Container Transshipment Terminal - has finally got a classy presence on the WWW. Long overdue one may say, considering the sheer importance of the project on a national and international scale, but I say better late than never.

Happily, the new website is partly the result of a suggestion made by TDF to the dynamic new Ports Secretary and CEO of VISL, Sanjeev Kaushik. When team TDF met him on Thursday, he was happy to let us know that our suggestion had in part prompted him to put Vizhinjam online in style. It is indeed a great sign that a London Business School graduate, with experience in such firms as the erstwhile investment banking giant, Lehman Brothers, is now in charge of the project. Perhaps, that has already been reflected in the selection of global consultants, IFC, as the project advisors.

Mr. Kaushik also let us know that IFC would be setting up a micro-site on Vizhinjam to deal with the details of the project from an investor's perspective as well as to act as a single point of contact during any future bid process.

The new approach adopted by the Government, of moving ahead after building a consensus among the local population and to commence infrastructure work  in advance of the bid, is the most positive and pragmatic that has yet been in the case of the Vizhinjam project.

Take a look at the website, folks!  (Link -

I love the intro, it makes sure that the significance of Vizhinjam as a regional hub cannot be missed. Do send in your suggestions about the website to and we will make sure they reach the VISL folks! 

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Take a Walk Through Technopark Phase III

Eventhough it was my birthday yesterday, here is a gift for all of you!

The fresh off the editing desk video walk through of Technopark Phase III, which also includes a few breath-taking aerial views of Phase I.

And the best part is that the work on constructing the first 1 million sq.ft. phase of the 3 million sq.ft. development is already underway with completion in end-2011.

Take a look and be amazed, folks!

More on this at Nishanth's blog