Friday, March 23, 2012

Why are Indian movies 3 hours long?

One of the famous saying in India goes - recession times or inflation times, three things would never lose their sheen in India - movies, cricket and marriages. I would try to cover all of these and more in this blog series, starting with movies.
Indian movies is a phenomenon considered bizarre by rest of the world. Movies are too long - 3 hours as against rest of the world which produces 1.5 hour movies. Most of these movies are unreal, extremely predictable and almost formula driven. Songs - which underline the disconnection from reality- are most difficult to swallow for them. The actors and actresses wear flashy make-ups, flashy clothes, give most unreal expression and virtually every situation is melodramatic. Why on earth do Indians love such movies, the world wonders.

Getting the facts right - India is the largest movie producer in the world. About 1,000 movies are produced in India every year across various languages and regions. The second largest movie producer is hollywood - USA which produces 500 movies. Although, currently, hollywood is the market leader in terms of revenues from movies, but things are set to change according to PWC. PWC's report on Titled "See the future" outlines Hollywood which is the global center for filmed entertainment today will steadily lose its influence mainly to Mumbai and Shanghai. Although, Hollywood would still be number 1 in 2040 in terms of market size, the gap between Hollywood and Indian movies would be much narrower. (source:

The question is why do Indians love such movies so much?

Cinema arrived in India in in 1913 when Dadasaheb Phalke produced a silent movie called Raja Harishchandra based on the sanskrit epic. The format of the movie was guided by the entertainment options that cinema replaced. The main competition for movies back the was musical dramas. This was a very unique entertainment option that ruled the sub-continent. The drama would be usually based on mythological story and characters. Songs were integral part of the story. These were based on classical ragas. The actors would not only act but also sing during the play. What is most astonishing is, these dramas would be extremely interactive, open ended performance . If the audience liked a song, they would request the on-stage actor to sing it again. And again and again. The actors would take pride in how many "once more" requests they got during any performance. A good play which would be scripted for 3 hours would take anywhere between 4 to 6 hours to end. In fact actors would consider it a disgrace if the drama ended exactly 3 hours without any "once more" request.

Indian cinema was competing against such advanced, interactive form of entertainment. Naturally, some basic things such as songs could not be altered. Such as duration of 3 hours, which could not change at all.

But Why 3 hours? Isn't it too long. Considering the history and predecessor of Indian cinema, 3 hours is not too long at all. Dramas used to go on for much longer duration. In those days a significant chunk of the audience used to travel from nearby towns and villages. So the entertainment duration had to be longer than their journey time. Anything shorter and the option would no longer be attractive. Even these days, cinema is screened in multiplexes, the best value for money that is spent in reaching the cinema halls and buying tickets is in cinema that lasts 3 hours. Simple.  Various experiments of altering movie durations have met with limited success. What is even more surprising is longer movies (yeah, longer than 3 hours) have done better business than smaller movies. Hence, about 3 hour seems to be commercially optimal duration. Bizzare but this is the way Indians like their movies.

In my next blog, I would talk about "Why would songs be always an integral part of Indian Cinema?"

Read extended short story version of Why Do Indians blogs with a few more interesting indian inscrutable ways in Why Do Indians..? – The Book

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why do Indians? - Foreward to new blog series

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="310" caption="India"][/caption]

Frequent travel to various cities helped me to interact and appreciate other cultures. Similarly, I also got an opportunity to answer a few questions about Indians and their seemingly bizarre ways of life. Judging by the questions I had to answer I can easily say that Indians are among the least understood and worst stereotyped people on the earth.

The funniest, bizarre but surprisingly most often asked question is "do you go to office on an elephant?" I used to be very amused by this question. I never had a good answer for this question. I agree that transport infrastructure in most cities in India is not modern, but going to office on an elephant was a bit too much to handle. When someone asked this question to one of my friends, he used to answer this question as "yes off course", without bursting into laughter. "So where do you park them", their curiosity unabated. He would again answer with straight face, "actually, I don't know. I just get off at the office and elephant goes somewhere. Feeds itself and comes back on his own to pick me up once I blow a particular whistle". I must confess, I could not control my laughter once when this happened in my presence.

Well, this might be an extreme example but people have several questions which are based on genuine curiosity and quest to know other race better. People want to know why do Indians still go for arranged marriage or why do they want watch movies full of songs and dances, which are so unrealistic. They are also intrigued by why do Indians not eat beef? Why do they like cricket better than soccer? Etc etc.

This blog series would appeal to my non-Indian readers by knowing a perspective about these questions. Indian readers, feel free to comment and use the answers to talk to non-Indian friends.

I will try my best to answer these questions in this blog-series "Why do Indians?"

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Go with the flow, always in control!

Amazing variety of meats, veggies and garnishing in Malay style
Stay in Control

I live and work in Singapore but Malaysia is like second home. Business takes me there at least 10-12 times a year. People in Malaysia, be it clients or colleagues are quite easy to deal with. They have certain warmth; some connect that makes you feel belonged instantly.

Recently, I visited a prestigious client with my Malaysian colleague for closing a deal. The main aim of the meeting was to finalize our approach and if everything went well the project would be awarded to us. The client manager was a high ranking officer but extremely very warm and friendly. Meeting began on a very positive note with hot coffee and snacks were served well before the meeting started. I was expecting this to be a meeting with tough negotiations, debate about our approach, capability, project team etc. I was preparing myself for an intense debate. But things panned out very differently.

Meeting began with exchanging customary pleasantries then instead of getting to the main agenda directly; the client started talking about football match last evening which Man U had lost very badly. I made a futile attempt of broaching the main topic, only to be blocked and ignored by my own colleague. This was quite a contrast to a discussion with a Japanese customer, let’s say, where everything is governed by norms and rules. The client was discussing things in free flow without any particular direction or agenda in mind and we were towing the line. Finally, we started discussing about our proposal. He had read it thoroughly and surprisingly he was quite cool about everything. He asked for a few superficial clarifications and we shook hands. I was half happy, half surprised.

Obviously this was the topic of discussion over lunch which immediately followed the meeting. We had gone to a Nasi Campur, (mixed rice) restaurant. My colleague said, “Malaysian clients are very cool. They are businesslike but they like to go beyond business discussions. In fact if you start with business discussions directly they might be offended. They might perceive you as too hardnosed person who does not care about relationships. Another thing you must ensure is client is in control of discussions at all times. He may go with the flow but you need to ensure he in control at all times”. Wow, that’s quite profound, I thought. Immediately, I looked around if I could connect this insight to “How they eat, How they do business”. To my surprise, I saw the manifestation straightaway at Nasi Campur.

Malaysia is a land of thousand tastes and multiple food types. You find Chinese, Indian and Malay food types side by side. There are various formats in which food is served. But Nasi Campur (which literally means mixed rice) is a truly unique experience in Malaysia. Nasi Campur type of restaurants are popular joints for lunch and it can be found almost everywhere in Kuala Lumpur. It serves rice, vegetables and a large variety of meats with some condiments, garnishing all in Malay style. What sets this apart is the way food is served! This neighborhood restaurant serves everything in buffet style. You are handed over a plate with a bowl of rice and you could pick up anything you wanted from a wide range of meats, vegetables, curries and garnishing available. There are no set rules. Indulge in anything you want, as much as you want.  As a customer, you are always in control about what you eat and how much you eat. The restaurant informally passes the control to you by asking you to serve yourself and you stay there all the time. You can go with the flow and always stay in control!

Friday, March 2, 2012

No time for courtesies please!

I have stayed in quite a few cities so far  but Singapore is among the best. People in Singapore, my current home, are quite easy to get along. They are the most practical and the least complicated people I have ever met. They are always in a hurry, time is more than money for them. I learnt it the hard way when I managed to piss off a client at a "courtesy meeting". In my MBA I had learnt the importance of courtesy meetings in building strong relationships with clients. But that was in different context, different background. Things panned out quite differently in this meeting.

Our meeting started on a positive note by exchanging pleasantries. This meeting was a few weeks after a successful project completion and we were fishing for more business and wanted to be discrete about sales intent. We then started open ended discussions about economic challenges, impact on Singapore, impact on client's company, business decisions etc. It was meant to be a courtesy meeting hence no presentation or deliverable was planned. About 10 minutes into the meeting the client manager politely stopped the discussion and asked a straight forward question, "what is the purpose of this meeting?" "This is a courtesy meeting, we care about our relationship, we are not here to sell you anything now", came the text-book reply. "Well, from our perspective, what you sell to us builds relationship. Your solution is the oxygen of our relationship. If you have anything to sell, do come over. If we want buy something we will call you. What is this courtesy meeting all about?", he said in a very straight forward and nice way. We were stunned and left the meeting room in less than 3 1/2 minutes.

My Singaporean colleagues were not surprised. They had warned me that it was a bad idea anyway. Their explanation was an eye opener. It bolstered my theory about "How they eat, How they do business".

They told me that most of the Singaporeans have their lunch as well as dinner outside home. But they don't go to restaurants. They go to Food courts or hawker centers which are the most popular eating places in Singapore. These food courts are an ideal example of evolved standardization. They have similar variety of dishes, similar price points, standardized and quite hygienic. They provide common seating areas, common cutleries which you need to grab yourself. So basically these are practical, cheap places that offer great food but no experience. Nobody holds the door open for you,  no waiter pushes your chair, nobody takes the order nor replenish your drink. No experience, no courtesies at all.

If you want to eat, you go to food court. No courtesy visits, please. There is no time!