Cinema and technology: Avatar (2009)

The geek shall inherit the earth. I mean the good geek. That is one of the principal messages of the James Cameron film. By Zafar Anjum
07 Jan 2010

Like many of his admirers, I have been waiting for James Cameron’s Avatar for the last 10 years. I was not aware of any of Cameron’s films before I watched Titanic (1997)—the international smash-hit that became miraculously popular even in countries such as India and China. The only exception was the 1994 terrorism drama—True Lies, that precociously confirmed my fear that after the fall of communism, it was global terrorism that was going to be the American empire’s next bogeyman.

AvatarRemember, this was way before 9/11. But I knew that the global managers of perception and culture will replace the red terror with green terror. Every state, as the political theory goes, whose soul is locked in the monster of military-industrial complex, needs an enemy to keep its artificial unity intact. So, one or another kind of terror has to be perennially invented (before you create a hero, you have to create a monster—that is one of the rules of script writing).

So, when a precocious and visionary filmmaker like Cameron announces a venture like Avatar, one’s ears are pricked. I was hungry for any information on this sci-fi film’s progress: Cameron is working on the design of a new camera that could capture the kind of motion he wants to film, he is scouting locations in New Zealand, he is working with Peter Jackson’s special effects team, and so on. The news kept rolling in, whetting my appetite. Meanwhile, I watched some of the earlier ‘alien-themed’ films by Cameron.

When finally Cameron’s labour of love hit the screens and created another big bang box office history, I had to watch it.

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Lessons for PR professionals

Public relations in the age of new media By Zafar Anjum
21 Jan 2010

Public relations (PR) has existed ever since mass media came into the mainstream of the modern civilisation. Mass communications as we know it cannot survive without public relations and advertising. Supported by these two disciplines/practices (you may even add the think tanks here), mass media embarks on its mission of manufacturing consent and glamour and shaping public opinion and taste. It guides the reader to choose from simple consumer goods (a cone of ice cream, a piece of lingerie, a laptop) to complex ideas and ideologies.

It can be argued that while the media industry has rapidly changed after the arrival of the Internet (is still changing), the PR practitioners have not. With the exception of some, they have continued their past practices, especially in Asia. The same old press releases, phone calls to journalists, media briefings and the odd luncheon—there hasn’t been much change in their age-old practices of interacting with the members of the press.

The question is how long they can stay insular and impervious to the sweeping changes affecting the media landscape.

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Lose control

In the interesting times that we find ourselves in, we seem to be asked to lose control over everything that we have. By Zafar Anjum
19 Feb 2010

A few years ago, there was a Bollywood film song that became a rage in India. “Lose control”—that’s what it urged the country’s youth to do. The song purported to be the guiding philosophy of a bunch of never-do-well college kids.

Well, it is a bit unfair to pluck the song off its main narrative context but its refrain, “lose control”, pretty much signifies the zeitgeist of our times.

In the interesting times that we find ourselves in, we seem to be asked to lose control over everything that we have. The paradox of this development, if you will, is that what we have is private and at the same time, it is public too. The only thing is that either we don’t know about it or we don’t realise it. And it all happens in the name of privacy or security or the best of all the ruses, for the greater common good.

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Cinema and Technology: Up in the Air (2009)

I wanted to watch this movie because I read a blog that said: don’t let your boss watch “Up in the Air”? Why? I wanted to find out. By Zafar Anjum
12 Mar 2010

Up in the Air (2009) was in this year’s Oscars race but it did not win an award. For good reasons.

It’s a nice, little ‘corporate’ culture movie with a great authorial voice (the movie is based on a novel by the literary editor of GQ magazine, that’s why). The suave and sexy narrative voice is that of George Clooney (as the central character Ryan Bingham) who has this knack of turning out meaningful yet entertaining movies year after year (remember Syriana, 2005,  Good Night and Good Luck, 2005, Michael Clayton, 2007, and Burn After Reading, 2008, among others?).

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Are cell phones more dangerous than terrorists?

Is there a connection between cell phones, bees and global food security? By Zafar Anjum
17 Mar 2010

The cell phone and bees? What’s the connection, you might ask.

If you already know the connection, you are welcome to waste your time somewhere else.

If you don’t, like I didn’t, then read on. My thanks in advance for reading this piece. And apologies to those who work for mobile phone companies, directly or indirectly. Nothing personal here.

Before we explore the connection, first a little backgrounder.

I discovered the connection between the cell phones and bees while watching a Bollywood film, My Name is Khan (MNIK).

I know that sounds weird but please don’t laugh it off.

MNIK is a remarkable film (albeit with typical Bollywood songs) set in the US, kind of India’s Forrest Gump—only here the main character suffers from Asperger’s syndrome.  But like in Forrest Gump, this Karan Johar film focuses on an individual character, Rizwan Khan (played by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan) who happens to be a broadminded Muslim. Rizwan, despite his deficiencies, is affable and is a great mechanic, who finds success and happiness in the land of opportunity, that is the US of A. Then 9/11 happens and his life goes topsy turvy just because he happens to have a Muslim name. The Holy Grail that Khan is after in this movie is a meeting with the US President. He wants to tell the President that though his name is Khan, he is not a terrorist.

My Name is KhanThat is the plot of the film.

But dude, where is the bee in the movie? Where is the cell phone? Good question.

No, I didn’t lose the plot. Here buzzes in the bee. In one of the scenes of the film, Khan asks another character not to use her cell phone while jogging in a park. Horrified, she asks why. Because the cell phone’s signals (radiation) confuse the bees, they forget their way back to their beehives and they die. Then he says, Albert Einstein once said that if bees disappeared, “man would have only four years of life left.”

I was stunned to know this. Was Khan joking, trying to impress the girls? Thought that this was a lie, a scriptwriter’s poetic licence.

I came home and googled it. And lo and behold, there it was: “Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?”

The story’s standfirst was: Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for the mysterious ‘colony collapse’ of bees.

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There is someone more interested in your mobile phone than you are

And it’s not the cyber criminal. It’s the mobile marketer. By Zafar Anjum
15 Apr 2010

Remember the old rotary telephones or even the land line sets sitting in your drawing room? Well, they just sat there like a piece of dead furniture.

You could not carry it with you (I mean the fixed phones; cordless instruments offered some flexibility). And you didn’t do anything with it except talk through it.

All that changed with the advent of the mobile phones. Soon we learnt to do many things with the little device—talking (voice traffic) was just one of them.

The small device is now so popular with the earthlings that apparently there are more mobile users (4.5 billion) than there are owners of toothbrushes (4.2 billion). And even in developing countries like India, there is more than one device per middle class household.

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My previous blog posts

Ahead of its official release, imported iPads are selling like hot cakes in Singapore
28 April 2010

Coming soon to your computer screen

If talks between Hollywood studios and YouTube don’t break down, film buffs would have less reason to make a trip to the pirated video sellers.
3 Sep 2009

Your DNA? Thanks but no thanks

So far DNA tests have been accepted as the last words in forensic evidence to establish identities. Not any more.
19 Aug 2009

Eastern Promises

Is it fair to let people exploit immigrant IT workers?
9 July 2009

Tweet your politics

Twitter has enabled cyber civil unrest in Iran but is it free of the danger of being misused?
22 June 2009

What women want?

Promotions, job security or work-life balance? What is it that matters to the female workers?
2 June 2009

Will Singapore drive tech innovation in Asia?

Singapore seems to be emerging as the next hotspot of tech innovation in the region.
18 May 2009

Outsourcing and its discontents

President Barack Obama’s new tax plan aims to discourage outsourcing. Will it?
8 May 2009

Social networking and the Indian elections

How Web-savvy are the Indian politicians and how some of them are using Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to connect with the electorate.
15 April 2009

Come, let’s tweet

We are on Twitter now!
6 April 2009

In a war for survival

Management guru Ram Charan talks about the new rules for getting the right things done in difficult times in his new book.
24 March 2009

When ‘growth’ is not good

In a world of finite resources, the greed for infinite growth has got us into today’s global financial crisis. It’s time we asked some tough questions about the nature of the financial systems that control our lives.
13 March 2009

Baby or briefcase?

Yesterday (8 March) we celebrated the International Women’s Day. It made me reflect on the issue of women at the top in general and women in IT in specific.
9 March 2009

Making sense of ‘packaged’ terrorism

It’s not the acts of terrorism that matter most in the post-9/11 world, it’s what we are told to think about the acts of terror.
19 Feb 2009

The venture misadventure

In the process of engineering a financial recovery, there are two issues that are not being paid enough attention.
17 February 2009

The big escape

Looking at the way the financial crisis is being (mis)handled by world leaders, there does not seem to be any escape from misery in sight. This is the first part of a series of blog posts on this theme.
4 Feb 2009

The curious case of B. Ramalinga Raju

Satyam’s disgraced founder may not be a nice man to know. But trying to understand his rise and fall might throw some light on how business is conducted in a new, shining India.
22 Jan 2009

How to talk about books you haven’t read

Where there is a will, there is a way—as far as talking about books one hasn’t read is concerned.
19 Jan 2009

The art of war

In the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Israeli side has embraced the new media to relay its viewpoint with great success.
8 Jan 2009

Welcome to ‘Prison Earth’!

Is our quest for more security at the cost of our privacy?
16 Dec 2008

A pyrrhic victory

Will online media’s triumph over the print turn out to be a pyrrhic victory in the long run?
10 Dec 2008

Terror and technology

Technology connecting lives in the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai.
28 Nov 2008

Obama’s way

Web 2.0-savvy Barack Obama’s presidential campaign is inspiring politicians all over the world.
14 Nov 2008

Deducted at source

If Obama is against outsourcing, why were Bangalore techies rooting for him?
7 Nov 2008

When “The West Wing” meets the “Man of the Year”

Or how Barack Obama can still lose the election?
4 Nov 2008

The Indian Renaissance

Why did India take so long to rise from a deep slumber?
23 Oct 2009

The return of the native: India’s reverse brain drain

Unfortunately, like all exits cannot be clean and all exiles cannot be painless, all returns too cannot be rosy.
13 Oct 2008

A dark cloud looms over India’s economic transition

Technology, industry and politics often play hide and seek to the amusement of none—Tata’s struggles in Singur, India is a case in point.
29 Sep 2008

Are we on the road to perdition?

If you ask me in terms of imagery, this financial crisis is akin to the 9/11
19 Sep 2008

Understanding the femme factor in Asian I.T.

There is a behind-the-scenes secret I want to share with you, that emerged when I was researching my CIO Asia September 2008 story on women in Asian IT.
12 Sep 2008

The success secret behind Wall-E

Andrew Stanton’s Wall.E will always remain a special film for me.
8 Sep 2008

Why this iPhone fever?

Why did people go crazy after the iPhone? Why did it generate so much public hysteria?
29 August 2008

‘Boss, give me face’

It turns out that this phrase carries a great weight in the Chinese business circles.
25 August 2008

WCIT 2008

I have not been able to recently update this blog due to many reasons. The biggest amongst them is the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT 2008). 

WCIT is the grandest event for the techies of the world–also dubbed as the Olympics of IT. The venue was KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

So, you figured it right. I was in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) for about a week covering the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT 2008). Clearly, it’s not that I was not blogging. I was but elsewhere.

We (our company, FBM) were the official media partners of the event and as such, I was part of the team that produced the show dailies (newspapers that are produced everyday for thousands of delegates attending the conference). In addition, I was maintaining a blog, complete with videos (check them out under Multimedia on the blog) and pictures. It was all so hectic but quite fun on the whole. I even tried podcasting and ran some trials but when the actual event kicked off, there was hardly any time to produce podcasts. Reporting, production of videos and the blog consumed all my time and energy.

The event was a great success–said to be the best ever in the history of WCIT. Even Bill Gates made a virtual trip to the show through his holographic presence.

There were many discussions, in and outside panels. Among the many panel discussions, there was one that got me most excited. It was about the future of the internet. One of the panelists, a Microsoft representative, summed it up so beautifully. The internet that we have now is just the beginning, he said. It’s like language has been invented but Shakespeare is yet to arrive, he said. Doesn’t that make you think about the future of the net? Doesn’t that sound so thrilling?

Bend it like Asia

Is Asia the new hub of innovation?

This is what it seems like.

Asia is rising fast as a hub for innovation, led by countries such as China, India and Singapore.

I think it was last year when the Newsweek magazine did a cover story on how the USA was losing its edge on patents. Asia was coming up fast with new patents, threatening to knock the USA off its leadership position in this area.

Now there is some fresh evidence to make this claim sound truer.

In a report ‘China innovation: The next big surprise’ CIO Asia’s managing editor Ross O. Storey notes that innovation will be the next ‘big surprise’ out of China.

He was quoting Jack Perkowski, the chairman and chief executive officer of ASIMCO Technologies, an important manufacturer in China’s automotive components industry.

Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Singapore, Perkowski said there is a ‘tremendous pressure’ in China to find more affordable products, than those offered by the west, which will inevitably lead to innovation.

Here’s the main point that he made: 400 million Chinese people, who now earn more than US$7,000 a year can afford notebook computers, but they’d rather not pay what the West pays for them.

“The other 900 million people can’t afford notebook computers,” Perkowski said, “so everyday you have 1.3 billion Chinese waking up trying to figure out how to make these things cheaper.”

Helping them figure this out are the Asian researchers. This is true not just about IT but lot of other sectors.

Writing in The New York Times on May 4, columnist Thomas L. Friedman also highlights America’s losing its hold on research and innovation (Who will tell the people?):

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore … have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Can Asia really make it or will crises like the energy and food crisis and the shifting sands of global finance spoil the party?


Bollywood rides the blogging wave

Aamir Khan

I recently wrote about the blogging boom in Asia. It is a report on a panel discussion on blogging in the region organised by IDC in Singapore the last week. Click on the link and you can read the report.

In this post, I want to talk about blogging by Bollywood’s celebrities.

Do you know of any Hollywood biggie who blogs? I have never heard of the likes of Tom Cruise or Robert De Niro blogging.

But turn to Bollywood and you would be surprised to see how many big Bollywood actors and filmmakers have taken to blogging.

In this case, Bollywood has adopted Web 2.0 with great alacrity.

Top actor Aamir Khan has been blogging for some time. He has been doing it quite successfully, with thousands of his fans interacting with him online. This was an important development as Aamir is seen as a very sensitive person–he is not your normal Bollywood actor and yet he is one of the top 3 actors of Bollywood: he largely stays away from the mainstream and film gossip media, does one or two films a year and completely avoids all kinds of Indian film functions (he is okay with the Oscars though).

Recently, India’s most respected actor Amitabh Bachchan also took to blogging (he is 60 plus, mind you). It made quite a splash in the media. I checked his blog yesterday and he had received more than 800 comments on his latest post.

Basu's blog

Even Bollywood’s reigning superstar has got a blog. Shahrukh Khan blogs on but some have expressed doubts if he does his own blogging. SRK, as he is lovingly known, is a tech savvy guy and was one of the earliest Bollywood personalities to have started a web portal. He wrapped up this venture after his home production, Asoka, bombed on the box office.

Bollywood’s other celebrity bloggers include Rahul Bose, Anupam Kher, Rahul Khanna, and Bipasha Basu.

Among directors, on top of my list is director Shekhar Kapur, who sort of straddles between Hollywood and Bollywood. His blog is as much about cinema as about life, death, mythology, spirituality, etc. It’s a great read.

There are a lot of younger generation Bollywood directors and writers who blog in a blogging community, Passion For Cinema, led by director Anurag Kashyap.

All these blogs are helping these film personalities directly connect with their fans all over the world. Lets them have direct feedback from them. Not only that, they can also clarify baseless rumours in trade magazines and MSM which is the staple of film journalism. Things..they are a’changing!