Category Archives: 1-By Laksh

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Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust

Yayati-V-S-Khandekar

Yayati: A Classic Tale of Lust by V.S. Khandekar interprets the mythological tale of Yayati, Devayani, Sharmistha, and Kacha, in an interesting manner, told from the points of view of Yayati, Devayani, and Sharmistha.

The story of Yayati presented in Mahabharatha and puranas, is popular for two themes. 1) A father asking his son to transfer youth to him, to avoid his curse of old age. 2) Indulgence in pleasures that keeps one away from the spiritual path…rather, how indulgence in pleasures is mistaken for happiness.

Sahitya Academy award winner V.S.Khandekar, weaves a meaningful tale through the voices of the key characters as he explores the purpose behind ones’ lives. Especially through characters of Devayani and Yayati, he brings forth the ‘ego’ play in various dimensions and how base emotions can create havoc in internal and external being of the key characters. While all that is bad is portrayed through the two characters Yayati and Devayani, he uses Kacha and Puru for presenting the good or rather the ideal state of human being. Sharmistha and Yati are the two in-between characters who eventually go all the way in the end.

The book is full of interesting observations and quotes on the moral dilemmas of human beings. How many pleasures and how much of them…and how long? Is happiness all about youth? Is youth overrated? Is youth so sought after, as it precedes old age and death? If death is staring at all of our faces and if our present is all we have,  should we squander it away without enjoying it? Or should we let it go, to reflect on the bigger meaning of life?  Can one enjoy and still be pure? These questions are answered without any judgment through the eyes of the characters. For instance, Yayati ponders on controlling his desire through grihastha ashram (life of a householder), while wondering at the equanimity of Kacha, ascetic. In contrast, Kacha, the ascetic, makes worldly choices for the greater good of the community.  This narrative in itself can be considered as a masterstroke. We readers are allowed to make up our mind based on what is presented, thus making an interesting read.

In one of the versions of Yayati story, it is said that he lived a life of  1000 years of pleasure after exchanging his cursed old age with his son Puru and only then he realizes the folly of it to give back his youth. However, in this book, it is compressed to a few minutes but the author uses it to present a great transformation in the key characters. This is nothing short of a coup de grace and uplifts the author’s purpose.

Overall, a great book not just to sample a unique story from Hindu mythology but also open the windows of inquiry into the meaning of life…or to plain simply wonder about the differences between pleasures and happiness. Is a pleasure nothing but a manifestation of ego, while happiness is the dissolution of it? Pleasures are transient but happiness is ongoing? May these questions linger around long after you put down this book.

Tailpiece:

  • The character of Mandar is a very interesting one (dealt briefly) and it has a resemblance to the controversial sex gurus.

  • The plot points so to speak, that cause a change in the character arcs, happen because of Devayani’s action. While Kacha cursed by Devayani, continues to go higher on his ascetic path, Yayati on the other hand when spurned by Devayani, slides down into the abyss of indulgences. The course which one embraces at life’s cross roads, is purely a individual choice, and this is beautifully portrayed in the book. Life is not all fate, perhaps.

McDonald’s Behind the Arches

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I read this book sometime back before I sampled McDonald’s in India. Just finished reading it again and found it to be delicious as ever. A terrific book by John F.Love about the growth of the company and the journey of a multibillion-dollar global corporation. The book ends in the year 1994 and things might have changed for the company since then.  But it is still a great read for anyone who is interested in fast-food industry and generally the growth of any business around a new concept. Though setting up fast food chains wasn’t new at the time when Ray Kroc took over, it still had to be done in a very different manner as the book reveals. John F.Love does a very good job of capturing both the entrepreneurial spririt and the operational excellence of the key people behind the corporation like Ray Kroc, Fred Turner, Harry Sonneborn etc.

McDCoupons

The book has 17 chapters+Prologue (The Unknown McDonald’s) and Epilogue.

  1. Prologue (The Unknown McDonald’s) : “…it is the story of the company that changed the eating habit of Americans, that revolutionized the food service and processing industries of United State, and that legitimized the now widespread practice of franchising. It is the story of the unknown McDonald’s, America’s first modern entrepreneurial success–a system that bridges the gap between entrepreneurs and corporations” Unquote
  2. Yes, There is a McDonald:  This chapter is about the real McDonald brothers who opened and ran the first McDonald’s stores and how they dabbled with the concept of franchising before Ray Kroc said hello with his (milkshake) multimixers
  3. The Salesman: “This was now 1954, and at age fifty-two Ray Kroc was still looking for the magic–something that would allow him to capitalize on his three decades of sales opportunity he had trained for. He also knew it was the type of opportunity that would never come his way again”
  4. The Franchising Derby:  An interesting chapter on the current players back then in the franchising world and how the franchisers treated franchises as a way of making quick money just by lending their name or providing supplies. And how Ray Kroc desperately wanted it to be different in his system, through the success of franchises and creating a better environment through purchasing power. His straightforward sales approach with prospective franchisees and no-nonsense attitude towards suppliers.
  5. The Owner/Operator: Kroc’s franchising plan–selling low-cost franchises for one store at a time–and how it was suited for hands-on operators cum owners. He would give them the freedom to crate and contribute ideas that he believed benefited the system, but he would not tolerate deviation from the norm when he thought it hurt the system.
  6. Melting Pot: A nice chapter on the various managers who joined the firm from diverse backgrounds and how it all added the corporate dynamics. “Kroc had mastered the art of managing creative individuals by maintaining the delicate balance between their need for freedom and their need for guidance.”  “He brought out the very best in people,” Turner says” He was the  best boss you could ever have”
  7. Making Hamburgers:  All about the process, across various products of McDonald’s…and treating making burgers as important as rocket science. Ex.Ralph Weimer French fry scoop “The real secret to McDonald’s successful operating system is not found its regimen but in the way it enforces uniform procedures without stifling the entrepreneurship of franchisees. As such, McDonald’s is something of an American response to Japan’s management by consensus. Without the freedom of franchisees to and suppliers to exercise their entrepreneurial insticts, to test their own ideas on new products and procedures, and even to challenge the corporation head-on, McDonald’s might still have attained its celebrated uniformity, but a terrible price.”
  8. Making Money:  Real estate angle by Harry Sonneborn, new field team, aggressive sales tactics, flying in a corporate plane, new accounting principles, getting institutional loans etc.
  9. The Buyout: Ray Kroc’s big gamble in the buyout of McDonald brothers stake.
  10. Partners: PR, Advertising, and New product-Fish Sandwich.”…as his chain began expanding its horizons with new products and promotions, he (Kroc) was discovering the creativity of  his company’s independent franchisees and suppliers. They were bcoming full fledged partners in the business.”
  11. Going Public: “In 1985, McDonald’s would achieve the ultimate respectability by becoming the first service company to be added to the prestigious list of the Dow Jones 30 Industrials, but the the process of getting to that pinnacle began on the day the company was listed on the NYSE.” Super bowl success, Cooperative advertising (OPNAD) and the rise of Harry Sonneborn.
  12. McDonald’s East and McDonald’s West: Culture change in the east and west, the conflict between Krock and Sonneborn, and Fred Turner becomes the CEO.
  13. High Gear: Breakneck pace of expansion
  14. Media Magic: Becoming a top advertiser
  15. ‘McDonaldizing’ the Suppliers: From paper cups to french fries to distribution and inventory.
  16. The Public Challenge: Worm factor, minority protests, Manhattan mystery and how the company built a proper structure to protect from being an easy target owing to its size and visibilty
  17. Checks and Balances: Franchisee revolt that led to soul searching and better practices.
  18. Exporting America: International operations and lessons learnt. Weathering out the storm and committing for longhaul.
  19. Epilogue: Looking beyond 1994.

Here’s a great paragraph that sums up any customer centric company.

mcdonalds customer service

Rangasthalam- ‘Oka Chittibabu aathma katha’

ramcharan

“What is sound design?” I asked a sound engineer in early 2000, He simply replied, “you cannot do it for the majority of Indian films, as the star dominates everything”. He went on to explain, taking an example of a Rajinikanth film or for that matter, any superstar film, the sound of his shoes should blast the speakers even if it were a mile away and captured in a long shot.  He continued, “Look at films like ‘The Matrix’, the sound was not an afterthought, but an integral part of the Wachowskis’ script. That’s where it all begins. Films like ‘Hey Ram’ and makers like Kamal Haasan understand it, but that’s a small group.”

Over the years, things have improved and we even have an Oscar winner in this department, but still, a majority of films do not use the sound to enhance a situation and simply turn on the decibels.

I remembered this for two reasons. In the movie ‘Rangasthalam’ the hero is a different kind of sound engineer (someone who cannot hear) and there is a loud explosion scene at the beginning of the film for which all the Dolby speakers are used to maximum effect. If it were a point of view of the hero, should the explosion sound a bit different, muffled perhaps? Or was he wearing his hearing aid? A case in point. Martin Scorcesse opens ‘The Casino’ with a car explosion, noise is loud alright, but he quickly merges into a background operatic music and a memorable title sequence by legendary Saul Bass. Maybe he or his sound designer were thinking if it were inappropriate to continue the explosion sound as the character in question, who is hurled into the air, is out of consciousness and cannot hear a bit?

Obviously ‘Rangasthalam’ cannot and should not be reviewed on sound alone. And to be fair, Director Sukumar does use the point of view, in several scenes including the ones between Ram Charan and Samantha (the one before the fight in village fair is nicely done). Yet he leaves out it in the most important scene of all, the one Megastar Chiranjeevi let out a spoiler alert about. (By the way, Ram Charan’s performance is out of the world, just as he said).

One cannot blame the director beyond a point and that too in a commercial film (was it realistic too?) about these technicalities. Instead, one should focus only one thing–sublime acting of Ram Charan.

Rangasthalam tagline should have been ‘oka chittibabu athma katha’. If you look at it from this angle, everything …literally everything in the film falls into place. And you cannot but appreciate the amount of work that has gone into showcasing the acting prowess of Ram Charan. It would only be fair to say there is not even a single scene in the film did he fail to deliver the goods. That in itself a rare feat and would not have been possible without the duo coming together in ‘Rangasthalam’.

You could argue about some aspects of storytelling like loner President villain with no family, repeated scenes of the villain’s  henchmen, the back and forth scenes in the lead pair romance resolution, the pre-climax violence, the sudden change in a few characters, absolutely no police around after Chittibabu smashes a dozen or more into a pulp (captured in crystal clear sound) and the epilogue with a twist.  But from a story point of a view of a simpleton set in 1980, and the fact that the movie duration is already 2hr 45minutes, you would ignore all this and savor the freshness served by Superstar Ram Charan (Yes, he is one now, as he carried the entire film on his shoulders and made us see the film his way!!!)

Few asides:

  1. When interviewed about how he worked on his story of ‘Swathi Muthyam’, Veteran Director K.Vishwanath said, he would take an interesting character and then explores various situations to see how reacts. And that’s how the scene of grandmother’s death came about, in which Kamal Haasan innocently enquires about his hunger for a meal.
  2. What are realism and commercialism? Do we confuse with more melodrama or the liberties we take with the character?  Can’t both of them merge seamlessly? In one of the most commercial films Robert De Niro as the young Vito Corleone is never seen boxing his way out, instead his acts of violence are what within his character reach and never becomes a Rambo. Same Robert De Niro undergoes a complete transformation to become a boxer in ‘Raging Bull’. Any reference to ‘Rangasthalam’ characterization and ‘realistic’ violence is purely coincidental.
  3. How would ‘Rangasthalam’ would have been without the violent and twist-filled epilogue? A kind of Trivikram subtle justice, with the lorry hitting the car itself ending the character?
  4. Movies to revisit– Peddamanushulu (1954), Manavuri Pandavulu (1978), Pranam Khareedu (1978), Krishnavataram (1982), Khaidi (1983), Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar (1992), Pithamagan (2003)

Related links:

The opening sequence of Casino (1995)

What is sound design

Sound, point of view