Posts Tagged ‘Brand Equity’

Can the works of P. G. Wodehouse impart some lessons to CEOs and managers in managing their affairs better? His fans are always eager to relive the moments of mirth and bliss experienced by them while going through his books and stories. However, those of you who are from the realm of management and are dimly aware of the existence of a British humourist known as P. G. Wodehouse would by now be shaking your heads in disbelief wondering how something dished out by way of making one chuckle, guffaw and laugh could have anything to do with the stiff-upper-lip discipline of management.

To the latter, one would say that humour is serious business indeed. It is bound to make us feel lighter but cannot be taken lightly. In the past, we have examined in some detail the question if humour is serious business and have found an answer in the affirmative. In an earlier post, we also touched upon the way management theories and practices have evolved over the past century and checked if there are any common points between such theories and what Plum dishes out by means of his scintillating works.

The Intellectual Halo Around Seriousness

The deeper reality is that we value seriousness and tragedy over humour and laughter. Our minds boss over our hearts. Seriousness somehow makes us sound more intellectual. Most of the times, anything humorous is treated by us as being frivolous and perhaps fit to be scoffed at on the intellectual plane. On campuses of high-brow seats of learning, it is easy for us to visualize absent-minded professors going about with a heavy tome or two clutched in their hands, with a morose look on their faces, as if they were just being led by an invisible hand to the gallows. At management seminars and conclaves, serious talks get applauded while a speaker conveying a plain vanilla message coated in delectable humour gets ridiculed for playing to the gallery. In companies, at board meetings, detailed power point presentations of a serious kind get appreciated, whereas anything said in a lighter vein runs the risk of being greeted with healthy scorn.

One admires such management thinkers as C. Northcote Parkinson, Sharu Rangnekar and Laurence J. Peter who have broken this glass ceiling and given us rich management lessons in a humorous manner.

In their book Humour, Seriously, Naomi Bagdonas and Jennifer Aaker debunk the myth that humour has no place at the work place. In an interview, Jennifer Aaker opines that leaders with a sense of humour are seen as 27% more motivating; their teams are more than likely twice as likely to solve a creativity challenge. When leaders use humour in their interactions with their team members, they signal humility and humanity, thereby reducing the status barrier between themselves and their audience. The goal of humour at the work place is not merely to make others laugh; it is to put people at ease, thereby enabling them to be more open and candid in sharing their opinions.  

Humour in Brand Management  

Consider the innovative way humour gets deployed by a few brands of repute to keep their images shining bright.

Since 1946, the Air India Maharajah has been representing India with charm and dignity, making the company more visible to its customers all over the world. Created by Bobby Kooka along with Umesh Rao of J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency, it has kept pace with the times – as a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a Romeo in Rome and even a guru of transcendental meditation in Rishikesh.

Likewise, we have the case of the Amul girl. The mascot was created as a response to Amul’s rival brand Polson’s butter-girl. The idea was conceived in 1967 once ASP (Advertising, Sales and Promotion) clinched the brand portfolio from the previous agency FCB Ulka. It was executed by Mr. Sylvester Da Cunha, the owner of the agency and his art director Eustace Fernandes on hoardings, painted bus panels and posters in Mumbai. The mascot, since then, has been mobilized to comment on many events of national and political importance.

Not to forget some of our politicos who have risen from the ranks after having been successful comedians, managing countries and motivating their denizens to stand up to bullying by oversized neighbours waging wars so as to widen their sphere of influence.  

If a lay manager were to pick up such books by P. G. Wodehouse as Psmith in the City, Blandings Castle and Elsewhere and Something Fresh and put them under a managerial lens, she is surely apt to discover a treasure trove of precious lessons in such diverse fields as marketing, entrepreneurship, operations, systems and procedures and human resources.

When it comes to the art and science of managing bosses, Rupert Psmith, Reginald Jeeves and Ashe Marson have created a few templates for a manager to follow.

The higher the level of entropy of our business environment, the higher would be the need for humour in business. As we march into the future, a Wodehousean approach to Management could help CEOs and managers in more ways than one.

(Illustration courtesy R. K. Laxman)

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Earlier on, we had touched upon the importance of brand equity. One can undervalue the criticality of this attribute only at one’s own risk and peril.

Corporate Brands

Companies benefit immensely from making conscious efforts to keep their brand images shimmering. If asked to quantify the resultant financial uplift though, their CFOs would be found twiddling their thumbs. But it is not difficult to see the kind of benefits which accrue from having a shimmering image, whether in matters of human resources, sourcing or marketing, besides in such grey areas as liaison and government dealings.

Several instances can be quoted from my own stints with the Tata group.

When a INR 5 crore modern leather processing factory was established at Dewas in 1975, the plant was commissioned without any delay, with all necessary government approvals in place. No government officials had to be appeased, whether in cash or in kind. In fact, the then government of Madhya Pradesh went all out to support the complex being set up.

In another case, a senior manager deputed to the headquarters of the Electricity Board to secure power connection for a small manufacturing unit ended up assuring a demanding government officer that a measly amount would be paid upon the issue of the necessary permission. A 50% advance paid to the officer concerned was shown in the manager’s travel expenses claim. A furious general manager called in the manager and gave him a severe dressing down. Yours truly was called in and asked to resolve the issue. My visit to the place cost the company five times the amount demanded. Somehow, I could secure the permission without any further underhand payment and got back to my desk with a feeling of triumph and pride at what had been accomplished. The senior manager soon left the company and moved on to a greener pasture.

Tatas are well known for their sound values and systems. They have a unique way of handling under-the-table demands by all and sundry. When it comes to compliance, the emphasis is on avoidance and not on evasion. As to corporate governance, their 150 year old record is blemish free.

Tatas repersent a fine example of what Alan Wallner is apt to call a Conscious Brand. As one of the thought leaders who happen to be a part of the Conscious Enterprises Network, he believes that branding is not just about physical attributes; rather, it is about the inner presence of a person and of the team that creates the brand of a business – it’s the way we treat other people and work together to create something remarkable.

A Mighty Responsibility

To keep a brand duly buffed up and shining is no mean task. Besides management back-up, a positive culture and clear policies which facilitate an ethical approach to business dealings, it needs extensive training at the front level of any organization.

Experiences of Customer Delight

Sometime during the late 1980s, I once had a problem with a Kodak camera I had bought just about a few months back. Somehow, I had not been careful enough to save a copy of the purchase proof with me. I contacted the shop from where I had bought it and he refused to entertain me in the absence of either a bill or a receipt. But when I contacted the Kodak office in person, they made no fuss. A technician checked my camera and within twenty minutes, I walked out with a brand new fresh camera in my hands.

As a lay customer, I once had a problem with my TataSky direct-to-home service account. When nothing satisfactory happened for a week, I gave a piece of mind to the next person I could manage to speak to. Within a day, not only was the problem addressed but even a senior person called me up to apologize for the inconvenience caused.

Such first-hand experiences restore one’s faith in a brand, thereby giving it a unique advantage – that of free word to mouth publicity!

Converting Ex-employees into Brand Amassadors

At HCL Infosystems, another large company, a separation with a disgruntled star performer was handled very delicately. The outcome was that he ended up being an ambassador for the company, referring candidates for several other key positions in the following years.

Even a massive plant closure involving over 1,000 persons was handled so very decently that there were no protests and red flags of any kind, nor any interference from the local politicians or communities. Key personnel who could not be accommodated were assisted in securing alternative career opportunities, with the Human Resources Department playing a key role.

Caring for the Delicately Nurtured

Unilever recently stated having introduced a policy with zero tolerance towards domestic violence.


A ten-year stint of mine with Tatas matched well with my own upbringing. However, by the time the episode touched upon by me earlier occurred, I was in a bubble at the other end of the spectrum of values. I had perhaps permitted my honest visage and sincere disposition to be put to nefarious uses. Sure enough, the fault of accepting a situation of this kind lay somewhere within me.

Personal Brand Equity

It stands to reason that one’s brand equity is built over a long period of time. Once built, it becomes like the fragrance of an exotic flower. It travels much ahead of one, often opening up new vistas, offering a wider canvas for one to perform and excel at whatever one undertakes to do. The observant ones amongst those around us are surely able to size us up much quicker than we can manage to do ourselves.

Professionals need to step back every once in a while and check if their brand image is bright and shining. Keeping one’s brand value burnished helps in career progression. It is also an immensely satisfying slice of life which promotes self-worth and boosts self-confidence.

My experience tells me that these are the kind of inputs which go into keeping a professional’s brand value burnished.

Under-promise, over-deliver

Being aware of our core strengths as well as limitations helps us to assess our chances of success in delivering on a project. By ensuring that we commit conservatively but deliver zealously, we build up a reputation of reliability. There are indeed times when a polite ‘no’ could save us from denting our reputation.

Honesty and openness in relationships

Our colleagues and team members are equally smart. They are quick to sense a touch of opacity on our part. They detest a lack of transparency in us. Dealing with those around us with honesty ensures that they repose their faith and trust in us. As a result, our capability of getting things done improves.

Being a friend, philosopher and guide

All of us have some expertise which may not be directly relevant to our Key Result Area. It could be an insight into the realm of alternative therapies which a colleague can use for one of her family members. It could be about handling rebellious teenagers at home. If we put such expertise to use by helping others around us, word goes around and others rush in to seek our counsel. We might have the image of a tough task master, but this softer aspect of our personality helps us to build a unique brand for ourselves.


Whether within the organization or outside, networking goes a long way in building up our reputation. The trick, however, is in avoiding those with a negative outlook, while promoting ties with those who have positive vibes.

Keep learning

Keeping the saw sharpened always helps. By refreshing our knowledge pool continuously, we remain a leader in more ways than one. Often, a dash of humility is all it needs to remain ahead of the curve.

Being genuine

By being ourselves, we enhance our dependability. Others feel reassured and refreshed after each encounter with us. They do not mind confiding in us. In turn, this helps us to understand and address their anxiety and concerns better. Our ability to deliver improves.

A brand is all about reliability and dependability. It offers good value for money. So do professionals who work on the basis of deliverables. Smart ones realize that an image cannot be built up purely based on optics and communication. It needs to be backed by real inputs so one’s brand value remains intact and is kept shimmering at all times.

One of the key factors in building a brand and sustaining its image is the kind of value system it represents; moreover, the purpose which guides it.


(Illustration: Keller’s Brand Equity Model)


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Those of you who had gone through my earlier post might recall the fact that the trauma of cardiac surgery was adequately compensated for by my Guardian Angels. On the positive side, other than a career breakthrough, pending family obligations got met successfully; marriages of both my children got fixed up in this period. Moreover, in subsequent life, I became a sort of cardiac expert, dishing out sage advice to my colleagues, friends and relatives.

Incorrect Choices and the Value Spectrum

This change was just a way for life to reinforce within me the importance of observing values and ethics in whatever I did.

The strategic flaw in the scheme of things was that I had willy-nilly landed in an organization the value system of which did not match that of my own. It was my pumpkin headedness which led me to continue with the organization for as long as I did. Like a pilot in a flight hit by an enemy’s missile, I might as well have pressed the cockpit eject button much earlier.

If you are one of those who twiddle their thumbs wondering as to why I tend to place a high premium on sound values to be followed in business can rightfully blame my corporate career for the same. Having worked in organizations which were at two opposite ends of the value spectrum, I have seen at close quarters the perks of being value-driven and also the perils of not being so. That is how, in yours truly, you are apt to find a fierce critic of any kind of compromises on this front. The underlying belief is that business ships which are built on a keel of sound values end up not only having a better brand equity but also yield better returns to their stakeholders. When businesses are broad minded and give back to the society at large, they serve a higher purpose.

Our personal Brand Equity gets built by the kind of choices we makes and the kind of company we seek over a long period of time. The right strategy to follow in any career is to give due weightage to this single factor when choosing organizations we decide to work for. We consider this issue in some detail somewhere else in this compilation.

No Fault in Our Stars! 

When one undergoes a humiliating experience, one feels as if one has been simply used and thrown into a trash bin. One’s stock is down. The market is sluggish. Only bears, having come out of hibernation, rule.

The first response is to blame it on our stars. But it is the choices we make ourselves which lead one to suffer in life. We create our own destiny, so to say.

Shakespeare was bang on when he said that ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’ (Julius Caesar: Act 1, Scene 2).

A Chiselling Towards Perfection

One may say with a reasonable degree of accuracy that Life has indeed been wired to act like a Master Sculptor. Life has not learnt the art of sculpting by means of a correspondence course which was not even completed but left midway.

All this chiselling business, you see, comes in pretty handy in life. Each of these highlights at least one glaring deficiency in one’s personality. At the time it happens, it startles one, much like a nymph surprised while splashing about in her Jacuzzi in the comfort of her home and hearth. Shock and disbelief quickly follows. A deep resentment gets felt, in the vein of what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this.

Eventually, once reason starts returning to its throne, a pitiless analysis follows. Root causes get identified. An action plan to address these gets made and then worked upon. A better self emerges. Weaknesses often get converted into strengths. It is as if our Guardian Angels are gently nudging us to mend our ways, develop healthier attitudes, acquire better working habits and enjoy life better.

All of us have villains in our lives. With any change in the family setting or in the organization we work for, the name and the face of a villain alone changes. The element of villainy simply refuses to go away.

Perhaps all these villains keep popping up to show us our place in life. They teach us the value of humility. The day we are feeling on top of the world and patting ourselves on the back on the successful accomplishment of a long cherished goal, fate, donning the mask of a villain, quietly sneaks up from behind and hits us with a nail studded club.

Blessings in Disguise

In a way, these turn out to be blessings in disguise. If these do not happen, we are likely to trudge along on a straight and narrow path. We are apt to keep wallowing in our comfort zones in a protracted state of procrastination, refusing to budge from our prejudices, much like an obstinate Balaam’s Ass!

We cannot change others. But we can look within and be open to change ourselves. That is indeed possible.

While at school, I won many prizes in local as well as in national level essay writing competitions, but never on the subject of scripture knowledge. However, I do believe that if the concept of reincarnation is believed, whatever Life leaves incomplete in us during this life time perhaps takes it up with missionary zeal in our subsequent lives!

In other words, the earlier we shape up, the easier it is. The choice is entirely ours!

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Successful organizations which boast of high brand equity follow several sustainable practices. One of these is the practice of treating their human assets with the respect and dignity they deserve. While compassion and empathy govern their HR practices, it would be wrong to surmise that they do so by compromising on their business goals.

This unique species of organizations, referred to here as Homo Organizationum, is envisaged as the one comprising Functionally Humane Organizations, where an optimal balance is  maintained between business results and human relations.

Let me share one such instance from my own career.

High performance vs domestic bliss

A star performer in an IT manufacturing set up had to strike a fine balance between her role as a crucial final quality controller and that of being a home maker. In her absence, high priority shipments could get delayed. At home, she had to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and a kid. Her husband used to work in another set up around 900 kms away and would come visiting once every two months.

On a specific weekend, when an important shipment was to leave the factory late at night, message came that her husband was on his way home. Much to her dismay, a permission to leave the factory at the normal closing time was promptly turned down by her immediate superior.

The grapevine ensured that the incident of refusal of permission percolated upwards to the manufacturing head. The superior was called in without delay and given a dressing down. He, and the head of Quality Assurance, were guided on making alternative arrangements.

Eventually, the woman was delighted to receive a permission to leave the place of work by lunch time itself, adding a few precious hours to her domestic bliss. The shipment also got despatched without any compromise on the immediate business goal.

Several such examples abound. Regrettably, however, these are outnumbered by the kind of instances which involved blatant exploitation of employees. Across organizations, this manifests in so many ways. Inhuman treatment while pursuing an immediate business goal. Depriving the employees their rightful dues. Lower salaries, accompanied by liberal grant of personal loans and advances, thereby keeping the employees perennially indebted to the employer, and the like.

The leaner Davids and the flabbier Goliaths

When I look back at my 35-year exposure to the private sector, one thing stands out. The positive examples were mostly from the larger companies in the organized sector. The negative examples were invariably from the small-scale sector.

Large companies have a better organized way of working. They often carry some flab. Systems take precedence over individuals. On the contrary, the smaller ones tend to be much leaner – though decidedly not fitter – simply because one person gets hired only when three are required!

The Consciousness of Organizations

Members of the species of entities known as Homo Organizationum thrive only when they can add value to their diverse stakeholders. However, to create a brand which is respected by their customers as well as their employees, as also to add value on a sustainable basis, they need to have a working culture which places a higher premium on such values as empathy, compassion, dignity, respect, justice, honesty, openness, transparency and equality.

Their employees then become their brand ambassadors, making it easier for them to attract better talent. This, in turn, makes them more efficient and effective.

All organizations have a consciousness which seeps through all its organs. It manifests itself in myriad ways; specifically, through its culture. It is reflected in the manner in which the seniors conduct themselves. It shows up in the way decisions get taken. Unlike grandiose Vision and Mission statements which adorn their physical walls, it is not easy to articulate culture in words. Nor can it be readily replicated.

Just like a tiger is known by its stripes, an organization is known by the kind of consciousness it lives and operates by. The more humane the same, the higher the probability of sustainable success.

Some crystal gazing

Advances in technology are already re-shaping our organizations. Gone are the control-and-command structures. Hierarchies are getting flatter. Mundane tasks are being taken over by Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Geeks are twiddling their thumbs, trying to cope up with Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, et al.

Besides technology, buyer behaviour is changing. Geopolitics is changing. Workforce attitudes are changing.

But Homo Organizationum face little risk of becoming extinct. On the contrary, it is quite likely that with the kind of changes in the offing, the need for organizations to be humane would only go up in the future.

Time for HR honchos to re-skill themselves.

(A version of this article was published in the IBA Journal, volume 9, issue 2)




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The principles of marketing and branding apply in equal measure to countries as much as they do to businesses. Just like in Swiss Zermattthe corporate world, marketing can merely help a great product to reach its target customer segment more effectively. However, best laid marketing and branding plans can fail if the product or service on offer lacks inherent strengths or USPs which make it useful to the customer.

Switzerland is one of the countries we admire, particularly for the manner in which it has built up a unique brand identity for itself over the centuries. A strong commitment to innovation and quality, an imaginative foreign policy based on neutrality, higher importance to the services sector and an excellent work-life balance it offers to its workforce are some of the USPs which make Switzerland the toast of the planet.

Its population is less than that of the capital of India. In terms of per capita GDP, at USD 45,418, it ranked 9th in the world in 2012. Low taxes, low debt, a reasonable rate of growth, public budgets in the black, low unemployment at 3.1% and a trade surplus – these factors just about sum up Switzerland’s economic stature. The country is home to many large MNCs – ABB, Roche, Nestle, Novartis, Logitech and Tetra Pak, to name a few.

A Multidimensional USP  

For a commoner, it is the land of milk, chocolate and cheese. For the lay tourist, it offers captivating natural beauty which is Swiss naturemany notches above than what the likes of Thomas Hardy and William Wordsworth have described in their works. Placid lakes, snow-capped mountains, leafy wooded greens, well maintained caves and water-falls and a rich culture make up for a heady combination.

The reason why postcards, calendars and movie frames look so appealing is because the real views are twice as dreamy. Take a funicular train at a gradient of 47 degrees up in the mountains, and you get a series of breath-taking views all the way to the top. You realize that homo-sapiens can pierce a tunnel through a mountain, but it takes a divine power to create one in the first place.

For a businessman, it offers a friendly and stable regime, with world-famous banking services to boot. For its citizens, it signifies orderliness, tolerance of neighbors, peace, prosperity and a healthy work-life balance. For the world at large, it stands up for armed neutrality and peace. It hosts a number of international institutions.

For those wanting to hone their skills in hospitality management, it offers several options. There are several institutes of international repute offering courses in diverse streams of sciences and humanities. For centuries, royalty has used its finishing schools to groom its delicately nurtured princesses.

The Humble Origin of the Brand – The Oath of Grutli

The Switzerland we see today is surely not an overnight miracle of sorts. The Roman Empire granted autonomous control to Swiss Federal Charter 1291three regions in the early 13th century – Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. In August 1291, they decided to renew their earlier alliance and took an oath of mutual allegiance. The newborn Confederation Helvetia faced several challenges over the centuries – peasant revolts, civil wars, religious wars, French invasion, liberal revolutions, conflicts between liberals and Catholic conservatives and innumerable false starts in industrialization and revising its constitution.

It has not been in a state of war since 1815. In 1848, the federal constitution converted all the cantons into one federal state with one common military, postal service and legislature. Today, it is recognized as the pinnacle of economic prowess, self-preserving neutrality and racial tolerance. It pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace keeping initiatives globally. It boasts of the highest per capita number of Nobel Laureates in the world.

The Finer Aspects

Foreigners it has welcomed into its fold include many great personalities, like Lord Byron, Charlie Chaplin, Leon Gambetta, Igor Stravinsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Jean Calvin, etc.

The country has over 900 well maintained museums. National Museum in Zurich and the Museum of Photography are not Swiss Federal Palacethe only ones which merit a close look.  Musee d’alimentation in Vevey – owned by Nestle – is all about the history of food. The Museum of Horology in La Chaux-de-Fonds explains different aspects of watch-making. Then there is the captivating Toy Museum at Basel and the Natural History Museum at Lucerne.

Art and culture are an integral part of the life on offer. Public toilets are unbelievably clean. For those from the developing countries, trains are disturbingly punctual.

Tremendous Soft Power

Building and construction, tunneling and excavation, hydro-geology, rail road planning contribute much towards its GDP. Unique topography has led to innovations in all these fields. Swiss architect Othmar Ammam came up with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Then there is the gigantic Itaipu Dam across the Amazon in South America, not to forget the flyover bridges in Alexandria in Egypt, all of which have come up based on Swiss expertise.

The Swiss are known as hardworking, conscientious, reliable and punctual to a fault. Efficiency of its people is legendary and leads to self-sufficiency.

Keeping the Brand Shining

A vibrant direct democracy, Switzerland has been a safe haven for the wealthy and for business. Banks have had a cult Palace of Nations Euro UN HQ Genevastatus, what with their fabulously wealthy client lists. Where our clients get their money from is none of our business has been their refrain so far.

However, with the signing of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, Switzerland recently became the 58th nation to join the comity of nations which hound tax evaders across borders. By doing so, it is going to break its own time-honored and time-tested traditions of banking secrecy.

The country is now aligning itself with global norms of financial transparency, thereby giving a fitting boost to the morale of tax administrators all over the world. Swiss banks obviously do not have much to worry about. Given their maturity and the political and economic stability of the country, international investors would continue to repose their trust and faith in them.

In the coming decades, the brand equity of Switzerland is unlikely to lose its allure. Therein lies a great lesson for many other countries in the world which could surely do with an image makeover.

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Quite early in life, I discovered that a movie should be selected for viewing not based on its cast Lekinbut based on its director. Each director has a distinctive perspective on life, and the manner in which he/she presents a theme is as unique as, say, one´s finger prints. Admittedly, the core brilliance of a movie is determined by the producer-director duo. But the unmistakable stamp on the narrative is that of the director. To put it simply, if you sit down to watch a movie by Gulzar saheb, you know what to expect. On the other hand, if you are going to see a David Dhawan flick, you already suspect what is in store.

The Brand Equity of a Director

Over a period of time, a movie director builds up a strong brand equity for himself. It comes from the uniqueness of his style, the choice of his scripts, consistency in quality of his directorial ventures, earning a respect from the discerning viewers, crowned by some degree of commercial success.

As a person who has been brought up on a rich diet of Bollywood fare right since his childhood, and maachisas someone who has dabbled in the art of movie making himself, it is not difficult for me to appreciate the complexity of producing a commercial pot-boiler. The cine-goers eventually get to see only the end result on the screen, little realizing the hard work done by all to ensure a high quality product. That is why, a good movie makes me feel fulfilled. I feel like saluting the producers and directors who have invested their effort and money on a worthwhile product.

The CEO of a Dream Merchandise Factory

A director’s role in shaping a movie would perhaps be comparable to that of either the CEO of a company or the conductor of an orchestra. A CEO’s mindset determines the business strategy of a company. His style of functioning and his value system permeates across all levels of the company. Likewise, the conductor of an orchestra blends the notes of stringed, percussion and other instruments, creating a symphony which is unique. Like a CEO guiding a company or a conductor presenting a symphony, the director also balances the strengths and weaknesses of his team members and comes up with a movie which is entertaining – and possibly educative – in the social context.

Surely, a director coordinates and guides various specialists to achieve the level of perfection in hisGaja_Gamini_ product. Apart from the choice of a script and the main caste, no department of movie making would remain aloof from the influence of a director. Screenplay, cinematography, sound design, choreography, music, editing, budgeting, financing, marketing and many other facets of movie making come under a director’s watchful eye, thereby making each movie a unique attempt at story telling. And when someone as accomplished as M F Hussain decides to wield the megaphone, we are in for a stupendous visual treat, as in ‘Gaja Gamini’ and ‘Meenaxi – A Tale of Three Cities’!

A Director’s Take

Exploiting the latent potential of an actor is surely one of the key traits of a director. Look at some of the amazing transformations we have seen on the silver screen all these years! To recapitulate just a few:

  • A villain or a vamp being cast in a positive role: Remember Lalita Pawar in a matronly role in Raj Kapoor´s ‘Anari’? Or, Shashikala supporting the sulking heroine in Hrishikesh Mukherji´s ‘Anupama’? Cut to ‘Abhiman’ and you notice Bindu empathising with the lead pair. Under the baton of Manoj Kumar and Manmohan Desai, we had Pran playing positive roles in ‘Shaheed’, ‘Upkar’ and ‘Zanjeer’. From a staunch villain, Madan Puri became a doting grand-pa in Rajshri Production’s ‘Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye’.
  • From a flamboyant playboy to a chivalrous gentleman: Yesteryear´s jumping jack JeetendraHum aapke hain kaun becomes a simpleton in ‘Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne’ and ‘Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti’ under the watchful eyes of V. Shantaram. Gulzar is equally effective with Jeetendra in ‘Parichay’ and ‘Khushboo’. Lately, we have seen Salman Khan being tamed by Suraj Barjatya in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!’ and ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’.
  • From a debonair hero to a villain: Under Brij, Ashok Kumar, the quintessential hero, becomes a villain in ‘Ustadon ke Ustad’; under Vijay Anand, he springs a surprise in ‘Jewel Thief’.

The chemistry between a music director and a director has also produced enchanting results for music buffs.

  • Besides raucous beats in movies like ‘Bombay’ and ‘Rangeela’, A R Rehman comes up withZubeidaa soulful music in ‘Zubeida’ for Shyam Benegal. Likewise, for Subhash Ghai, he composes a different genre of music in ‘Taal’.
  • The duo of Shankar-Jaikishan, when working with Raj Kapoor, left behind a rich repertoire of scores, some of which are evergreen and a treat for movie goers of all ages.
  • Salil Chaudhury, when coupled with Basu Chatterjee, came up with some unique scores in ‘Rajnigandha’ and ‘Chhoti Si Baat’.

Some Directors I Admire

Selection of a script essentially determines the social message that a director wishes to convey through his work. One fondly recollects the following directors who have sought to convey a unique message of their own through their work:

  • Aparna Sen did a great service to the senior citizens by highlighting their plight in the thought-provoking ’36 Chowringhee Lane’. The acute loneliness of Violet Stoneham touched our hearts. In ‘Paroma’, she explored the psyche of a tradition-bound housewife seeking liberation in her own way. In my opinion, her best offering so far has been ‘Mr. & Mrs. Iyer’. It conveyed the message of inter-religious harmony in a very effective manner. Her latest offering, ‘The Japanese Wife’, depicts the true meaning of love, sans any physical contact. One wishes her a long innings of creative offerings.
  • Ashutosh Gowarikar is another director whose work one has come to admire. ‘Lagaan’, ‘Swades’, ‘Jodha Akbar’ and ‘What is Your Rashee’ were all brilliant offerings. One surely looks forward to more movies from his stable in the days to come.
  • Basu Bhattacharya excelled in depicting the post-matrimonial relationships between couples. If ‘Anubhav’ captured the vacuum felt in the absence of a child and the misunderstandingTeesri kasam created as a result of an ex-lover of the wife walking into the household, ‘Aavishkar’ dwelt at length on the dissappointment caused by the realization that a college romance is so very transient. In ‘Teesri Kasam’, he came up with a classic philosophical treatise, whereas in ‘Sparsh’, he touched upon the challenges faced by the differently abled in our society. Finally, in ‘Aastha’, we saw him covering the impact of a materialistic culture on our morality and social values.
  • Basu Chatterjee‘s movies are classics in their own right. Depicting the dilemmas faced by the great Indian middle class with a dash of humour was his forte. Right from ‘Chameli Ki Shadi’ to ‘Baaton Baaton Mein’, ‘Chitchor’, ‘Hamari Bahu Alka’ and ‘Piya Ka Ghar’, he has regaled us with heart-warming tales, backed by tongue in cheek humour. In ‘Rajanigandha’, the hero, while watching a movie, imagines himself and the heroine as Dharmendra and Hema Malini on the screen – one of the several master strokes of the director. In ‘Chhoti Si Baat’, the hero and the heroine go about singing a song in crowded places whereas all others around them remain preoccupied with their own activities! In ‘Khatta Meetha’, we find an irritated Ashok Kumar threatening to kill Pradip Kumar, the heroine’s father, if he fails to bless her marriage with his adopted son.
  • One has admired some of the B. R. Chopra movies because of not only their socially Gumrahresponsible messages but also for their experimental streak. If ‘Naya Daur’ was about rapid industrialization leading to labour unrest, ‘Gumrah’ was about the perils of a wife likely to go wayward. ‘Humraz’ spoke of the dangers inherent in a situation where one attempts to hide facts from one’s spouse. ‘Insaf Ka Tarazu’ covered the trauma of rape, whereas ‘Nikaah’ was about a woman asserting her rights to choose a husband. ‘Pati Patni aur Woh’ was a humouros take on the proverbial seven-year itch of the male of the species, a theme which was effectively countered in ‘Rang Birangi’ subsequently by none other than Hrishikesh Mukherjee! His experimental foray into the genre of suspense led to two classics: ‘Kanoon’ and ‘Ittefaq’, both of which broke from convention and did not boast of any song, a taboo for the mainstream BollywoodDark Bandini cinema. ‘Baghban’, directed by his son Ravi Chopra, is a great comment on the derogatory attitude adopted by some of the grown up children towards their parents.
  • Bimal Roy gave us realistic movies with a socialistic message. ‘Do Beegha Zameen’ and ‘Bandini’ shall remain etched in our minds forever. In ‘Sujata’, he touched upon the stigma of untouchability in a very poignant manner.
  • David Lean‘s work has left an indelible impression on me. Think of either the elements of nature or the complexity of human relationships and you end up remembering ‘The Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Dr. Zhivago’ and ‘Ryan’s Daughter’. ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ was yet another masterpiece from this great man.
  • Govind Nihalani has given us some brilliant movies over the years. ‘Aakrosh’ was based on a real life incident. ‘Ardh Satya’ captured the realities faced by our police force in stark detail. Much later, the trauma faced by youth involved in the naxalite movement was poignantly captured in ‘Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Ma’. Another unforgettable offering of his was the TV serial ‘Tamas’.
  • Gulzar is another favourite of mine. Right from ‘Mere Apne’, ‘Koshish’, ‘Parichay’, ‘Achanak’Ijaazat and ‘Kitaab’ to ‘Khushboo’, ‘Kinara’, ‘Aandhi’ ‘Angoor’, ‘Namkeen’ and ‘Ijazat’, he demonstrated a finely nuanced grip on capturing human emotions. Using flashbacks as an essential ingredient of his inimitable style of story telling, he has created a series of movies which explore the human psyche with unparalleled depth. For Doodrdarshan, he created a master piece in the serial ‘Mirza Ghalib’, ably assisted by Jagjit Singh and Naseeuddin Shah. Other unforgettable movies directed by him are ‘Lekin’, ‘Maachis’ and ‘Hu Tu Tu….’. What a creative line up!
  • Guru Dutt has left behind a series of thought-provoking movies for all of us to enjoy for all times to come. ‘Pyaasa’ captured not only the frustration of a creative poet who earns recognition only after he is presumed to be dead, but also the angst of the youth dissppointedPyaasa poster by the shattering of socialistic dreams in post independence India. ‘Kagaz Ke Phool’ was autobiographical in nature, and went on to assume a cult status in black and white cinematography. ‘Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam’ looked at the degrading zamindari system and was backed by powerful performances. He also gave us ‘Chaudavin Ka Chaand’, memorable for its music.
  • Hrishikesh Mukherjee is yet another director who has captured the value system of the great Indian middle class in a very effective manner. If ‘Anupama’ portrayed the transformation of a docile daughter into a rebel of sorts, ‘Satyakam’ touched upon the trials and tribulations of a whistle-blower who values integrity and honesty above all else in his life. ‘Aashirwad’ captured a daughter’s longing for her father, whereas ‘Anand’ captured the dilemmas of the medical profession in a heart-wrenching manner. In ‘Guddi’, he touched upon the perils of hero-worship amongst teenagers and the negative influence of movies on those in an impressionable age. ‘Abhimaan’ put the fragile male ego under a microscope. In ‘Chupke Chupke’, he came up with a rip-roaring treatise on the eccentricities of the linguistic purists. ‘Bawarchi’ touched upon the joint family system, whereas ‘Golmaal’ was well-intended pun directed at moustache maniacs. In ‘Khubsoorat’, he drove home in his inimitable style the need of striking a balance between fredoom and discipline in family life, espousing the cause of nirmal anand (unalloyed bliss). His last offering was ‘Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kaate’ Pakeezahwhich conveyed the value of truthfulness in all relationships in a very humorous manner. One truly misses such directors!
  • Kamal Amrohi came up with virtual poetry on celluloid with ‘Pakeezah’. The whole movie was a work of passion, akin to the rich tapestry of the bright red carpet he had got specially woven for a single dance sequence to be picturized. His ‘Razia Sultan’ was also a rich offering.
  • When it comes to clean family entertainment steeped in Indian tradition, Rajshri Productions has always been very consistent. Right from ‘Aarti’, ‘Dosti’, ‘Jeevan Mrityu’ andmovie Vivah ‘Tapasya’ to ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun…!’, ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ and ‘Vivah’, we have lived through good and bad times faced by families we could easily identify with. Several of their offerings have tugged at our heart-strings: ‘Uphaar’, ‘Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se’, ‘Chitchor’, ‘Dulhan Wohi Jo Piya Man Bhaye’ and ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, to name a few.
  • If there is one person who earned money in routine Bollywood pot-boilers and ploughed it back to produce some unique movies, it is Shashi Kapoor. ‘Vijeta’ captured in detail the challenges faced by young officers in the Indian Air Force. ‘Utsav’, directed by Girish Karnad, was yet another master piece, based on the famous Sanskrit play ‘Mriccha-katikam’. ‘Kalyug’ was based on the epic Mahabharata and was directed by ShyamAnkur Benegal.
  • Shyam Benegal started off as a master of alternate cinema, offering such hard-hitting comments on the under-privileged of the society as ‘Ankur’, ‘Nishant’, ‘Manthan’ and ‘Bhumika’. ‘Zubeidaa’ presented an interesting slice of history. However, his recent offerings have been rich public-spirited satires, highlighting glaring deficiencies in the public delivery system and also taking a dig at our age-old misconceptions and taboos. If you have seen ‘Welcome to Sajjanpur’ and ‘Well Done, Abba’, you would know what I am talking about.
  • V Shantaram gave us classics which drew on the traditional values and art forms. If ‘Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani’ was based on a real life happening, ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’ captured the dilemmas faced by artists committed to their profession. ‘Do Aankhen Barah Haath’ touched on the criminal system, whereas ‘Navrang’ explored in detail the male fantasy of having the perfect female as a life companion. 
  • Vijay Anand gave us jewels like ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, ‘Jewel Thief’, ‘Tere Mere Sapne’ and ‘JohnyGuide_poster Mera Naam’. ‘Guide’ immortalized one of the great works of R. K. Narayan. Performance of the lead pair of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman still remains fresh in our memories. His penchant for perfection was such that in ‘Nau Do Gyarah’, if a bomb was to go off in seven minutes, the on-screen suspense went on for precisely seven minutes!

Several other legendary directors, like Raj Kapoor, Mehboob, K. Asif, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, Shekhar Kapur and others do not appear here. Their exclusion here is in no way meant to belittle their immense contribution to the art and form of cinema as we know it today. It is just that a majority of their work has come to define what we generally refer to as ‘mainstream cinema’, whereas the idea here has been to capture directors who have been innovative in their own way.

Directors to watch out for

All this is not to say that brilliant work is not being done these days. ‘Khosla ka Ghosla’ directedDor by Dibakar Banerjee, ‘Iqbal’, ‘Dor’ and ‘Mod’ from Nagesh Kukanoor, ‘Tare Zameen Par’ by Aamir Khan, ‘Black’ by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, ‘Munnabhai’ series and ‘3 Idiots’ by Raj Kumar Hirani, ‘Chak de India’ by Shimit Amin, ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Pa’ by R. Balakrishnan, ‘The Blue Umbrella’ by Vishal Bhardwaj, ‘Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge’ by Ashwani Dheer, ‘Chhodo Kal ki Baatein’ by Pramod Joshi, ‘Do Dooni Chaar’ by Habib Faisal, ‘Stanley ka Dabba’ by Amol Gupte, ‘I am Kalaam’ by Nila Madhab Panda and ‘Vicky Donor’ by Shoojit Sircar are all movies which give us the firm hope that Bollywood is finally out of the singing around the tree days, willing to experiment with unconventional themes, that too while keeping the box officeTaareZameenPar registers tinkling.

Rise in disposable incomes has led to the proliferation of multiplexes. Audience has turned younger. In turn, small budget movies have carved out a niche for themselves. Several producers have learnt to minimize financial risks by beating the star system and are instead banking on smarter scripts, thereby achieving better returns on their investments.

Exercising Our Emotional Muscles

Consider this: why do we get hooked on to movies in the first place? Is it sheer escapism? May be, yes, but also coupled with an appreciation of – and fascination with – this genre of entertainment. Identifying oneself with either a character or a situation presented on the screen gives one immense psychological relief. Also, one needs to exercise one’s emotional muscles or skills in a way that may or may not be acceptable in our routine lifestyles!

A director with a strong brand equity surely knows how to touch our heart-strings. In the process, he teaches us to exercise our emotional muscles better and think out-of-the-box when confronted with a real life situation!!

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