That Framework is so 1980s

One last TV/ pop-sociology post, and then I’m done with the topic for a long, long time.

So lala-yuppie-hippie is one framework of classification which separates different shows on TV. But then there are shows which are 100% hippie. And then they sub-classify their characters using some different framework. For example Mind Your Language and it’s Indian ripoff Zabaan Sambhal Ke differentiated characters using national/ regional stereotypes.

These days my cousin and aunt fight over the remote. This is because my aunt wants to watch the aforementioned Radha ki Betiyaan yada yada while my cousin wants to watch Miley Jab Hum Tum, which is  Both are on at the same time. What follows is an attempt to use words to describe the unspeakable horror of Miley Jab Hum Tum.

The unspeakable horror arises because the six main characters (three guys and three girls, of course) are built around stereotypes. This in itself is not a bad thing, but:

  1. There is zilch character development beyond the stereotypes
  2. The stereotypes are incredibly old and boring.

There are two different stereotype frameworks which have been used. The characters are students in college and are doing the incredibly hippie course Media Studies. (Must… resist… temptation… to sidetrack into the fascinating recursion of characters on television studying about television.)

So the three male leads have been stereotyped into playboy-nerd-dweeb.Playboy-nerd-dweeb was of course a wonderfully fresh and useful classification back in a) the 1960s b) America, when Archie Comics was at its peak. Considering that this classification doesn’t really exist in India, and that even in America teen demographics have split into goths, emos, geeks, and suchlike, why is it being used on Indian television?

The framework stereotypes used for the female leads are as stale, but at least the framework used here is Indian and not quite as old. The female leads have been split into rich bitch, behenji-turned-mod, and behenji. The rich bitch spends all her time trying to humiliate the behenji and behenji-turned-mod, who are sisters from Morena. (By the way, the Wikipedia entry on Morena is a hilarious rant on Tomar victimhood and the wickedness of Jats. In case it’s brought to a Neutral POV by the time you’re reading this, here’s the permalink to the current revision).

But yeah. So the entire premise of the serial is that people from small towns are uncool, people who’re interested in studies can’t dance, people who dance aren’t interested in studies, and that being an idiot is funny. This could of course have worked back in the 1980s, but the stereotypes are so old by now that there’s nothing left to do with them. Naturally, this makes the serial excellent junk/ comfort food for the brain.

Right, people, that closes my pontifications about TV, pseudosociological classifcations, and the like. We now return to our regular arbit fundaes.

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Jet Airways

We now interrupt our current run of TV-blogging to abuse everyone involved in the Jet Airways fashla.

Jet Airways

What the hell went wrong? What were they thinking when they fired people overnight? The only possible answers are colossal stupidity or desperation.

Desperation – we know that they haven’t been paying their fuel bills for a while. And with eight months of running losses, banks were refusing to provide working capital. And with the financial crisis on, raising long term capital looks practically impossible. They’re bleeding cash, and firing their newest employees probably seemed like the quickest way to staunch the flow.

Colossal stupidity – is a stereotype that usually goes well with HR departments and senior managements. But in this case, it looks like they really weren’t thinking the consequences through. They now have Raj Thackeray, the CPI(M), and news channels baying for their blood. That will probably pass, but they’ve lost their reputation as a good employer. When the business cycle improves, they’ll have to deal with not being an employer of choice. (That assumes they’ll survive until then.)

Back in the last recession, there were a bunch of IT companies which made their layoffs/ salary cutbacks as painless as possible and got written up as case studies. I think Mindtree was one of them. Jet Airways didn’t learn. (But then Ajay Shah has written that nobody in India even understands that business cycles exist and a recession will eventually come along…)

Jet Airways Employees

OK, being told in the morning that you’re fired and you shouldn’t show up for work is definitely a shock. More so, if it happens to 1900 of your colleagues simultaneously. But if their sob stories are true and they are sole breadwinners who have taken out home loans and are worried about how they’ll pay their EMIs, then I have to say that they were idiots. They were on probation. They knew that they’d been hired for a one year period before being confirmed. They knew that house prices were higher than ever before. They knew that they were employed by an airline that was losing money and that job security apart, salary increases were probably not coming soon. And knowing this… they went into debt. FSM preserve them.

Hopefully, the ones shouting on TV about their EMIs were a small minority who the news channels picked to add to the drama.

News Channels

Dear news channels. This is not the largest layoff in India in the recent past. Banks have been shutting down their associated consumer finance/ small business loan NBFCs left right and centre over the past year, and the total layoffs in these have been much higher.

This is merely the largest layoff in India of attractive young people who speak good English. Please insert the appropriate disclaimers. And stop trying to project the temporary plight of young middle class Indians who are otherwise employable as the end of the world. Okay?

The CPI(M)

The CPI(M) is pretty much complicit in bringing Jet Airways to this state. All of last year, they sat in the way of price hikes for petrol, diesel and kerosene. So the oil marketing companies raised the prices of air fuel instead in an attempt to survive. And now Jet Airways is bankrupt and has to sack employees to survive. After this, Nilotpal Basu has the gall to go on TV and say that the CPI(M) won’t allow Jet Airways to operate from Kolkata.

Also, demanding reinstatement? Firing employees isn’t pleasant, but at least it does stem the cash outflow a little. If Jet Airways kept them on, then it would keep losing money until it couldn’t even pay the confirmed employees, who’d been on the payrolls longer. The CPI(M) seems more concerned about a thousand jobs today than twenty thousand jobs next year (and CEOs get abused for thinking in the short term!). (Related reading here.) Either the CPI(M) is (shock! gasp!) a run-of-the-mill political party, concerned only about the next election; or it doesn’t understand reality. Or both.

Oscar Fernandes

Because when he was asked for a soundbite, he smiled and said that he didn’t know anything because he had been at a junket labour ministers’ conference in Bali.

Praful Patel

OK, no abusing Praful Patel. Because he’s actually refused to bail anybody out, pointed out that this is to do with ATF prices, and has generally not played to the gallery.

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Bombsploitation

In a comment on the no-yuppies-in-TV post, Rajat wrote:

Even if somebody tries to make a yuppie soap, I suspect that market pressures would force it to morph into a saas-bahu saga. I remember this soap called “Sanjeevani” on Star about a hospital. Seemed to be sensible in the beginning. Slowly elements like scheming colleagues, love polygons etc. were added. I think the limit of any desi soap opera as time tends to infinity is a saas-bahu soap opera.

Axshully, the serial about singing dancing doctors I wrote about in that post is called Dill Mill Gaye (yes, yes, I know) and according to its Wikipedia page, it’s a sequel to Sanjivani. Though since there are hardly any common characters it would be more appropriate to say that the two serials take place in the same continuity/ universe.

But anyway. Coming to Rajat’s point about market pressures slowly forcing everything into saas-bahu-soap-opera-dom. There seems to be enough market demand for singing and dancing that Dill Mill Gaye has settled into an equilibrium of background Hindi film music and inter-doctor romance without any scheming and plotting (though it does have the reaction shots). There’s a clip below if you really want to see for yourself. I am not responsible for the four minutes of your life you will never get back.

But just because it’s settled into a singing-dancing-romance equilibrium, doesn’t mean the producers aren’t occasionally tempted to take the exploitation route to higher ratings.

So a week or two after the Delhi blasts, the serial moved from having doctors in louw, to having doctors in louw… and bombs! After an idyllic existence where the doctors sing and dance, and occcasionally prescribe medicines for headache; the doctors suddenly land up in the middle of a bomb blast scene. There are copious entrails and severed limbs all over the screen in a primetime slot usually associated with light fluffy romance and item numbers. The episode ends with the discovery that the female lead has actually been wired to a bomb, and it detonates if she makes any move, not matter how slight. It was bizarre. And it reverted to the normal singing-dancing-romance in two weeks, as if the characters had never been through a near-death experience at all. Even more bizarre.

So the bad news is that even decently performing serials can suddenly veer away from their premise into something completely unexpected. The good news is that it needn’t necessarily be a veer into K-ness.

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The Movie With All The Stereotypes

What got me started on all this pontification about Indian movies being filled with hippies was watching Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. Although I liked the movie, one question went through my head throughout the movie: don’t any of these people have jobs?

And then I put analysis and realised that pretty much all Hindi movies have no yuppies. So I sort of lost hope in Bollywood’s ability to showcase yuppies. But then two months later a movie came along which actually had all the rich people stereotypes including yuppies. In fact all three stereotypes had lead roles. This movie was Bachna Ae Haseenon and the three heroines each represent one of the stereotypes.

Minissha Lamba was basically the lala. She was from a rich serd family and married a rich serd guy with a massive family house and reasonably decent family business in Amritsar Sahib.

Bipasha Basu was the hippie. In the first half of the movie, she landed up in Bombay and became a Shiamak Davar dancer which is basically your beginner or starter hippie. The point is that it involves no MS Excel. In the second half, she’s become a supermodel or superstar or both, and all her daily inconveniences are smoothed out by a succession of secretaries who take care of them. So between the first half and the second half she moves from beginner hippiedom to advanced hippiedom.

Deepika Padukone plays the yuppie. She does an MBA, works three jobs, and hunts for stock tips. She also follows tech and plays computer games. When Ranbir Kapoor asks her to put jeevansathi with him, she says K to him because she’s afraid he’ll ask her to stop working (which would result in her lifestyle moving from yuppie to lala).

The most interesting character is Ranbir Kapoor because his classification matches whichever woomaan he’s putting blade on. He starts the movie as a lala by being the rich son of a rich dad who goes on holiday to Switzerland and blades the lala Minissha Lamba. Then in the next segment he’s a video game designer which is a very hippie job. So he blades the hippie Bipasha Basu. Finally he gets promoted to senior management and has game designers reporting to him, and just tracks their progress, so he’s become a yuppie. In this part of the movie he puts blade on the yuppie Deepika Padukone.

I am not sure if the movie is a metaphor for how liberalisation forces lala family-owned businesses to professionalise and hire yuppie senior management. That sort of speculation is better left to people with columns in Sunday newspapers anyway.

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Why is there no Yuppie Programming?

So what is it about TV that inspired me to write arbit posts defining lalas, yuppies and hippies? Well, it’s like this. Ever since I started watching TV about four months ago (when I moved in with relatives in Mumbai), I’ve realised this about it – all Indian TV (fiction) programming is centred around lalas and hippies. But never yuppies. As far as the people who make Indian TV serials are concerned, yuppies don’t exist.

Now soap operas of the K variety are of course dominated by lalas. From what little I’ve seen of them (fortunately, my relatives in Mumbai are not devotees) they’re centred around gigantic business joint families where everyone is scheming against each other, often for control of the business. Very lala, really. Even when said soap operas are not of the Balaji K-variety, they tend to involve ginormous lala families.

My cousin watched two soap operas earlier in the year. One involved a female who was dark skinned, so she was married off to a spastic guy. As in, literally spastic. I am not making this up. But the spastic guy belonged to a giant lala family and his sister-in-law schemed against this dark-complexioned chick. So full lala fundaes again.

The other soap opera was halfway between hippie and lala. Like I said, these things are intersecting stereotypes on a Venn Diagram rather than properly mutually-exclusive-collective-exhaustive categories. So anyway this one is about a star kid who’s being launched by his bigger movie star (or maybe director or producer) dad. Now being a movie star is as hippie as it gets, but if you’re being launched by your dad than lala fundaes come into play again.

The point is that in all of this, yuppies are missing.

Cut to now. My aunt’s favourite thing on TV these days is this thing on NDTV Imagine called Radha ki Betiyaan Kuchh Kar Ke Dikhayengeen. It regularly scales new heights of hippieness. It’s about this woman from Meerut who packs up and brings her daughters to Mumbai so that they can be successful in life.

What’s amazing is the path to success these daughters take. The accepted path to success is the yuppie one – become an engineer, then become an MBA, then become a finance professional, and pay off your EMIs for the next thirty years. You would think that these daughters would follow it too. But no! The oldest one gets a job at a fashion design house, which is the borderline between hippie and yuppie. But then she quits to enter a dance contest, and abandons all pretensions of yuppieness. And in fact this goes on throughout the show. The three daughters and their mother perpetually have to raise money for some reason or the other. It’s like watching a Sunday morning kids movie every night at primetime. And instead of doing it the yuppie way and becoming management consultants, they do it buy selling songs they’ve written, taking part in dance contests, and providing Hindi tuitions. Something involving Excel, or even maths done with pencil and paper never crosses their minds. It’s amazing.

Then there’s the stuff my cousin watches. There is first this show on Star One about doctors who seem to spend all their time singing and dancing rather than taking care of patients. So you have singing dancing doctors who never worry about the price of bhindi, or how much rent they’re paying. Come to think of it, they don’t seem to have homes – they just sing and dance at hospital. The point is that yuppie concerns of day-to-day minutiae are given the go-by.

Now it would be okay if the total absence of yuppie characters was restricted to television. But it exists in movies also. There are no yuppie characters in Bollywood either. Everyone in a Hindi movie is blissfully unconcerned about where the money is coming from. When will you ever see a Hindi movie character worrying about rent, or who’s going to clean the toilet? Let’s run through some of the movies in 2008:

  • Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na: everyone is hippie or lala. Aditi wants to do a course in filmmaking. I mean, come on. How much more hippie can you get? The guy she gets engaged to has a family business and is lala. Her brother is hippiemax. Even Jai never gets around to being a yuppie. To all indications, his mother doesn’t ever bother about rent because she lives in an owned house – lalaness, again.
  • Drona and Love Story 2050: Ok, the characters in these don’t fit any stereotype, but it’s still yuppie exclusion.
  • Singh is Kinng: Farmer with a heart of gold becomes head of the Australian mafia. Hippie, hippie, hippie.
  • Kidnap: Rich daughter of gazillionaire? Lala.

You see my point, yes?

So in all of this, do yuppies get seen at all? Well, yes. But only in the ads, which most people just surf away from. Now, let’s look at this in detail. With YouTube examples!

Usually, the category with the maximum yuppieness is life insurance. Which makes sense. Lalas don’t need life insurance because they’re already rich and have enough assets to take care of their dependents. Or if they do buy life insurance, they’ll buy whatever their CA-moonlighting-as-insurance-agent will sell them, not on the basis of advertising. Hippies don’t make financial decisions and just leave it to their private banker or lala family’s accountant. So you have to pitch to yuppies, who actually live on a month-to-month basis and have to worry about this shit. So it makes sense to have yuppie-focused advertising.

For a long time, the HDFC Standard Life ad was the yuppiest in India:

Consider! It has a daughter buying her father a car, which is the antithesis of regular lala relationships. Buying their parents stuff is probably what every yuppie dreams of. Plus look at all the other yuppie indicators – personalised checkbook from a new age private bank, shirt and pants instead of salwar kameez or sari, hair let down instead of plaited. In fact HDFC Standard’s slogan – Sar Utha Ke Jiyo – is the sort of thing that resonates more with yuppies than anybody else.

So yes. For a very long time, nothing could beat HDFC Standard Life in the yuppieness stakes. And then Airtel unleashed Madhavan and Vidya Balan. First, they established the young and urban part by showing them at an apartment building’s lift:

Having established yuppieness, they then set out to reinforce it:

Once again, we have the yuppie aspiration of giving money to parents instead of the other way around. Plus, check out the furniture. It screams yuppie. But in case you had any doubts at all, the next ad in the series set out to bury them once and for all:

Now prepaid recharges may not seem very yuppie. After all good yuppies have postpaid corporate connections. But set that aside for a while. And look at everything else in the ad. You have Vidya Balan telling Madhavan to make salad and do the household chores. This is the pinnacle of yuppieness. Hippies have domestic help to do the household chores. As for lala families, the woman telling the man to do stuff around the house is an exercise in futility.

But anyway. So there are yuppie characters in ads. But even this is in a very small set of ads. Usually for services, especially the financial sort. FMCG ads are dominated by celebrity endorsements (i.e., hippies). So are laptop ads for some bizarre reason. Confectionary ads have fantasy characters, and Fevicol actually goes so far as to show poor people. And like I said, people mostly surf away from ads, so it doesn’t really count.

So clearly the situation is grim for us yuppies. We get no representation in popular culture, and now the financial crisis is making the real world dark and depressing too. Now, we can only hope that the recent spate of yuppie suicides will mean that Sainath will give us some love. But honestly, who wants that?

PS1: I realise I’m only looking at lalas, yuppies, and hippies and ignoring poor people. But that’s pretty much because there have been no poor people in movies or on TV since the 1980s. People who watched Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and encouraged the secular trend in movies about hippie kids of lala parents, this is your fault.

PS2: Actually, even when there were poor people in the movies, they weren’t really poor. Even if they lived in chawls, rent never seemed to be a factor. Indian cinema and television is a fantasy world where everyone owns their house, no matter how poor or unemployed they are. (Insert subprime crisis/ NINJA mortgage/ Congressman Barney Frank joke here.)

PS3: Actually, there is one Hindi movie this year which has acknowledged the presence of yuppies. In fact it has covered all three stereotypes. But that will be discussed in the next post.

The Rich Are Not Like Each Other

There are three kinds of rich people in India. Lalas, yuppies and hippies. If you’re a rich person in India you pretty much fall into one of these three stereotypes unless you’re a rich hermit or something. By the way, this division is based on behaviour rather than actual net worth or occupation. So even poor or middle class people who feel rich and act that way fall into these categories. With that settled lets define them.

So lalas are basically the people who run family business or their family members. Their source of income is pretty much selling whatever the family business makes or doing real estate deals. To handle their finances they employ an accountant. To handle their homes they have domestic servants who are trained by the women of the house and who generally stay with the family in a lifetime employment situation. And the homes themselves have been in the family for years or purchased with a heavy black money component.

Then you have yuppies. These are basically the people whose income is salary from third party organisations and capital gains (though the capital gains are only for advanced yuppies). For housing they either pay rent or housing loan EMIs. They also do their household chores themselves or in the best case have a very unreliable kaamwali bai who they don’t have the time to train. The mark of a yuppie is that she or he does his or her own finances including personally paying the credit card bills, going over bank statements and marking their investment portfolio to market. And typically their job involves any one of the following either as input or output:

  1. MS office files
  2. code
  3. statistical models

So that leaves us with the hippies. The hippies are basically people who have neither family business nor salaried employment. They do stuff like fashion design or star in TV serials or movie direction or guided tours of Chandni Chowk or write books. This is stuff which doesn’t give a regular salary and which rarely involves Microsoft Office. The unsuccessful hippies are the ones who live with their lala families and whose day to day lives are handled by the lala family’s accountant and domestic servant. But the successful hippies like Arundhati Roy and Rakhi Sawant move out. Then they buy houses on EMI, employ a higher class of kaamwali bais, and have their personal finances looked after by private bankers.

Now of course there are boundary conditions. People who work in marketing and advertising draw salaries but basically have hippie occupations. So they are borderline hippie-yuppies. Then there are borderline lala-yuppies who handle new divisions of the family business. And all yuppies dream of being hippies and spending their days playing in a rock band instead of working the 9 to 7 grind. So these are not mutually exclusive categories but have some overlap and you can make a Venn Diagram of lala-yuppie-hippie.

But why am I talking about all this? Well mostly because I started watching TV back in July. That inspired me to come up with a blogpost, but before I can write that blogpost, I have to write this one with all the definitions. The main blogpost will come up soon. Till then, pip pip.

Kansa and Cars

Sriram points me to this excellent example of a Virginia number plate that follows the principles of the Kansa Society.

However, I object to failblog categorising it as FAIL. This number plate is most emphatically WIN.

Why Am I Bhadra?

My incoming links reveal that Chetan is asking why free market fundamentalists are not clamouring about the evil governments of the world looting the maid’s money.

Chetan, I cannot speak for anybody else, but I haven’t written about it yet because the details of the bailouts are unbelievably complex, and it’ll take me intense reading to understand them. I don’t want to write about things which I don’t understand yet. (This is why I have vowed to never write about US Healthcare.)

If you really want uninformed commentary by people who don’t know anything about what they’re talking about, I suggest you watch Indian news channels. Or read Shivam Vij who excels at that sort of thing.

OK, snark done. Serious answer now. Yes, I honestly do not understand the details of the bailout. Yes, I may read up on it more and then write about it seriously. But sleisha job crisis is happening on the personal front, so I may take time.

The only thing I have to say at this time concerns Tyler Cowen’s repeated statements that recapitalisation is a public good. They tie in with my repeated statements that the financial system is infrastructure as much as highways and power distribution are. So the statement is true, but public goods don’t necessarily have to be produced by the public sector.

Kim Il-Sung and Gulshan Kumar

You know who the president of North Korea is right? It’s not Kim Jong-Il. It’s his long-deceased father Kim Il-Sung. The North Korean constitution was amended to make him ‘Eternal President of the Republic‘. Kim Jong-Il is the mad dictator of North Korea, but the official position he holds is only ‘General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea’.

This is similar to Turkmenistan, where the Presidency has passed on, but only Saparmurat Niyazov is Turkmenbashi, though he too is long gone.

This sort of thing exists in India too. All T-Series movies – Karzzzz included – are advertised as ‘Gulshan Kumar Presents…’ even though Gulshan Kumar told jai back in 1997. Which means that he’s been presenting movies in a deceased state for eleven years now. How’s that for succession planning?