Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Satyam's Conundrum

Satyam Cinemas is probably the only truly decent cinema theater in proper Chennai (Mayajaal in the outskirts is just too far to be true competition). PVR, Inox and other multiplexes will soon be entering the Chennai market. Prices at these complexes are in the order of 80-150 rupees and hence, way out of the reach of the common man.

The Tamil Nadu government recently enacted a Governmental Order that prohibits the pricing of tickets in Air Conditioned halls at above Rs.50 per ticket. Now this should have been excellent news for the regulars at Satyam. However, most people are aghast at the possibility that they might have to sit besides an auto-driver (the horror !) if the prices are dropped.

And of course, Satyam and other multiplexes could lose a huge amount of revenue (more than 50% in some of their screens). So the conundrum for them is, how do they stay in line with the Governmental Order, retain revenue and also ensure that the crowd in their theatre is decent and does not insist on spitting on every wall?

I believe I have a solution ....

The best way out for the Satyam Management would be to make their theater "membership based" ! They could charge a Rs.1,000 lifetime membership and then only allow members to purchase tickets. Or maybe they could extend the dichotomy of Indian society and allow "general booking" for the cheaper seats and only allow members to buy the more comfortable seats.

This way, they can keep the tickets at Rs.50 and still generate the same levels of revenue. And of course no auto driver will spring for Rs.1,000 in one shot.

The "fuel card" that Satyam recently launched could be re-branded as a membership card.

And of course, if Satyam jumps on this and starts such a program, it will put INOX and others in a lot of trouble, as I doubt if anyone would pay for more than one membership.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Munich

I just watched the movie "Munich" directed by Steven Spielberg. The movies revolves around the killing of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes during the Munich Olympics (1972). Israel, in retaliation assigns five men to kill eleven Palestinian leaders who were responsible either directly or indirectly for the Munich killings.

Excellent movie, with a superb performance from Eric Bana (Whom I have loved since watching him as the incredibly heroic Hector in the movie "Troy"). Although the movie was more than two and a half hours in length, it certainly did not seem so.

In any case, it was not my intent to write a review on the movie itself, but rather to highlight one particular aspect of it's presentation that I was not as happy about.

I will be honest - I know very little about the Israel-Palestine conflict. I tried to read "O, Jerusalem" but even Dominique Lapierre's exceptional writing could not keep me interested. I do not know any Israelis or Palestinians personally, but I certainly felt that the Israeli assasins were shown as being far more civilized, to the extent of being compassionate, while the Palestinians were uniformly shown as being ruthless, trigger-happy cut-throats.

For instance, during the second planned assasination, the Israeli team plants a bomb in the telephone of the target. Their plan is to detonate the bomb when the target picks up the phone. The target happens to have a wife and a daughter both of whom leave the home, during which time they plan to carry out the killing. Unfortunately, the daughter comes back to pick up the books and so when one of the Israelis calls the target's phone, she picks up. At once, at immense personal risk, two of them run frantically and tell the others not to detonate the bomb. All very sweet and all, and maybe it actually happened, but to me it smacked of an attempt to sugar-coat the core fact that the Israelis were performing actions that were as cold-hearted and vile as any other assasin in the world.

What is the difference between killing a girl who happens to be the daughter of a wanted terrorist and dropping huge bombs onto defence-less residential neighborhoods thereby killing 1000's?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dr. Kalam so gets it ....

I have always had my doubts about how much the IIT's, IIM's or even my alma mater, BITS, Pilani contributed to India - Because, in my opinion, what they have turned out to be is just a finishing school where the best students are polished in a way that their brains are made to lose all capabilities for deep analysis, with a focus on speed. Compromising on depth for breadth, which is of course what Industry wants - generalists, rather than specialists.

It has been argued that the IIT's and other top institutions have produced graduates who have gone on to create great amounts of wealth for India, either directly or through a trickle down from the US. My simple question has always been - What did these institutions add on to the students during their 4/5 years there? Of course, the graduate at the end of the degree is very different from the 16 year old fresher that enters the program - In terms of confidence, polish and maturity. However, are we confusing the normal "coming of age" of young men and women for something that these institutions actually provide?

If the IIT's took in mediocre students, would they be able to convert them into great engineers? And would a brilliant person, in the absence of an IIT education be vastly handicapped in their career? I believe that the answer is "NO" in both of these cases. And it is not just the IIT's, but also the so-called "top schools" in every city in the country, where through a careful weeding process, they remove every mediocre student until they are left with the cream to teach to.

Is taking the cream and producing whipped cream all that great? What we need are institutions that can take milk that is souring and wasting away in the absence of the right growth medium and provide the right catalyst for these individuals to channelize their knowledge and energy in the right direction.

Dr. Kalam echoes my point in a speech made to more than 4,000 IIT Alumni when he says "Just one-hundredth of one percent of the 20 Million children born in India make it to the IIT's, but they were the best and come out as the best with very low value addition". Bingo.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wi-Fi for all

With all the cash Indian IT companies have, I have come up with an awesome Public Relations exercise that they could undertake. Why not provide free wi-fi throughout a city ?

Cognizant could adpot Chennai, Infosys could adopt Bangalore and Satyam could adpot Hyderabad. It should not cost all that much - 5-10 crores I would think.

If Philadelphia's local government think they can provide free wi-fi throughout their city, why not our own desi IT companies.

Free and fast connectivity would then improve access to information and knowledge for all, with access barriers being removed for the poor. This would then enhance the value of cheap computers as designed by MIT ($100) or the Simputer designed by IISc.