Beneath the Glitter – Part 3

Mango soup for the soul…

I love Alphonso Mango.  It’s the king of fruits.  An Alphonso shared a day, keeps a family smiling away .  Especially in the recent bygone season, the smiles were affordable as the mango prices stumbled to mere Rs. 400/dozen.  That’s about Rs. 33 a piece.  Now this is what I call a great ‘culinary’ bargain of Rs. 33 x 2 meals x 30 days à Rs. 2000/month! 

Unfortunately, not too many of my countrymen share my definition of a bargain. With an average per capita of Rs. 6k/month, the rule of the king-mango is ruled out for the commoners.  The same applies for most culinary adventures exotic enough to inspire taste buds.  This inverts the exhilaration of eating into a boring ordeal.  This ordeal needs some sprucing up.  Thankfully, our ancestors understood the need and wisely invented spicy ‘masalas’.  The masalas generally are not there to kick in a great taste.  Instead, their objective often is to smokescreen the tastelessness underneath—a culinary escape from an uninteresting reality. 

Bollywood movies work on a similar principle.  The only difference: the spicy masalas cater to our ‘smell & taste’ senses; the Bollywood masalas serve our remaining ‘see, hear, & feel’ senses.  The silver screen feeds our alter ego; it fills up the vacuum of our dull life.  The reel life characters are usually larger than real life in looks, physique, strength, intelligence, humor, fame, music, dance, idealism, relationships, fortune, glamor, etc.  With such a lovely assortment of enticing qualities, a melodramatic plot magically crops around the characters!  No wonder, the clapping for our megastars comes to us instinctively.  After all, they have most of the things that we only dream of—so what better gear to speed away from the reality than in the shoes of our favorite celebrity?  Especially when a galaxy of luminaries swarms all over the stage and the front rows of an awards show, the venue turns into a runway of our private Dreamliner.  Who really cares if the orchestrated ride is just a simulation and doesn’t actually takeoff?

Of course, we have nothing against aspiring faces.  It’s just that the presence of ‘wannabes’ and ‘behind-the-camera’ sloggers at the show dilutes the excitement.  It chips away the TV screen’s prime real estate from our cherished heroes.   After all, this is OUR show – it belongs to those who have it and those who don’t have it.  Where in this crowded ego space is any room for someone who can have it?  The scene makes for a perfect Sherlock Holmes setting, a conspiracy between the two levels at the opposite ends of the ladder—the ones who have climbed to the rooftop and the ones who are still on the ground.  Together, these two bands shake the ladder so violently that the aspiring climbers half-way through keep tumbling down.   Result: the ones on the rooftop keep waving their victory flags, and the ones on the ground keep whistling as if it’s their personal victory!

Yes, it is true that the whistling ones are not merely the underprivileged ones.  After decades of unacceptance by the masses, the constant hammering of the ‘meaningful’ cinema at the box office has taken its toll.  Today, the movie-makers of such content find it difficult to attract investors, thereby directly impacting the quality of the production. This, in turn, leads to a further thumbs-down by the mainstream.  The vicious circle has eventually led to the institutionalization of ‘masala’ movies across all sections of the Indian society.

The developed nations operate under a different ecosystem.  Sure, they too have their own share of societal mess, but an excessive ‘economic disparity’ is not one of it.  And when the financial pressure is absent from the daily agenda, it allows an individual to live a bit more for self than constantly dreaming of a higher existence.  Their mainstream doesn’t go to cinema to escape reality; rather, to experience a different reality.  The relevance circle is wider than Oscars’ ‘English’ audience.  Do you know that it has been 26 years since Salaam Bombay that a Bollywood movie has won even an inconsequential award at the International Cannes Film Festival?

Sure, a fair percentage of Western movies too depart from naturalism.   However, the director’s intention is not to fake reality, rather to present a pure-play unreality.  The viewers are under no illusion.  Take any random sampling of Hollywood’s fantasy cinema—Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Life of PI, Gravity—is anybody in the audience secretly wishing to be the movie’s central character?  No.  But here in Bollywood, we love being wooed by fake reality.  A few hundred bucks at a multiplex, and we disremember the real-life to a point that we seldom realize we are paying someone to mock our existence!

So how do you resolve a problem when the majority doesn’t even acknowledge it as a problem?  Say, tomorrow, a new media channel tries to address the issue by propagating Oscar style of awards—it is bound to fail miserably.  It is pointless to try to change the mindset of an entire society.   The reason is simple: the issue is not about the “mind”, but about the “pocket”!  The masala mindset is just a symptom; the disease resides in our empty pockets.   As the pockets keep filling up, the masala dreams will keep evaporating.  Perhaps, this catalysis presents an excellent opportunity to develop an algorithmic equation correlating our nation’s GDP with its evolving style of movie awards.   Of course, there is no hurry to develop the above equation.  While our country continues to march towards deeper pockets and shallower masalas, it’s a walk of an elephant!

But who wants the leisurely pace of an elephant herd?  We want the rapid stride of a lion pack.  But then again, where can we find our lions?  Well, the lion’s share of any country’s economy is controlled by its business houses, isn’t it?  Therefore, it is only appropriate that the onus of kicking out our “empty dreams” should also lie with the captains of India Inc.  The task is complex.  The challenge is not merely to dole out more jobs and higher salaries.  There is a need of a focused approach to address the trigger behind our empty dreams—the “unfair disparities” prevailing within our workforce.  In our divided professional world, the compensation packages of our top “stars” are usually more than ten times the organization’s average payroll!

Of course, business leaders are increasingly becoming aware of the gravity of this issue.  To bridge the disproportionate gap, the pioneering ones routinely stand on the roof-top; survey the ground; identify the ‘right’ faces; and then extend hands to hoist, groom, and fast-track the chosen ones for tomorrow’s leadership roles.  The intent is sincere; unfortunately, the execution is often ill-strategized.

You see, we are looking at all the wrong ‘faces’ to fix the problem.  Instead of focusing on PEOPLE, the entity that needs attention is the LADDER!  A ladder so strong that no degree of violent shaking can budge it an inch, a ladder that aspirants can climb on their own strength without the blessings of the organization’s bigwigs!  It’s an evolving ladder, a system that meticulously eliminates the corrupting influence of past academic & experience credentials; star auras, popularity, & nepotism; box-office hits, & luck factors; etc.. 

It is not a populist ladder, therefore incredibly difficult to build.  There is no cheering audience as the spectators are themselves in the game.  The rivalry is more personal – it’s against peer faces, and not the remote ones at the top.  The ladder stops being a metaphor of a huge divide between those who have it and those who don’t have it—there is a respectful room for those who can partially have it!  There are no sky-is-the-limit promises; instead the professionals accept that they can climb only as far as their capabilities will permit.   In fact, each step of the ladder is a destination that is reinforced by a landing.   It’s a landing for climbers to rest or even settle down depending on the cap of their inherent potential.  This allows an individual to have a fair opportunity to be all that he can be—that partial success triggers contentment, there is no regret.  It kicks out the need to constantly look up towards more capable achievers with dreamy eyes.

I believe, at the root of an organization’s quest for disparity elimination is its willingness to construct the above ladder.   And what do businesses get in return for championing this fairer distribution of success & prosperity amidst their professional hierarchies??  Well, Oscars generate more wealth than Filmfare, don’t they?    

The “House” Winners: (from left) Shripad O, Sanket J, (me), Aftab M (Saurabh P couldn’t make it)

And with that glittering observation, it is time to bury this blog series with a parting picture from the ‘culinary’ adventure at Aroma household this past weekend.  While many commenters were innovative, these winners stood out in their ‘innovative’ quotient… the evening’s stimulating conversation turned out so exotic that the hosting pleasure was all & all mine.



Disparity, Luck, Original, Style

4 Comments

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  1. Wish you Many Happy Returns of the Day Sir!!!
    Congratulations to all the winners!

  2. Good one, I couldn’t be more wrong in understanding it. My bad, Waiting for the next one :).

  3. Very well expressed ! Splendid write up. However, one small view point. The ladder does not have to be based on any kind of competition either with peers or remote ones at the top. How about basing it with your own last performance and own drive and push ?

  4. Arun, very well explained. I would like to add one more point as While climbing on ladder make sure not using someone’s head as one of the step to climb. Being good successful person will last long than being just successful on cost of others.
    Thanks for adding golden memorable episode in my life. It was full of interesting conversations. No doubt both of you (You & Ritu) 🙂 are perfect host and great personality.

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Beneath the Glitter – Part 3 | Arun Nathani Blog