Brute force and elegant fight scenes

About a month back I happened to watch some random Kannada movie playing on TV starring wifebeater Darshan (it was called “Boss”, I think). It seemed like yet another of those typical masala flicks, with twin brothers and a weeping mother and lots of rowdies and corporate rivalry and all that. Overall it was a mostly sad movie but for me the biggest turn-off was the final fight-scene that takes place in some warehouse.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a big fan of action movies. After we got our VCP, I remember going up to the videotape rental store close to home every Saturday evening and asking for “some fighting movie”. I didn’t care at all for the story or the lack of  it in any movie I saw. All I cared about was for “action”. After I had whetted my initial appetite for “fighting movies” by watching a bunch of Shankarnag action flicks (CBI Shankar, the Sangliana movies, etc.) my father started bringing home James Bond movies. I remember watching You Only Live Twice and Moonraker back then. I remember watching The Spy Who Loved Me, too, but there was a problem with the tape so I wasn’t able to watch it fully.

Coming back to Darshan and Boss, the turn-off about the fight scene was that it was an unbelievable “brute force” scene. The hero, a rather muscular sort of guy, singlehandedly beats up a whole bunch of bad guys. And it’s not even in the traditional form where the bad guys come one by one. They all come together and attack him and he repels them all simultaneously by means of sheer superhuman muscular strength. There was absolutely no fun in watching it. It was a similar story with the Puneet Rajkumar starrer Jackie, which I saw on TV last weekend. Though it was a rather well-made movie with a nice (and unusual) storyline, it again suffered from the problem of a superhuman hero who would overpower bad guys by means of muscular strength.

Earlier today I happened to watch the “Indian James Bond movie” Goadalli CID 999 starring Dr. Rajkumar. A rather poor attempt to make a “James Bond style” movie in Kannada, with a rather lame plot and underground hideouts involving automatic doors and the likes. The redeeming feature of the movie, though, was the fight scenes, especially the ones with Narasimharaju (who plays CID 888, 999’s sidekick). Clearly recognizing that this fellow didn’t have any means of brawn to beat up the bad guys, the fight scenes were “elegant”, where the good guy uses his brain rather than muscular strength in order to overpower the villains. So you have a gun that fires ten seconds after the trigger is pulled, and you have the good guy getting the bad guys to shoot each other, and things like that. It was a joy to watch.

The unfortunate trend in recent Kannada movies, though, is to make a superpower hero who simply beats the bad guys, which completely takes the joy out of fight scenes. That clever movement to deflect a punch, the use of easily available props to get away from the bad guys, setting bad guys against each other, stuff like this is completely missing from these movies. One reason could be that directors are not imaginative enough to put more care into fight scenes to make them enjoyable (though this is doubtful given that the general quality of Kannada movies in the last 5 years is better than that of earlier movies). The other reason has to do with the actors who play these roles. Perhaps they want to build up a superhero kind of image among their fans, one in which they can do no wrong and are supremely powerful. And a scene where they have to rely more on their intelligence and trickery to win a fight might go against this kind of an image they want to cultivate. Whatever it is, it only goes to remove entertainment value from a fight which could have been a joy to watch.

My all time favourite movie fight scene is from the “original” Don, featuring Amitabh Bachchan. The centre of attraction in this scene is this little red diary which contains all the information about the bad guys, and the good and bad guys are fighting for it. In the mix are a bunch of kids, the heroine, a paralyzed stuntman and of course the hero. The good guys play “monkey” with the diary, and in the process beat up the bad guys. It is an absolute joy to watch and for me that was the high point of the movie. Sadly, they don’t make movies like that any more.

Two States stealing ideas from my life

Don’t ask my why I’m reading a Chetan Bhagat book. Anyway a while back I was reading the first few pages of “Two States” when I started screaming and my eyes nearly popped out. Here in these pages was an incident that was straight out of my life at IIMB (the book is set in IIMA, btw). The first thing I did, after I screamed of course, was to check the date of publication. 2009. 5 years after that incident had taken place in my life. There is a small chance it might have actually been based on me.

So in the book, the microeconomics professor is explaining utility functions and indifference curves. And he calls upon an economics graduate from Delhi University to explain the concept to the class. The student tries to give a qualitative explanation but no one understands. That is where the similarity ends. In the book, the professor ends up writing some greek alphabets on the board while the student (female) bursts into tears at the end of the class, humiliated. And the hero goes on to console her and all such.

So as I mentioned, this event closely mirrors something that happened to me. First term of B-school, check. Microeconomics, check. Indifference curves, check. Economics grad from DU asked to explain, check. Student giving qualitative explanation, check. Class not understanding head or tail of it, check.

In our class, though, something different happened. The hero had no intentions of waiting till the end of the class and consoling the DU Eco-grad (in this case, male). Up pops his arm, and he screams  “saar, saar, saar”. When the saar doesn’t respond he shouts “saar I can explain this in English”. The DU Eco-grad is at the blackboard repeating his line, which he had probably mugged up, which enabled him to top university.

Saar finally gives hero a chance to go to the blackboard. Hero puts on collar mic. Looks at the curves on the blackboard and carefully marks off points, which he decides to professorially name as A, A’ (pronounced A prime) and A” (A double prime). Class starts giving up. Hero adds more points. B and B prime. Class gives up further. Then A and A’ move to B and B’. Something probably makes sense. Soon the proof is obvious to most of the class (mostly engineers). Hero hasn’t completed the proof yet when he hears a loud thumping of desks. Math wins. It is unknown if the DU Eco-grad cried at the end of class.

My apologies if I’ve told this story earlier on this blog, but I’m not one to let go of a bragging opportunity. And I still think it was that incident in my class, Section C of IIMB, on the twenty second of July 2004 that inspired the similar scene in Bhagat’s book. No, that’s not the part I’m bragging about.

Pricing My Best Friend’s Wedding

Any of you remember this movie called “My Best Friend’s Wedding”? If you don’t, here is a brief description of the plot. Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney (had to look up imdb to remember his name) have this agreement that if they are both single as of her 28th birthday, they will get married to each other. As it happens, 3 weeks before that, the hero announces that he’s found a woomaan and is going to get married to her, much to the dismay of the heroine, who now puts fight to somehow spoil this new relationship.

I was thinking of this kind of arrangement as a financial product. Actually, the movie has what I call as the “European version”. More complicated is the “American version” which I describe here. Basically I give you the OPTION to marry me on any day before my 28th birthday (6th Dec 2010). That would be simple enough to “price” (or “value”, to put it in layman’s terms) – it is a standard American option. However, let me add this twist into it. I also reserve the right to withdraw this option on any day before expiry or exercise.

So basically some day before my 28th birthday I can wake up and cancel this option that I’ve given you. Now the challenge is to price this. One thing that is obvious is that the value of this is now less than the value of the pure American option. But pricing it is a challenge (though, thinking about it carefully, it shouldn’t be too hard to solve. I think we can use option-on-option fundaes in order to price it, but still it’s nontrvial).

The European option, of course (as it is done in My Best Friend’s Wedding) easier to price. Basically, there are two events that need to happen on the day of expiry for the option (ok technically it isn’t an option since if these two events happen, then the parties are forced to execute the contract) and so it can be easily modeled using a two-factor model. The American, as we discussed, is tougher (though I’m sure that if I were to present this problem to my colleagues, they’d solve it in a jiffy).

So the reason I’m writing this is that I’m planning to enter this kind of a deal with someone. And I’m wondering if it’s better to enter into a European deal or into an American. Remember that if it is the “American” deal, I’ll be giving away the option (to marry me before either my 28th birthday or I withdraw the option) for free. Considering this, under what conditions should I try to sign the European contract, and under what conditions should I give away the American?

Also, how does the pricing of the American option change if I’m allowed to give it away to more than one person (with the understanding that as soon as one person exercises the option, I withdraw the option from all the other people I’ve given it to). And typically, will I be able to get more benefit in total by giving away this American option to a number of people than if I give it away to one person (assuming I’m indiffernet between all these people with respect to marriage).

Ok it’s late in the night and it’ s my third post in the last 1 hour, so it might be a bit muddled up. Also, you might find it a bit too technical (remember that I’m a quant). Nevertheless, I hope I’ve been able to communicate what I wanted to communicate. And am looking forward to your advice on this.