Rajkumar Hirani Copycat

Ok this post has nothing to do wtih Five Point Someone or its related controversies. Yeah, the story is inspired by 5PS more than the claimed 3% but I’ll let Chetan Bhagat and his army of followers fight out that battle. Copying from others is honourable, at least you are taking inspiration from someone. What is just not done is copying from oneself. It simply shows lack of creativity and laziness to come up with new ideas.

Maybe when Rajkumar Hirani made 3 Idiots, he assumed that the public would have forgotten Munnabhai MBBS. He assumed that Munnabhai MBBS would be so out of circulation that it would have gone out of people’s minds, eclipsed by the more successful sequel Lage Raho. What he didn’t bargain for was that Munnabhai MBBS was on the menu on the New York JFK  to Dubai Emirates Airlines flight, and that people like me would watch it within 3 weeks of watching 3 idiots.

The similarities are uncanny. Both colleges are “Imperial”, have Boman Irani playing the “big prof” (diro here, dean there), and acting similarly in both. Both have a nerdy Tam who comes 2nd in class, 2nd to the hero. Yeah, Chatur is caricatured in 3I while Swami is given a more positive role in Munnabhai. Both are about the system, about how the larger-than-life hero fights the system and makes the big prof realize that the way he has been running the institution is wrong. The hero’s love interest is the big prof’s daughter. And so on..  Just that Munnabhai and Rancho use different methods to achieve their goals, that’s all.

I suppose most of you would have watched 3Idiots recently. I urge you to pick up a DVD or a torrent of Munnabhai MBBS and watch it, again. And keep an eye out for the similarities. You will be convinced that Rajkumar Hirani is guilty of copying, from his own stuff. It is indeed sad to see a good director such has him stooping to Anu Malik* depths.

While on the topic of 3Idiots, my esteemed colleague Baada wanted me to do a stud-fighter post on the movie. I suppose all of you who have seen the movie will easily figure out why the framework fits. I don’t think it needs any more explanation from the resident stud-fighter expert, that is me. Also, if you recall, I had taken a vow that I won’t do any more stud-fighter blogging. Though I must mention that my book on the topic is going nowhere.

* Listen to the prelude music of Ae Mere Humsafar from Baazigar, and then to the title song of Ishq. Next, listen to the interlude music of Kitaben Bahut Si, again from Baazigar, and then to the title song from Fiza. The self-copy is obvious. And I must mention that I had used this concept in a quiz question, twice. Yeah, I’ve also been guilty of “petering” my own questions.

Bangalore Book Festival

So today I made my way to Gayatri Vihar in the Palace Grounds to visit the Bangalore Book Festival, on its last day. It was interesting, though a bit crowded (what would you expect on the last day of an exhibition? and that too, when it’s a Sunday?). I didn’t buy much (just picked up two books) given the massive unread pile that lies at home. However, there was much scope for pertinent observations. Like I always do when I have a large number of unrelated pertinent observations, I’ll write this in bullet point form.

  • There were some 200 stalls. Actually, there might have been more. I didn’t keep count, despite the stalls having been numbered. Yeah, you can say that I wasn’t very observant.
  • All the major bookshops in Bangalore barring the multicity ones had set up shop there. I don’t really know what they were doing there. Or were they just trying to capture the market that only buys in fairs? Or did they set up stall there just to advertise themselves?
  • It seems like a lot of shops were trying to use the fair to get rid of inventory they wanted to discard. All they had to do was to stack all of this on one table and put a common price tag (say Rs. 50) on every book in that collection, and it was enough to draw insane crowds
  • One interesting stall at the fair had been set up by pothi.com an online self-publishing company. I’ll probably check them out sometime next year when I might want to publish a blook. Seems like an interesting business model they’ve got. Print on demand!
  • I also met the flipkart.com guys at the fair. Once again, they were there for advertising themselves. Need to check them out sometime. Given the kind of books I buy, I think online is the best place to get long tail stuff.
  • There was an incredibly large number of islamic publishing houses at the fair! And have you guys seen the “want qur an? call 98xxxxxxxx for free copy” hoardings all over the city? Wonder why the Bajrang Dal doesn’t target those
  • There was large vernacular presence at the fair. I remember reading in the papers that there was a quota for Kannada publishers, but there was reasonable presence for other languages also, like Gult, Tam, Mellu, Hindi
  • A large number of stalls were ideology driven. Publishing houses attached to cults had set up stalls, probably to further the cause of their own cult. So there was an ISKCON stall, a Ramakrishna Mutt stall, a Ramana Maharshi stall, etc.
  • Attendance at most of these niche stalls was quite thin, as people mostly crowded the stalls being run by bookstores in order to hunt for bargains. Attendance was also mostly thin at publisher-run stalls, making me wonder why most of these people had bothered to come to the fair at all.
  • I saw one awesomely funny banner at the place. It was by “Dr Partha Bagchi, the world leader in stammering for last 20 years” or some such thing. Was too lazy to pull out my phone and click pic. But it was a masterpiece of a banner
  • Another interesting ideological publisher there was “Leftword books”. Their two sales reps were in kurtas and carrying jholas (ok I made the latter part up). And they were sellling all sorts of left-wing books. Wonder who funds them! And they were also selling posters of Che for 10 bucks each
  • I wonder what impact this fair will have on bookstores in Bangalore in the next few days. Or probably it was mostly the non-regular book buyers who did business at the fair and so the regulars will be back at their favourite shops tomorrow.

I bought two books. Vedam Jaishankar’s Casting A Spell: A history of Karnataka cricket (I got it at Rs. 200, as opposed to a list price of Rs 500) and Ravi Vasudevan’s “Making Meaning in Indian Cinema”.

Lazy post: Search Phrases: March 2009

I think I’ll make this a monthly feature: collecting the whackiest search terms that people use to land up on my blog, and posting them here. I had published one such list for February. Here goes the list for March:

  • describe my job
  • apprentics for carpenter in gurgaon
  • can north indians survive in the south
  • carnatic music pakistan
  • dry fish market in orisa & madrass contact numbers
  • examples of bastardization in a sentence
  • how can death be postponed by chanting mantras?
  • kodhi is a cheap guy
  • savitabhabhi.com competition
  • verb phrases of the behavior of atticus
  • what are some other versions of dashavatar -film -songs -jobs -dvd -movie

Lazy Post – Statistical Analysis

I call this a lazy post since I didn’t originally write it as a blog post. I had written this as an email to a mailing list, and now thought it might make sense as a blog post. The reference to context: a prominent and well-respected member of the group had written a fairly lengthy argument, and ended it by saying “Maybe this calls for a good regression analysis….” . My reply is here.

I need to mention here that this mail to the group wasn’t responded to (apart from one tangential remark by  Udupa). I don’t know if it simply got lost in the flood of mails on the list today, or if people on the group (in general, a very intelligent lot) don’t care for this kind of stuff, or if, for some reason, this caused discomfort of some sort. Anyway, I begin:

I think I had raised this point before in a similar context. it is about the use and misuse of statistical analysis. i think one lesson that ought to be learnt from the ongoing financial crisis and the events leading up to this is that statistical analysis, when misused, can have dangerous consequences, and this is not just for the people who are misusing the analyses.

there is this popular view that if there is data, then one ought to do statistical analysis, and draw conclusions from that, and make decisions based on these conclusions. unfortunately, in a large number of cases, the analysis ends up being done by someone who is not very proficient with statistics and who is basically applying formulae rather than using a concept. as long as you are using statistics as concepts, and not as formulae, I think you are fine. but you get into the “ok i see a time series here. let me put regression. never mind the significance levels or stationarity or any other such blah blah but i’ll take decisions based on my regression” then you are likely to get into trouble.

i think this is broadly the kind of point that is made by people like Paul Wilmott. that the problem is not with statistical analysis, but  with the way people use statistical analysis.

ok, now that i’m done with my rant, I’m very sceptical about regression yielding any kind of conclusive results here. i think the number of data points we have here is too small to produce any meaningful results. of course i’m saying this without really looking at all the data that you want to might want to include. and i won’t be surprised if a few tens of papers get published on this topic. all based on statistical analyses. and the results all being orthogonal to one another.

The Aftermath

Baada collaborated on the research leading up to his post. I hereby acknowledge his contribution and condemn his laziness for not blogging it himself.

One of the major problems of the financial crisis that has been happening for about two years now is that investment bankers, as a profession, stand discredited. Before this, they used to claim to be on the top of the intellectual ladder. And now, thanks to a handful (more than a handful; but still a small proportion) of phenomenally stupid investment bankers, the entire community stands discredited. Not just that, they have left the community of quants, of people who can be good at structuring, of finance people, of statisticians, all discredited. You say “all you need to do is to get a few ibankers into these jobs” and you’ll have people come at you like a pack of hounds, waving Mint and saying “look at the damage these buggers have caused, and you think they can solve this problem”.

So Baada and I were talking about cricket the other day. About how thanks to the demands of television, flat pitches are being prepared everywhere. Which is leading to tame and boring draws. Which has led to domestic cricket being effectively reduced to a one-innings game. Which has led to massive fourth innings run chases. Which has led to bowlers break down once every couple of seasons. And so forth.

The argument put forth in favour of flat pitches is that in order to maximise television revenues, you need the game to last five days. Excellent argument, and Baada and I agreed to it. But the friggin’ point is that if you have  a boring game, no one is going to watch it. If you have a game that is most likely to end up as a draw, it will have no audience. Advertisers would be paying through their nose for near-zilch viewership.

In the medium term, things should even out. Advertisers will realize that due to the boring nature of Test cricket, no one will watch it anyway, and will back away. Ad rates will fall. And TV rights bids will fall consequently. And the boards will understand their folly and take steps to make cricket interetsing again. (there is also the danger that boards will use this to say that no one watches Test cricket anymore and scraps it altogether). However, advertisers should not be so passive and wait for things to even out.

Given a large number of statistics, playing conditions, day of week seasonality and all such stuff, it shouldn’t be hard for the smart advertiser to figure out which are going to be his most profitable slots. And bid specifically for those. If one smart advertiser does that, then that advertiser stands to gain against other advertisers who will end up paying more money for less profitable slots. And so all advertisers will become smart. Now, the channels will stop seeing uniform demand patterns for their various advertising slots. They will now need to acquire smartness in order to combat the smart advertisers. This way, smartness will prevail in the system.

I’m sure that once something like this happens, natural balance will get restored. It will take much less time for TV channels to realize that three-day Tests on bowling pitches can get them greater revenues compared to runfests played over five days. And they won’t take much time to communicate the same to the boards who will then restore Test cricket back to glory.

The problem with a lot of advertising people is that they see themselves as “creative people” because of which they assume they don’t need to know and use maths. And they don’t do the smart calculations I described earlier. As for the brand managers, it is likely that a lot of them decided to pursue marketing because they either didn’t like quant or found themselves weak at quant. Apart from a few simple excel models, they too are likely to shun the kind of smartness required here.

So where are the white knights who can save the version of the gentleman’s game played in whites? Not currently in the ad agencies. Most likely not in the marketing departments. They are all out there. A few months ago, they were employed. Earning very good salaries, and grand bonuses. Earning amounts of money unaffordable to most advertising and marketing companies. Thanks to the financial meltdown, they are available now. Looking for a fresh challenge.

This is the best time for you to infuse quant to your business. You won’t get the kind of quant supply in the market that you are seeing now. Even if the financial industry doesn’t recover (in any case it will never go back to 2007 levels), supply side factors should ensure lower supply. Do that little experiment now. Acknowledge that numbers can do a lot of good for your business. Understand what structuring is all about, and estimate the kind of impact a good structurer can have on your revenues. Make that little bit effort and I’m sure you’ll get convinced. Go make that offer. An offer these ex-ibankers can’t refuse in the current circumstances at least.

PS: When I refer to investment banking, I also include the “outside-the-wall” side of the business (called “markets”; “sales and trading”; “securities” and various other names). In fact, I mostly talk about the outside-the-wall business, not having had any exposure inside the wall.