The Bollywood Quality Conundrum: Ata Mhaji Satakli

Saidas M. Ranade, Houston, Texas

Note: It is great that the Indians are one of the richest minorities in the US. I am proud of our achievements. I am eager and excited to introduce our wonderful culture to everyone. Unfortunately there is a problem of perception about our culture when it comes to quality and ethics. I have illustrated the problem with three separate articles. This blog entry is about the state of Bollywood, the others are about the state of Indian Cricket and about the state of the local Indian vegetarian restaurants in Houston.

Recently, I watched the movie Singham Returns at a movie theater in Houston. The last time I saw a Hindi movie in a theater was probably 15 years ago.

The Bollywood buzz machine had spiked my expectations. The music, songs, the scenery of Mumbai and the humor lived up to my expectations. Unfortunately, everything else appeared to have been put together in a hurry. For an industry and the stars that make crores of rupees, this to me is unacceptable. I tried telling myself that the movies were not made for me but for the hardworking overworked masses in India. Still I could not understand the overt flaws.

The dialogue was more like mini-lectures. There were monologues followed by monologues. What I expected were conversations. It appeared that they had defined the message and then written a story around it. The writers went out of their way to state that the Hindoo girl lights a candle at a church every week. This seemed completely out of character. They had the slokas in the background score and showed the traditional visit to the Holy Darga. Why do Bollywood movies have to have everything for everyone in every movie? The main dilemma of the Hindi film industry is this. For the United States the reality of life in India strikes the imagination whereas for the average movie-goer in India the reality is too harsh and fiction is more appealing. Unfortunately, the Hindi movie industry which basically is about fictional story telling seems to also want to send out real messages rather than simply tell stories. There clearly needs to be more emphasis on excellence in stories, scripts and dialogues. We need a shift in mindset from movies as a vehicle to sell stars to movies as a medium for truly engaging and entertaining the audiences.

What made me say “Ata mhaji satakli” was some really easy to fix elements. The lighting kept changing during many single takes or scenes. I thought we had made technical advances in that area. Same problem with the sound. It was too loud or too low and some sounds like the sounds of “camera flashes” were distracting. Another difference between what I see in the Hollywood movies and American TV is that in Hindi movies several actors seem to deliver dialogues as if they are on stage in a play or giving a lecture without a mic. The volume is typically too loud. This also seems to be the case with many of the emcees on Hindi TV shows.

It is time we the Indians demand quality. I hope you agree. We the DESIS deserve better!

Indian Cricket Corrupted by Big Money

Saidas M. Ranade, Houston, Texas

Note: It is great that the Indians are one of the richest minorities in the US. I am proud of our achievements. I am eager and excited to introduce our wonderful culture to everyone. Unfortunately there is a problem of perception about our culture when it comes to quality and ethics. I have illustrated the problem with three separate articles. This blog entry uses examples from cricket, the others are about the state of Bollywood and about the state of the local Indian vegetarian restaurants in Houston.

I am a comedian. Here is my most recent joke. Are you ready? “The Indian Test cricket team!”

Recently, I had the misfortune of watching the test matches between India and England that were played in England. As has already been stated by many others including well-known cricketers such as Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Chappell, I was not worried that they lost but was most appalled by the manner in which they lost the test matches. To me their body language and demeanor seemed incommensurate with what I see as our values of pride, discipline, sacrifice and humility.

No matter what the outcome of the one–day series was, these players made sure that people like me will not watch cricket for a while. The IPL has clearly had a detrimental effect on the young cricketers’ ability to concentrate and withstand the pressures of test cricket.

I love watching MS Dhoni bat but he seems to not trust spinners and seems to prefer team mates from the Chennai Superkings. We the people deserve better. The BCCI should now set only one goal for selecting, training and developing cricket players: Winning test series in England, Australia and South Africa.

It is time we the Indians demand ethics, transparency and quality. I hope you agree. We the CONSUMERS deserve that!

The State of Vegetarian Indian Restaurants in Houston

Saidas M. Ranade, Houston, Texas

Note: It is great that the Indians are one of the richest minorities in the US. I am proud of our achievements. I am eager and excited to introduce our wonderful culture to everyone. Unfortunately there is a problem of perception about our culture when it comes to quality and ethics. I have illustrated the problem with three separate articles. One blog-entry uses examples from cricket, the other is about the state of Bollywood and this one is about the state of local vegetarian Indian restaurants in Houston.

I love Indian food. Who doesn’t? I am also a vegetarian. I am grateful that there are many Indian vegetarian restaurants in Houston and surrounding areas. I understand that running a restaurant is tough business. So, at the outset, I want to say thanks to the restaurant owners and chefs who have fed me for the past 25 years. Unfortunately, I have seen a dramatic decline in the quality of food served at these establishments. Their idea of vegetarian seems to be someone who eats starchy snacks, candy and sweets. Considering that there are close to 25 amazing vegetables all I see at these restaurants is dishes made from potato, milk, lentils and other starches. In one restaurant that serves Gujarati style food they had cabbage as the vegetable for three days in a row.

Another restaurant that has been in business for many years and sells many different sweets, the quality of buffet seems to be highly inconsistent. I have seen chefs add boiled water to dishes on the buffet bar. Some of these restaurants call themselves vegetarian but I have a suspicion that the Paav in Paav-Bhaji and the noodles they use contain eggs. For a vegetarian that is an issue. When I questioned the owners they advised me to eat something else on the menu. To me this is a matter of ethics. The most troublesome part for me about all these owners is that they do not seem to like feedback. My American friends love the fluffy naan bread. Unfortunately, the naan bread or chapati at these restaurants is either raw, undercooked or burnt. One owner defended the state of naan by saying that he had not heard any complaints from others. On one occasion when I pointed out that the potato dish on the buffet bar seemed raw and under cooked, the owner attempted to humor me by saying that I had come in too early and that within a couple of hours the potatoes would have been cooked. We the people deserve better.

Good vegetarian Indian food is simple, fresh, served hot, has the right balance of spices, cooked to the appropriate extent and uses natural ingredients.

These restaurants continue to use artificial colors and preservatives when they could easily do without such additives. And what makes me say “Ata mhaji satakli” is that some of the new comers to the Indian restaurant business are treating these businesses as cash cows. They know desis have money and seem to exploit the “Chalta Hai” mentality.

It is time we the Indians demand ethics, transparency and quality. I hope you agree. We the CONSUMERS deserve better!

A time-driven system afraid of death

Author: Saidas M. Ranade ++

I had an opportunity recently to spend almost six hours at the famed MD Anderson Cancer Research center in Houston, Texas while accompanying a friend of mine for some tests. As soon as we arrived at the facility there was an option for valet parking. Cars were lined up and there was a gentlemen yelling for people to move. The attendants were rushing so they could park quicker and be efficient. The scene reminded me of the red carpet welcomes I have seen on TV. The patients and caregivers seem to be mostly older white families interspersed with some Middle-Easterners, South Americans and a few minorities. It costs $15 to valet park. I got the sense that treating cancer is a big business.

Once inside the facility, my friend’s dad and I took her for her first appointment. While the tests were being performed, I decided to go to the downstairs café.

At the cafe the items were not raw and fresh but pre-packaged. There was no one cooking. There was nothing alive. It was all controlled. They served cold sandwiches and bottled drinks. There was one person behind the counter and she said the same thing to everyone “What can I get you?” Her tone was not unpleasant but very mechanical. Efficiency experts have applied the same principles they apply for mass production to these facilities. The only problem is they forgot what makes us human.

The Smith/Taylor model seeks to improve efficiency by compartmentalizing work into controllable chunks and in their model some workers are instructed to perform only certain repetitive mechanical steps. Large corporations have exploited this same model to displace many workers with automated systems. This division of labor is not aligned with nature. It is like the roots and the leaves of a tree being run by two separate systems with very limited knowledge of one another. I did not venture to ask the MD Anderson administrators for a copy of the cashier’s career development plan. If I did I am certain someone would have given me a 1-800 number to call the customer support line for the lowest-cost bidding contractor that runs the café.

The foreboding sense I got was that time is money. The whole operation seemed to be more about preventing death and errors. Their approach seemed to be a cookie-cutter approach. I did not hear much small talk. Probably constrained by HIPAA laws and from fear of being sued the staff were saying what they were told to say. No more no less. I felt as if I was a part of a mass production system in which all responses were pre-determined. Machines and mechanical systems care about time. Love, compassion, humor, laughter are our means for transcending time. Healing accelerates when time disappears. Regretfully, the whole patient care services approach in the United States seems to be all about time and money.

++Author: Saidas M. Ranade is a Houston, Texas based PhD engineer and a standup comedian.