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Having driven close to the ocean on the east coast, while reaching Kaikoura, it was now time to cut away from the ocean, and go across the country, towards the west coast of New Zealand.

All drives in New Zealand were a mix of driving by oceans, on vast stretches of flat land, and driving through thick greens of forest land. Most roads were single or at most 2 lane highways, and some were even smaller roads in the middle of large stretches of farmland. Often, you’d not see another soul for several km. The east coast to west coast drive was a fun drive, like all others, and we headed into Greymouth, our first stop.

More precisely, we stayed at Paroa, a kind of sister-city to Greymouth. Although both of them are really small towns anyway! What we missed by oversight was a place called Punakaiki, which came on the way, about 50 km before hitting Greymouth. As we reached Greymouth / Paroa at around 8 pm in the night, it was just a little too much to travel back, see and then return back. Must mention at this point that, since we travelled in Dec-Jan, in proper summer of Southern Hemisphere, we enjoyed the benefits of really long days. Routinely, we would be out, driving and seeing places, or reaching places, till 9/9-30 pm, when it was quite bright! That allowed us to make the most of any day, in terms of things we could do, and distances we were able to cover.

However, it was not possible to head back to Punakaiki and come back, so that option was dropped. Essentially, we just hung out in Paroa, not doing much that evening.

Next day, we were to drive in to Fox Glacier, and started making enquiries about the helicopter ride option, to land on to Fox Glacier. Unfortunately, as the weather was not too good (overcast and a little rain), all of the calls that we made, conveyed to us the message that the helicopter rides were not happening.

So we headed out of Paroa, towards a cute little town called Hokitika. A very typical small town, with open streets, cafes, some local art, and generally kind and friendly locals, that is what I would describe Hokitika as. We walked around the town, saw some of their shops and had breakfast at a local cafe.

Anniversary and New Zealand 008 copyIn fact, an old lady (no younger than 80 years.. perhaps older) walked up to us and chatted. She was from the Netherlands originally, had been to many parts of the world, but had settled down here, for last 50 years. And she loved it. She said that this was a place if you wanted to slow down. That they liked it slow and easy. What’s the rush for, anyway, is how they saw it. And she also said that the cafe we were in, was most popular with the locals, and that one must judge a place by that – if the locals like it, it must really be good! Good wisdom, that was.. nice encounter!

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From Hokitika, we headed off to a very interesting tourist attraction. This is called the West Coast Tree Top Walk.

Here you’ll find a large number of very tall trees. A small trail takes you upwards closer to the top levels of the trees. And here in the midst of the tall heights of the trees, they have constructed metal walkways, so as to give you the feel on how it is to be at the top levels of these tall trees. Quite an interesting construction and experience.

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After completing the Walk on the Tree Tops, we headed straight to Fox Glacier. At number of places on the way, where the helicopter rides were being offered and advertised for, we kept stopping to see if we could book one. And everywhere, we just heard that the weather was bad, and they were still not flying. We headed to Fox Glacier and checked into our hotel anyway. Resigned that at least that day, the helicopter ride may not happen, and we pray for better weather the next day.

There were other means to see and experience the glaciers. One is from a distance, by going to a closest point, and the other was by walking in the glaciers, and which required a certain effort, dexterity, fitness and intent. The latter was not the most attractive option for us! And so we were hoping for the heli rides to happen.

And as we kept asking, we got lucky, and the weather opened up just that little bit to enable us to take the heli ride, though it was not good enough for us to land on the snow. We opted not to wait and take a chance for the next day. And glad that we did not, since as it turned out, the next day was even worse, as far as weather went, and if we had waited, we would have not even got the experience that we did!

In addition to the heli ride to the glaciers, we also went out to Matheson Lake at Fox Glacier, for some of the most breathtaking views of nature, reflections in water, and the blue sky that one could get.

We also happened to be at Fox Glacier on the night of the 31st, so we had hopes and plans of doing something special to bring in the New Year. However, as the locals informed us, in the small town that it was, there were no major celebrations or parties for New Year’s Eve. We did hang around at a nice small cafe, sipping our wine and enjoying some pizza, waiting for 2014 to arrive. Also considering that we were a good 7-odd hours ahead of India at that point, we were welcoming 2014 before most of our Indian friends! Which was an interesting highlight of sorts.. !

Fox Glacier photos are shared below..

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The first day of 2014 broke in Fox Glacier and it was drizzling and overcast. There was an idea to see if we could head straight to Queenstown, as there was a one day cricket match scheduled that day, between West Indies and New Zealand. However, seeing the way the weather was shaping up, we wondered if the game will at all be one, and whether it was worth rushing down. We decided against it.

And just left Fox Glacier as per our original plans, with a scheduled stop at Wanaka on the way, before reaching the most exciting destination in New Zealand, Queenstown.

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auckland sky towerWe were to take the evening flight from Sydney, and would get into Auckland, close to midnight. Bear in mind, this would have been about 36 hours since we left home in Mumbai, and would have spent all that time, either in flights on at airport terminals or on the road in Sydney! And after such a long flight, we were entering a new country, close to midnight, and we needed to get to a hotel at that time! Originally, I had booked a hotel in the city, but with the late night arrival into Auckland, I chose to find out if the hotel will have someone to receive us at that time, and whether it would be comfortable to get into the room so late! Ordinarily, you don’t even need to check these things as they would be assumed to be obvious. But I am glad that I thought of checking. For what I was informed was that there would be no one from the hotel at the reception, at that late hour, and that a key would have been left for us, and we’d be able to find our room and get into it. I visualised a midnight arrival, getting bags and getting out of the airport by half-past midnight, then getting a cab, driving into the city to the motel, removing the bags and letting the cab go, then heading to the reception to find our keys kept somewhere, and then trying to find and reach the room. With no human to help. After nearly 36 hours of travel time! What if the keys were not there or they didn’t work? At that time, with all those bags and stuff, what would we do? Maybe there would be no taxis to find easily, even if we needed to go somewhere else.. All of this was kind of a scary thought, so I looked out for options. And found an IBIS Budget hotel, located close to the airport, and where they confirmed availability of people, all 24 hours! The change was made, and we reached that hotel, after landing at midnight. We took our time to get started next day morning, and after breakfast, we went and rented out our car, from Apex Car Rental Services. That same day, we were to drive down to Rotorua, a roughly 2.5 hour drive. So we had just 3-4 hours to drive around Auckland and see what we could see of the city. We went and saw some parts of Auckland Central area, then an area referred to as One Tree Hill, Davenport and Mission Bay. We got a good quick view of Auckland city, before heading out to Rotorua.

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We headed off to Rotorua, our first city-to-city drive, in New Zealand. There was some rain in the course of the drive, and we got the first taste of driving at speed, with rain splattering on the windshield. We quickly realised how useful the GPS unit was, as we could reach our motel in Rotorua, precisely, with the voice commands of the GPS unit. It was evening by the time we reached the motel, and when we enquired about the Maori dance programs, we found that the shows were already under way, and we would not be able to catch them. As we needed to leave in the morning the next day, we resigned to our fate that maybe, we would not be able to catch the Maori dance. We did head out to the other big attraction in Rotorua, which was the Polynesian Spa. And enjoyed the hot spring waters’ spa, under the moonlit sky. The spa was full of Japanese people – I guess, they like spas more than others?! While this was a fancy and very busy spa, what took me by a little surprise (shock?) was the large changing room (and showers) for men, where folks were comfortably walking around in full monty! Honestly, I was a little taken aback, as I had never had the need to see 10-15 males walking around without clothes, quite comfortably! That apart, the spa was an enjoyable experience. One bit of a worry hit us that evening. The GPS unit stopped functioning – it had frozen! And it was too late to contact anyone and get help. Considering that this was the first day of a long trip, I was worried about having the same challenge later on as well. After returning to the room, I managed to look up the Internet to troubleshoot and luckily managed to find the solution. Went and checked the same, and was happy to find the GPS unit start working fine. It was good to have gone through this experience so that we knew how to manage the GPS unit little better. Next day morning, as we left Rotorua with the intent of heading off to Wellington, we managed to catch Te Puia in Rotorua, and which was alive and active early in the morning. Here we were then able to do the Maori dance event, and also see the amazing thermal geysers, sulphur and mud pools. Some pictures of our Rotorua stay…

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We headed out from Rotorua, and after a stop at Huka Falls, went ahead towards Taupo. Some photos from Huka Falls and Lake Taupo are as below:

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Finally we made it to Wellington, late in the evening, with really no time to see the city, except for admiring the sunset and the beautiful skies, as we entered the city. The next day morning, we needed to leave by ferry, with our car, to get to the South Island.

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Ahh..so that was a quick couple of days in North Island, and we were all set to head to the South Island, which was supposed to be far more beautiful and enchanting..

 

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We flew out from Mumbai in the morning, headed to Singapore, had a short break at Singapore, before heading off to Sydney. We arrived early morning the next day, at Sydney, and had an onward flight to Auckland, only late in the evening. With a whole day at our disposal, we went into Sydney city, on the Boxing Day, and managed to catch a little bit of the beautiful Australian city.

We had taken Australian visas – in fact, as our original plans had an Australian part of the vacation – and these were necessary to get out into Sydney city. Although strictly speaking, for a transit halt, of no more than 72 hours, one could take a different kind of visa meant for the purpose, and which was also free of cost (as against the cost one has to pay for a regular tourist visa).

We had the other challenge, that of our bags. We needed to get our bags off, once we reached Sydney, and check-in again, with our bags, on our flight to Auckland. This was because the two sectors were independently booked, and not part of a single booking. Now we can’t haul around our bags all day, as we move around Sydney city. So what do we do?

Well, most airports provide baggage storage services, and we found the one at Sydney airport. There were two kinds – one, of an expensive nature, but which was within the terminal building, and the other, in the separate parking building of the airport, but which was far more affordable. We searched, found and used the latter.

Then, as we were four of us, we opted to take a cab (4 train or bus tickets would have been more money than a cab ride!) to central Sydney, and from where we opted to take one of those hop-on-hop-off open-top bus tours, and explore the city.

The Sydney Opera, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach were some of the places visited during the day. Some pictures follow herebelow..

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How did the idea come? 

2013 was a big year in life. I completed 50 years in October, and 25 years of marriage in December.

The significance of the year had been on my mind for a while, and one of the things I wanted to do, was to take a good vacation, and celebrate the dual events in life.

I looked at options like Scotland, other parts of Europe, the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, and Australia-New Zealand. I was to travel in December, that was for sure. The key thing that worked out in favour of the Southern Hemisphere destinations was the fact that in December, Southern Hemisphere would enjoy longer days, and in fact, destinations like Canadian Rockies would see really short days! That was a clincher of a reason, and so it was to be – Australia and New Zealand were decided.

I planned a good, overall, month-long trip, with the first half being in Australia, across various interesting spots, and then New Zealand.

Unfortunately, due to some developments at work, I was not able to get out as planned, and had to push my departure date. And this was AFTER all tickets had been booked and plans were in place. At that late stage, it was impossible to reschedule everything and keep the original itinerary, and that ended up converting the one-month Aus-NZ vacation to a 17-day NZ-only vacation.

And that is how the trip came about happening..

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Preparing for New Zealand

There are popular destinations where several of one’s friends have travelled, or one knows many people residing there, and can take tips. New Zealand was not quite like that.

Few friends had visited (and I certainly got tips from them) but otherwise, it was left for me to do my own research, on the web. Combined with tips from a few friends and the web research, I was able to identify a decent itinerary for NZ.

This covered landing into Auckland, and driving from there in North Island, across various intermediate places, and down up to Christchurch in South Island, from where we’d fly back.

mapWhile one can use road and air to go across the country in New Zealand, one of the popular ways to see the country, is by road. The reason being that, there are several interesting locations right across the length of the country, and one can plan for a schedule that goes from one place to the next, by road, and thereby cover the entire country well. Moreover, driving on New Zealand roads is easy, for an Indian driver, and it is almost a pleasure to do a self-drive tour of New Zealand. So that is what we decided to do.

Then there were decisions related to travelling into NZ and out of it, the car rental within NZ, and where to stay in each place, etc.

In terms of air travel, my tickets were already booked into Australia, as per the original itinerary, and also combined with the fact that there are better connections to Sydney or Melbourne, than to NZ cities, I stuck to the same entry point. We had chosen to fly Qantas, via Singapore, where in fact, the Mumbai-Singapore sector was on Jet Airways, on a Qantas code-share.

So now had to figure out best option to get from Sydney to Auckland, and then from Christchurch back to Sydney.

Online research showed up several options including Qantas, Virgin Australia, JetStar, Tiger Air and Air NZ. Online research was necessary to find the best deals and we zeroed in on JetStar finally, as the airline of choice, to go from Sydney to Auckland, and then from Christchurch back to Sydney.

As for the car rental options within New Zealand, again, it was a matter of online research. I found Apex Car Rentals to have good options, easy to find the details that one needed, and also prompt and clear in responding to email queries. After making the original booking with them, I needed to make changes on 3 occasions, and all of those were smoothly done, with no friction at all. It was a pleasure to work with a service provider of this kind.

278With Apex Car Rentals, one needs to choose the vehicle, the plan, add accessories, the dates, the pick up and drop off point, whether one is taking the car across from North to South Island (on ferry), and give your credit card details. The card is not charged at time of booking, but only when you actually rent the car, after reaching the pick up point.

What I would recommend specifically, in regards to car rental, is to pick the right size of the vehicle. If you are doing (like we were), say 15+ days of travel, in the car, you would also be carrying bags to cover that kind of travel. Ensure that there is enough space in the trunk to accommodate your luggage, and then there is enough space to be comfortable, for all of the travellers. Also ensure that it is a vehicle that you can manage to drive. While a motor home / camper vehicle may seem interesting to use, you need to be sure that you can manage to drive a heavier vehicle. Also in that case, you’d ideally like to have multiple drivers in your group, so a driver does not get stressed out. Finally, if you are thinking in terms of a camper, you must recognise the need to look for, and park at specific camper locations, where you can refill your water and other supplies, and also clear your bathrooms, etc. That does take a little extra toll, and you also lose the flexibility that a simple car provides you. So weigh those pros and cons before deciding on a camper vehicle vs a car.

What I also cannot overemphasise is the need for the GPS unit, in the car. This is offered as an optional additional accessory. It is definitely worth the money to ask for that one, and get it. As one drives around New Zealand, at close to 100 kmph, there is no way that a navigator sitting next to you, with printed maps, can cope up with the turns and the bypasses. A GPS unit, giving voice instructions and of course, a moving map, is definitely the answer. I may also add that at various places, where we drove, the cellular signal was often not there, but the GPS still functioned. So any thought of using Google Maps on your iPad instead of the GPS unit, is not such a smart idea, please note!

Anniversary and New Zealand 024We were just the four of us, and I was likely to be driving for most, if not all the time, and we opted for a simple sedan. While I had estimated trunk size to be sufficient, when I booked, by the time we reached there, and our bags were finalised, the trunk was very tight, and needed some creativity to put all luggage in there. But we managed!

Coming back to the car rental company and choice, once in New Zealand, besides cars of Apex Rental, we also spotted a lot of vehicles of Jucy Car Rental service, which must then be, one of the other very popular service providers. We did see the popular global brands like Hertz and Thrifty, but they were very few in comparison with Apex and Jucy.

Once you have your broad dates frozen, and broad itinerary done, you want to figure out the hotels at the various places. In most cases, one just needed a place to spend a night at, as one would be out and seeing the place, most of the day. And yet, you do need a good bed to lie down at, a clean room, good bathroom, and hopefully, free Wi-fi. Additionally, as vegetarian Indians carrying some food items as backup supplies (to restaurants, etc.), if you get a kitchenette with your room, it is a good bonus.

Motels work well, in such cases. Also as one travels from one small place to the next in NZ, motels are indeed, the most likely place where you will stay. And several of these motels offer kitchenettes too.

New Zealand is not cheap, one must appreciate. If you compare with the US, you would find all costs, like car rentals, air fares and hotels, to be little more expensive, for the same quality. That may primarily be because there are fewer people and a lesser business, from which people still need to make a living. So the per capita spends go up, to cover that!

That overall fact being accepted and recognised, as you look for hotel options, you can find a wide range of places and prices. That’s when you dig in to see what really works for you. You want to be sure the location is not too far off. You want to see some pictures so you know the real feel, beyond just words of description. And perhaps, you want to see some reviews. Perhaps. Once those are taken care of, you look at the best price.

Enquiries of this kind can be done on a whole host of sites. And they are not too different from each other. So you need to find one which gives you comfort. For me, that turned out to be hotels.com.

hotelsdotcomEasy to find places, terms well laid out, searching options was easy, and in most cases, either I did not need to prepay, or full-refund cancellations were possible, till almost the last day. Then there were advantages like getting one free night for every 10 nights booked, etc. So with all that, did all of my bookings via hotels.com. And since my program went through a few changes, it helped to have that flexibility of easy cancellations.

One thing to watch out for, while looking for hotels, is to see specifically, that the room has its own private bathroom. Several cheaper options may look good in all other respects, but you might have not realised, and they may actually NOT have a private bathroom for the room. Unless you are comfortable to go and use a common bathroom in the corridors, also frequented by others who are staying at the hotel, you would want to have a private bathroom in your hotel room. So ensure that you look for the clear mention of this, as you search for your perfect hotel room!

We were four of us, and it helped to look for and find, a room for four pax. That was definitely cheaper than 2 rooms for 2 pax. I did not find those options everywhere, but wherever I did, it was useful to get the price benefit. Plus, when we used those kinds of rooms, in most cases, they were extremely nice and roomy, with a few of them, even being large suites, in fact! Across the country, the average cost per room that I got was about NZ$150 per night, but that included a huge skew to a very expensive rate, on Dec 31st and 1st Jan, when we were in Fox Glacier and Queenstown areas.

A few other things to keep in mind while planning the trip:

1. The Indian driving license works just fine, to rent cars in New Zealand. Although, I took the effort to get an international driving permit, it was not even found to be necessary, as they did not ask for it. Make sure you carry your Indian license with you, if you intend to drive in NZ.

2. The visa takes a few days to come, and demands a fair amount of paperwork. Budget for the time to get it, if you are planning a trip.

With all this preparation, we were set for New Zealand and couldn’t wait to get there.. !

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Ram-Leela (and I am not going to bother with the long form name forced on it!) could easily have been christened Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam 2.

Not in the sense of being a sequel, but having a whole lot of similarities – from a tale of romance, from a proud parent who will not allow the daughter to marry someone she loves (including the SAME dialogue, “tum mera garoor ho..”!), from the Saurashtra / Kutch base of the story, the songs and the dances, the colours and the music, the vivid pictorials of the desert, etc. I absolutely loved (continue to do so, in fact) Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, and considering that backdrop, I also liked Ram-Leela, though of course, it was nowhere close to the original HDDCS.

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Highlights of the film for me, in 7 points below:

1. The film has the Sanjay Leela Bhansali stamp all over. In fact, you can see it in the credits to begin with. From editing to screenplay, production, direction, and even the music, its Sanjay Leela Bhansali all over. The rich sets, the colourful clothes, folk music and dance, etc. all bear his stamp.. and his class!

2. The story / plot / theme has been done before. SLB gives credit for inspiration to Romeo and Juliet in the titles. That may be the case, but there is again a unique way of presenting the same plot / story, and which SLB does well. In addition to HDDCS, there are shades of Virasat, QSQT among others..

3. My forefathers come from Saurashtra. I have not spent any decent time in Saurashtra, but I am fascinated by the place, and like in HDDCS, SLB brings out the richness of the culture really well. I love the traditional clothing (of men and women), the music (nagara and dhol to the fore), the dances (yes, amazing garbas), the beautiful visuals of the desert stretching out far and wide, the language, the names, etc. All of these tug at my heart, as there are few films that actually focus on Gujarat and Saurashtra and Kutch, to any extent.

4. Supriya Pathak has a brilliant role. She’s clearly an actress who has been grossly under-utilised by industry. After noteworthy supporting roles in films like Bazar, Sarkar, Wake Up Sid and the slapstick comedy, Khichdi (on TV and on the big screen), she’s got a big opportunity here, and plays an extremely strong character of Dhankorba, very competently. (I remember my childhood days, and vacations spent at Balodyan near 5-gardens, run by Supriya’s mama, Dr. Vipin Gandhi, and where, I had the occasion to work with Supriya, on some puppet shows that we did together!).

5. SLB ground his teeth with Vidhu Vinod Chopra, assisting him on films like Parinda and 1942-A Love Story. One thing I’ve admired about Vidhu Vinod Chopra is his ability to get his heroines look their best (for the films he directed). SLB has learnt that well. From Manisha in Khamoshi to Aishwarya and Madhuri and others, SLB excels in bringing out the inner beauty of his heroines. Does so again with Deepika here. And also makes her emote well, and dance really well too!

6. In Ranveer, we have a solid actor, who puts is hard work and dedication to do justice to his character. Had liked him a lot in Band Baaja Baraat, and he was not lacking here as well.

7. I am sure SLB and team would have agonised about the end. And I am not sure if they picked the best option. Like in case of Sholay, the end will continue to be debated for this film as well. As I don’t want to spoil it for those who have not seen it yet, won’t say more here.

In summary, I would say that SLB has made better films in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (his best), Black and Khamoshi. But would rate Ram-Leela as a good one too, perhaps as his 4th best one. I never like Devdas as a movie that much, though I had enjoyed individual performances there!

At a time when decent movies are rare to come by, I would rate Ram-Leela as one that makes the cut, and would recommend seeing it.

There was a very interesting happening in the social media space recently, when a customer put out a promoted tweet, to sound out his frustrations against British Airways.  Perhaps the first instance of this kind, this was a topic of a lot of discussions, including this interesting debate that happened on my own timeline.

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In fact, there was more deliberation on the subject, as Karthik Srinivasan did a blog post on the subject, cuing it with the above-referred discussion on my timeline to begin with, and sharing his details point of view on the subject. More opinions were expressed as Karthik shared the post on Facebook and Twitter.

So, as always, Karthik does a good and thorough job of putting together facts and his viewpoints on the subject, and I fully respect the same. I agree with most of the points he makes in his blog post.

Why do I still see the need to make some additional comments here? That is simply because, I believe, the point that I was trying to make, via my FB post, and the conversation that I had, mostly with Paul, on my timeline as referred above, was slightly different. And which I want to bring out and highlight hereunder.

First things first, and specifically in reference to Karthik’s blog post, let me clarify:

1. I am definitely of the opinion that the power shift has happened into the hands of the consumer, with the advent of social media. And I am all for it. I talk about this to my clients, almost everyday, and also at speaking events, often. Personally, I have had a few occasions when I have had to take my battles with certain brands on to the social media spaces, after having tried all other traditional means, and not managed to make any impact on the brand.

So I recognise the need and the relevance of consumers using social media channels to put out their perspectives about brands, especially the negative ones. This is happening, will happen more, and I have no issues with this trend.

2. I also do NOT believe that social media platforms would prevent some kind of content about a brand coming on to their platforms, because that brand is also an advertiser, and they would fear that the advertising revenue will be lost. No, I don’t believe that would be a motivation for the social media platforms to stop a piece of content coming up on their platforms.

If these are not the issues, then what else are the points that I was making, when I had some concerns about the trend of consumers putting out anti-brand / negative content, via paid digital advertising methods?

1. As Karthik has sighted in his post, there ARE certain guidelines that platforms prescribe, in regards to advertising content. I will quote from Karthik’s post itself, with examples of Google and Facebook:

a. From Google: 

Google AdWords doesn’t allow the promotion of “discrimination” or violent concepts, such as the following:

Ad text advocating against an organisation, person or group of people

b. From Facebook: 

Ads may not insult, attack, harass, bully, threaten, demean or impersonate others.

Why do they even want to put some restrictions of this kind, if they have no liability towards the advertising content?

Why do platforms have a process of “reviewing” the ad content, at all??

I believe they DO have some level of liability, even if it may be a grey area of sorts, and due to which reason they would want to not let things go totally out of hand.

 

2. So do I believe that a genuine customer, making a genuine case about a brand, can take things ‘out of hand’??

No, certainly not. My point was in regards to potential abuse of the system, due to allowing such anti-brand advertising. Few days back there was this rumour floating around, about how Delhi police had issued a warning to not consumer Frooti, as it caused AIDS!! Obviously a hoax, but an extremely damaging one for the brand. The company had to take very strong action, as you can see here.

This hoax could have been someone’s mischief.

It could have been motivated by a unscrupulous competitor. The spread of a rumour of this kind, in a country like ours, could seriously knock off market share of Frooti?!  And which would be hard to recover back.

A prankster who does it for fun, and puts out a blog post or a post on his Facebook page, or a review on some customer review site, will generate x amount of reach. Bad enough for Frooti, but not AS damaging as it could get, if one actually put out paid ads on various platforms propounding such misinformation!

AND if there was a competitor’s hand at the back, and where crores of rupees of market share is involved, does it stop the unscrupulous competitor putting out several lakhs of rupees, to have this come out as an ad, and put out in the name of a consumer?!

The damage caused by an activity of this kind can end up causing substantial damage to Frooti, before it is picked up, and recovery efforts are put in place.

And to think that, it would be so easy to achieve something like that? Today, Frooti, tomorrow Nescafe or Cadburys or whoever.

And if a few thousand crores of “loss” happens, does the brand have ANY hope to sue that fronting consumer, and expect to recover even a fraction of that amount?

Would they then make the platform also a party to the legal damage caused? Perhaps…

 

3. The question then could be, that if damage had to happen, it can happen with organic content also, and not just with paid content. So if we cannot stop organic content (a user’s FB post / her tweet / her blog post / her posting on a customer review site, for example), how and why should platforms stop the paid type?

Yes, there’s clearly a thin line here. My view is only motivated from the fact that these platforms HAVE some process of guidelines for advertising, for ad reviews, etc. So there is an element perhaps, of an involved liability, which will force them to not accept rank potentially derogatory advertising, from anyone. If Twitter does not have guidelines of this kind, maybe they will also create some. In the absence of guidelines and in the absence of scrutiny of ad content, things could get chaotic out there?!

We have fought a fierce battle for one of our clients, where as a market leader, they were attacked by one of their upstart competitors, by relentless, fake accounts based complaints lodging, on various consumer review platforms. It took a massive effort to quell them down, and clean up the space.

I shudder to think the level of damage that paid advertising of anti-brand reports could have caused then..?!

 

4. So am I sounding very soft and sympathetic towards brands, in my stand here?

No, even though I earn my bread and butter from working for brands, on social media, this post is not to bring sympathy for brands. They do have enough money, many do enough wrong, and when necessary, we need to go after them, and expose their failures.

My concern is about the playing field becoming one mega chaos where then, you cannot distinguish fact from make-believe.

Let’s visualise a scenario, especially after seeing this promoted tweet case of the customer, against British Airways.

That say, every grieved customer who has a few thousand rupees to spare, goes out and creates such promoted tweets or promoted posts, or Facebook advertising.

Add to that, a certain breed of agencies (of the kind that buys you millions of fans from anywhere in the world, or who black-hats your SEO.. you get the drift, right, about the kind of agency I am referring to?!) who will start offering to companies, a route to ‘bring down their competitors’ for a few lakhs of rupees. So we see a huge surge of similar anti-brand advertising emerging from such agencies (with a front name of a consumer…).

Are these difficult to imagine? Not to me at least.

What would this result in? Mayhem on the advertising platforms, and consequently, disaster for the brands.. ?!

Yes, it could generate more moneys spent on digital advertising (or “anti-advertising” to be more precise), and due to the damage caused, more money spent on ORM.

But would it be healthy?? Would the platforms and the media itself lose credibility as a consequence??

THAT is my fear. Once opened up, can the tap be shut? I doubt it..

If you will go back to my Facebook timeline and my discussion with Paul, the specific concern that I raised there, and which I have elaborated here, IS about misuse and not about genuine use, by genuine customers!

Perhaps my concerns are unfounded…

Perhaps anti-advertising will happen, but will be used with more discretion by consumers…

We will have to wait and see.

Hope I have made my point of view a little more clear, at least, now..

This thought was born when there was a discussion in another group I belong to, around the thousands of crores of rupees spent on creating the new Mukesh Ambani residence, and whether it made sense at all.

imagesMy point in that debate was that, the money being spent, came into circulation, and enabled many others – from architects to interior decorators to engineers to contractors to labourers – to earn a living, or a little more than that. And in that way, it was a good thing that the money got spent!

And which is what led me to this blog post.

Successful and driven people like Mukesh Ambani will continue to make more and more money! They already have a humungous capital base, and due to the drive they have, due to the kind of businesses that they are in, they will keep growing that capital base, year after year. That is a given.

How they make the money, whether they break the laws to do so, etc. are not the subject matter of this post. So I will not get into that debate here.

Consider the simple fact that they sit on a massive capital base and which will keep growing.

The money that they have is certainly enough for a few generations of their family, to live extremely handsomely, and without needing to work at all. And that has been the general mindset of Indian business people. Which is why we see extremely large amassing of wealth, but nearly abysmal ‘giving back’.

Beyond a point, let’s say, beyond Rs. 500 cr or say, Rs. 1,000 cr, if someone has more wealth, does it even make a difference? In real usage point of view, will it make a difference if one has Rs. 1,001 cr or Rs. 10,000 cr?? Typically, no serious difference as far as lifestyle is concerned.

Then the amassing of more wealth is only for purpose of leaving it behind for your progeny.

But what does it do to the future generations? Leaving aside a few exceptions of rich families, most times, the subsequent generations have degenerated! No serious motivation to work, lots and lots of wealth to go around, and what that creates more often than not, are wasted individuals.

So all that money left behind, to give comfort to your future generations, only to create lazy, unmotivated spoilt kids?? Is that what they wish for their future generations?

When very rich people SPEND their money or USE it in any interesting way that it comes out in circulation, I am happy! Like I said, they WILL earn, and keep earning. Rather than stay in their lockers and bank balances in India or outside India, if that money comes out in circulation, it is helping many others to make a worthwhile living.

Coming back to the conversation of Mukesh Ambani’s home, the cost of building it was said to be around Rs. 4,700 crores. That is the equivalent of 100 years of revenue of a mid-sized company employing a few hundred people! If that kind of employment and wealth distribution / circulation can happen via a single project, what’s wrong with that? If this had not happened, chances are that the money could have just been lying around in some bank locker! Who would it have helped then??

(I have a *different* objection to that house he has built – it is an eyesore – but that is a different point, anyway)

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates (R) and MuBeyond that spend on the house, if one was to contemplate for the Mukesh Ambani situation, what if at some point finally, the Bill Gates’ kind of viewpoint appeals to him? And he leaves enough but not obscenely high amount of capital for his future generations?! And which leaves him with a LOT of capital to do other things with. The kind of challenge that Bill Gates is working with. So what would he do with all that money? What COULD be do with it?

Well, if anyone can do tremendous benefit to society, with so much wealth, it is Mukesh Ambani. Not just because he has wealth – many others do too – but he has the ability to manage projects of massive size, efficiently, where capital deployment can create significant impact! the-ultimate-leaders-manoj-modi

In Mukesh Ambani and his right hand man, Manoj Modi, we have a combo who can execute massive projects better than anyone else. Give them the challenges of the country – water and sanitation, girls’ education, modernising agriculture, disease eradication etc. etc., and they are totally capable to taking these on, at a country wide level, and making these happen! What a tremendous boon it would be for the country if they were to at some stage, leave the reins of the RIL business to some capable individual (will never be as good as they are, but that’s fine – see Bill Gates’ reference again!), and decide to deploy their wealth and time to doing good? And it would be a win-win-win all over..

– after a wonderful lifetime spent achieving fame and glory as successful businessmen, they can contribute back to society, and before they leave this world, they would have left a much larger imprint than having created a massive business enterprise,

– they would leave only adequate amount of capital for their future generations, which will ensure comfort, but may leave that much room to inspire the next-gen to continue to work hard, and not waste their lives,

– they would take on some of India’s massive challenges, which look almost not-solvable today, and actually create solutions, which their personal skills and abilities, along with their wealth, are capable of creating.

What more can you ask for in life?

Well, as I said, it is a dream, but it is worthwhile contemplation. Maybe the energy waves of my thoughts will reach them, and someday, this becomes a reality..?!

P.S. The reference to next generation of very rich people being spoilt or not motivated enough, is a generic one. In particular, I have no idea about Mukesh Ambani’s children and this is certainly not a personal reference to them!

I have been an owner of a Sterling Holidays Timeshare vacation plan, since about 1996-97. I have also opted for the RCI extension that comes with such timeshares, and have used the RCI membership for many a holiday, both in India as well as outside India, over these years.

For a long while in between, Sterling Holidays was in deep financial trouble, and I was wondering if my so-called 99-year membership plan, was going to die an early death. Somehow Sterling resurrected themselves, and stayed in business, and I could continue to get some benefit out of my membership.

Except for the initial 1-2 years, I have not used Sterling Holidays to actually stay at a Sterling resort.

Most of the holidays I have used are with RCI membership and at locations, outside of the Sterling resorts, and few times, outside India as well.

It has been a reasonably rewarding experience over the years, which is what you expect out of a timeshare membership.

In recent years, RCI has been constantly increasing their fees, and the exchange fees as well.

The RCI membership being of a shorter term nature each time, they have the right to revise their terms periodically, and I have accepted these changes over the years.

I have valued the fact that it is so simple to get a holiday set up.

1. Ask Sterling Holidays to deposit your week into RCI – a quick and simple affair.

2. Look for and find the RCI holiday you like. Get it, pay for it, and you are done.

The ease of usage, and the variety of RCI resorts that one had access to, still kept me going with RCI, in spite of the increase of their fees.

Recently however, when I was trying to follow the above-mentioned steps, I ran into problems with Sterling Holidays.

Here’s what happened:

1. I asked RCI to deposit my week from Sterling, as usual. They initiated the process.

2. Couple of days later, I get intimation that they could not do so, as Sterling had regretted the same.

3. I checked if I had paid my annual charges to Sterling, and I concluded that I had paid. So there should not have been any issue.

4. I waited for Sterling to get in touch with me, for reasons why they had denied the deposit of the week. NO such intimation came. I could have kept waiting for ever! Don’t think this regret from their end, triggered any process, to get in touch with their member..!!

5. Finally I got in touch with Sterling, and I was informed that I had to pay another charge now, when I am depositing the week. This was a new, new thing that had never happened before, and for which I had not got any prior intimation, so I was naturally not happy about it.

6. I asked them for details, which they provided on phone, and briefly on email, as this being a new process that they have initiated from April of this year, etc. etc.

7. So my point simply was:

– why did they choose to wait till I am depositing my week, to inform me about this??

– why is it not on any public platform, like their website, or their FB page?

– why was it not conveyed via email to the many members, or via a print circular?

– was this a trivial change? I am sure MANY members deposit their Sterling week, and claim a holiday via RCI. So if there are changes to the terms, and not an insignificant one at that, isn’t it their duty to intimate members proactively, when they initiate the change??

– more importantly, do they have a right to do this at all? There is a certain contract in place, where a fixed amount had been charged, and where a certain small, annual fee was expected to be paid thereafter. But each time you took a holiday via RCI, Sterling could charge you a certain extra – is that even allowed as per the contract?

– if so, how come for so many years, they never charged, and they are beginning to charge only now??

– and if they have charged a sum x this time, can they on their own whim, increase the charge to 2x or 3x in coming years?? After all, as they say, “terms and conditions are subject to change”! You have already paid the initial sum for purchasing the timeshare, now where can you go, except keep giving in to their demands like this??

8. The moot question at this point is, if a Timeshare membership in general, and a Sterling Holidays membership in particular, even worth taking?? If they retain the right to “change terms and conditions”, whatever it is that they promise through ads like the following one, can only be a lure to get you in. Thereafter, they could spring a surprise on you, and ask you for more money?!

sterling_ad

9. Most importantly, does the economics of Timeshares work out then? Say, one takes a decent vacation only once in 3 years. Then, one is still paying annual fees to Sterling, annual fees to RCI, then an exchange fee to RCI when you take the vacation, and now the newly introduced additional fee to Sterling, to enable you to deposit the week, to RCI. All that against the cost of just booking a hotel and staying there? Is it viable or interesting at all?

If not, WHY WOULD YOU LOOK AT TIMESHARE AS AN OPTION AT ALL??

bmb_titleI was in for a wonderful treat on the Sunday morning.

Yes, totally loved Bhaag Milkha Bhaag for many reasons!

I was reminded of ‘Chariots of Fire’, a film I had seen many years back, but which remains one of my favourite films till date. There is a certain excitement about stories based around sport, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, is of course, in that genre. The sweat and toil, the determination, the hard work, the competitiveness, the rivalry, all of these are emotional elements and they draw the audience in.

At the outset, here was an extremely talented team at work!

Starting with the director, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, one of the sharpest and most talented young filmmakers in Indian cinema today. I had found his first venture, Aks, to be a very interesting experiment. And then of course, Rang De Basanti was an iconic film. I had liked his next one, Dilli 6 also. So this one comes as yet another great piece of work by the young man. bmb_rom

His partner in crime from RDB and Dilli-6, Prasoon Joshi is very much present here as well!

He takes care of a super story, screenplay, dialogs and lyrics. His brilliance shows in all of these aspects!

Binod Pradhan does a fabulous job with the camera, especially on some scenes filmed in Ladakh. Shankar Ehsaan Loy put together a very credible composition for the times when the story has been based.

That’s an awesome team working at the back.

Of course, the one hero is the original story, and the man himself, the Flying Sikh, Milkha Singh!

It is amazing to see and note the life that he lived.

A child of the partition days, he saw the extreme pain and angst of separation, was brought up in very tough environs, took to stealing coal to make some money, and from that kind of background, emerged to be one of the best athletes that India have produced, and perhaps one of the best sportspersons that India has every produced. Now that’s quite a rollercoaster of a life!

Kudos to Farhan Akhtar for delivering Milkha Singh to us!

bmb_fa

His is an absolutely brilliant performance. He has clearly put in massive effort to get it right. From the physical development, to the running style, the look, the accent, the Punjabi language, the dancing.. everything. And he delivers well on all of these. Clearly, he seems to be the perfect fit for this role.

Some great shots he delivers include the extreme face crunching pain that he feels as he runs hard on the tracks, or when (the many times) he falls and gets hurt, or his scenes with his sister, or the time when he returns back to his old home in Pakistan, or when he comes back with his medals and gives a medal to his first coach and falls at his feet, etc. etc. All great scenes, very well acted!!

There are good supporting performances from Pawan Malhotra and Yograj Singh as the coaches, and Divya Dutta as Milkha’s elder sister.

Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhotra were in Rakeysh’s Dilli-6 too, and are also two really good supporting actors, who leave their mark, even in short roles.

Sonam does not have much of a role in the film.

The young boy who plays Milkha Singh as a child also delivers a fantastic performance.

It was very interesting to see the country glued on to the radio when Milkha Singh was taking on his Pakistani counterpart, and when he emerges winner, the kind of celebrations that India witnesses, were bigger than what we see these days, when India beats Pakistan in a cricket match!

Overall, Milkha Singh’s story is told very well, in interspersed flashbacks, in almost a similar way that Mehra had mixed the characters and story of India’s pre-independence revolution with modern day characters in Rang De Basanti.

In summary, this is clearly the best film to be released so far in 2013. There is a good chance that the Best Director award for the year is already decided in favour of Mehra, and even if that were to be in doubt, rest assured that the Best Actor award’s a taken now! Others will be competing for 2nd place to Farhan Akhtar.

Not about the movie, but here are some life lessons that one picks up from the movie:

1. Sometimes there is a deep rooted event or incident that provides the maximum motivation / drive

2. Everyone could screw up. Recognise what’s happened, refocus, ensure elimination of the screwup factor, and dedicate yourself back to the motive

3. It’s all about FOCUS.

4.There are no short cuts in life. Hard work, dedication, obsession about one’s goals.. that’s what it takes to succeed.

5. A good coach makes a huge difference

6. A good coach will drive you to your limits, as he knows what you are capable of, and wants you to deliver it all

7. You need to consciously switch OFF your distractions if you want to get your ultimate goal
Cheers!

Go, see Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.. !

 

 

My 5-year old nephew rambles away the popular tracks of Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (YJHD) all day long. Finally, for his sake, we landed up in the theatre on the 2nd week Saturday, surprised to find a nearly packed cinema hall. Maybe YPD-2 had not struck a chord with the audience 🙂

By the time you are in the second week, you’ve already heard and read a lot about a movie, typically. So I had heard that “it’s a long movie”, that “it doesn’t have much of a story”, and even that “YOU won’t like it”.

images

I wonder about that last suggestion! Especially in hindsight after having seen the film. Wonder what made the person feel that I won’t like it. Whatever are the kind of signs I have given about the kind of films I don’t like (well, there ARE the obvious ones that I have shared, e.g. dislike science fiction, cartoons, and the like – this was none of those kinds..!).

These reactions had not clouded my expectations, just tampered them! Knowing the star cast, and knowing that it was a modern day setting, Dharma Productions flick, there would be certain good-feel factors like great locations, style, music, etc. And then anything else that is also good, will be a good bonus.

In reality, I found a lot of factors that worked for me, in the movie. And I quite enjoyed it, and would recommend as a good-see, to anyone who’s considering going for it.

While the story is so-so, there are very interesting characters.

Like the girl who’s always been a loner, focused on studies and topping classes, to some extent under the influence of her family, and to some extent maybe, because that’s what she’s always believed to be the right thing to do.

Till the time that she, perhaps for the first time in her life, takes an impulsive plunge to go on a trekking trip, and which becomes a life-changer for her. For being able to discover herself, for knowing that there is more to life than just being “proper”, that life is meant to have fun too.

Whether it is a trekking trip or some other significant moment in people’s lives, I have seen transformations of this kind, in people. And I can identify with this change. And it is so important to take those opportunities that come your way, and flow with them…

The transformation of Deepika’s character in this manner was a good moment, in the film.

I have never thought much of Deepika’s acting. Have thought of her as an average actor, at best. But she does a decent job here. Maybe the ‘coming-back-with-Ranbir’, even if it was just for the one film, worked well for her!

A lot of films with two stars, and two supporting actors, can leave the actors’ characters from showing up. Here we see a good glimpse of the desires, the emotions, the pangs, of the two supporting actors as well. Kalki and Aditya Roy Kapur, in that sense, have good roles and have done a decent job.

That brings us to the one star of the show. Ranbir Kapoor is awesome.

Here’s one more after Wake Up, Sid, Rockstar and Barfi, where he gives an outstanding performance.

He can act with his face, the expressions tell a story. His appearance looks so real with the character he plays.

And he can dance.

Yes, he’s got it in the genes from Rishi, and then he’s gone and improved upon them. Amongst the young breed (and I would classify Hrithik as not-so-young now), he is clearly ahead of the pack, where dancing goes. Perhaps also where acting goes.

The character he plays is one that we’d find amongst the youth today. Not everyone, but not exactly a rare breed.

One who has the confidence to NOT do the typical. One who feels that this is the one life, and one must fill it with the best of times and the best of moments, and live it to the fullest. Why must you be like everyone else?

Very interesting attitude. The film makes it appear to be a little selfish, and there is a degree of self-doubt towards the end. But it is an amazing feeling. Which travel enthusiast sitting in the cinema would have not drooled over the offer to be in 4 different cities of the world for 3 months each, and also be paid for it?! Clearly an aspirational character in a way.

The locales are well chosen, from Manali to Paris to Udaipur, and many others, there are some lovely scenes for the eyes to satiate.

The music of Pritam is good. Many of the songs are very hummable.

Last but not the least, it is always so awesome to see Madhuri Dixit on screen. She continues to amaze with her dancing, and retains her magical smile. Wish she returns for a longer role in some film soon.. ! She gives grace to what could have been other terms, just another ‘item song’!

It IS somewhat long as a movie. 3 hours all in all, inclusive of the interval. But quite an enjoyable three hours overall.

Did you see it too? What did you think about it?