Thursday, November 30, 2006

Retail in India or whither kiranas

The Indian Economy Blog had this post on how kiranas will rule despite the entry of Walmart. I've disagreed with the view and my comment got so long, I decided to post it here as well.

Here's the original post on the Indian Economy Blog, and this below is my rather long-winded, hopelessly typo-ridden comment.


Gaurav - Like you, I have no numbers to substantiate what I believe. Which is more or less in line with what Anshu has commented above, i.e. Kiranas will live - not rule. Here’s why.

I’ll limit myself to one case-study to further what I’m saying (which I also know from personal experience), i.e. Food Bazaar (part of Kishore Biyani’s retail chain, and part of what you’ve referred to above as “Big Bazaar”) at Infinity Mall, Versova. You might call the locality as “the very upper-middle-class”, but then I don’t know what you meant because you’ve not given an income level for that definition.

From what I know it will be hard for me to categorise the people coming to this store inside this very popular mall because they span almost all income categories, for example TV stars, film actors, struggling actors, gym instructors, businessmen, salaried employees, BPOs, etc, etc. Typical Mumbai suburban crowd.

Here’s what I’ve seen at this Food Bazaar
1. Huge variety - within each group, across brands, vegetables, fruits, plastic stuff, etc. etc.

2. Crowds - it’s a big place (not sure of the area, but its large) and fairly packed on weekends (as you pointed to above) with people of the variety mentioned above. What also helps is a 3-4 screen multiplex above and the mall experience.

3. Discounts - On a daily basis, they’ve got offers across almost every
category. On special occasions, such as on Republic Day this year, they had unheard-of discounts, stuff like 2 jeans for Rs500 (shitty quality, but it was there), free atta, rice, etc. etc.

4. Home Delivery - offered around the area for purchases above Rs1,000

5. Credit cards - accepted, some cards (like ICICI) even have higher reward points for co-branded Big Bazaar credit cards

The Food Bazaar Mall is about a year-18months old. Prior to that Lokhandwala Complex (which itself is huge) was almost entirely catered to by the Kirana stores. What’s changed ?

All those kirana stores are still there and doing quite fine. I’m not sure if anyone of them has shut down, but I don’t know if a single one of them is “ruling”.

I know someone who owns one of these places. Here’s his take - his profits have dropped about 25% in the last one-two years because he’s had to offer aggressive discounts, hire a couple of helps and buy cycles to for home-delivery. Sales are doing good, but his customers keep asking him for stuff he doesn’t stock because he doesn’t have space. He just expanded some time back to add more racks and store more stuff but he can’t keep pace with the variety of stuff that each brand is launching. And he can’t buy more space because property prices in Mumbai are just too high.

So, he’s worried. But here’s the good news, he’s hearing that Reliance is coming over..they’ve offered him a good deal to convert to a Reliance franchise format. He is considering that offer.

I’m tempted to give my own example (i.e. I’ve stopped going to a kirana store long time back, I prefer seeing a movie, having a beer and doing a week of shopping all at one place, on a weekend), but I don’t know if its appropriate, or if I’ll be labeled “very-upward-middle-class” (btw, is that bad ?) :)

So here’s my point - I don’t think kiranas will rule, I don’t think they will die. But they will have to get a lot more competitive. As for the Walmarts, Bhartis, Tescos, Ambanis, Biyanis, Birlas, etc. I think there’s enough room for everyone, if one were to believe the India growth story. Sure, there will be winners and there will be losers - and that’s as true for these biggies as it is for the kiranas.

I’m aware that Bombay might not be the ideal comparison for the point of this post, but I think its a fair indicator. Things might be different, but not wildly different, in other cities.

Just one last point - this bit you said But is this tie-up, which has Walmart managing only the back-end supply chain and procurement and Bharti managing the front-end, only a convenient arrangement to scale the policy barriers? Or is it something more? A strategic decision? I suspect it is more of the latter than the former.

Are you a free market proponent ? If yes, you’d not support the barriers on FDI in retail put up by the Govt, right ? But if these barriers are there, then this method (i.e. backend-MNC, front-end local) is probably the only route left to enter the retail sector, isn’t it ?

So, if you think the Bharti-Walmart tie-up is a “convenient arrangement”, then that is also the same for so many others who have followed the same route such as Tata Croma, Spar-RK Foods and Shoprite .

Thanks - would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Come on over Blogbharti, the new aggregator for desi blogs. The good folks over there have been kind enough to include me in their super team.

So, come on over, have a look, give us your feedback and tip us off if you find something good.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale - a review

Saw Casino Royale. Very ordinary, very forgettable. Daniel Craig is quite good, but I couldn't stop wondering if Clive Owen (who was also reportedly in the race for the new Bond) would've been better.

The movie also got me thinking as to what Bond used to be, and what it is now.

Then: edge-of-the-seat, scintillating opening sequence with Bond extricating himself from absolutely impossible situations that only he can get out of. That's why he's Bond
Now: B&W sequence where we learn how Bond got promoted to Double-O status - i.e. by shooting off a baddie sitting opposite him in a bar (they're the only two people there), prior to which Bond had bashed up a goon in the loo. However, to be fair, this was followed by a breath-taking, edge-of-seat chase between Bond and Sebastien Foucan, the free-running master. Thank God for that - it was true Bond

Then: Opening title sequence with loads of silhouettes of seductive women with the title track of the movie. (remember Tina Turner's Goldeneye ? or even Duran Duran's View to kill?)
Now: Some card-based shadowy title sequence with caterwauling by Chris Cornell (who he ?) going "I know who you are". Uninspiring.

Then: Q and loads and loads of gadgets. Damn. Those cars, those pens, those watches and assorted paraphernalia were quintessential Bond. Any self-respecting gadget freak would swoon over them. Bond-Q dialogues were also quite fun.
Now: No Q, no gadgets. Loads of Sony Ericsson phones (remember Sony made the movie?) and one fancy car whose most technologically-advanced gadget is a defribillator. Why ? Just in case, you know, Bond has a heart attack, he can calmly, very Bondly, get into the car, strap it to his chest and and zap himself back to life. And yes, this does happen in the movie, only it's the girl doing the needful zapping.

Then: Gangster molls and bimbettes. Pussy Galore, Octopussy, Xenia Onatopp and of course, Honey Ryder, have all been legends. For example, remember the climax of "The Man with the Golden Gun" ? when Mary Goodnight touched off a laser gun with her bikini-clad butt ?
Now: One babe, admittedly hot, but who lasted all of 3 minutes before being conveniently tortured and killed after she reveals some secrets to Bond. Oh and we have the famous love angle for Bond with Vesper Lynd (I'm not sure how funny that name is). Yes well, whatever. This is supposed to be the big thing about the movie. Left me unmoved, except for the conversation in the train between Bond and Lynd.

Then: Risque closing sequences. Bond typically in bed with above-mentioned girl comes up with some witty one-liner when his bosses call him in the end. Sample, the closing lines of "Moonraker" - Bosses: "What are you doing Bond?" (Bond's in bed with some hottie). Bond, calmly: "Keeping the British end up".
Now: Bond gets the villain, shoots him in the leg and goes "Bond. James Bond". Er, ok.

Then: Simple plots, predictable turns and deceptions.
Now: Card games, a few side-villains, one big betrayal that is explained away by M in one sentence and a villain that is seen for all of 1.1 minutes. Give me Scaramanga and Blofeld anyday.

I don't get it. Why a new Bond ? And hang on, I want to make a broader point here.

Are the times of our lives changing so much that we need to find out the origins and complications of every famous movie character ? Or get involved in his personal anguish, introspections, etc ? What ? now we need the movies to get in touch with our inner-selves ?

Take for example - a wuss of a Superman (in the recent disaster - Superman Returns, a.k.a. - "The Perils of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist: Do you know how many 'c's in a catastrophe?"), an exiled Batman (in Chris Nolan's brilliant Batman Begins) and now "How Bond Got His Double-Ohs". What next ? Jaws: The true story ? (or how Jaws ate all the people on the beach because he was a victim of sexual abuse as a kid ?)

Is this is some kinda reflection on the times we live in ? That hey, you know, we don't always know what is good from bad. Life is not a box of chocolates, Forrest, life is grey and complicated. You even get lemons. Even our super-heroes can get their asses kicked.

I'll tell you what. I don't care a damn about these introspections and these sensitive, reluctant heroes. Give me simple, kick-ass rockstars who wipe the floor with villains asses, who get the best girls, the best lines and the best gadgets. I go to the movies to be entertained. I don't need slow, self-indulgent, soap-opera stuff.

There is a reason why Hollywood's most famous characters are its most famous brands. Bond, Indiana Jones, comic book super-heroes, hell, even Austin Powers. There's a reason why plain, old-fashion entertainment works. That's what I go to the movies for. That's why I remember Ursula Andress, Sean Connery, Roger Moore and even Pierce Brosnan. Add Christopher Reeve, Harrison Ford and God knows how many more to that list.

But I guess that list is probably over because they don't make movies, and heroes, like they used to.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On the old Don

So the other day, I was reading something somewhere. All I can remember for now was this bit alluding to people not knowing that the old “Don” was not a good movie. And I went “whoa, what was that about?”. But then, as always, work beckoned and I didn’t read further. Maybe I got the context wrong, maybe I should’ve read more. Whatever.

So, last night SET Max was showing the old 1971 1978 "Don" and I saw a bit of the movie. I've seen it before and remain a loyal fan. (Aside - I'd also love to have this poster. Appreciate help if you know where I can get it from.)

So, the bit I saw last night was the sequence of Roma extricating the recuperating Don (i.e. the fake one) from the cops.

In the new “Don”, this was done by the yummylicious Piggy Chops dressed in all whites (tribute to the old one?) lifting the ambulance straight off the road with a crane and zipping away, as the smiling, all-knowing Inspector (Boman Irani - yuck) looks on.

In the old “Don”, this takes place inside the hospital. Zeenat Aman dressed in all whites, as a nurse, goes to Don’s room. She then tells the cop in the room that she has to give Don a sponge bath (!), so the cop goes out. Next, she ties herself with ropes, puts a gag on her mouth, opens the window in the room and leaves a rope hanging out. Then she hops to the door and starts kicking on it so the cops outside know there’s trouble. When they come in, they find her tied and gagged and assume that the Don has escaped.

So where’s he ? She’s hidden him in the loo. She then puts a fake beard on him and gets him out on the wheelchair, strolls it out of the hospital and into the ambulance, which is full of Don’s goons, incl. Narang and Mac. (Aside – I just loved the attention given to side characters in both the Dons). And they’re away. Don’s escaped.

But not yet. By then, the cops have alerted everyone that Don’s escaped. So, the cops at the gate stop the ambulance and question Narang, “Peeche kya hai?” and he goes “Dead body”. So the cops open the back and lift the white cloth over the body. Only to reveal Mac. And the entire episode ends with a shot of Don’s feet sticking out from below the stretcher as the cops close the door of the ambulance.

In my opinion, that entire sequence was brilliant. There are plenty of other clever scenes that I remain in love with. A dead Don in the car with Iftikhar (what a performance!) who doesn’t even realise he’s dead – why didn’t they do this scene in the new version ? And Iftikhar asking Pran – who’s captured him inside a room..

Iftikhar: Kya chahiye tumhe ?
Pran: Aap ki maut. Agar aap ko aitraaz na ho to.

Smooth. So smooth. And so, so Pran. That voice, that look.

In my books, the old "Don" was up there in 1971 1978 and it’s even up there now, in 2006. I thought it was a really good edge-of-the-seat thriller, with twists and turns that seem good even now. And I’m not even talking Helen or Zeenat Aman or whatever. That's stuff for more posts, but then you probably knew it anyway. I thought the old "Don" was a fantastic movie. I try and catch each time it comes on. They don't make 'em like that any more.

PS – turns out what I’d read was on Desipundit and the line was "Btw, I hope people realize that the original Don was actually a pretty bad movie." I don’t agree with that at all.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Press to play

Go ahead, just do it. But only if you have the time. Beware, you've been warned.

Do not press.

[link from Sonia Faleiro]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I heard a rumour

Over at Mid-day, Nandita Puri recalls her actor friend telling her "weeks in advance" that Mona Singh would win Jhalak Dikhlaja because Sony (the channel airing the show) wanted to give Ms. Singh a new, slicker look as against the nerdy Jassi.

And suddenly everything falls into place for the columnist. Everything, meaning all the timed and sustained negative publicity on Shveta Salve. These include news leaks that Shveta is a professional dancer, that she is arrogant and that she refused to part with 20% of prize money to her choreographer.

So here's the deal. The entire show was rigged to relaunch Mona Singh. And all those bechara other seven celebs had no idea they'd be booted out after each and every round. Or hang on, were they paid off ? You know, take the hit, get bumped off, for the larger cause of, er, the relaunch of Mona Singh?

Coincidentally at Nach Baliye2, drama reaches a new high with Manav and Shweta being accused of distributing SIM cards to friends and family to vote for them. A year earlier, the same show had Varun and Rajeshwari randomly stopping their dance mid-way in the finals due to stress, rumouredly so that the Pilgaonkars could win.


Someone at the channels and a whole lotta people at the press are having a field day. Anything goes, be it conspiracy theory, rumours or gossip. Get those TRPs up and justify those ad rates boss.

I doubt we'll ever know the truth. I couldn't care less and, in fact, I couldn't even see the final. To be frank, I wasn't really hanging by a thread to see who won. Sure I was rooting for Mona, I mean duh, who wasn't ? And even if Shveta had won, I wouldn't exactly go on a hunger strike.

The point is - the show had a nice format. I had fun watching celebrities goofing up their steps, then getting voted out sans excessive drama (except for Akashdeep who probably OD'ed but what the heck), rona-dhona, etc. etc.

So it was all rigged ? Whatever. What's next ? Bakhtyar and Tanaaz being caught (after winning NB2 of course) as having taken performance-enhancing drugs before every round of NB2? Now, we're talking.