Shonali Bose on Margarita with a Straw: Excerpt from my new book- Brave New Bollywood


Preeti: Why did you choose such a difficult subject for your comeback venture?
Shonali: I don’t shy away from subjects just because they are difficult or challenging. In fact, I find it challenging to find a way to tell a story that no one else is likely to tell and needs to be told. It takes me a long time to settle in on what film I want to make—because it takes so much out of me for a few years. It’s like birthing a baby till he/she goes to preschool! It’s intense.

Preeti: The mother–daughter relationship is your forte. How is the treatment different in this film?
Shonali: In a way it’s very similar to Amu—in that they are extremely close and the centre of each other’s world. The specificities are different. In Amu, the mother was from a Bengali family. She was a political activist and lived abroad. In Margarita, With a Straw, the mother is a simple Maharashtrian housewife at one level and at another it’s she who wears pants in the family. She is the one who pushes her daughter to be out there in the world and fights for her to be treated as normal. Amu explored adoption and the complexities that arise between mother and child over that.
In Margarita, With a Straw, there is also a flip in the relationship of the caregiver and her subject. Both deal with the pain of loss of mother.

Preeti: Is the treatment of the protagonist from a sympathetic point of view or one of empowerment?
Shonali: You never sympathize with the protagonist; you empathize with her. Even though she is disabled, she is created as a nuanced character with her own shades of grey. So it’s impossible to pity her. Her journey is indeed empowering and leads her to a place of self love.

Toilet Signage as an International Cultural Artefact: Guest Article by Prof. Lynne Ciochetto for Checkposts



Toilet signage is such a deeply embedded part of contemporary life, writes Lynne Ciochetto, that most people are oblivious to the layers of meaning embedded in the signs themselves.

As Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller once pointed out, people never read the signs as saying ‘man or woman for sale’. The specific meanings ascribed by the particular context have been learnt across cultures, though the first assumption seems to be universal: men and women’s lavatorial activities need to be segregated.



Toilet signage itself has a relatively young history, following that of the public loo, which only became common in the late nineteenth century, stimulated by increasing mobility and the separation of work from home. Public conveniences first appeared in British railway stations and department stores, but the practice was then exported through the British empire.

Mandawa, India

Mandawa, India

These early signs were text-based but increasingly mobile populations in the twentieth century encouraged the development of pictorial systems that did not require shared language. Visual languages such as the US Department of Transportation symbol system designed in 1974 – the first comprehensive pictogram system – and systems developed for the Olympics aimed for universality but very much reflected their Germanic roots in abstract systems such as those of Otto Neurath. Once embraced by international communications and business, they became part of the International Style.



With accelerating globalisation of tourism and business, toilet signage has become an international phenomenon, especially in airports, train and bus stations. With the growth of tourism and the increasing frequency of eating out as entertainment, signage has become more common away from such mass transit zones, too. In these calmer places the lavatory becomes a gallery of folk art, a vehicle for representing universal gender differentiation, local culture and personal expression.



Gender representation in these signs is both representational and symbolic, with images of men and women, or emblems of of their supposed differences, being used. However, women are never depicted in the actual act of sitting on a toilet, let alone using one, though sometimes men, and children of both sexes, are.

Interview with Justin Rabindra, acclaimed photographer and Former Vice President, Training & Knowledge Management, Ogilvy

Justin Rabindra

Justin Rabindra talks about the role of visual memory in brand building; the noise on social media and how adversiting still pays or pays off..

Do you see any synergies between your years in advertising and your current passion/profession?

Yes, advertising is a very visual business and my early influence has been from the business as an account management person when I accompanied and supervised shoots with people like Pradeep Dasgupta, Akash Das, Adrian Steven and others.

At a less obvious level, while there a several technically fine images out there, I judge a good image by its ability to move me emotionally. This is something that can’t be taught and I believe I acquired this skill from many years of working in a visually rich industry like advertising.

At it’s most obvious, when I shoot a product for a client, I try to communicate (or sell) without words, and that’s definitely a synergy that exists with the ol’ industry.

How important is visual representation for brands? Do you think Indian brands are cognizant of its importance?

It’s extremely important. Indian advertising and marketing people learnt that early on in the evolution of the business, in large part because a significant portion of the Indian market is semiliterate or illiterate and depend on visual cues to recognize and decide on brands.

Thanks to Facebook and other social networking sites, every one wants to be projected as a celebrity- most importantly through pictures. What sort of opportunity do you see for personal branding in the future?

That’s so true. Like a joke that goes around on Facebook, ‘Are people’s lives really as amazing as they make it out to be on Facebook?’ A lot of what’s happening on social media is just noise, the equivalent of a offline brand that blasts media with overkill because they have the budget. Consumers in the offline world were intelligent enough to filter out the chaff for the wheat. Similarly the online audience takes branding activities online with a pinch of salt. The beauty of it is that the truly beautiful brands, the ones that succeed do so despite less advertising frequency (or eyeballs or pageviews) and less strategic behavior because if the brand has talent it will eventually leak out for the world to see and admire, despite having a smaller budget than their giant rivals.

How can photography contribute to branding- corporate or individual?

Visual memory is a lot more enduring than the other kind. For several products the image in an appropriate context tells a more evocative story than any advertising created by an agency. Jeremy Bullmore said, ‘Brands are built the way birds build nests. With scraps and straws they happen upon.‘ Photographs are those scraps and straws. They could be taken professionally or they could be random, casually shot images taken on an iPhone. They add up. Conversely, photographs can also damage a brand. That’s the beauty of social media. It’s no more in the marketer’s control anymore.

She Can You Can: How Tupperware Captured the Indian Imagination

tupperware One campaign that has truly wedded an innovative business model with an equally impressive marketing campaign- is Tupperware’s She Can You Can. The campaign leveraged Print, PR, Social Media and Microsites to position the new powerful She Can woman- the essence of the brand. The marketing team had a very well defined idea of this person and pushed it cohesively and effectively through all media channels:-

•A person who chased her dream, even if it meant going against the tide
•A person who had risen through her own effort- A woman next door
•Not very old, early 30s- since the company wanted to recruit a younger profile amongst its sales force
•Someone who has achieved recognition in her own circles, but not a celebrity
The trick was to go beyond the the Tupperware sales force- and make this a campaign for women empowerment. Two protagonists were shortlisted for this:
–Saloni Malhotra: Engineer, but went to rural India to start a BPO
–Chhavi Rajawat: MBA, but gave up her job to become Mayor of a village
Stories were pitched in Mid-Day. Teasers were launched on Facebook. A Microsite was created: as was a YouTube channel. The campaign achieved phenomenal results- more than 20K SMS enquiries and 10K from the website. But the biggest acheivement was that it inspired many Indian women to transition from being housewives to business consultants.

Building brands: Leveraging technology for storytelling


At a conference earlier this year, Rajdeep Endow, Managing Director of Sapient India, opined that consistently reinforcing the “story” of a brand is vital to its longevity. “The values of a brand and its image depend on the story of the brand itself. If that story remains intact, the brand can sustain itself,” he suggests. “A brand should encourage dialogue with the customer but rely on its experience to go through the story.”

As an example of best practice, he cited the case study of Hindustan Unilever, the FMCG manufacturer, and its attempt to establish Kwality Wall’s ice cream in India. The company introduced a vending machine that rewarded a consumer for smiling into a display screen with a free ice cream, thus reinforcing the positive message at the heart of its marketing campaigns.

Deepali Nair, Country Head, Brand Customer Service and Corporate Communications at L&T Insurance, provides another example of new technology being used to tell a brand story, with the company’s “Likh Ke Doge Kya” campaign. This focused on digital channels as well as TV, with the former medium offering 24/7 opportunities and allowing for conversations with consumers, and the latter promising considerable reach.


Sanjay Tripathi, executive vice president, marketing, at HDFC Life, another insurance provider, reports that it had based the “Sar utha ke jiyo” campaign on similar reasoning. To counter the increasingly outdated view that men are responsible for a family’s financial security, it developed a Facebook page aimed at female consumers, promoting them as equal partners in financial decision-making.

A key way of determining the effectiveness of such ideas, Tripathi added, is collecting feedback and monitoring data. “We should always understand the chatter that goes around the brand. The most important part is to keep the right balance between the brand and the technology so that none of it depends on each other.”

In the Business of Relaxation: In conversation with Anurag Kedia, Director- The Four Fountains Spa

It started with Sakina’s comment on my blog. She was working with Four Fountains Spa as a Digital Marketing Manager and wanted to offer me a complementary therapy at their spa chain….The spa freak that I am, I jumped at the offer.Later that day, after a de stress therapy which lasted for almost a couple of hours, a detailed diet plan and a good feeling, I left the Four Fountains Spa in Gurgaon.

The easy option would be to write a review. But that’s not what I wanted to do. For a long time now, I have wondered at the mushrooming spa chains in the country. Besides, I found it particularly interesting that a spa chain would have such an evolved digital marketing strategy. So instead of writing a review, I decided to interview Anurag, Director of The Four Fountains Spa Chain.

Director, Four Fountains Spa

Director, Four Fountains Spa

How did it all begin? What got you excited about spas?

There are three of us involved in this- Anurag Kedia, Saurabh Garg and Sunil Rao. We are all management graduates of the batch of 2004. Saurabh and Sunil were working with Hindustan Lever. Anurag was with KPMG Consulting, Saurabh and Anurag went to IIM Ahemadabad and Sunil went to SP Jain. As part of our regular jobs, we were traveling a lot. The companies would put us up in fancy five star hotels where the entire bill would be taken care of by the company except the spa bill. With our hectic travel schedules, we would crave for a massage, but a spa therapy in our hotels would cost around 4-5 K.  Even outside five star hotels, the price points were not very different. Another feeling was that even coming from some of the best places, we felt out of place when we were in a spa. The entire approach towards customers was very snooty. It was almost like a fine art gallery, where if you went, you were supposed to know what fine art is.

What came to our mind was that maybe nobody has thought of spas which are affordable. The language of spas is very romanticized even when customers who go there are middle class customers.

Four fountains has a solutions and health focus. The communication is aimed at explaining the customer the end results of the therapy and is therefore not obsessing on the threadbare details of the process.

Why are spas mushrooming now?

There are certain macro-economic changes that are happening. People are commuting more, increased work pressures, relationship demands. There is an increased focus on health. Why is Kellog selling so many more cereals today? Yoga classes today? IF in 90s, someone went to a gym, you would associate him with body building. Today if you don’t go to the gym, you feel guilty about it. There is a general consensus that going to the gym is a good health practice.

Similarly, if you look at the concept of massages, new borns and their mothers in India are given massages for the first few months. This is a very Indian concept. Indians really appreciate the concept of massages. However, when it comes to going to the spa, it is associated with pampering rather than health.  We felt there is a disconnect between our understanding of massage as a culture and our understanding of spas. This is the reason why all our communication is aimed at re-establishing the value of massage from the point of view of health. It has been a conscious decicion not to use the word pampering, indulgence even once in any of our communication. We stress on research on benefits of the massage. We are trying to play a role that Café Coffee Day was playing 15 years back in terms of bringing in the coffee shop culture.

We are also catering to highly competitive price points to help customers adapt to the very concept of massage.

Why the membership model?

Because there are people who want to use very regularly. For such customers, we want to make the prizes very competitive.  For walk in customers also, the prices are very competitive. Right now the membership

Old spas-700 to 800

Gurgaon- 50 or 100

Pune-1000 or 1200

Membership contributes to 50% of our overall revenue.

What is your focus on training?

As a brand we have a training academy in Pune. It is a 60 day training programme, for 9 hours every day. It is one of the most intensive training programmes in the industry. The contact hours 450. There is a test at the end of the training programme. If they don’t get a minimum score, they are not sent to the spas. The scores are on individual therapies. Every 12 months, there is an audit.

This is also CSR in a way. We are providing this free of cost. We have an NGO tie up for sourcing candidates to identify the right candidates with the right attitude. We not only provide free training, but also accommodation. The starting salaries are 10K. The tips range from 2-4K.

In terms of growth path, we offer an increment every six months. People are promoted to senior therapists and the ones who perform very well then move up to become trainers.

I’ve got a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore!


As digital marketing becomes the leading differentiation strategy for creating exceptional online experiences and enhancing those offline, the gap between the physical and virtual worlds is shrinking at full pelt!

Seen from the prism of brands, the future holds promise as well as premonitions. This is the brave new world in which there can be no secrets. The emerging trends have been out there for all to see because in the virtual world, insights unravel real-time. Nonetheless, in the interest of documentation, here’s a quick enlistment:-

  • The future will be integrated: Integrating social networking with social commerce and geo targeting technologies will be a no brainer considering that all these networks are already fairly active in silos. As a result of this, there will be a paradigm shift from social media ROI to social media revenue generation. There will be an integration of social media, e-commerce and m-commerce ecosystem.
  • The Marketer’s JD will be redefined: So the new age brand managers would not be sitting in isolated cabins mashing up the data provided by management consultants to come up with linguistically titillating insights any longer. Nor would the PR factory merely line up outside the doors of elusive journalists. The new members of their inner circles would be none other than their own customers, employees, vendors. Organizations will increasingly need to bring about structural changes which ensure customer and other stakeholders to be genuinely satisfied and engaged with their brands.
  • Group Buying and Social Commerce: This would be stimulated by the rise of mobile comparison shopping, mobile coupons, geo tracking offers. While Mobile apps would help to personalize and touch phones facilitate easy purchase, social commerce would help ensure loyalty and engagement. Group buying to avail price benefits, shop and share apps, and community recommendations to make future purchases will be the order of the day. Moving forward, technology will facilitate a scenario where buyers will define what, where, how and when they want to purchase a particular product or service. 
  • Online Video Ad Spending: With improved broadband penetration and speeds, this is one section that will surely ride the wave. Sites like are ripe with content and users and happen to be among the most underutilized marketing tools right now. 2012 might well be the banner year for video. Innovative technologies which will enable the users to communicate through short video messages will allow more dynamic sharing. Another interesting development would be technologies enabling video shopping which allow users  to click on, share and purchase items without leaving the video page.
  • All in the Game: Gartner predicts that in less than three years more than 70 % of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gaming application. Gaming will enable audiences to reach out to their audiences through stories and visuals like never before. This wave will only be stimulated by the growth in smart phones, tablets and streaming devices.

Overall 2012 will be the year of monetization through digital media. While investments in digital media will continue to galore, this will also be the year when marketers can start reaping the benefits of the investments that have been made into this hitherto futuristic media so far.

Has Shopping Become More Complicated?


According to a McKinsey & Company report titled ‘The Great Indian Bazaar: Organized Retail Comes of Age in India’, organized retail in India is expected to increase from 5 per cent of the total market in 2008 to 14 – 18 per cent of the total retail market and reach US$ 450 billion by 2015. Indians are shopping more and are shopping differently. So has shopping become more complicated? No, but the shopper has.

As Indian consumers become more secure of their financial future, their demands are becoming more and more complex. Shopping has become more comprehensive. Consumers these days are spoilt for choice. The entry of foreign brands has induced competition and consumers have become highly value conscious. This explains the explosion of malls, hypermarkets, department stores, and convenience stores.

Increased disposable incomes and the attitudinal change towards shopping becoming an activity involving the whole family, have altered the very nature of shopping, which has become synonymous with entertainment. As a response to this, retailers have changed their strategies and have moved to providing experiences as opposed to products.

Another major development in the urban middle class has been the rise of DIG households. This has led to a significant increase in the delivery segment. Retailers offer free home delivery options to incentivize purchase. Even the local Kirana stores are making shopping increasingly easy to keep up with the modern retail formats.

What is satisfied by delivery [convenience] is also addressed by easy financing. Indian consumers today do not need to have cash in hand to shoppe. A plethora of financing options through easy EMIs and credit cards is encouraging people to buy more and buy easily.

The Indian market continues to be the most promising in the world and retail is making it look more glamorous than ever before!

Digitizing ’em too? Will insurance agents go hungry now?

Remember the good old days when insurance meant LIC and inevitably one of the uncles/cousins happened to be a “beema karamchari”? Even as LIC held its ground, a plethora of insurance companies swept us off our feet with their sleek advertising and customer orientation. What the heck? Even Sachin [read Tendulkar] was buying insurance. The insurance agents were being wooed and spoilt for choice. [What] To sell or not to sell? that was very much the question. But we hear that a new wave is set to upsurge the insurance landscape yet again. The digital wave!

When I was working on my book on blogging a couple of years ago, I had to dig down real hard to get some examples of insurance companies which were experimenting with online marketing/ branding. All I could come up with were some stray examples like the not so sophisticated network of INGLife- “Pickuradvisor”  and their Asia Pac blog.

What I hear now is that Insurance companies worldwide are likely to invest USD 84 million (about Rs 400 crore) over the next three years to market themselves over mobiles and the Internet. According to a survey by IT consultancy Accenture of senior executives at 125 major insurance companies around the world, “insurers would increasingly shift investment priorities to mobile technologies, digital marketing, including social media such as Facebook and channel integration over the next three years.”

Interestingly, I landed on’s venture in insurance , a platform which claims to make “makes buying insurance easy”. They operate by submitting user requirements to all the leading insurance companies to find their best prices and plans for you.’s foray into insurance

It is interesting how the insurance industry is trying to catch the pulse of the nation by chasing it online. What I am interested in knowing though, is how the agent mafia will be affected by this in-thing!

Digitizing India!

A recent article published by the Times of India on the digitization of Indian police opened up a very interesting area of analysis. The article says that “The digitization of FIRs and all complaints is just the more public face of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), a massive modernization drive meant to take Indian police into the IT era”

The adoption of technology has led to a massive transformation in the operations and marketing of Indian railways already. According to reports, even Doordarshan, India’s public sector broadcaster, has set aside an amount of Rs. 1209 crore of a total approved outlay of Rs. 1369 crores, just for digitization, as per the 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012).

The challenge, however, is not the implementation aka digitization of public sector and state organizations but the successful execution and sustainable innovation that any such drive requires. And that requires a massive shift in mindset, to an extent, a sort of modernization of the public sector ethos. Now how prepared we are for that, remains to be answered…