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.

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.

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…

The New Age Bookworm

Came across an interesting article in ET today about the forthcoming launch of “Google Editions”. The digital book industry is expected to churn a revenue of USD 966 million this year from USD 301 million in 2009. The punchline of the report released by Forrester says: “2010 will end with $966 million in eBooks sold to consumers. By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.”

Little wonder then that publishers are so excited about the iPad. Many publishers are already thinking of converting the now-already old fashioned Ebooks to application rich texts. Penguin Books CEO John Makinson says : “We will be embedding audio, video and streaming in to everything we do. The ePub format, which is the standard for eBooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we’re now talking about. “So for the time being at least we’ll be creating a lot of our content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than in eBooks. The definition of the book itself is up for grabs.”

Guess the world as we read it, is about to change.