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Paunchy Mannequins

Driving past an upmarket marriage clothes store for men – Manyavar, I did a double take. I’ve seen mannequins in all kinds of shapes and poses, but this one had a slight paunch! It is obviously deliberate. The brand managers have seen that their customers are not sculpted gods and are out to make them comfortable. I can imagine prospectives grooms squirming when they don the same sherwani in the trial room and don’t end up looking as smart as the clotheshorse. It may be a dealbreaker.

This leads to an interesting question. Should the image in the store be about what people are or what they want to be? The mannequins in Reebok and Adidas stores don’t have an ounce of fat. It’s six packs all the way because the brands are built on fitness aspirations. Show people the body they want to be in and sell more sneakers.

However, when it comes to marriages, Manyavar has tracked its customers and seen that they are generous around the middle. Then the question is whether to project an aspiration or accept that their major customers are not going to make the extra affort to cut down on the fat. Then match the image to the expectations. I haven’t seen fat mannequins yet, but I suspect they are  around the corner, given the way the next generation of Indians is shaping up.

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Are superstars worth the money?

An article in the New York Times explains how superstars tend to dominate the markets they cater to. Starting with sports legends like Pele, who earned $150,000 when he was at his peak, there now athletes, actors, TV anchors and bankers who earn the lion’s share of the cake. While this works wonderfully for the persons getting it, it tends to squeeze all those down the line. Take the cost of a Tamil film – one in which a superstar or any top draw actor is involved. The economics of that film take on risk proportions far greater than those involving lesser actors. Look at the production costs as well. The greatest slice in that budget is the superstar’s pay, not any of the other aspects involved.

Take the IPL auction where the top 10 players get amounts far greater than any of the other. The other 80 players get a better deal but nothing close to what the ones on top command. Is the difference in ability substantial? Is original talent not valuable? That capitalism rewards inequalities is common knowledge. What is lesser known is the way it skews markets towards those who dominate it. So is communism any better? I hardly think so. One just has to look at China where communism fuses with capitalism. And those who dominate the system are those at the top. So there’s no point in blaming the political system

Anyone who controls a resource will set up the rules to benefit themselves. Whether it is political parties, game administrators or bankers. They hold the lifelines and the paths to power. Until someone creates a new resource. Or a new market. Then the new status quo will kick in and stay as long as it benefits the leader.

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Tron – Wish it had remained a legacy

I saw Tron because I remember how it had exploded on the computer graphics scene in the 80s. The motorcycles streaking along beams of light, hurtling past sharp corners and the world that was far removed from the real one was eye candy. I wish it had stayed that way.

Tron Legacy picks a futile premise. The disinterested, prankster son going back to the world to rescue his long-lost Dad? Trapped in the whorls and computations of a chip? Give me a break. Everything is larger than life and without any real purpose. There is a long-winded sequence, a feast on a pig where the characters drink blue gel and mouth inane dialogue. How did all that food get cooked within this cyber world – or is it that people need to eat, even in that cyber state? No answers. The movie slips through the cracks between 2D and 3D and gets lost in a wire mesh of confusion over the motivations of its characters. Christoper Nolan this guy is not, by any stretch of the imagination.

While Inception flitted effortlessly between its dream and walking states without losing its audience, this one goes where hundreds of others have gone. There is a brilliant sequence in the first half where the cyber stadium is lit with fighters. There may be a reason why this world degenerated into such depravity, but you don’t want to find out. Some legacies, like the hardcovers on the shelves of Tron are best left to collect dust and nostalgia

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A Cacophony of Signs

Buildings in India are just as chaotic as our streets. Might is right. There is no place for order and logic. One business will occupy the road facing traffic and put up the gaudiest sign imaginable. Every signboard has to have an in-your-face quality. Subtlety it passe. The next sign will appear over and above the first one and try to trump the first occupant in size if not in scope. Weeds on the side, over and above every building are accepted as Indian characteristics.
It’s only the walls of glass that appear to have won the battle. Concrete can be hammered and nails pounded into any part. Glass, unfortunately, does not offer the same ease. The new IT parks and office complexes have tamed the beast. But wander into any of the old areas within any city and the old laws apply. Right from Broadway in Parry’s to Ranganathan Street in T Nagar, the signs tower all the way to five and six floors. It is impossible to identify individual signs. They are meant only for the company that puts them up. They jut out at every conceivable angle, thumbing their noses at civility and creating a chaotic mosaic. Somehow, the understanding that strategically placed and well-designed signs do more to enhance the image of the company is lost in the melee

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Cycling below the bar

In the sixties, the only way to learn to cycle was to plead for time on the weekends or when it wasn’t being used. Even if we managed to clamber on to the seat, by wheeling the bike next to the closest available platform, there was no way our short legs could reach the pedals and pump them to get ahead. Boys riding a girl’s bike, which did not have a central beam was considered sissy. So, it was the accepted practice for boys to ride with both legs split below the beam, arms stretched across the handlebars, body jutting out at a 45-degree angle, pedaling furiously and hoping that we would stay on course. A stream of instructions from friends accompanied every attempt “Don’t look down. Look straight. Pedal. Don’t stop” As if we could do everything at the same time. Miraculously, we could. Today, there are guard wheels, cycles built in staggered heights, constructed to match the size of little legs, but somehow, there was a lot more daredevilry in being able to ride the bike at this insane angle.
It took me a week to finally manage to do everything. Put my legs through the bar. Pedal at the crazy angle, with friends shouting encouragement. The first time it all came together, it was so exhilarating I forgot to look ahead. The technique also had an inherent side effect. It was always easier to ride in a circle. The moment I had to go straight, it took tons of effort. So, minutes after thinking that I had mastered the technique, I charged into a light pole. And ended up with a twisted, sprained ankle that ballooned black and kept me hobbling for weeks. I get funny looks from my kids when I tell them how I learned to ride the cycle. Why make such a big deal of it? And why on earth would you want to end up looking so stupid?

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Chennai’s Weather

Chennai is a hot metropolis. In terms of the weather, that is. Otherwise, it is a straightjacketed, insular city that welcomes barely anyone. No offence, we are like that only. The weather moves to barely pleasant in November to Feb. The rest of the year, you deal with humongous humidity almost perennially at 90%. It’s enough to make an apple sweat. Or an egg, though I’ve never quite seen either of them (sweat, that is) There are sweat patterns on everyone’s clothes, from the maps of wetness underarms to the sticky maps that stretch across the entire chest. If you like looking cool, stay in your car or make a dash for the nearest air-conditioned space. Or come out only at night, when the weather is just as muggy, but no one scrutinises your clothes with disdain. If you want to get to smell the ultimate melting pot of body odour, just get on to a bus and you’ll get everything from day smells, to the cooking to many indecipherable ones. Chennai is good to anyone with a blocked nose. To everyone else, it’s an olfactory nightmare

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Behind the New York Times 10th year in Ideas

The traditional album format for presenting an annual list has evolved. This year’s list ideas have given way to a format where an entire window of text headlines drops down to reveal the article below when a headline is clicked on. There are videos that depict practically each section, driving the notion that most people view rather than read.

It also tackles a tricky problem for designers. How do you get people to see the whole picture, especially when it has several elements? In most cases when it comes to showing log lists of ‘Best of’s’… the design has been linear, except that one could click anywhere on the line. Here, there is a concerted effort to engage, present the information as an overview and be able to quickly drill down to see what one is primarily interested in.

I have a feeling that a lot of designers are going to be using this for the presentation of information in a format that keeps people on the page longer rather than click to go to the next level. Helps your search engine scores and the amount of time spent on a page, especially when one doesn’t have to navigate away from it.