Tentwallah Movies

Movie Review 

The Cinema Travellers
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya
Cave Films

Vikalp, a group of five filmmakers from Bangalore came together to revive the screening of documentary films, given the lack of viewership or enthusiasm for documentaries. Over the last three odd years, they have been screening documentaries every fourth Thursday of a month at Everest Theatre in Frazer Town, Bangalore. That is some 40 screenings and they are going into hiatus, post their last screening last night of “The Cinema Travellers”.

This is a story of three personalities, and their environments in the Maharashtra heartland of Satara. This is a story of three people passionate about cinema as their world changes around them. This is a story of two folk using older technology carbon rod arc projectors to show movies in makeshift tents in rural settings where movie halls might not be close by. There definitely was a time, when these travelling cinema guys covered quite a distance screening movies; but the world has changed a bit. And this is also a story of the ace movie projector repairman, and innovator and his passion.

Mohammad, the travelling cinema businessman struggling to make ends meet; Bapu, does it completely out of passion, benevolence and his desire to take cinema to the villagers; and Prakash, the projector repairman, the innovator and inventor. Three related stories, interwoven beautifully.

Mohammad runs a crew of eight-nine men, going from village to village, small town to small town and pitching tent with village fairs, and other social events and screening the movies under the title of “Sumedh Talkies”. They do not make a lot of money anymore, what with Rs 30 a ticket. The projector keeps malfunctioning, the repairmen bungling more often than not and the movie distributors often getting late in getting the celluloid reels to the screening. Must have been a challenge getting movie reels to a moving destination in any case.

Bapu, based in village Ond in Satara, runs “Akhay Touring Talkies” not necessarily as a business, but more of taking cinema to the villagers. His old truck has caught rust, is crumbling away, doesn’t run, is pulled by a tractor to the destination screening location; but houses the projector. Rainfall causes havoc to the truck. The children from the village make the announcements to pull people in. Some of his crew have been with him from the beginning. But, times continue to be bad. The year is worse than the previous one which was worse than its previous one.

Boy watching travelling cinema in Ond, Maharshtra

The magic. The magic of cinema.

And then, there is Prakash. Repairs old projectors. Projectionists would pay obeisance to him, should a projector go bad mid show, just to make the machine work through and bring it to Prakash in the morning. As the travelling cinema business started on a downward spiral, many of these cinema folk fell into bad times, and could not even collect their projectors (which they had left with Prakash) back. Meanwhile, having done repairs for over 40 years, Prakash understood what is wrong with all these machines. He has made a projector of his own, named it Prakash (light, in Marathi and after his own name), which uses the motor to also rewind the reels and runs the moving parts in an oil bath instead of using the usual grease. These certainly are revolutionary changes in a way. His story is one of nostalgia, of machines waiting to be picked up, of water spoiling cans of film, dust gathering on the old machines, journals of dues that moviewallahs owe him and of the dwindling business.

Yet the movie is in a way about looking ahead, with the protagonists making peace with the change around them. Some changes that they accept, some that they despair about and can’t understand. The world has moved, movies appear on the telly, satellite television has arrived, and so has the internet.

Both Mohammed and Bapu go to Mumbai to buy new digital projectors, laptops and UPSes. Works out for the former, even with the loans that he has to take, even with him having to sell his old projector as junk. But the new complications do not work too well for Bapu. For his last shows of the season, before the rains set in, he has to fall back to his old faithful. Ironically, he even latches the door of truck with a strip of celluloid. Prakash shuts his repair shop for the day and heads over to the farms where his nephews still till the land, and the former has created handy seed sowing tools with a definite rate of seed sowing based on the speed of gait of the bullocks and the distance they cover. And that he plans to computerize the operation over time. Prakash emphasizes, how important it is to teach the young and encourage them.

This is, one of the best documentaries I have ever watched. A documentary that my 11 year old enjoyed. For many things really. The cinematography is fantastic, some of the still imagery even better. This is a story shot over five years, of a legacy of over 70 years falling to pieces. Again, as I mentioned earlier, this is a story of hope and not of despair. There is respect for the old, and some delight of the new. There is some sadness, but certainly some moments of joy.

In Abraham and Madheshiya’s not over the top work, you get an given intimate access to a delicate and sensitive experience. The scenes do not seem contrived, and the people seem to be oblivious of the presence of a camera, adding to the authenticity of the film.

The documentary won a special Jury award at Cannes last year, and got selected at Toronto, New York and many others. If you spy a screening somewhere, make time and go see it.


Passion is over rated and useless


Allow me to start with being a nay-sayer, in a way, to Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford. At least to how we interpret that speech. You might have watched it on YouTube. That “Stay Hungry” video. The Follow Your Passion, or Be Passionate about work speech. That isn’t “really” what Jobs said, and nor does his source material. And, I am saying being passionate about work is a waste of time or energy.

That bothers you, doesn’t it? That is what we have been taught and is often repeated to us at work. That is what HR keeps telling you, and keeps stretching passion at work to engagement with the organization and hopes for reduction in attrition. Allow me to just point out that there is plenty attrition happening in organizations showing high engagement scores. One should question – what happens to all the passion, the energy and the emotion that people seem to display? There, obviously, must be a disconnect somewhere.

You may ask, how can one possibly work without any passion? How does one achieve without passion? The thing is, passion towards your organization or leadership is very different from that towards work at hand. You have noticed, surely, that you do better when you are calm, when you do not get influenced by anxiousness or are able to be unmoved by pressure. Have you not felt, being in the zone? That would be the state of स्थितप्रज्ञता  (state of being sthitaprajna, loosely defined as ‘unperturbedness’ ).

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

The virtuous circle driven by self awareness

In short, less passion there is, better we work. “When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. The energy which ought to have gone out as work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing. It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energy is spent in doing good work …”. You get the general idea. Being calm is however, not the same as being inactive. The idea is to focus on the work rather than expending your inner qi on just being passionate. The next question, then, is how does one redirect the energy to work while being dispassionate?

There are different ways of looking at this, using different terminology. While the nuggets are about the same, some arrange it linearly and some circular; I postulate, it is a virtuous spiral in six simple steps which deserves your attention and effort.

1. Intent

Start with the basics, figuring the purpose or the intent behind the action, effort or task at hand. What is the outcome expected, from the task? Are the task at hand and the outcome aligned to each other? This ‘intent’ is different from what your personal goal might be, and thus highlighting the first possible place of disconnect.

2. Empathy

Be aware of the environment you are operating in, the environment in which the task needs to be executed. Does the environment support the execution of the task? The other key element is the inclusion of stakeholders, and empathizing with what their expectations of the outcome might be. Should their expectations not be aligned to the outcome that you foresee, then (obviously) you have trouble looming ahead.

“…as I read of persons who become frozen in snow; all such, they say, want to go to sleep, and if you try to drag them up, they say, “Let me sleep; it is so beautiful to sleep in the snow”, and they die there in that sleep. So is our nature. That is what we are doing all our life, getting frozen from the feet upwards, and yet wanting to sleep.”

3. Planning

What do you include, what do you exclude? Don’t get driven just by passion.  Just hope, desire, passion may disconnect you from the present, and are unlikely to get you the required outcome. Planning, likely will. Slow down, weigh, evaluate to arrive at the choices. Planning involves looking at data and connecting the dots, meticulously, making the right choices and arranging them in the right temporal order.

4. Elasticity

When one plans, does one go as far as one is capable? How about looking at stretch goals, beyond what one has done in the past? We often succumb to “good” and neglect the option of “better”. Take the risk, look beyond personal limitations, accept the vulnerability, tap into your creativity and be curious.

5. Perseverance

Ensuring outcome, with something new isn’t easy. I should know. I have been an entrepreneur four times (like many of you); have succeeded and failed. But, one would never succeed if one did not persevere. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Keep at it.

6. Letting Go

The silicon valley mantra “Fail Fast” is the first half of this desired behavior. This doesn’t mean giving up, but moving on – emotionally unencumbered by learning from the failure, and not repeating the same mistakes. Habits are difficult to let go, but we succeed when we practice enough. This is as much about flexibility, as about judgement about when to let go.

… finally

The diagram above shows a spiral, because the steps do not necessarily feed each other repetitively; the last step of letting go helps pivot into a larger realm. Hope the above provided a different view point to Job’s commencement address.

Of course, getting to this level of practicality will take effort and practice. How about giving it a dispassionate go?

  1. Practical Vedanta : Swami Vivekananda : Advaita Ashram
  2. Chandogya Upanishad : Divine Life Society
  3. An Interface between VEDANTA and Management- an Empirical Analysis : Information and Library Network Centre: B .Chandra Mohan Patnaik and Ipseeta Satpathy
  4. Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 : Stanford University
  5. The Art of Accomplishment: Six Principles from Vedanta : Prasad Kaipa, Ph. D., The Mithya Institute for Learning


Finding it difficult to get investment? 2 reasons.

Lets face it, procuring investment for your startup isn’t as easy as it seems given the hundreds of millions which seem to be getting invested by institutional investors, and millions by angels. Many startups wind up because they never manage to get to series A, though the startup idea might seem darned good. So what happens in those cases?

Investing for growthSurely there are many reasons why many startups do not receive funding in-spite of doing something interesting. In this post, I will talk about just two which are directly related to the investor.

As there are many types of bright ideas, many types of startups, there also are many types of investors. I am not referring to the basic categorization of angels, business angels, VCs, PEs etc. I am referring to what type of areas motivate this particular investor you are interested in. What do they like investing in? Do they invest in e-commerce retail, education, social, logistics, finance etc or something else? Get the picture? So, as you look to pitch to an investor, are they even interested in your area and do they even understand it?

Here is an anecdote. I founded, ran and successfully exited a niche e-commerce retail startup. During the process I did a pitch to a VC (founded by a celebrity in the startup circles) in Bangalore. It was a horrible meeting. The partner I met neither understood retail, nor did she understand the space that we were in. She just argued uselessly from an arrogant position of strength. At one point, I stopped the meeting and walked away. What I should have done to avoid the pain is done a little more research. Not just about the company, but also about this person that I was about to pitch to. So, the key statement is:

Know your potential investor

The second is how the arithmetic really works in the background. Assume, you have picked the right type of VC for your series A, in the right space too. They like your product or service. No human chemistry problem either. What might have sabotaged your cause is the returns that you are showing / proposing. So, what is happening in the background? The VCs have received funding from a collective or another much larger fund. This is the money they will disburse among startups by way of investment. The VCs in turn need to promise a minimum level of returns to their investors.

Here is how the math works.

  1. Assume the VC gets a $1000 for a fund life of 10 years. The investor asks for a 20% IRR, implying about $239 a year, and if the VC on a is what the VC needs to deliver on and generate a total of $6192 in all. That is ~6.1X.
  2. In reality the VC will not find all appropriate startups right in the beginning, nor will they want to remain invested for 10 years. Lets us consider the average number of years that the VC remains with a startup to be five years. So, the returns will actually be a $2488, which is ~2.5X. But, what the VC needs to generate is actually 6.1X. So, the funded company needs to generate the 6.1X (of 10 years) in five. So, you already have a 15.25 multiplier.
  3. To spread their risk, a VC would always invest in multiple sectors and spread their investments among a portfolio of startups. Now, market data says that about 50% of funded startups fail. This implies that they will lose $500 of the invested money and now need to recover their money from half the startups that they funded. Say they invested in 10 startups, but now they need to calculate such that they can recover the money from even five of those startups and also generate the return that the VC’s investor asked for. So the $500 now needs to generate the $2488, which is ~30.5X.
  4. And the 30.5X is just the return for money invested into the VC. The VC will want to make some money as well, and take the multiplier to well over 30.5X in reality. Of course the returns do not necessarily need to come back as cash after the five-year period. It also could be an exit, or increase in valuation.

Of course, at an early stage it really is a punt to figure whether the company invested in will generate 30 times the investment or not. Once this basic numbers and perception hurdles are cleared, then the VCs will start looking at addressable market size, scalability, profit potential, competition (and competitor track record ).


The second important factor thus is:

Your startup’s perceived ability to generate returns

Make sense?

Entrepreneurial Management – Bangalore University open courseware

Once in a while, one does something out of the ordinary. Out of the ordinary, for me. Last year, I taught a course on Entrepreneurial Management at the Bangalore University. The decks listed below are what I used as the backdrop. The content now is open under creative commons.

Unfortunately, the speaker notes are not included here. You will need to go to the full-screen mode for a better viewing experience. The first slide of each deck looks almost the same, but the decks are different (we promise).

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 00)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 01)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 02)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 02)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 04-01)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 04-02)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 04-03)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 04-04)

Entrepreneurial Management (Em 04-05)

The essence of Virality – the ALS way!

All digital marketing gurus will tell you about 20 (plus or minus five) things that you should do to get your message across and how to ensure more and more people view it.
But, how do you really do this? Consider many videos, messages and feeds which have gone viral. These all have just the basic key elements common. If you take a step back, and connect your messaging (very deliberately) with your overall digital strategy, you will see the common factors are:

  • A Cause – that people can relate to. Or a need that people see getting fulfilled.
  • The Content – that touches people’ emotion somehow. Either in terms of goodness, something shocking or the best of the lot – humour
  • and the Hook – something that makes people do the share and the like. The content itself can, of course. But, the desire to show people “I did it” is even more powerful.

    Now, take a quick second and think about the ALS IceBucketChallenge. You have surely seen a few videos, or maybe actually have taken up the challenge and in return challenged some other friends too. Has all the three elements embedded. Its a cause, important enough for people to relate to. The content is humourous for sure, almost every time. The hook is of course, you can challenge other people by taking up this challenge. The only difference is that in this case it is not just one video which is going viral, but the message. That is what one finally cares for anyways…and this is brining in money (in donations).

10 Leadership principles – The Genghis Khan way.

genghisThe empire that this man founded became the largest contiguous empire in history, after his demise. His empire, which extended from China to Afghanistan to  Hungary, was about 12 million sq. miles in area. Among his other achievements was also bringing the the silk route under one cohesive political environment. Born Temujin around 1162 and about 0.5% of the world’s male population carries his DNA. There clearly was something about this man, though most of us prefer to hate him. Peeling the wraps does exhibit some qualities which might have made him the man he was.  Let us examine the 10 basic principles1 of leadership that he exhibited.

Genghis' trivariate which worked as the base of this leadership principlesThe foundation of his principles rested on the trivariate that Genghis worked with. He ran his conquests, his kingdom and life by creating a delicate balance between the constant pulls of corruption or paranoia, the probability of losing reins of power and allowing events to dictate his agenda. This maintenance of equilibrium in a way shaped him to be the leader that he evolved to be.

1. Reward Loyalty

Genghis remembered generous acts of people that he interacted with. He honoured the brave and loyal, regardless of their status.  Once convinced of a person’s loyalty, he delegated large responsibilities.

This perhaps is an easy one. A leader in the modern age (like any other time) needs to be able to reward loyalty. But, as important is locating people who will be are willing to be loyal. These people could easily be part of an inner team or be spread out across your larger team or enterprise. These are people who will pick up your burden and also make you look good.

2. Be austere

He despised luxury, and honoured simplicity. People say that he would give the shirt off his back to a Mongol in need.

There are many examples of people who espouse simplicity; The Mahatma, Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet are rather famous examples. In modern times, it is less about wealth or luxuries, but more about simplicity of living as such.

3. Exercise self  control

Of his many extraordinary qualities was the fact that he used to seldom lose his temper and also did allow others their say.

In our times, and always moderation and self control are ideals to be cherished.  Krishna, or the Mahatma would be two examples to espouse.  Calmness of the mind, obviously is helpful and many leaders get to that state either with meditation or picking up a stress buster set of regular exercises.

4. Find talent where you can, and use it

Under his reign, enemies became officers in his administration or army; herdsmen rose to be generals too. There were many non-Mongols who served under him

This is interesting. People usually gravitate towards people who are loyal (or seemingly so) to promote or elevate. But leaders do, and should pick their team members from competition, from inside their own teams and also from completely different industries. People with intelligence and talent are able to easily jump the chasm formed by difference in domains.

5. Kill enemies without compunction

He never forgot a favour, but also never forgave an insult. He was merciless, once convinced of disloyalty.

This sounds more politics related and is. No enterprise or company of some size is bereft of some manipulation, games and politics. It is only silly not to play these games once you are in the middle of them. A large part of the learning is to nullify obstacles ; that is people (inside or outside your organization) or organizations who work against your goal.

6. Oppose cruelty

Though he did order mass killings of those who opposed or insulted him, no one ever accused him of cruelty.

This perhaps would get interpreted somewhat in a different context. Arrogance while on the ascent is a negative virtue to carry.

7. Adapt, and be open to new ways of ruling

Though totally illiterate, over time he evolved and learned from many of the vanquished. An example would be getting record keeping done, and starting to put processes in his administration. This evolution happened as his kingdom grew in size.

Simply about nimbleness and agility in times of change. Whether one is able to adapt to change and modify one’s thoughts and ways of working.  Or even how ready one is to appreciate and go with new paradigms. What does not matter is in-depth knowledge of the agencies of change, right up front.

8. Know that you have divine backing

Foreign rulers just had to acknowledge and understand this “truth” and all would be well for them.

Lets modify this to have a sponsor backing. It does not matter whether one is at the helm of an organization or leading a group of just two people; it does not matter whether you are working for someone else or yourself. You need to have a sponsor. Many a times you will need to use derived authority to push your ideas and actions through.

9. Make your followers and heirs believe it too

His followers acknowledged the heavenly diktat and saw success along with the Khan.

A large part of the concept of derived authority is to ensure that teams and other people who surround you accept the sponsor as a higher authority.

10. Respect freedom of belief

He was known to listen to advice, and also to all those who acknowledged the divine backing.

This principle perhaps has more to do with

  • Respecting an individual
  • And being open to thoughts other than one’s own.

This would require the leader to have an open mind and allow others to challenge a thought.

1. The principles are picked from John Man’s book – Genghis Khan, Life Death and Resurrection. However, the interpretation is ours. You may find similar other leadership principles described in Jack Weatherford’s biography of Genghis Khan.