Month: November 2011

Kingfishers were never meant to Fly

Much like the bird, with whom the airline shares its name with, it is known for its flamboyant colours and ways rather than its flying. Kingfisher Airlines now finds itself deep in the red and in a serious lurch. It has cancelled over 200 flights over the span of a week and is absolutely struggling to handle business, as 100s of pilots quit the entity. The owner, the infamous Liquor Baron, Vijay Mallya has called for a government bail-out to help the airlines get back into the skies and resume regular business. Should they be granted this bail-out? My answer is no. Why should a private airlines with apparently no impact on Indian economy be saved by Government’s intervention, is perhaps not so obvious, but a glance at facts, will expose the ugly nexus between the Ministers and Corporates to benefit each other.

 

The now debt ridden Air India, formerly both Air India and Indian Airlines, was a pair of relatively successful airline companies. Both companies were performing quite well and slowly turning the profits frm the red into the green. In 2006, they had only a combined loss of 680 crores and were on their way to making a profit. Little did they know that they were in for a boxing match with their hands tied around their back.

 

Indian carriers have been bound by a rule that if an airline is less than five years old, it could not be allowed to fly international. The rule was to prevent Jet Airways from newbie competition, whose owner NareshGoyal is known to have “close terms” with Praful Patel. The controversial NeeraRadia audio tapes leaked by the Outlook magazine have referred Praful Patel as a “Minister for Jet Airways” and “Now a Minister for Kingfisher Airlines”. Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher was not five years old, and he wanted to start International operations of Kingfisher, so he acquired Deccan Airlines, which was more than 5 years old, and he changed its name to Kingfisher Red, which was meant to be a low cost carrier. And, on the basis of this acquisition, he applied for permission to fly overseas, which was duly granted by the Civil Aviation Minister. Interestingly though, it was not low cost Kingfisher Red that started International flights, but the high cost original Kingfisher, which was not 5 years old. While this issue dogged the international scene, the Indian skies were not to be left untouched either.

 

The Civil Aviation Minister was known to have ultimate authority on deciding which flight goes where and at what times. If it was signaled to cancel a flight, the flight was indeed cancelled; if he wanted to reduce the passenger or load size, it would be done with no remorse. Needless to say, the talks about such actions had begun and instructions were issued to Indian Airlines managers to withdraw flights from specific sectors or change timings of existing flights so as to benefit Kingfisher Airlines. .In 2009 alone, Air India/Indian Airlines stopped operations on 32 routes which had load factors above 90% (i.e. these were among the most profitable routes). The sectors included Gulf and Singapore sectors. The AI/IC flights on Gulf routes were replaced by Kingfisher and Jet Airways flights at the same timings. And then came the final nail in the coffin of Air India/Indian Airlines – the decision of merger. The argument given was that this would allow an entry into the Star Alliance which would be the silver bullet to end all of the national carriers problems. However, facts show that this was a statement to only protect the decision and not the reason.

 

Most bilateral agreement signed between India and other countries have specific clauses limiting the access to bilateral to 2 carriers on each side. So on a route like Chennai-Singapore, India had Air India and Indian Airlines operating under their separate AOC’s which meant that Jet Airways or Kingfisher  wouldn’t have been able to operate to Singapore even after they became eligible to do so! This means, if Air India and Indian Airlines are merged, there will be room for a NareshGoyal or a Vijay Mallya to fly their planes on those routes. And that so happened. The two government carriers were merged and the new Air India cut down its routes to let Jet/Kingfisher reap the profits. The reduction in flights was explained as route rationalisation even when both AI and IC had loads in excess of 80% on these flights! . Before the merger in 2007, Indian Airlines had a net loss of 280 crores and was on the verge of coming out into full profitability, having already stabilized operational profits on over 90% of its route network. Air India, had a loss of around 400 crores: this meant a combined loss of around 680 crores, with the situation rapidly improving for both. Within three years of the merger however, the losses of the combined carrier have skyrocketed to 16000 crores.

 

These losses are largely due to the debt servicing of loans to help pay for a new fleet of planes. Reports estimated the no.of planes required to be 67, however an order for 111 carriers were placed by the Civil Aviation Ministry. It could bamboozle any sane person to think of how an airline with a turnover of a little over 7000 crores could place orders for aircraft costing over 32,000 crores, when the interest burden per year alone would come to 6000 crores! This means, Air India, is shelling out over 8 croresper day in interest payments alone!A reasonable explanation appears to be that the order would put Air India into permanent debt which would assure its extinction, and when the airline goes bankrupt, its brand new aircraft can be picked up by private players at throwaway prices.

 

So right now there has been a change in the civil aviation ministry and Kingfisher doesnt have the same amount of backing as it used to. They now struggle to get things their way. This apart from the fact that the aviation industry is rather risky affair. It is a globally a poor industry with very low margins, if any. Anyone who gets into the industry knows exactly what to expect. Strangely, people might have noticed that the promoters of these companies do surprisingly well, despite the poor performance of the cos themselves. Clearly, there is some sort of incentive for them here. Maybe its black money. Maybe its lot of it. Maybe this is why the bail out package shouldnt be given.

 

Giving a bail-out package now will signal more weakness from the government. It will show how the corporate honchos can arm-twist the country’s superior body into helping them no-matter what. The UB group has enough resources away from KF Airlines to manage financial issues. If it leads to the destruction of the wealth of Mallya’s cash cow, his liquor company, so be it. Id rather the govt concentrate on issues such as solving the red tape-ism hindering growth for the profit making corporates of the country or doing something about the bloody inflation and rupee slide.

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Sympathy For The Devil

“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. “

 

The no. of times I’ve heard similar lines from youth, motivated to make a difference to the nation, in the world of politics, is hardly countable. But the no.of times Ive not seen it happen, is countless.

The world of politics never fails to amuse me. The system set up to embark on the quest of bringing deliverance to the people that elect those who govern it. And then the messiahs use the platform as their own little escalator to quicker riches. Every 5 years, we rinse and repeat the process. The so called stable system is run by largely incompetent, slanderous, two faced, conniving grey-beards. We just see a rotation policy hit the wooden benches of theDelhiparliament every half a decade. The motivated youth get consumed in this well oiled system in place. It’s almost impossible to destablise it, is what it looks like.

Take this for example, 27 year old, well educated; X enters the world of politics to make a difference. Against all odds (which needless to say is extremely high, for various reasons I will not get into) he gets elected to represent the people on the golden stage. So there sits X, the toddler in the world of giants. Picture X sitting there, surrounded by 100 other much older people clad in their dhotis and sarees, who are not new to their location, unlike the young man. Well, can you really see X standing up and making his point across without getting swamped? Can you see X able to state his argument amongst the shouting, table banging and chair throwing, of the people who run the country? What choice does X have? Ill tell you what his choices are :

i)                    Make his point and get beaten up, laughed at or chucked out in the process

ii)                  Sit for 5 years spending precious time at the parliament, wanting to make a point but not doing to avoid the embarrassment or backlash.

iii)                Quit/resign from his elected post

iv)                Join the system

I find it hard to blame them for selecting to the most obvious answer. But in the end, what can we say? We expect the country to be run one way and it’s run another.

This article does not hold solutions to a cancerous problem but merely highlights the problems, for even the people who care; face to make a difference. The truth, in truth, has been driven from this system like a slave, flogged from court to court, wretched and destitute. But I am an optimist and I hate to think all the good is lost forever. Nothing is lost forever, there is only some sort of painful progress. I believe every scam, every incident, every indictment, every CBI raid is one step closer to progress or atleast one step farther from the depths of, proverbial, Mordor.

“Life is good in the system. Its paradise on Earth. That’s what they tell you anyway.”

The Man Who Wore a T-Shirt to the Reception

A very good morning Bloggers. As the hype for the date, 11.11.11, ends,  there was nothing special for me. I still experienced a Friday night of overpriced drinks and food at pubs and restaurants, terrible evening traffic, stags only not allowed and ofcourse the night ending at 11 o clock( symbolic eh).

 

Its been a rather eventful week for me. Ive attended about 5 events of wedding related parties and receptions. And what I realised was that wearing a T-shirt to a reception is some sort of a social taboo. After 4 receptions/cocktail parties of wearing shirts, I decided Ill swing by to the last reception wearing a T-shirt. Good choice, I thought; terrible mistake, I was told. Right from the off, entering the massive marriage hall, people looked on at me like I was the escaped Cheetah from the zoo. Ofcourse, at this point I didnt feel too bothered about it. I thought it was the big wedding gift in my hand. As we proceeded to inside the hall, which was rather empty due to the timing of our arrival, I noticed that the handful of people there were only wearing shirts. My friend with me made it a point to indicate everyone there were wearing shirts but feigned consolation “Its ok, machan. Dont worry”.  As we waited for a 4th friend to join us, who is typically late, people thronged to the stage. Needless to say, all were wearing shirts. Even those 6 year old kids who are forced to come to this type of ceremonies were wearing shirts. I wish the evening ended there but I was yet to experience the worst due to the luck brought by the dreaded T-shirt.

 

The reception was slowly drawing to a close, Mr.Punctual was drawing late than usual, my friends and I decided to give the gift to the couple without him. We did. As we walked down from stage, he showed up(yes the awesomeness of the t-shirt did it). We were insisted by my friend to climb on stage again and take another photo with the couple. We did. Then we trudged to dinner and were informed the veg food was over less than 2 minutes back(bloody T-Shirt!!).

 

We were famished and decided to eat out. Punctual suggested we go to Shri Mithai for a dinner since it’d be open to 11(ding ding ding) o clock. We traveled through the labyrinth of Chennai with its latest one way routes and finally arrived at Shri Mithai at around 9.40, only to be unceremoniously ushered outside by the watchman saying its closed. Punct’ was on the verge of getting a punch  from us.  Little did he know it was the power of my T-shirt. We finally settled on having dinner at a place called ‘2 Squared’ , opposite Loyola College. Thankfully it was open and we managed to have some grub before leaving for the night.

 

I know the advisable thing would be to avoid wearing a t-shirt to a reception again but Im going to sure as hell wear it another to time to see what the hell happens. As long as I dont get hit by a car, I think Im willing to take the risk. My friends and I also learnt its about time we start telling punct’ the timing of the event to be 2 hrs earlier than what it actually is. Hopefully everyone takes this route of action for all the punct’ friends in their groups as well.

 

An eventful Saturday and Sunday awaits me. Im looking forward to the painting event we have planned today at the NGO, Deepam, I help at. Hopefully I experience enough drama, chaos, confusion and joy to share it here.

Burn After Reading Review

 

You’re a director. Your last film received a level of acclaim unprecedented in your career and won an upset Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards. Question: What do you follow it up with? Answer: Well if you’re the Coen Brothers, you totally fuck with the expectations of your growing critical respectability by following No Country For Old Men with a burlesque, wanton, scatter shot of a movie like Burn After Reading. There was much rubbing of jaws and scratching of heads after this one. Even those critics who confessed to liking Burn After Reading, did so in a rather quizzical and wary fashion. Just what were those crazy Coen Brothers up to? Ingenuously pursuing their own idiosyncratic career trajectory, or deliberately messing with peoples’ heads? Not much point in asking them, they’d probably deny everything anyway. Maybe the critics just need to lighten up and stop fretting so damn much.  Burn After Reading is a deliciously acerbic dose of off the cuff comedy. Even accepting that it’s something of an impromptu, throwaway effort by their usual standards, there’s plenty here for the Coen Brothers aficionado to savour.

It’s not easy to provide any kind of plot summary for Burn After Reading. It’s a movie that appears labyrinthine in construction, before totally folding back in on itself, as if nothing at all of consequence had actually taken place. And that, of course, is part of the joke. A pair of fecklessly good natured dimwits, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) discover a disk containing secret CIA documents at the “HardBodies” Gym in which they work.  As Chad puts it, it’s some “highly classified shit”.Linda, desperate for a plastic surgery operation, hatches a plan to blackmail the CIA into paying for the return of the information. Only it turns out that the “secret” information is really just the rambling memoir of a recently fired low level CIA operative, Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) who is now out for blood. Linda hooks up with sex-crazed Treasury Agent Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney) through an internet dating service, who just happens to be carrying on an affair with Osbourne Cox’s wife. The CIA become embroiled in the affair when Linda and Chad attempt to sell the “secret documents” to a Russian embassy. The total bungling misunderstanding of circumstances on the part of all parties involved leads to a situation of escalating chaos… and a fair lashing of the old ultra-violence.

“Not a plausible story” – many reviewers have sniffed, as if this counted as points against the movie. Well of course it’s not a plausible story! Burn After Reading is intended to be a farce. In the traditional sense of that word, in which exaggerated characters engage in ever more improbable situations to comic effect. You’ve got to wonder if some movie critics are incapable of reading what they see in anything but the most narrowly literal of contexts. Actually, though, a look at recent history might suggest that Burn After Readingis not quite so implausible as it first appears. Incompetent G-Men interpreting information incorrectly to catastrophic effect? Surely that kind of thing just doesn’t happen? And yeah, Saddam Hussein really did have WMD, while pink giraffes float on space clouds to Mars. As a satire of the CIA,Burn After Reading is pretty much dead-on. An increasingly irrelevant organisation that places way too much importance in itself, spending a bunch of money on investigating dead ends to disaster. What’s funny about Burn After Readingis that the CIA spends more time covering up their colossal fuck-ups than they do turning up anything that’s practical. It’s not so much an organisation of lethally capable super agents as it is a bunch of addle-pated office clerks playing at being 007′s.

 

But Burn After Readingcan also be read as a satire of American culture. Or maybe just modern consumer culture in general. The essential demented fuckedupedness of everybody. Everybody out there on their own trip, oblivious of everybody else, vain, stupid and relentless in the pursuit of their trivial little ambitions. Take the character of Linda Litzke, brilliantly realised by Frances McDormand. She’s one of the Coen Brothers’ favourite actors, and not without good reason. On the surface of things, Linda is your typical cheery all-American plain Jane type. Not especially bright, perhaps, but seemingly nice enough. But Linda has just decided that her life will be worthless from now on unless she gets those plastic surgery enhancements she’s been dreaming about. “Ive gotten about as far as this body can take me”she says. She’s made up her mind, so that’s it. She’s not going to let anything get in her way, no matter what the consequences. The appearance of some secret agent documents is like manna from heaven. It’s an opportunity to manipulate somebody into getting what she wants, no matter how inconceivably stupid her actions might be. That’s modern life in a nutshell.

Pretty much every character in this film is dysfunctional, petty minded, mean spirited or a plain fuckwit. Like George Clooney, who plays a womanising simpleton who is anything but suave. There’s a nice side joke in the film in which Clooney’s character appears to be building something of secretive importance in his basement. Considerable screen time is spent on the apparent shadiness of his activity, complete with the use of dramatically suspenseful music and suspicious glances at potential pursuers. But when it’s revealed what he’s actually building… well lets not give it away, but it’s probably worth the price of admission alone. But best of all, maybe, is John Malkovich’s snarling, misanthropic Osbourne Cox, a man so perpetually irksome and unpleasantly obnoxious that he takes on a kind of savage glee. The scenes between Malkovich and Brad Pitt, with Pitt’s dismally incompetent attempts to extort money, are priceless.

Again, what we’ve got here is a set of not too bright characters getting into a situation way above their heads, the staple of nearly every Coen Brothers movie. Like a jazz player, they seem to find endlessly interesting variations to play through the same riff. They can play the same theme for another dozen movies as far as I’m concerned. In their hands, it never seems to get old. There’s a curiously consistent thread of critical complaint levelled at the Coen Brothers: that they don’t have sufficient “respect” for their own characters. Well, they make movies about characters who don’t merit much respect. I suspect that what these critics really mean is that there’s nobody to root for. But do we really have to identify with a character on some kind of postive level in order to enjoy a movie? Not if it’s as wickedly funny as Burn After Reading. This is a black, lacerating and cruel kind of humour – the best kind of humour that there is.

Thank you RobertoD. Credit to you for this. The film gets a solid recommendation from me. Very enjoyable if you like and can appreciate black comedy.