Who will win the battle in DAS Phase III markets?

I&B Jt Secy Supriya Sahu had said last year that of the 140 million estimated STBs required for DAS Phases III  and IV markets, 30 million was the guesstimated DTH requirement, and the rest would be needed by the cable distribution fraternity. DTH, with its high rate of inactive subscribers – as high at 45% on an average — is clearly out of the race for the lion’s share. So, whoever wins the battle to sign up and empower the highest number of Last Mile Operators (LMOs) in DAS Phase III markets– clearly either the MSOs or a good HITS Platform — will take it away.

Even as the government of India is purposefully going ahead with its ambitious and laudable 100 (now 99?)  Smart Cities plan to enable a far more progressive and responsible lifestyle and empower the economy through more pragmatic and socially and environmentally responsible consumption of scarce resources – all enabled through the best Information and Communication Technology — there is another, extremely important aspect of digitalization across the country that has been rolling out in phases, in the critically important sector of Media & Entertainment.

And precisely how important the Media & Entertainment Sector is to India’s growth plans was visible when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with top world Media leaders including Rupert Murdoch and many other global media captains, but that’s a story that’s been deservedly well covered all over.

But enough of the digression. Let’s get back to that other, extremely important aspect of digitalization in Media & Entertainment that’s being rolled out in  a phased manner India-wide.

This is the rollout of the Digitally Addressable Systems (DAS), which focuses on all the television households nationwide that receive their daily supply of hundreds of television channels in non-addressable, analog format.

The Government has made it mandatory for every Last Mile Operator  (LMO) to provide any TV channel – whether FTA, Pay  or Local – only in an encrypted form through a Digital Addressable System (DAS) in the entire country.

The most important focus of the government’s rollout of DAS is the end consumer, the viewers in each television-viewing household. The government wants to empower them with choice, the ability to pay only for those TV channels they watch regularly, and to increase their viewing delight by providing all channels only through a world class digital format of encrypted delivery through set top boxes and not just the plain old analog RF cable, thereby bringing each TV household on an addressable digital radar.

The digital platform will also make it possible for every digital TV household to receive the best of Over The Top (OTT) and Value Added Services (VAS). The entire digital package will drive growth across these high-growth tier-3 and 4 markets which, with their huge audiences, represent the biggest opportunity of growth for most sectors of industry.

Together with the 100 smart cities project, the rollout of DAS in India will truly close the loop and propel India on course for geometric growth and development.

OK, now let’s get to the ground, literally, where DAS must roll out as mandated by the government.

DAS rolled out across Phase I markets — Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and  Chennai – by the 31st of December, 2012. Around 9 to 10 million TV households went digital here. For various reasons, the rollout was not optimal across Chennai, but that’s another story, which would  demand a separate deep dive, outside the scope of this bird’s-eye-view.

DAS rollout across Phase 2 markets was completed end-December 2013. These markets included 38 cities with a population of above 1 million, and here, around 23 million analog TV households went digital.

Now, it is time for two other sets of locations across India, demarcated into Phases 3 and 4 of rollout markets for DAS in India. The Phase 3 areas include all other urban areas outside Phase 1 and 2 markets which have a municipality or a municipal corporation. The analog TV homes here must go digital by 31st December, 2015. And Phase 4 is the rest of India which the government has mandated must go digital on or before 31st December 2016.

So right now, we are talking Phase 3 and 4 markets, where the distribution fraternity on ground — ie the cable operators and smaller MSOs — and their end-subscribers are generally much poorer than their Phase 1 and 2 markets counterparts.

Let’s look at what the cable fraternity must do to take their analog TV households digital. It’s a long, intricate, tech-, investment- and skilled-talent-heavy list of requirements. In all fairness, the government wants that  M&E goes digital on a par with the best world standards.

What the government is telling the LMO/LCO and anyone else in the cable distribution fraternity in the Phase III markets is the following:

  • By the end of December this year (2015), the LMO has to stop all analogue signals to your end-customers’ TV homes.
  • All end-customer-TV homes of Phase III LMOs must receive their signals only through set top boxes (STB).(But obviously, there is much more to it than just placing an STB between the physical cable wire and the end-customer’s TV set.)
  • LMO customers must be given both, packages and a-la-carte channels
  • The end customer of the LMO must provide KYC data, which the LMO must enter into the Subscriber Management System.
  • The CAS must talk to the SMS for activation of packages; the customer should receive the options of both, pre-paid and pots-paid services
  • The customer should be enabled to pay only for those channels and services s/he opts for, against proper bills which the LMO must provide for all payment received.
  • And most important, the LMO must adhere to and follow all the quality and service norms set by the government for the rollout of DAS.

Ergo, the LMO needs large investments in technology, and also has to find adequately skilled technical manpower to adhere to all the stipulated norms of quality and service. Given the Phase III markets, the latter is a particularly difficult task, and the investments too are not to be sneezed at, however long the LMO has been in business in the Phase III and IV markets.

Phase III and Phase IV DAS rollout markets are far poorer than Ph 1 and II markets.   In Phase III markets, the deadline for 50 million TV homes to go digital is 31 December 2015 – just slightly over 3 months away. So it will be a challenge and a race against time for the thousands of humble Last Mile Cable Operators who must convert their subscriber homes digital or, on default of the deadlines and  lose their licenses and their very livelihoods.

These markets are generally not lucrative enough to support the 1-crore-plus investment in a good digital headend that is required, so LMOs will be in a quandary on that count. If they cannot invest in such a digital headend of their own, the LMO  could do one of three things:

  • Set up his own digital headend, but that needs around Rs 95 lakhs for capex and operating costs for a year, to say nothing of a large, technically skilled and motivated workforce of the caliber and qualifications that are difficult to come by in such large numbers particularly in the Phase III and IV markets.
  • Go to an MSO(and lose the ownership of his subscriber base to the MSO by virtue of seeing the MSO-owned STBs, and that too only if an MSO is willing to invest to add newer but smaller pockets of subscribers to his fold). And in that case, the LMO, per the rules, will be able to retain only 35% of the total revenue from his collections.
  • Join a HITS platform:
    • One, Jain HITS, from NSTPL,has been around but word is that it has actually not been able to service its member operators, and there is a slew of complaints its member LCOs have filed for various service- and other grievances they have. So, in fact, once reportedly badly bitten, most of the LMO/LCO community had been skeptical of tying up with another HITS platform.
    • However, the LMO could join another HITS platform, NXT DIGITAL from the Hinduja Group, and become a digital headend owner who retains complete ownership of his network. The NXT DIGITAL HITS Platform went live through its Earth Station which Arun Jaitley, Honble Minister for Information & Broadcasting, inaugurated on the 16th of September 2015. The cable operator premises equipment for a NXT DIGITAL HITS headend would cost anywhere between Rs 11 lakhs to Rs 15 lakhs plus taxes to deliver 300 to 500 channels. That is a mere fraction of the costs of setting up his own digital headed.

We know the spectre the LMO faces on deadline default: lose the entire business. Which would be a travesty because nobody can deny that it is the cable fraternity, the humble LMOs and LCOs, who have connected India for cable distribution by rolling out the copper without any institutional and financial support. By sheer dint of blood, sweat and toil; even, in many cases,  under-declarations  and waging a clipper war with cable intruders and DTH, perhaps.

In my next piece, I’ll compare the strengths of various pipelines of digital delivery like the MSO, DTH, a HITS Platform like NXT DIGITAL, etc, and see what an LMO could consider before making a choice.

But before that, let’s take a quick look at the major implications of an optimal rollout of DAS in the Phases III and IV markets:

  • for the consumerwho will be empowered with choice and, thanks to more and better digital services, more aspirationally charged;
  • for the cable operators:they will become owners of addressable businesses instead of hitherto non-addressable and therefore not institutionally supported businesses (which they did build with the dint of their sweat and blood without receiving any institutional or financial support)
  • for the broadcasters: they will start to see a correction in their distribution revenues thanks to addressable paying subscribers (in fact, the broadcasters make around 80% of their total revenues from just Phase I and II markets  of DAS, where there are a total of around 32 mn TV homes)
  • for the govt: much bigger tax revenues.

In fact, on potential market size, the play is bigger – that number of 110 mn TV homes estimated in Ph III and IV is conservative, if you compare it with the statement of I&B Jt Secy Mrs Supriya Sahu, who said last year that a total of 140 million Set Top  Boxes will be needed in Phases III and IV digitalisation => http://bit.ly/1VcjJWZ) Oh, and of that number, her departmental estimate pegged an STB requirement of only 30 million, or only 21-odd percent for all DTH players combined.

But that isn’t the end of the tough times for DTH players. An average of 45% of all DTH boxes ever sold are inactive – meaning those subscribers have dropped the idea of continuing with the DTH subscription, and even if the box has remained a burden that the hapless DTH company had subsidized in the first place, the subscriber is living with the loss of not being able to get even a part refund on cancellation of the subscription.

That means that eventually, if this long standing and therefore not-a-flash-trend of DTH subscribers going inactive continues even in Phases III and IV of the DAS rollout markets, a good 20% of the 30-odd million boxes the MIB had guesstimated DTH would need, will actually end up with digital cable service providers – be they the existing MSOs or the new HITS owners.

The DTH piece too, in the next. Till then, do share your views, information, perspectives through comments. Let’s keep the conversation going.

(All views are personal)

Celebrating Bachi Karkaria!

If you’ve thrilled to what a maestro can do with the English language, you would have read and loved the writings of Bachi Karkaria who has tickled every corner of my English-loving soul pink and basking-warmed the cockles of my heart. Without using the kind of clichés I just did. With language that is as effervescent, twinkling, alive and sprightly as she herself is, God bless her. As indeed He must have done — personally, fondly, benignly and, I dare say, with pride – with her unique, unmatched linguistic ability and a thinking and sensitivity that magically craft out the most wonderfully, easily, lightly, gratefully read pieces on even the most serious issues week on week. Millions of readers have mainlined on Bachi’s magic, and she has befriended, encouraged, guided and mentored every young journalist who’s ever worked with her.

The amazing Bachi Karkaria turned a sprightly young 70 on the 7th of September. Her fans, associates and co-workers, led by the Metropolis on Saturday team and its leader Bharatkumar Raut, will felicitate and celebrate Bachi Wednesday, the 30th September 2015 in Mumbai.

As a senior and respected journalist and writer, Bachi has performed many roles. One from the early nineties, was as a pillar of MOS — as we fondly called the Metropolis on Saturday, which, like a distant, upcountry cousin of the Times of India, was sequestered on the fifth floor of the Old Lady at Boribunder under the aegis of Samrat Properties Ltd — along with my dear friend and mentor Bharatkumar Raut.

Bharatkumar Raut

Bharatkumar Raut

Bharat was leading leading the publication as Executive Editor. (He had put together a ‘handpicked’ team borrowed from The Indpendent, then; that’s another engrossing story of internal cooperation, but one that only Bharat has the prerogative to narrate).

One of the most enduring series that Bachi created was her weekly column — along with the character Alec Smart – was for MOS.

Here’s how the Times Blog describes it: Bachi Karkaria’s Erratica and its cheeky sign-off character, Alec Smart, have had a growing league of followers since 1994 when the column began in the Metropolis on Saturday. It now appears on the Edit Page of the Times of India, every Thursday. It takes a sly dig at whatever has inflated political/celebrity egos, and got public knickers in a twist that week. It makes you chuckle, think and marvel at the elasticity of the English language. Bachi Karkaria also writes Giving Gyan in the Mumbai Mirror, and its fellow publications in other cities. It is a shooting-from-the-lip advice column to the lovelorn and otherwise torn, telling them to stop cribbing and start living — all in her her branded pithy, witty style.

Bachi just turned a sprightly young 70 earlier this month, and those who worked with her at the Metropolis on Saturday, led by MOS leader Bharatkumar Raut, have decided to reach out to all those who have associated and worked with Bachi over the years, to put up an evening of felicitating and celebrating Bachi.

Here’s the invite, from Bharatkumar Raut himself:

As you are aware our good friend and veteran journalist Bachi Karkaria is now 70. We, her fans, friends and followers, have decided to felicitate her on the occasion. We’ve organised a function and a party on Wednesday, the 30th September 2015, at 5.30 pm. The formal function is at Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh Auditorium, followed by cocktails and dinner (contributory) at the adjacent Mumbai Press Club.
This is my personal invitation and request to participate. Also pl send me your e-mail ID for a formal invitation.

Looking forward to receiving you.

Regards,

Bharatkumar Raut

(ps: You can mail me your id at pavanrchawla [at] g mail and I’ll pass it on to Bharat)

So as one of the MOS-ters – as we call our WhatsApp Group – I look forward to meeting friends and associates divided by age groups, sectors, genres, journalism streams and interests but united by enduring love and respect for Bachi.

I’m aware that many of the 5000-plus followers of my blog are located outside India, so just in case you haven’t yet experienced the graceful, chuckle-inducing elastic ease of Bachi’s amazing writing, here’s a real bonus for all – this is the link to the Times Of India Blog which showcases Bachi’s column right on top. Savour her writing. The kind that, on any Journalist’s Heirarchy of Needs, would be right at the pinnacle of the pyramid.

Bachi’s latest blog is here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/erratica/bans-chhoro-no/ .

And her blog archive is here: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/author/bachikarkaria/

Enjoy.

And please, whether you are a journalist-writer aspiring to achieve her felicity in a couple of lifetimes, or a general reader and lover of her writing, please do comment here. Share your views on Bachi’s writing and, if you have been blessed to know and interact and work with her personally, on Bachi herself.

Girl Rising, airing on Raksha Bandhan, receives full support from PM Modi, Maneka Gandhi

This Raksha Bandhan, what do superstar Amitabh Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor, Madhuri Dixit, Alia Bhatt, Freida Pinto, Nandita Das, Sushmita Sen and Parineeti Chopra have in common? They’ve come together to urge television viewers across India’s leading Hindi GEC, Star Plus, to celebrate women’s empowerment through education.

For which leading Hindi GEC Star Plus is bringing very different, thought-provoking and uplifting content for its viewers on Raksha Bandhan. That that galaxy of a star cast has contributed to Star Plus’s Raksha Bandhan day centerpiece, Girl Rising – Woh Padhegi, Woh Udegi, which is the Hindi version of the ground-breaking film by Academy Award nominee Richard E. Robbins.

The Hindi version airs on Saturday, 29 August, 1.30 pm on Star Plus. Both, the English and Hindi versions of the 2-hour film, will be available on digital platform hotstar.

The film, made in 2013, tells the stories of eight girls from eight countries — Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru and Sierra Leone — and their fight to overcome impossible odds to realize their dreams.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji has chosen the auspicious occasion of Raksha Bandhan to broadcast the film asking families to not only protect the daughters but to also promote their education: Maneka Gandhi

In fact, the entire concept of the film has received tremendous support from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Ministry Of Women and Child Development’s literacy campaign, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao is collaborating with the telecast on Star Plus.

We believe that the happiness of a nation depends on how we treat our daughters… Star India will be appealing to people to empower the nation’s girls by increasing public attention, raising awareness, and engagement and eliminating gender disparity: Uday Shankar – CEO Star India

Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Development has said, “I am very happy about the cGIRL-RISING-1ollaboration between the ministry’s ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign and Girl Rising. The child sex ratio in India is a matter of concern for all of us. Time has come to initiate more interventions and consolidate our efforts to secure the future of our girls.

“Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji has chosen the auspicious occasion of Raksha Bandhan to broadcast the film asking families to not only protect the daughters but to also promote their education,” Gandhi said.

The film will air on 29 August at 1.30 pm. While the Hindi version will air on Star Plus, both, the English and the Hindi versions of the 2-hour film, will be available on the leading digital platform, hotstar.

GIRL-RISING-2Superstar Amitabh Bachchan has provided voice narration for the 2-hour film which features leading actors like Priyanka Chopra, Freida Pinto, Nandita Das, Madhuri Dixit, Sushmita Sen, Alia Bhatt, Parineeti Chopra and Kareena Kapoor. Both Priyanka and Freida are also producers and ambassadors for Girl Rising.

The film comes in the wake of some other very thoughtful insurance offerings that the government has announced which will enable brothers to gift social security schemes the Suraksha Bima Yojana and the Jeevan Jyoti Yojana to their sisters on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

So, instead of a run-of-the-mill ‘Rakhi-special’ feature films festival on Raksha Bandhan, here’s the far more meaningful Girl Rising – Woh Padhegi, Woh Udegi, which revolves around the theme of Women Empowerment. The significant emotional and financial investment in this film are proof of how seriously the network takes its mission of leading Societal Change in India.

Uday-ShankarAs Star India CEO Uday Shankar says, “Star Plus has constantly worked to redefine the role of Television as an agent of social change. Our aspirational content has especially resonated with the women of this country and has influenced their changing role in society. On this Raksha Bandhan, Star Plus will be presenting Girl Rising – Woh Padegi, Woh Udegi, a ground-breaking film designed to inspire a billion imaginations. We believe that the happiness of a nation depends on how we treat our daughters.”

Alphonso E Lenhardt USAIDAmbassador Alfonso E. Lenhardt, Acting Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says, “Every day, girls are changing the world. An educated girl has a positive ripple effect on her health, family, community and society as a whole. That is why USAID is committed to girl’s education in India and around the world. This exciting partnership reflects a new model for development–a powerful collaboration of governments, the private sector, civil society and media lending their voices, talents and resources to promote a more inclusive and prosperous India by educating and empowering girls.”

It may be recalled that in end-November 2014, the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had announced support to a public-private partnership in India for “Girl Rising,” a global campaign to promote girls’ education.  USAID had previously announced $3 million to support the program worldwide.

The Girl Rising: ENGAGE INDIA (Empowering New Generations to Advance Girls’ Education) program will work to raise awareness and change attitudes and behaviors relating to girls’ education through local language releases of the powerful feature film “Girl Rising.” This partnership will reach millions worldwide and include teaching materials that highlight the stories of nine girls born into difficult circumstances in nine different countries around the world.

“The Girl Rising campaign in India starts with the film, but the story is much longer and only just beginning. With the Girl Rising Action Campaign for Education we are bringing the talent and resources of India’s brightest stars and most dynamic firms to bear on this issue,” said Ambassador Stephens, who had announced the partnership at the American Center.

And now let’s cut back to the present. Here’s what the stars associated with the film have to say:

Priyanka Chopra: “We’ve all come together to narrate real life stories that highlight the amazing, positive impact that education can have on young girls. We believe that storytelling is a powerful way to inspire people and also to empower them to take action. I’m grateful to the Star TV Network for joining hands with us to take this film and its important messages into millions of homes across the country.

“We are also very humbled and thankful to have the support of the Honorable Prime Minister and the remarkable Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign.  Together, I know we can all make a difference in getting closer to our objective of ensuring that all girls get through secondary school. Every girl has the right to education and the more girls we educate the more our country stands to gain.”

Freida Pinto: “There couldn’t be a more appropriate day to bring to every Indian a movement that is so crucial in changing the way we perceive the role of girls and raise our boys in our country.

“As a producer of Girl Rising India, I was very honoured to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June to talk about Girl Rising and he not only embraced the idea but also suggested that we launch it on Raksha Bandhan. We are very pleased to have join hands with the Prime Minister, Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign and… Star.”

The film is the centerpiece of Girl Rising’s national campaign for girls’ education and empowerment that uses the power of storytelling to raise awareness and ignite people to take action.

Definitely worth a watch. Here’s the official trailer to the English version.

Of pride, decency, values, and ‘Old Farts’

This is so true.

Received it as a forward from a dear friend, Sarosh Aibara,  so it isn’t an original piece of  writing,  but it is,  as I said,  very true.

‘Old fart’  is a derisive,  dismissive descriptor.  But actually, it’s not a bad thing to be called an Old Fart, as you will see.

Old Farts are easy to spot at sporting events or movies or events of national significance; during the playing of the National Anthem, Old Farts remove their caps and stand to attention and sing without embarrassment. They know the words and believe in them.

‘Old fart’  is a derisive,  dismissive descriptor.  But actually, it’s not a bad thing to be called an Old Fart, as you will see.

Old Farts remember the Independence Movement, China 62, Pakistan 65, Bangladesh 72 and Kargil 99.

They remember the Atomic Age, The Cold War, the Jet Age and the Moon Landing.

They remember the numerous Peacekeeping Missions from the 1950s to the 2000…

If you bump into an Old Fart on the sidewalk he will apologize. If you pass an Old Fart on the street, he will nod or tip his cap to a lady.

Old Farts trust strangers and are polite, particularly to women.

Old Farts hold the door for the next person and always, when walking, make certain the lady is on the inside for protection.

Old Farts get embarrassed if someone curses in front of women and children and they don’t like any filth or dirty language on TV or in movies.

Old Farts have moral courage and personal integrity. They seldom brag unless it’s about their children or grandchildren.

It’s the Old Farts who know our great country is protected, not by politicians, but by the young men and women in the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard, serving their country.

This country needs Old Farts with their work ethic, sense of responsibility, pride in their country and decent values.

Decency.  Respect. Values. Integrity.

We need them now more than ever.

Thank Goodness for Old Farts!

I was taught to respect my elders. It’s just getting harder to find them :)

Jane The Virgin – ‘Humour in a tiny, beating heart’

South American telenovellas make interesting, entertaining, meaningful television shows across genres, and yesterday, I caught a sneak preview of a really interesting miniseries that’s upcoming on Indian television for the first time. (from 5th August at 7 pm on Romedy NOW)

jane_the_virgin_xlgIt’s called Jane The Virgin, and in its very first season, the show got nominated for a Golden Globe best series award, and Gina Rodriguez, who portrays the lead role of Jane, won the award for the Best Actress in a Television series – Musical or Comedy, at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, which honoured the best of television content produced in 2014.  There were several other wins and nominations, but we’ll get to those in a bit.

Intriguing title, yes, and an equally good concept. What happens when a young, devout woman discovers she has been accidentally, artificially inseminated by her doctor during what should have been a routine checkup? And especially when the girl is sweet, simple and devout, and in spite of being in a relationship with a handsome guy, is ‘saving herself for marriage.’ So Jane, the dear 23-year-old unassuming Latina, who’s also working at a hotel to finance her studies so she can have a life better than her mother’s, is now faced with the prospect of a disapproving boyfriend and a disrupted — even destroyed — educational career, is shattered.

JANE SMALL PIC FOR POSTThe empathy gears shift to fifth already? So, it has all the ingredients of a serious, sombre drama, right? Wrong. The show is an excellent dramatic comedy, or dramedy, if you will.

What makes matters worse for Jane is that, being a kind and sensitive person, she is caught between her love for boyfriend Michael, who has no desire to raise another man’s child, and her sympathy for Rafael, the owner of the sperm sample, whose recent battle with cancer means this is his only chance for a biological child. So — complete quandary! To make matters worse, the biological donor is a married man, a former playboy and cancer survivor who is not only the new owner of the hotel where Jane works, but was also her former teenage crush. Rafael’s wife, ‘man eater’ Petra, too wants the baby – but only to prolong her failing marriage while the pre-nuptial agreement is still in effect, where she would be able to acquire a huge amount of money. Petra, incidentally, is also unfaithful to Rafael; with his best friend, no less.

And this is the exact spot between a rock and a hard place where the sweet and lovely Jane finds herself. And perplexed as she is, she is also torn between the views of her mother Xiomara, and grandmother Alba, who have their own differing opinions about what Jane should do.

this romantic comedy finds humor in a tiny, beating heart – and witnesses the birth of a star with Gina Rodriguez’s wide-eyed performance.

That plotline may sound heavily dramatic, but the treatment is uniquely light-hearted even as it respects the gravitas of the dramatic high points. But hey, ‘gravitas’ doesn’t really belong here – because this heartwarming story moves quickly ahead on a chuckle-a-minute throttle. There is great comic timing, excellent elements of surprise, sweet moments in mother-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter and young-couple relationships and more. It’s a really beautiful intriguing story of this young lady at the biggest crossroads of her life, and how the world around her, depending on the motivation of the well-etched characters, surges to support or thwart her. What shines through this glowing comedy-drama of relationships that say ‘don’t pre-judge’, is the entertaining, comic approach that ranges startlingly from wry and dry to just plain mirthful.

It’s a story that worked in the US because it was about and for the massive Spanish-speaking audiences in the US, and is about a family that’s close-knit and caring, and even more so when it comes to the sweet, devout young vulnerable daughter. Evoked great empathy there for the daughter, as I believe it will here in India too.

So the twists and turns and the curved balls Life keep throwing at Jane, and how the sweet and protected young woman surrounded by interesting characters deals with them, are something to look forward to. Jane The Virgin is a delightful romantic comedy-drama, and if Episode One of Season One is anything to go by, it will be a roller-coaster dramedy ride.

In fact, the citation at its TV Program Of the Year Award win at the AFI Awards USA 2015 puts it succinctly indeed: Jane The Virgin delivers one of the year’s most delightful surprises – a modern melodrama from the telenovela mold, with lively theatrics that elevate it into a class by itself. Immaculately adapted by Jennie Snyder Urman, this romantic comedy finds humor in a tiny, beating heart – and witnesses the birth of a star with Gina Rodriguez’s wide-eyed performance.

………………..

Jane the Virgin is an American romantic comedy-drama television series which debuted in the US on 13 October 2014. The series is created by Jennie Snyder Urman and is a loose adaptation of the Venezuelan telenovela series created by Perla Farias, originally known as Juana La Virgen. I

The series has received critical acclaim since its premiere. Gina Rodriguez won the award for the Best Actress in a Television series – Musical or Comedy, at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards honoring the best in American film and television industry produced during 2014 on 11th January 2015, while the show was nominated for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and was also nominated for the Critics’ Choice Award. The series has won the People’s choice award for the Favorite new TV comedy.

Of prejudice, and a great radio show: U P Ki Kahaniyaan

Some time back, I had tweeted without thought. Without pondering. Just on the basis of a 30-second radio spot, I decided that I wouldn’t like the show it was promoting, and wrote that the presenter and his show deserved to be pushed to the graveyard shift where it would help insomniacs, etc, and that the show was a 15-minute speedbreaker in the station’s drive prime. Then, ten minutes later, it 8.45 PM — time for the show, and it began to play out. It was playing out on an FM Radio Network I have grown to like.

Like most people, I love music, and again, like most, my musical tastes and preferences have been formed over a lifetime of listening and reacting instinctively to and staying with the kind of music that appealed to me. And, of course, scouring into every new musical horizon to find new kinds of music, new sounds.

Golden Music

And when one’s talking about music on FM Radio, make that read Golden Hindi Music — the best sung, the best written, the best musically-arranged and above all, the best composed, with tunes that sit just below the epidermis of your conscious mind; in fact, cling, limpet-like, to your soul.

And if there is one FM Radio station that has gone ahead and redefined itself and actually challenged and hurled overboard like garbage the former status quo of playing out mindless new songs with eminently forgettable scores ad nauseam, that station has got to be BIG FM. It suits my musical tastes perfectly, playing out great, memorable Hindi film music, presented conversationally by presenters who aren’t in a tearing big hurry. But of late, regrettably, due to its popularity, the morning and evening drive primes on BIG FM have a few too many ad campaigns for my liking, thereby reducing the number of songs actually played out per hour.

So, primarily because of the music it plays, and the presentation style of the RJs (barring perhaps one and a half presenters) it’s become and remained a personal favourite. (However, to be fair, the Apurva Purohit-led Radio City has always played plenty of beautiful, handpicked Golden Hindi film songs over the years – way back, they had the highest percentage of retro music… around 35 to 40% of their music played out was retro Hindi film, and even today Gaurav with the sing-song “Sunata hoon WO gaane jo CHHOO lein AAPka mann!” tagline, still holds forth pretty interestingly weeknights on Radio City. But it is BIG FM that’s decided to go fully retro.)

Fake-sounding ‘speedbreaker’?

OK, now back to that hasty tweet. It was at around 8.30 pm or so, during Dilip’s evening drive prime show on BIG FM, that I caught this spot promoting an upcoming show. A 15-minuter, that was to play out from 8.45 pm to 9 pm, called U.P. Ki Kahaaniyaan, with Neelesh Misra. The spot featured Neelesh Misra introducing himself, and the first thing I immediately decided I didn’t like, was his articulation. It seemed like he was breaking his voice in super-tragic fashion. Sounded like he fancied himself as a tragic Dilip Kumar – and I’d made up my mind on that count by the time he spoke-croaked his first sentence: “Dosto, mera naam hai Neelesh Misra-aah!” Why can’t he converse instead of ‘tragically’ over-acting into the mike, I thought. By the time the promo was over, I felt that even in sharing information about a program, he had added a palpable tragic, broken-hearted, sad-about-the-world croak to the edge of his voice. He sounded like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders while speaking. And the drama, I concluded, sounded fake.

So hasty was I in jumping to that conclusion, that I overlooked the fact that that just might well be the natural way Neelesh Misra speaks. And under the cloud of the I-don’t-like-his-voice-he’s-faking-it mood, I only heard the way he spoke, without listening to what he was saying.

And decided and tweeted he was the perfect answer to the insomniac – that his measured, broken-hearted narrative of some small-town story was a terrible speed-breaker to the entertainment Dilip’s show was providing. Destroyed the mood of the show, I felt.

From the heart

Then, since I have been weaned on Hawa Mahal all my life, I decided to listen to the show. UP Ki Kahanaaiyaan. Bang in the middle of evening drive prime – OK, perhaps towards the fag end of it, from 8.45 pm to 9 pm. That would definitely be a sore point between Ad Sales and Programming, but BIG FM probably said let’s give the listeners a completely different entertainment experience – fiction. Not a drama or radio play on the lines of Akashwani’s amazing Hawa Mahal which I still remember, but in a different form. A story about real people, based in a city or town of UP, like Kanpur, Bijnor, Hardoi, some tiny hamlet in Bundelkhand, often caught between head and heart in circumstances that tease, challenge or even torment them, putting them in a quandary, forcing them to break free or crumble – the kind of choices most people face today.

Truly evocative

And I discovered that as soon as I could push my first, prejudiced, jaundiced assessment of Neelesh Misra’s narration delivery aside, I walked into a world of sweet, first-language spoken Hindustani, so rarely heard today it was music to my good-Hindi-starved ears here in Mumbai. Neelesh deftly evoked the sights and sounds of a small town in UP, ‘showed’ me with his words and delivery the perplexed, puzzled faces of his main characters caught in the throes of some personal dilemma… the scared state of mind of a once-flourishing batasha-maker staring penury and ruin due to a continually falling demand for his bataashe… basic, simple, emotions in simple stories of the human heart and aspirations.

Neelesh Misra. Pic courtesy neeleshmisra.com

Neelesh Misra. Pic courtesy neeleshmisra.com

I realized Nilesh Misra’s show is something I want my kids and my friends to listen to. To savour, enjoy and internalize the lovely spoken Hindi – each word apt and irreplaceable in beautifully spoken sentences. I subsequently spoke with Neelesh Misra on the phone, and realized that his warm and grainy voice does naturally breaks ever so slightly at the end of every second word. It is a warm, sunny voice, and in the same slightly nasal voice — because he exhales from way down near the solar and the nose comes elegantly into Hindi play —  he asked me with disarming simplicity if I really thought he spoke with a put-on edge.

I still say, just turn the dial slightly – ever so slightly — low on the ‘tragic’ delivery. Ok, not tragic, maybe, but it does seem a little tired. Don’t make the narration of the story – and its enjoyment by the listener – a ‘sad’ experience. I don’t want creeping up my mind the foreboding that tragedy is about to unfold. And it is at stark variance from the mood of a lovely, happily-ended story about an engineer who returns from Saudi Arabia to his home in a small UP town. The family lights up, his holiday ends quickly in a maze of little happy-together events, and ultimately, it is time for him to return. When he is leaving his family to return to Saudi, he stops, literally mid-stride, drawn by the mute, wistful appeal in the eyes of his old father, mother and the rest of his loving family, and turns back, surrendering to his aching heart that doesn’t permit him to leave his loving, doting family. He has decided to stay back in his home town, and be with the family. Not only a really heart-warming end to the story, but also a significant subtle message for the youth of today.

So, listen to this show. It is a real speed breaker from the humdrum of radio jockeys (hate the word) driving locals or wrapping jaded forgettable new “breaking music” with inanities, boss! Or some other forgettable stuff. Oh, and the stories Nilesh presents are studded with interesting, evergreen Hindi songs. Of course, Neelesh, whose stories are beautifully and economically etched, will always have to struggle to fit a good Hindi song with the exact mood at the point he breaks the narration for the music, but the songs are melodious, memorable tunes. Punctuating great Hindi stories. In lovely Hindi.

Don’t want much more.

Glad that we have presenters like Neelesh Misra around, and am doubly glad that his ilk have such an amazing window to spread the goodness – I mean a network like BIG FM that’s put his stories, like I said, bang in drive prime.

Which is why, this apology was due. To myself for having been so hasty as to have deprived myself of the opportunity of listenting to and enjoying many more stories narrated by Nilesh. And to Nilesh and his craft.

Glad that we have presenters like him around, and am doubly glad that his ilk have such an amazing window to spread the goodness – I mean a network like BIG FM that’s put his stories, like I said, bang in drive prime.

BIG FM should spread the ‘word’

I think BIG FM Marketing should step in push these delightful Hindi narratives, even with the songs edited out, to every School in India that teaches Hindi. There are very cheap digital pipelines of delivery, but this one gesture to students to hear and learn how good Hindi is spoken, will help them in the studies and also entertain them.

Each story is the kind you can enjoy with the entire family. Narrated by someone whose knowledge and love of the language will hopefully infect every listener. And BIG FM should push out XYZ Ki Kahaniyaan for all its stations across each state.

What do you think?

Great BBC feature concept: Giving up music for Lent

A truly unique concept for a feature,  this — giving up music for Lent.  That’s what Professor of Acoustic Engineering,  Trevor Cox,  at the University of Salford, decided he would do. 

Giving up music for Lent will be broadcast at 1600 GMT on 16 March on BBC Radio 4. Meanwhile,  here’s what the excellent professor discovered in the process of his experiment with extreme abstemiousness with music.  The man was assailed by earworms and more.  Here it is, then,  in  his own words.

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Professor Trevor Cox found it surprisingly difficult to get music out of his life

In preparation for a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Giving up music for Lent, to be broadcast on Monday, I have been trying to avoid all music.

This fast is not being done for religious reasons, instead it is about getting an insight into how the ever-present music in modern society affects us all. These are some of the things I’ve discovered so far.

1. My inner jukebox went into overdrive

Virtually all of us hear music in our heads. At the start of the experiment I was flooded with musical imagery. Repetitive tunes that get stuck in the brain are called “earworms” and currently mine is a bizarre mix including the theme tune from the movie Airplane!, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and snippets of saxophone music I play.

This bombardment of earworms lasted for the first few days of the fast, and then it gradually settled down to something more normal.

Victoria Williamson, a music psychologist from Sheffield University, told me some people who go on silent retreats have a similar reaction. When I removed music from my life, my brain compensated for this by creating excessive musical imagery.

2. I desperately wanted to hum and sing

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The professor's saxophone music had to be put on hold but he soon found music is everywhere

The professor’s saxophone music had to be put on hold but he soon found music is everywhere

During the early days, I had to work hard not to sing along to my inner music, especially with so many tunes swirling around my head. Cycling around Salford, pottering around the house, typing in my office… throughout the day I was desperate to externalise the sound.

When I let a few notes out by accident, I also noticed how much more satisfying it was than just imagining the tune inside my head. Boris Kleber and colleagues have researched the difference between overt and imagined singing. They got classical singers to perform the first line of the bel canto aria Caro Mio Ben by Tommaso Giordani in a brain scanner.

They found some differences in the areas of the brain that were activated depending on whether the subjects imagined or actually sung the tune. My suspicion is that I found the few vocalised notes more satisfying because the musical stimulus was more potent as it involved more of the body.

3. There are people who don’t like music

After a week without music I started to get very tired and weary. One cause could have been that I was missing music’s ability to stimulate the reward centres of the brain. There are people, however, who do not seem to get the same hit when listening to music, even though they can hear and perceive perfectly well.

A study from the University of Barcelona published last year found that there are people who do not seem to enjoy music. The researchers named the condition musical anhedonia. In one part of the study the researchers played subjects pieces of music, in another, they got them playing a game that had monetary rewards.

They found that people with musical anhedonia gained pleasure from the game but not from the music, indicating differences in how the reward centres of their brains are accessed compared to most people.

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Even resorting to a prepared piece of 'rumbling noise' on the professor's MP3 player couldn't solve the problem of hearing external music

4. The only way to completely avoid music is to become a hermit

It’s impossible to completely avoid music and try and go about a normal life. Out and about during the fast I have heard snippets of tunes leaking out from headphones as people pass me in the street, music spilling from shop entrances, and the distant sounds of my sons starting to practise their instruments.

While ear plugs and ear defenders can stop some sound, they are not completely effective if the music is loud. To solve this problem I have a track on my MP3 player of rumbling noise. This masking sound played from in-ear headphones is very effective.

But the only way to guarantee not hearing even the tiniest snippet of music would be to play this noise all day, something that alarmingly mimics sensory deprivation techniques that the CIA have been accused of doing. So if someone wants to do an experiment that involves no music being heard whatsoever, then they would have to find a remote hermitage and completely switch off all technology.

5. Music is so ubiquitous it’s easy to overlook

I have walked into cafes and into the reception areas of offices, and it has sometimes taken a good few minutes for me to notice that there is music playing. We have no “earlids”, and there is no auditory equivalent of averting our gaze.

Our hearing is constantly picking up sounds and our brain then has to work out which sounds are important and must be paid attention to, and which ones can be safely ignored.

Something noisy and abrupt, like the squealing of car brakes, catches our attention immediately so that we can fight or take flight.

When we hear something less threatening, like subtle background music, our brain decides whether we should consciously notice it. Often music is so quiet in public places, that if I was concentrating on something else, like what sandwich to buy in a cafe, my brain would not register the music.

Once I noticed, I had to leave in a hurry.

Thanks for commenting and sharing – @PavanRChawla (Twitter)