Author: Tejas Nair

Tejas Nair is a freelance writer. He lives and works in Mumbai, India. This website originated from his love for writing and is a product of years of experience in that field. He began blogging in 2008. He is a Master of Arts in English Literature and currently works full-time as a performance content manager.

The Right Way to Celebrate Ganeshotsav

This is a short article where I jot down some points that will show what (I think) the right way to celebrate Ganshotsav is. I have a special regard for the elephant god as you can read and find in one of my most popular articles on this website. So, you can rest assured that this is a practical article that does not resort to mockery.

A huge Ganesha idol being taken to a pandal in Navi Mumbai
An example of a procession taking a Ganesha idol to its pandal

Changing some of our ways as we celebrate the festival can go a long way in ensuring that we will be able to do it for more years, similar to how responding positively to the ongoing Save Aarey campaign will do. Here you go:

  • Avoid processions – This is perhaps the biggest issue emanating out of the festival. The concept of bringing in the Ganesha idol (aagman) and saying goodbye to it (visarjan) with fanfare should be minimized either by avoiding them altogether or doing it when the roads are emptier in the night. It should be mandated that all such processions should be carried out post 10 pm to aid in easy movement of both the traffic and the procession. Clogged roads lead to traffic snarls which in turn lead to chaos and even death in some cases due to stampede. It might be assuring to know that in 2015 the Bombay High Court had directed the BMC to restrict the burgeoning of pandals (a term used to describe interchangeably the setup that holds the lord’s idol or the association attached to it) and give permission to only those that have enjoyed a legacy or a long-term existence such as the Lallbaug Raja or the GSB Seva Mandal.[1]BMC approves over 2k Ganpati pandal requests – Richa Pinto, The Times of India, 27 August 2019
  • Avoid firecrackers – There is no reason to let the whole world know that you are celebrating the festival by firing crackers. Lord Ganesha can sense all the love you have for him through your sheer willingness to celebrate the festival. Stop using firecrackers and prevent pollution of the atmosphere
  • Avoid loudspeakers – Vocal chanting (aarti) is one of the key processes to show love and worship to the deity but doing it on loudspeakers just adds to the noise pollution accentuated by the firecrackers (above point) and the music bands (below point), also incorrectly known as banjo groups. Let the pandit chant without the mic and you can follow his lead. No need to make the surrounding people know that you are doing an aarti. The lord has big enough ears to get the point
  • Avoid music bands – I know this is a source of income for some youth but it needs to stop for the greater good. More than the loudspeakers, it is the noise from these percussion-heavy banjo groups that makes existing during Ganshotsav a near impossibility. Add to that the use of amplifiers to blast Bollywood and pop songs in other languages such as Bhojpuri, Punjabi, and Marathi. I’m sure the lord does not think highly of this, let alone the Nashik dhol (Nashik beat) in repeat. The youth can adopt what they do the rest of the year and say goodbye to this noise-polluting practice. Visarjans can also be a silent affair without the use of these percussion instruments. And if you see the need for it, you can chant it using your vocal chords
  • Avoid floral wastage – This is as huge as we think it is small. Floral wastage during the celebrations is so high (and which contributes to poor sewage in and around the city) that in 2019 BMC tied up with NGOs to collect them and convert to manure. That’s a good step but extra work, which can be altogether avoided if you start avoiding use of extra flowers when the need is only for a few
  • Avoid PoP idols – This has been debated for long but has reached no consensus. It is common sense to avoid Plaster of Paris (PoP) idols (because of their non-biodegradable quality) and instead use eco-friendly ones made of clay (which are) but due to lower costs, better strength, and better designs, manufacturers still dole out Ganesha idols made of PoP. The change needs to start with the consumers here
  • Avoid visarjan in water bodies – This is the last point because it is the only one where I have seen some headway happening. Many pandals and homes in and around Navi Mumbai have shifted to artificial visarjan where they immerse the Ganesha idol in a makeshift pond on a terrace or a housing society backyard. This practice does not pollute the water bodies. The plus point is that this practice also avoids the procession as everything happens within the confines of the housing society or the house (in case of private pandals). Examples of this practice are one, a private housing society of Everest Nagar in Ghansoli, and two, a private one organized by Sushobita Nair and her family in Sector 6, Vashi.

I know it is almost the end of Ganesh Chaturthi 2019 but let this be an essential read for the coming years. From a theological perspective, this may not exactly be the right way to celebrate the festival of Ganesha but in this 21st century where we are riddled with environmental issues it is pragmatic to tweak our ways.

If even one of these points is executed by anyone who is involved in celebrating Ganshotsav I think we can make progress. As someone who tries to practice what he preaches, I will try to do the same starting 2020. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Preshit/Creative Commons

footnotes   [ + ]

1. BMC approves over 2k Ganpati pandal requests – Richa Pinto, The Times of India, 27 August 2019

List: All the Films that Opened the Mumbai Film Festival Since 1997

mumbai film festival opening films 2010 to 2019

On 29 August 2019 the Mumbai Film Festival tweeted out a few photos celebrating their decision to choose Geethu Mohandas’s gritty crime drama Moothon as the opening film for its 21st edition scheduled between 17 and 24 October. It is the first time that a Malayalam-language film is opening the festival, which has for the last four years consecutively honored Hindi-language features (with the odd one A Death in the Gunj (2016) a mix of Hindi, English, and Bengali) and majorly English-language ones before that. So, naturally as a Malayalam cinema connoisseur it made me jump up in joy. It also made me want to look back at all the opening films of the festival since its inception. This list is a product of that desire and MAMI’s contributions in decorating brilliant cinema since 1997.

From 1997 when Jaya Bachchan’s comeback film Hazar Chaurasi Ki Ma opened the inaugural edition to 2010 when it selected David Fincher’s Academy Award-winning The Social Network to 2019 when a Malayalam film is about to finally get a seat at the high table. This is a list of all the opening films of the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) in its two-decade-long history.

mumbai film festival opening films 2010 to 2019
Posters of all opening films from 2010 to 2019 in reverse order / © Letterboxd

Opening Films of Mumbai Film Festival

Listed chronologically along with the name of the director and the primary language of the film. Sourced from a tweet by MAMI (opens in another tab).

1st1997Hazaar Chaurasi Ki MaaGovind NihalaniHindi
2nd1999The Sixth SenseM. Night ShyamalanEnglish
3rd2000Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonAng LeeMandarin
4th2001BanditsBarry LevinsonEnglish
5th2002Taking SidesIstván SzabóEnglish
6th2003Warriors of Heaven and EarthPing HeMandarin
7th2005Human TouchPaul CoxEnglish
8th2006The ChorusChristophe BarratierFrench
9th2007Curse of the Golden FlowerYimou ZhangMandarin
10th2008KatynAndrzej WajdaPolish
11th2009The Informant!Steven SoderberghEnglish
12th2010The Social NetworkDavid FincherEnglish
13th2011MoneyballBennett MillerEnglish
14th2012Silver Linings PlaybookDavid O. RussellEnglish
15th2013The ButlerLee DanielsEnglish
16th2014SerenaSusanne BierEnglish
17th2015AligarhHansal MehtaHindi
18th2016A Death in the GunjKonkona Sen SharmaEnglish
19th2017MukkabaazAnurag KashyapHindi
20th2018Mard Ko Dard Nahin HotaVasan BalaHindi
21st2019MoothonGeethu MohandasMalayalam

Note 1: The festival did not run in 1998 due to a lack of funding by the Maharashtra state government and in 2004 for unknown reasons.[1](MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013)

Note 2: For your convenience, this list has been duplicated on IMDb and Letterboxd. Updated every year.

A Little Bit of MAMI History

In the inaugural year 1997, MAMI screened a total of 70 films from 25 countries. The Big Indian Picture reports it as 65 films from 23 countries[2](MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013). Govind Nihalani’s adaptation of the Mahasweta Devi novel opened the festival which was then labelled as India’s first independent film festival. This, considering that Kolkata and Trivandrum already had their own versions, Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) and International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), respectively. One other major contender for that label was the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). But then MAMI was founded and it kicked off the first edition on 24 November 1997 with much pomp and circumstance. And it naturally ‘assumed’ the title. According to Rupleena Bose writing for MUBI Notebook, it was originally titled as ‘Festival of Films’ when it launched in 1997, which was partly because of a desire to replenish the dull mood of the Mumbai populace after the 1993 bomb blasts.

Either from the people involved in creating the fest or the type of films that were screened (The Fifth Element, Sholay (1975), and Ankur (1974) to name a few), it is safe to assume that many must have thought that it would revolutionize the industry. But more than either of those, it was self-sustenance that pushed MFF to the fore. More than twenty years later and with at least half a dozen more festivals running in India perhaps as a result, I’m inclined to confirm that it is the biggest cinema extravaganza that India currently has in the global landscape.

It is interesting to learn that the opening edition saw about 200 delegates in attendance and Jio’s part was played by Mahindra & Mahindra then which donated INR 5 lakh as sponsorship. The rumour that PepsiCo India showed interest – because of a lack of funds to run the 1998 edition – in sponsoring the fest in 2000 is actually true, but the organizers declined because they did not want it to be named ‘Pepsi Film Festival’. Nonetheless, India Inc. has been historically generous to the festival as past years have seen companies like Indian Oil (IOC), Star TV, Zee Cinema, Sahara, and Godrej contribute for the sake of continuity of the fest. In 1997 if the festival budget was around INR 10 lakhs, in 2013 it was estimated to be about INR 6 crores, thanks to ample funding by Reliance’s Big Entertainment (now ADAG). This type of funding helped MAMI turn from a cash-strapped passion organization into a real harbinger of creativity and vision for cinema on an international scale. In the next decade, it would not only start new competition sections but also run the only film criticism workshop in India – the Young Critics Lab which began in 2009 as a platform for young cinema lovers-cum-writers to hone their skills and take up film criticism as a serious profession.

One key thing to note here is that the organizers did not want the festival to be influenced by the demands of corporate giants, which is why film selection was and has been entirely up to MAMI. This confirms that there is no ulterior motive by certain elements who would want to push a specific film in which they have a vested interest. All the more reason to celebrate the decoration of Indian features as opening films.

What’s in a Festival Opening Film?

A lot, to be honest.

Since 2015 when the opening film was Hansal Mehta’s Manoj Bajpayee-starring biopic Aligarh, MFF has managed to be the starting point of buzz for creative cinema. How else would one explain the almost cult status that the Internet generation has given to Konkona Sen Sharma’s debut feature? Or Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (2018) that took Reddit by storm when it released on VOD earlier in 2019? MFF helps native films create buzz, the type that Moothon is currently enjoying as it approaches its worldwide premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) along with other Indian award hopefuls like Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink.

mff opening films 1997 to 2009
Posters of opening films between 1997 and 2009 in reverse order / © Letterboxd

But this was not always the case. One of the main reasons why most of the MAMI opening films have been foreign imports is because of the buzz that existed and which they wanted to bring into the country’s mainstream cinema. Moneyball (2011), The Social Network (2010), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and The Sixth Sense (1999) have enjoyed heightened status and success in Mumbai and elsewhere in India also because they all were opening films.

In 2018, Vasan Bala’s action comedy opened the festival. And despite the hiccup by its producers due to an issue with distributors and theatre-owners, the film got a theatrical release in 2019. The buzz that MFF created in October 2018 definitely needs to be attributed.

An opening film sets the tone for a festival and in some cases it can also influence the rest of it. In 2017, Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz got the honour and the response was lukewarm. Although I could not attend the entire week-long event, I can confirm that the overall fest in terms of footfalls and audience response was much weaker than what it was in 2015 and later in 2018, one of my most successful years as far as MFF and me are concerned.

Some Statistics

I like statistics so it makes sense to take a look at what numbers tell us about the MAMI opening films. Here you go:

  • 12 are English-language features, four Hindi, three Mandarin, one each Polish and Malayalam
  • Three have been directed by women filmmakers, 18 by men
  • A total of eight Oscar wins for three out of 21 titles
  • Only one unanimously poor critical performer (Susanne Bier’s Serena (2014))


I think selecting Moothon (The Elder One) as the opening film for the festival by an organization that is largely influenced by Bollywood cine artists is a breakthrough. Admitting that cinema is the common language that we speak, MAMI has only transcended beyond what it set out to achieve when two decades ago industry stalwarts like Amol Palekar, Sudhir Nandgaonkar, Kiran Shantaram, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shabana Azmi, Shyam Benegal, Gulzar, Ramesh Sippy, and others came together and sowed a seed that now gives us a taste of the best of Indian and world cinema every year. In 2018, the festival was one of the best experiences I had.

mami 2019 opening film moothon
Nivin Pauly in the MAMI MFF opening film Moothon (2019) / © MAMI

It is important to also note that the main intention of MFF was to create a platform for appreciation of regional films. International films already got the attention they desired, but for a secular and multi-lingual country like India where there are films being made in all major languages, MFF was a necessity more than a fad. The selection of a regional film (Moothon is produced by artists majorly from the south Indian state of Kerala) for the 2019 edition is a step towards an extension of fulfillment of that vision.

It is difficult to trace the history of MAMI but this list will probably act as a type of archive as we move ahead and break more barriers. TN.

MAMI 2019 edition poster

The 21st Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival with Star begins on 17 October 2019 and ends on 24 October 2019. Registrations are now open over at BookMyShow with one pass worth INR 500 ($7).

footnotes   [ + ]

1, 2. (MAMI – A Retrospective, The Big Indian Picture, Tanul Thakur and Roshni Nair, October 2013)

On Completing MA in English

The Catcher in the Rye new book cover

On 14 August 2019, a day before the day when half the people in India began their four-day-long leisure trip to some place and the rest half sat in anticipation to see the prime minister encourage patriotism on television, I successfully completed the Master of Arts in English Literature correspondence course from IGNOU.

A sense of pride and happiness engulfed me when I checked the results on my other computer, which dimmed a little when I calculated the final score (55.56%), a bit less than the first-year figure (60.75%). Not too great for someone who exaggerates his literary interests and reading skills, but still valid enough to justify this write-up.

There is a lot to talk about here, especially because I am originally a STEM student. But I’ll keep it to a few bullet points before I can write a detailed account of how I tackled the MEG programme and what I feel about the course provided by IGNOU, known as the best distance learning course for MA in English in India. Perhaps now tied to the one provided by Mumbai University’s IDOL (after it got the UGC accreditation recently).

  • I signed up for the course in 2017, two years after I graduated as a Bachelor of Engineering from Mumbai University. At that time, it felt overwhelming – no classes, four subjects to tackle in the first year, four assignments that are to be handwritten, and four paper examination in about eight months from that point of time. I was supposed to take it up using the top skill in the world: self-studying
  • I have to admit my interest for the course after registering and paying the fees dwindled considerably as my responsibilities grew at work. Then I received the first set of study materials by mail sometime in February 2018 and so began my actual journey towards diving deep into English literature. By April 2018, I had a fairly good idea about the course and what was required of me if I wanted to crack it
  • The first-year exams went by like a breeze. It was three years since I had experienced the sit-in-a-classroom-for-three-hours-straight ritual that wrecked my right-hand fingers after each paper. Yet I managed to write well as the results proved later in August 2018
  • The exam experience took me back to my diploma and degree days, as I saw myself mimicking my preparation and writing strategy. I have always depended on current affairs and observations around me to enrich my answers and it was no different this time
  • The second-year exams were tougher despite me having selected three electives of my choice (MEG 6, MEG 7, and MEG 11). That last one only because it had an entire chapter on J D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Laughably, I scored the least (50/100) in MEG 11
  • This course gave me a bit of travel experience too as I saw myself exploring the city of Bhiwandi as part of my second-year exams. On account of an error on my side, I chose a college in Bhiwandi as my exam center (because all these towns/cities were categorized as Thane and I chose Thane without realizing it) and it was probably the worst decision I made in 2019. As some of you might know, there is no direct local train from Mumbai/Navi Mumbai and you have to take a detour from Kalyan. It takes about 90 minutes to reach there which is why I had to depend on Uber while going and a combination of the good old Mumbai suburban train and auto rickshaws while coming back
  • One small, good part of this course was all the discussions that I had with a small group of fellow students in a WhatsApp group. When I was growing up and studying, I don’t think I had ever done group study or discussed notes with my friends or classmates. This changed during my MA and I think I enjoyed it
  • Probably the biggest change that this MA degree has brought in me is through its validation of my writing and literary bend. I now am more confident about my writing – as I sometimes do it professionally as a freelancer – which is what I had anticipated before signing up in 2017 even as I received puzzled looks from friends, colleagues, and family about my decision. I did this MA in English to validate and strengthen my experience and I think I got it
  • Lastly, I am a voracious reader now. Before 2019, I used to read less than 5 books a year on an average. In 2019, I have already read 14 books so far.

What Next?

I have been thinking about this for sometime now. Exams ended in June 2019 and I still haven’t decided.

I have always wanted to take a look into journalism and mass media, so it could be something on those lines next. Maybe that, or maybe a change in my full-time job because it’s been more than four years with Publicis now. Need a psychological change.

I also have plans to go over all the study materials of the MA course just to get a better understanding. This will also help me go over the topics that I had skipped during the exams. Could be a great use of my time till 2020 when I sign up for something or the other for sure. TN.

Featured image courtesy: Sean Somics at Creative Commons

Times My Vehicle Has Hit Another Vehicle Since 2004

cars on a highway

I would have used the term ‘motor vehicle’ but then I would not have been able to include my first-ever road accident that occurred back in 2004. It was a bicycle versus an auto rickshaw crash. This also means that I have been using faster transport mechanisms for about 15 years now, making this a perfect time to chronicle some of my worst road incidents, one of which haunts me till this very day.

Here are six times when my vehicle hit another or when another vehicle hit mine or when both the riders/drivers were equally responsible. Unfortunately, there’s no way to find out who was to be blamed during any of these crashes. We will have to depend on my point of view. Let’s start.

Bicycle Vs Auto Rickshaw – 2004

I had recently been gifted a bicycle – a black Hero Razorback bought from a private dealership in Airoli. Because I had managed to learn how to ride beforehand with the help of a friend named Alex, I was allowed to take it out for rides freely.

I also had a group of friends with whom I often went for cycling sprints. It is while returning home from one of these that I crashed into a stationary auto rickshaw. That day I learned that you should not put all your trust on mechanical brakes.

The fault was mine because I was at a good speed of ~30 kmph in a crowded street. I would have not crashed had I known that rains can restrict ability of a braking system. The rickshaw driver let me go with a minor admonishment but then years later I wrote something generalizing him.

Motorcycle Vs Sedan – 2014

Fast forward ten years and I now ride a motorcycle – a black Honda Unicorn 150 CB. Thanks to my friends Mitesh and Jithin, I quickly learned how to ride the two-wheeler before taking it for a ride on my own.

It is during one such solo riding in Kopar Khairane that I nicked into a sedan’s passenger-side mirror. It was a busy street and I had crossed about ten meters before I looked back at the car and the driver. I mouthed an apology and the driver waved me off with a smile. Don’t know if it was the apology or the admission but none of that has worked for me ever since, as we will learn later.

This was the safest crash because neither of our vehicles sustained any damage.

Hatchback Vs Motorcycle – 2016

This was probably the most devastating and also the one that involved my entire family save for my dad. We were on a pleasure trip to Murud in Maharashtra, a month after we bought a second-hand maroon Hyundai i20 Magna from a family friend. I was still a rookie driver, trying my luck at our first long trip outside Mumbai. That was probably the first mistake.

I was fairly confident of my driving skills, but that didn’t help me manoeuver the vehicle properly as we hit an oncoming two-wheeler. The bike first hit my right-side mirror, breaking it into pieces, and then slipped into a corner of the zigzag road, eventually hitting a tree. The rider did not sustain any injuries but he claimed otherwise. And so did 100 of his friends who he quickly called up to threaten me and my family. We ended up being traumatized and settling the dispute privately as it had soon turned into a religious issue, something that the on-duty policeman seemed to have enjoyed that day.

I like to believe the blame was on both of us, but the financial and emotional damage was one-sided. It temporarily put me in a state of tizzy.

Hatchback Vs Scooter – 2017

This occurred in a crowded place in Kopar Khairane. I was trying to get my car out of the busy street when my front bumper slightly – just lightly like a feather touches the ground – touched the back of a pink Scooty Pep. The helmetless rider, along with his kid, got out and started splashing expletives in Marathi.

I asked him to relax without downing my window glasses. He appeared to calm down as he took a look at the back of his scooter, gave me another look as if I had rammed into his kid and he was forgiving me, sat on and took off. The surrounding brouhaha as a result of the drama did not seem to matter to him at all.

I am to be blamed here, but then I have some questions:

  • Can’t two vehicles even slightly scratch each other when you are out on the road?
  • Why do some people take so much care of their vehicles (more than themselves at times) when they know vehicles are just temporary objects you use to get from A to B?
    • Why do these people wear their vehicle-protectiveness as a hat of pride?

This brings me to my most recent experience.

Hatchback Vs Hatchback – 2019

Around the dusty area of Panvel, my car rammed into a white Maruti Suzuki WagonR, denting its bumper and screwing up the parking sensor. The guy put on his aggressive suit and started talking like, again, I had rammed into his person. So much drama evolved from that minor crash that I almost ended up giving him the keys to my house. I began my response by admitting my mistake and that’s where onlookers started grabbing popcorn.

I was driving at 60-70 kmph and it was raining, together which led to the crash. But the lack of basic empathy from the victim left me startled, as I moved on to a state of depression for two weeks.

Hatchback Vs Sedan – 2019

This was on our way to Girgaum Chowpatty. Just before the Metro cinema turn, a golden Honda City scratched into my car and sped off before the lights turned red. I think it did more damage to their car than it did to mine, so we’re square, I guess.

The traffic policemen witnessing the scene remained motionless for a few seconds. Then they went back to chatting. Thankfully, it would have cost me a few hundred bucks for the mistake of someone else because my PUC certificate had expired the previous month.

Riding or driving on the roads these days does not come without its fair share of issues, regardless of who’s to be blamed for the ‘issue’. And the best way to stay calm and live life is to use public transit and avoid private travel as much as you can. You need peace? Use your car and bikes less often. TN.

Is No One Else Hyped About IKEA in Navi Mumbai?

IKEA sign

We spent that entire evening looking for a chic coffee table for our new home in Navi Mumbai. I remember we visited at least five different shops across Palm Beach Road in Vashi and Belapur in a span of three hours to get the first real furniture for the new apartment. By 10 PM we were running out of furniture shops so we ended the quest by feeding ourselves at a nearby bistro that my sister had wanted to try out for long. We went back home and that’s when I suddenly realized: IKEA is coming to Navi Mumbai in late 2019. Why not wait till then and use a bean bag as a teapoy in the meanwhile?

IKEA store in turbhe
The view of the IKEA store in Turbhe from the highway
IKEA in Navi Mumbai
A photo of the IKEA building I took from atop another building

(Note – The above photo is probably my first attempt at basic journalism. Since there’s no vantage point to get a proper glimpse of the entire property, I had to fib to an aged security guard of a dilapidated three-storie building nearby to get a good view. I climbed up to the terrace (while disregarding my breathing issues) and took this photo. Not great, I agree, but still something.)

That’s what I did and it’s been five months since then. We don’t have a coffee table in our house. And I have been waiting for IKEA to throw open their gates in Turbhe, Navi Mumbai ever since, hoping to be one of their first customers from Mumbai (unless people have flown to Hyderabad and paid a fortune to get something delivered back home). The trouble is I don’t know when it will open. The Hyderabad store opened in August 2018, so I’m inclined to guess it should be sometime around August here too, especially as it’s already breached its intended initial timeline.[1]NDTV, quoting PTI, reported that IKEA would open its Navi Mumbai store in January 2019. (IKEA Starts Work on Navi Mumbai Store; To Open In January 2019 – NDTV Profit, 18 May 2017)

While I wait with bated breath to hopefully get my hands on the Frakta tote bag that will continue to put Balenciaga to shame, what I also want to talk about is IKEA’s big plans for Mumbai.

Quartz India reported that the Swedish furniture giant (I just can’t forget how Pepperfry CEO Ambareesh Murthy responded when he was asked about potential competition from IKEA)[2]He said and I quote via The Economic Times: “Nothing would give me greater joy than to open a studio in Sweden right outside of the IKEA office.” (Ambareesh Murthy’s biggest dream: Opening Pepperfry studio outside Sweden’s IKEA office – Shannon Tellis, ET Bureau, 17 June 2019) began constructing a swanky 4,30,000 square feet store in Turbhe in May 2017. It also plans to launch smaller shops across Mumbai along with an ecommerce presence. Going by the images posted by users on Google Maps for the location (between Pawane and Turbhe at the highway side), it looks like they will kickoff at least by year-end.

More than the grandiose scale of the store, what has impressed me is the employment opportunities that it laid out. Other than the 5,000 and more workers that they are using to help build the store, they claim to double the number of jobs in the next three years.[3](Ikea to hire 5,000 workers for Navi Mumbai store; create 10-k jobs in 3 yrs – via PTI, Business Standard, 2 November 2018) And I like to believe that claim, thanks to what I saw in and around Navi Mumbai in the months of April and May.

IKEA job ad in Thane station
Arrays of hoardings promoting job opportunities at IKEA at a foot-over bridge in Thane railway station. This is the photo quality you get when you buy a Tenor (by Amazon) smartphone
IKEA ad in Kopar Khairane
Another ad by IKEA, this time in Kopar Khairane railway station

They also had a dedicated site for people looking to apply. But, the one glaring issue I observed in IKEA’s strategy was that they assumed blue-collar workers would have the skills to log on to a website and apply for jobs. I don’t see what they were expecting clearly because most of the jobs posted were for blue-collar work. I know because I logged in.

If you had visited their Indian website sometime in May 2019, you would have been redirected to a jobs portal where most of the jobs listed were associated with manual labour. None of them required Internet surfing skills, so I just sat there staring and thinking.

But then, IKEA may be targeting contractors. It is only last week I saw a few job openings that dealt with supply chain and store management. Looks like they did find what they were looking for and now need more.

All in all, this article is possibly an indication about my anticipating to visit the Turbhe store and get myself some furniture. Not because I like to have Scandinavian design in my living room or because I have needed a book shelf for ages for my collection, but because I like to lose my sanity every once in a while. TN.

Here’s the location on Google Maps for your reference:

footnotes   [ + ]

1. NDTV, quoting PTI, reported that IKEA would open its Navi Mumbai store in January 2019. (IKEA Starts Work on Navi Mumbai Store; To Open In January 2019 – NDTV Profit, 18 May 2017)
2. He said and I quote via The Economic Times: “Nothing would give me greater joy than to open a studio in Sweden right outside of the IKEA office.” (Ambareesh Murthy’s biggest dream: Opening Pepperfry studio outside Sweden’s IKEA office – Shannon Tellis, ET Bureau, 17 June 2019)
3. (Ikea to hire 5,000 workers for Navi Mumbai store; create 10-k jobs in 3 yrs – via PTI, Business Standard, 2 November 2018)

Attempting to List All Publicis Groupe Agencies

Publicis Groupe agency logos

A lot happened to Publicis Groupe and me over the past few weeks. It announced the merger of Convonix and Resultrix brands under Performics India in May and the completion of Epsilon’s acquisition early last week. I completed four years with one of its agencies a day before the second announcement. And instead of recording my experience and spilling some beans on LinkedIn like I did in 2018 I thought of creating this: a comprehensive list (plus my first try at an infographic) of all the Publicis Groupe agencies in the world.

For your reading convenience, this write-up is divided into four sections: the infographic (with links to downloadable PDF and high-res JPG), a bit of personal history and why I decided to do this and how, the entire list, and some more information about Publicis Groupe.

Here you go!

All Publicis Groupe Agencies in the World – an Infographic

I am a sucker for logos the same way I am a sucker for movie posters and design. So, when the idea to create this list struck me I immediately began collecting good-quality image files of logos of different brands under the Publicis family.

This infographic below is the product of at least four hours of web extraction in a span of three weeks where I went beyond Google to scrounge for the latest identities of various Publicis brands. How I did that can come later. For now for your viewing pleasure: all the Publicis Groupe agencies in the world (including the recently acquired Epsilon) in a single frame.

Publicis Groupe agencies
All Publicis Groupe agencies classified across four solution hubs

(Note – The PDF file can be downloaded from Scribd here (2MB). The high-resolution image file from Imgur here (1MB).)

It should be noted that some brand logos were omitted because they were either not found on the web (or I was unable to find them) or they were a part of an agency’s regional concern. For example, Digitas has presence across the globe where it is categorized as Digitas India and Digitas Hong Kong. I chose to skip those logos because of redundancy and a lack of space. But if you are a brand fanatic like me you should check out their website. Their logos are to die for; just look at the one for Kuala Lumpur. While you’re at it, also check out the logo for Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) (on whose website’s colour scheme is my CV based, by the way). And then take a look at my favourite logo of the Publicis lot here:

Nurun 2019 logo GIF
Logo of Nurun / ©

I am also a fan of logos of Publicis Lupe, North Strategic, Starcom, Marcel (reminds me of logos of ING bank and Lowenbrau lager), Leo Burnett, Vivaki, and Publicis Health Media.

Logos that are relatively bigger in size than the ones surrounding them points to their individual stature in their respective hubs. For example, Starcom and Performics have been given huge real estate in the infographic not only because they contribute a higher revenue to the Groupe but also because they are an integral part of the hub (Publicis Media) they are representing. Compare this with ZenithOptimedia under Zenith and B2B Group under Performics.

Logos were sourced from websites, social media handles, or press releases of respective brands. To state the obvious, the brands own the copyright to the logos and other associated trademarks. This website is not monetized with ads.

The Why

Like I mentioned before, I am obsessed with brand identities. One of the first things I did when I learned that my agency is part of a huge holding group was to go on the Internet and read up about its history and eventual amalgamation. It is then when I found that Publicis is part of the Big Four in advertising, similar to how they have it for accounting. There may be a fifth one now (Dentsu Aegis Network or DAN) but let’s not digress.

Then when I found out that there are hundreds of companies scattered across the globe under the Publicis umbrella, I had to explore them. Not because I am interested in the group’s Talent in Motion facility or the Power of One idea, but because of the sheer existence of so many brands under one larger brand name.

Advertising and marketing pundits may be divided in their opinion about why that is so (a conversation that erupted earlier in 2019 when Accenture Interactive acquired Droga5), but I am personally focusing on the brand and work diversity, the scale, and the massive control that Publicis has in the field. That a young man’s brainchild first formulated in 1926[1]Publicis was founded in 1926 in Montmartre, Paris by a 20-year old Marcel Bleustein who named it so based on the French word for advertising (Publicité) and the French sound for the number six (cis). He was born in the year 1906. (History, Publicis Groupe – would go on to help pioneer and then influence an entire industry over a period of nearly a century simply stuns me. This article is possibly a byproduct of that stupefaction.

A Bit of Personal History with Publicis

Ever since I joined Performics India (erstwhile Performics.Convonix) in July 2015, I was smitten by its creative work and all the branding that I observed as an employee. The phase-wise change in logos and the branding as the Mumbai-based small-time digital marketing agency (founded in 2003) slowly got merged to the Groupe can be best seen through the changing designs of the envelope that enclosed my appraisal letters.

Performics India office in Lower Parel
The Performics office entrance that greets me every time enter the office

The first appraisal letter in 2016 was delivered to me in a white envelope, the second in 2017 in a black envelope with the SMG Convonix branding, and the last two in 2018 and 2019 with the branding of Performics.Convonix (green + white).

So much that this is an essential exercise as I celebrate my fourth anniversary with the company.

Another reason that I remember is the email conversation between me and my agency’s Co-CEO Sarfaraz Khimani during the 2019 edition of the Convonix Premier League (CPL) which fortunately hasn’t undergone any change in branding. It was something about a bump in his responsibilities in the organization and I had quipped how I did not understand how the hierarchy really worked. I think I have some idea now.

The How

The best way to describe this attempt is to liken it to first degree madness. Why else would someone spend hours to attempt such a list when the Groupe already has a web page dedicated to it. In my defense, there are a lot of missing objects on that page and does not really appreciate its own gargantuan scale. It might be Publicis’s modesty or the need to only push the bigger brands on its website. And this here is like an extended version of it.

I started my research with the Publicis website, slowly moving on to standalone websites of all the other brands. Since the list is just too big and the companies only accessible to the regions they are relevant to, I had to use a couple tricks to get past the frontend. I used VPN to access some websites in the Middle East and Latin America, used a digging tool to extract image files from the websites, used a conversion tool to convert SVG image files to PNG, and sometimes depended on third-party platforms to understand what the latest logo of a brand is. AdAge, Campaign, and The Drum really helped.

The amount of changes some of these logos have undergone is mind-boggling. And these companies sometimes do not announce it, making such exercises a tad difficult. But who is complaining?

At the end of this exercise, I had a Word document of all the companies under the Publicis umbrella and a folder containing all the logo files. I used PowerPoint to create the infographic which should confirm why the hi-res image (if you downloaded) is not really hi-res. The PDF is much better.

The List – All Publicis Groupe Brands

I have added footnotes wherever needed and tried to expand the abbreviations. In cases where brands have two or more names, I have stuck with the one mentioned on their website or on an official Publicis site.

As noted earlier, country- and city-specific brands are not included. Other than the four hubs mentioned in the infographic, this list also has two extra solution centers as found on the Publicis Groupe website.

The brands are classified according to the following solution hubs and their sub-organizations based on the mantra of “no solo, no silo, no bozo”:

  • Publicis Communications – creative communications
  • Publicis Sapient – consulting, data science, digital technology
  • Publicis Media – analytics, performance marketing, content, data
  • Publicis Health – creativity and technology in health sphere
  • Global Client Leaders – bridge between agencies through the Power of One and Re:Sources (Publicis’s finances solution)
  • Specialized Agencies (possibly now defunct)

Here you go:

List of Publicis Groupe Agencies in the World

Listed in random order.

  • Publicis.Sapient (Sapient Corporation)
    • Sapient Nitro
    • Sapient AG2
    • Sapient Consulting
    • Digitas
      • DigitasLBI
    • SapientRazorfish (RazorfishGlobal)
      • Rosetta
    • 3|SHARE
    • Sapient Corporation[2]Slightly meta here but sources tell me there is an entity such as this under Publicis.Sapient.
      • Vertiba
    • Vivaki
  • Publicis Communications
    • Leo Burnett Group
      • Leo Burnett Worldwide
        • Leo Burnett Tailor Made
      • Arc Worldwide
      • Rokkan
      • Turner Duckworth
      • Lapiz
    • Publicis Worldwide
      • Africa
        • Access
        • Adforce
        • AG Partners
        • Arcade
        • Publicis Machine
          • Moon Walk Communications
          • Moon Walk PR
          • Answered Insight
          • Incentiv
          • Narrative Media
        • Black Dot
        • Circus Advertising
        • Minanawe
        • The Creative Council
        • Insight Publicis
        • LOTUS Conseil
        • Publicis Efficiency
        • Publivision (Grupo Zwela)
        • QG Group
        • Red
        • The Dialogue Group
        • Tracy Communication
        • Zelman
      • Asia Pacific
        • Digitas[3]Digitas makes an appearance in most solution hubs hinting at its diverse portfolio.
        • Publicis Beehive
        • Publicis Engine
        • Publicis Hepta
        • Publicis JimenezBasic
        • Publicis KiwiPlates
        • Publicis Vivid
        • Publicis Wangfan
        • Welcomm Publicis Worldwide (Publicis Modem Portfolio)
      • Europe
        • Zero Pozitive Publicis
        • Duval Guillaume
        • August Media
        • Poke
        • Carré Noir
        • Chemistry
        • Publicis LMA
        • Effe (Effectivity)
        • Publicis ETO
        • Kitchen
        • Loeb & Associés
        • Lion Communications
        • Publicis Conseil
        • Marketway
        • MMS Communications
        • Monkees
        • WYSIWYG
        • Publicis EtNous
        • Reputation
      • Latin America
        • DPZ&T
        • Magna Group
        • Publicis Impetu
        • Publicis Lupe
        • One Digital
        • Deepline
        • Vivid Brand
      • Middle East
        • Publicis GSS (Glickman Shamir Samsonov)
        • Publicis Zoom
        • Super Push (Publicis/Dialog)
      • North America
        • Ove Brand | Design
        • Publicis Diversite
        • Publicis Hawkeye
      • Global
        • Nurun Worldwide
        • Publicis 133 (Publicis Luxe)
        • Red Lion
        • Publicis One
        • Publicis + Dialog
        • Publicis Pixelpark
    • Saatch & Saatchi
      • Asia Pacific
        • Law & Kenneth (L&K)
        • IAL (International Advertising Limited)
        • Ace
        • Saatchi & Saatchi + The Geeks
      • Europe
        • MUW
        • Saatchi & Saatchi Pro
      • Latin America
        • AAC
        • F/NAZCA
        • Sutil Nazca
        • 4am
        • Cumbre
        • Publicitas
        • Badillo
        • Lonsdale
        • Eliaschev
      • Middle East and Africa
        • BBR
        • Facto
        • Facto Reunion
        • Akeel
        • BrandsRock
        • Synergize
      • North America
        • TPM Communications
        • Conill Advertising
        • Team One USA
      • Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide
    • Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH)
    • Prodigious
      • Kekst CNC
      • JKL
      • Luminous MSL
      • North Strategic
      • North Video
      • Salterbaxter
      • PublicisLive
      • Publicis Experiences
    • Marcel Worldwide
      • Talent Marcel
  • Publicis Media
    • Starcom
    • Zenith
      • ZenithOptimedia
    • Spark Foundry
    • Digitas
    • Blue 449
    • Performics
      • Performics.Convonix (erstwhile)
      • Resultrix
      • AKM3
      • Frubis
      • B2B Group
      • First Click Consulting
    • Peoplecloud
  • Publicis Health (Publicis Healthcare Communications Group or PHCG)
    • Langland
    • Digitas Health
    • Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness
    • Publicis Health Media
    • Discovery USA
    • Heartbeat
    • In-sync
    • Maxcess
    • PayerSciences
    • PlowShare Group
    • Publicis Resolute
      • Publicis LifeBrands
      • Publicis LifeBrands Medicus
    • Razorfish Health
    • Real Science
    • Verilogue
  • Global Client Leaders
    • The Power of One
    • Re:Sources
  • Specialized Agencies
    • Médias & Régies

(Note – List last updated on 15 July 2019.)

Some More Publicis Information

Apart from these agency brands, Publicis also has an AI tool called Marcel (as a tribute to the founder) which aspires to connect all the 80,000+ people across 100+ countries in the Groupe network to collaborate and find solutions. I see it as an extended and a possibly automated version of its Power of One idea. It was unveiled in May 2018 at the second Viva Tech conference in Paris and is currently in beta mode. Last I checked, it is not available in India.

The Viva Technology conference is a biannual conference that Publicis organizes in partnership with Groupe Les Echos to discuss the trends and innovations in the media industry.

Now that I am done with Publicis, the next logical step is to mimic this article for the other bigwigs in my industry: WPP, IPG, Omnicom, and DAN. Obviously, I will next explore Omnicom because in 2014 it tried to merge with Publicis and they failed. A mention of such a historic event to close this otherwise futile exercise? Seems about right. TN.

Did you find this list interesting? If yes, consider buying me books.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Publicis was founded in 1926 in Montmartre, Paris by a 20-year old Marcel Bleustein who named it so based on the French word for advertising (Publicité) and the French sound for the number six (cis). He was born in the year 1906. (History, Publicis Groupe –
2. Slightly meta here but sources tell me there is an entity such as this under Publicis.Sapient.
3. Digitas makes an appearance in most solution hubs hinting at its diverse portfolio.

Why I Don’t Use Zomato

Opinion on Zomato

Disclaimer: This is an opinion based on my personal experience with Zomato and facts sourced from online news publications. It is, in no way, intended as a form of attack on the subject party or its reputation.

Zomato used to be my go-to app for online food delivery and I used to love it. So much that my sister and I used it almost every week (and often more than two times a week even) to order food from random “ghost kitchens” across Navi Mumbai. When we ‘got bored’ with popular delivery-only kitchens like Faasos and Behrouz Biryani (owned by a single parent Rebel Foods) along with our favorites nearby from our apartment, we experimented with new ones. Suggestions that Zomato recommended would be a better choice based on our location, ordering habits, and perhaps order history too. Such an amazing piece of food tech; I thought it was one of the best things to come out of India’s startup boom. An app that ensures I never have a bad meal, makes me a better foodie, and never lets me sleep on an empty stomach.

But then after using it for nearly three years, it kicked me in my stomach. It took some time to hit me that under all that glam – zany ads still discussed in marketing circles and various LinkedIn posts, exciting features and discounts, talks about being a unicorn startup within just five years of inception, very deep pockets, international presence and associations, and a leader in the sector – it was still a business. An entity that aspires to become fully profitable (possible paywall) someday using the same model that it used to fondle my taste buds. It took me consecutive order gaffes, a few interactions with its customer support, some web research, and a visit to a hospital to realize that it was not really servicing me. But slowly turning me into a junkie who would soon become helpless without it, and worse, grow addicted to it.

I was not going to have it. So, I permanently deleted my Zomato account in January 2019, deleted the app, and wiped all its data from my smartphone to never look back. I haven’t yet tried my hands on other headline-grabbing restaurant and food delivery aggregators like Swiggy, Uber Eats, and Foodpanda, but I’m sure there is little difference between them and Zomato much like there’s no difference between all the telecom companies in the world. I use Vodafone’s cellular network and I cannot stand it. Not because it overprices its service but because it regards me as a milking cow. Which makes me note that my issue with Zomato is part of my larger issue with corporatism, a problem that I am very well a part of, and to an extent, even have benefited from.

It is also the reason why I recently turned down a close friend’s request to join his new business. I just do not agree with the idea of a business that exists only for the purpose of profit-making. And sooner or later, in these harrowing times, every business does stand the risk of turning into one. Most young entrepreneurs incubate their startups with “good monies” in mind. Only a very few don’t make that transition and that is why you never hear about them.

Let’s not digress. Here are a few personal reasons why I don’t use Zomato anymore and perhaps never will.

One Too Many Menus

Ordering food through Zomato is easy and it hardly takes a minute to do so after you have selected the items off the menu. It’s absolutely fantastic, and the only other app that comes close to the same convenience is that of Oyo Rooms. Ola’s Android app is the worst.

Once my sister and I began experimenting with different outlets, ordering items that sounded international enough to give them a try, we started experiencing the real issue at hand. Because a lot of these “ghost kitchens” (also known as dark kitchens or cloud kitchens) – outlets that only deliver food; no seating arrangement, only online ordering – vie to get more orders every day of the week so that they can sustain in the long run, they maintain multiple versions of their food menu. One for food delivery aggregators, one to be added in the flyers that would be disseminated locally through newspapers and whatnot, and one for their own website which would eventually be used to attract customers before they can say goodbye to Zomato. The prices in all these versions are different, some tweaked to bear the extra costs that the restaurant has to spend as overhead. This approach makes sense because there has to be some incentive if your target user takes interest, registers, and buys from your own website rather than through third-party apps. The concept of multiple versions of a food menu works until it doesn’t.

Zomato prefers its restaurants to add the menu items through its backend system rather than upload screenshots of the actual menu. Although, I should add, it does allow them to upload the screenshots for users who may want to call and order. What this sometimes results in is errors in the prices as well as the menu items. There can be duplicates, erroneously inflated prices, and even mismatch in the name of the dish and the actual dish that gets wrapped and sent out with the help of law-breaking delivery boys on decrepit scooters.[1]Zomato has been in the news for a variety of wrong reasons including ridiculous work conditions for its delivery boys who have often been caught stealing from the orders they are fulfilling. (“Zomato delivery boy seen consuming food from sealed orders in a video” – ETtech, 11 December 2018)

Although Zomato, India’s largest restaurant search portal, has guidelines to ensure that menus are uploaded with proper price tags and itemization, I have experienced discrepancies in their prices several times. The eateries that do not allow ordering through the app but require you to call and order often charged me extra. Because you don’t know what the total bill will be after listing your items and because you sometimes forget to ask and because most people assigned the job of taking telephonic orders in these low-cost dark kitchens do not have basic hospitality etiquette, you sometimes wait for the order to arrive and along with it the bill with a total cost that’s nowhere near what you expected. One plate of Vegetable Pulao for 350 rupees? The menu said 220!

The aggregator may not have anything to do with such incidents, but it does play a major role when you order through the app. Take, for example, the time when I saw two instances of the same dish: Chicken Tandoori and Tandoori Chicken. A food vlogger or critic may try to distinguish between them simply because they feel it’s expected of them, but for someone like me who only knows that chicken and tandoor go and taste well together, it makes no difference. Both are the same to me, yet the price mentioned against them were not. There was a difference of over 80 rupees between the two. I ended up ordering the costlier one (one full plate) just because I thought this would actually be the first time I order Chicken Tandoori and rejoice at the quantity. I was wrong. I tried contacting the customer support but they were busy structuring a social media-worthy conversation with me. I went offline.

All of these minor issues that came between me and my food ordering journey irritated me but I still kept ordering because you crave for things that you cannot yourself make. And dining out is a massive attack to one’s anxiety meter these days.

Ease of Listing

I used to receive (and still do) so many flyers at my house sent out by new eateries in and around my location, inviting me to order food from their kitchens through one of the aggregator apps, that it became difficult to not take a look at their menus offering delectable food and exciting discounts that would put a smile on my wallet’s face. No foodie can ignore an offer that lets you enjoy four different appetizers in less than the cost of a six-month second-class suburban local railway pass from Thane to CST.

I, along with a lot of my friends and relatives, wondered how so many dark kitchens were mushrooming by the day. I have been staying in a Navi Mumbai node for more than a decade now and it is only in the past year (since mid-2017) that I have observed so many new restaurants and delivery-only entities coming up. A quick search on the Zomato website for restaurants that would deliver to my place gave me 464 different listings to choose from. That’s roughly one restaurant per 10,000 square meters of area if I include all of Kopar Khairane and parts of Ghansoli, Bonkode, Turbhe, and Vashi.[2]Because this does not necessarily mean that the outlets are in Kopar Khairane only. The list contains ALL the outlets that are willing to deliver to my address, which is why these places were also considered. My apartment is just less than the tenth of that.

Zomato restaurants in Kopar Khairane
A search result showing the number of food outlets delivering to my address / © Zomato

There’s only one reason for that: ease of doing business. In other words, ease of listing online.

Had it suddenly become so easy to get certificates and licenses from the local authorities to run such outlets? What with so many of them coming up in every block and nook and corner in Kopar Khairane itself, I would believe so. Was it so easy to get an entry into the Zomato database? Well, not if you just go by what’s on the surface.

According to its website, it is easier to create a listing for a new eatery than it is to achieve a verified user profile, a possible gimmick to attest their hard work in creating an unbiased platform with genuine user-generated content (UGC). For a listing, just supply basic details like address and contact numbers, and you are ready to go. However, India Filings reports that you will need a lot more than that. Along with the eatery registration and shop act license, you will also need a Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSAI) license (the most important) and a Goods and Services Tax (GST) registration certificate. Zomato then collects and verifies these documents and the information in them before making your outlet’s listing live on the platform.[3]According to a Medium article by The Indian Restaurateur (cited elsewhere in this editorial), Zomato also engages in surveying and addition of restaurants at its own will without the solicitation of the restaurant owners. While the listing goes live without the knowledge or approval of the owner, the owner cannot control it unless he ‘claims’ it. This has been seen as coercion by the author. (The Zomato Story – 26 March 2018)

Recently, two more things have been added to this list of requisites: fire safety license (especially if it’s a restaurant with proper seating) and food hygiene ratings. Earlier in 2018, founder Deepinder Goyal himself penned an article titled “Responsibility” on the Zomato blog announcing their move to put up scanned copies of safety licenses on listings, where he also mentions that at the time of publishing that information was available only for a handful of restaurants. What number might that be among its over 1.2 million listings across 24 countries is a mystery to me, but Goyal seems optimistic about the “complex, deep, and systemic” problem of the increasing number of life-threatening fire hazards in restaurants (the Kamala Mills tragedy of December 2017 has been cited). Two months before that deadly incident in 2017, Zomato had also claimed that it rolled out food hygiene ratings for restaurants by tying up with third-party auditors who would provide a detailed assessment of establishments, which could then be presented as a badge on their listings.

But I have my doubts. Despite the long list of requisites and so many fancy terms and gimmicks to ensure that I never have a bad meal, never end up in a place that violates fire safety rules, and never sleep on an empty stomach, it is difficult for me to trust Zomato. Especially when Goyal again claimed to have delisted non-compliant restaurants for not furnishing the FSSAI license. My question is then: how did the listings go live in the first place?

It is in my imaginative power to connect the dots and assume that Zomato closed its eyes far too many times to let a massive wave of profit-making businesses use its model to market and sell food to unsuspecting customers like me. It knows that there are no users without merchants. Which would justify the uptick in demand and investment activity that food aggregators received from 2017 as reported by Salman S H in Livemint. The report further says that Zomato was lucky enough to get good backers as early as 2016 when it first started grappling with issues such as fake reviews, spurious listings, and listing discrepancies. To quell this and to continue showcasing its worth well to its investors, Zomato was forced to welcome the wave without a flinch. Result? Ill-aimed restaurants going hostile on their innocent, hungry audience.

Fake Reviews and Some More

It is perhaps the biggest, unsolvable menace for Zomato. It has been trying with all its might to fight fake reviews through various operations that are described and named in a way they somehow reminded me of Uber’s transgressing Greyball tool. I am referring to its Project Fairplay.

When I removed Zomato from my phone, I had a basic account with a handful of reviews, zero photographs, and some personal information in my profile. Although its concept of “foodie levels” had pushed me to post more reviews and updates so that I could become an “expert” in Kopar Khairane (especially after seeing that the expert in Vashi was a teenage kid), and eventually receive free food offers from new restaurants looking to market themselves in exchange for a clean 5-star rating, I stopped spending my time to create content for the aggregator and used it only to order meals and book tables, and in a few rare cases, pay for food online using its partner in crime, Paytm. I stopped reviewing after an online wellwisher pointed out that I was only helping Zomato get more free UGC.

Much like Google’s Local Guide and Amazon’s Vine programs, Zomato depends on its end customers to produce unique content. The incentive here is a badge on your profile that you can boast about on Instagram. Perfect for its primary target audience.

Although Zomato does not permit restaurants soliciting reviews (which it calls ‘bribery’) in return for free food and an Instagrammable experience, it does happen, rather blatantly. And the aggregator conveniently closes its eyes again. It’s a straightforward process and one that also helps Zomato register new users into its system whom it promises to never let go. (Days after deleting my account and hours after blocking Zomato from sending me promotional text messages, I still received them. To this day I see messages asking me to order through the app to get a certain discount. I like to believe Zomato still has my phone number.) Top users who have been solicited pass the “free food” message to their friends and followers and eventually the website becomes a haven of free food grabbers. While that helps it gain unique users, the side effects are life-threatening. Fake reviews, fake ratings, fake comments, leading to an overall artificial experience for the end user.

A restaurant with huge financial backing without proper operating licenses can easily get inside the Zomato database, ‘game the system’ through planted reviews, run a few ad campaigns on the app (to titillate the ‘moderator’ so that it can close eyes a couple more times), and then begin its onslaught on hungry customers.

Although it claims that it has been trying to weed out the menace of false reviews from violating customers or fake users, there hasn’t been much impact. In October 2017, Zomato’s then Chief of Staff Surobhi Das introduced the concepts of ‘blackmail’ and ‘bribery’ and also suggested a basic feature to help obliterate them. While blackmail means customers asking for a free meal in return for a positive review, bribery, as we just saw, sees the roles reversing. She continues: “These are nascent but growing problems at Zomato, and while our machines and neutrality team do a stupendous job at identifying and mitigating the menace, we decided to create a larger systemic fix for the issue.” And then ends up suggesting the fix: a “Report Abuse” button which restaurants can use to report reviews that they think are non-genuine. Four months later, then Associate Vice President of Product Marketing Tanvi Duggal followed up and wrote about the aggregator’s anti-bias and anti-spam algorithms which would help them get rid of and prevent fake reviews. If they caught a restaurant indulging in such an activity, they claimed they would put up a ‘shame banner’ on top of their listing. In the one year since I used the app since the announcement, not once did I see an instance of a shame banner. Zomato knows better than punishing its restaurants.

Zomato has been around for over a decade now and still hasn’t been able to find a proper solution for fake reviews. In its defense, I would agree that it’s an unachievable goal. As someone who has professionally handled brand reputation for different brands, I can attest to the burgeoning menace of fake reviews online. It is just a sibling of the larger menace of “fake news” that we have been dealing with lately. Amazon has tweaked its product reviews system countless times to tackle the issue in vain. There are millions of products across its regional websites that bear artificial reviews posted by genuine customers who just said yes to certain merchants getting in touch with them on private email for a modern barter deal. This is a part of an actual email I received on 2 February 2018 from an Amazon dealer selling fitness bands and Bluetooth speakers: “I would like you to help me in the promotion of my products online by posting a positive review about the products…” Even as Amazon advertises and asks local businesses to shake hands with it, fake reviews enter the system through media that’s always one step ahead of its algorithms. Notably, Zomato’s acquisition of US-based review platform and Yelp!’s competitor Urbanspoon in January 2015 did not yield results either, which is why it shut it down five months later.

For a tech-savvy Internet user who does not blindly follow and believe in everything written online, especially on such sites including the leader of the lot, Quora, detecting a fake review is easy. For example, an obvious red flag is a 100% positive review. Sometimes the tone itself can help you understand if the user is being genuine or if money exchanged hands in the back. Detecting a fake account is easier: a history of only positive reviews on a profile with the possible use of emojis?

As long as there is competition, there will be fake reviews and there’s nothing that Zomato can do about it. Such reviews deceive the end user and do not provide an original opinion about the service that is being sold. Service that goes directly into the user’s body, which is where and why things start looking grim. This malpractice is one of the primary reasons why I don’t use Zomato.

Interactions with a Careless Lot

If Zomato’s indifference in subjects important convinced me about its wickedness then a few interactions with their customer support is what made me hit the deactivate button. The incident with the support trying to play funny with me above is a real story. Because there was nothing they could do about it, they instead engaged in banter. I chose to not continue.

But I detected the peak indifference in Zomato’s overall brand when I once interacted with them to complain about a mouldy dish. Other than the fact that it takes a good 10-15 minutes to make the support personnel understand the issue, there is a serious lack of connection. Most of the responses you get from them (over the chat function) are rigid templates that sound like they were churned out by a robot. Moreover, they deliver it in a tone and language that implies that they are written in stone and there’s no way you can circumvent them. That is both a good and a bad thing.

Of course, as a business, they have to stick to their policies, but I doubt their customer support has ever resolved an issue, and if they did, resulted in satisfaction to either party. The problem is with their substandard chat program and a sheer unwillingness to be fluid. For instance, you cannot cancel an order once placed through Zomato. Even if it has just been five seconds. There’s no option to do so. The best way, therefore, is to contact customer care, engage in banter with them, and hope to get your chat screenshot featured on ScoopWhoop, and then boast about it on Instagram, because you just lost the chance of boasting about your lunch order because something just went wrong with it, didn’t it?

My Visit to the Hospital

There’s no evidence that my Typhoid diagnosis was related to my food-ordering habits through Zomato. So I will refrain from hinting at it. The consulting doctor only told me that the root cause of my ailment was ‘consumption of uncooked, undercooked, or stale food’. This was the period when I was ordering a lot of food from delivery-only outlets. I am accusing them. My point here is about the lack of food quality standards in restaurants that deliver through Zomato.

In August 2018, after it found that licences and registrations of around 40% of all restaurants listed online across various channels were not verified, FSSAI underlined its order (possible paywall) to Zomato and other food delivery apps to delist unlicensed entities. While most of them responded in the positive, suggesting that they were trying very hard for the ‘greater good’ and ‘the larger benefit of food safety in India’, they were very possibly unperturbed by the order. In its Terms and Conditions as of 5 July 2019 (updated on 31 January 2019), Zomato states that “…the liability of any violation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and applicable rules and regulations made thereunder shall solely rest with the sellers/brand owners, vendors, restaurants, importers or manufacturers…” and goes on to reiterate that it won’t be liable if the food that you order is not up to your dietary requirements.

Swiggy and Foodpanda have this condition phrased slightly differently but the meaning is just the same, which excuses them from any issue or litigation that may arise from an unsuspecting user who gets diagnosed with a disease because of consumption of ‘bad food’. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to put two and two together and prove that a person got ill because he consumed so and so from a dark kitchen which he ordered through an aggregator app.) This is the reason why I assume they don’t care about restaurants checking off all the items in the health and safety list. The idea of such an enterprise is mind-boggling. Uber can confirm too.

The problem of unscrupulous food outlets delivering unhygienic food to clueless users is not novel. Such restaurants have existed before and people have ordered from them even before Zomato entered the scene in 2008. The change after the arrival of delivery apps can be described as two-fold: one, the birth of and subsequent rise in delivery-only food outlets (which were nonexistent before and which, unfortunately, have pushed many diners to death due to increasing losses and competition), and two, unpunished continuation of businesses or ‘bad actors’ who provide low-quality service.

Let’s take an example: You order from a new restaurant, and when the food arrives you are not happy with it or the service or some other aspect of it. So, you retort through the only ways available to you (rant on social media or rate the restaurant negatively or contact customer support), and then you forget about it. If the restaurant already has a good reputation – which it may have through fake ratings and reviews – your review is a black dot on a white paper, and the effect it will have on the business or its operation continuation is zero. There’s even the possibility of your review being flagged down through the use of tools facilitated by Project Fairplay. And that rant you posted on the Facebook page? Well, it does not take much time for a few lines of text to get buried when the platform you are using generates millions of such media by the hour.

There are many customers who have reported such cases, as Rajitha Menon writes in Deccan Herald. “Until a customer personally knows the place from where he or she is ordering food, one cannot trust the place,” she ends the article citing an expert on the matter. At the time of publishing, Zomato had 170 unique reviews on TrustPilot with an average overall rating of ‘bad’ (72% users gave it a negative rating against the 17% who thought it was between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’)[4]It has a TrustScore of 1.5 out of 10. Foodpanda 1.1 out of 10 with 81 reviews. UberEats 0.3 out of 10 with 5200+ reviews. . It figures because TrustPilot allows companies to only respond to the reviews. Then again, even the Danish review platform is not immune to bogus content.

When you order from a delivery-only food outlet, you don’t see the place where the food will be prepared or the front desk from which you can grasp a good enough idea about its cleanliness standards. You only see the food menu and the images of food posted by the outlet’s employee and fellow users, some of whom may have been paid to do so. Here you are depending on two entities: the food outlet and the aggregator app, both of which exist to turn their businesses into profit, one way or the other. While the outlet not maintaining safety and health standards is a topic for discussion for some other time, the point that I wanted to focus on here is the lax attitude of Zomato. It does not help create trust.

As a counterpoint, when you visit a restaurant for lunch or dinner, the onus of ensuring that you are not walking into a death trap and that you will be served healthy and fresh food is on you. When you are ordering food online through an app, it falls on the mediator. But, as we have seen above, Zomato and other apps exist only as a medium for you to order food. It gives you plenty of options to choose from, gives you the ability to pay online, and then throws you under the bus if anything goes wrong with the food. The responsibility of ensuring you don’t end up in a hospital remains with you, rendering the existence of an aggregator useless to some extent.

Zomato has always been a business, but has only turned into an unfriendly one recently, as planned or otherwise. Unfriendly at least in my eyes. (And I recently found out also in the eyes of restaurateurs.) And I use that word carefully not because it takes its customers as hostages to raise more money, but rather because it has a direct impact on people’s eating habits, and more importantly, their health.

Conclusively, I like to believe Zomato has all the resources to fight its demons and bounce back as a people’s service, correcting what went wrong for it and aiming at doing what’s right. People in India seemed to notice when it recently disrupted the system, but if it somehow also manages to shift the gaze at the things that really matter, it will enjoy a better time serving its customers who would turn into loyalists. That is why I am not entirely dismissing the possibility of using it in the future. I can’t say when that will happen or if it ever will, especially considering there are reports about it getting nearer to its profit-making position. All I can say right now is that I do not agree with the brand in its current form. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Zomato has been in the news for a variety of wrong reasons including ridiculous work conditions for its delivery boys who have often been caught stealing from the orders they are fulfilling. (“Zomato delivery boy seen consuming food from sealed orders in a video” – ETtech, 11 December 2018)
2. Because this does not necessarily mean that the outlets are in Kopar Khairane only. The list contains ALL the outlets that are willing to deliver to my address, which is why these places were also considered.
3. According to a Medium article by The Indian Restaurateur (cited elsewhere in this editorial), Zomato also engages in surveying and addition of restaurants at its own will without the solicitation of the restaurant owners. While the listing goes live without the knowledge or approval of the owner, the owner cannot control it unless he ‘claims’ it. This has been seen as coercion by the author. (The Zomato Story – 26 March 2018)
4. It has a TrustScore of 1.5 out of 10. Foodpanda 1.1 out of 10 with 81 reviews. UberEats 0.3 out of 10 with 5200+ reviews.