Category: Articles

The Time I Stole a Rotring Pencil

I have been thinking a lot about pen pencils these days, their gradual decline in sales over the past decade owing to a faster decline in people preferring to write on paper over type, and the lack of options when one goes shopping at a stationery store. “Here you go,” said the shopkeeper as he opened a flat plastic box containing several colorful pen pencils. None of them of a notable brand, so I asked him for one. He then showed me pen pencils made by Cello, Faber-Castell, and Camlin. No sight of Rotring or Staedtler and I did not dare pronounce the words for he would have taken me for a madman. I don’t blame him because no one buys pen pencils these days the way they used to ten years ago. No one other than the New York Magazine spends much time in selecting a pen these days the way they used to five years ago. And no one talks about stealing pens from their friends like they have been doing since they invented stationery. You may call me a madman for confessing the crime. But I can’t stop thinking about pen pencils and the time when I stole a distinctive yellow Rotring Tikky II mechanical pen pencil from a classmate during my diploma days sometime between 2009 and 2011.

I don’t remember the details of how it found its way into my person but I can assure you that it must have been a voluntary move. Nothing happens by chance in this world and I can guess how my love for stationery must have helped me bag that big boy when its original owner was not looking. I was focusing on the impending horror of a degree education at that time, but I clearly remember the nature of the person I stole it from. He was a good young guy nearing adolescence, the only son born to possible rich parents who could either afford to buy him a Rotring pen pencil or had wealthy friends or business partners who could buy it from the West or the home country Germany itself and gift it to their son. Either way, he didn’t take care of it much because one, it was easy for me to steal it, and two, he seemed unperturbed after it went missing. As a young, taciturn and still slightly cunning for his actions, I would keep an eye on him on the days after the crime was committed. Nothing. No signs of irritation nor did the principal or head of department come to our class to investigate about a missing pen pencil. I was safe.

Rotring Tikky II pen pencil yellow
An example of the yellow Rotring Tikky 2 pencil I stole with its trademark grip, currently not in production. They have an upgraded version of it now. / © Souq.com

I also don’t remember having used it much. Because I had this common life feature of saving the best for last and not using it lest I damage it or use it up completely, my memories with the pen pencil are short-lived. I was not much into reading either at that time, which is where I use it extensively these days in case you’re wondering why I visited the stationery store before. I have a good habit of scribbling thoughts and underlining sentences while reading, which helps me retain stuff months, years after I have read a book. So, a pen pencil is absolutely essential if you are a reader.

I don’t think I used the Rotring pen pencil any more than the time it takes for a single 0.5mm lead to finish itself either by chafing itself on paper till the last bit of graphite or through the easier, more common, and the classic, irritating way of fracturing itself by the time you have reached 60% or so of a single lead. The USP of the Rotring pencil – as compared to other local, cheaper ones that we get in India – is that when you click and release, the chuck (that holds the lead in place) does not slide back. It stays there, giving you enough lead to write with in a single press. Most popular alternatives that we have today need to be pressed a couple times before you get the perfect lead-to-nib ratio in order to write without breaking it. It was also heavier than other pencils, and even some popular pens like Lexi 5, Racer Gel, Cello Papersoft, and Cello Gripper. You felt like you were holding a piece of something royal you can’t really figure out what. Maybe that’s why Rotring is still so active in the stationery business.

What I do remember, however, is the immediate fate of the stolen pen pencil. It did not last long with me as soon after my initial excitement over its acquisition I misplaced it. I had at least four different pencils at that time and only the Rotring left me without saying a goodbye. I have not ruled out the possibility of someone having stolen it from me and neither of the possibility that that someone could be its original owner. All I know is that my fleeting experience with the pencil really got me. In a way, it really pushed me off to this utter madness about stationery that I have maintained even after starting my career in marketing.

It is how I got introduced into this unknown field of consumer products, a field higher than that of the common things you see in the shops and online stores. For every product that you buy there is a better, costlier version which if you manage to buy is going to make going back to the lighter, cheaper version very difficult. The same way I haven’t been able to make peace with all the pen pencils that I have owned since then, none of which have been a Rotring. You and I know both know the reason. TN.

Observations During My May 2019 Kerala Visit

I took the courage to apply for a week-long leave at work so that I could spend some quiet time with my family at our heirloom house in an Ernakulam town in Kerala, India. These are what I saw there between 18 May and 25 May. My photography skills are obviously weak.

cinema ticket alley in kerala
The classic cinema ticket alley riddled with graffiti at Maria single-screen theater in Muvattupuzha
Velloorkunnam temple
Entrance of Velloorkunnam temple in Muvattupuzha
Types of cinema tickets
3 types of movie tickets from – a single screen (Maria) and multiplexes (PVR, Carnival)
Merriboy icecream
A south Indian specialty – Tender coconut ice cream from Merriboy
Rains in India fall first in Kerala
Sharjah Shake
The famous Sharjah Shake of Kerala
Kalady temple stupa
The popular temple stupa of Kalady
Coconut breaking in temples
The omnipresent coconut breaking trench at every other temple across south India
Muvattupuzha village
The view from my place in Muvattupuzha

The climate was not so pleasant yet I made a few observations that seem interesting:

  • People prefer train travel primarily because they can take their entire world with them as opposed to flights despite there being a higher limit of 150 kilograms[1]In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in) that no one follows
  • Most high-end hotels/restaurants in Kerala have a VIP lounge room that can be only accessed through the backdoor. This is frequented by politicians and friends of owners
  • Hiring a cab in Kerala costs you more because most drivers include return trip expenses in the final price. This is because distances more than 30 kilometers are considered intercity travel (for example, from Cochin International Airport to Kothamangalam)
  • It is very difficult to rent a private vehicle for self-drive in Kerala without a reference. This is because of the increasing use of such vehicles to engage in terrorism and other anti-social activities
  • Sewage and bad water treatment in Ernakulam and surrounding areas is not as fine and safe as you think it is. There is a peculiar stench everywhere in the city and even around Lulu Mall, aggravated by a poor drainage system
  • Single-screen theaters usually skip the national anthem (which is a welcome move if you ask me)
  • Most temples in Kerala do not allow you to enter if you are wearing “western clothes”. Additionally, men need to be in a veshti and not wearing anything on top as part of their traditional and cultural limitations
  • Public bus travel is akin to daredevilism; but they will stop in the middle of the road if you show a hand.

Have you observed any peculiar things when in Kerala? Let’s discuss. TN.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. In AC first class including free allowance of 70 kilograms (erail.in)

Few Observations During the Day of Poll (Lok Sabha 2019)

poll day observations - lok sabha 2019

People who know me know that I voted for the first time in my life yesterday. It was a breezy experience for me, but not without a few critical observations I made during my time at the local polling station.

  • The electoral list is not smart enough and randomly assigns voters to polling booths. That is why a certain man in his 60s kept cribbing (rightly so) he had to climb the stairs to the third floor of the school
    • Or the local election body did not think to go through the voters’ age before assigning classrooms as booths. Ground floor for people in their 50s and above or those with special abilities and the highest floor for the youth – or something like that
    • A lack of elevators and ramps in at least two of the polling stations in my locality meant people with special abilities went back home without posting their ballots or did not even consider. Save for the brave ones
  • It is impossible to choose a candidate who is a saint; but then can politicians ever be saints?
  • Some candidates have absolutely poor aesthetic and logical abilities; just looking at some of the party logos made me think about their volition to contest
  • Despite police bandobast, the locality was a bit more lawless than it is on any other day. People carrying 20 chairs on a motorcycle, parking in the middle of the road, misbehaving with policemen or government officials (although, usually it’s the other way around), and staring at the opposite sex became more apparent, unhindered
  • A lack of interest in going to vote because of the heat or the polling booth is not near where they live.[1]Turnout in the Thane constituency was a measly 50% (approx.) in 2019, worse than the Mumbai average.

Walking out of the polling booth, having my left index finger inked gave me a good feeling even though choosing whom to vote was a mind-numbing exercise the previous day. It sort of made me feel good about the idea of democracy but then I came home and things were back to normal within an hour. Which makes me liken the idea of voting to that of any activity that you do for pleasure. You crave for it before you do it. But once you have done it, you really start questioning its impact. TN.

And lastly, here’s the mandatory selfie I took after I voted.

View this post on Instagram

The look of a first-time voter.

A post shared by Tejas Nair (@tejasnair_) on

Featured image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Turnout in the Thane constituency was a measly 50% (approx.) in 2019, worse than the Mumbai average.

Types of Staff at Every SBI Branch

Last day I waited for roughly 20 minutes before my turn came up at the general information kiosk at a State Bank of India branch in a Navi Mumbai ward. As was expected, the personnel at the kiosk was unable to answer my query. She said the person who was handling my case (KYC and debit card request submission) was on leave, which somehow seemed to excuse her of the duty to trace the paper trail, investigate, and resolve it. For her advantage, I do hand it to her for giving her absent colleague a quick call, in vain. All this while, another of her colleagues sitting next to her was hearing our conversation, sipping tea from a tiny paper cup, staring at the long line behind me, looking careless, unperturbed, and proud to be present there at that moment, possibly enjoying schadenfreude. This article is dedicated to people like her.

SBI branch
Just enter any SBI branch and observe these types / © Wikimedia Commons

At a time when some aviation experts are criticizing SBI for their callous attitude against the heartbreaking Jet Airways fiasco, I think it is fair for me to take a few potshots wrapped with satire at them. Most of us who have an account with the nation’s biggest public lender will relate to this almost immediately, and that is the highlight of this article. Here it goes…

Different Types of SBI Staff

A random list of the types of personnel you see at every SBI branch in the country:

  • Slacker – Got in through caste reservation. Were the first one to be pissed when their branch reduced the size of tea cups as part of regional cost-cutting. Do not have any friends. Take more than a dozen snack and loo breaks per day. Were the person who convinced their branch manager to put up a banner warning customers that they will be booked under IPC 352 and related sections if they try to manhandle a SBI employee. Were disappointed when TikTok was banned in India.
  • Idler – Usually an unpaid intern and/or a relative of an existing employee. Take up a desk at the front of the entrance and makes heavy use of the “Machine out of order”, “Counter closed”, and “Lunch time” signage. Have slightly more powers than a SBI customer. Assume the role of a clerk when the actual clerk is on leave. Boasted they will be able to get their friend a loan at half the market interest rate but are clueless how they will actually do it.
  • Ruler – Usually the branch manager, the deputy branch manager, or the business head. Left no stone unturned after the hiring process to get themselves a cabin in the branch but failed. Think they own the branch and at least 51% stakes in SBI. When their boss is on leave, behave like they own SBI. Rarely have a successful marriage. Believe that their English-speaking skill is the best among the branch staff and often show it off during corporate meets.
  • Vanity Persons – Got in through caste reservation pretty late in their life. Or as an extension of their dead spouse’s job. Usually older than the branch manager, but assume a designation 3-4 tiers below them, with the sadness about this fact very apparent on their face. Have an online MBA in people management. Have their favorite deity’s idol on their desk. A stickler for SBI’s draconian rules. Very punctual, especially about lunch and snack timings. Are usually all the 3-4 tellers in the branch.
  • Idler II – Often the security person. Obese. Have not fired a rifle since initial school training in 1991. Know more than the Idler, and sometimes, even the manager. Possess superior staring skills, even more when people of the opposite sex are around. Would be accused and convicted in a social controversy in an ideal world. Lead an antisocial life.
  • Infant – Pretty new to the banking world, and usually are appointed directly as the branch manager. Know less about banking than the branch staff’s average knowledge. Eat lunch alone in their cabin. Are an equal participant and victim of marital discord. Often keep a line of customers waiting at a general information kiosk by putting the personnel behind the desk to work on something “urgent” and as “needed by the HO before lunchtime”. Do not have any children.
  • Worker – The only people who work, and act seriously upon queried by a customer. Lead a happy family life, and are currently trying for a baby. Aspire to become a manager before retirement but don’t know that they are unlucky. Do not care about work, lunch, snack timings. Often at the receiving end of people who religiously partake in random acts of kindness. Do care about customer satisfaction. Do not get offended by articles mocking them.
  • Invisible – *that empty chair*

What more types of people have you met at an SBI office? TN.

Note: If you are an SBI employee and are reading this, do not take offense. Instead, try to change the status quo in your branch. If you still think it is wrong of me to generalize, please get in touch.

The Chronology of Modern-Day Film Promotion

One of the main purposes of my active social media use is to be on top of news and promotions related to the Malayalam film industry. I follow most film folks on Facebook not because I like to comment “Sir oru like tharumo!” (Sir, can I get a like (on this comment) please?) but to keep track of new ventures, industry stories, and collaborations. And over the past few years, I have observed few things in online film promotion. Things that turn me off.

A Trend in Online Promotion of Films

There is a new trend of digital film promotion in Mollywood and other Indian film industries. Bollywood does it too, in fact, even more strongly than its contemporaries. Most top-lining films usually start off their online publicity with sending a press release, planting a news story, or having some of the crew share status updates about the new project on social media. At the same time, most production houses choose to create and launch standalone pages on various social media platforms, notably on Facebook.

Thamasha Malayalam movies Vinay Fortt
The “first-look” poster of Thamasha / © Happy Hours Entertainment

An example would be the recent announcement of an upcoming film titled Thamasha, produced by Happy Hours Entertainment, and starring Vinay Fortt in a role that looks like it is spun off from his comical character in the 2015 hit romantic comedy Premam. The announcement – which, as of 15 April, has engulfed a part of the Malayalam social media after it was shared and reshared by the people close with the cast and crew – came alongside a poster featuring Fortt. It’s a great announcement and one that achieves its intended goal: pique its audience’s interest. But the problem is that it may not be the first look poster even though the announcement says it is.

Unda malayalam movies 2019
The unofficial “first-look” poster of Unda / © Moviee Mill/Gemini Studios

Take the poster of another upcoming film, the Mammootty-starrer titled Unda (2019). This was released a few months ago when the filming was still underway. There were no major announcements and this poster somehow made an entrance into the social media, probably through its two Facebook pages (here: Unda The Movie and UNDATheFilm). The film’s IMDb page also sports this poster (because I added it and the film’s PR never bothered to take a gander). As someone who depends on the Internet to extract updates about new Malayalam films, I took this poster as the first look image. Because a first look (often abbreviated as FL by agencies who run the handles for these films for the sake of hashtagging convenience) does not have to reveal the first look of the main actors. It is not to be taken literally. Instead, a first-look publicity image should give out the unique vibe of that film, and this one by Unda actually did, again making me very interested in the project. Then, I don’t understand why there was a need for another first look (see further below).

All of this makes me wonder about the chronology of film promotion in this digital age. Here’s a list that I came up with recently, inspired by a comment by a Reddit user (u/nandusdas091) on r/Kerala, and exaggerated to stay true to the nature of this website.

Chronology of Digital Film Promotion

This focuses on the Malayalam film industry; a list of events that occur one after other in any modern-day promotional campaign for a film that has enough budget to produce and disseminate publicity materials.

  1. Rough first look or a media story planted in an unverifiable news site
  2. First look announcement (#firstlook #<title>loading #getready)
  3. First look (usually a hand of the lead star, a prop if it’s a sequel or a series instalment, or the title design)
  4. Motion poster announcement
  5. Motion poster
  6. Sneak peek
  7. Character posters #1 through #5 (of characters that have less than 5 minutes of screen time)
  8. Teaser announcement
  9. Promo teaser (also sometimes erroneously titled as prologue teaser), or
  10. Teaser (without any characters)
  11. First song (lyrical)
  12. Screenshot of the teaser video trending on YouTube
  13. Character posters #6 through #30 (the last one is usually of the lead actor or of a character that should have been kept secret)
  14. Promo poster featuring an inflated number of views that the teaser received in the last 24 hours
  15. Reshares of mentions in the media and by other actors not involved in the project
  16. Audio launch announcement/trailer
  17. Posters containing random birthday wishes for the cast/crew
  18. Teaser reaction videos (disseminated through unofficial, partner networks containing wannabe YouTubers)
  19. Audio launch at an Ernakulam 5-star banquet hall (usually owned by one of the crew members) with the highlight being a life-sized disc held by everyone excluding the music producer
  20. First video song
  21. Trailer announcement
  22. Teaser to the trailer
  23. Trailer launch at a Trivandrum 5-star banquet hall
  24. Trailer appended to major film releases of that weekend
  25. Trailer on social media by a popular actor not involved in the project (a day after it appears on the big screen)
  26. Screenshot of the trailer video trending on YouTube
  27. Trailer reaction videos
  28. Poster featuring an inflated number of views the trailer received in less than two hours
  29. Random stills posted by top cast and crew (with at least half a dozen hashtags)
  30. Poster containing greetings for an eligible festival or public holiday
  31. Cast and crew interview videos
  32. Poster featuring some unknown and useless record broken by the trailer
  33. Poster featuring a list of achievements by the teaser, the trailer, and the audio jukebox
  34. Final official poster with the ensemble cast appearing on it
  35. Film success trailer (two days after release)
  36. Film success celebration photos (at another Ernakulam hotel three days after release)
  37. Making-of videos to get some boost in the revenue of the production company’s YouTube channel
  38. Posters featuring inflated box office numbers
  39. Item dance video (optional)

Current State of Affairs

Here’s a peak example of what I’m talking about: a Facebook status update posted by the FB page of Unda, Khalid Rahman’s second directorial. It is true that I was triggered to write this article upon seeing this update on my feed. But I have been observing this digital film publicity chronology for some time now to validate the need for such an article.

Unda Malayalam movie 2019
A status update by the Facebook page of Unda

Every film – and not just Malayalam-language features – that is projected to at least foot its making cost is following this trend. And going by the volume of engagement on the above post from a page that has upwards of 5600 followers (at the time of publishing), it’s working.

But as a consumer of cinema who is at the receiving end of these brazen, tasteless promotions, it turns me off hugely. You may suggest that I start unfollowing these pages of films and film personalities and production houses, but then what about the downside? It’s a catch-22 situation all right and I can alternatively choose to change the settings on Facebook to receive only highlights. But if I did that, who exactly are they trying to attract and engage?

If everyone thought like me, the engagement would automatically go down, save for the pages of those films with actors who have fan associations so big and powerful the title of these associations are known in Kerala and neighbouring states by their acronyms (e.g.: Prithviraj Sukumaran’s POFFACTIO). It would not really work.

The Risk of Overpromotion

They say any publicity is good publicity, but that’s not true anymore. Look what happened to a recent upcoming biopic of a politician. It had all the right ingredients, and also received a mass of negative press because of its association with a political party, but it was still stalled for release because it would potentially violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which is in motion till the end of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Overpromotion – which is quickly influencing the Kerala film industry – does not always work. It can act as cannibalization after a certain point, turning off the discerning audience to the point where he stops caring. After a while, the promotions will stop having an effect on its target audience as people will shun the digital campaigns and consider movies based on star value, interest, and word of mouth. (The last one is still one of the biggest factors in global cinema, with examples from Bollywood like Stree (2018), Tumbbad (2018), and Andhadhun (2018) loud and clear.)

I do not agree with executing a 39-point marketing strategy on social media because it is dumb. It can act as a deterrent more than it can as a magnet. Of course, an active official profile on Facebook or Twitter would do good to educate the audience about an upcoming project, especially to act as a standalone profile for when someone searches for it to find more information if the film is not yet live on Wikipedia and IMDb, that is. But going overboard with it can sometimes be risky and cost-ineffective.

It may be a tactic used by social media management agencies (who usually work remotely) to bill their clients extra (for all the man hours), but we must look at the bigger picture and see where exactly this type of promotions is going. Is it some kind of a groundbreaking marketing strategy that demands a deeper study? No. Is it a novel approach? No, everyone does it and has been doing it for some time now. Is it effective? Maybe. In 2019 so far, films like Lucifer, Oru Adaar Love, and Madhura Raja succeeded in pulling it off and getting the seats filled, notwithstanding their consequent critical or box office successes. But there are others – like 9, Praana, and June – that deployed similar but largely ineffective campaigns.

Bringing It a Few Notches Down

Same goes for films that think out of the box, do something unusual, and still fail without even getting credit for trying. A case in point: When Rohith VS’s Iblis (2018) launched an online game as part of its promotions, it did not aid much in attracting any more audience than it would have without the game. Its Facebook page had over 20,000 followers and yet the game-related posts received measly engagement, and Asif Ali is still an actor with some fan following. It fared comparatively well with its series of posters, one of the best we saw in 2018.

The splash screen of the game titled World of Iblis / © nologomedia

Which is why it is important to also attribute the success of such granular marketing campaigns to a film’s star value. In fact, this star value has more to do than the stunts themselves. You don’t see such campaigns being run for films that feature an actor who doesn’t have an official fan association. Think of the marketing tactics by the PR team of a film starring Mohanlal and then compare it with another having lesser-known actors like Sreenath Bhasi, Shane Nigam, and Soubin Shahir. Even though the quality of a film eventually decides its success rate, such viral social media promotions help the producers mint more money during the deciding first weekend. And it is evident that it is working. Which is not the right way to do business.

Then there are films like Premam that make do with a few characterless posters and a song to market itself and break some actual records. TN.

Update: Updated information about the two different Facebook pages for Unda. (15 April 2019)