Tuesday, December 09, 2014

‘Startup Capitals’ now available for pre-order!

Startup Capitals : Discovering the Global Hotspots of Innovation (English)

Product Details

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Random House India (31 December 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8184005946
ISBN-13: 978-8184005943
Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14 cm

As the Internet has matured in technology and reach, we have seen an explosion in tech startups all over the world. Not only are some of these startups changing the world and how we live in it, they are also proving to be the engines of job creation – an aspect that will be critical in the future. To support these startups, new ecosystems are popping up all over the globe to help grow these companies, aided by governments, successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

In Startup Capitals, Zafar Anjum brings you a ringside view from the worlds top ten startup cities of the world. Well-researched and highly insightful, this book lays bare the engines of innovation and the lessons that can be learnt from these burgeoning startup capitals.

Advance praise

  • "As we enter a new phase in human history – a phrase Ive referred to as Civilization 3.0-creativity and entrepreneurial spirit are achieving new milestones for humanity. How and where this creativity is flourishing today is the subject of Anjums book. It is a timely account of some of the most innovative entrepreneurial places on earth and should prove to be a very compelling read." – Vivek Ranadive, Founder and CEO, TIBCO Software, Inc. Owner, Sacramento Kings
  • "Startup Capitals takes us on an enthralling and stimulating tour of some of the most innovative cities on the globe. It is a timely and illuminating account of people and places that are shaping the human future." – Virender Aggarwal, CEO, Ramco Systems
  • "Creativity and invention do not occur in isolation. Environment and community fuel it. Mr. Anjum gives us a journey through those landscapes where the future is being created and inspires us to join those cities of innovation that define our time." – Matthew Putman PhD, CEO, Nanotronics Imaging, New York
  • "Silicon Valley is more than the sum of its parts. And as the world looks at the ‘sum’, this new book zooms in on the parts-the history, events, people and unique occurrences that add up to make the Valley what it is. As a tech strategist and business partner with more than 30 years of experience with Silicon Valley, I value the insight and specific recommendations Zafar Anjum has gathered in this important book." – Barbara Bates, Founder and CEO, Eastwick, Silicon Valley
  • "Many of the world want to emulate Silicon Valley, yet few have brought context to the incredible story thats taken shape here. Looking deeply at the Valleys history and how our unique ecosystem took shape, Zafar Anjum offers new perspectives that global innovators can use as they envision the communities-and the companies-that build economic success." – Ellen Petry Leanse, Tech Pioneer and Advisor, San Francisco
  • "Zafar does a brilliant job identifying the key factors that make a city a startup city. – Daniel T. Cohen, Cybersecurity Professional and Strategist at RSA, The Security Division of EMC, Israel
  • Where will be the next centre of innovation? What are the ingredients for a successful startup ecosystem? These are significant questions for which the jury is still out. Through this book, Zafar Anjum offers insights into the intriguing and exciting world of startups that are shaping our future." – Manish Goel, co-founder and CEO, TrustSphere, New York
  • "Over the years, Zafar has created a highly respected body of work in journalism. He tackles his subject matter with the tenacity and thoroughness of a good investigative reporter. His previous books have not only been great pieces of journalistic work but also, most importantly, good reads. Startup Capitals promises to be an informative and engrossing piece of work which will add to the understanding of why some cities are more successful than others in nurturing innovation and a risk-taking culture." – Amit Roy Choudhury, Technology Editor, The Business Times (Singapore)

About the Author

Zafar Anjum is a Singapore-based journalist, writer and filmmaker. He currently works as the Asia Online Editor of Computerworld Singapore, CIO Asia and MIS Asia. His most recent works include Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher and Politician (2014), The Resurgence of Satyam (2012) and The Singapore Decalogue – Episodes in the Life of a Foreign Talent (2012). He edits a literary website, Kitaab.org.

Pre-order the book at Amazon and Flipkart now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Narendra Modi and the Death of the Idea of India

For a long time now I have contained my rage which has been provoked by what is happening in India today, and it concerns the future of India as a nation and as a country.

Indians are offering a man the coveted and powerful chair of the country’s Prime Minister under whose watch a state-sponsored pogrom resulted in the murder of several thousand innocent citizens. At the same time, they are branding an honest citizen activist a ‘fugitive’ who abandoned a state’s chief ministerial post simply because the establishment did not allow him to pass a tough anti-corruption law.

The one accused of ‘mass murder’ is a hero, worthy of being crowned a king. The man of principles, an anti-corruption crusader, is a laughing stock. The sitting Oxbridge-educated Prime Minister is a dummy head, a man stoically blind to the corrupt in his own ranks, clinging to his post at the cost of his dwindling reputation.

Is this the state of the nation that nationalist Indian leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Abul Kalam Azad had envisaged when they laid down the foundations of a free India in 1947?

Today, the country is divided on the lines of caste and religion and on top of that, no opportunity is lost in abusing the sane and the secular, online or offline. How did India arrive at this shameful juncture of history? (See this open letter by Indian intellectuals in The Guardian: If Modi is elected, it will bode ill for India's future.)

At stake—The idea of India

While the nation is presently going through its most decisive elections in its 70 year old democratic history, what is at stake is the very idea of India: the idea that fueled the struggle for India’s Independence, culminating in the establishment of a free, democratic, socialist and secular Republic of India.

This idea of India was based on the principles of equality and inclusiveness, on the ideals of secularism and equal respect to all religions and creeds. It was, what Mohammad Iqbal once called, a poetic idea, sophisticated beyond its time and place.

As Indian historian Ramchandra Guha has noted in his book, The Makers of Modern India, Indian democracy is unique in the sense that India became a nation and a democracy at the same time, and five different types of revolutions are going on in India simultaneously. What’s been happening in India since Independence is what took Europe a couple of centuries and the United States nearly 200 years to achieve. There, it happened in stages. Here, it is happening all at once, and hence, the seeming chaos of India, which often makes us despondent and hopeless about India’s future.

The poetic idea of India had emerged a winner after defeating a couple of other competing ideas—ideas of a communist state (class-based politics), of a federation of states based on religion (Iqbal and Jinnah’s religious and cultural identity-based politics), and of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ propagated by right wing Hindu groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Mahasabha.

If Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins the parliamentary elections this year, it is the last idea, the idea of India being a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ envisioned by far right Hindu nationalists that will come to prevail. This once-defeated idea of India will be revived with a Naipaulian revenge.

The Rise of Narendra Modi

In this battle to rule India, according to the opinion polls and ground reports, Narendra Modi, BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, seems to have an edge over all other contenders. Why is he is so popular, both inside and outside India among the Hindus?

A lot has been written about this charismatic Hindu rightwing leader from Gujarat—about his humble rise from his tea-selling days to his political stranglehold over Gujarat as a Chief Minister, his powers of oratory, his no-nonsense decision-making, his sex appeal, and so on. The list is countless if you hear to Modi’s acolytes and fan boys.

How did a mediocre man like Modi become the darling of the Indian masses (or that is what we are being led to believe at this point of time)? Is it because contemporary Indians love mediocrity?

Interestingly, Modi is not foreign-educated or highly educated like most of India’s Prime Ministers have been. He is a son of the same soil which gave birth to Mahatma Gandhi, and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. It is quite possible that millions of Indians love him because of his image of a self-made man who can bring change and economic development and ride roughshod over minority rights (which hardly matters in their consciousness). The last point is important because whenever anything is done to favour the Muslims or to ameliorate their condition, BJP brands it as Muslim appeasement, and not secularism. Modi’s hardliner, ‘popular’ image has been created with the help of the media, by spending millions of rupees (Rs. 5,000 crores, according to Aam Aadmi Party) on advertisements and public relations.

BJP’s secularism

I was raised as a secular kid in India, and for a long time, I could not understand how a political party like BJP was allowed to exist in India. BJP is the political offshoot of the RSS, the Hindu right wing outfit whose ideologies had inspired Nathuram Godse to kill Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Godse was a member of the RSS.

In that sense, BJP’s inherent ideology should be seen as against the Constitution of India. How could the Election Commission of India look the other way and not ban the party? I could not understand this and later on I put it to the strong traditions of India’s political pluralism.

Meanwhile, very methodically, whatever remained of the Muslim leadership was wiped out of India. Muslim leaders were discouraged (and even discredited) by all political parties. Muslims were left to be led by Non-Muslim leaders who had to strike a balance between their Hindu supporters and their Muslim voters. This led to the persistent and pernicious growth of the vote bank politics. Both the Indian National Congress (INC) and the BJP stand accused of perpetuating this malpractice. Something similar has happened on the lines of caste too, but a generation of successful caste-based leaders has emerged. This has largely benefitted the low-caste Hindus.

As far as the meaningful participation of minorities in Indian politics is concerned, the answer does not lie in stoking the fires of communal politics but of deepening secularism in the political space. 

How is this possible?

India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was an atheist. In the Nehruvian model of secularism, scientific temper was meant to play a great role, which was further predicated on the spread of mass literacy and education. When the state’s effort to educate the Indian masses failed to a large extent, right wing forces established their Saraswati Shishu Mandirs throughout India (As on 2010, about 17,000 such schools existed across India). Many liberal private schools were also established (I was fortunate enough to study in one such private school in India, where we were taught co-existence, and respect for other faiths. Our school uniform was saffron, symbolising sacrifice).

At the same time, as the state’s television stations that preached religious tolerance and social unity became irrelevant, heavily Hinduised television programmes created a generation of Indians whose spiritual ethos find an echo in Modi’s image of a Hindu Samrat. For example, it is not surprising that Smriti Irani, a popular TV actress who played the role of a Hindu housewife in an extremely popular TV serial (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) and the role of Sita (in Zee TV’s Ramayan) is now a senior leader of the right-wing BJP.

BJP has been very active in making Indians believe in their idea of India. Slowly but surely they have chipped away at the idea of Indian secularism with a sustained effort. They believe in overt expression of religion on politics and now Modi talks about ‘Indianness’ before anything else. Whenever he is questioned about secularism, he invokes ‘Indianness’. This is nothing but hollow demagoguery.

Even this could be fine but there is a hitch and that is the Indian Constitution. If BJP can take out the word ‘secular’ from the Indian Constitution, it can do whatever it wants. No one will ask any questions on secularism then.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi’s electoral promise is growth and economic progress. One wonders how this will be possible when the incumbent Indian Prime Minister, an economist by training and a former World Bank official, has overseen the faltering of the once-strong Indian economy (See this Forbes story: Even Narendra Modi May Not Be Able To Help The Indian Economy). Moreover, BJP’s economic policies are no different from Congress’ (See this Forbes story: BJP Will Ban FDI In Retail But Offers Other Goodies To Business). They are the votaries of the same neoliberal policies that have led to India’s development, and inter alia the problems of inflation, price rise, and crony capitalism. Revealingly, if only economic development is the BJP’s election mantra, why has the party put rebuilding of the Ram Temple at the controversial site in Ayodhya on its manifesto? Won’t it alienate the Muslims of India?

But how do you explain all this to the 800 million Indians who might see this complex situation in very simple terms: Congress and its allies have ruled for ten years. It is time to give the other party a chance.

This proves only one thing. That democracy is still in its infancy in India. If you don’t believe me, just go to any constituency. In most places, you will see electoral candidates, often from rich and political families, touring the area like a price visiting the hoi polloi. If politics is a business in India, what does it make Indian democracy? A marketplace?

My fear is that because of India’s size, India will remain ungovernable (Indian population being three times the population of United States). Confusion of multiparty democracy, communalism and casteism, poverty and illiteracy make the situation even worse. I don’t think even a Lee Kwan Yew could set India right. Only time will show us the true path. Until then, we will keep making mistakes.

My fear is that minority politics will survive in India as long as minorities maintain their unique identity. Once they start merging their identities with the majority community, politics of caste and religion will melt away. “Poverty makes people create differences,” India’s former President APJ Abdul Kalam said in a recent interview. “Sometimes poverty drives these differences. But economic prosperity and higher literacy will make us forget our differences. Economic prosperity is fine but will Muslims accept it at the cost of their religious identity?

As far as those who believe in Gandhi’s and Nehru’s idea of a secular India, they should not lose hope. They should do whatever they can to strengthen their idea of India, just as the right wing works tirelessly to strengthen their idea of India.

It should not surprise anyone if Modi wins the elections. If a George Bush could win the Presidential elections in the United States for two terms, why can’t a Modi win in India? America has survived Bush. India is a 5,000 year old civilization. She will survive Modi.

Clearly, a Hindu nationalist party’s interests lie in keeping the nation divided. Thankfully, a good sign for India’s future is the twin rise of the BJP and the Aam Aadmi Party like a DNA’s double helix. One will neutralize the other. That’s where my hope lies. And like Tagore said, in the end, India does not belong to Hindus or Muslims.  India belongs to humanity and when the dust of history settles, and when we are rid of our vanity, India will be claimed by humanity.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On reading ‘A Matter of Rats’

I started reading Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats at 3 am on a Sunday morning. The book was in my office bag, and finding myself suddenly awake, I took it out and went to my study.

Reading the book was like plunging into a rat hole of memories. I had grown up as a child in a village in Bihar and like the ancestral village that Kumar describes in this book, my village too had an adjacent basti. We called it the Mus-har basti (the village of rat-eaters) where low caste Hindu families domiciled. I knew some of the members of those families as they worked on our fields as day labourers. Many of them visited our house everyday to meet my father, a school teacher who doubled up as the village head.

Unlike in Patna, rats then were not a menace in our village. Rats, along with stray cats and dogs, lived and roamed around in our courtyards and galis. They stole grains and sometimes we used to hear that rat-eaters (Mus-hars) had hunted through our fields after the harvesting was done.

As a child I was rather afraid of the big, fat moles that scurried around half-blind through the narrow lanes of our village, dipping in and out of drains as they wished. Them, and the stray dogs that sometimes chased people for no rhyme or reason.

It was in Delhi where I had first encountered the menace of rats. As a newly married couple, I used to live in a run-down flat in South Delhi with my wife and we used to sleep on the floor on a mattress. One day my wife telephoned me in the office. A rat had bitten her on the head while she was asleep. She had awoken with a sharp pain and when she touched her scalp, she found blood on it.

Initially, I could not believe that a rat could bite humans, but after seeing my wife’s case, I had to. Because of the rat bite, my poor wife had to take antibiotics for a while. Reading Kumar’s book, that memory came back to me. A Musahar, a rat-eating man in Kumar’s book, tells him that rats could bite through bricks and concrete. In Patna, Kumar tells us, remnants of food on the face of babies attracted rats who bit them, and nurses played music at night to protect their toes from being bitten by rats—they believed music kept the rats away.

I could never figure out what had attracted a rat to attack my wife. Anyway, the result of that unfortunate episode was a short story titled Rats that I wrote while staying in that flat, which took me to Sri Lanka for a literary conference.

At 3.25 am, when I was almost done with the book’s prologue, a quarrel broke out in the neighborhood, disturbing the peace and stillness of the early morning. A couple was having a verbal fight. I looked out of the window. Across the side road that lay between my flat and the multi-storey car park where the squabble was in progress, there stood a very old tree, almost as tall as the car park, which, with its thick foliage, hid the couple from my view. Through the gaps in the branches, all I could see was a man in a blue shirt and a woman in green, both of the Chinese race which I could figure out from their accented English. The man was shouting and verbally abusing his wife and at one point seemed to push her around too. He was saying things like ‘you have destroyed my life’ and ‘I am done with you’. The woman seemed to be scared and even though she fought back, her voice was cracking up. The man was going to his car which had its blinking lights on.

The bickering went on for almost half an hour when I decided to start taking some notes for this review.

It was 4.13am when I went back to the book. It was an exciting read, more so because I had waited for almost two weeks before the book reached me in Singapore from Bangalore.

In the chapter ‘Patliputra’, Kumar narrates the history of Bihar through his memories of the history of the city and the province from his school days, and how he used to draw diagrams of rulers and emperors from the past during his class hours. He ascribes his desire for drawing the emperors of the past (people who existed before photography was invented) to his incipient sexuality.

Then he proceeds to talk about art and craft in Patna. He describes visiting a museum in Patna where Napoleon’s four-poster bed was on display. Kumar expresses his disappointment with R K Jalan’s collection which he says was more geared towards flattering power. One of the collected items in the museum is a dinner plate belonging to Emperor Akbar’s Prime Minister Birbal. Jalan had persuaded a Viceroy and later on Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, to eat from the same plate.

In the chapter ‘Patna in the Hole’, Kumar looks for traces of Patna in English literature. Surveying literature from E M Forster to Vikram Seth, Kumar laments the fact that Patna hasn’t had much of a presence, and declining if at all, in English literature. However, there has been a nuanced portrayal of Patna in many stories by some great Hindi writers. From there, Kumar proceeds to lambast Shiva Naipaul, the young brother of V S Naipaul, who had visited Patna and had nothing good to say about Bihar. In contrast, he finds Ian Jack, the founding editor of Granta, to be sympathetic towards Biharis. He describes Jack as a writer who could discern some humanity and dignity in the much reviled people of Bihar.

In the chapter where Kumar mentions Ian Jack’s writings on Bihar, there is a mention of my hometown Kishanganj. Ian Jack once visited Bihar to find a lawyer who had defended a labourer from the Himalayan foothills. This man had spent thirty years in prison because of being found travelling without a ticket on the Assam Mail. The whole episode had turned out to be a case of bureaucratic mismanagement. In his second visit, Jack not only finds the lawyer but also the labourer, the guy who lost 30 years of his life. After his jail term, the man lived just outside the jail in Kishanganj. I wondered if I had ever seen that man in my town.

In the next few chapters, Kumar deftly narrates some of the success stories from Patna. “This book is about my hometown Patna; but at its forefront are stories about people,” he writes. On its pages we meet artist Subodh Gupa and his mentor Robin Shaw Pushp; we hear about Bindeshwar Pathak, the man behind the Sulabh International movement, and filmmaker Prakash Jha, the man who has made Patna’s first mall. We also get to hear from Irfan, a former communist now working as a TV journalist in Delhi. I had had the chance to meet some of these people, so it was thrilling to read about them from a different perspective.

One of the fascinating stories in the book is that of youth poet Raghav and his now estranged wife Leela, a struggling TV actress. In a Rashomon-like narrative, the author tries to examine the truth in their crumbling relationship. “It’s human to lie. Most of the time we can’t even be honest with ourselves,” says the thief to the woodcutter in the classic Akira Kurusawa film (Kumar has used that quote in the book to make his point).

Through this book, it would be fair to say, Kumar has only tried to present his perspectives on the city where he grew up. He does not make any other claims. “There is no truth in nonfiction; there is only perspective,” he clarifies his stand in the author’s note.

As far as Patna goes, Kumar’s view of the city is that of hopelessness. “I see in Patna’s decline, in its pretensions to development, in its plain dullness, the stark story of middle age and death,” he says. “It’s all hopeless, really—that is what Patna and I are saying to each other.”

Every time the US-based author returns to Patna, he is reminded of his youth (the time of his life when discovery of sex happened for him), and the present question of ageing and mortality (his Patna-based parents are in the last years of their lives). “To return to Patna is to find the challenging thought of death, like the tip of a knife, pressing against my rib,” he writes.

Kumar’s ode to Patna ends on a melancholy note. Some Westerners might see a crumbling Patna as the Indian version of ancient Rome, but he sees this city in a different light—the city where he grew up and where his ageing parents live. “When I step on Patna’s soil, I only want to see how much older my patents look,” he writes. “I arrive in Patna and a few days later I leave. Each time I leave, I wonder about the circumstances under which I will need to return.”

The book, which starts off with a youthful exuberance, ends up with an old age-like gracefulness—understated, sober, melancholic and wise. As I come to the last page of the book, I understand why Kumar calls the book, A Matter of Rats. It is a tribute to the life and people of Patna, rather than an examination of the past and speculation of the future of the capital of Bihar. It is this quality of the book that makes it an endearing read.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amit Virmani: Audiences need something to keep them engaged

Singapore-based filmmaker Amit Virmani’s debut, “Cowboys in Paradise”, was one of the most talked-about Asian documentaries in recent years. The controversial film on sex tourism in Bali (Indonesia) garnered international acclaim and has been broadcast in over 110 countries.
His second documentary feature film, “Menstrual Man” (2013), is already making waves. The film documents the struggles of India’s Muruganantham, a school dropout who realised that the majority of women in India couldn’t afford sanitary pads and decided to do something about it. A Netflix audience favourite at Hot Docs 2013, the film underscores the importance of empowering women to combat poverty and highlights the power every individual has to make a difference.
Amit is a graduate of Southwestern University, Texas, where he was honored with the Feminist Voices Award.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Tiger tales, Neurolinguistics and the power of positive thinking

Imagine you are standing in front of a tiger. Not in a zoo but in a real forest. And let’s say this tiger is a man-eater.

How would you feel?

You will quake in your boots, right? Clichéd but that’s saying a lot in just five words.

Beyond the surface truth, a lot more stuff happens within your body at that moment. For example, your body diverts 30 percent of your glucose into your blood stream to give you strength to face the danger. The brain releases fear-related hormones. Your heart wants to jump out of your throat. You break into a sweat. And so on.

Now, replace this tiger with your boss. Yes, your boss in the office.

Do you feel the same about your boss? Are you afraid of him? Are you afraid of losing your job?

If you are, then you are living in a condition of constant danger. You are living your life in the shadow of a tiger, and it is damaging your brain. Not just your brain but your entire well-being.

If you do your job well, you should not be afraid of your boss. A good boss needs a good worker like you. He needs you as much as you need him to succeed.

The same goes for your boss—your boss also has a boss in the chain of command. Like you, he too shouldn’t be afraid of his boss. And for the same reason.

So, what’s the point? The point is that a good leader would lead and not just play games with employees to keep his chair intact. A boss who is not like a fear-inducing tiger will ensure more positivity in the office. Positive employees are happy employees and happy employees are productive and loyal employees. I bet you can find plenty of evidence to back that claim.

Neurolinguistics and the power of positive suggestion

The above described scenario didn’t come to me just like that. I recently bumped into a former colleague who now teaches at a bank management institute in India. She is a scholar of Neurolinguistics and she coaches bankers and top banking executives in leadership roles.

In her long career, she said she had seen many professionals damaging themselves because of negative thinking. She had seen this especially in India (she has been working in India after working in Switzerland for many years) where sycophancy and toadyism are considered important traits for survival. You can’t create a healthy working environment if you are not a positive-thinking leader—that’s her point.

Many banking leaders in India love to cling to their chairs so much so that they don’t allow their juniors to be groomed for top positions. What if they become better than me or replace me? That’s their fear.

This shortsightedness has created a leadership vacuum in the banking sector in India—a sector which will see more job creation than the manufacturing sector in the years ahead.

According to her, your negative thoughts induce the release of harmful hormones in your body, making you ill and disease-prone. The language you use affects your brain and its wiring—that is Neurolinguistics in short.

Her prescription? Always think positive. Tell yourself you can do it (let’s say public speaking) and you will be able to do it. Imagine positive scenarios for yourself and believe in them. They will happen. It is as simple as that.

Don’t use the word ‘try’—as in ‘I will try to achieve my goal’. Say, ‘I will achieve my goal’ instead. Don’t let the word ‘try’ become an obstacle in your path to success.

Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses—we all have our weaknesses. Don’t focus on them. Focus on your strengths. When you see Javier Bardem on screen mouthing dialogues in English, you don’t mind his weird accent. You enjoy his acting. Bardem is successful because he is exploiting his strength—his acting abilities. Vladimir Nabokov, the famous novelist, was not a great speaker of English but he wrote some of the most scintillating sentences in the English language. Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, might not have a great accent but he always has great content to share. He focuses on his content and that has made him a darling of people, an inspiring figure.

The choice is yours. You want to think positive and stay healthy or you want to have negative thoughts and damage your brains. 

You have to try it to believe it. Promise me that you will think positive today and see how it goes.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Charity screening of 'Menstrual Man' in Singapore

Singapore-based filmmaker Amit Virmani, who shot to fame with his first film, Cowboys in Paradise, is screening his second documentary film, Menstrual Man, in Singapore on 6 August 2013.

This is a charity screening so friends in Singapore please help this effort. Book your tickets online today!

“Menstrual Man” tells the inspiring story of a man who rose from below the poverty line to stand up for the ignored and forgotten. It underscores the role of social entrepreneurship in combatting poverty, and the importance of economic empowerment of women to enable a better world.

August 6, 2013. 715PM.
Golden Village Great World City
All profits go to MPEVDS, a village development society featured in the film.

More Details here

Friday, July 26, 2013

An evening with a Hollywood editor

Yesterday, I spent nearly two hours in the company of a veteran Hollywood video editor.

His name is Kris Trexler and he is an Emmy Award winning editor. Los Angeles-based Trexler has been nominated for the Emmy’s five times in his 30-year career. Twice he has won it. He has worked on hit TV shows in the US, such as In Living Color, Ellen, Titus, According to Jim, and Rita Rocks. He has also edited some music videos of Michael Jackson and Tina Turner and has worked on the taped segments of the Academy Awards.

Most recently, Trexler has been editing the hit Disney dance and comedy show, Shake It Up. After three successful seasons, the show is folding up and Trexler has been hired to edit another hot TV show in Hollywood. His new work starts from next month.

Trexler was addressing some local video editors in the Singapore Media Academy (SMA) in a talent forum yesterday. He is a regular visitor to Singapore and he conducts an editing master class here once a year. He also taught editing at Nanyang Polytechnic a couple of years back and loves Singapore as a city.

Trexler is a self-taught editor. He did not go to any film school. He learnt all the tricks of the editing trade on the job.

Trexler started out in his editing career at a time when digital editing was just taking birth. There was a demand for technicians who could learn to edit films (video) on computers and Trexler jumped into the fray. He became one of the pioneers of computerised video editing, using the revolutionary CMX system to edit “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons”, top rated CBS network comedies in the late 1970s.

Ever since, he has been constantly employed. He works for eight months and then takes a four month break. It is during the break that he conducts his editing classes.

Video literacy and editing

Today, video is ubiquitous (thanks to smartphones and YouTube and Facebook) and there are plenty of awfully edited videos on the Internet, he said. If people could learn the basics of editing, they could really improve their home videos.

I call this need video literacy. Today we live in the world of videos—from surveillance footage to our casual videos taken through our iPhones and iPads. They all end up somewhere on the Internet. Like we learnt how to read and write in school, how to use syntax and grammar, the same kind of literacy is required to handle the language of video.

In the SMA forum, most of the discussion centred on editing software.

Trexler lamented how Apple’s Final Cut Pro (FCP) X has disappointed professional editors. FCP was a great piece of editing software and after Apple discontinued FCP 7, it fell out of favour. When Apple had announced FCP X after a hiatus of several years, Trexler was over-excited. He wanted to use it to cut his next project on. When the product was finally released and he downloaded it from the App Store, he was disillusioned with what he saw.

The new version is not convenient for editing longer footage, he said. Creating and using duplicates is a problem with the software. However, he thinks that FCP X is great for editing documentaries.

After his initial rejection, Trexler is slowly coming to terms with FCP X again and is exploring it.

Hollywood is a 100 percent Avid town, Trexler said. All Hollywood editors use Avid to edit their footage. Most Hollywood productions use multi-cam footage (videos shot with four-cameras, A, B, C, and X). It is easier to edit such footage on Avid. Avid also has some unique features which other softwares don’t have, he claimed.

Trexler also appreciated Adobe’s editing software, Premiere. He said the software has evolved over the years and many editors are using it now (though not in Hollywood). Apple’s loss (after the folly of FCP X) has been Adobe Premiere’s gain.

If you are budding video editor, Trexler has one simple advice for you: you should learn both FCP and Avid. If you know how to use FCP, it should not be difficult to learn Avid in a day.

That’s what Trexler thinks. You want to try?