Who Shot my elephant?

This one is special. Special because it’s the first-ever movie that I watched in the theatre. No, no, I’m not giving away, how old I was, then. But, I must also mention, that it’s Super Special because it was the first movie, I watched along with my Mother.

The movie, I write about this time, in M3(Matinee Masala Metaphor) has a Disneyesque appeal with an Indian twist. Apart from my personal ‘Firsts’, this movie can be credited with a lot of other ‘Firsts’. This movie, at that point in time, was the ‘First’ biggest hit ever made by a South Indian producer, in Hindi. The movie was also the ‘First’ collaboration of Salim-Javed, who was officially credited as screenplay writers. It was also the biggest hit of 1971 until then, going by box office collections and was also critically acclaimed.

A 1st May 1971 release, a remake of a 1967 South Indian ‘Deiva Cheyal’, ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’ is the story of a boy, saved by elephants from a predator and left to the company of four elephants, as his family, by his ailing father.

The boy Raju, played by Rajesh Khanna (after a deluge of 14 consecutive solo hits) learns life and its ways, studying, playing, and growing up in the company of his family, his 4 elephants, the dearest being Ramu. 

Ramu, incidentally, is the reason for helping Raju meet and eventually win over Tanu, whom Raju is besotted with. Fate plays truant with Raju. The Prince turns into a pauper and loses everything dear to him, including the love of his life, and eventually comes very close to losing his life as well.

Ramu turns out to be the lucky mascot, the savior once again for his Master. Raju is back in the game and how! Thanks to Raju’s intelligence and Ramu’s hard work, the pauper turns back into a Prince, reigns over a new loving world he has created, happily married to Tanu, and then blessed with a beautiful baby.

Here comes the twist. Driven by the need to cover up their own follies, some members of the house staff start coloring how Tanu sees Ramu. However noble, every action of Ramu is now viewed by Tanu through the same tarnished lenses and she starts planting her own fears in Raju’s mind. Raju’s heart fights against his mind, refusing to believe that he or his family could ever be harmed by Ramu, the one who got them together, the one he grew up with, the one who helped him regain everything in life, including his life, twice. Alas, Tanu’s acrimonious arguments and barbs coerce Raju to alter his behavior towards his beloved Ramu, and events down the spiral to an extent, where Ramu ends up taking up a bullet for his Master. He gets shot. Only after this, does Tanu realize and recognize the loyalty, Ramu harbored for his Master. 

The audience weeps to a heart-touching rendition by Mohammed Rafi, Tanu repents, Raju forgives her but he had lost his Ramu forever, he had lost a relationship that had blossomed over so many years, he lost his most loyal friend, his greatest support, he had lost his elephant. That’s when the mind thinks, who shot the elephant? The gun? the villain who was holding the gun? the staff who initiated the entire sequence to cover up their tracks? Tanu who chose to believe what others said over what she had seen? or Raju who gave in to the social pressure?

I’ve been Ramu to somebody, selfless, devoted, and committed to helping my Raju succeed in every sphere in life. My Raju’s success, the tiniest, was a big celebration for me until my Raju started succumbing to the pressure, and one day, I was hit by a bullet. I took the bullet, some things died, but i still kept wondering and still do, why cant my Raju see that I could have done so much for him, there was so much more. Alas, he shot his elephant, too soon.

Could this be avoided? When I look back, maybe yes. I would have expected Raju to be stronger, mapped our previous history, and banked on the past rather than succumbing to the pressure around.

Our professional and personal journeys get us to interact with so many different kinds of people. Over the years, you are able to identify the ones who selflessly support you and are the ones who unabashedly stand up for you before anybody else and cheer you on. These are your elephants. The ones who respect the role you play and will play along doing the right things even if it means tough situations for them, personally. They hold you high. As one rides over the waves of success, its also natural that you might come across a lot of house staff and a lot of Tanus who are not mature enough to see the true picture or harbor motives that may be conflicting with your goals and eventually start coercing you into making decisions that your heart does not permit and sometimes even coercing you to shoot your own elephant.

Barbara Kellerman, in her book ‘Followership’ beautifully brings out the growing influence, authority, and importance of people with relatively lesser sources of power and how they are turning out to be, not only consequential but also bolder and more strategic, by the day.

As Raju, it’s for your wisdom to pick and choose the right people around you or the least, for you to be cognizant of the maturity or the intent of the Tanus and the staff around you. As a Leader, it calls for wisdom, fortitude to ward off the social pressure by Tanus and the staff and protect your elephants. Lest, one day, you stand deserted by the Tanus of the world and then wonder, Who Shot My Elephant?


The Second Hand

TGIF 😊 Welcome back to M3!

Before we dive into what the 3rd release of M3 holds for us, I would love to thank each one of you for your love, affection, and motivation. I thank you for pulling out time to call me/ write to me and share your reviews about the release. I truly appreciate your time and attention.

I also understand the last release was a Mughal – e – Azam in the era of short stories! But an Emperor – Rajesh Khanna – has to enter on an elephant! Any lesser words would have been blasphemous! However, the fact that so many of you read my long diatribe with such relish, is a testimony that I seem to be getting it right! 😊


Speaking of testimony & evidence, one particular movie scene that jumps up in my mind is from 1977, multi starrer called Imaan Dharam, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, and Sanjeev Kumar- a story about Ahmed [Amitabh Bachchan] and Mohan [Shashi Kapoor], who act as mock witnesses and hang around the local law court to provide fake testimony in legal trials. 

In one court trial – Chaudhary Moiiddeen v/s Fateh Ullah Khan- Ahmed [AB] is summoned as a witness. In the lawsuit, Chaudhary Moiiddeen has accused Fateh Ullah Khan of assaulting Gullu Miyan- Gullu Miyan is now injured and hospitalized and Chaudhary Moiiddeen wants justice now. In his defense, Fateh Ullah Khan has accused Chaudhary Moiiddeen of training and instigating Gullu Miya to destroy Fateh Ullah’s garden and in order to protect his garden from destruction, Fateh Ullah was forced to deter Gullu Miya, leading to the latter getting injured. 

Ahmed is hired by the lawyers of Chaudhary Moiiddeen to testify that Fateh Ullah Khan’s attack on Gullu Miyan was unprovoked & that Gullu Miyan is above reproach.  Ahmed provides a glorious testimony for Gullu Miyan, citing his several years of acquaintance with him, to which the prosecutor asks Ahmad – “Achcha toh aap Gullu Miyan ko jaante hain? Toh bataiye kitne bade hain Gullu Miyan?” [“Since you know Gullu Miyan, tell us, how tall is Gullu Miyan?”]

The camera zooms on to Ahmed’s face. His forehead is wrinkled, eyes a bit lost, mind whirring to find an answer- It is evident that the question is a googly! Confounded, fearful, checking for some kind of a hint on the prosecutor’s expressions- Ahmed attempts to answer the question by raising his left hand to a level that is representative of Gullu Miyan’s height. 

The moment his hand stops moving and rests at a level, in the air, just above the prosecutor’s head, the prosecutor rushes to judge and say ‘My Lord, this man is a liar! He does not even realize that Gullu Miyan is not a man, but a rooster!’

The people in the court, break out into laughter, the judge is dismayed, however before the prosecutor or the judge can say anything, Ahmed very confidently rebuts – ‘Why are you so impatient, Sir, let me get the second hand in!’. Very calmly he pulls out his right hand from the pocket, estimates the height of a rooster, and slides his right hand below the left one so as to create a gap that is a fairly good representation of Gullu Miya’s height! The court bursts out into laughter once again, the prosecutor and the judge are speechless and are left with no option but to allow the witness to leave.

Ah, the magical ‘Slide of the Second Hand’!

This ’Slide of the second hand’ changed the meaning, changed the thought process, changed the perception, changed the outcome. The importance of the second hand can only be realized when you imagine what would happen if the second hand didn’t come in – The picture, perception, story, judgment, outcome would have been very different. The second hand reframed the picture.

Reframing challenges our perspective, it challenges our operative lenses- Lenses being those mental models that we deploy to take cognizance of and operate in the world. Our working memory can store somewhere between five and seven chunks of information and that is why our brains, instead of trying to analyze, memorize, store everything that we come across, simplifies and creates some shortcuts in the form of lenses/ mental models to choose and apply in different situations- it is all about increased efficiency – so instead of going through the entire cognitive process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses, our brain may select a shortcut- a particular lens in a particular situation and the individual views all details through that lens. 

Efficient yes, however, is it always effective? How often as individuals, leaders, friends, relatives, do we judge situations, build perceptions, predict outcomes, judge ourselves- by deploying these lenses. And how often do we ask ourselves the unsettling yet important question- What if our lens was not right? What if we colored it wrong? What if we only saw one hand while creating that lens? What if we had missed ‘The Second Hand’. 

Imagine how incomplete is the picture with just one hand- many times would you have judged yourself, misread situations, misunderstood people, misinterpreted outcomes in life!

As a young man, in my second year of engineering, I decided to stand up for what was morally right, leading to a scuffle with someone -from a one on one, it turned out to be a four to one scuffle. Needless to say, the filmy hero within me was bruised for so many years because I could not do what my heroes did to thugs – beat all four of them black and blue without being hit, even once! I carried this dent to my pride for several years till during a coaching session, the magical slide of the ‘Second Hand’ happened! I realized that it took four of them to come together to face me- So, bruised I may have been, however, I was also the stronger one – morally as well as physically. Reframing helped me triumph over a personal dent by looking at the situation more holistically.  

That is the power of Reframing – a powerful tool used in coaching & therapy, it helps create an alternative way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning, by bringing in a new perspective. It is a means to change & sometimes, even defeat our lenses- thereby suspending judgment, letting go of a deadlock, or a sense of helplessness. 

Imagine looking at a scene through the frame of a camera. As the camera zooms in, you focus on specifics, as the camera retracts or zooms out, you start taking in the larger picture- Both the zoom-in & zoom out- have their own role to play. Your growth, your imagination, your peace, your happiness could just be a matter of cleaning those lenses & Zooming in and/or Zooming out so look out for the magical slide of the second hand, my friends!


Profesional Credibility (Mere fans mujhse koi nahin chen sakta)

Welcome back to Matinee Masala Metaphor(M3) and a touched, humbled,  grateful me. I thank you so much for your support, love, affection showered on the first release of M3.  Am so touched and if you are reading the 2nd release in the series, you asked for it 😊 

Life is full of events and our general tendency is to attribute a reason for the occurrence of an event and accept the most obvious reason. Many times and quite often, that may not be the true reason. I’m sure, this applies to a lot of areas in life. But this is the filmy me, now, so let me lead you back in time. 

As confessed, in my last release, I grew up admiring Rajesh Khanna in an era that belonged to the Angry Young Man. For a better part of my childhood years and adolescent years – I believed what generally everyone believed – the fading of Rajesh Khanna was attributed to the advent of Amitabh Bachchan. So, the cold war that I knew was very different from what the world was dealing with. My world was bipolar too, The RK block and the AB block. From resolutely refusing to watch Amitabh Bachchan movies, staunchly rooting for Rajesh Khanna movies(I didn’t get too many good ones, during my growing up years), and being divided in my head about who my true friends are (by now, you can guess, the sole parameter, I was using)

As I matured, I sought to find out more – was it what the majority said? Was it the rise of Amitabh Bachchan? Was it the socio–eco-political shift in the country because of the emergency?

I started thinking, recollecting, and reading. Started solving this puzzle in my mind and organizing the entire story sequentially, in my mind. With the release of Aradhana in 1969, a new star was born, the star who created unparalleled mass hysteria in India, the star whose smile melted hearts, the star who altered the definition of polygamy (don’t know how many girls married his photographs), the star whose white car turned pink, every time it was parked at a public place (no, no the car didn’t blush but it was lipstick and blush), the star whose name was a  sure shot indicator of cash bells ringing at the box office, to the extent that the Indian Film industry chanted ‘Upar Aaka neeche Kaka’ and they knew, everything the man touched was gold. King Midas had arrived. One jubilee after another, the man decimated all previous records(in fact future too), not only in terms of success but popularity as well. Without media penetration, like today and without any social media, the world realized a phenomenon was born and so rightfully a new phrase ‘Superstar’ was coined for him. The First Super Star, the only one to have managed 15 consecutive hits (unbeaten till date) and over 10 flops in a row, without a dent in his popularity.

The Superstar had Mumbai University textbooks carry a chapter on the Charisma of Rajesh Khanna, you had BBC depute a  Jack Pizzey to India to record a documentary on this phenomenon. 

As mentioned by Gautam Chintamani in his book ‘The loneliness of being Rajesh Khanna’ and Yasser Usman in his book ‘Rajesh Khanna’, a larger part of the world attributed his success to his charisma, and then another section that attributed his success to the music of his films and the camaraderie of Kishore Kumar, R.D. Burman, Shakti Samanta. A few others gave credit to his good looks.

But very few ascribed his success to his own efforts. What a lot of people didn’t know was that the man was known for his late-night sittings with his music directors until he got the right tune, making his directors work on his shots until he got the nod of his head in sync with the beat of a song or he got his eyes to blink at the right time and the right angle. He was a master at his game. A perfectionist! He was a good-looking man, brilliant actor, understood music, saw what the camera saw, and had lady luck swaying by his side. A sure shot recipe for success and what a success.

However, the success sustained itself only for 6 years? All going right, then what happened? Why only 6 years?

A very interesting trend here is that the very people who tasted success with Mr. Rajesh Khanna were now transitioning. Manmohan Desai’s first 2 career blockbusters with Mr. Rajesh Khanna, he was now on a film making spree with the Angry man, Yash Chopra’s first two career movies, both with Mr. Rajesh Khanna, was now on a spree with Mr. Bachchan, Shakti Samantha, the man whose banner possibly evolved as the biggest banner of Hindi cinema, with all Rajesh Khanna hits also moved on to Mr. Bachchan and the maker of Anand, Bawarchi and Namak Haraam also transitioned to Mr. Bachchan. What could prompt people to move on from a methodical, master actor, with whom they had grown in stature, success, and fame?

Folklore says the man started dictating terms, that people around the Super Star, his co-stars, his directors, producers, lyricists, music directors were now finding it difficult to cope with his tantrums, arrogance reflected in his behavior, tantrums were now menacing, opinions were now insulting, he slid into a make-believe world which was taking him away from reality, and possibly as he scaled some dizzying heights, there was an increasingly large population who was waiting for an opportunity to pull him down.

Like other co-workers, there were these talented scriptwriters who were given their first break by Rajesh Khanna but during a discussion, around a movie, were surprised and hurt by his obstinate stance and rude responses. Something transpired, that day. They walked out of his house. They decided never ever to work with the Super Star but also decided that their scripts will create a character who is from the masses, angry and upset with the system, he will fight back, this will be a new Super Star. They refused to part with their powerful script and powerful character if the movie starred Rajesh Khanna. The script was a strong one and finally, even Mr. Yash Chopra(the producer Director) relented and agreed to do the movie without Rajesh Khanna and with Amitabh Bachchan, as recommended by the scriptwriter duo. The movie, being discussed was Deewar. The rest is history. 

The reason for this Super Star sliding from his pedestal was not anybody else but the man himself..

People could not refute his success but now, they were not willing to contribute to it – be it working with him or even by talking about his work. His admirers, his propagators, his ambassadors were disappearing.

Over the years, it appeared people had forgotten this bright star. But every time, he got a good script, a good role, he was out of the clouds, shining bright. Unfortunately, the majority had lost trust. The industry, as it was then, had started writing him off. Not to forget, there was complete machinery waiting to pull him down, all those who were rubbed the wrong way while he was ascending the popularity charts. In spite of all the phenomenal talent that the man possessed, His audience never could see him in good projects –  his external customers could no longer see the talent because he was being rejected by people around, by people of his own fraternity, his internal customers.

So his capability was not being determined by his expertise alone but was also a function of his reputation and his network.

To give Mr. Khanna, his due, a lad of 29 who saw the success of this kind, slipped. As he once famously said, “Others had a Rajesh Khanna to learn from, I had nobody to learn from”. Had it not been for his hubris, we would be gifted with some more eternal classics of this maestro.

His successors ensured they didn’t fall victim to the same trap. Mr. Bachchan to date is respected for his professional behavior. Every individual who works with Mr. Bachchan, or recently Mr. Akshay Kumar, can stop praising them. So a professional‘s credibility keeps growing, not only because of the professional’s expertise but also to the extent the network endorses and in a way promotes the professional.

As a professional, I see a huge manifestation of this in our careers. It’s very easy to overlook and undermine the role that a network can play in building or decimating your professional credibility. 

While people focus on building expertise, their professional credibility may still not see a proportional scale up. This could be because :

  1. the individual does not possess a good network, 
  2. the reputation within the network is neutralizing the expertise
  3. the individual may not be in sync with the environment., a misfit in the culture of the organization. There are no rights and wrongs here but could be purely a case of fitment. 

In any of the above-mentioned cases, the net result is that the professional’s credibility will diminish. The onus is now on the individual to act and act fast, either rectify the reputation, start building a powerful network or move out of the environment, where you do not fit. All this, without losing time.

A simple formula  to convey the same :

Professional Credibility = your expertise x your Social Capital.

Social Capital could be a term to gauge the width and depth of your network. Let’s look at the depth and width through 3 layers :

a)Bonds: are Links to people based on a sense of common identities, such as family, close friends, and people who share our culture or ethnicity.

b)Bridges: Links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity, for example to distant friends, colleagues, and associates but maybe the same community and strata

c)Linkages: Links to people or groups further up or lower down the social ladder.

You can try and fathom, what will be your professional impact if every individual who interacts with you, as a professional, not only acknowledges your expertise but is also willing to endorse you for it.

Other professionals in your ‘Bonds’ will be the most tolerant of you. And other professionals, especially in the ‘Bridges’ and ‘Linkages’ will be willing to talk about you, not only because of your expertise but because of the holistic experience of working with you, that the individual recounts.

So thrive on your ‘Bonds’, build your ‘Bridges’, strengthen your ‘Linkages’, until we meet again with the next chapter in Matinee Masala Metaphor.