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PLEASURE

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The secret bazaar of sex toys

The secret bazaar of sex toys

arindam Tue, 2014-02-18 19:50
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Shopping in the black market of social media
Just like the real world, we crave attention online. Some want less, some want more, but we all want it to a certain degree. We want people to follow us on social networking websites, to ‘like’ our photos and share our thoughts, and our witticisms and observations to reverberate through the internet. I have to admit I am no different. I have spent plenty of time in my five-odd years of existence on Twitter, in front of a flickering blue page on either my desktop or cellphone, composing seemingly complex thoughts in 140 characters, participating in silly games that occasionally trend (like #filmtitlesthatcouldbepornos ), hashtagging commonplace occurrences, frequently changing my Twitter bio with pompous declarations ( ‘caffeine-drinker, reader and traveller; not in that order’) or hipster-speak (‘social ninja’), tweeting people I would never engage in a real world conversation— all of it for some attention. And, I fear, somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, there is this thought that what the real world had so far failed to notice would somehow be magically discovered on Twitter. That with a mug shot and few tweets under my name, people will finally recognise me and flock to follow and hear me. Perhaps this occurs in other minds too. But then reality hits you like always, even online.

I sat down in front of my Twitter page a few weeks ago to take stock. My single- minded five-year-long endeavour on Twitter had yielded a measly 209 followers. No one had ever ‘favourited’ or even retweeted me. It was as if no one even knew I existed here. Thankfully, I had been judicious in following only 195 individuals— a respectable followers-to- following ratio, you might agree.

Now I have over 5,000 Twitter followers. I purchased them. I went online, made an order, wired Rs 2,000 and went to sleep. Two days later, I woke up to the sound of my cellphone chirping with emails notifying me that some 5,000 individuals were following me.

I went through my list of followers; they were a mixed lot. They hail from all parts of the globe, from Juliaca in Peru to Puebla in Mexico. There are Latin Americans, Filipinos, Whites and Blacks. But they also have some similarities. Many have no display pictures, some bear images of cats and aphorisms. The women whose pictures are displayed are invariably good looking and often with little clothes on. All of them follow thousands of Twitter profiles, but very rarely does anyone else follow them. I wrote to some of them, but no one replied. They just sit there mute and inactive, occasionally coming alive to tweet and promote a product or service. I realised that what I had heard was true. These were not real people. They were bots—fake profiles, controlled not by individuals manning their individual accounts, but by algorithms whose purpose is to spam and inflate follower counts.

There is a large and growing black market for fake ‘likes’ and followers on social networking websites on the internet. Here, a person can buy—in a variety of packages and plans—anything one could possibly want of a networking website, be it Facebook ‘likes’ and followers, Twitter followers and retweets, YouTube page views and ‘likes’, or even LinkedIn connections and endorsements. Most of these sellers promise to gather genuine followers, but they are almost always bots.

A number of individuals have in the past been accused of buying fake ‘likes’ and followers on networking sites. Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot found himself in such a storm recently after rivals alleged that he had bought Facebook ‘likes’. Apparently, his Facebook saw a sudden jump on this count in a span of weeks from 169,077 to 214,639, most of them originating from profiles set up in Turkey. During the last US presidential election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney was also accused of buying followers on Twitter.

Fake profiles are nothing but simple pieces of code written by individuals with programming knowledge. In the case of Twitter, their creators use Twitter’s API (application programming interface)—an interface that other programs like Facebook use to interact with Twitter. Here, fraudsters are able to do such things as copy images and text from existing profiles and tweets, reshape them a bit, and use this pool of information to generate thousands of fake profiles in a matter of minutes.

Kamlesh Deokar, a professional who offers social media solutions to various companies, explains, “Previously, every fake profile developer sat down and manually created fake profiles. They started developing programs to create these profiles soon. But with the likes of Facebook and Twitter cracking down on fake profiles, the bots try to disguise themselves and appear more human.” Hence, most bots now come with bios, usually gleaned from existing user profiles, and have photographs as display pictures instead of the default image. They are then dispersed on Twitter by getting them to follow actual people with large followers in the hope that some will follow the bots, thus giving them alibis. A dead giveaway for bots are accounts that follow thousands of individuals but have no (or very few) followers themselves.

To show how efficient and advanced bots can be, one simply needs to look at some of the creative bots on Twitter that have been programmed not to follow and spam others, but to perform tasks. For instance, a twitter handle called @everyword, also a bot, tweets a word from an English dictionary every 30 minutes. This task was programmed in 2008 and the handle is expected to send its last tweet this year. Another interesting bot, @Pentametron, retweets any rhyming tweet it can find on Twitter twice every hour. Reading @Pentametron’s retweets is a hilarious experience. Try this random sample: ‘I love the move Father of the bride.’ ‘My stomach is committing suicide.’ ‘Defend, defend, defend, defend, defend.’ ‘I absolutely need an English friend.’

India is considered one of the world’s hubs for such fake profile creation. Foreign nationals and companies often approach developers here to provide them with followers and ‘likes’ because the job in this country costs a lot less than in the West. I approached several such creators. Most of them have websites but rarely do they disclose contact numbers. A Delhi-based social media planner whose website claimed to sell fake Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers suddenly denies selling fake accounts once I identify myself as a journalist. He says that he has two political leaders and a few doctors as clients, but his job is to help them generate genuine ‘likes’ on Facebook. “We always get some leader or another,” he says of politicians. “They don’t understand social media, but because their top bosses are on these websites, they too want to be on them. They want us to create fake ‘likes’ and followers, but I refuse to get them fake ‘likes’,” he says. Another Mumbai-based social media planner, who only offers Facebook popularity, charges one rupee for every fake Indian Facebook follower. He quotes the same price for ‘likes’ too.

The most forthcoming is a Gurgaon- based social media planner who goes by the name of Social King. He has created over 50,000 fake Twitter accounts and an equal number of Facebook profiles. Whenever a client wants new followers or ‘likes’, he employs these accounts to perform the task. He charges Rs 2,000 for 5,000 fake non-Indian Twitter followers and Rs 15,000 for 5,000 fake Indian Twitter followers. For an Indian, having fake Indian Twitter followers evokes less suspicion and is thus more expensive. For a few extra thousands, he says he can make the bots retweet and promote my tweets. He charges Rs 1,300 for 500 Facebook ‘likes’ and Rs 7,200 for 50,000 of those. As many as 10,000 YouTube views are available for Rs 600 and 100,000 of these for Rs 4,500.

After a few conversations, he reveals that he is a college student who does this to make himself some money part-time. “I don’t know about ethics,” he says, “but the way I look at it, we are only providing a service.”

Payments are to be made online through payment gateways like Paypal or PayUMoney. Minutes after speaking with Social King, I receive a bill of Rs 2,000 for a canvas handbag with polka dots (as the bag’s image shows me) via PayUMoney. This bill is to act as a cover for my purchase of Twitter followers, since such purchases cannot officially be made through payment gateways.

While buying fake ‘likes’ and followers is not unlawful, it breaches the service terms of the websites in question. Both Twitter and Facebook, which run a credibility risk because of this black market, have actively started monitoring their websites for bots to deactivate. Last October, before Twitter held its famous Initial Public Offer and had its stock listed for trading, the company admitted that at least 5 per cent of its profiles were fake. Just last week, while presenting its fourth-quarter earnings report, Facebook Inc revealed that, by its estimates, between 5.5 per cent and 11.2 per cent of its users in 2013 were fake.

YouTube wiped out billions of music industry video views in December last year after auditors found that some clips had exaggerated their numbers vastly. Some days ago, YouTube announced a crackdown on ‘fraudulent views’, stating that its video views will henceforth be ‘audited’ and if any fraud is detected, the offender’s view count will be revised to reflect reality or the video clip deleted altogether.

Gaurav Bhaskar, global communications and public affairs manager at Google, explains the company’s policy on fraud in India. “We have a team in India that monitors videos and their view counts, looking for any suspicious activity,” he says, “So far, we’ve not found anything to be worried about. But as internet penetration increases and more businesses rely on online activity, the scope of abuse in India becomes larger.”

Says a Mumbai-based social media analyst, requesting anonymity because many in the online advertising fraternity know him: “Everyone is doing it. After an online advertising campaign is concluded and the client wants to see results, what does the agency do? They approach a fake ‘likes’ seller to create ‘likes’ and followers for them. How do so many music or advertising videos go viral? They initially buy a number of views. Once the video, because it seems to have generated so many views, is tagged as ‘popular’ and featured on YouTube’s homepage, it starts getting genuine views and thus sometimes goes viral.” He adds, “If one tries to go about acquiring ‘likes’ and followers in an organic or ethical manner, you can at most get 1 per cent growth, which for many clients is just not good enough.”

Dale Bhagwagar, a film publicist, admits that two of his clients, both upcoming actresses, bought themselves Twitter followers about two years ago. “One of them bought some 22,000 followers and another about 5,000 followers on Twitter. I was surprised, but who was I to say anything? The two of them were very happy. Since then, I have noticed that this has become common practice in the industry,” he says. According to him, it is crucial nowadays for every upcoming actor or singer to be on Twitter. “But barring a few top stars, why would people be interested in following them? Everyone, thus, buys a large number of fake followers to inflate their follower lists,” he says.

However, many claim that shopping for fake popularity, far from helping a brand, makes things worse. A few months ago, a digital and social media ad agency named Buzzinga Digital in Mumbai was awarded the Facebook account of a springwater brand to promote. This brand, available only in Mumbai and Goan five-star hotels, sells at Rs 50 for a 750-ml bottle. Since the product is niche, it has rather few followers on Facebook. But the previous agency handling the website started buying fake ‘likes’ to demonstrate how popular it had made the page. “From about 800 page likes, many of whom actively engaged with content on the page and personally know the owner of the water brand, suddenly there were over 11,000 page likes from people in Jalandhar and Chandigarh, places where this brand is not even available. Many of these accounts turned out to be fake, while some had unknowingly been lured into liking the page,” says Tarun Durga, one of the founders of the current agency. Many of those who had been tricked into displaying appreciation of the page complained to the agency via emails. “The worse thing is [that Facebook] only allows 5 per cent of all followers to [simultaneously] view content that is put up. Now with a majority of the water brand page’s followers being fake, it is likely that very few genuine followers even get to see the content,” he sighs unhappily.

According to Durga, most social media agencies should focus on ‘who is talking about the brand’ on the Facebook page, instead of the number of ‘likes’, both of which appear adjacent to each other as figures on Facebook pages. “But very rarely do clients even notice this segment. And many agencies are happy to exploit this,” he says.

Fake likes and followers, however, can be caught. There are online tools such as Fake Follower Check that claim to detect fraud. This they do with the use of metrics like the number of tweets a follower issues or the count of people following this follower (in turn). According to data crunched by Fake Follower Check, the BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi, who had nearly 3.4 million followers on Twitter at the time of the assessment, has 82 per cent ‘fake’ followers, 16 per cent ‘inactive’ followers and 2 per cent ‘good’ or genuine followers. The figures reported by that fraud detection tool for actor Shah Rukh Khan, who had 6.7 million followers at the time, are roughly the same.

It’s a standard pattern, it seems. Before I purchased my followers, 2 per cent of all I had following me were inactive while the rest were good. After the purchase, I was found to have 80 per cent fake followers, 18 per cent inactive, and 2 per cent good.

Now, those with large follower bases may not necessarily have bought them. They may have got lumped with fakes for no fault of theirs. Bots, after all, are designed to gain fake credibility by following famous people on Twitter, and so people who are already popular could end up with vastly exaggerated figures.

In the week since I bought my new followers, something strange has happened every day. My follower count has been on a rollercoaster. From 5,350 followers, my all-time high, the figure crashed before it stabilised at 5,200 the other day. Social King tells me this is normal and he will ensure that I always have the 5,000 I paid for. Deokar says that this occurs because bots are programmed to spot certain keywords. If, for instance, they follow and spam individuals who tweet these words, they sometimes also unfollow those who do not.

As I write this, my follower count stands at 5,259. Last night, it fell to 5,195. I always thought these followers would never go away. And even if they did, since none of them really exists, I would be fine with their disappearance. But after every precipitous fall and rise, I realise that I am left poorer by at least 20 followers.

I find myself checking my Twitter page every morning, going through my list of followers, trying to figure out who left me overnight. When I complain to Social King, he says in his familiar reassuring voice, “Fikar mat keejiye (Don’t worry). They will not leave you. Ek-doh naya bana doon aapke liye? (Should I make one or two new ones for you?)”

Mess

It Isn’t Gas: If You Fix The Price, You Pay a Price

Dhiraj Nayyar is Officer on Special Duty and Head, Economics, Finance and Commerce, NITI Aayog. These are his personal views and do not reflect those of the NITI Aayog
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How the UPA’s muddled economic policies have
Delhi Chief Minister(1) Arvind Kejriwal is crying conspiracy, once again. He claims to have smelt something odorous in the pricing of natural gas. He wants to prosecute Union Petroleum Minister Veerappa Moily, his predecessor Murli Deora, former Director General of Hydrocarbons VK Sibal and Reliance Industries’ Mukesh Ambani for ‘fixing’ the price of gas. Kejriwal is on to something, except that his conspiratorial mind and desperation to grab headlines clouds his ability to identify the real problem.

The real problem is that the Government, whether Moily or Deora or anyone else, has no business setting the price of gas or of any other commodity. But the Congress-led UPA has insisted on doing precisely that in a gamut of crucial sectors, be it gas, diesel, spectrum, coal mines, land and agriculture. It is this penchant for fixing prices by administrative fiat that has saddled the Congress and its allies with twin issues that could cost them the next General Election: corruption and inflation.

Economics is an imprecise, dismal science. Still, it holds out some wisdom for the world. It tells us, for instance, that market mechanisms are far superior at discovering prices than bureaucrats or ministers are. Those who have defied this elementary truth have paid dearly: the Soviet Union found itself bankrupt and quite literally broken after decades of price-fixing by sundry administrators. India too paid a heavy price for the Government’s dabbling in price-setting all the way up to 1991. If there was one thing Liberalisation achieved, it was ridding us of the notion that bureaucrats knew best. Until that point, even steel prices were set by Delhi’s Udyog Bhavan.

How ironic it is that the man who presided over the dismantling of several price controls in 1991, Manmohan Singh, is the same man who has presided over the fixing of so many prices some 20 years after Liberalisation. It is his successors in the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, who will now pay the price for fixing prices.

Take the case of gas. In 2009, the UPA decided that Reliance would sell the gas from its KG Basin fields at the rate of $4.2 per unit. In 2013, it was decided that this price would be doubled to $8.4 per unit from 1 April 2014 onwards. It is this doubling that Kejriwal is furious about. The point, however, is this: how does Kejriwal or anyone else know if this is the right or wrong price? In Kejriwal’s worldview, his administrative fiat is better than that of the Congress or BJP because he is not corrupt. Histrionics aside, that is hogwash.

For one, contrary to Kejriwal’s claims, the UPA raised the price of gas based on a formula proposed by C Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Council of Economic Advisors, and not on ministerial whim. But Rangarajan is not the market. The right price of gas can only be determined by the forces of demand and supply, not just in India, but at a global level. That may mean that Reliance would earn a price greater than $8.4 per unit or less than $8.4 per unit, depending on global factors—which change every hour, unlike bureaucratic decisions which change every five years.

Sure, natural gas is a national resource and the Government must get a share of its profits. The right way to do this is to charge royalties based on the market price of gas. There may be a case to subsidise end consumers (say, of power based on gas) when international market prices are high. Again, the way to address this is to target a subsidy at those consumers who need it, not control prices.

There are other ways to ensure that prices remain moderate. The best way is to ensure competition. Again, the way to do this is to encourage more private sector and foreign investors in the gas sector, something the Government has been loath to do. And if a firm tries to overprice gas, there should be an independent regulatory mechanism, not the captive (to ministerial whim) Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board, which should play referee. The UPA has invested in none of these propositions. It has just fiddled with prices, waiting to be burned. Kejrwal certainly wasn’t going to miss an opportunity.

It is incredible that the UPA did not learn its lesson on transparent pricing mechanisms despite the damage it incurred over its 2G spectrum allocations. It was in January 2008 that then Telecom Minister A Raja overruled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request for an auction of 2G spectrum and doled out 122 licences based on a whimsical version of a first-come-first-serve policy, whimsical because procedures were manipulated at the last minute to ensure than even the first-come-first-served principle was brutally violated.

Even in the 2G scam, it is important to distinguish the conspiracy from the arbitrary fixing of prices. The conspiracy involves procedural violations and money trails that suggest a quid pro quo. The fixing of the licence fee at a rate determined fit by the Government is not a conspiracy in itself. It is just old-fashioned socialist planning of the bureaucrat- knows-best kind.

Much was made of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), which in 2010 declared that the exchequer may have incurred a loss of up to Rs 1.76 lakh crore by not auctioning 2G spectrum. Some were outraged at Raja. He lost his job. Others were outraged at the CAG; how on Earth had he calculated such a huge figure? The truth is that the CAG, like Raja, would have no precise idea on the right price of spectrum. Only a free, competitive market can discover that price, not a bureaucracy, not an accountant. But the UPA had only itself to blame for facing the brunt of the CAG’s report. If it had reposed its faith in the market pricing mechanism, there would have been no scandal.

Incredibly, exactly the same thing was permitted in the allocation of coal mines in 2009, several months after the 2G scam had already raised its ugly head in media reports. Once again, Liberalisation’s father Manmohan Singh initially asked for auctions in the allocation of these mines, only to back off in favour of administrative allotments. Again, giving out coal mines free may or may not point to corruption. The Government may deliberately want to provide cheap inputs to power-producing companies. But in an atmosphere where the Government is distrusted and crony capitalism is rampant, it is a folly to rely on an administrative rather than free-market mechanism for such an allocation of resources. Again, it is impossible to say whether the CAG was right in estimating the losses from Coalgate at Rs 1.8 lakh crore. A free market mechanism may not have yielded the same figure had the mines been openly auctioned. But the UPA had only itself to blame for subverting the market.

Together, Coalgate and 2G destroyed the UPA’s credibility. They led to an unprecedented policy paralysis, which crippled the economy and saw economic growth fall from 8.5 to 4.5 per cent in a period of three years. It gave the opposition plenty of fodder to attack the UPA on corruption and its economic record. It gave Kejriwal the opportunity to attack the UPA on Reliance and gas pricing just two months before a General Election. And all of that because the UPA forgot that one golden rule of economics: let prices be determined by demand and supply.

If corruption—or at least perceptions of it—is the UPA’s black stain, then inflation (very real, no perception) is its Achilles Heel. The unabated price rise of UPA’s second term in office can directly be traced to food items, particularly vegetables, fruits, milks and protein that are produced by the country’s vast agriculture sector. The UPA has put forward a simple explanation for the persistent, usually double-digit rate of food inflation. It says that inflation is the price being paid for prosperity as a rise in incomes (particularly rural incomes courtesy the UPA’s welfare programmes) has outstripped the supply of agricultural commodities. In this explanation, the UPA is apparently embracing conventional economics: prices rise when demand exceeds supply.

Unfortunately, the UPA is peddling a half-truth. It says nothing about the supply side, even though it spends a lot of time and money fiddling with the market mechanism (particularly prices), which ultimately determines that supply.

The UPA’s favourite instrument in agriculture is the Minimum Support Price (MSP), a floor price the Government offers rice and wheat farmers to procure their produce. The aim of the MSP is noble, to guarantee farmers a good price, but its side effects are devastating. First, the MSP is unidirectional; year after year, it is only raised, not reduced even in times of a bumper crop. This affects inflationary expectations in the rest of the economy. Second, since the MSP is available only to producers of cereals, there is a perverse incentive for all farmers to grow rice and wheat at the expense of fruits and vegetables, which do not have any guaranteed price and are prone to high rates of damage. This creates a supply shortage in precisely those commodities that are growing fastest in demand (demand for cereals tends to grow much slower compared to vegetables and proteins as incomes rise). The fact is that the Government’s MSP policy is fuelling food inflation.

Unfortunately, the Government’s price intervention in agriculture does not end with the MSP. The UPA, more than any other Government, has used export bans of key agricultural commodities (such as onions and cotton) in desperate attempts to control domestic prices. These have been counter-productive. It kills the incentive for a farmer to produce more of a commodity if he is denied its global best price. This creates a vicious cycle of shortages. Ideally, the Government ought to loosen imports at times of shortage, but the mandarins of the UPA are addicted to playing havoc with proper price signals. It’s for the same reason that the temptation to ban futures trading in agricultural goods surfaces from time to time. All that a ban does is deny farmers a useful market price signal and the agricultural economy an automatic correction mechanism. If prices are high today, farmers will produce more, forcing prices down in the future. This is elementary economics, but it has been totally lost on the UPA.

It is too late for the UPA to course correct at this stage. Even the determined P Chidambaram can do little to reverse this cavalier rejection of the free market price mechanism as he rises to present his Government’s final (interim) Budget on the morning of 17 February.

The extent of systemic damage is so great that even a bonafide government decision is now viewed with suspicion. It will take more than a Budget for the next Finance Minister and Prime Minister to fix the system. It would help, though, if they made one concession, not to business, but to economics: let prices be determined by the market. It will bestow upon governance the credibility that this important business needs.

(1): This article was printed before Arvind Kejriwal resigned from the post of chief minister of Delhi
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Allah’s Rock Stars
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DEFIANCE

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Strains of rock music have begun to waft across the gullies of Nizamuddin that usually reverberate with qawwaalis

Strains of rock music have begun to waft across the gullies of Nizamuddin that usually reverberate with qawwalis

arindam Mon, 2014-02-17 20:48
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Love in the Time of HIV
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True Life

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When Najaraus met Maitri, she was an HIV-positive widow, and he an AIDS awareness worker. Nine years later, with a little grit and a little fib, they are married, living together, still in love—and Najaraus is still HIV-negative

When Najaraus, HIV-negative, met Maitri, HIV-positive

arindam Mon, 2014-02-17 19:56
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The Eternal Poet
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BIOGRAPHY

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A new biography of Sahir Ludhianvi brings to life the poet who changed the idiom of Hindi cinema lyrics

A new biography of Sahir Ludhianvi brings to life the poet who changed the idiom of Hindi cinema lyrics

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Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet | Akshay Manwani | HarperCollins | 320 pages | Rs 399

arindam Mon, 2014-02-17 19:46
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LUXURY

Fast and Fabulous

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Innovative supercar ideas at India’s best ever Auto Expo
This might have been the 12th edition of the biennial Auto Expo, but it’s safe to say the 2014 event was India’s first international level motorshow. The new venue at Greater Noida, infrastructure and general high standards of organisation have seriously turned things around.

What that means is visitors—over 300,000 at last count—had a fantastic opportunity to get up close to some really wild concepts and mad supercars, of which there were many. Leading the charge, quite literally, was the BMW i8 supercar, which looks like it belongs to the future and makes use of some really advanced technology too. It’s made primarily of lightweight aluminium and carbon fibre, and features a 96 kW electric motor that drives the front wheels and a 228 bhp, 1.5 turbo petrol that powers the rear ones.

Also at the BMW stand was the slightly more conventional but equally exciting M6 Gran Coupe. Beautiful as it is, it’s also got plenty of firepower thanks to its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol motor. The M6’s natural rival, the RS7, was also on display not too far away at Audi’s pavilion. As if the standard A7 wasn’t striking enough, the RS7 with its larger wheels and sportier kit looks utterly desirable. Oh and it’s got a 560 bhp, 4-litre twin-turbo petrol.

Audi also deserves a round of applause for bringing in two very special cars, the first being the R18 e-tron Quattro. Why is it special? Well, it happened to win a very special endurance race at a famous race track in France. Yup, it’s a Le Mans winner. The other special car at the Audi exhibit was the spiritual successor to a hugely famous model—the Sport Quattro concept. Audi wanted to divert our attention to its laser headlights but it was a bit hard to peel our eyes away from the car in its entirety—it’s that gorgeous.

Another car that draws inspiration from the past (and drew a lot of eyeballs at the Auto Expo) was the Jaguar Project 7. An ode to the Le Mans- winning D-type of 1956-57, the Project 7 is unique for its lowered windscreen, carbon-fibre splitter and a fairing behind the driver’s seat.

The ‘standard’ F-Type Coupe also made its India debut at the 2014 Auto Expo. It’s even better looking than the convertible already on sale. Enough said. Sportscars are very Jaguar, crossovers aren’t. Or so you’d think. Jaguar’s C-X17 sport crossover concept was also there and it did look rather special in the flesh.

Speaking of crossovers, any Auto Expo stars list would be incomplete without a mention of the Mercedes- Benz GLA. It’s got cuts and creases at all the right places, and, more importantly, is coming to a Mercedes showroom near you. The other Merc of note was the CLA45 AMG. Curvaceous it may be, but the primary reason to buy one would have to be its 355-bhp, twin-turbo 2-litre bruiser of an engine.

Some of the ‘larger-hearted’ Auto Expo stars were at the General Motors display where a Camaro ZL1 shared the limelight with a C7 Corvette Stingray. I just wish the good folks at Chevrolet had fired up their mighty 6.2-litre V8s. Wouldn’t that have made for a spectacular sound show?

Another car that made a big impact at the Auto Expo was the all-electric Mahindra Halo sportscar. Diminutive and light, it looks like the Lotus’ of old. Claimed performance? 0-100 kmph in eight seconds and a top speed of 160 kmph! Let’s hope they make this one. Honda didn’t disappoint enthusiasts either with the NSX Concept, which truly looks worthy of the legendary NSX name. It goes into production next year and will feature a mid-mounted V6 petrol and a pair of electric motors. Who said green can’t be mean? Honda’s Japanese compatriot Toyota also wowed visitors with the GT86 in TRD trim. The GT86 features a 2-litre boxer motor and is known to perform drifts at will. Nice. A welcome addition to Hyundai’s display of level-headed family cars was the HND-9 concept coupe. Sleek, long and low-slung, the HND-9 got a double thumbs up from nearly everyone who walked through Hyundai’s vast display.

Finally, what’s a motorshow without a crazy concept or two? As always, Renault showed off its quirky side with the unique KWID concept that looks more like a lunar buggy than something that will make production. However, the KWID does preview a small SUV that Renault is working on. Just don’t expect the final version to have the KWID’s centrally-mounted steering or gull-wing doors.

As you can tell, there was lots to see at the 2014 Auto Expo. And these sportscars and concept were just the tip of the iceberg. So was this the best Auto Expo ever? You bet!

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Size Matters
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Research

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The strange correlation between female infidelity and the size of her partner’s testicles

The strange correlation between female infidelity and the size of her partner’s testicles

arindam Mon, 2014-02-17 17:23
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New Kindle Paperwhite
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Rs 10,999

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With its new ebook reader, Amazon retains its lead in the e-reader market

With its new ebook reader, Amazon retains its lead in the e-reader market

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Integration of Goodreads | Smart Lookup | 206 gm

arindam Mon, 2014-02-17 17:14
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Romantic Comedy

Hasee Toh Phasee

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/5
Changing the personality of a lead character midway, this film crashes after a delightful start
CAST Parineeti Chopra, Sidharth Malhotra | DIRECTOR Vinil Matthew
The Achilles’ heel of Hindi movie writing brings Hasee Toh Phasee crashing down from a delightful start. You can fiddle with the story, but you can’t change the behaviour and personality of the lead character midway through the film just to conform to the expectations of a romantic comedy.

Till one hour into the film, Meeta (Parineeti Chopra) has facial tics indicating serious psychological problems. Though she is a supersmart science graduate doing a PhD at a University in China and an inventor to boot, she has been rejected by her family and is on anti-depressants. She makes decidedly anti-social faces at people and does the Dustin Hoffman Rain Man routine of an autistic person who lacks social engagement but has an instant, almost computerised recall of information.

Nikhil (Sidharth Malhotra) then turns up—a good looking business entrepreneur perpetually on the verge of a major deal that somehow never comes through. Nikhil is engaged to Karishma (Adah Sharma), Meeta’s elder sister, and is given charge of hiding the embarrassing younger sister and black sheep of the family. But in the process of shielding Meeta, he turns protective of her. Love blossoms.

Hey presto, Meeta’s behaviour alters dramatically. Almost instantly, she abandons all her tics, all her social awkwardness, and becomes an endearing friend and soulmate to Nikhil. Hasee Toh Phasee turns into an unbelievable fairy tale.There is no further mention of Meeta’s psychiatric problems in the rest of the film.

A script writer cannot change human behaviour, let alone personality, and be taken seriously. An actress playing an autistic character one moment and a smart, cute, marriageable girl the next should have some conflict about her role that she voices to the writer and director. Especially in a film co-produced by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, votaries of some realism in cinema.

Clearly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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