Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Intense One Hour

Upendra Namburi’s ‘60 Minutes’ is a racy corporate thriller based in the world of the fast-moving consumer goods industry

By Shevlin Sebastian

After the second bout of extreme passion had subsided, he pushed her away and walked up and down the room, running his fingers through his hair and shaking his head vigorously. He wasn’t sure if he was being disloyal to Nandita or Maithili or both? Or was he lying to himself? This wasn’t like him. This should have been a random meaningless act.

This is an excerpt from Upendra Namburi’s ‘60 Minutes’, a racy corporate thriller based in the world of the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

Agastya, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of BCL is living life in the fast lane. He makes crores of rupees on the stock exchange, is smart and astute, and wins numerous battles for the company, in the marketplace, while, at the same time, he is having an affair with Maithili, a hot and ambitious professional. Agastya is also married to Nandita, and has two children. So he is sailing on several boats at the same time.

BCL is about to launch a premium detergent by the name of Sparkle, but their rival, Spark, led by CMO Sailesh Rao, suddenly decides to launch Velvet, a cheaper detergent, at the same time. The viciousness of the fight between them is a reminder of the real-life battles that have taken place between Pepsi and Coke, Apple and Samsung, Hindustan Lever and Proctor & Gamble.

Globally, there are several such battles,” says Upendra. “Man has a deeply competitive spirit. The wars may no longer take place in Waterloo or Dunkirk. Instead, they occur in the boardrooms. And this competitiveness and rivalry cuts across societies all over the world.”

Upendra has highlighted this conflict through several characters. “These people cannot be restricted to places like Mumbai or Delhi,” says Upendra. “They are universal characters. People drink, take drugs, womanise and go for foreign trips. I think I have underplayed it.”
Among the more interesting characters is Maithili. The 30-something unmarried entrepreneur founded a company and sold it for Rs 30 crore. She has been successful, but is facing challenges on the emotional front.

Maithili is having an affair with Agastya, while she is also living with another man, who beats her up, even as she looks after that person's child. “So, there is a maternal instinct, a physical craving and a need for emotional support,” says Upendra. “If it had been done within matrimony, it would have been considered all right. But society is critical, because she is involved with two people, one of whom is a married man. I don't condone her behaviour. But we are bound by the traditional thinking that all of this should have happened under the umbrella of marriage.”

'60 Minutes’, as the title suggests, is, indeed, just one hour in this corporate battle, that is being portrayed, although alternating chapters have flashbacks going back a couple of years. 

This is Upendra’s second novel. It has been brought out by Westland Publishers and is doing well. His first, ‘31’, was a best-seller.

Upendra is the right person to chronicle the lives of corporate people, because he belongs to that world. For the past 20 years, he has been working in blue-chip companies like Parle Agro, International Best Foods, ICICI Bank and ABN Amro. Today, he is working for a leading financial services company in Gurgaon. But writing has always been close to his heart since childhood. “In fact, I have been a college magazine editor,” he says.

His turning point came when, six years ago, he got an offer to write on business subjects with a leading Mumbai newspaper. Thereafter, he wrote for magazines and blogs. One day, he embarked on ‘31’. Now he is writing a screenplay, based on '31', with the expectation that it will be made into a Hindi film in the future.

Incidentally, '60 Minutes' took a year to write. “There is no particular time to write,” says Upendra. “I go with the flow. I have written in airport lounges, taxis, and at home, as and when time permits.”

But he has a target audience in mind. “They include anyone who is working in corporates, be it small, medium or large companies,” says Upendra. “I feel they will be able to relate to the events in the novel.” 

Meanwhile, every now and then Upendra is invited to give talks to young people about corporate life. “I tell them that once in a while, they should press a refresh button and say, 'Hey, what is most important for me?'” he says. “You have to be careful that in the excitement of having a hot-shot career, you don't lose your integrity.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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