Monday, January 3, 2011

Where is the USP?

“But why?”, asked John.

It was a question he had been meaning to ask for a long time. It had been on the tip of his tongue for so long that it had set up a Victorian mansion and bred its own children right there. Like wine, Scotch whiskey and certain brands of cheese, the question gained potency over its long period under the wraps. For a question consisting of just two monosyllabic words, it rocked the house. It sent papers flying out through the window and made lesser mortals quiver. Heavenly powers moved the doomsday clock to within a minute of apocalypse.

The Absolute-SuperSonic Film Corporation had, over the years, established itself as one of the leading houses of the art (or what of left of it) called cinema. Their rise to the top of the industry had been powered by the iron rule of its head honcho, President M. He was rumoured to be as bad-tempered, loud and greedy as a gaggle of geese and could strip a tax-man of his wits faster than a priest could strip a choir boy.

Approximately seven and a half minutes before John released his lethal query, President M had been describing in detail the minor changes he thought would look good in the Corporation’s latest project, a musical. Apart from the usual inclusion of a cabaret and a skating ring, President M had a major bomb to drop that day.

“In our latest project, I feel we should cut out the music entirely”.

And then, John dropped his bomb. A question sure to go in to company folklore, a Prometheus-esque act, something on which the major poets would write epic tragedies. The question took the room by storm. President M quivered and dropped the beef sandwich he was munching. His secretaries took their fingers off their typewriters. Weathermen in distant weather stations checked the skies for signs of an impending thunderbolt. The security goons moved their palms to their hip holsters like one security goon.

“But why ?”, John repeated. “Why would anyone want to cut the music out of a musical ?”.

President M had an orderly mind and he classified the situation as only the fifth most worried he had been when someone asked him “but why ?”, though the top four had been screeching, delirious women. President M was stunned and momentarily tried to find an explanation.

“Because our lyricists are a bunch of doofus who cannot rhyme love with dove.They are a bunch of no goods and I do not think they should be writing anything for a movie. What good is the music ?”, asked the President impassioned. His assistants nodded and made a note of it. His secretaries were quickly back to work.

“But how do you make a musical without music ?”, persisted John.

“Let me ask you, young man. How is our music different from the scores of scores you hear elsewhere? What sets it apart? Where is the USP ?”.

The assistants got down on the floor in search of the USP. The attender pulled out the drawers to check for the elusive item. The cry “Where is the USP” rang throughout the room and some of it even managed to seep out through the windows, doors and the ventilation. Everyone was wonder struck at how emphatically the president put it.

“Where is the USP ?”, he bellowed and beamed, ecstatic at yet another victory at a verbal duel.

John could feel retort after retort avalanching themselves on the tip of his tongue. He knew he should let them out. He wanted to. He loved music and musicals. But it was President M who signed the cheques. The thought of further risking the displeasure and being summarily dismissed appalled him. For there is no spiritual anguish like that of a man who, having grown accustomed to opening the crackling envelope at the end of each month and fingering the warm cheque, reaches out one day and finds it is not there. The thought of Absolute-SuperSonic ceasing to be a fountain of gold and becoming just a rather portly man with a awful sideburns turned his spine to jelly. Maybe he would go down in history as the company’s Boswell’s clergyman. Fragmentary, pale, momentary; almost nothing. Meekly, he inherited his seat.

John swallowed the retorts knocking on his teeth. They were many in number. Hire new lyricists if the current crop is bad. Throw money at it. Improve the settings and theme of the projects. What about the previous musicals the company released? Were not they created by the same team? How will the critics view the current releases we have when they learn that the music has been disbanded? Create an USP for itself. Do something. Do not take the easy way out. Do something to keep the music.

Wiser counsels prevailed and John retreated to studying his fingernails as President M rambled on about the need for sensuous passion in the next project.

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