Breaking down the storytelling of “The Evolution Of Michael Phelps”

I saw a short 15 minute documentary video on the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps just now. One of my Facebook friends had shared it on his timeline. And because I loved the way the film was made, I thought of breaking down the storytelling bit (my newest obsession – every time I see a good story, whether it be a documentary – short or otherwise, or a Hollywood movie).

1. Protagonist

  • From whose point of view is the story being told (or in other words, who is the protagonist)? Michael Phelps – he is the protagonist. He knows what he wants, it’s not easy for him to get what he wants, and he never totally gives up.
  • What does the protagonist want? To figure out his ultimate purpose in life.
  • Protagonist’s motivation? We all want to figure this out, right? This is a basic human nature.

2. Empathy

So why does the audience care about what the protagonist wants?

If the record holder of the highest number of Olympic medals is not sure what the purpose of his life is and is fucked up in any way, we all want to know why! It’s difficult not to care about his journey to see if he can figure things out (which he most likely will, we kind of know that), but more importantly, how exactly does he figure things out? Did someone help him in this journey? Did he bump into something (by accident or choice) that opened his eyes? ‘Tell us all’, the audience screams.

3. The challenge & what’s at stake?

What makes it difficult for Michael to figure out what he truly wants from his life is what makes it difficult for any of us – there is no well defined way of finding this out really! We also get to know about his estranged relationship with his father, which was not easy to sort out.

At stake was a) his reputation as a celebrity Olympic champ and b) his life. Two pretty high stakes really!

4. Visual-flow

Unfortunately, this story lacks a visual flow. There is no connecting start and end. Do I think having a visual flow would have elevated the story? Yes, absolutely.

5. Insights gained?

Following, methinks, are main ones:

  • Even Olympic champions can get suicidal – and not because they have stopped doing well professionally but for reasons as relate-able as unresolved personal relationships.
  • Life is not about how low you get – it’s about how you bounce back.
  • We all need that helping hand in our lives, in times of despair and self-doubt. And if we hang on, things eventually do get better.

6. The end and summary

  • What happens in the end? In the end, Phelps’ life is more or less sorted (and the viewers know how it happened). With help from those who cared about him, he came out of his depression, sorted issues with his dad, got married, became a father and is now ready to compete again – in this year’s Olympics!
  • Summary of the story in one or two sentences – this was the story of how one of the biggest Olympic champions of all times, dealt with his depression and came out of it successfully.

Whether you are writing a story (doesn’t really matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction) or making a film, do make sure you story answers these questions! Because every good watchable story, generally does! You can read more about the importance of each of these questions in another detailed blog here.

Feature image source.

The couple that went climbing – part 6

Link to part [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Let met post some statistics on my batch. There were 80 students in our batch overall, we were told. But I could jot down names of only 76. Based on that, and based on additional information that I had collected during the course, following are some of the graphs that I could generate.

Before you get confused, Local means Darjiling / Siliguri; Army / Navy / IAF are the ones who keep on moving all the time – so location is not applicable to them; West Bengal refers to people from the state of WB other than the local ones; similarly Karnataka refers to people from Karnataka other than those from Bangalore (apply the same logic to Maharashtra-Mumbai); Firangi means all non-Indians except Bangladeshis; and North-East includes Sikkim.

Some of the key-take away from the above chart are:

  • the local residents and defense personnel alone accounted for almost 1/3rd of the entire batch
  • If you include the local residents, West Bengal as a state alone accounted for 31% of all students – followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka, contributing 10% and 9% respectively
  • amongst the metros, the cities that contributed maximum students can be ranked in the following order: Mumbai (9%) > Delhi (5%)> Hyderabad (4%) > Bangalore = Chennai (~2% each)

HMI has a lower age limit of 16 and an upper age limit of 40. Maximum students were in the age-group of 25-30 years, followed very closely by 20-25 and 15-20.

Once again, before you get confused, college students includes both those who were in college and those who had just graduated – except the MBA students; all the school students had just written their Xth or XIIth; Regular corporate includes everyone working in the regular corporate world except software professionals; although we had two doctors in our batch, one of them had just finished his MBBS  and was ready to pursue higher studies – so has been included in ‘college students’ by me.

If there indeed were 80 students, I am pretty sure that the four missing names were all males and none of them successfully completed the course. In that case, if I revise my figures (the above two charts show percentage as %age of 76 students), both the percentage of females and percentage of successful completion will fall down slightly to say about 10% and about 81-82% respectively.

My new hero

I will be frank. I am pretty much illiterate when it comes to international affairs. I keep getting confused between Israel and Iran. To me, they are one and the same. One of them is always at war with Palestine. But I don’t know which one and I definitely don’t know what the two countries are fighting for anyway.

So when suddenly pictures of protestors crowding cities in Egypt started pouring all over newspapers, internet and television screens, I wondered what the fuss was all about. Till I did some reading and stuff, all I knew about Egypt was that it is the same place that has pyramids and stuff.

My reading tells me that, what has essentially happened in Egypt in the past few days is that the common citizens took to streets and squares and kept protesting until, two days ago, this Mubarak guy – the president of the country, quit. That is what the common citizens had been demanding for, since all these days of protest that started on 25th January 2011.

So this is what my reading told me and then I got curious. How often does it really happen that common citizens take to streets and squares, raise slogans and then lo – the president resigns? I understand military coups. I understand the opposition bringing down a parliament. And I understand US attacking a country saying – ‘we want to straighten things out in this country by sending our soldiers to replace the existing crazy government by one that listens to us, and therefore is the most democratic government in this world’. But I do not understand how a bunch of common citizens ambling and shouting on the streets, can ever force the President of a nation, in his thirty-bloody-eth year of rule, to leave.

So I dug deeper. I wanted to know how Mubarak got fucked up after nearly 30 years of continuous rule? Since when had the common citizens been trying to get rid of him – certainly not since he first became the president? Who organized these protests – is there an Egyptian Mahatma Gandhi behind this Egyptian civil disobedience movement?

As a starting point of my investigation, it was important to figure out if there was a clear ‘trigger’ for this civil revolt. In other words, I wanted to know what was the Egyptian equivalent of the gunpowder cartridge from our very own Revolt of 1857. By the way on this note, hi5 to all ya ICSE mates. Well, yeah , so was there a trigger for this one in Egypt? The answer is – yes. And what freaks me out is that the trigger is a Youtube video. Come back to read this post after you have seen the video.

If you have seen Rang de Basani, the entire imbroglio in Egypt is almost straight out of the movie. Yes, it did help that Cairo (and other cities where protests took place) had enough unemployed people who had all the time in this world to be on streets for days. Yes, it did help that just few weeks ago, similar civil protests in Tunisia had actually been successful in ousting it’s hated and corrupt leader. But what really brought a fucking million people on the streets of Egypt was the video that you just saw. And now that I know that, Asmaa Mahfouz is my new hero.

Are you Steel thinking?

I just read somewhere that Japan’s biggest steelmaker and another Japanese steel company are set to merge together to become world’s second largest steelmaker. If you remember, arcelor-mittal – world’s largest steelmaker – came into existence from a similar super duper merger. What is this between steelmakers and this trend of such big ticket mergers? Do you have an answer to this? And like me, do you see arcelor-mittal and this would be Japanese company eventually becoming one? How much do you think they would be contributing to the global steel production if they become one?

First mobile phone post

I never thought I was going to write a post ever from a mobile phone but I must declare it that the world has changed. the ability to write fast on phone has changed. The kind of things I have been doing with my phone since the last two days has been insane in every sense of the word insane. This is totally humbly delightfully awesome.

Monsoon Delay in Central India

Well, well well (all dry). By now, monsoon should have covered all of Bihar, most parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and the Gangetic plains of UP. But that hasn’t really happened. It is stuck around the Deccan Plateau and the coastline of the Gult-land and Orissa [3]. I live in Bhubaneswar, and I don’t think monsoon is here yet (Bhubaneswar is only 60 Km away from the Orissa coastline by the way).

What has been the impact so far?

  • Prices of Indian Spices have gone up [1]
  • Private water suppliers in Rajkot have found a nice pretext to ask for almost double the usual rates [4] and
  • Elephants in Rajaji park are just not moving their asses [2]

And why the fuck has the monsoon delayed? My first answer would be God is no better than Government. But I do have a better and boring answer. A study published in the January2009  issue of Geophysical Research Letters had the following [5] to say:

Rising global temperatures will likely lead to an eastward shift in monsoon circulation which could result in more rainfall over the Indian Ocean, Myanmar and Bangladesh but less over Pakistan, India and Nepal, the study found.

Ah, if only the officials at Rajaji park had known about the result of this study, they could have kept the park open for some more time (yes – they closed it last week assuming that monsoons would arrive – when monsoons arrive the elephants migrate away). Also – those who are into masala export business, be happy. My only sympathies as of now are for 1. the Rajkot junta because they are going to be charged more year after year and 2. myself because I want to start running on roads once again.







Internship anyone?

No, I am not offering any internship but good friend Namita is. That too at IISc. That too with stipend. That too, she is biassed towards IITians. So read on.

There is this nice concept of Knowledge Economy (KE). It basically refers to an economic system that is run mostly by brains (mental work) and not by manual labour. Now such kinda economy is rather cool, ain’t it? But KE is possible for a country, like say India, only when most of the population is involved in serious resarch and that’s a big big task. A Knowledge Commission report talks about various things that can be done to help turn India into a KE.

Namita and some of her friends got inspired and decided to launch a  Research Portal (RP) and none other than IISc Bangalore liked their idea and agreed to help them in this step by providing infrastructure, faculty support and all that.

This RP is supposed to become an effective and efficient tool to quickly tackle some  of  the  problems  facing  the  Indian  research  community.  The Portal will essentially have three important characteristics:

  1. Information Resource
  2. Connect
  3. Exchange

The intern’s role will be along one or more of the following lines:

  1. Conduct primary research with a sample of all users available at IISc
  2. Translate the user requirements into technical specifications
  3. Do a high level design of the portal
  4. Implementation (coding) of the portal

Skill sets required: Coding skills and knowledge of algorithms. From what Namita told me, she is going to love you if you are from IIT. 🙂

Stipend: Will be provided with possible accommodation at IISc Bangalore.

One or possibly two students will be taken for this internship.

Last date for applying for this internship: 5th May, 2009.

All right dudes and dudettes, if you are charged up and all that, don’t waste much time and shoot off your resume to namita dot dalmia at gmail dot com. She has made it very clear that the position will be filled as soon as any applying student meets the requirements of the organization.


PS: you can also mail it to vikas dot bagri at gmail dot com

What YouTube told me

Your video, bike trip, may have audio content from On The Road Again by Willie Nelson that is owned or licensed by WMG.
As a result, your video has been muted.

I was so taken aback by the above message. It was thrown at me after I was done editing and uploading the first part of my bike trip video. More than taking me aback and all that, such a response (however ethical and proper it may have been) frustrated me. All of us need background scores when we make personal home-videos and all that.  The most common source for such music is the stock of the billion songs that we have on our comps and elsewhere. Now YouTube won’t even let us upload videos, without muting them, if we use a copyrighted track? Phew! This is a new thing.

I guess YouTube’s database for hindi songs is not yet updated for in spite of having so cleverly detected the ‘On the road again’ track, it clearly failed to pick up ‘Emosional Atyaachar’ (from DevD) that my bike trip video also had. So guess what, I am busy re-editing the video, replacing On the Road with country hindi tracks. What a waste.

Did you know about the Grievance Forum?

I got an internal company-mail just now which I think should be made available on my blog, verbatim, for everyone to read:

Government of India has an online Grievance forum at Can you imagine this is happening in INDIA?

The govt. wants people to use this tool to highlight the problems they faced while dealing with Government officials or departments like Passport Office, Electricity board, BSNL/MTNL, Railways etc.

Many of us say that these things don’t work in India. Couple of months back, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation laid new roads in his area and the residents were very happy about it. But 2 weeks later, BSNL dug up the newly laid roads to install new cables which annoyed all the residents. A resident used the above listed grievance forum to highlight his concern. To his surprise, BSNL and Municipal Corporation of Faridabad were served a show cause notice and the guy received a copy of the notice in one week. Government has asked the MC and BSNL about the goof up as it’s clear that both the government departments were not in sync at all.

So use this grievance forum and educate others who don’t know about this facility. This way we can at least raise our concerns instead of just talking about the ‘System’ in India.

Invite your friends to contribute for many such happenings.