The best from our stable
A curated list of this year's must-read weekend originals from The Intersection
Good morning. The Intersection was the second publication we launched after our flagship, The Signal. It brings to you, dear reader, a well-researched and deeply reported story, analysis or interview every Saturday morning. Our choice of stories might seem eclectic, yet they are close to the core subjects we cover—business, technology, economics, and enterprise. Today, we present to you the best of The Intersection, a selection of six original stories that we published in 2023. Plus, The Signal FYI—today’s breaking news.
Programming note: This week we are publishing special editions capturing the major events of 2023 that we covered in our weekly newsletters, and our handpicked favourites from The Intersection. Also a peek into what we expect in 2024. The regular edition of The Signal and The Signal Daily will return on January 3.
New Year Torpedo
In January 2023, US-based short-seller Hindenburg Research published a report on the Adani Group, calling it the greatest con in corporate history. It mined public records and scoured media reports going back several years to put together a tale that alleged the group was circumventing laws and using corporate structures to manipulate the share prices of its publicly listed companies. The manoeuvres helped elevate group founder Gautam Adani to near the top of the global billionaires heap, it alleged. The Hindenburg report hit the conglomerate so hard that at one point of time it wiped out nearly $150 billion of its market value. We interviewed Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences, and Director of the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia, Brown University, to understand the ramifications of the Hindenburg report. Varshney anticipated more scrutiny on India and particularly on the Adani Group from international publications. And that is exactly what happened, as borne out by the investigations of Organized Crime and corruption Reporting Project and Financial Times.
Music Of Bharat
Much happened during 2023 and although it began with the Hindenburg banger on Adani, there were upheavals and controversies such as whether the government was considering a constitutional change to rename India to Bharat. But much before the India vs. Bharat controversy took over popular imagination, Coke Studio (CS), the wildly popular music programme with Pakistani roots, which tried an Indian edition eight years ago, relaunched as Coke Studio Bharat. It also kicked off a Tamil version. Roshni Nair and Venkat Ananth dug into the roots, speaking with Rohail Hyatt, in whose telling the idea was to anchor the new show to Sufi music. By the time Leslee Lewis was signed up to create CS India on the Pakistani template, it had become a corporate project with tight deadlines and budgets. It did not do as well as expected. CS India’s and later CS Bharat’s chequered progress is also the story of non-film music in India. It is a must-read.
The measure of success is usually popularity, especially when it is entertainment. Although Coke Studio is a music show, its ultimate objective is to promote the Coke brand and push Coca-Cola company’s sales. It did that spectacularly, measurably in Pakistan. But when an entertainment show itself is the product, it’s difficult to map the popularity and hence, its monetisability. Soumya Gupta found one company that has brought a method into the madness of media monitoring. Mumbai-based Ormax Media can now pinpoint the most popular streaming show or the biggest pan-India star in any given week. The company began life in 1985 as Ormax Consultants, a full-service consumer research firm, and branched out into audience and popularity measurement in 2008 when founder Vispy Doctor teamed up with Shailesh Kapoor to launch Ormax Media. Its success is also the story of canny entrepreneurs spotting a technology-induced mega trend early and riding the wave. Ormax developed expertise in measuring streaming shows’ and social media influencers’ popularity. It has not looked back since.
What’s Apple Cooking In India?
Not only has technology changed entertainment, it has also altered the channels of its delivery. The smartphone is not only an instrument for personal communication but also is now the movie hall, concert house and sports stadium rolled into one. There is no smartphone yet that beats the appeal of the iPhone. The phone by itself is only a sophisticated gadget but its maker Apple, the company, is quite another story. It is the most valuable company in the world with a market capitalization of nearly $3 trillion, which is more than three-fourths of the size of India’s economy. So when Apple CEO Tim Cook visited India with a blitz of publicity and high-profile meetings to open the country’s first owned company store, it was a big deal. That is also because Apple had begun to see India as an alternative manufacturing destination for its devices. The Intersection went deep into Apple’s relationship with India as well as its designs for the country.
AHA-BHA, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, Vitamin C, peptides, retinol, bakuchiol, ceramides… if you’re familiar with any or all of these skincare ‘actives’ and ingredients, this is the story for you. From Honasa Brands and L’Oréal’s venture arm BOLD to Deepika Padukone and Unilever Ventures, everybody who’s worth somebody is investing in “skincare science”. The kind where chemistry is an aesthetic, concentrations matter, and formulations reign supreme. But is the hype backed by actual science? In this feature, Roshni Nair and Soumya Gupta interview brands, formulators, dermatologists for answers… and find that clinical trials for skincare products aren’t what they seem. Why is this so, what’s the regulatory grey zone in India, and does your favourite active actually work? Consider this the only primer you need on the subject.
In March 2023, the Punjab and Haryana High Court became the first court in India to use ChatGPT in a bail hearing. It seemed to be a natural progression of where the Indian legal system is headed (or rather, would like to be headed). The 2022-2023 Union Budget allocated ~$854 million for the third phase of the lumbering e-Courts project, and its vision document mentions AI. The Supreme Court of India also has an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Committee. This is all to say that AI has earned its place in the justice system. Right? Wrong. In this Intersection story featuring lawyers, legal tech experts, and a former Supreme Court judge, we laid bare the dangers not just of biased datasets, but also the issue with training AI models on FIR and court data. Consider that in a country as diverse as ours, bias begins when a complaint is or isn’t registered. Or that private companies have won tenders to help digitise the processes of lower courts with zero accountability for judicial algorithms. And that’s just the start.
By a hair’s breadth: Indian Navy personnel sentenced to death in Qatar got a reprieve after a court reduced their sentence. However, details are still awaited.
Snatch and run: The US and its European allies are holding hectic parleys to see if they can seize frozen Russian assets worth $300 billion.
Intelligent move: The Adani Group has created a 49:51 joint venture with International Holding Company, which is already an investor in the Indian conglomerate. The Abu Dhabi-based venture, Sirius International Holding, will dabble in AI and blockchain technologies.
Run Tesla run: Chinese gadget maker Xiaomi unveiled its first electric car, SU7 or Speed Ultra, with an 800-km range on a single charge and a top speed of 265 kmph.
In pink of health: Indian banks’ bad loans collectively fell to 3.2% at the end of September 2023, the Reserve Bank of India said in its Financial Stability Report.
Wrong ‘un: The Indian government went after Apple after it cautioned some journalists and politicians that it detected attacks on their iPhones which could have been by state actors, The Washington Post reports.
Barricade them: The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has asked the IT ministry to block eight offshore crypto exchanges, including Binance and Kraken. The FIU has said the exchanges were not compliant with India’s money laundering laws.
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