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Category Archive : Movies

Can a Good Leader be a Good Friend?

I wanted to write a follow-on to my article on the interview of Confirmtkt founders, but the events of Feb 14th  were too much to stay quiet about and I couldn’t stop myself from writing an open letter to the PM. Post that, my travel plans stole my focus for a couple of days, so here is the follow-on article as promised.

In their interview, Dinesh and Sripad recount how difficult it was to fire underperformers or team members that did not suit the role they were in. Their personal equations interfered with professional judgement and the venture faced the consequences. I believe that this is a key lesson in every founder’s journey to become a leader i.e. a moment where he/she has to reflect and ask themselves ‘can I be a good leader & a good friend to the same person?’

Discovering the answer to this question could be one of the most difficult experiences a leader might endure.

I have seen several leaders (read: founders) get too close to their followers (read: team members) and lose all objectivity (due to the close nature of the relationship). In all the examples, (including my own experiences), this is a disservice to their role as leader, the team and most importantly, the venture. In many cases it has led to the termination or a permanent alteration in a friendship.

This reminds me of a scene from the superhit movie Dangal wherein Aamir Khan plays the role of a strict wrestling coach (Mahavir Singh Phogat) to his daughters. In the scene, he is massaging his tired and sleeping daughters’ feet. His wife exhorts him that he is too tough on their daughters when they are awake but massages their worn-out feet while they’re asleep. He explains that he can either be a good father to his daughters or a good guru (read: coach), not both.  

Similarly, I believe that a person can either be a good leader or a good friend, not both. A leader has to utilize many tools to get the best out of his/her people, but those tools could fail at the altar of friendship. Therefore, before hiring a friend I always make it clear that our friendship would be over until the time we become partners because until then I would be doing a grave disservice to my friend.

26/2019

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Video Of The Week: Fyre- The Greatest Party that Never Happened

This week’s video was recommended by Karishma so a big thank you to her!

Fyre is the ultimate tool for entrepreneurs to learn that scaling before having a miniaturized working model is akin to gambling with the business. It should open the eyes of investors, entrepreneurs, managers and employees that scaling is the easiest part of building a venture. The billion-dollar question that needs to be answered is – can your business deliver consistently and profitability at scale?

Fyre also answers the question of how doing too many things can eventually lead to doing nothing or (in this case) land you and your business in legal hot water. I believe that Fyre’s founder, William “Billy” McFarland may not have intended to defraud his customers (unlike his investors, who he definitely did). It seemed as though he wanted to do everything that his marketing campaigns had promised but just could not control the monster that he built. Eventually, he went against the advice of his key team members and kept up a charade that transformed him from a boy genius to Mr. Evil.

This brilliant, moving and shocking documentary is available on Netflix.

21/2019

A VC’s Analysis of the 2018 Box Office Results

The Indian Television industry is undergoing a massive change. Except for Shark Tank & Suits that are available on Indian TV, the best content is now being displayed on platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Voot etc. These platforms are providing writers, directors, actors, producers, etc. the freedom to create or participate in content that they are inspired by. Recently, many bankable movie stars have done Netflix/Amazon Prime shows; Saif Ali Khan, R Madhavan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Radhika Apte, Bhumi Pednekar to name a few. These avenues give talented character artists that are confined to supporting roles in mainstream Bollywood movies the chance to get meaty roles and display their talents in Netflix/Amazon original series. The stellar success of these web series indicate a change in the preferences of the viewing audience and it got me thinking if this applies to the big screen as well.   

This morning I looked up the Bollywood movies that did well at the box office in the year 2018. Although there is a lack of information on the financial performance of Indian movies, a quick search revealed this imdb post to be the best source of aggregated information for the box office performance. Despite the math in this post is off, I found most of the numbers to be believable. I cleaned up the list to remove non-hindimovies and removed Hichki as the numbers didn’t add up (and I didn’t quite believethem). I was unable to find a credible source to cross verify the worldwide collections data, but for now, we’ll rely on this. Below are the top 20 grossers for 2018:

Rank Name Domestic Worldwide Total Budget
1 Sanju 340 234 574 100
2 Padmaavat 293 224 517 190
3 Race 3 166 121 287 150
4 Baaghi 2 161 100 261 65
5 Simmba* 151 99 249 75
7 Badhaai Ho 136 90 226 30
6 Thugs of Hindustan 130 96 226 275
8 Stree 128 74 202 20
9 Raazi 121 77 198 30
10 Zero 96 73 169 200
11 Gold 105 60 165 85
12 Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety 102 59 161 15
13 Raid 100 59 159 35
14 Veere Di Wedding 80 56 136 20
15 Sui Dhaaga: Made in India 79 50 129 30
16 Padman 75 47 122 30
17 Dhadak  75 47 122 25
18 Satyameva Jayate  78 44 122 50
19 Andhadhun  73 47 120 25
20 Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran 64 37 101 30

This list does not provide an accurate picture as to the profitability of the movies, therefore, I added a column for the movie budget sourced from the same post. Then, I divided the total collections by the budget to come up with the total X’s the movies made. This derived data tells a whole new story.

New Rank Previous Rank Name Domestic Worldwide Total Budget Returns
1 12 Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety 102 59 161 15 10.73
2 8 Stree 128 74 202 20 10.10
3 7 Badhaai Ho 136 90 226 30 7.54
4 14 Veere Di Wedding 80 56 136 20 6.78
5 9 Raazi 121 77 198 30 6.61
6 1 Sanju 340 234 574 100 5.74
7 17 Dhadak  75 47 122 25 4.87
8 19 Andhadhun  73 47 120 25 4.79
9 13 Raid 100 59 159 35 4.55
10 15 Sui Dhaaga: Made in India 79 50 129 30 4.28
11 16 Padman 75 47 122 30 4.06
12 4 Baaghi 2 161 100 261 65 4.02
13 20 Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran 64 37 101 30 3.36
14 5 Simmba* 151 99 249 75 3.32
15 2 Padmaavat 293 224 517 190 2.72
16 18 Satyameva Jayate  78 44 122 50 2.43
17 11 Gold 105 60 165 85 1.94
18 3 Race 3 166 121 287 150 1.91
19 10 Zero 96 73 169 200 0.85
20 6 Thugs of Hindostan 130 96 226 275 0.82

Here are my insights from the second list:

  • A big budget does not equate to big success
    • 9 out of top 10 profitable movies had a budget under 50 crores
    • 12 movies with a budget of less than 50 crores returned 5.28x of budget
      • 1797 crores on a 340 crore budget
    • In contrast, the top 5 budgeted movies returned 1.94x of budget
      • 1773 crores on a 915 crore budget
  • Female actors’ rule!
    • 4 out of the top 5 profitable movies were based on strong female lead(s) characters
  • The end of the Khan rule?
    • They took up 42% of the budget (of the top 20) but contributed only 16% of the revenues
    • Collectively the Khan’s returned 1.09x of budget

This entire exercise reminded me to continue to pick entrepreneurs/ partners/ employees based on their ability to perform and not the weight of the names on their resumes. Secondly, it reinforced my belief that picking dark horses, keeping low budgets and focussing on quality is the key to investment success – in both movies and venture investing.

6/2019

Video of the Week: The Undisputed King of Bollywood

I must be honest that I was not a big fan of Akshay Kumar through most of my teens. His movies centred around his martial arts abilities and he had typecast himself into a brand of cinema which I did not identify with. Then something happened 10 years ago that altered the actor’s career and this transformation & success formula should be a case study at the top management & entrepreneurial schools in India as it pole-vaulted him to highest paid Bollywood actor (7th highest in the world).

Akshay has been a vocal critic of movie schedules that can take 300-400 days and he adopted a simple success formula which I found is on the lines of the lean start-up mentality.

  1. Akshay completes his movie schedules in 60 days (Housefull 3 was done in 38 days!) which significantly reduces the carrying cost of the movie i.e. the path to profitability is significantly reduced.
  2. He releases 4 movies a year, therefore, increasing the number of shots he has at delivering a hit. Compare that to the competition that does 1-2 movies a year, therefore, has to maintain a near perfect record.
  3. The more releases per year also means that Akshay gets to read the audiences’ pulse regularly and he can adjust/alter/update his next product iteration thereby catering to his customer’s (read: audience) preferences much faster.
  4. The success of this simple success formula can be gauged by the fact that Akshay has delivered 100+ crores in box office collections every single year since 2007

The inspiration to do this research came from two videos wherein the actor provide an insight into his journey, both are must watch videos!

The first one is in Hindi

The second one in English

84/2018

Downsizing: A Movie that Makes you Think Hours After Watching It

In between the functions of a wedding that I am attending, I managed to see Downsizing, starring Matt Damon. This movie has a stellar cast including Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau and Matt Damon, of course. The movie also has cameos from Neil Patrick Harris, James Van Der Beek, Laura Dern and many critics named it the best movie of 2017. Despite all this, it spectacularly bombed at the box office, failing to return even just the movie production cost of $68 million.

The interesting subjection with an ironic undertone made the movie interesting. Its basic premise was that a new invention, made with the intention of saving the world, fell into the wrong hands and ended up getting commercialized. The invention spurred an industry, creating havoc in the lives of some, but injecting a new lease of happiness into the lives of others. How the different characters encounter each other and ultimately make peace with their lives by finding happiness within, is the main message the movie tries to promote.

Downsizing could have been a much better watch with a tighter story and better editing but the countless number of subplots, abundance of characters and an attempt to weave in an unlikely love story blurred the main message.

It is still a movie worth watching for the subject matter it attempts to explore and in many ways does… You can watch it through the following websites

49/2018

Martyrs of Marriage – Netflix

On Jan 15th, 2018 I wrote a post about a documentary, Martyrs of Marriage. It highlights the plight of men and women who have been victimised by the Dowry Act & Domestic Violence Act. These are outdated, draconic laws that have become the poster for injustice meted out under the false pretence of protecting women.

It took an immense amount of courage for Deepika (The director and producer of Martyrs in Marriage) to stand up for the victims that don’t have NGO’s backing them and organize candlelight peaceful protests for them to be able to fight for their rights. As an early backer of this effort, it gives me great pleasure and pride to announce that the Martyrs of Marriage documentary is now available on Netflix! You can watch it on this link, and I suggest you don’t miss out!

I met Deepika a couple of weeks after my post about her documentary and I could see the fire in her eyes about a new project. It didn’t really matter to me what the project was, but I knew I wanted in on it. We also brainstormed and are considering starting an NGO to stand up for the rights of men & women who are victimised by these laws and long past their trial dates. More about this initiative soon, but until then do see & share Martyrs of Marriage.

36/2018

The One Thing I Couldn’t Relate to in Padman!

I finally saw Padman on Thursday night and I’ve got to confess, I absolutely loved it! I identify with the struggles and humiliation that Laxmikant Chauhan, the protagonist, goes through as he attempts to improve female hygiene practices i.e. convince the females in his home and village to use sanitary pads instead of a rag during periods. Even though his wife, mother, sisters and entire community abandon him, forcing him to leave his village, the fire within him continues to burn, driving him to achieve the improbable. Down and out on luck, Laxmikant encounters a lady who resurrects him and joins his fight. Her help transforms Laxmikant from a failed entrepreneur about to be beaten to the pulp by his creditors, to one that receives international acclaim and success.  To thank her for all the help and support, he named his product after her. Then, when things were looking up for him his entire community, family, and even his wife wanted him back and he left the hand that took him to the peak to go back to the people who were fairweather friends. This is betrayal or to put it more crassly, spit in the face of those that stand by you and support you when you’re down.

This made me think about how in my own journey, I have encountered several such fairweather friends and colleagues. These people who I thought were my near & dear friends, didn’t take a moment to think before throwing me down the well when I was struggling, but when I seemed to be doing well, these same people touted that “they always knew I’d make it large.” I keep these fairweather friends at a very safe distance because their next attempt to bury me is awaiting the next trough in the long journey of success.

I keep close and regard those friends, family members and even colleagues who stood with me when I was struggling the most. People like Laxmikant Biyani who let me use his office rent-free when I didn’t have the capital to pay rent (and he has refused to take rent even now), my Chacha, Ramesh Damani who provided endless moral support over and above his investments in/with me and finally my team that started Artha when it was just a dream and stuck around when that dream struggled to breakthrough. Whenever I write my memoirs (and I will), they will feature prominently in it.

So, that was my peeve with Padman, why leave those that support you at your worst and go back to those that will be with you only when you are doing well? What lesson does the movie impart to the other Laxmikant Chauhan’s have been vilified by their own support system for doing things that are out of the box but continue the fight? What is the lesson to those people that have the heart & courage to support someone else in their fight?

I loved the movie until this plot twist occurred… the writers should have had the courage to script a new ending instead of opting for a Suraj Barjatiya type of impossible, unrealistic happy ending.

I wouldn’t go back, in the movie and in real life.

27/2018

How I became ShowMeDamani

Many people love my Twitter handle and Blog name, ShowMeDamani. They usually always ask, how it came about. For starters, it was inspired by this iconic scene from one of my favorite movies

This is the detailed backstory to how my nickname became my nickname:

I started my career as a D2D salesman in Texas, a job that is as much about skill as it is about discipline, controlling your mind and asking for help. Since the retention rate of employees was less than 10% after 30 days, it was common to see people quitting or getting let go. There was unspoken respect for each person that survived past a month. This is because everyone knew the tremendous character it required to stick it out for that long. Therefore, it was almost a rite of passage that after a month you got a nickname, and almost always it was one that stuck.

There were two ways that an employee could gain the respect of their peers and the management at the company. The first was to achieve rare sales numbers like 20 sales in a day (Club Venti) or 100 in a week (Century Club); the second, was to deliver a “package”. A “package” was a sales number that you committed for a day, week or month for yourself or your team (if they were a leader). It was a number that was achievable if you pushed yourself and as a competitive unit it was not uncommon for team members to push each other to achieve higher sales numbers. So, if someone promised numbers that were below their caliber, they would be called out for “sandbagging”. However, if someone was unable to deliver their package they were subjected to some form of playful punishment and universal frowning.

I wouldn’t call myself the best salesperson in the company, but I was consistent in delivering the packages that I had promised. At around the same time, UPS was running a famous ad campaign which led to my first nickname – UPS

As I started moving up the ranks of the company from a D2D salesman to a team leader, area leader, and regional leader my boss and mentor taught me one lesson – To make people work twice as hard in front of you as you would expect them to behind your back. His theory was simple, “people do less than 50% of what they are capable of, therefore pushing them beyond their limits in front of you will ensure that they are still doing more than they believe they could when you aren’t around.”

This inspired me to run from office to office, team to team and person to person asking people old and new to “show me” what they were working on, “show me” their sales presentation, “show me” how they would tackle tough customers, “show me” the answers to common customer objections. Therefore, there was a considerable energy every time I visited an office since every person in the office from the salesperson to the person sitting on the front desk was on their toes knowing that I would randomly inspect any one of them. This news reached the ears of the partners of the company.

Around the time of the next promotion, I was called in for a meeting with the partners. As I got the promotion I wanted i.e. the national sales team one of the partners asked me what my nickname was. When I told them it was UPS, someone in the room commented that it could be perceived as a racial slur, a second partner remarked that I should be a new nickname. Almost on cue, the third partner (Bish) asked me what my last name was. When I said “Damani”, he said, “that’s it! You should be Show Me Damani.”

and that is how I became @showmedamani.

15/2018

Martyrs of Marriage

 

Any young man, who makes dowry a condition to marriage, discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood.

– Mahatma Gandhi

The practice of dowry is a serious blotch on the rich cultural traditions in India. With one dowry related death every hour, it is alongside practices like sati and untouchability; heinous crimes against humanity that unfortunately find their origins in India.

Growing up I remember reading horrific stories of newly married women that were ill-treated, raped, beaten and even burnt to death for not being able to pay the expected dowry. Inquisitively, I asked my mother if her parents had been asked to pay dowry when she got married. Proudly, my mother told me how strictly my paternal grandfather was opposed to this practice and refused to take anything from her parents beyond the clothes she wore when she entered her matrimonial home, a nariyal (coconut) and one rupee. I did not have the privilege of meeting my grandfather (he died a couple of months before I was born) but was very proud to hear about his noble actions.

However, the problem across India had become so terrible that the government had been forced to pass the Dowry Prohibition Act in 1961, prohibiting the giving and taking of dowry. Then in 1983 under the Indian Penal Code 498-A the government criminalised harassing, coercing or causing death and harm for dowry related issues. The government’s intent to ensure the protection of married women was evident as it gave the police autonomy to arrest and impose strict punishments on the accused. Unfortunately, 498-A became a poster boy for the often quoted axiom, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Statistically over 2.7 million people have been arrested under IPC 498-A with over 600,000 of them women. Of the 5,87,107 cases that went to trial, 81.31% ended up in acquittal i.e. 4 out of every 5 cases! To put it into perspective, the conviction rate for cases under the 498-A law was 18.69%, less than half of the 45% conviction rate for all other cases filed under the Indian Penal Code. This was due to the manifold amount of false allegations that were thoughtlessly made.

What is the reason for the low conviction rate?

The government’s intent to frame a law that would serve as a deterrent went against the basic human right provided to us in the constitution viz everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.  Under this stringent 498-A law the burden of proving innocence on the accused became so arduous that it seemed more as if “they are guilty until proven innocent!”

When the police, lawyers and wives colluded to convert a provision for protection into a tool for exploitation even the courts deemed it as “legal terrorism”. The accusers didn’t even spare two-month-old babies that are among the 7,000 minors that have been accused of dowry harassment.

Deepika Narayan Bharadwaj’s documentary Martyrs of Marriage exposes the nexus that has made 498-A one of the most abused laws in India. In her own words Martyrs of Marriage is “a documentary that documents the injustice that has been perpetrated on people because of the misuse of section 498A of Indian Penal Code.

Her passion to fix the filth created by 498-A is visible in her TEDx talks below

and

 

 

I had the privilege of meeting this courageous woman due to a small contribution that I made to her Milaap campaign for raising money to promote this documentary. She reached out offering to screen this movie to exclusively for my friends and family – an offer I eagerly accepted. With my immediate & extended family in attendance, Deepika spoke about her personal experience as the motivation for making this documentary. After the screening there wasn’t a single dry eye in the room.

Here is the trailer for her documentary


The entire documentary is available for $1.99 on this link.

This powerful documentary motivated me to do something for those oppressed by the miscarriage of justice. (what did you do) You may think that it does not concern you but let me leave you with the immortal words of Martin Niemoller:

4 February 2017, West Point Cadets tour the Permanent Exhibition.

3/2018

6 Lessons for Entrepreneurs from Bahubali 2

I thought of writing this post almost two weeks back when I saw the movie for a second time but it would have given up key twists of the plot that would ruin the experience of those that hadn’t seen the movie.  I (now) believe that most of the moving going population has seen the movie so it is an appropriate time to share this.

 

Bahubali 2: The Conclusion has become the highest grossing Indian movie of all time. I have watched the movie twice and it is a thorough entertainer. An engrossing story line that goes through several twists and turns before leading to its good prevails over evil conclusion with lavish sets and mouth gaping action scenes. I must concede however, that many portions of the movie were little no..er very farfetched even for someone like me who leaves logic at home when I watch a movie. However much the laws of physics were distorted the end product is a spectacle!

Since the movie revolves around the quest of becoming the king of a mystical and powerful kingdom of Mahishmati so there are several lessons that an entrepreneur can learn and apply to their own quest for the mystical unicorn.

 

  1. Under promise overdeliver

A common theme of the movie is the massive promises the characters keep making, at the spur of the moment, to each other with no prior planning on how those promises will be completed.

Sivagami promises Bhallala Deva that he will marry Devasena without consulting Devasena about her wishes. Devasens refuses to marry Bhallala Deva which puts Sivagami in a tough spot and she makes a series of mistakes heal her ego that ultimately culminates in Bahubali abdicating the throne and the evil Bhallala Deva becoming king.

Overpromising entrepreneurs consistently disappoint their team members, cofounders, investors – even their customers. So, it is important that entrepreneurs err of the side of conservatism and overdeliver on their promises – not the other way around.

 

  1. Praise publicly criticize privately

Devasena calls out Sivagami on public platforms on multiple occasions, even going to the point of calling her a person with limited brain capacity. That forces Sivagami to respond to her public humiliation by pushing away Devasena and Devasena’s husband (Bahubali) from herself and the throne and it ultimately ends up with Devasena & Bahubali being banished from the kingdom and later to the widowing of Devasena.

Public platforms should not be used to air out as events can escalate quickly to devastating and undesirable outcomes. Entrepreneurs could utilise private spaces for criticism so that even if the events escalate the outcomes can be controlled and both sides can rectify their mistakes when hot heads cool down.

A public platform is best utilised for praising each other and showing unity.

 

  1. Overcommunicate

Bahubali follows his stepmother’s (Sivagami) advice by standing up for dharma even if that meant he had to make her promise to Bhallala Deva of getting Devasena married to him… Shockingly Bahubali does not remind Sivagami that he is following lessons that were taught by Sivagami when she was training him for the throne. Not communicating the logic behind his decision, Bahubali leaves the door open for Sivagami to make up her own assumptions and she flies into a rage asking Bahubali to give up his throne triggering off a domino effect that ends in ruin for the Mahishmati kingdom.

Many entrepreneurs (and people too) have a habit of delivering partial messages expecting the other side to understand what has not been said. This gaps in communication leads to decisions made with limited understanding therefore results can wildly different than anticipated.

An entrepreneur should communicate to the point over overcommunication so that all the members of the team are on the same wavelength as the entrepreneur’s train of thought.

 

  1. Get rid of cancer on the team quickly & aggressively

Kattappa knows that Bhallala Deva and Bijjaladeva (Bhallala Deva’s father) are plotting to kill Sivagami and even though Kattappa knows that information he does not divulge that to Sivagami letting the negativity foster around the palace. The father-son duo join hands in spreading their tentacles to execute their plans by recruiting key personnel and distorting reality for Sivagami, ultimately leading to decades long tyrannical rule that ruins the kingdom.

When white blood corpuscles do not attack cancerous cells, they will lead to formation of tumours which ultimately overwhelm the defences of the body and kill the body. Similarly, members of the venture who are making the lives of other team members difficult through the spread of discouraging messaging, undisciplined work styles or questionable ethics should be cut out from the team quickly and effectively.

Letting them fester around the venture will turn even the good & productive team members cancerous.

 

  1. Don’t boast about your plans before they are completed

Bhallala Deva succeeds in hoodwinking Sivagami to the point that she orders Kattappa to kill Bahubali. Bhallala Deva watches Kattappa kill Bahubali and desecrates Bahubali’s dead body whilst boasting about how he outsmarted everyone to get to the throne and get Bahubali killed. Kattappa narrates what he hears to Sivagami who gets on a mission to protect Bahubali’s son in fact she sacrifices her own life to save the newly born child. The child (Bahubali II) avenges his father’s death by first killing Bhallala Deva’s son and then Bhallala Deva himself.

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch is a phrase taught to all of us in school but many times entrepreneurs that taste initial success let that excitement ride up their medulla oblongata into their brains. They boast about their success in the media, throw massive success parties and start drinking their own koolaid.

All the attention leads to them taking their eyes are off the ball before they realise it the competition has caught up with serious momentum. The competition eventually eats up the space that the entrepreneur should have dominated but all that remains are the remnants of what could have been a great venture.

Keep your plans under wrap until they are completed is a key lesson that all entrepreneurs will be well advised to follow.

 

  1. Don’t make decisions under duress

The movie has many scenes where the characters make decisions under stress and at the spur of the moment.

Sivagami orders Bahubali to give up the throne for Bhallal Deva because she feels offended when Bahubali scolds her for making a promise that she cannot deliver on. She makes an emotional decision on the spur of the moment that is against the wishes of the kingdom that she rules on and against her own earlier decision that was well thoughtout. Sivagami’s impulsive decisions leads to the assassination of Bahubali, her own death, ruins the flourishing Mahishmati kingdom as it falls in the hands of a soulless tyrant.

There are many occasions in the entrepreneurial journey that the entrepreneur may feel pressured to decide on a matter and to make it immediately but I have found that that is rarely ever true. Infact the decisions made under duress ultimately come back to bite the entrepreneur in the butt and years of regret. So, it is important that all the facets & tenets of a decision be thought of before making move because a move once made cannot be taken back!