July Boys

New Global Players

July Boys was shot in July Systems, one of the new breed of venture capital-funded, high-end ‘startup’ companies that have appeared in technology centres such as Bangalore. Moving away from the usual outsourcing model of providing software services to customers abroad, July designs and sells original software products, tapping into global technology markets from India. The company produces cellular data services software for mobile phone service providers in Europe and the U.S. It was founded in 2001 by two well-known IT entrepreneurs, Rajesh Reddy and U.S.-based Ashok Narasimhan, with $18 million of venture capital. Like several other high-tech startups, July is a ‘cross-border’ company, with its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, USA, its product development centre in Bangalore, India, and sales offices across different locations in North America, Europe and Asia. July’s corporate structure represents a recent and significant trend in the Indian software industry: venture capitalists located primarily in the U.S. – especially wealthy Indian-origin (NRI) tech entrepreneurs – are investing in startups that are registered as American companies but with their main operations in India, and which target global markets. These companies are very different from typical Indian software services companies such as MphasiS, as well as from MNCs such as Sun — in the type of work they do, their markets, as well as their culture. As a Santa Clara-based company founded by Indian entrepreneurs, July has self-consciously attempted to replicate Silicon Valley’s well-known startup culture. Unlike the earlier bureaucratic cultures of large American corporations, the Valley work culture emphasises informality, lack of hierarchy, employee autonomy, as well as hard work – all of which are said to create a conducive climate for innovation. These features are evident in the footage from July Systems, which shows the spontaneity and passion of the employees in their everyday working lives. An interesting feature of this company is that its products target the youth market in the West – they make software that allows customers to download entertainment content such as games and ring tones onto their mobile phone, and they also build and manage ‘mobile entertainment content stores’. So apart from software design, much of their work is directed at understanding markets and lifestyle trends in Europe and the U.S. Accordingly, many of the people working in July – especially the marketing and product management executives — are professional interpreters of global cultural trends and are cosmopolitan and transnational in their orientation. Unlike the software engineers seen in MphasiS and Sun films, whose integration into the global economy is somewhat forced, the characters in July Boys appear to be, and represent themselves as being, truly ‘global’ in outlook and persona. As Rajesh Reddy puts it, he belongs to ‘a new sub-species of global citizens’. Like all Indian IT companies, July’s leaders and employees regard it as a global company, but this is a very different kind of ‘globalness’ from that espoused by Indian services companies such as MphasiS, which are Indian and merely cater to global customers. The discourse of the global runs through the narratives of July’s key people, but these narratives also reveal a tension between their assumed global identity and the fact that the company’s leadership and employees are mainly Indian. While the company’s leaders espouse a new kind of Indian cosmopolitanism, they point to July’s achievements as a company founded and run by Indians that makes ‘cutting edge products’ for the global market. Unlike MNCs such as Sun, whose top managers are mainly white Americans and which employ Indian engineers, July was founded and is managed by Indians and employs a few Americans and Europeans as marketing personnel. This reversal is a source of nationalistic pride for several of the characters in the film, whose narratives reveal the emergence of new kinds of identities (global, transnational, cosmopolitan) that incorporate and transcend older identities such as the national (Indian) and the regional (Tamil). As one character puts it, July is producing ‘global products from Indian brains’. July Boys points to the new subjectivities that are being formed among a certain class of Indians due to the rapid but selective integration of the country into the global economy. Perhaps because they are working in a company that is creating and selling its own products, July’s characters display a high level of confidence and assertiveness about India’s future as an economic superpower. Contesting the common view that the IT industry is disembedded from the local society and economy, they argue in favour of the liberalisation/ globalisation agenda as the route to India’s development. While their work is to produce and sell what could be seen as non-essential entertainment products to the Western market, they believe that companies such as July, by generating revenue and employment in India, can stimulate local economic development — apart from putting India on the global map. Their identity as Indians in the wider world is linked to their role in the booming software industry and to India’s growing reputation for technical expertise in this area.