public healthcare

Amid bidding war for India’s Fortis hospital chain, questions over board’s legitimacy remain

‘All its current members have had past tenured relationships either with the Singh brothers, or with companies of the group’, an IiAS report said.

In February 2018, hospital chain operator Fortis Healthcare’s reputation was wrecked after its promoters, Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh, were accused of siphoning funds from the company. Three months on, there are five bidders, more than the number of its directors, racing for the cash-strapped firm desperate to sell out.

The deadline to submit bids ended on Tuesday. Fortis’ hospital chain is today valued at well over half-a-billion dollars. Still, it may be too soon for its shareholders to rejoice as questions on the “legitimacy of the board” remain unanswered.

“…all its current members have had past tenured relationships either with the Singh brothers, or with companies of the group,” an April 24 report by research and advisory firm Institutional Investor Advisory Services or IiAS said. IiAS now seeks to overhaul the board before deciding on whom to sell the hospital.

Two institutional shareholders, Jupiter Asset Management and Eastbridge Group, which together hold 12.04% stake in it, have asked the company to convene an extraordinary general meeting to put to vote a proposal to remove the four existing board members, and appoint three independent directors instead, according to a filing with the BSE.

“It makes an absolute mockery of the process as they are under the control of the two brothers.” “How can you have a company where the two promoters have stepped down, but look at the directors – one is the father-in -law of the former promoter and the second one is Brian Tempest, who was a Ranbaxy employee for so many years. If these two people are going to decide as to how the process of sale will happen, that makes an absolute mockery of the process because they are under the control of the two brothers,” corporate and finance consultant Ajay Srivastava, managing director at Dimensions Consulting, told Quartz.

The bidding war

Despite all this, Fortis remains an attractive proposition going by the bidding war.

There are five contenders in the fray: Manipal Group (backed by global investment firm TPG), Malaysian peer IHH Healthcare Berhad, Chinese investor Fosun International, Mumbai-based hospital Radiant Life (backed by global private equity firm KKR), and a consortium of Indian business families – the Munjals of Hero Enterprise and Burmans who own Dabur.

“If you want to have a healthcare business in India, this is the fastest way to ramp up capacity. There is no way you can get a plot in the middle of Gurugram, for instance, or Mumbai or Mohali. Investors may take a while to get the money out of it. But for a strategic player, this is the last chance to acquire a sizeable capacity. The next chain is Apollo Hospitals, which is not up for sale,” Srivastava said.

Four of the five bidders have recently raised their offers. However, the current Fortis board has so far allowed due diligence for only one, the Manipal Group.

“The danger here is, should there be a pecuniary advantage given to the former promoters or directors, they can structure the deal in a manner to give it to one party favourably, and that’s the end of the transaction. Reversing it will be a long litigation. The question is, should it be allowed to happen in the first place?” Srivastava said.

The regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, is reportedly investigating the siphoning of funds by the Singh brothers. It also has the power to supersede the existing board, if necessary.

“They have abundant powers and I don’t know why they are not exercising it. It is also a case of public health and tomorrow something bad may happen at one of the hospitals because of a lack of supplies or some other issue. Then the government will, perhaps, wake up to say let’s do something,” Srivastava said.

IiAS, too, has argued that the true price discovery will occur only if more bidders are allowed to join the bidding. But it has also said that the “current board should avoid making existential decisions” for the company. “We have seen an unprecedented five bids coming in for an asset. If the board continues its current path, we may see another unprecedented event: an Indian class-action suit,” the IiAS report said.

This article first appeared on Quartz.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.