A traumatic suspense-part 3

“Is this Alliance Francaise?” I asked nervously on the phone. I had practiced the right pronunciation by asking a few colleagues, who pointed out all the letters that were useless, and were there only to remain silent.

I am so relieved that this is in written form, so that I don’t have to face the embarrassment of trying to say it again.

“Yes. That’s right, who’s calling?” said a sweet voice with an intimidating accent, that I almost felt like changing my name to something that sounds cooler.

“Maam. I’m Rajesh Ramaswamy calling on behalf of Suchitra Film Society. This is regarding screening of a film festival, where we would like to screen some French films as well. Could you please put me on to the right person?”

“Oh! A film festival. What do you want from us?”

The receptionist was obviously not prepared to handle such bizarre requests. But I was hopeful, since the place hosts exhibitions of artists with the weirdest interpretations of an ordinary world, so surely she must be used to such bizarreness.

I continued trying to make the request sound more plain this time.

“Well, like I told you maam….we would like to screen a few French feature films…so I needed some help in putting together some nice suspense films.”

“Suspense films!! This is Alliance Francaise.”

I was wondering if I needed to speak in French.

“Yes maam. I know.We were told that you would have access to French films, so we thought you could help us out.” I kept saying ‘we’ and ‘us’, so that it sounds like I represent a large community who are dying to see these films.

“I don’t understand. Maybe you should speak to our Secretary.”

Over the years I have discovered that ‘Secretary’ is the most mysterious title. It could mean anything. Either it could be the main deciding authority or a bored aunty who books tickets and then cancels them and waits for the clock to strike 5:30 so that she can hurry back home. So when someone says ‘speak to the secretary’, you have little clue of what they mean.

“Can I speak to the Secretary then?”

“No. She’s busy now. You could send a mail with your request to something@something.com.”

The email is the invention of the century. It is invented so that people can choose to not correspond. “Send me a mail” means ‘Don’t call. Don’t meet. Don’t bother.” I believe that people only read jokes on emails.

So I drafted a mail trying to explain what I needed adding adequate amounts of gratefuls and thankfuls in it.

But surprisingly, I got a reply.

“Hi Rajesh

I don’t know what you mean by suspense? Could you please be more specific? What is your actual requirement? ” with a default footnote carrying a mention of some event at their venue..’Featuring Amanda’s exhibition on floral interpretations of the hypnotic mind…a celebration of human emotions in canvas’.

I had half a mind of meeting Amanda and asking her to try and interpret the emotion I was going through.

If I knew that winning an award involved so much of hard work, I honestly wouldn’t have minded being less ambitious. But I was now too deep into it to even think of backing out.

Mr. Murthy had realized the privileges of being a client and decided to make it a little more tougher. I thought I could get away with some Feluda and Hitchcock. But Mr. Murthy added that he would like to show his members movies that nobody had access to, presuming that I did.

“No. No. Not Hitchcock and Sherlock holmes. Either they’ve read it or seen it. Let’s show them movies that they could have never have seen. And preferably film prints, not dvds.”

Which meant movies in Slovakian, Sinhalese, Scandinavian or Sanskrit.

After a little bit of bargaining, Mr. Murthy asked us to contact Max Mueller Bhavan and Alliance and source out some rare works in German and French.

“The French make good movies.Oh yes, even the Germans do. They have some fine cinema.” And he passionately rattled away the names of a few of their defining pieces of work backing each with sufficient trivia. He could have actually said anything if only he knew how clueless we were.

This beautiful dream of winning an award was slowly morphing to be an ordeal that I was dying to get over and done with. Every time, I looked at people around who were wondering if they should order ‘pepperoni pizza’ or ‘ schezwan chicken’ for dinner, I started missing out on the charm of a regular life.

“Why did I have to invite this shit upon myself? I mean, so what does an award signify? So what’s the big deal about it. Why am I constantly trying to prove to others that I am worthy of my salary and much more. Why can I not just lie back and play some latest number on my ipod and get drunk. Have I not got enough crap on my plate already that I now have to crave for more? Anyway this is not a Honda Cog TVC that is going to pick up a Grand Prix at Cannes. It’s a good idea, no, it’s an ok idea, or is it an idea? Whatever it is, it is what I have generated, so that’s what I have to deal with.”

My brain was splitting into two, with one ramming the other. Advertising gets you so accustomed to cynicism that very soon it starts to creep into your own ideas. I have raped such great masterpieces done by others in my head, that I now had no qualms raping one or two of them that belonged to me. And it was now the turn of this little idea. I started getting bored of it.

Things changed the minute an email popped up in my inbox from Max Mueller, where I had sent a similar request.

“We would be delighted to extend our support for this festival. Our director suggests a rare piece of suspense called “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiri. We have this masterpiece in 16mm with us. Kindly collect it, and I am sure that it would be a real delight for the members of your film society.”

And I was back with this lollipop. The two parts of my brain made a compromise. The interest came back. I now got to know what ‘a sucker’ meant.

After a few phone calls, mails and meetings and visiting some vague art exhibitions in their gallery and oohing and aahing over them, I managed to pull out a suspense film from the French as well.

After about a month we went back to Mr Murthy and plonked these two films on his table.

“I’m sorry sir. Thats all we could manage. But I guess we need atleast 2 more films for it to be a festival.”

“Aah The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. I’ve been searching this for a long time. That’s a good find. And Sur Mes Levres (read my lips). A fabulous film. Edge of the seat stuff.”

And Mr Murthy gave us a little speech on the cinema sensibilities of the French and the German, and the influence that both the revolutions had on their films. Half the stuff flew above my head. I don’t know about Anil. He seemed like he was following it all. Ya, he watched more of Travel and Living and Discovery and I watched Zoom.

Mr Murthy pulled out 2 films that he had tucked away in a Godrej almirah. And placed them on the table like he was displaying jewellery.

“We’ve got two. Yes, one of them is Hitchcock. But its a rare one and one of his finest works. The lady vanishes. And this is an original film print. And Jai Baba Felunath, by Satyajit Ray in 35mm. Brilliant plot. So, I guess we are on.”

I was relieved that I had to not go on anymore cross cultural expeditions.

In a few days, we fixed the dates for the festival, bought the red envelopes and printed the invites. We got the list of members (about 2000 of them) from the society and had the addresses carefully handwritten by people who had a good handwriting. And when we didnt find many with one, we changed that to anyone who could write.

We posted the first set of blank envelopes from different postboxes a week prior to the event. And waited for the suspense to unfold.

On day 2 we posted the second set. Things seemed to be progressing as planned, which was making me feel uneasy. I was so used to things getting fucked up that things going smooth was even more scarier.

Thankfully there was a fuck up.

I was in the middle of a client meeting at office. I had just presented half a dozen scripts and was waiting for reactions, when I got a call. It was Big Spectacled Gopal on the other end. I excused myself and stepped out.

“Hello…Mr Rajesh?”

“Ya…sir hello…tell me.”

“What have you done?”

“I mean…what?”

“Are you sending blank envelopes to our members?”

“Oh yes…we have started sending them. We’ve sent 2 sets and we have 2 more to go. Nothing to worry.”

“What do you mean ‘nothing to worry’. I am getting bombarded with calls.”

“From who?”

“From our members. Why are you sending them blank envelopes?”

Oh God!! Gopal The Fool. I always suspected that Gopal was sleeping in that meeting. He was only interested in that Veg Puff, the tea and his sleep. He just didn’t get the idea. Or maybe he just didn’t care to get it.

“But of course sir. But how are they calling you…I mean how come!! I thought they were anonymous envelopes. How did anyone guess that you are sending them.”

“Well, I must be asking you that question. It is because you people are fools. You have written the membership number against the names. And our members know that the number is their Suchitra Membership number. Why are you people so foolish? You are a bunch of fools I tell you.”

In a minute Gopal had transferred his title to me. It then dawned on me. We had given the list to random people and some of them had chosen to write the membership number along with the name. They had the right to, because it was a favour. Obviously, we didn’t take enough care to go through all of them before posting it.

I was stumped. I didn’t know what to tell Gopal.

“Sir…I’m really sorry. I think there has been a small slip up somewhere. I’ll look into it right away.”

“What will you look into it now. They have already received the envelope. And I have been getting threatening calls the whole day. People are asking me if we are playing some kind of a prank. One of them just visited my office and has threatened to take me to the police. I am unable to answer the calls.’

“Oh I’m really sorry sir. Please continue denying it.”

“But how can I deny? Who else would send them a letter with a Suchitra membership number in it. Isn’t it obvious that we are sending it.”

“Sir….only a few of them have gone out like this. I can assure you that.”

“What is the point? The damage is done. Are you going to answer all those phone calls? What do you want me to do? I am unable to attend to my regular work because of you people. What was the necessity to do all this circus. Are you all mad?”

In the meanwhile, the client was busy shredding every script I had presented in the meeting that I had stepped out of. Every second I was spending with Gopal on the phone on this scam mailer, the client out here was bombing a real ad. It was all happening so chaotically that it was difficult to decide which one to save first.

“Sir, please please…just tolerate this for one more day and then it shall all be over. The same guys who are firing you now, will call you back and appreciate the invite…I promise you that.”

I had nothing but my conviction to fight this battle. I had just tried using it in the meeting that I had stepped out of. And it had failed miserably. I was losing conviction on my conviction. The problem with conviction is trying to hold it back from slipping into desperation. I haven’t been able to sort out the difference between the two for a long time now.

“Ok Mr. Rajesh. I’ll give you just one more day. After that I cannot take it, I am telling you very clearly.”

Suddenly Gopal seemed to be the most angelic person in my head. Over the period of this conversation he had taken several avatars of himself in my head. But thankfully he hung up becoming a nice guy.

I walked back into the meeting by which time the servicing guy had filled eighteen pages of its minutes, that could easily have been summed up in two words “all bombed’.

For that one moment, I started relating to Ritwik Ghatak’s tragedies a little more.

********************************************************************************************************************

I got a call from Mr P Seshadri early in the morning, which was around 2pm. It was the day the final invite reached the members.

“Mr. Rajesh. Congratulations. Your trick worked. I have got about 30 calls in the past one hour. Everyone just love the invite. The reactions are priceless. It worked exactly the way it was suppose to. Each one of them are keen to attend this event. We have never got a response like this. You were right. It was worth all the risk. I just spoke to Mr Murthy. He is overwhelmed.”

I reacted like I won an Oscar. I got weak in my knees, forgetting how small the victory was.

It was the first day of the event. The members who had stopped attending screenings returned in hordes. Everyone got the prank and they loved it. Mr Seshadri had arranged a mike so that everyone could come and share their experiences.

They spoke about their anxieties. Some suspected their wives. Some their husbands. Some went to the cops. Some reconnected with their ex flames, hoping that it was from them. Some thought it was a ransom. One of them thought that the envelope contained some invisible powder that would spread an incurable virus. Each one of them had a unique explanation. But yes, It worked.

I thanked Rahul in my head for suggesting to make it happen for real. I didn’t care about the awards anymore.

I slept through the French film. And when I woke up I saw people clapping, followed by intense discussions over cigarettes and coffee just outside the hall. So I guess they loved it.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari turned out to be the best suspense film I have ever seen in my life. Till date I have no clue what it was all about. It was something about a somnambulist going around murdering people. But google searches reveal over a 100 results, so I guess it must have been really good. But yes, the members asked for a re-screening. I am not sure if they loved it or they just didn’t get it, like me.

I liked Jai Baba Felunath. Maybe I like seeing Indian faces. And it was easy to follow. And yes, I could understand P Seshadri’s frustration that people don’t know the genius of Ray.

I bunked the Hitchcock film. For no particular reason. But P Seshadri told me later that there was a fantastic response to that as well.

What thrilled me the most was that the most unlikely of places, the most simplest of people had supported such a risky idea. And they made it happen. I love them for it. And will remain indebted to them forever. Their passion for cinema is unquestionable. And like a typical advertising bastard, I promised to host more such events. And forgot all about it. Maybe I need to motivate myself to go back there. And go there without a selfish motive.

Oh ya, it won a silver at the New York festivals.

The rest of the festivals we never entered..because we forgot to enter.

The movie that made me win

(Finally some good news in the fag end of the year. I won myself a LG Chocolate mobile for this entry. It was for a contest in CNN-IBN’s movie show ‘Now Showing’, hosted by the king of critics Rajeev Masand. You had to write about the one movie you’re never tired of watching, in under 200 words (which was the biggest challenge). And the most personal and articulate entry wins.

This was mine.)

Jaane bhi do yaaro

This film gives me immense hope that lunacy and idiocy have a purpose. I work in advertising, and for years I was facing an existential crisis, wondering if my weirdo ideas could ever find a purpose.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron gives every madman the confidence that somewhere beneath his stupidity lies genius.

Which is probably why it makes me return to it each time I feel lost and suffocated in the company of  intellectuals, who defeat you with their superior weapon called logic.

It makes me feel at home, in the company of fools. Or people I’d call fearless heroes, who are unwilling to sacrifice the charm of their spontaneity by trying to seek sense in everything they do or say.

The more I see it, the more I’m convinced that you don’t have to have answers to every question.

This film is one of a kind, and nobody can tell exactly why it works.

I don’t want to ruin my experience by trying to analyse that. Not even for a Rs 30,000 prize.

A traumatic suspense-part 2


REPRESENTING CLIENT:

Mr P. Seshadri. The friendly Secretary who decided to put forth the proposal of The Agency to the committee members of The Film Society. The man who innocently arranged a meeting between himself and all the others mentioned below, without knowing the actual intentions of The Agency.

Mr. Murthy. The stern looking President. The main approving authority, a big time lawyer by profession and a walking encyclopedia on cinema.

Miss I forgot her name. I am not sure what she does.

Mr. Big spectacled guy. Who I think is called Gopal. Usually sits at the reception.

Mr. Young boy. Overall flunky who is too early in his career to earn any adjectives.

REPRESENTING AGENCY:

Mr. Rajesh Ramaswamy. Creative copy guy facing existential crisis and dying to win an award

Mr. Anil Kumar. Creative art guy facing existential crisis under the influence of previous member and dying to win an award

VENUE: Conference room of film society.

TIME: Friday evening, when generally the whole world is partying outside.

Agenda for agency: To somehow find a way to get the society to organize a suspense film festival, without making them get to know the selfish motive behind it.

Agenda for client: To figure out what two anonymous assholes were doing here, disrupting their daily routine.

Minutes of the meeting

The Agency introduced themselves as two kind souls who were willing to support the cause of good cinema and offered their undying support towards the same.

The Client was suspicious and asked Agency to explain the reason behind this rare display of goodness.

The Agency maintained that it was for the welfare of the society, that is the film society and the society at large.

The President was still not convinced, because he was a lawyer by profession. And urged The Agency to speak a little more, so that he could test his own investigatory skills.

The Agency put on a good show by continuing to display their love for cinema and turned towards The Secretary for support.

The Secretary explained to The President that the world still had good people. And he had just discovered two of them.

Miss Forgettable decided to order tea and snacks to Secretary’s discoveries and other members in the room. Mr Flunky executed her order. Mr. Big Spectacles played his role of looking bored to avoid what Flunky was doing.

Mr President was still not convinced. He asked The Agency if they would be interested in lending their support for a documentary festival.

Agency thought for a while and discussed in private. They weren’t sure if they could come up with a direct mailer idea for this. But since they could not disclose that, they argued that a suspense film festival would be a better idea.

The President now discussed in private and questioned The Agency again on their disinterest towards a documentary film festival.

The agency discussed in private and concluded that a suspense film festival was a better idea, with greater passion.

The President was convinced that he smelt something fishy and asked The Agency to confess their obsession for suspense films.

The Agency tried to explain that suspense as a category was ignored.

The President trashed it with a small speech on the evolution of suspense films and their popularity from the time of Lumiere Brothers till date.

The agency then tried a parallel argument that suspense was the supreme most form of cinema since it was interactive.

The President suggested a surreal film festival instead.

The Agency again discussed in private and came to the conclusion that surreal cinema was too nascent. Too niche.

The President argued that it was all the more reason why it needed support.

Agency felt unprepared to debate with a lawyer, who seemed to have both knowledge and power on his side. They meekly suggested that suspense could be a run up to surreal.

Tea arrived with the necessary distraction, following it up with some hot puffs procured from a neighbourhood bakery. Mr Big Spectacles certified that the puffs were fresh. The Agency took extra interest in this comforting topic and recommended a few other bakeries that made tasty snacks. And then used this opportunity to slip in some words of praise for the puffs and the tea, gradually extending it to the tea cup, the ketchup, the overall hospitality, The Film Society, The Films they screened, Ritwik Ghatak, The Secretary, The President and of course his remarkable proficiency in the subject.

The trick worked in making the president loosen up a bit. After a few more sips of tea and some silly jokes, the meeting started to lose its seriousness. Well, not all of it, but atleast to make the debate less esoteric and more transactional and direct…

Mr. Murthy: “What is this obsession with Suspense films? There must be some reason for it?”

I knew at that some point I had to spell out the actual intention behind this whole drama. It seemed like the time had come.

“Well sir,…it’s nothing like that…..”

Anil nudged me with his elbow so hard that the words fell out of my mouth…

“Sir…..ok…it’s like this. We have a great direct mailer idea for this. And that is the reason we are so keen on suspense…we send empty envelopes to all your members……..red envelopes…every single day…..”

I explained the idea to him in one breath, trying to avoid any eye contact.

There was pindrop silence in the room. Even Gopal had stopped sipping his tea.

Mr. Murthy “You mean, you are going to play a prank with our members?”

Me “Sir, not a prank exactly…but it’s a direct mailer that brings the activity alive. I mean your members will surely be excited and appreciate the idea when it is all over.”

Miss Forgettable panicked in her penetrating voice “But..why you are doing like this? Why are you not sending normal postcard? I mean what is this suspense? I mean I am not understanding? I mean who are you people? I mean why are you doing this complications. I mean why are you doing nonsense. I mean I don’t understand. I mean what when which where who how…I mean…what for all this?”

I was hoping that Miss Forgettable was not too important in their system. I was hoping that The President and everyone else hated her. Her voice was too shrill to not make an impact. Hearing her voice, even I started doubting my idea. She had the power to make anything sound horrible.

Mr Murthy then thought for a while and arrived at the priceless question, that proved that he had topped his law school.

“I am not able to understand one thing though. Why are you doing all this? What’s in it for you?” and raised his eyebrows synchronizing it with the ticking of the wall clock.

“Well…sir we want to send it to awards. It’s like this. You know there are a lot of advertising awards for creativity. And they are very prestigious ones. We would like to send this as an idea for a direct mailer. Sir, even you can be famous actually. If we win, even Suchitra Film Society will feature in the book.”

The silence returned. Mr Flunky who was taking notes of god knows what, now gave us an idea of what his voice sounds like with an “Oh!”. Miss Forgettable tapped him to stop him at his “Oh!”, and ensured that silence prevailed in the room.

Mr P Seshadri took off his glasses and polished it with his shirt sleeve till he was convinced that he could now use it to not just see but also see through with it.

Mr Murthy snorted. Scoffed. Coughed. Sighed and made a few other noises that each had deep cinematic relevance.

Mr Murthy then turned towards Mr P Seshadri “I told you! I knew that there is something fishy in this.”

Mr P Seshadri looked at us looking cheated.

(We did turn out to be two selfish assholes, exactly like the “I told you’ Mr. Murthy was referring to. It proved that Mr. Murthy was far more learned and had watched many more films than Mr P Seshadri, that could now make him identify jerks like us. That’s why Murthy was the president. And P Seshadri remained the humble secretary who only appreciated good cinema, but never learnt from it. Just like his icons…only inspired…never influenced. And what made him feel worse was that it was He who arranged for this meeting. It was He who mistaked us assholes as goodsoles who supported the cause of great cinema. And what he got in return was two traitors who were pedalling their two paisa direct mailer for some advertising award that he cared a rat’s ass for…I mean how could we betray his…..)

Mr. Murthy suddenly uttered something that made Mr. P Seshadri stop this incident from growing in his head and reach new levels of unusable wisdom.

“Seshadri…But coming to think of it….it’s not a bad idea at all. I know that they are doing this for their own benefit, but it might just work….and cause some excitement…you know…the activities in the society are quite dead nowadays. We need to do something to disrupt it.”

Suddenly all those awards that were pixelating away started becoming clear again.

Anil Kumar jumped up with his art directorial inputs “Sir…we will design beautiful invites in matte black, with bright red, flaming red envelopes” adding aesthetic appeal to a not so good idea.

We circulated samples of the invites that were hidden in our bags till now, assuring them that the logo size was only indicative but would be much larger in the final.

“Red is a good color” Mr Murthy agreed. It was a relief to hear discussions on design now. Copywriters always feel happy when designs are being discussed. It indicates that they are now safe.

Mr P Seshadri snapped out of his Go-Takish sentiments and tried reviewing this idea in a new light that his senior Mr. Murthy had flashed.

“Ya….ok. I understand the selfish motive. I agree that it might also not be such a bad idea…but who is going to fund all this?”

“Sir…we’ll take care of all that. You agree to host the festival and we sponsor the invites, the designing, printing and postal charges…we’ll take care of everything. It’s free.” Me and Anil repeated after each other to doubly assure them.

“And what movies are you planning to show?” Mr Murthy asked.

“Hitch-cock?”

They looked at each other like they didn’t hear the ‘hitch’ in it.

Or maybe there was one…which we didn’t know about.

To be contd…

(Error-In the previous post I had mentioned that the right pronunciation of Ghatak is Go-Tak. But my dear Bengali friend Mr Rajiv points out that it is GHO-THOK. So kindly note that this is now the right way to say his name till the next Bong comes into the picture with a newer, better way of saying it.)

A traumatic suspense – part 1

Her lips quivered like a jellyfish that had caught a cold, sometimes blocked by the subtitles translating her Bengali lines. She spoke softly, to make her voice or the lack of it, translate her misery. And she had been doing this for the past 2 hours now. And when she stopped whining, her brother took over. Both these characters were given the job of making the audience understand what it is to be poor, diseased, out of a job and deceived by the universe and every other possible variation of depression. And just in case you missed agonising their plight, they employed a hindustani vocalist in the background to forcefully push that lump down your throat with his dreary alaap. The director had spared no effort in making sure that you don’t slip into any nice and happy thoughts in between, and only focus on the sufferings of the sufferers on the screen and mourn along with them.

I was sincerely trying to feel the pain, but my heavy eyelids were refusing to take anymore of it. 

This was probably my worst movie watching experience till then. It was not a film. It was a series of disasters that had chosen a lone victim, the lady on the screen who endured everything that God punished her with, only because she had decided to be a good natured lady. No matter what, she stood there and faced it all with a smiling face, so that one day her miserable story can be converted into a film and find more victims to dive into her world of gloom. And I was victimized to this black and white tale of disastrous disasters called Meghe Dhaka Tara, a Bengali masterpiece directed by Ritwik Ghatak, at Suchitra Film Society.

But what was more pitiable was what I was going through, because it was real.

Mr P. Seshadri, the secretary of the film society who was sitting beside me, was verifying my reactions with the corner of his eye. Just to check, if I was feeling the right emotion at the right time. I was feeling pressurized to behave appropriately. I knew that I had to pay attention, because very soon I was going to be quizzed on everything that was happening on screen. All my opportune moments in the film, where I could have happily dozed off, were sacrificed to P. Seshadri’s critical analysis of Ray v/s Ghatak. Like the one right now, where the hero was walking beside a lake and alaaping away to glory, which I’m sure was added by Ghatak for people to take a pee break. But to my bad luck, I had to not only watch it but also gather deep inferences from every crow that was hopping in the background. Why? Because I had to impress upon Mr. P Seshadri that I appreciated good cinema.

“You know, though both Ray and Ghatak drew inspiration from the life of a common man, their sensibilities were entirely different. Ray celebrated it, and Ghatak mocked them.” Mr Seshadri announced the first point in his list of observations.

“Ya, I know…I agree.”

“If you notice, Ray brings out the humour in everyday mundanities of life, while Ghatak investigates the reason behind them.”

“Ya….I know…I agree.”

“But no doubt that they were both visionaries who could see drama and story in the lives of these common people…..We are planning to have a small discussion on this sometime next month. I am sure you would love to participate in this. You know, we are old…we grew up watching Ray and Ghatak, but we would love to know your interpretations of these geniuses.”

“Oh yes…I would love to.”

In the meantime, the Hindustani vocalist had now reached a pinnacle where he demonstrated his mastery over this form of music, by attempting an unattainable pitch, much higher than what the speakers in the hall were designed to handle.

“Aaaah!” Seshadri aahed as the melancholic piece pierced his heart.”You see how the music contributes to the story. You never realise if it borrows from it or adds to it…that’s the beauty of it. And Ray probably ignored them in his stories. Never got around to explore the power that music could bring to his stories….which is maybe why he connected well with the western audiences, more than Ghatak could ever have. But both weren’t too concerned about what the westerners thought..they were quintessentially Indian at heart. Never influenced….only inspired.”

“Yes, I agree.”

I had made the mistake of telling Mr.P. Seshadri that I had watched 2 Satyajit Ray films. And he used this information to conclude that I was a devout Ray fan or follower. And took the liberty of engaging me into this tiring debate of their styles. I had only gotten to know about the existence of a Ritwik Ghatak about 3 hours ago.

Thankfully the alaap ended. The stubbled hero had now grown a beard over the period of this song, with every strand of hair on his chin representing a tragedy he had faced in life. And he now began to speak, forcing Mr. P. Seshadri to leave me alone and pay attention to whatever he had to say.

And I returned to posing like I was intensely moved by his tale of woe.

But I had a larger agenda, that made me sit through this and more.

To enter a direct mailer idea of mine into advertising awards. Something that started off as nothing more than an innocent scam…

A week before, me and Anil Kumar, my art partner went into Rahul’s cabin, my ex-boss.

“We have an idea.’

“Wow….that’s rare.”

“It’s a scam idea.”

“Ok. That’s not rare.”

Anil placed before him a red envelope that had Rahul’s name and address scribbled with blue ink on it ‘Rahul Sen Gupta, No. 26 MG Road, Bangalore-1′.

Rahul opened the envelope.

“What’s this? It’s empty inside.”

“Ya, that’s the mailer you get on day 1.”

And then Anil give him the second envelope…again a similar looking one with a handwritten address.

“Even this has nothing in it. What’s all this about?”

“We’re getting there Rahul…you get that on day 2″

We handed him another envelope that were similar to the ones before.

“What is this? Don’t fuck around man.”

“This is what you get on day 3″

“All empty?”

“Yes. All empty. And then on day 4, you get this…”

And we gave him the last envelope that resembled the ones before. But this time it carried something.

“What’s this?…Oh wow….an invite to a suspense film festival.”

“Ya. So what do you think?’

“Sounds good man….Actually quite good man.”

“Ya, so that’s the idea Rahul…send ordinary handwritten envelopes for 3 continuous days in a row through ordinary post. All with the same handwriting. And all of them have nothing in it. And after the receiver starts getting psyched, we send him an invite for a suspense film festival on day 4 in a similar looking envelope.”

“It seems quite easy to execute too. So where do you plan to do this?”

“Nowhere Rahul….It’s a scam.”

“Why is it a scam? Why can’t you do it for real. We don’t do scams.”

“I mean….where can we do it? We can do it at a friend’s place, maybe.”

“NO!! Get this straight. If you want to do this, do it properly. Or don’t waste your time man.”

*****************************************************************************************

Me and Anil gathered again on our little idea later. We needed an award badly. Just to know how it feels to get one! And it was difficult to get one on the work we were doing for our clients. It’s always been that way. You only get ideas on brands you don’t handle. It’s boring to get ideas on your own brands. It’s like work. No matter how great it is, it seems like work. Also, great ideas always look like they came easy. And clients don’t like it, if it looked like it came easy. Like if you came up with an instant idea when the client was briefing you, you should never blurt it out. Because it came easy. They don’t like it. Agencies have trained clients to believe that good ideas are always thought through. Like a step by step process.

Why am I digressing? …..maybe because it’s my blog…

So Anil and me sat around wondering how to make this scam a reality. It was suddenly beginning to lose all its charm, now that we had to literally push the envelope.

“I know a film society near my place. It’s called ‘Suchitra Film Society’. I’m damn curious to know what the shit happens in there. They have a mini theatre and stuff like that.” I said after some deep thinking.

“So just ask them no…what the fuck is your problem?”

“Ya….I’ll do that on my way home tonight.”

****************************************************************************************

On my way back, I stopped at Suchitra Film Society. If they had removed the board, it could very well have been called ‘The Government Centre for Research on Methane Gas’. It was a drab looking office with a bored looking man with oversized spectacles who was placed there to face the visitors.

“I would like to be a member.”

The man took out a form and handed it over to me, taking pains to explain the self explanatory form.

“Rs.200 for a year. We show 2 films every month. Rs. 15 is the registration charges. Non refundable. But it’s a one time fee. You need to give us 2 passport size photographs. One pasted here. And another for your membership card.

“Oh. Ok.” I was still wondering how to approach the topic. But I knew that he was the wrong man. He just looked too bored or boring to be the right one.

“I have a few things to discuss on screening of films here. Can you tell me who do I have to meet?”

“What screening of films?”

“Means….I’d like to participate in organizing screening of films here.”

“Oh….You’ll have to meet the secretary. He’ll be here at 6:30.”

There was 20 minutes to kill before 6:30 happened. I waited outside, staring at the only piece of timepass. A notice board that was concealed in a glass showcase. It displayed a few posters of the films that were screened in 1982..that probably still remained there for emotional reasons. A copy of the form that I was holding. A handwritten list of holidays that reminded me of the people who I last read about in my history books. And a pamphlet of a grand event that took place about two years back titled “Films as a medium for social messaging”, which gave details of who lit the lamp, who spoke about what topic and what films were screened and who gave the thank you speech and other such mundane crap. But nothing on the board indicated anything of excitement having happened there. I started feeling jittery if I was in the right place. It seemed too serious a place to try out some gimmick like this. And then I saw a poster of the film to be screened that day, “Meghe Dhaka Tara.” under the title “Ritwik Ghatak Festival”. And a whole lot of other random pin-ups of film appreciation courses, film-making and screenplay workshops, french classes etc…..I was just beginning to slip into an existential crisis when Mr.P. Seshadri tapped me on my shoulder.

“Hello. I’m Mr. P. Seshadri, the secretary of this institute. I was told that you wanted to meet me.”

“Ah..yes….good evening sir, My name is Rajesh Ramaswamy. I just became a member today….or rather I have collected my form.”

“Very good. I am glad to have you as a member. Do you stay close by…”

(Mr Seshadri was a pleasant man. He was in his mid-forties. Had a bank manager kind of a look. Checked shirts, grey trousers, side partition, Bata footwear ….and a fountain pen that had a gleaming golden cap peeking out of his pocket. And of course, spectacles with a brown plastic frame to complete the look. The sorts who’d be called upon to preside functions of a welfare association felicitating dignitaries with shawls and shower them with praises on the mike. It was surprising to see him as a secretary of a film society. One look and I knew I had to be formal and cordial in my approach. I was wondering what to say, since this form of speech doesn’t come easily to me.)

“Yes sir…I stay quite close by.”

“I am pleased to meet you Mr. Rajesh. Mr. Gopal was telling me that you wanted to speak to me about screening of films.”

“Ya…Yes sir. I was just wondering, if I could help out and be a volunteer for organising events here.”

“Oh Yes. We would be delighted. I mean, youngsters today rarely have the time, So it’s surprising that you would want to participate in this. Where do you work?’

“I work in an ad agency.”

“Oh. So no wonder. There has always been a close association between advertising and films. You are a film enthusiast….aren’t you…..”

“I would like to believe so.”

(I couldn’t believe that I actually said something like that. Something so well constructed. My brain was working hard to find the right words to make the right impression. I was lying. Both with my mannerisms and what I had just said. I knew that film enthusiast doesn’t necessarily mean Bollywood. That’s the only shit I watched. Yes, I am a Bollywood enthusiast. Shamefully one. I like the glamour….the butt shaking, the running around trees, the soppy stories, the bullshit, the loud humour, the dumbed down remakes, the ham actors and the dinchak songs. I loved everything about it. But this was a wrong place to confess all that.)

I didn’t realise that P. Seshadri was still speaking…I hoped that I hadn’t missed anything important.

“…..We’re constantly looking for people who appreciate good cinema, who could help us get more people to appreciate it. You know that Bollywood has changed the meaning of what cinema was meant to be. It is sad to see what a bad influence it is on the audience. It has changed the mindsets of people. It is laying down a new set of parameters and definitions of what good cinema is all about, which is dangerous. It is good to see people like you come forward. Everybody knows Karan Johar. Everybody has seen a Karan Johar film. But nobody knows Ray. Even if they do, they have never seen his films. They only remember him as an old guy who gave his Thank You speech from his wheel chair at the academy awards. We need an academy award to make people aware of a genius in our own soil. It is sad.”

“Ya…I agree.”

“You like Ray.”

This was uncalled for. I was stumped. I should have guessed that this was coming. Thankfully, I had just seen ‘Agantuk’ and ‘Sonar Kella’ about a month back. I don’t know what got into me, but I was suddenly getting attracted to Bengali culture. I had just eaten a nice Bengali meal at 36 Chowringee Lane, a small restaurant nearby and had thoroughly enjoyed it. And I started getting attracted to everything Bengali. You know how it is…one thing leads to another. I had no doubt that Bengali cinema would be equally good. It’s a stupid logic I know, like noone’s ever heard or watched a Punjabi movie. But it was my stupid head at work….there were posters of Bengali movies pasted on the walls of the restaurant. The women in that looked attractive in their traditional attire. And the only place to see more of that was a Bengali movie. And I spoke to a few Bengali friends of mine on this new fascination and they were more than excited to get me hooked on to their culture.

They started off with the basics. They lent me a couple of DVDs of Ray’s films.

“Ya…I like him.” I announced trying to quickly form an expert opinion of everything I had gathered from those 2 movies.

“And Go-Tak?”

I was shrewd enough to notice that Ghatak is not pronounced the same way as you spell it. Like most Bongs, he chose to spell his name differently, a technique most of them use to instantly identify the people from their clan. “GO-TAK” I think that’s the right way to say it.

“Oh! It’s strange, but I never got a chance to see any of Go-Tak’s works.”

Mr P. Seshadri looked at me like as if I had said that I hadn’t seen a movie of Shahrukh Khan or something. This is not to piss off “Go-Tak” fans by comparing the two, but more to give you an idea of where I belong, belonged….ok..belong.

(I know that a lot of Ritwik Ghatak fans are going to be angry with whatever I have written, but here, you can take my favorites “Tezaab’ and “Sholay’ and “Mr. India’, and rip them apart in your blog.)

“That’s rather unfortunate….I guess then you should accompany me…we are screening Go-Tak’s ‘Meghe Dhaka Tara’, tonight. It’s just going to begin. Are you doing anything important?”

“Well. Nothing. I would love to.”

I followed Mr. Seshadri into the dim hall that was just about to screen a montage of calamities in ascending magnitude.

To be contd…

Mr Big B, Khush toh nahin hai hum

(This is a very old post of mine, that suddenly went missing from my blog. After a lot of searching…..I have unearthed it from somewhere. I cannot backdate it, and so I have no other alternative than post it right up here. Read it, if you already haven’t.)

Mr Amitabh,

Give me the real Bachchan.

I admit that you are one of the few actors to have evolved so finely. But I cannot help but miss the Bachchan who walked into theatres amidst deafening whistles.

amithabh_bachchan_deewar_20070521The Bachchan who triggered a frenzy even before the censor certificate appeared. The Bachchan who kicked us out of bed to rush to the theatres and join a snake long queue. The Bachchan who made us sacrifice the popcorn during intervals. The Bachchan who kept us glued onto the seat even if our bladders were bursting. The Bachchan whose films were reserved to only be screened during Diwali on Doordarshan. The Bachchan that made us aware of theatres we never knew existed. The Bachchan who made us grin and bear the shaky lines that appeared and reappeared in the rented VHS tapes.  The Bachchan where nothing else mattered as long as it was Bachchan.

If I had to pick up a poster of you to adorn my walls, it would still be from the pile of your earlier films.

If a Rajni can still do a Sivaji, why not you?

How can you enter the screen without background music anymore? Why is there no grand revelation to the God on screen? Why does the camera not take its time to scan you from toe to head? Why is there even an inch of space between you and the edge of the screen? Why are your opening lines not drowned in the din of the audience? Why is there no reverb to your baritone voice when you utter those first golden words? Why do you not do things that a Naseer or Om Puri can never dream of doing?

There are a hundred actors for us to go ‘wah wah’ about their acting skills. But there is still only one Bachchan to imitate in front of the mirror. So why have you stepped into those easily replaceable meaningful roles? Why have you retraced your steps to being an actor again?

kalapathar_amitabhIf all this is an attempt to cater to the new generation that wants ‘Bollywood’ to resemble ‘Hollywood’, then what happens to the crores of front benchers like me? Who do we turn to? How long do we rerun those pirated dvds? How many more dvds will you make us buy, by just changing the cover? When do we see you with DTS put to full use? When do we see the seats of multiplexes ripped apart? When do we buy in black again? When will you give us new fodder with which we could spend a few more years happily trying to imitate? When will you stop breaking the formula? When will you surprise us with a cliche that’s now rare?

‘Vijay Dinanath Chauhan…gaon Mandwa……’,

“line wahin se shuru hoti hai, jahaan hum khade hote hai’

‘Ae kancha, bandookh bhi dikhatha hai aur peeche bhi hat tha hai?’

‘Aadmi aisa do heech time bhaagtha hai, olympic ka race ho ya police ka case’……

Don’t you miss saying those lines anymore than competing with mere mortals who are hiding in the shadow of realism? Specially, when you’ve unanimously been granted the license to leap far out of it.

Don’t worry about the New Gen. After all, they are a giggly lot, laughing at silly MTV spoofs of your masterpieces, with no impact of the original on them. Moreover, there are sufficient people who’ve been put in the business to keep them happy. There are enough ‘thinking directors’ catering to them, engaged in remaking foreign flicks or inspired renditions of them. That should keep them busy in comparing it with the original. They have a good understanding going on between themselves. Leave them alone to enjoy that nonsense.show_fpicphp3

In the meanwhile, please spare a thought to forgotten front benchers like me and wake up the sleeping Salim Javeds, Kader Khans and Tinnu Anands, and let’s start from where we left off last….

Was it Hum?

Bhaktavar…Mein aaaa raha hoon…….tan tan tan tadang taaaaaaaaaannnnnnng…

Now go.

Halli daariyalli….evening hothinalli

It happens often. And it can drive you crazy. Atleast it happens to me. You suddenly remember a song, and then you want it badly. So badly that it can drive you insane.

It happened to me again.

From somewhere out of the blue, an old kannada song called ‘halli daariyalli’, started to haunt me. A song that I vaguely remember seeing Kokila Mohan dancing in some jazzy dinchak outfit. A song that had made my new ‘Dyanora’ color tv proud, some years back.

I kept tossing and turning last night in my sleep, trying to remember the song fully. I woke up singing the same tune. I could not take it any longer. I needed it. And needed it really bad.

I tried googling it with no luck.

Then I youtubed it. And i found this interesting clip. Though it isn’t the original, I must admit that the dude out here has done quite a brilliant job of it. So watch it to get an idea of what this post is all about.

I had no clue which movie it belonged to. But I could bet that SPB was the singer. 

So, with this limited knowledge I first went to the neighboring music stores, Planet M, Music World, Calypso and a few others. Unfortunately, noone knew what I was talking about.

And then I remembered this unique tiny shop called Totalkannada.com located in the basement opposite Pai Vihar, Jayanagara, a shop completely dedicated to kannada movies, music, books and other “Jai Karnataka Maate’ paraphernalia. 

This was my last resort. I was going half mad. And I hoped and prayed that I find it there.

As I entered, a salesgirl was sitting at the counter. A simple young kannadiga girl, who was almost dozing off to some old kannada melody on the speakers that was apt for a sleepy afternoon like this. There was another lone customer loitering around and messing up the alphabetically arranged Vcds. 

One look at her and I was convinced that she would have no clue either. 

With full anxiety, I leaned over the counter and whispered adding the customary ‘maydam’ before every sentence to sound as authentically kannada as possible….

“Maydam, ondhu haadu hudukutha iddini…..(I’m searching for a song) …….halli daariyalli”

She turned down the volume of the speakers that was playing ‘Namoora mandaara hoove’.

I repeated my request ‘Maydam…halli daariyalli’, with an irritating eagerness that I didn’t care to hold back.

She turned the volume further down and closed her eyes to concentrate on getting the tune of my request.

I impatiently waited for that one customer to clear the field, and then cleared my throat.

“Maydam …haadla..(can i sing it?)”

She nodded impatiently.

I looked around and broke into the song accompanied by a half-hearted jig, to add some excitement to her memory jogging process…..”Halli daariyalli……tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…” and abruptly stopped, wishing that her imagination would take over with this cryptic clue.

She gave me a look as if to say “Go on…don’t stop, it’s coming …it’s coming in my head…keep it going”.

So I took a good look around and continued….

“Halli Daariyalli……tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…

Thampu breezinalli…tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…

hmmmm hmmmmm hmmmmmm…something something and 

ooru inda bandanu Mr Maraaanu”

She showed me symptoms of having heard it before. Her eyes lit up and she started mouthing the words to herself. She closed her eyes and transported herself back to her ‘Dyanora or Solidaire TV’ days. 

I encouraged her further by again repeating all that I knew.

She jumped “Correct. howdu….ivaga nyaapka barthaayide…..Englishu Kannada mix maadi ondu haadu” (Ya…now I remember, it’s a song that mixes up English and Kannada words)

I was thrilled to bits and continued…’ya ya, haaruthide love birdsugalu…..’ and was promptly interrupted by some fool who walked in wanting some Darshan hits.

The imagination that we had built up till now was drowned the minute she slipped in the ‘Darshan Hits’ CD to test it. The sepia toned imagery floating in the air was ruthlessly spoilt by the garish garbage that belted out of the speakers.  

I casually asked that customer “Saar Halli daariyalli haadu yaav picturu antha goththa?” (Sir, do you know which movie is ‘Halli Daariyalli’ from?)

He meditated for a while and said with supreme confidence “Halli Daari alla adu…halli meshtru…..Ravichandran picture” (No …it’s called halli meshtru..a Ravichandran film).

I controlled all my urges to slap him. And let him groove to the irritating tune of his latest purchase that was blaring from the speakers.

Thankfully, the guy was happy with what he was hearing, and he soon exited leaving us alone to resume our exciting search.

And the salesgirl promptly returned. 

I took off from where we left.

“Correctu madam….English Kannada mix…haaruthide love birdsu galu…oduthide cowsugalu..”(love birds are flying and cows are running)

“Hero yaaru gotha?’ She asked frowning hard.

“Seriyaagi nyaapka illa madam…Kokila Mohan anusoththe” (Cannot remember clearly….I think it is Kokila Mohan)

“Haan…” she jumped in excitement and promptly returned with a Vcd of the movie ‘Kokila’.

We quickly poured over its contents.The Vcd also contained a listing of all the songs. But no, this number did not feature.

She was visibly dissappointed with her ineffeciency. And I was visibly happy that she was taking such a keen interest in this.

We both agreed that it could only be SPB who could have sung this song.

She kept humming the tune to herself, as she rummaged through dozens of SPB hits looking for this number.

I picked up a bunch of illayaraja hits hoping that I’d find it in them. I always felt it had a very ‘Illayaraja’ flavour to it.

But we both failed in our searches.

She then picked up a big fat book, a kannada cinema encyclopedia and began searching for it. 

After about 20 minutes of pouring into it, she lifted her head and looked at me strangely.

She studied me carefully.

Obviously there was something running in her head.

And then she said in a nervous whisper “Actually nam bossige gothirathe. Andre ivaaga nidde maadtha irthaare!” (Actually my boss would know. But he’ll be sleeping right now).

She was mentally weighing the worth of this deal. Even if she did identify the cd, it couldn’t be costing more than 30 Rs. Was it worthy enough to spend a phone call? Or risk disturbing the owner at such an untimely hour?

I could sense the dilemma going on in her head. 

I put on the most desperate face I could. 

She pondered for a while and thankfully decided that it was more important to please me than worry about the deal and her boss.

She hesitantly picked up the phone and punched the buttons.

I could see the tension on her face.  

“Sorry sir…..ondhu customer bandidhaare…halli daariyalli bekanthe…yaavu piccharru antha goththa nimmage?” (There is a customer searching for halli daariyalli song here. Do you know which movie it belongs to?)

There was a pregnant pause. She made unpleasant faces at me, imitating her boss’ mood at that time. 

She tried to sound her polite best as she responded to him “..’Muniyana maadri’…..andre adralli Shankar Nag alva…haaan….correctu…….Kokila Mohanu idaane…thumba thanks sir” (Oh Muniyana Maadri…but isn’t that Shankar Nag!….oh ya right….even Kokila Mohan is in that one. Thank you sir)

She hung up and bit her tongue feeling happy that she was done with the difficult part. She rushed and reached out for that Vcd. And ran through the listings.

Yes. The song did feature.

She handed over the vcd to me and said “Boss kopuskondru…parvaagilla….nimmage haadu sikkthalla!” (Boss was wild. But it’s ok. Atleast you found your song).

I grabbed it and was all set to rush back and listen to it. 

But she held me back for a few minutes, frantically rummaging through a few other Cds. I was getting impatient. I had dug out the exact number of notes needed for the transaction, to make it as speedy as possible.

She finally returned with a compile of SPB and held it out to me.   

“Saar. MP3 nu sikkthu…beka? Beri 25 Rupayee!!” (I also got an MP3 of it. Do you want it? It’s only 25 Rs!!’)

I knew that she was doing this only to justify the deal in her own head.

And I could have paid anything for such sincerity.

halli

 

 

 

 

So here it is……I later found it in on youtube….Now that i know which movie it belongs to.

 

Thanks to someone, who’s so passionate about their job.

Emosanal connecsion

emotional

The pop corn seemed potent. And the coke tasted like neat vodka. Watching Dev D is like going on a dizzy ride into fantasy, rather ecstasy. The thrill is quite similar to screaming together in a rock show, watching the local band belt out ‘cocaine’. The intoxication is so misleading, that you start confusing the cheap liquor inside you to be something of an higher order. 

Fluorescent streaks of colour, crazy camera works, eclectic sound effects transport you to a world that you only hangovered about till now.  

It looks like the director, the cast, the cameraman, the spot boy, the editor were on dope throughout the making of this film. And the censor board was on a overdose  to pass it. 

The film is a narcotic pot boiler (quite literally) of a man who indulges in everything that you only had seventh hand information about. All said and done it was one hellofatrip in the name of modern cinema. All the weed that Anurag Kashyap sowed has reaped off. And it shows.dev-d-0a1

 

 

What distinctly catches your eye in that dark tele cine are a few scenes, infact single symbolic shots, like the sex starved punjabi kudi who cycles away to the some ganne ke kheth with a bed on her carrier, freeing the location from the clutches of Yash Chopra and his disciples, and putting it to better use. 

Or the scene where Abhay Deol walks in slow motion, out of a wine store balancing an entire carton of vodka on one hand, to depict the extent of his misery. Worth learning how to whistle.

Or the scene where the firangi girl turned prostitute, regrets why her father did not pardon her for all her sins, and Abhay Deol pulls her close and gives her a hug, reciting the same lines that she wanted to hear from her father. 

smoking-upYes, there could be people who would argue that this encourages alcoholism and drugs and spreads messages that are against our culture. But again, it is only a movie. Nobody set out to install lightbulbs in villages after seeing Swades. Maybe, movies can only do so much. So, it’s best to leave your moralistic viewpoints aside, and watch this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching good cinema.  

The guts behind getting a local brass band to lend their voice for the lead single ‘Emosanal Attyachar’ says a lot about the director wanting to redefine the tried and tested Sonu and Udit for delivering a hit, or for that matter  engaging a garage musician to score the music tracks.  

Apparently, most of the songs were written by the singers themselves, because Anurag had identified closet poets behind those voices.

This movie actually reminded me of someone closer home who tried what Anurag accomplished, a decade ago. Uppi.satyam42

Yes, if you follow closely, there is an uncanny resemblance to what Uppi set out to do when the audience had still not got their fill with run of the mill stuff (the rhyme happened without my knowledge, sorry about that). Right from the title, Uppi decided to be different, yes just for the sake of being different. Titles like A, Shhh, Om, Upendra, Swastik, H2O and other titles that weren’t as distinct as the ones above. 

However prepared you might have been for unpreparedness, Uppi still had surprises. Surprises that you enjoyed. Fleeting references to situations that you’ve been through in the past. He narrated stories from a place that you left behind to join a group that you actually don’t belong to. He sucked you in, releasing you from the trappings that you have so stupidly got yourself into. He welcomed you back to a world that is loud, unpretentious and mediocre, where appreciation required no additional knowledge or effort on your part. Letting you give in to the unpolished side of yourself, that you sometimes so desperately seek in the world you’ve graduated into. 

Crude dialogues, unpoetic lyrics and extreme performances found a method to creep into plots that made the last benchers of school, first benchers in the cinema hall. Weaved into stories where you willingly reduced yourself to the lowest common denominator. 

 

Sample this dialogue from A…”Indian culture is great, Indian tradition is great, Indian heritage is great….but Indians are not great.” This is juxtaposed against a rape scene, where he steps in to save the victim. Over the top and deshdrohi..ish, but thoroughly enjoyable when you become one with the crowd and whistle along.

The story lines made you uncomfortable in your seat, and the message was conveyed only after tossing and turning in your bed that night. For instance, Upendra was a film that set out to prove that a man can actually have relationships with three different women, one for love, another for lust and the third for marriage, as all the three from one person could be unsatisfying. Or H2O was a story about a Kannadiga and a Tamilian falling in love with the same woman called Cauvery. And just to make it more difficult for audiences used to regular cinema, he made it a bi-lingual film, where the two heroes (He and Prabhudeva), spoke in Kannada and Tamil respectively. What happened was not as surprising as the film. It was promptly banned.

Strangely, I find far too many similarities between these two geniuses of cinema.

I found the cinematic treatment of Dev D slipping into trance, quite similar to Uppi’s introduction shot in Upendra. A technique where still photographs are taken on a trolley that rotates around the subject, and then strung together in high speed, to give you a crazy rush. Apparently, Danny Boyle advised Anurag to use this technique to get the desired effect, while Uppi plainly learnt it from ignorance.  

Or for that matter, the shaky camera that blurs on and off as Dev D approaches his lover after downing a bottle, is quite close to the ‘helkolakke ondu ooru’ song where Uppi in a similar state goes swaggering all over the place, conveniently transferring the buzz in his head on to yours. And made it a universal favorite of every boozard in crowded cheapo bars, when alcohol began to corner them to solitude. Suddenly a lonely victim from under a zero watt bulb would break into this number, slowly drawing the fellow drunkards into his gloomy world. Eventually, the entire bar would echo his sentiments, pour their left over drinks to plastic tumblers and sway down the dark stairway, singing in chorus, bumping into each other and bonding like buddies, finding similarities in the shitty scripts that God  had written for them.

 

Uppi then offered further comfort to lonely love-struck boozards with an optional number in H2O, ‘Dil ilde love maadukke”, repeating his cinematic treatment with lyrics that conveyed feelings for his beloved by comparing them to alcohol, that roughly translated like this ‘If I see you, it is like downing a 60. If you laugh, it is like downing a 90. If you talk to me and laugh at the same time, it is like downing a full bottle.’ These automatically found an emosanal connection with Auto drivers and truck drivers, who paid homage in the form of distorted caricatures of Uppi on truck and auto backs. 

Uppi fused popular advertising baselines like ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’, or ‘Amul, a gift for someone you love’ into his film’s music track of ‘A’. As juvenile and crazy it might sound, it certainly boasted of a newcomer’s guts who gave into his raw instincts without letting them steer away into logic, without processing them till they came back without that spunk of spontaneity.  

Even the posters were eccentric. The poster for ‘A’ had Uppi pulling a handcart with a woman sitting on it. He narrated the script to a local artist, and asked him to paint anything that came to his mind after hearing the story. He then added a baseline under the painting that read ‘For intelligent people only’. The poster for the film ‘Upendra’ had Uppi screaming, with the letters “FRID’ in bold. He later told me that it meant nothing. He wanted to write something in the poster that meant ‘nothing’, just to get people talking about it. And it worked. The public went bonkers trying to decode that nonsense, and even drove them to buy a ticket, just to solve the puzzle. 

He then wanted to make a movie with no title. His distributors who were still clinging on to sanity, requested him to call it something, or they would not be able to list it in the papers. Uppi found an intelligent solution that could keep both of them happy. He gave it a symbol instead, the symbol of Swastik. The posters had nothing but the sign of Swastik. This time, he got people guessing, what the name of the film could be. 

Eventually, Uppi had to catch up with the audience, who had now returned to their regular cinema after that brief stint with insanity, dragging him there in the process.

Unfortunately, Uppi did not have the finesse to elevate his kitschness to an art form, that could be openly appreciated by MG Road audiences of Bangalore. Uppi restricted himself to kannada speaking audiences and failed to transcend beyond these provinces. Nevertheless, it was incredible to see him blend his learnings from world class cinema, suitable enough to an audience that he knew so well. Which after a long time, I now see in Anurag Kashyap, who operates in a language that is more fortunate. 

Sophistication is a curse on mankind, imposed by people who are too jealous of men being themselves. Dev D, Oye lucky lucky Oye, Slumdog Millionaire welcome loud, crass and over-the-top depictions of life into the basket of appreciatable cinema. Restraint and silence are replaced with energy and kitsch. Old fundas of realism in cinema that stretched the ‘thought for the day’ on your school boards to snail paced renditions of unattractive looking people enacting bodily functions like eating and sleeping to painfully long durations, with absolutely no background score, has thankfully been thrown out of the window. Tacky camerawork that masquerade as natural lighting have faded out. Stories on poverty are no longer supported with budgets that are similar. And dialogues that deserve seetis have percolated down to non-starry films. Thankfully, art cinema has progressed beyond serving these self obsessed audiences who take great pride and pleasure being amidst boredom.

Whatever you may call them- multiplex cinema, new age cinema, alternative cinema, parallel cinema or offbeat cinema or any other term, this too shall pass, and there will no longer be the great divide that separates films that are watched and films that need to be watched. The new brigade knows that the audience is there to be entertained, and not to support someone’s mission of picking up a national award. It’s relieving to know that you no more have to be subjected to subjects devoid of entertainment.  

It seems like Indian Cinema never had it better. 

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