Viral Pandya – That sounds like a really cool name

Yesterday afternoon, a colleague of mine asked me

“Machaan, have you heard of Viral Pandya (he pronounced it right..not like viral as in viral fever)”

I was like “Ya man…I’ve heard this name. Isn’t he some famous advertising dude.” Pardon me man, because my networking skills are really bad.

But I had heard of you…as this really kickass art guy who has won a lot of awards and all that.

But then he showed me your post.

And I was shocked. Like in Rangeela…Aamir says no..”I shocked”..ya..that kind of shocked.

I was shocked at various levels. Actually not shocked, but some mixed emotions.

One was…shit..why is this famous art guy accusing us of something which is totally baseless.

But then I thought about it from your point of view.

Yes. I admit..it does give you some kind of kick when you spot the original of something. Something that is generally popular. Like even when we suddenly spot the original version of a song or a TVC or a scene in a movie or a picture…we go like..”Dude…check what I spotted. and everyone gushes and bitches about it for sometime. I agree it’s fun. It’s a kind of a kick.”

So let’s leave that part.

But usually we do that with a few set of people we know…in private. Laugh about it.

But you decided to post it on FB. But that’s ok. It’s your wall. You can do as you please.

Infact, I am quite motivated by what you did. See how influential you can be man. I am also planning to post this on my wall, after completing this. I mean what the hell. If you feel something, you should say it. Say it openly.

But then you jumped the gun. Shot off your mouth. We all do it.

And when we realize we screwed up, we kind of shut up. Tuck our tails back…and say sorry whatever and get back to life.

So when we told you the actual story of what really happened, we expected you to kind of shut up, tuck your tail and get back to life.

But no. You seem to be of another type. This part onwards is when we start feeling a bit puzzled. Because dude, you are not like us normal folk.

Then we realize, oh yes, you are different. You are trained to think ‘out of the box’.

I really became inquisitive about you. So I googled about you. And stumbled upon some of your ads.

I must admit. Some of them are quite mind blowing. And yes, I share your feelings on this one. It’s sad that they had to be with strange logos. Like I wish the world got to see it. So much effort gone into it. But sadly, it’s only earning you awards.

Like the one where you have so painstakingly arranged grains, lentils and all, and it forms the image of a dog. And it’s about Vegetarian food for dogs, for some ‘SM Store’ in Pitampura.  I thought it was quite kickass. I mean so what if this kind of a treatment has been done some zillion times where small small things are arranged, and the larger picture is then something else. Just out of curiousity…what was this? A poster? If it was, then was it instore. I don’t think so. Because if it was then the ‘Pitampura’ is totally unnecessary. Because they are already there. So it’s pointless. But if it was for other places outside the store. Then don’t you think its kind of too small to read. Ya, I agree it will totally screw up the layout. It’s for awards right. Then fine, because they usually see it from close quarters.

Sorry, I digressed. Ya, I also came to know you are the jury member for One Show. Yipeeee…congrats on that. It must be quite a proud feeling.

Just out of my experience, I want to just point out a few things. I don’t know much about awards and all. I haven’t won many. Since you are into it big time, I just wanted you to know a few things. What I hear from other industry folk, it’s a bit sad for some of them.

Apparently, a lot of young interns from art schools are engaged in doing these things. these pain staking things like arranging those grains and all. They sit and slog for many days doing that. Of course the idea isn’t theirs. They are only used for executing it. Because the ones who come up with that idea, don’t have the skill or talent to do it themselves. So they ask these young fellows to spend half their lives doing such stuff. They promise them credits. And they are made to believe that those credits can then give them a great career ahead. So poor chaps fall into this trap.

But no. Nothing happens. Because even after years, they don’t grow up in the system. They just remain mute executors. I’ve even heard that sometimes they don’t even get the credit.

I hope you are giving them their dues. Because they spend their lives doing only these kind of posters for SM Store, they are quite clueless about real brand work. Oh yes, going by your moral standards, you surely must be.

Ya, real brand work is boring. I don’t know if you’ve tried it…but it’s quite an uphill task. Because there are too many people with too many opinions. And you know budgets, market realities, building a brand, reaching out to consumers and all that jazz, can be quite a bummer.

But then there are a whole bunch of people out there who’ve dedicated their lives doing this stuff. Ramming their heads, killing themselves, to get their stuff through all this, and still manage to do some work that people out in the streets end up loving.

Sadly man, these chaps aren’t the ones who are celebrated. You know, they have never been to Cannes, drunk at the gutter bar, or seen their names on One Shows. Nothing.

The only thing that concerns them is ‘what’s good for the brand’.

And if they happen to spot something that seems like a good idea for the brand, they will find a way to make it happen for the brand. It could be a cause, a song, a play, a celebrity, anything. Or sometimes a picture.

They know their brand. And are passionate and pretty selfless too about it.

Those 86 people out there, are defending that my friend.

Lastly, I feel, it’s still better to search for a picture that suits the purpose of your brand, than search for a logo that suits the purpose of your award.

Remember….SM Store, Pitampura.

By the way, Viral Pandya is quite a cool sounding name.

And I’m not copy checking this shit. It’s not for an award.

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The Bell v/s The Bull

(Recently, and after a long long time, I went through my last portfolio that is now 7 years old. And the first ad that I saw in it rang a bell. A loud loud bell. A loud fucking cycle bell.

This story will keep bloody digressing at every other point. I honestly know no other way to narrate it. I confess that I fib a lot in most of my stories, just to make it seem more exciting than it actually was. But this one’s true all the way. Not that the truth of this is exciting, but I can’t think of any better bullshit than its actual truth. So, here it is….just the way it was.)

Twenty minutes had passed and I was still staring at the first question in the paper,

“Is advertising an art or a science? Explain with arguments.” 30 Marks.

The invigilator kept pacing up and down beside me. My paper was blanker than my mind. I looked around. The silence kept reminding me about the importance of the event. I felt like an idiot to be answering this idiotic question after having spent 7 fucking years in advertising. Frankly I had no clue. Had I not been in it, maybe I could have written seven pages of academic bullshit. But experience had mind-fucked me so badly, that trying to find an answer that sounded true to myself was getting to be impossible. Because I knew that truth would fetch me no marks. Advertising was exactly the opposite of whatever text books made it out to be. I was trying hard to forget my experience and recollect the crap that the author of the prescribed textbook had written, who I was sure had never ever been in an agency.

As I kept pondering over that question, I was shadowed by a bigger question that was looming large over my head.

“Why the fuck am I writing this exam?”.

I spent some time thinking about this new improved question. Soon the question spiraled out of proportion and started to creep into every nook of my brain which was till then trying to find a simple answer to that stupid question in the paper.

I snapped out. And stared at that question again.

“It’s just plain fluke”

I scratched it out faster than I wrote it.

That was the truth. But too true to fetch me an MBA degree.

And I tried to think hard like the innocent ignorant MBA aspirants around me who were trying hard to remember the author’s attempt at this impossible question.

And then I heard a bell. A loud bell. No…..it wasn’t the exam bell. It was a shitty cycle bell ringing loud in my brain. A bell that drowned every other thought from creeping in. A bell that sounded much more important than the bullshit I was trying to craft.

Ok…Now come the digressions that I warned you about.

What the fuck is a cycle bell doing in this useless story?

Or more importantly or futilely,

Why was I giving an MBA exam after seven years in advertising?

Well, both are equally fuckall in their backstories. But let me start with the latter since my father plays a role in it. And I love my father. (So appa, this is for you. A story that I am sure you’ll never read. You would not care about. And you’ll certainly not be proud to know.)

After spending seven glorious years in servicing (yes, I was in servicing about six years back for about seven years. That’s a long time back but spending even a day doing that job makes it unforgettable) it struck me one day that I had been a bad student at college. It took me seven years of working to understand this. And I thought it would be important to get an MBA before they discover that I am not only bad at my job but also have a pathetic academic record. This insecurity eventually gave birth to wisdom and I decided to enroll myself into the cheapest, easiest and most non-interfering MBA programme available on the planet. People around convinced me that those 3 letters beside my name can actually help camoflage my incapability.

And my father had always instilled fear in me that my job was a transitionary illusionary phase. And soon the world will discover that I am neither qualified nor talented to do the kind of work that I was doing (Yes. I’m to be blamed. I had convinced him that it was as important as space research).

These mixed emotions attracted me to an M.B.A. degree offered by Symbiosis Centre for Distant Learning. A centre that was the answer to my father’s dreams which by then was getting equally distant. The fee was cheap shit. It offered those 3 letters. And yes. I had heard of Symbi…..and Symbi sounded cool to me.

I chose to do it. And cleared the first two semesters which I have no idea or memory as to how did that exactly happen. My father was ecstatic. Even more happy than me having gotten myself a job. That too, a job that was legal and that payed. But he had always been paranoid that the world will soon discover everything else about me that only he knew about. So this MBA was important for him. A kind of a shield that his son is earning to survive in this competent world, which he strongly believed, had no space for mediocrity.

But after clearing my 2nd semester, my brain started to generate new wisdom.

To join creative.

It commanded a lot of respect. And what was even better was that you could fake it. It was easy. You were granted that title by just being an appreciator of it. Which wasn’t possible on the other side. How much ever you appreciated mathematics, you still needed to be good at it to be respected. But with creativity it was easier. You just needed to passionate about it. And you could get away with it for a longer time. And no. You didn’t need no jack degrees to prove it. All you needed to do was moan and groan at every great piece of creative that you saw. And somehow you start sharing the credit for having created it.

I liked this concept. It seemed easier than the MBA mindfuck that I was going through.

I convinced the world that I was creative by faking orgasms over commercials that I barely understood. By appreciating art that I secretly puked on. And by having a strong opinion on any piece of creative that I was exposed to. I talked about performances, music, lighting and editing with authority. And yes it worked. I started to blend in with the creative crowd.

The planets rearranged themselves and soon I was in the creative department. Freely imagining any rubbish that I wanted to. It needed nothing. No MBA. No degrees. No shit. And I loved it. And I forgot all about the 2 remaining semesters and ofcourse those 3 important letters.

But my father did not.

“I don’t need this MBA anymore appa. I am now in creative.”

“I don’t care. A post-graduate degree is very essential to survive in today’s world. So you bloody well complete this course.”

Like all good advice, I found this uncool.

“But I took it up on my own. And I’m ditching it on my own. So why are you so concerned now. I am now in the creative department. They don’t give a shit even if you haven’t passed your tenth. So even if I do this shit, it won’t make jack of a difference.”

My father already hated this department which had no regard for logic, knowledge and precious education.

“It will. Even if it makes no difference to anyone, it will to me. I can atleast feel proud of my son. You cannot now give up in the 3rd semester.”

“But what is stopping you from feeling proud about me now. I have a job.”

The silence that followed made all the gas that I had been giving him all these years, evaporate into nothingness. He really didn’t believe that I was saving the planet. No. Not even the country, Not even my city. Not even my locality. Not even my street. No…..Not even his trust in me (why do I get this feeling that the last one broke the progression of the descending order?).

So there I was back at my MBA. Writing the exams for the 3rd semester.

Writing the paper on advertising. And I hated it. I hated it because my head was blank. After having spent 7 fucking years, I didn’t know if advertising was an art or a science. I mean, after seven years, who the hell cared what advertising was all about. It was about chasing artworks, negotiating deadlines and indulging in screaming matches. And ads were born out of confusion and clashing egos. It had no academic answer.

Advertising was all about guessing and gassing.

The guess was the art. And the gas was the science. And sometimes vice-versa.

This was the answer experience had taught me. And I had not bothered to read what the text book version of this was.

I couldn’t get beyond the first damn question.

But I still had to fill that answer sheet with some shit. Something. Anything, so that my father could believe that I was actually fit enough to do what I was doing.

But the cycle bell kept coming in the way. Ringing louder and louder. Till my brain went deaf and my pen went dumb.

Yes. Now to digression No. 2.

What the fuck is a useless cycle bell doing in this useless story?

Vivek Kakkad. The bastard who wanted a cycle bell. A cycle bell in the middle of my exam. The exam of my life.

Vivek Kakkad was an art director. An art director who was genuinely creative. He was so good at his job, that he had earned the license to be a bastard. A bastard who knew that the world loved his work. And would do anything to get their stupid ideas art directed by him and elevate them out of their mediocrity. He could make crap look good. And he eventually decided to only make good look even better. He was choosy and strongly opinionated. He would never work on something that he did not believe in. It seems like a good virtue, but only to those who weren’t victims to his high standards.

Kakkad had built a good portfolio. He also got himself some awards. He got himself a deadly job in Mumbai. And he was all set to go.

And being a good art director he knew how to paint a great picture of the world outside. And it is dangerous to hang around with people who are serving their notice period. They suddenly begin to look great. They seem wanted in this world. And you seem unwanted. And slowly this difference begins to grow in gigantic proportions, till the point where you begin to hate yourself.

I always felt Kakkad sniggering whenever he passed by. He would look at that shitty dangler that you were working on while he was busy packing up for the day with an expression on his face that read “Rot in hell you fuckers. I’m off….”

I had only one desire to be fulfilled before Kakkad left. He was yet to art direct an idea that I had come up with, which he had surprisingly liked.

About a month earlier I had told him about an idea that I was scamming on.

“Dude. It’s for cycles. You know….what’s the good thing about cycling. You see more stuff around you. You notice those little things that bring a smile to your face. Like some kids playing in the park. Or some stupid dog chasing its tail. So we just show these small joyful everyday scenes that happen around us and sign off “Life looks beautiful on a cycle”.

Kakkad took a long drag from his cigarette and smiled.

“It’s sexy man. I like it. I’ll art direct it for you.”

I was thrilled to bits. This was the first time that Kakkad had actually liked an idea of mine. It was like a Cannes moment.

“We could do it for Hero Cycles or some such thing. And send it to them and see what happens.”

“Ya.”

We spoke about this idea in great detail. So much that it had lost all thrill and juice. And what remained was only getting down to do it. Which was invariably the most boring part.

Kakkad kept pushing it. I kept reminding him. And it later seemed like he had now lost interest in the idea.

And he was leaving in a day. Forever.

And just before I walked into the exam hall my phone rang. It was Kakkad. And it was a Saturday.

“Dude. I’m in the office.”

“So?”

“I have come all the way to execute your idea. The cycle one.”

“Fuck dude! Finally. Thanks man.”

“Ya. Screw your thanks. Shut the fuck up and get here with a cycle bell.”

“A cycle bell. For what?”

“I want to sign off with the visual of a cycle bell with The Hero Cycles logo on it. It’s got a good feeling about it.”

“Ya…it’s a nice idea…but I’m about to enter an exam hall man.”

“I don’t care dude. If you get here in the next hour with a bell, I’ll do the ad for you or you can pedal your cycle to some other art director….ha ha ha ha ha”.

Kakkad had now become an expert in being a bastard. And it was a trait that he was proud of. And when he makes mean statements like these you never know if he’s joking or serious. And it is always serious when you think otherwise.

To me suddenly this little cycle idea become the most important one in my portfolio. It seemed like my passport to stardom. I picturised my portfolio beginning with it. And imagined creative directors going gaga over it. It even reached the Cannes podium. I knew that I had to get it done.

But I was there sitting in the middle of an exam, sitting and staring at the first question.

Is advertising an art or a science?

Right now it was a bully. A bully named Kakkad.

The answer to the question could fetch me an MBA degree that my pop needed for reasons best known to nobody. And getting out of that exam hall and buying a cycle bell meant a fancier job. Fame. More money.

I timed myself. For 45 minutes. And wrote whatever the fuck I pleased.

And ran out of the hall. And reached office with the prescribed cycle bell, infact 4 options of it.

Kakkad looked at it and smiled.

“I like this bell. By the way, what fucking exam was that?”

“My MBA crap dude”

“Ha ha…so what paper was it today?”

“Advertising”

Kakkad laughed till he fell off his chair.

I realized why he laughed so much, much later.

I cleared my MBA but got the least marks for advertising.

Maybe it was because of all the bull I wrote.

But I got a fancier job with a fancier pay.

And maybe it was because of The Bell.

The damn cycle bell.

The lonely roller coaster ride-part 2

Kannan, his assistant and I bundled into an Omni along with Kannan’s paraphernalia, looking like an ad for Omni’s spacious interiors. He had brought enough equipment to shoot the flora and fauna of The Amazon. I was feeling disgusted that all this drama was for some crappy brochure. I felt guilty. And I’d have stopped myself from feeling that way if I knew that this guilt would slowly graduate to pity.

I had spent a lot of time hating Kannan and had gotten bored, so just for variation I changed it from hatred to pity for a little while.

After all he was just a passionate guy going about his job. I had no reason to be pissed off.

The journey to Niladri amusement park was about 2 hours. I had stayed awake the previous night thinking about ‘what the fuck to talk about during the journey’ and had narrowed down on a few topics that could maybe work.

“So you like Bollywood?” I started with my favorite topic.

“No”

With this answer Kannan had straightaway knocked out the conversations I had planned for half the journey.

This left me with only two other topics. ‘How did I land up in advertising?’ or ‘How did he land up in photography?’.

I instinctively knew that he cared two hoots about the first one. And I was scared approaching the second.

So I saved them for later. And spent time looking out of the window at Shilpa Medicals and Chandu Tailors and New Modern Hair Drassars and other shop boards to keep myself occupied. Kannan kept polishing his lenses one by one throughout the journey. And Kannan’s assistant polished them again before packing them back in their cases. I wish they’d let me polish them too since they made it look so engrossing.

I waited till we hit the highway. The sign boards were fewer. And I had memorized every pattern of the seats inside the van. And Kannan had finished polishing every single spare part in his bag.

I decided to launch the topic that I had kept reserved.

“So Kannan, how did you end up being a photographer?”

Kannan’s adam’s apple moved up and down to clear the lump in his throat. And he looked like he was going to burst into tears.

“I believe that destiny chooses you. Not you choose your destiny.”

By the time I could find the connection between the answer and the question, the driver jammed his brakes for a speed breaker. Kannan gave me a look which made me feel the need to probe further to unearth the wisdom in those lines.

“So how did it all happen?”

“I thought I just told you”

“Ok…destiny chose you….how?”

“Ask destiny”

I had half a mind to tell him “Fuck it man. I wish I had destiny as my companion. Instead I have you…so cock up and answer.” but “Ha ha…you are so right” is all that I could say for the sake of that shitty brochure that was on my lap waiting to transform itself into an artwork in two days.

“I hope there is someone there to guide us” Kannan spoke to the roof of the vehicle.

“Ya. I guess while destiny always chooses a different path it still expects us to be its guide.” I replied trying to sound as close to the lyrics of his favorite song.

“I’m talking about Niladri Park…is there someone out there to guide us?”

“Oh…ok…ya there is someone.”

That’s the problem of being an AE. People think you have no right to intrude into worldly wise discussions. You are not allowed to speak anything outside of your joblist.

My pity for him ended and I reverted to the initial emotion.

I hated Kannan. And I could not admit that I hated Kannan. Just like I could not admit that I hated that brochure. That client. My job. Niladri Water Park. The Omni I was travelling in. The driver who kept jamming his brakes. And Kannan’s assistant’s red ears. NO. My job was to not just conceal my hatred but also make it seem we were off bungee jumping to the alps.

“I think the shoot will be fun, don’t you think so?” It sounded like shit after I said it.

”      ” kannan replied.

I spent some time remembering motivational quotes on perseverance and hard work and positive attitude and other such jazz written by people who were lucky enough to escape from it.

These self development techniques helped me kill some time before we reached the amusement park that was waiting for the jokers to arrive.

Niladri opened its gates for the first time to any visitor. It was still under completion though most of the rides were already installed.

Kannan got straight to work. He inspected the tiles in close quarters and mid quarters with some yogic poses.

And I inspected the rides in the amusement park in close quarters, mid quarters and more quarters than Kannan examined the tiles. According to me my job was over. The next job in my list was to arrange lunch. Ofcourse I had other parental tasks of calling the client periodically to assure him that his brochure was being looked after.

So while Kannan was unpacking his 967 items, out of which only 2 or 3 were needed, I took a stroll around the amusement park.

There was a water slide. And another massive roller coaster with a track that took you to a great height and then plunged into a pool of water. And a giant tora tora. And some dashing boats. And some other exciting rides.

It was empty with not a soul in sight. I returned from this little investigation back to the most boring spot in the location. The part where Kannan stood.

He looked like a killjoy amidst all these joy rides. I sat down nearby watching him assemble his camera that had more parts than a Lego toy.

Kannan’s assistant was handing him over the parts one by one. And then I suddenly remembered that I had never heard his voice. I didn’t know how it sounded. Did he have a booming voice inside that skeleton? Or was his voice squeaky?

I tried exploring this pastime and went up to him.

“Are you hungry?’

He nodded his head in a manner that could have meant a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ or a ‘I hate you because my boss hates you’.

“Shall I get something to eat?”

He repeated the same action.

He had no idea how important it was for me to hear his voice. I took a special interest in him. I relied on his company for the rest of the day.

Kannan barked back ‘no we have eaten’ which sounded like ‘leave us alone’.

I walked back and took a seat in the parapet.

Kannan had finally finished assembling half of his father’s earnings. And took the aperture readings.

And he suddenly started to look gloomy.

I was worried, and then I realised that it was not him this time, but the weather.

Kannan looked above, and before he could start weeping, the skies broke open and it began to rain.

Kannan’s assistant dived and rescued the machine as Kannan and me ran for cover.

It poured and poured like mad. And the three of us stood under a nearby ledge that extended about 5 ft.

The next shelter was around 500 meters away.

We watched the rain like we were watching a movie. Kannan stood in the corner balancing himself from not getting drenched and at the same time making sure he did not brush against any part of my body.

“Oh no. What rains!” I restarted conversation.

Silence.

“This is crazy”

Silence

“I mean it was so sunny and suddenly such rains. This is crazy.”

Silence.

I had found a new relief with this popular topic of bonding. The weather. And still noone wanted to participate. I had never seen this topic fail so miserably before. I continued trying to save the interestingness of rains.

“I hope we will be able to complete the shoot”

Silence

“Outdoor shoots are so risky. You can never tell.”

Silence

“Wow. Such nice weather. It would be great to have some hot tea.”

Silence

“The trees look so beautiful in the rains”

Silence

I tried cutting the weather in every possible angle. But nothing seemed to work.

Kannan put a cigarette in his mouth and reached out for a matchbox. His matches were wet. And I had a lighter in my pocket. I waited for him to ask me.

Kannan kept smoking his unlit cigarette. And I took out my lighter and tried lighting it up for him. And the lighter failed. And so did the opportunity of bringing back conversation into our stupid lives.

Being cramped in that space, every minute felt like an hour. And suddenly Kannan spoke.

“Do you realize?”

“Realize what?”

“Probably even God is in disagreement. This is his way of making us realize that we are doing something wrong. And that’s why He’s stopping us from doing it.”

Approximately 6 blood vessels burst inside my head. I thought that the battle was over. But Kannan’s brain was severely damaged.

“So what do you want to shoot?’

“Nothing. I don’t think we have given this enough thought. I can promise you that I will not be able to give you a picture that I’m satisfied with.”

“Ok. So give me one that you aren’t satisfied with.”

“Listen pal, this is not just a camera. It does not take pictures. It is a machine that paints my imaginations. I worship it. And I will not misuse it.”

It was only then I realised that Kannan was not suicidal. He had a strong desire to be murdered.

“You should not have taken up this project if you weren’t convinced.”

“Yes. You are right. I should not have taken up this project.”

“So is the shoot cancelled?’

“No. I will give you what you want. But I will take no money from you.”

I had no idea how to respond to this philanthropic offering. It was too long a journey to go searching for my conscience. It was the first thing that had been frisked off me when I took up this job.

So I tried dealing with the situation without one.

“Ok. Cool.”

It also sounded cool.

The rain suddenly stopped like God was in agreement with this settlement.

And Kannan got back to work. And started setting up all over again.

“Now you decide what you want me to shoot? And I’ll just shoot it.”

I think that line was meant to move me to tears and make me grovel with shame.

“Ok”

“Oh. So you’re ok.”

“Yes. I’m Ok with that.”

And Kannan continued setting up his imagination painting machine.

But the rain had created puddles all over. And we had to wait for it to dry up.

With silence as company.

Kannan’s assistant and me yawned at each other. Even with this, Kannan made sure to not bond by suppressing the yawns inside his elongated face.

A horrible looking frog hopped by making me notice his species after a long time. I started to fall in love with the frog.

I followed it like an inquisitive seeker to get away from the situation.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

“What’s this?’ I asked the first human being I spotted in the environment after a long time.

“It’s a water slide” the human being replied. The human being was an employee of Niladri water park, whose job was to hang around till the water park declared itself open to public. He looked bored. I looked bored. And we kept giving the ‘so what do we do?’ type look to each other.

“This trolley goes up all the way, and then comes down in full speed and plunges into this pool of water” The human being explained the funda behind the contraption.

It sounded exciting. I was getting tempted. But wasn’t sure if this was the right time to indulge in any form of entertainment. Kannan had so badly infected the air with his funereal mood strongly banning any form of joy from entering the premises.

But I also got a strange joy from seeing him depressed. I had had enough. This was one of those rare moments where I could slip into joy without being noticed. I had no boss around. I had no client around. It was like ‘Joy’ was making me a limited period offer.

“Want a ride?” the human being asked me noticing the deprivation of happiness in my life.

I nodded.

Kannan, his assistant and the tiles surrounding him zoomed out in my vision as I sat in the trolley that took me high up above. I realized that sometimes true joy meant distancing yourself from depression more than anything else.

I sat there in a roller coaster, all by myself, with the wind blowing on my face. The world beneath me looked like a tiny speck. As an AE, I had no option but to take refuge in these momentary metaphorical delusions of life. I felt like a king.

I could faintly hear Kannan’s assistant screaming something below.

The trolley now reacted to gravity and all the weight that was weighing me down got thrown around in a blur. As I momentarily freed myself away from deadlines, clients, brochures, creativity and other such idiotic entrapments.

It was the most exhilarating feeling. I screamed loudly in a decibel that would have matched a fully loaded roller coaster. I felt happy to be probably the only man who went on a roller coaster ride all alone.

Splash.

I had water all over my face and body. I was cleansed from the misery that this project brought along with it.

Suddenly I cared a fuck about anything and everything that I was responsible for.

I could hear Kannan’s assistant louder and clearer now.

He stood beside me mumbling some crap. It took a while before I could make out what he was saying.

“Sir, Boss says that if you are not there he will have to bill you for this project.”

“So, let him bill me.”

Yes. I realized that Kannan was taking me on a ride. But he had no clue how much I enjoyed it.

The lonely roller coaster ride-part 1

Kannan. Was that his name?? No. But I’ll keep it that way even though I remember everything about him quite distinctly, except whether the mole on his face was on the left side or the right. Actually I think I even know that.

Kannan was a photographer that anybody would like to forget. His brain was forever engaged in finding different answers for the ‘What am I doing in life?’ question. Which then progressed to the ‘What is life all about?” question. And then the “Who am I? ” question. And other such fashionable problems.

But Kannan wasn’t convinced till he had found his own answer.

His pop had given him a big bungalow and pots of cash to do what he pleased. But Kannan had chosen to waste his time on a topic like this that shouldn’t have concerned his life.

I strongly believed at that point, that the sole rights to this topic belonged to AEs. (For all those not in advertising, AE is Account Executive. Again for all those not in advertising, you are wasting your time reading this, because I assume you have a life. Leave now…. Go to ebay and order a nice book.)

Where was I? Oh yes….according to me AEs had patented this topic, and I had a problem with Kannan stealing my topic, my question, my problem. Yes I was an AE that time. And a pretty bad AE. Ok a very bad one. Ok a horrible one (…keep going down in that order).

I had spent many nights thinking about this nonsense. And then to suddenly meet someone else pondering over this crap made me feel cheated.

I was possessive about this state of mind.

You know as AEs we competed on a different platform. We had our own little competition. A competition involving our screwed up lives. Where the point system was based on the quantity and the degree of screw-ups that you were in the middle of. The more screwed your life, the higher the points you got.

Now getting a photographer intrude into this space was unacceptable. I mean, he had no reason to crib. He had no clients breathing down his neck. No artworks to chase. No hotels to book. No bookings to cancel. No couriers to despatch. No nothing. All he had to do was frame a picture. And shoot.

And on top of that he was rich.

Like most photographers, he had a nice looking studio with nice white walls, till he decided to spoil them with enlarged prints of the pictures he’d taken. Morbid, dark and desolate pictures that forced you to contemplate and participate in the depressing mystery that surrounded it. But all you were entitled to say were nice things like “hmm..interesting” and “Hmmm..deep” and ‘hmmm…aha” or some intelligent sounding variation of that.

The pictures were scary and put you in doubt about your own understanding of life and why it hadn’t reached such levels of inner search.

Like a nude women with a half bitten apple wrapped in barbed wire and staring at a pigeon.

Or another lady in tattered clothes sitting on a borewell, holding a spinning globe. And yes, only the globe was in colour.

Or another lady painting a rat trap. Or something that was somewhere between a rat trap and a steam engine.

And more such insane concepts that brought together women and unrelated props to suit Kannan’s gloomy introspections. Where each prop was burdened with some hidden meanings that only Kannan could explain.

Every picture was a teaser that taunted you, so that Kannan could launch into his tragic stories, about how life had been so unfair to him. The explanations were suicidal in nature.

“You’ll come. You’ll get your picture taken. And you will leave. And what you are taking with you is a part of my soul. That’s the reason I choose to keep my studio empty. So that I can start everyday with this emptiness. Photography is not an art anymore. It’s just business. Where I sell my soul everyday.”

That was the explanation he offered for the first picture.

“Where is the loo?” I asked.

After he gauged my reaction, he decided to divulge his discoveries of life only to someone who could understand his inner suffering. A kind of pathos which he believed only a creative person had.

This was his little canvas with which he tried to convey the ‘look what I can do, and instead look at what I am doing’ feeling.

So, Kannan was a creative guy. Who chose photography as his canvas to portray his creativity.

And I was the servicing guy. Who chose advertising as my canvas to exhibit my stupidity.

And destiny had decided to make us meet. Advertising is perhaps the only place that encourages such experiments and also expects great results out of it.

Kannan had compiled some of his inexplicable pictures, added some dates to it in 90% black on black so that it could become a calendar. And had sent it to all agencies expecting these modern day puzzles to find connect with some art director in distress.

I had seen many such calendars arrive in the agency.

And noticed the minuteness with which art directors would critically review these pictures, and comment about the mood, the lighting, the lensing and debate endlessly before deciding to part with that assignment of a tabletop shot of a mixie.

Ya, but they were a strange lot.

Creative guys were always very fussy about the kind of calendars that they put up on their desks. They would not change the month if they didn’t like the next picture. So, it would always be on the wrong month, but always on the right picture.

We AEs gave a damn. We’d proudly display every freebie on our desks even if it carried some loud branding of some printing press. Or for that matter even if it was the picture of the printing press. Nothing really mattered. And if we hadn’t yet changed the month, it was only because we hadn’t returned back to our desks from the studio.

As an AE you only lived for these perks. Free calendars, magazines, passes and discounts on the brands you handle. And ofcourse that free sweet dabba during Diwali from Kanti sweets, that some vendor had sent, so that we can trace his long pending invoice that was lost within the agency.

So in the middle of all this, Kannan’s calendar landed on my desk. I hated all the pictures. But the only thing I loved about it was the timing of its arrival.

I had a project to be shot. The kind that noone would want to shoot.

A project to shoot tiles. Outdoor tiles.

It was not the tiles that were boring. It was the fact that it was only the tiles. Just the tiles and nothing else.

Plain outdoor tiles with no women in satin gowns caressing it.

No photographer who’d have wanted to be called one, would have touched a project like this. But Kannan had yawned enough in his empty studio feeding his assistant and listening to French and German opera on his Bose surround speakers. He’d invested enough in the studio, and promised enough women a portfolio that could change their lives. But soon he realised that if he had to make a living, he had to shoot generators, pumpsets, UPS machines, cement bags and probably tiles to make enough money to keep those models returning to his studio. And ofcourse continue feeding his starved assistant.

Kannan was the most boring man I had ever met in my life. Even more boring than the tiles that he was meant to shoot. He was the perfect explanation for why it was called ‘menopause’ and not ‘womenopause’.

He suffered from intense depression after he had decoded the meaning of all the lyrics that he had been listening to in all those alien languages. And to add to that he had a huge collection of movies from around the world that carried complicated human stories inside those seemingly innocent titles.

All this exposure had pulled him down so badly that nothing could bring him back to life.

But Kannan was convinced that some art director in this universe would have mind-fucked himself similarly, with whom he could bond and share his sickening hallucinations. And they could sit together in Neptune and discuss their experiences in a language that is not understood by mediocre earthlings.

But No.

All he got from all those calendars was a cheapie AE who came to him only because he got a free calendar. And he also had a disputed deadline with an art director who cared more for mankind and world peace and harmony than a brochure deadline.

It was me. With my orphaned brochure that had no room for any value additions from anyone who was remotely creative.

Kannan had accidentally sent me his calendar of nude women, irritatingly concealed by his sense of aesthetics in the hope of getting some job.

And as he should have liked it, I came to him with a job, following the address in his calendar which was in 2 point size.

Kannan opened the door himself. And I looked out for Kannan hoping that the man who opened the door was not him.

He had a drooping moustache with a symmetric mouth drooping underneath. That created an effect on his face that put immense pressure on the other person to make the conversation interesting. And since he spoke little and refused to emote, anything you said was greeted with this default expression on his face. Even when he smiled, his mouth curved downwards.

Since I was facing his face for the first time, I spent 30 minutes before I discovered its limitations. I had wasted some of my best jokes and ice breaking techniques in that time.

But Kannan sat there like a ‘I’m sad’ emoticon.

And the worst part was that I had not even given him the bad news.

“Hmm…Who’s the art person?” Kannan enquired figuring out that I wasn’t one.

“Noone”

“Hmm…What’s the job?”

“We need to shoot tiles.”

“Hmm….What’s the concept?”

“The concept is to show tiles.”

“That’s not a concept.”

“Ok. We need to show our tiles without any concept.”

Kannan was sad.

He was in no mood to accept any project that did not explore everything that his SLR’s ‘operation manual’ had to offer.

“How can you not have an art person? And how can you not have a concept?” Kannan asked me like he had been absent from reality for a while.

I proved to him that such a thing was possible, by showing him a copy of the brochure that the client had orgasmed over. An approved dummy made by the art director who had gone on leave because it had got approved.

An 8 page brochure that had different tiles arranged from page one to page eight. The cover shot was the most innovative of the lot, where the client had allowed us to show something more than the tiles. Like the mud and grass surrounding it. It was a shot of the tiles in location. A picture to indicate its usage.

It had taken us 18 attempts to arrive at this supreme masterpiece. The previous 17 were bombed because the creative folks, instead of doing their jobs, had tried to be creative with it. It took us 18 meetings of prolonged discussions on cinema, music, art, culture, food, dolphins and freedom fighters to conclude that this brochure had to refrain from anything discussed during those meetings.

The copywriter had started with poetry. And the client had shot it down and replaced them with about a hundred bullet points.

I tried making Kannan appreciate the simplicity of the task in hand.

“Well, this is what it is. They are outdoor tiles. And we need a cover shot that shows where these tiles can be used.”

And then we observed a ten minute silence. Perhaps, it was for the death of creativity. In that ten minutes Kannan demonstrated the other variations of depression his face had practiced.

“How uninspiring” Kannan tossed the brochure aside and increased the volume on his Bose that was playing some soul stirring orchestra from Buddha Bar, to create a mood where creativity could prevail.

Kannan ordered his Somalian assistant to get some beers from the refrigerator.

“I come from a middle class background. My father passed away at a young age. They sold my ancestral home at Kerala. My mother brought me up. I never listened to her. I still don’t. She has not yet visited my studio. But I know that she loves me.”

I was waiting for the part that connected this heart wrenching story to the job in discussion. I had to invent a new emotion that masked my bewilderment, anxiety and boredom together. I swallowed a fake lump in my throat, gave a half grin and raised my eyebrows to look interested.

Kannan had a connection. “These tiles resemble the ones that we had in our courtyard. You know what. Don’t look at them as mere tiles…..give them wings. You understand imagination….!!” he asked me, missing that creative person who could have appreciated his sarcasm.

Kannan’s assistant brought the beers to intoxicate me back to the world of creativity.

Kannan opened up his beer, and started giving wings to his imagination that got more and more eccentric with every sip.

By the end of five beers the tiles were soaring high, and had travelled across mountains, forests, oceans and were now taking the shape of sand dunes in a desert.

“Just like the sand in the desert, it takes on patterns that men cannot dream of…..ah!…..you know we always lose when we want to compete with God.”

I posed for him with my jaws open. I let him think it was awe. But it was more to be in a ready position to guzzle the free beer.

Kannan’s assistant opened bottles after bottles as Kannan saw in me a perfect listener who had no disagreements with his point of view on life, advertising, creativity, music, tiles and everything in general.

Yes, even I was getting high. But I wasn’t allowed to trip along with him….however much I wanted to.

I had learnt that an AE’s job was to listen. And shut his trap. A previous boss had given me this dumb advice to be dumb. “Remember, an AE who does not open his mouth, gets his job done. Pretend like you don’t understand what they are saying, even if you do. It’s a trap that they are laying out. Don’t give in. And don’t argue. Because if you do, they will win. Every great quote of wisdom favors them. All that the great wise men have said before, happen to take their side. You are alone. Your only weapon is your dumbness. And believe me, it is the strongest weapon you have. In reality, dumbness works like nothing else does. It’s sad that there have been no great dumb people. In spite of so much dumbness around you. But the truth is that we rule. They are the underdogs, wanting, craving and dying to be the exceptions in this world. Thankfully, we have no such illusions.”

So I reran this little motivational speech in my head and sat there patiently travelling with Kannan’s mind journey. I sat there trying to be quiet.

“These tiles are not just tiles. They are like ..like..clay..waiting to be moulded by imagination. What do you say….see customers are not dumb, they’ll get it.” Kannan continued with enthusiasm.

Customers are not dumb. I had heard this line a million times in the first few years of advertising. I was beginning to lose my patience. The perennial argument. It was getting impossible to find new words everytime to fight the same old battle.

I explained to Kannan that the very fact that the customers had to shell out twice the money of a regular tile already meant that they had to be dumb. I tried convincing him that in this particular case, the target audience was anyone who is dumb. And since they are dumb already, the brochure needs to be equally dumb. So that they can relate to it. And that was my insight.

“Dumb guys respond to dumbness. And you are being smart by recognizing this dumbness. Look around you. How many guys do you come across who you think are dumb? See even I am dumb.”

Kannan hated this indisputable logic. He missed a creative person on the job even more than I missed one.

But I had to protect this brochure from getting corrupted by creativity. I had to stop Kannan’s music, movies, ancestral property and every other influencing force that was driving him.

I explained to Kannan that the brochure was nothing more than a visual guide for anyone to know where they could use these tiles. And since these tiles were outdoor tiles, the client had decided to show its usage on the cover, by putting a picture of the tiles laid out in an amusement park called Niladri Water Park, somewhere in the outskirts of the city.

“Niladri Water Park!!” Kannan gasped like I was asking him to shoot in the public loo of Kalasipalya.

“Ya…that’s the place. It’s an amusement park that is opening soon. And the place has these tiles all over. It kind of gives an idea to customers on where they can use it.”

“In an amusement park?”

“Ya…this is an amusement park..but it more or less tells you where you could use them. Like in your garden, parking lot etc.”

“Why the heck would you want to go all the way there to shoot these goddamn tiles…oh this is bizarre.”

Kannan believed that this outright denial to be a part of common sense would automatically slot him alongside Van Gogh and Rembrandt.

“For Christ’s sake..why would you want to do something like that?” Kannan called upon a cooler Lord to intervene.

Kannan brushed his long hair back and walked towards the window and drew the curtains letting in a shaft of light and posed against it…resembling a shot I had seen in one of his calendars.

And sulked for the next 15 minutes.

And calmed himself down with the hymns of Buddha that were playing on the speakers, and finally gave in. Probably the hymns translated as “there is money in it…and Kannan you need the money now.”

After about 20 minutes of pensive silence, Kannan returned with this shameful wisdom.

“OK. I’ll do it. When do we have to go?”

“In a day or two”

“Done”

Now that the deal was sealed, I relaxed and began to enjoy the music without any pressure of being concluded as an appreciator of creativity and suffer the risks associated with it.

“Can I borrow this CD?”

“You like it??” Kannan jumped back in the hope that his rejected imaginations could find their way back into this brochure.

“No No…it’s ok actually. Do you listen to Baba Sehgal?”

“Let’s keep the shoot for day after”

………………To be contd.

(This story is part fiction and part facts. And all the portions that sound like bullshit are facts.)


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.

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.)

Gowrnamentu adutising-the final post

Phase 7- The presentation

It was a bright cheerful morning. Atleast to Boss, who appeared in his new friday dressing, neatly scrubbed and drenched in cologne. All set to dazzle the discerning DIPians. I sat in the navigator seat feeling small in his extra large SUV, clinging on to the delusions of the Gowrnamentu, specially designed by us for them.

Boss adjusted his rear view mirror to take a final look into his nostrils. And we zoomed away in his Sierra to doom’s dungeon.

“How many agencies were there did you say?”

“About 40 of them I guess!”

“Ha…The numbers are getting larger’ The Boss declared in a tone that rubbished the other 39 like they all needed to be running a poultry business instead.

Everyone outside the window seemed to have had their baths and breakfast. I hadn’t slept or bathed in 2 days. The perfume from Boss’ armpits enveloped me into an illusion that I had had my bath too.

The smell of the rubber solution in the layouts was comforting. Somewhere it indicated that this saga was coming to an end. I had washed my face with the handwash in the loo, and the harshness of the liquid helped me stay awake. I hadn’t had the time to change into another costume so that The Boss could look at me differently.

No.

I still looked like the same idiot who couldn’t get a handful of books on time.  The memories of which were vividly kept alive by the same shirt I was wearing ever since I came back from Vidhana Soudha.

The Sierra swerved into the DIP Building, and Boss walked out in style waving out to every passerby, clicking the auto-lock button on his keychain. I followed him with a fat bunch of layouts under my arm, keeping as minimum a distance between us, so that people do not doubt my pedigree.

I felt strangely happy to be back in that dismal room, in the company of my stinking stubbled sleep deprived fellowsuckers each accompanied by their clean shaven, cologned and wide eyed bosses who were all eagerly waiting to perform their role of flipping the flap to reveal the Gowrnamentu’s cryptic achievements in an easy ‘show and tell’ form.

The flunks yawned endlessly, and their Bosses looked like their lives depended on this. I was happy that Boss looked the smartest of the lot. He looked sufficiently educated and MBAish as compared to the rest.

But Boss looked out of place in his fashionable attire. It seemed inappropriate in an atmosphere like this which was uniformed in plain white terrycot shirts. Such dressing was equated to being overindulgent, materialistic and frivolous distancing yourself from the seriousness of the matter that everyone had gathered for.

Boss decided to give the frivolity of his Friday dressing some purpose by bonding with every official who passed by. Loudly enquiring about matters that only an ultra confident man can do in a tense hour like this.

He enquired with utmost concern to an official who was hurrying inside…

“Mr Sampath….yes….so what happened to the litigation on this building. I heard that the office is going to be transfered to the premises of Vidhana Soudha….Is that true?”

The other inmates looked insecure with Boss’ indepth level of trivia on the business. They fidgeted in their seats uncomfortably revising their layouts. Surely, a man who knew all this could never go wrong with a piddling ad.

“Can I see your layout?” the man beside me nervously whispered noticing that I was momentarily orphaned by My Boss.

“No” I replied like a loyal dog.

“Come on. Now nobody can do anything…….just one glimpse. You can see our’s as well.” He urged having no qualms to reveal the secret he was holding.

The discussion was disturbed by the popular Desai making an entry into the room. The audience stood up in attention, and greeted him like it was the most important parameter in the selection procedure.

“Good morning all of you. Good morning ..good morning. I can see that you all have had a very tough time. I know, this time we were not in a position to give you all more time. My apologies. Would you all like some coffee or tea.” Mr Desai said in a rehearsed tone.

“No…No”…”That’s ok”….”It is normal in our business”…” ha ha”…..”that’s ok”……” the various bosses echoed various words disguising their desperation with earnestness, and the various flunks gave artificial smiles that instantly faded away the minute their respective bosses had verified their display of courteousness.

Suddenly Boss decided to rise above this ordinary bonding and seeked a private moment with the man who supposedly knew it all. Mr Desai discreetly signaled to us asking us to meet him at the canteen.

And Boss walked away through other envious bosses adjusting his sunglasses in slow motion. I followed him adjusting the layouts through various flunks who actually cared for nothing at that moment but to go home and get some sleep.

I was actually feeling shitty for letting my co-flunkies down by participating in this last hour drama.

We settled at a private corner at the canteen.

The Boss proudly unveiled the masterpiece to Mr Desai and watched his reactions intently.

Mr Desai put on his reading glasses and ran his eye-balls shiftily.

“I hope you like the colours. This time we have gone for brighter tones….It really jumps out.” Boss mentioned in a manner that automatically made the content indisputable.

Mr Desai sipped his filter coffee and gave a sharp whack to the cardboard with the back of his palm. “This is wonderful” He declared. “The colours are very eye catchy.”

The Boss was pleased that his palette matched Desai’s taste.

“But in some publications it bleeds, you know.” Desai added

“Don’t you worry….we’ll take care of that. Let’s meet over a drink after this assignment.” Boss perked up Mr. Desai as a compensation for his fine observations.

Somehow, the content seemed the least important everywhere. I was expecting atleast Desai to spot the absolute havoc played on the information. But I guess they were so well camouflaged by Mahadeva’s overpowering clip-arts. Or maybe I was just too sleep deprived to live in reality anymore.

Soon we returned to the room, and Boss waited for the opportune moment to say a loud ‘Thank You Mr. Desai’ that could be heard by everyone sitting out there. And looked at the others like they were all wasting their time and energy.

In a few moments the peon came and collected our answer sheets and disappeared into the Secretary’s room.

And everyone waited like expectant fathers outside a maternity ward.

And all of a sudden the swing door threw itself open and the secretary stormed outside, followed by Desai, followed by another unidentifiable man, followed by Mr Sampath, followed by the peon with the day’s collections, straight into a white ambassador that was parked at the portico with the ignition on.

Everyone jumped up and followed this procession. But the doors of the Ambassador slammed just in time.

And we all clustered around the car like a superstar was departing. But the Ambi zipped past clouding our faces with black smoke.

Of course the gowrnamentu wasn’t going to end all this so easily without adding some thrills from their end.

And we rushed to the parking lot and started our vehicles in a frenzy. And frantically chased the cavalcade.

My Boss and me participated in this car chase and speeded away in the direction of the Ambi.

“Where are we all going”

“To Vidhana Soudha you fool. They will be presenting our layouts to the CM now.”

“Oh. So will we be presenting it to him?”

“No…..But we need to be there in case the CM wants to verify something. He might just call in any agency at any point, so we need to be prepared.”

“But what will he want to ask us?’

“Anything!!”

But it all made sense to me then. I understood what this type of adutising was all about.

I recalled what a Harijan had warned me about on day 1.

“Remember….They tell you nothing. You make something. But be prepared, as they can ask you anything.”

At Vidhana Soudha, we parked our vehicles and rushed like maniacs till a certain point. After which we were all stopped by security guards like we were entering a cricket match without passes.

Mr Desai came to subside the enthusiasm in the crowd.

“Please calm down. Everyone’s layout will be presented. The CM is going to personally go through all your efforts, so please settle down. We will call you in case of any clarifications. Till then I request you all to patiently wait in this room.”

Another waiting room filled with numerous chairs. A peon walked in and switched on the fans to help us fizzle out our left over energies.

And we waited. A skill that I had mastered by now. I no longer needed the help of topics to keep my mind engaged. I had exhausted every topic under the sun to think about in the past few days. I had no more thoughts in my head. No more questions that needed answers. No nothing that demanded participation from my brain. I had learnt the art of existing with an absolute blank mind. I let my involuntary actions take over and paid attention to every sensation that my body was going through. I enjoyed the cool air every time the standing fan faced me. I turned my face towards the direction of the wind and tilted my head, to create different hairstyles without using any effort, and checked the results periodically in a stained mirror at a far off corner.

We spent the next few hours by engaging ourselves with every distraction possible. Everytime the door clicked…everytime someone cleared their throat…..everytime someone coughed….everyone were alerted, hoping that any one of these would slowly evolve into a full fledged entertainment programme.

But nothing of such sort happened.

Soon a bearer appeared with a huge tray of coffee and tea cups. He walked around asking everyone “coffee’ or ‘tea’.

“Coffee”…”no …no…tea”…..”no no coffee only” said one member unable to make up his mind as to which could help him stay awake.

And this was the best joke for the evening. Everyone laughed unanimously on this man’s funny portrayal of indecisiveness.

We waited for about 5 hours. Somewhere in the middle Boss suddenly realised that he was The Boss. And excused himself from this peasantry.

“Call me if you need me and I’ll be back” He said giving me a look that meant “You are a fool if you really believe what I’m saying.’

I felt relieved that I no longer had to keep a grim face. I no longer had to feel the pressure of keeping the conversation going. I no longer had to keep thinking about what he was thinking. I no longer…….I dozed off into my chair.

To be woken up by a commotion that I had just gone through some hours back.

The ambassador glided in and took position at the portico.

Everyone woke up and took their positions as well.

A gentleman stormed out. Another uniformed man followed him. After a brief pause, the secretary and Desai darted across the room with a peon following them holding the layouts.

We all ran to the parking lot again. Kick started our vehicles and chased the secretary’s car all the way back to the DIP’s office.

I was fainting with this sudden burst of excitement in my sedate condition. I was not in a position to think of anything better than follow the herd, for whatever its worth.

Soon we reached the DIP’s office and before we could reach the waiting room, The Secretary, Desai and gang had entered the prohibited room and slammed the door.

I thought for a while if it would be appropriate to call back the Boss. But what If I was needed in the room. Calling Boss back also meant that Im increasing his anxiety for some good news.

I looked around. I could see many flunkies abandoned by their respective bosses.

I could see only the lower strata filtered into the room now. It now resembled the crowd that I had seen on day 1.

It seemed too inferior a situation to summon My Boss back. Either I could have the privilege of delivering him the good news. Or exclude him from being a part of receiving the bad news.

So ‘screw calling Boss back’, I concluded, feeling scarily advantageous, for the being the sole decision maker on this matter.

Phase 8-The Results

In a few minutes it was time to announce the results.  It was an understood ritual that the agency who’s name is called out first, is the winner. Ofcourse, to make this grand announcement the Secretary stepped out with Desai and the Peon, flanking him on either side with a beaming smile, that conveyed that they were also instrumental in the selection of the winner.

We all stood up and flocked around the jury impatiently waiting for the results of this mysterious game.

There were no hot favorites. Nobody had a clue.

“I would like to call upon……the first agency…….” The secretary announced dragging each word to create an intrigue in the audience, where most of them were ready to pass out. We were in no mood for this suspenseful build up.

But the secretary was feeling as fresh as a daffodil.

“..The agency I would like to call upon is….” The secretary looked at Mr Desai for a final nod of approval.

“Ok….can we have Avantika Adutising……..yes yes….please come inside.” The secretary smiled and retired into his cabin. Mr Desai waited at the door to shake hands with the winners and the peon held the door open as a mark of respect.

The members of Avantika gleamed with pride and walked inside looking like they knew it all along, to collect their prize.

Of course the prizes were known to all.

First Prize

Deccan Herald….the costliest publication. Prajavani…the second costliest publication and a few other random publications thrown in.

Second Prize

Indian Express…..the second costliest english daily and a few other random publications…

Third Prize

The Hindu…the 3rd costliest English daily and a few other random publications…

The others were now left to haggle and negotiate in the room and bargain for the leftovers like Raitha Rajya, Ushe Vani, Sutta Mutta Suddi and other unheard publications that boasted of circulations which were so few in number, that you could distribute them personally.

I knew deep within that we couldn’t have won this contest. The rapport that Boss shared with Desai was all fake. Ultimately the CM seemed to have spotted the fictitious numbers.

Somewhere in the middle I was summoned.

The secretary had left by then, leaving Desai to distribute the consolation prizes to the inept mediocre losers.

I stepped into the room and Desai handed over our layouts back…..

“Mr. Renaisaance adutising….very sorry. I thought that your design was the best, but what to do…..the CM preferred someone else’s design.”

“That’s ok sir.” I said opening my note pad to jot down the list of publications allocated for me.

“Jot down please….Sankrtanti, Jana Jagruti……and Sanje Suddi’

I hadn’t heard of any of these publications. I scribbled them down on my pad feeling completely defeated.

“Hmmm..what is sad is that only your agency had got the content perfectly…..only if you had paid more attention to the design…. Infact the CM has asked us to use your content……..but someone else’s design.”

I was speechless. I took time to recover from this shock.

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‘Saar…atleast for that can you pleej give us one english paper …pleeej saar” I succumbed and pleaded shamelessly, embracing my destiny and deciding to not question its strangenesses.

And then I realized, that was the only thing you needed…to be into adutising.