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.’
“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”
“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.”
“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.
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…