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.)


One small love is all it takes

“It’s Valentine’s.”

There’s a tone of voice attached to that…like ‘hey, It’s party time’.

There used to be a time when it mattered to ‘Us’. ‘Us’ is a club of losers who remained single whatever shit you did, however hard you tried. Which I think is now a fast vanishing tribe. Everyone seems to be hooked up. And if they are not, it only means that they have managed to get out of one. And back in the game.

But to Us it was more like ‘Shit, it’s Valentine’s man…again.”

It was something strange that came from nowhere and hit us. Probably leaked along with a pair of Nike shoes and Toblerone Chocolates that some rich bum brought back with him, after visiting his cousin in the US. And unleashed on innocent folks like Us who suddenly had to buck up and find ways to be a part of this cool thing.

Nobody had a freaking clue of what this was all about. And when we did, the pressure started to build. And to add to it was the ‘Archies Gallery’ chaps who flaunted red banners outside their hideous looking shops, stuffed with so much mush that could even make Cyrus Broacha turn romantic.

Inside ‘Archies’ was…..broadly two sections. The “Will you be my Valentine?” section and the ‘To my Valentine” section. Obviously the first one was more crowded with more people and lesser cards. And even more obviously, we’d be the ones standing there, peeping on to the other section, scanning the faces of the fellows there, and wondering what part of ours went wrong.

The florists would stock up bunches of red roses and sell them at prices of gold. All for some miscellaneous chick to chuck it back at your face. Or take it out of pity, or worse still because she considers you like a brother. The concept was new, and so the confusion gave birth to some strange cases. Suddenly, Valentines started to double up for Rakhi…another occasion to express brotherly love. Conveniently, some of them refused to get the simple concept that brothers don’t buy roses for sisters, especially paying a hundred bucks for a bunch.

We expected bombs in return but we only ended up spending one.

The love in the air funda got all that air by borrowing the wind it took off Us.

So, like what most would refer to as cheap loafers on the street, we roamed around with a bunch of cards and roses and chocolates and speeded away in some random direction, looking purposeful, and expecting…..well nothing. When you do that for 3 years in a row, it kind of becomes an accepted practice that this is a festival to give love and not necessarily get it back.

The fever would start about a week before the event. It was more or less a day to realize that noone in the world gives a fuck about you. And it reaches a finality when the clock strikes 12:01 on Feb 15th. Ya, we’d secretly hope for miracles to happen and give it time till the last second of that night.

But it was sadder for those who had a date. It’s like, if it’s Christmas and there is only one Christian in your gang, everyone would go out together so that he can celebrate his Christmas. The same concept was extended to this festival too…so about 5 of us would tag ourselves to that one lone couple in the gang, and follow them everywhere…..or atleast till the entrance of “Time and Again’ disco at Brigade Road. A disc that reminded us time and again that it’s entry for ‘couples only’. So the 5 singletons would be identified and stopped at the entrance, and the only couple in the gang would make their way inside and we’d stand there to get a glimpse of how ‘hundred inflated heart shaped balloons’ looked like together. The thick door would slam shut the voice of a dozen chicks going berserk to a remix of ‘Unbreak my heart’. And we’d scatter away in different directions, because it was still better to be spotted being single alone, than being singles in plural.

What’s even more disgusting is if you are playing mediator. Or Cupid. Or stupid. The chap who has nothing better to do than transport love notes and other love accessories between two lovers. Between the guy you hate, and the girl you wanted to date.

The only way to play that role is to find every possible way to convince yourself that the girl is ‘not so hot’ afterall. And the guy is an asshole who deserved no better. It’s a lonely training session between yourself and yourself.

And yes!! This is also the day when you realize that among all the people you know, there are more numbers in your gender than the other. The women you knew were the same women everyone else knew. And you spend a good week lowering your expectations and then realize that the even the one at the bottom of your list is taken. Either by some mysterious boyfriend, her parents, her grandparents or some aunt who lives in an unreachable address.

And then there was this disgusting series of ‘Everlasting Love songs…Volume 1 to Volume 28”. Loaded with numbers by Boyz II Men, Boyzone and other nauseating boys who wailed in heart wrenching pitches, waiting to be ejected out of your tape deck and passed on to some lovestruck chick you are unable to locate. But the tapes remained with us. Till they got twisted and tangled and strangled and the same boys now dragged and cried in unbearable variations.

I still remember the junk. “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you’ by Foreigner. Or ‘End of the Road’ by Boyz II Men. In pink, mauve and purple covers with sickening graphics of flowers and silhouettes of men and women by the sunset, that resembled the posters on the walls of some ‘Welcome Lodge’. We’d sing along with these pricks who were still pretending to be boys, alone in the afternoons in some locked up room, to some imaginary women, who never surfaced. And then these tapes later became embarrassing pieces in our music collection.

And movies like Maine Pyar Kiya and Dil and QSQT would release around the same time, mind fucking us a little more. I am sure that this Bokadia chap and his variety were even bigger asses of their generation than we were in ours. They packaged all their fantasies and passed it on to us and we followed it like a text book. And we’d watch these, replacing the heroine with some hazy woman in our heads, so that we could replicate whatever the Khans were teaching us to do. We never found them…and we’d sleep better that night by concluding that it was actually ‘them who are not finding us’ or some such idiotic theory.

You don’t have a Valentine, you are uncool. And if you are uncool, you don’t get a Valentine. It was a loop that you could never get out of.

Now the scene is different. Everyone single takes learnings from those going around. And remain skeptical. It’s almost cool to be single now.

We never had anyone around to take any learnings from. And if anyone fucked up, we were more than willing to step in and correct it all.

There was no commitmentphobia or jack like that. We could have been committed to a tree.

We’d spend sleepless nights thinking of every possible reason for ‘how did that jerk of an asshole of a ‘the latest bad word’ land up with a chick like that??????’

It’d have been fine if we had not seen all those miraculous cases, where some dumb looking dodo would zip past us with the hottest chick clinging on to his designer shirt from ‘Sona’s Men’s Favorite Shop’. These chaps kicked back the hope within. And we’d follow them on our mopeds on this mission armed with love ammunitions and take the longest possible route to nowhere.

On the night of Valentine’s, all the bums would gather  again to discuss the fundamental reasons for failure. More or less a summary of everything that they have analyzed over the week that passed by….

“You need a bike man…that’s the problem.”

“Balls man. You need dough.”

“No man…It’s not that…the bottom of it is that we are truly ‘fucked up’.

Now when I see a million women sending pink chaddis, I can’t help but wonder where were they all then?

The problem now seems to have taken a different turn….. noone’s allowing these poor lovemakers to dance beyond 11:00 pm and spread the message of love.

How I wish we were blessed with such agonies!!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Two dicks in Thailand

We somehow felt like we were sitting in a shack at Goa. Even the Singha tasted like Kingfisher. Or maybe after 9 pints, a Singha is suppose to taste whatever you want it to taste like. Slowly it began to resemble someplace in India.

We felt like how tourists would feel in our country. After getting drunk. And getting duped. And getting drunk again for getting duped.

And we always thought such things only happen in India. But the word had probably spread. To a far off island in Thailand called Hua Hin.

We smelt something fishy in the air, and it was not just the Thai sauce.

It was late evening. The mood in the shack was merry for most of them. Except for Das and Me.

A local band was playing the Thai version of Hotel California specially dedicated to the two of us. After a few minutes we figured out that he was actually singing in English. We were sitting at a table right in front of the loudest conked speaker. The singer was trying his best to impress us. And we tried to pay full attention, since Das had invited upon us this torture.

For the entire evening Das had tried requesting for various numbers, starting with the most bizarre ones like ‘Countdown to extinction’ and gradually scaled down his expectations, finally settling for ‘Metallica’s Unforgiven’.

“What do you mean they don’t know Megadeth….ok..what about Metallica?” Das had screamed back at the innocent looking waiter. I don’t know if he was innocent, but to me all Thais look innocent.

It was now upto the band members to justify the difference between the cost price of the beer and the amount that the shack was charging for it.

The band consisted of some simple Thai folks who probably sang Thai folk. But unable to handle the pressure they faced from our table, the band attempted ‘Hotel California’.

The lead singer kept looking at Das to make it clear that this number was dedicated specially for him to ‘shut the fuck up’.

To them Hotel California or Unforgiven made no diff, it was all the same shit…they were both English songs, so one could easily substitute the other.

The band boys unforgivingly rendered their version of it. The guy on the guitars was the only one providing clues as to what they were actually playing.

But our minds were occupied. And our eyes roved to spot the bastard, LEON. It was 2am. We were leaving Hua Hin the next morning, back to Bangkok and back to Bangalore.

“I swear, that the bastard told me that he owns this damn place.” Das screamed over the music after 40 minutes of posing in pensive silence.

“You want mole singhaaaaa…..”a cute looking waiter whined beside us ready to uncap two more pints.

“No, we want Leon?” Das replied in as Mallu a manner, that could give any Thai chap a heart attack.

“What Leon…..I told you….no Leon…i dunno no Leon.’

“But he said that he owns this place.”

“No no…no Leon….only Singha and Tigel” the waiter made a face and left, deciding to stock up Leon beer the next time.

At that point, we couldn’t make out what was giving us that strange buzz in the head…was it the Singa, that chap on the mike, the stink of fish, the fact that this trip was coming to an end, or that Leon the bastard was absconding.

‘You can checklaa any thime you lie, buth you can nevel leeee’ The chap on the mike yowled, reassuring us that He was responsible for the buzz.

Das lifted his brow as much as he could, to prevent his headache from penetrating “Now what do we do? How do the hell do we settle this bill?” he tossed the bar bill for 4,000 baths on the table, that instantly bought down half the buzz in the head.

I waited for the drummer to finish banging his sticks, so that I could think of a solution in some peace.

We had been sitting in this shack for about 4 hours with every beer blurring our vision and adding clarity to the fact that we were nothing more than mere fools.

The shack was situated right outside The Hyatt, Hua Hin, a heavenly 5 star beach resort where Das and Me were sent on a mind expanding creative workshop.

Das is one of the best art directors I have ever worked with. His sense of design is absolutely twisted. His style is evil, that pays no regard to any copy that surrounds it. And most often rightfully so, because you later realize that his design needs more space and prominence than your two shitty bits of copy. His design is so overpoweringly stunning that any copywriter can get away with murder. And yes, he somehow manages to make any copy look good, in the odd chance when he decides to make it visible. Or sometimes if he really thinks you’ve done a good job, he’ll put your lines in the most artistic fonts that are only available on his Mac. And suddenly all those lines that looked like piss on your MS Word begin to look like they were written by Neil French.

I think I’ll shut up now. He runs his own company. I still work for a meagre salary.

So Das was sent here because of everything that he’d done so far. He was easily the most promising art director they could pick at that time. And I was sent to stop doing everything that I was.

It was a seven day workshop. The workshop was packed with every conceivable technique to disprove that creativity cannot be taught. We had different sessions that covered everything from music to art to writing, followed by assignments.

They decided to teach us everything that we hadn’t learnt in 25 years, in 7 days. Like a super crash course in creativity, so that we could step out of the workshop straight onto the Cannes podium. Delegates with different skin tones and eye shapes from every part of Asia congregated for this HR experiment.

But the worst part was that the workshop was so packed that it felt like we were imprisoned. Even after 5 days, our cameras were only filled with pictures of the resort we never explored, the rooms we never slept in, the pool we never dived into, and a few fountains here and there, and ofcourse a ready portfolio for Benetton of assorted faces from various regions. It would have been a shame to return with only these memories. Well the agenda for the agency was to make us return with ‘New Improved’ star blurbs above our heads. But we still had our personal agendas. To explore around. To come back and boast that we had been abroad. It was also our first foreign trip. Spending all the time in a resort seemed like a criminal waste.

So, after a few more of those creative sessions, we expanded our minds and then slowly our boundaries and meandered away outside the resort, to this shack, the first available tourist spot within walkable distance.

Das being the more creative of us two, had stepped out two days earlier.

“I want you to meet his guy dah I met!!. He’s my friend. Very nice guy dah!! His name is Leon!!” Das built up some excitement as we walked towards the shack, bunking an assignment of our sessions.

“Who’s he?”

“He owns this place dude, a shack right outside….it’s like Brittos in Goa,…and he’s a really chilled out chap. He’s our age dah…he’s like us machaan….very friendly and nice dah…”

However experimental you might want to be in life, you always love meeting people who are exactly like you.

So we reached the shack, and Das went inside and returned with the host of honour…Mr. Leon.

A young smart looking chap walked out staggering with a bottle of Singha and thrust it in my hand. “Hey…how la u doing?”

“Fine….thanks.” I received the bottle with not much gratitude. I was getting used to being served free expensive alcohol of different varieties for the past few days at the hotel, that this free beer had lost all its worth.

Das beamed with pride and emotion looking at this union, and added a few words of praise while introducing us to each other.

“You too flom India?” Leon asked me.

“Ya”

“I Love India.”

“You’ve been there?”

“No. But want to. Taj Mahal…..Indian women….beautiful.”

This was the sixth person who had the same (p)references when you mentioned India.

“I take you alound. And when I come to India….you take me alound…ok….deal”

“Ya…..deal” I replied imagining playing host to him. (….but what if he landed up for real. Probably he’d pile on to Das more than me. Anyway Das knew more women than me, and Taj Mahal…He really didn’t look like he was the sort who’d want to see Taj Mahal….it was probably the only trivia he knew about India…..)

“I just come.” he announced.

Leon reappeared with his 2 wheeler, a variation of Honda Street. And strapped on his helmet ready to take on the role of a tourist guide, and the 3 of us squeezed ourselves, and rattled away on his moped to town.

I was excited to meet Leon. Leon looked like a nice guy at first glance. Just like how you would picturise a Thai to be after reading up travel books….nice, hospitable, friendly, polite and other complementing adjectives. More importantly it felt good inside to have a friend in some other land, just to feel more popular.

I was feeling liberated (even though I had my nose jammed against Leon’s sweaty back) to be on this little sight seeing tour after a grueling session the whole day, rather the whole week.

The whole day I was stuck in a smoky room trying to generate some ideas with my team members. Anyway, they hated me. Ok, even I hated them. They hated me because I knew English, or they didn’t know enough of it to know that I didn’t know it too well. They all came from different countries. The organisers had teamed us in such a manner, that each member belonged to a different country. My group had a Chinese, a Japanese, a Vietnamese, a Thai, a Lankan and a Pakistani. And they expected us to do this global collaboration and come up with a campaign for Nike. Forget the campaign, we couldn’t manage to even crack communicating with each other. They had bombed 5 of my ideas, because I spoke in English. There was one Chinki Art Chick who kept saying “I don’t aglee” for anything I said. I kept arguing with her, trying every possible tone of voice. But she just went on ” I don’t aglee” and once she said “I don’t aglee” even before I said anything. That’s when I knew that she didn’t aglee with me, not my ideas. It was pointless, so I walked out.

And they continued talking to each other in sign language after I left.

So Leon rode us through the narrow streets of an unknown land getting us acquainted to his little town. And we keenly watched out for every little difference in the topography that separated it from our country. The people were different. The pigs looked different. The huts looked different. And yes even the chicken looked different.

“I take you to malket. You get good stuff, like cheap stuff…and also some good stleeet food.” Leon announced the itinerary for the evening.

Das was keen on eating frogs and beetles. Though I’m quite sure that they served it back in the hotel, but it was so sophisticatedly disguised that it stole away all the adventure associated with it. It’s not quite the same, like eating them on the road, served along with some risk.

So, we rode past everything. Everything looked interesting around. Even the Pepsi hoardings looked different endorsed by some Thai star. He had a funkier haircut, funkier clothes and a crazier pose. The art direction was supreme with barely any copy. So good that in India it could have only been possible in a scam ad. I thought to myself that the Chinki Chick was justified in not ‘agleeing’ to whatever I had said. Right now for some reason, everything around me seemed like it was art directed by her. Das got a mini orgasm with every hoarding that passed by and blamed copywriters for not letting him do designs like that, and burdening him with useless lines. I blamed him for not being able to think of copy as a part of design. And we ended the argument by jointly blaming our clients.

The other fascinating thing was that they sold beer everywhere. In all kinds of shops. Just so ordinarily. Ya, we had seen a lot of scenic things around, but this was above all those attractions…getting beer anywhere and at anytime. Like typical Indian tourists, we felt the need to be excited about anything we saw, and compared them to our own country and condemned ourselves for being so uncool.

But Leon zipped past all these subjects of no importance to the market that was the pride of the place.

A market that sold dicks. Ya, a market dedicated to dicks. Like a dick bazaar.

Apparently in Thailand they worship dicks. And as a tribute to this organ, the craftsmen adapted them to key chains, pendants, bracelets and other variations so that they could occupy more prominent positions in your body.

We went touring this bazaar that stocked replicas of this in various forms, shapes and intimidating sizes.

The entire bazaar was filled with it. It was amusing no doubt, but going stall after stall verifying the reproduction and comparing it to the original was sickening. Some seemed too unreal that it put you in doubt and contemplation for the next few minutes.

“What is this dah..it’s funny shit man!!” Das gasped looking at the range.

“How much?”

“400 baht” said the shopkeeper.

“No…No…bring it down”

“No cannot……this made of steel ok…”

I guess it was improper asking him to bring it down. The conversation was idiotic that you could not help but be amused.

“…you go fol wooden one…I give cheap. …You can put this on your neck….”

And he dangled a garland  around Das’ neck. The shopkeeper beamed with pride, and gave Das an impressive look like as if he had just transformed him into Brad Pitt or Jackie Chan maybe, with this additional accessory.

“Vely nice..”  the man sighed.

Das took it off and returned it.

“No..No…we cannot wear this in our country.”

“No..No…it looking good.” the man put the garland back on his neck. I don’t know what was he not understanding…the concept of our country or our English.

“How bout this…it got 100 of them ok…nice.” He removed another garland that had twice the number and put it around my neck.

I stuck my neck out reluctantly to be garlanded with this embarrassment.

Das laughed forgetting he had one on his neck too.

“They’re dicking around too much daaaah….” Das whispered and we cracked up silly.

We haggled around for sometime. Just to keep them happy Das and me bought ourselves a key chain each of these humiliating curios.

(Pic above: Leon, Das and shopkeeper)

Leon was disappointed with our lack of interest in this subject, object…whatever you can call it.

“You get mole ok….down this load” and pointed to a narrow street. “You want to go. I take you ok.”

“No. No. Is it the same like these?”

“Ya. but mole valiety…ok. you like it….ok…mole good looking….”

We were just not interested in seeing anymore innovative forms of these, trying to picturise how could they ever make it look any better.

“No…isn’t there anything else?’

Leon hung his head down feeling ashamed that the people of his town only specialized in this craft.

“No…it’s nice. It’s just that we don’t have much time left.” we tried consoling him.

“No…I know…you no liking it. ok…no ploblem..I now take you for some good food.”

“Ya…that would be good.”

We returned to the parking lot. And we were shocked to see that Leon’s vehicle had a flat tire.

I immediately sucked in my stomach to balance the blame.

“Oh no!!” Leon panicked.

“Oh shit!! We’re sorry Leon”

“No. No….that’s ok.”

“No…it happened because of us.”

“No. No…so what? Anyway the tyle too old.”

‘No …we’ll pay for this.”

“No. You my guests…. I cannot make you pay.”

“No. We’ll pay. Please.”

Me and Das took turns in pleading guilty.

We pushed the vehicle to a nearby mechanic.

And Leon conversed with the mechanic in Thai and he got on to repair  the bike.

“Anyway, the bike need lot of lepailing, the blakees no wolk, the chain no wolk…all gone” Leon comforted us.

We sat there on a bench, sipping a local beer and seeing Leon’s bike slowly take a new shape. Leon kept us distracted by ensuring a supply of strange dishes from a nearby cart. We had no clue of what we were biting into, or what was going to bite us.

First came a new tube.

Then new tyres.

Then a new chain.

Then new brake pads.

And then a new seat cover.

We patiently watched Leon’s bike getting a makeover. Das and me gulped our beers and burped together. We looked at each other in horror wondering what the total of this bill is going to be.

The bike mechanic answered it for us.

“5,000 baht”

Leon dug his wallet before we could reach out for ours. And gave us an innocent look.

“Oh no. I am not callying so much money. You give me ok . I give you back when we leach the shack. ok. ”

“No problem dude. I mean we’ll pay for all of this.’

“No. No. please dont. I get angleeee…….. NO”

“Ok”

“No ploblem? Is it ok?”

“No. No. No problem.”

“I give you in shack.”

“Ya cool. No problem.”

We paid up. Das and I split the damage and we rode back on his machine with new improved pick up. Back to the shack.

Leon disappeared inside and returned in a few minutes.

“Oh Shit!! The cashiel not thel. You come back in one houl or …or you can sit hele and have a beeel. no ploblem no….ok?”

“No. thanks but I think we’ll come back after dinner. We have to go. Today is the last day, so they have this special dinner…..”

“Oh! Ok. Today is last day. Ill miss you guys…”

And Leon hugged us tight, and we parted…and returned in a few seconds and hugged again emotionally bonding over all the ‘Bs’ he’d introduced us to….the Booze, the Bazaar, the Bugs and Beetles, and his Bike, leaving behind one ‘B’ for us to discover later. The ‘Bastard’ that he was.

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

We were probably the only two customers left in the shack. It was closing time. Even the band started surprising us with numbers that could actually be worse than their previous ones.

“I’m a bigger ass than you.” Das confessed after a final swig.

“Why?”

“I lent Leon 4,000 bahts on the first day I met him.”

“What the fuck are you saying?”

“Ya, the bastard said that he was running short of money. He said that he had no change to pay back a customer.”

“4,000 bahts is not change. It’s close to 5,000 bucks you fuck…..”

“Ya…I know Dah. But what to do? I just gave it to him. I was drunk dah.”

“Ya, so what do we do now?”

We had spent the entire evening scanning every face around to see if it looked like Leon’s. Even though most of them looked like Leon, none of them owned up.

The guy on the mike sang the worst composition of the evening in Thai that could only translate as “Pay the bill and get the fuck out, you jerks”.

We were too drunk and we still needed to save up a little bit of our senses to walk back to the resort.

The bill on the table was staring at us waiting to be settled.

“4,000 Bahts.”

Das put his hand in the pocket to pull out the cash. And I dug into mine.

But all that came out was a couple of keychains….a cheap wooden one and another in steel, that was downsized.

We chucked them on the table and Das mumbled under his breath.

“huh….two Dicks.”

A traumatic suspense-part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suspense films!! This is Alliance Francaise.”

I was wondering if I needed to speak in French.

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

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

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

“Can I speak to the Secretary then?”

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

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

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

But surprisingly, I got a reply.

“Hi Rajesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully there was a fuck up.

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

“Hello…Mr Rajesh?”

“Ya…sir hello…tell me.”

“What have you done?”

“I mean…what?”

“Are you sending blank envelopes to our members?”

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

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

“From who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The movie that made me win

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

This was mine.)

Jaane bhi do yaaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A traumatic suspense-part 2


REPRESENTING CLIENT:

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

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

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

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

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

REPRESENTING AGENCY:

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

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

VENUE: Conference room of film society.

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

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

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

Minutes of the meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The President suggested a surreal film festival instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well sir,…it’s nothing like that…..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr P Seshadri looked at us looking cheated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hitch-cock?”

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

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

To be contd…

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

A traumatic suspense – part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ya, I know…I agree.”

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

“Ya….I know…I agree.”

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

“Oh yes…I would love to.”

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

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

“Yes, I agree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have an idea.’

“Wow….that’s rare.”

“It’s a scam idea.”

“Ok. That’s not rare.”

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

Rahul opened the envelope.

“What’s this? It’s empty inside.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is what you get on day 3”

“All empty?”

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

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

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

“Ya. So what do you think?’

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

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

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

“Nowhere Rahul….It’s a scam.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I would like to be a member.”

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

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

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

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

“What screening of films?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir…I stay quite close by.”

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

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

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

“I work in an ad agency.”

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

“I would like to believe so.”

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

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

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

“Ya…I agree.”

“You like Ray.”

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

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

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

“And Go-Tak?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Well. Nothing. I would love to.”

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

To be contd…