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.

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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.)