Viral Pandya – That sounds like a really cool name

Yesterday afternoon, a colleague of mine asked me

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

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

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

But then he showed me your post.

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s leave that part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember….SM Store, Pitampura.

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

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

A traumatic suspense-part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Suspense films!! This is Alliance Francaise.”

I was wondering if I needed to speak in French.

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

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

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

“Can I speak to the Secretary then?”

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

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

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

But surprisingly, I got a reply.

“Hi Rajesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thankfully there was a fuck up.

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

“Hello…Mr Rajesh?”

“Ya…sir hello…tell me.”

“What have you done?”

“I mean…what?”

“Are you sending blank envelopes to our members?”

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

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

“From who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A traumatic suspense-part 2


REPRESENTING CLIENT:

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

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

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

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

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

REPRESENTING AGENCY:

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

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

VENUE: Conference room of film society.

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

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

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

Minutes of the meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The President suggested a surreal film festival instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well sir,…it’s nothing like that…..”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr P Seshadri looked at us looking cheated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hitch-cock?”

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

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

To be contd…

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

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…