Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chitrahaar: Songs that have become Films

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Daag – The Fire and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge started three different trends.
QSQT was the first film to have a hugely popular abbreviation. Daag was the first film to have an appendage – The Subtitle. And DDLJ was first film to start the trend of taking its title from a popular song.
Before Nilendu can click on “Post A Comment”, let me hastily clarify that these are probably not the very first movie to do so but definitely the inflection point because after these, an avalanche of that particular trend happened!

When I thought of writing a post on the songs that have gone on to become the title of other films, I realized that it would be a never-ending one as there have been countless examples. In fact, my train of thought started when I was listening to the song Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (from Blackmail) and noticed this line somewhere in the middle - Har shaam aankhon par tera aanchal lehraye / Har raat yaadon ki baarat le aaye… Now does the Nasir Hussain film take its name from this song?

I never research for any of my Bollywood posts and try to write them from whatever I can remember. But this time, I thought I would make an exception.
This is easier said than done because confirmation of any example of film trivia is completely open-ended as far as time is concerned, made much worse by the fact that there is hardly any source for Hindi film research on the ‘net. For example, there is no year-wise filmography that I could find. If anybody does come across one, would he be kind enough to pass it on?
Also, in a futile bid to avoid controversies, it would probably make sense to list down as to what constitutes a song title?
Is it at least three or four words taken from a song?
If yes, does it have to be the first line (mukhda) of the song or would any line do? In the Blackmail song, the three words come bang in the middle of the second stanza… so does that count?
Does the title song of a film count? Which came first – the chicken or the egg?
Oh well, if research had been my strong point, I would have had a Doctor dangling in front of my name – no? Come on, we will try to answer them as we go along!

Firstly, let me junk the Yaadon Ki Baaraat example as it could not have taken its name from the Blackmail song – as both of them released in 1973. It is probably a coincidence that the title was mentioned in the song. I could not find out if there is a lyricist / writer common between the two films in which it could be a lift.

One of the earliest examples – in 1960 – is a film called Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh, obviously inspired by the famous dance number from Awaara (1951). Incidentally, this one (MMKND) is also listed as Prem Chopra’s first movie by IMDb.
The last example (at the time of going to press!) is probably Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.

As I had written earlier, the movie, which has the maximum number of songs becoming film titles is Subhash Ghai’s reincarnation drama Karz – with all 5 songs made into films at last count!

Koi Mil Gaya (2003), which took its name from the song in Kuch Kuch Hota Hain (1998) have both won the Filmfare Award for Best Film – as of now, this is the only combination.
Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke (1993) is the first time a film title taken from a song (from Nau Do Gyarah) won the Filmfare for Best Film, narrowly beating the trendsetter (DDLJ) by 2 years.

As far as I can make out, no winner of Filmfare Best Lyrics or Best Female Playback has been made into a film yet.
Of the winners in the Best Male Playback category, there are three:
Na Tum Jano Na Hum (2002) – Kaho Na Pyaar Hain (2000)
Papa Kehte Hain (1996) – QSQT (1988)
Roop Tera Mastana (1972) – Aradhana (1969)

The last mentioned pair indicates that there was only a three-year lag between the original song and the movie, which emerged from it. The first mentioned pair indicates only a two-year lag, which is quite amazing since it takes almost that time to shoot a standard Bollywood movie. Of course, Kaho Na Pyaar Hain was such a big hit that there was a scramble for everything of that film – hero, heroine, director, composer and even the song names!
So, this is probably the shortest time gap between a song and the film inspired by it.

Since we have a short distance winner, maybe we could try to identify the long distance winner as to which film and its original song had the maximum gap between them.
Almost 40 years after Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hain (1960) played the song Aa Ab Laut Chalein, Raj Kapoor’s son Rishi made a film of the same name (1999).
Now this 39-year difference is not conclusive considering that Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) was made from a 1970 film (Chor Machaye Shor), at least two decades of difference can be taken as the norm!
For example, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) was 33 years after 5 Rifles (1974), Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006) was 30 years after Chalte Chalte (1976) and Tara Rum Pum (2007) came 28 years after Baaton Baaton Mein (1979).
So, there might be a longer time gap lurking somewhere out there, which I am depending on the readers to ferret out!

Incidentally, the hit song from Baaton Baaton Mein has inspired two movies from it words – Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham / Ta Ra Rum Pum, which (as far as I can think of) is a unique phenomenon.

I can now suggest a double layer song to film transition. That is, a song being made into a film of which there is a song, which is made into another film.
Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah (1971) had the famous Chalte Chalte, which was duly made into a film five years later and it catapulted Bappi Lahiri into jewel-encrusted stardom. As mentioned earlier, Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna was made from a Chalte Chalte song thirty years later.
To my mind, this is the only example of a double-layer song-to-film transition. Of course, you can crib that two words do not constitute a legit film title but what the hell?

This year, there have 5 releases that have taken their names from songs of yore – Tara Rum Pum, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, Salaam-E-Ishq (Muqaddar Ka Sikandar – 1978), Shakalaka Boom Boom (Nayak – 2001) and Kudiyon ka hain Zamaana (Hum Aap Ke Hain Kaun – 1994).
If you count ad and film slogans, you can add two more – Pappu Pass Ho Gaya (Cadbury's – 2005) and Chain Kulli ki Main Kulli (Satte Pe Satta – 1982).
There lies the final question – is this the maximum for a year?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Trivial Fever

Down with fever, running nose and a heavy head. Missed office due to sickness after a really long time (probably five years or so). After playing Cuddle-Monster-Tickle-Monster with my son, giving him a bath and tiring him out to sleep, I tried to settle in my bookshelf and ended up with a whole lot of papers and a green diary from my college days. (Spaniard, Psaint and Mad Momma might remember the diary from the Hyderabad days!)

I had gleaned a few bits of trivia from that green diary in an earlier post. Flipping through the diary today, I discovered a few more!
Some of these were taken down during quizzes. Some we invented to ask in quizzes. And the others have no reason for being there except being vaguely entertaining at that point of time.
Only a quiz buff (as defined as “one with an insatiable lust for quirky and useless knowledge) is advised to go forward!

Harry Potter
Every animal has an associated adjective. Anything to do with a dog is canine, cat is feline, lion is leonine, so on and so forth. The adjective for Wolf is Lupine.

Helen of Troy – before running off with Paris – was married to Menealaus. With him, she had a daughter (then 9 years old), whom she abandoned as well. The daughter’s name was Hermione.

Greek Gods
As the previous trivia bears out, Greek mythology was an unending source of trivia. With Neil O’brien, it was second only to his trademark “In the days of the Raj, what was known as…?”

In one quiz, it was asked – “What did Thetis submerge momentarily in River Styx by holding it in one hand?”. This sounds positively arcane unless I tell you (or you know) that submerging in River Styx (the river of Hades) renders oneself invincible. Thetis held her son by his heel and submerged him into the river. This ensured that the son had only one weak spot in his entire body, where she was holding him which did not touch the water.
His name – as you might have guessed – was Achilles.

Another time, we came across the legend of Medusa and Perseus. One of the three Gorgons, Medusa was almost impossible to kill because anybody who set sight on her turned into stone. Perseus did a smart number by using mirrors and not looking at her directly. From the blood of Medusa emerged Pegasus – the flying horse of Greek mythology.
The only doubtful part of mythology stories was that they had so many variations that there can be a huge argument on who is right and who is just an idiot with raspberry jam for brains!

Who are They?
This supremely intelligent man wrote a book called ‘The Dynamics of Asteroids’ which was praised by his greatest rival as “it ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that no man in the scientific press is capable of criticizing it”.
The man and his rival become a little easier to identify when it is made known that the rival wrote a book called 'Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some observations upon the segregation of the Queen', while practicing apiculture in a small farm in Sussex, five miles from Eastbourne.
The rival is famous for his other achievements and is known as Sherlock Holmes. The man, obviously, is Professor James Moriarty.

Apart from the above, there are some beautiful nuggets on the lesser-known aspects of famous people.
Giovanni Jacopo de Seingalt (1725 – 98) was an alchemist, gambler, diplomat and preacher. He was also a Knight of the Papal Order of Golden Spur. Would you be able to tell me his middle name?
This seemingly innocuous biography acquires some meat when it is revealed that he was expelled from a Venetian seminary for immoral conduct.
Yes, his full name is Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt.

Questions from Films
No, not from Bollywood. Two reasonably famous Hollywood films asked two bona fide questions. So, you can have two-layered questions. One, you could ask the questions themselves. And two, you could ask which film there were from!

“What has four eyes but cannot see?”, asked Gene Hackman in Mississippi Burning. And the answer to the question is in the title itself. Referring to the Ku Klux Klan atrocities in the state, Mississippi has 4 I’s but cannot see any of those.

And in The Client, Susan Sarandon (in an effort to be friendly with her teenaged client) refers to his Led Zeppelin t-shirt and is asked a question, “What are the names of the first four Led Zep albums?”.
You don’t know have to know a whole lot of rock canons to say that the first three albums are called Led Zeppelin I, II and III. As for the fourth, there is absolutely no mention of the band or any title on the cover and it is called The Fourth Album or The Untitled Album. This was so done because the band was quite pissed with the media contention that they were over-hyped and wanted to prove that their albums could sell without their name on it. They were right since this album went on to become one of the best selling albums in US.

There are more coming… whether you like it or not!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Two Magicians

Finishing HP7 on Monday night (actually, Tuesday morning) means you are about the 1.6 millionth person to do so. And writing a post on it means it is going to be the 5.1 millionth review on the 'net.
I put the blame squarely on the marketing wizards of Indiaplaza, who claimed a same-day delivery and delivered it at about 4 p.m. on 22nd. I was itching to try out the Crucio curse on them!

The way I saw it was that two bands of wizards were fighting their last battles on the most hallowed (sic) portals.
M/S Potter, Granger and Weasley were fighting at Hogwarts. M/S Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid were doing the same at Lord's.
Both were against old foes. Great expectations of magic were inevitable. And the setting was not only momentous but the last one possible.
On two occasions each, they looked terribly close to pulling off a fantastic charm - and disappointed terribly. A whole lot of stuff happened - without rousing too much excitement - and just fizzled out. And finally, a rank outsider stole the show (or at least, salvaged it)!

There were flashes of brilliance in the cricket - Sachin's first innings, Ganguly's second.
The book also rose to the hype of the occasion...
* "Kingsley, I thought you were looking after the Muggle Prime Minister?" Harry asked. "He can get along without me for one night. You are more important." (Page 44)
* "Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people's." (Page 337 - Whoa Ms Rowling, what were YOU thinking when you wrote that???)

Anyway, you end up feeling a little hollow when you realise three great wizards played their last innings at the Lord's without distinguishing themselves at all.
And three super-famous wizards did not live up to their hype either.

Goodbye Harry Potter, we will still miss you. But not because of Book 7.
Just as we will miss Sourav Ganguly for the 1996 Lord's Test, not the 2007 one.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Books I Grew Up On... Part Three

This one started off with the intention of covering the three Rays. After 2500 words on the last one, I have shelved his father and grandfather for a later day. Essentially feeding on my nostalgia, this behemoth of a post is best avoided if you are not a huge fan of Ray and don’t intend to become one either!
Knowledge of Bengali preferred, but not essential.

There are very few authors who have created multiple detective series, each based on a recurring character. Agatha Christie probably had the highest with two extremely (Poirot and Miss Marple) and one moderately popular (Parker Pyne – no relation with Ganesh!) characters. Though the specifics of the last name one is nowhere close to the intricate details of the first two. Arthur Conan Doyle had a Professor Challenger but he was at best an interesting diversion and did not reach anywhere close to the popularity of the Baker Street resident. All the other mystery writers I can think of created just about one major character.
Satyajit created Feluda and Professor Shonku and it is difficult to find someone in Bengal, who has not read them. He also created Tarini Khuro, who is also an extremely well formed and durable character. Also better formed than most other characters are the sidekicks of Ray’s heroes. Topshe and Abinash-babu have lives of their own and are almost as vivid as the title roles. Jatayu is a legend in his own right!

Alistair Maclean and Agatha Chritie novels have a blurb format which says ‘One novel sold every x minutes’ and is supposed to be an indication of their popularity.
I had come across a list of novels by Satyajit Ray along with their sale figures (in the Desh obituary issue) and done the same calculation. I was quite impressed to find out Ray was not far behind at about ‘one every 10 minutes’ or thereabouts.
I forget the numbers but one can easily verify it. Between 1970 and now (37 years), 19447200 minutes have elapsed. For a ‘one in 10’ claim, Ray’s sales should be about 2 million copies. With about 40 books and countless anthologies (not counting the pirated versions), he would have most likely done that.

These two facets are important to give a perspective to the non-Bengali reader on exactly how popular Ray’s works are in Bengal.
Written within the constraints of being suitable for children, none of the novels had even a whiff of ‘crimes of passion’ and actually gave that as a reason (in Nayan Rahashya) when there was an avalanche of protest over the declining standards of Feluda in his later years. But despite that, this bhadralok sleuth captured the imagination of Bengal like no other to the extent that a lot of smokers in Bengal blame their addiction on the Charminars of their role model!

Writing anything about Feluda is fraught with the huge risk of repeating oneself as volumes have been written and biographies reconstructed in meticulous detail. It is a pity that his address (21 Rajani Sen Road, Calcutta 700029) is fictitious or else a memorial on the lines of 221B Baker Street would have been created for sure!

My favourite Feluda novel is Chhinaamastar Abhishaap – which mixes circus, wordplays & riddles, family intrigue, missing heirs & heirlooms with consummate ease. Set in the town of Hazaribagh, Feluda solves a mystery by combing through the diaries of a dead man in which he had scribbled in riddles about the dark secrets of his life. There is a tiger on the prowl, having escaped from the Great Majestic Circus and the ringmaster Karandikar is a man who thinks nothing of shoving his head in the tiger’s mouth. Also, there are mysterious characters in the form of the dead man’s sons, friends and relatives.
He became better instead of being good” is one vital clue scribbled in the diary and the solution is so elegantly simple that it stands out among a host of other brilliant puzzles in the book.

A dead man’s writings and last words have been a recurring theme in Feluda novels.
Apart from Chhinnamasta, Joy Baba Felunath had a sculptor dying with mysterious last words. In Gangtokey Gondogol, the dead man had a puzzling telegram in his pocket. In Dr Munshir Diary, the manuscript of the murdered psychiatrist’s autobiography goes missing after his death in which he had revealed secrets about his patients and family.
This turned out to be strangely prophetic as the manuscript of Ray’s autobiography – My Years With Apu – went missing from his home in the days after his death. (The book in print is a reconstructed version by his wife from his first drafts and notes.)

And word games too. Ghurghutiar Ghatana had a bilingual puzzle. Samaddar-er Chaabi had a musical one. Badshahi Angti had a puzzle in the last words of a dying man. Joy Baba Felunath had a puzzle about an African King created by a kid. Royal Bengal Rahashya had Feluda solving a treasure hunt in rhyme. Ray’s love for word play just keeps them coming.
As shown in the untranslatable example from Shonar Kella (the film):
- Matitey shobe keno? Jog byayam korbey boley?
- Shokaley jog byayam. Aar rattirey jodi kaukey biyog kortey hoi…
- Jog! Biyog! Apnar to moshai onek gun!

The Bengali’s love for the underdog comes across in Feluda novels through the character of Sidhu Jyatha.
Siddheswar Bose stays near Feluda’s house (Sardar Shankar Road, to be precise) and is an encyclopaedia. Period. He knows everything and is more intelligent than Feluda himself. His character is somewhat similar to Mycroft in the Holmes series. He does nothing (or did nothing of consequence in his younger days) and spends his time reading or collecting interesting news from the papers.
In a defining conversation (from the film Shonar Kella), he is complimented by Feluda – “If you had been a detective, I would’ve been out of a job!” He responds by saying, “A lot of people would’ve been out of their jobs if I did theirs. So I do nothing…”
The unfulfilled promise of an extremely talented person is a notion we find extremely romantic and we root for the person passionately. If I may extend the fictional character to a real-life analogy, then Feluda is Ray himself and Sidhu Jyatha is probably Ritwik Ghatak! (Forgive my over-simplifications!)

Professor Shonku
Professor Shonku has been described by Andrew Robinson as a ‘mild-mannered Professor Challenger’ but if you ask me, Shonku is nothing like Challenger, who is more of an adventurer.
Shonku is an inventor and his stories are primarily cerebral in nature – most of them ending with a twist and a lot involving plain and simple problem solving.

What – I think – completely sets them apart is the range of the discoveries that the inventor has come up with. By Shonku’s own admission, he has been hailed as being an inventor second only to Edison. Frankly, if you go through his roster, Edison’s inventions just pale into insignificance.
Shonku’s stories (though coming under the broad head of science fiction) never delved into the scientific possibilities of his inventions and this is where we have an amazing range of scientifically impossible but deliciously useful gadgets!
Shonku’s adventures also have a massive geographical range, usually not seen in children’s literature. In fact, if you read any of Shonku’s anthologies, the locations are more out of a Ludlum or Sheldon thriller criss-crossing continents in a jiffy! When I had read through the list of Ray’s major awards and the film festivals attended, I saw an almost perfect correlation between the places the creator went to and the character followed soon after! Needless to say, the research was impeccable and the trivia bang on!

To give a comic angle to the series, the peripheral character of Abinash-babu (Shonku’s neighbour in Giridih) was developed and made a regular feature in the later stories. His non-scientific approach to life and ultra-simple worldview became an interesting counterpoint to Shonku, whose overpowering intelligence extends even to the names of his pets. His cat’s name is Newton!

My favourite Shonku novel is Compu – which is a miniature supercomputer built by the collaboration of some major scientists of the world. Behind the fantastic notion of having a crystal ball (literally) knowing the answers to ALL the questions in the world, there is an engaging philosophical question on where the edge of human learning is and where one goes from there. In the story, the gadget – Compu – develops a mind of its own and decides to answer for itself one of the enduring questions that have puzzled mankind. The ending is quite brilliant as it raises a signpost to the limits human intelligence can go to.
Another favourite is Swarnaparni (The Plant of Golden Leaves) – which was probably the last written novel but actually predates all the other stories as it chronicles the story behind Shonku’s first and most momentous invention – Miracure-all. I liked it for the blend of fiction and history, the treasure trove of trivia on Shonku’s life and Shonku’s brand of ideology in which he penetrates Nazi Germany to save the life of a Jewish scholar. And of course, the small error in continuity, which the Shonku buffs pounced on!

One recurring theme of these novels is the professional jealousy of other scientists that Shonku has to endure. An overwhelming majority of the novels are centred on the machinations of scientists, frustrated by Shonku’s success. Scientists upstaged by Shonku’s superior intellect – who have been beaten to an invention, whose theories have been improved upon, whose works have been less publicized – are the villains of the piece.
This leads one to wonder if Ray faced (or perceived) the brunt of similar professional rivalries with other filmmakers. Because the settings – of a science conference and a film festival – are extremely similar as in both, creators come to showcase their works. Maybe, the undercurrent of envy in those festivals formed the basis of Shonku’s run-ins with his scientific rivals.

Another theme, which has been repeated a few times, is Shonku’s refusal to part with the patents of his inventions for money. American millionaires have made offers to Shonku, only to be spurned. This somehow reminds me of Ray’s own encounter with David O. Selznick, where he refused the latter’s offer to make films for his studio because of the movie moghul’s penchant for controlling his directors.

Tarini Khuro
This was the third and last recurring character created by Ray – to quench the demand of Sandesh magazine (which required at least a short story from him every alternate month).

Tarini Banerjee was a drifter. Over a long working career, he had gone all over India, working for maharajas, newspapers, artists, film production companies and what not! His areas of expertise includes (but is not restricted to) playing cricket, modeling, shooting game, writing humour columns, summoning ghosts and acting.
After retiring, he returned to Calcutta and recounted his adventures to a group of four boys over cups of tea and puffing ‘export quality beedis’. Unlike the other two characters, this one was poked fun at by his audience as the young boys dropped hints on the believability of the stories. Tarini Khuro, however, dismissed all these noises with the confidence of a man who had done it all.

One interesting feature of this series is the appearance of characters with shades from real life people. A rajah of a princely state, who played county cricket. A painter specializing in mythological themes. A scion of a rich Bengali family who wants to get into films. We seem to have seen them somewhere in public life.

My favourite Tarini Khuro story is Cricketer Tarini Khuro – in which our hero turns up for a princely state against a British planters’ side and quite obviously, saves the day. The thrill is due to the build-up, which claims the story to be a mix of ghosts and cricket. This is aptly borne out in the final revelation!
Tollywood-ey Tarini Khuro is another story with a neat twist, located in Ray’s own territory – Calcutta’s film city of Tollygunge. Tucked inside the story are some subtle observations on the deplorable quality of commercial filmmaking of the times!

Short Stories
Ray’s talents as a screenwriter are evident in most of his writings and most vividly in his short stories. The dialogue, the characters, the art direction and even the soundtrack are captured completely – as if it were a short film. And quite appropriately, when Sandip Ray made a television series (Satyajit Ray Presents), a large number of the episodes were based on Ray’s short stories.
Ray had written 101 stories (including the Tarini Khuro ones), all of which are available in one convenient volume now. If one goes down the contents page, the range of topics is again breathtaking. Carnivorous plants, ancient curses, time travel, vampire, kleptomania, magic, hypochondria – phew!

One theme, for which Ray has been criticized by ‘rationalists’, is that of the supernatural. Ghosts are summoned in séance sessions, atheists are proved wrong and generally spooky things happen. But then, the objective of these kinds of stories was not to be a science textbook but to provide a tingling feeling when read by candlelight on a load-shedding evening.

The most recurring character is the lonely urban male. Ray’s fiction is almost totally devoid of female characters and in most stories; the central character is a 40-something single male, working in nondescript office, staying in Calcutta with a male servant in a small flat. This person usually discovers an unusual talent or thing and that becomes the story. More often than not, an act of honesty or moral strength redeems the protagonist.

If I have to choose a favourite story, it will probably be Apadartha (The Good-for-Nothing) in which the narrator talks about one of his uncles who plays the title role. It follows the man’s life in a series of snapshots, all of which seem to conclusively prove that the uncle is indeed good for nothing. The narrator, who has a soft corner for his favourite uncle, resists this belief until the final twist comes.
If I get to choose another, it would be Ratan-babu Aar Shei Lokta (Ratan-babu and That Man), in which a man goes to an offbeat town for a holiday and discovers his alter ego. He had been a lonely man all his life and longed for companionship. However, when he did discover a ‘friend’ with whom he had everything in common, he realized that it was too much for him to handle. I liked this story because I have two people with whom I have a similar feeling. Nilendu and Shiva would do well to keep away from me on a railway overbridge!

Millions of children – before and after me – have grown up with these magnificent men, who have stood for their ideals and have forsaken material comfort for a life of their choice. Besides the obvious fun of a thrilling story, I think there is a message somewhere. And the best part is that I never figured that out when I was reading them!
Even today, when I am a little depressed, I pick up the first Ray anthology that I get on my shelf and have to read only a few pages to start feeling better again. Call it some kind of therapy but I guess one never outgrows the need for heroes.

Note on some of the words:
1. Jyatha and Khuro are both paternal uncles. The former is an elder brother of the father and the latter is a younger brother.
2. Chhinnamasta is another name for Goddess Kali. Literally, goddess of the severed heads – it refers to the form of the goddess in which she appears as wearing a garland of heads.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Books I Grew Up On... Part Two

Here is the second instalment on my favourite authors in Bengali.
This one is about the stalwarts whose productive years preceded my reading years by some distance. So, I read most of their works through anthologies and old Puja annuals (as lovingly described by Nilendu in the comments on Part One).
I am bypassing three authors of those times, about whom I had written before – Premendra Mitra, Narayan Gangopdhyay and Leela Majumdar.

One thing that is common with all these authors is that none of them wrote exclusively for children. In fact, their output for children and young adults is only a small part of their total. I will restrict myself to only that.
Of course, the debate on what is suitable for children will continue.

Rajshekhar Basu (his real name) could well be the starting point of that debate because theoretically, his writings were loaded with topics not suitable for children. But I will circumvent that as a personal choice of just loving his works as a young adult.
Given the impossibly high level of his output, it is quite dangerous to try and identify a landmark work for Parashuram. Nevertheless, I will stick my neck out and put forward Bhushandir Mathey as that work. Felicity of language, depth of social observation, sophistication of humour and inventiveness of plot are all of such high order that the novella surely qualifies as one of the most accomplished pieces of literature in any language.
The plot is the result of sheer genius at work, in which three births each of a husband and his wife get engaged in a hilarious love polygon. Imagine, you dying and falling in love with a ghost of a Swedish pole dancer. You wife has also died and you find out that the ghost of a Texan cowboy is trying to woo her. A British nurse of the 19th century has a soft corner for you while your wife is attracted towards an French Impressionist artist. Complicated? Not yet. Because you are the reincarnation of the Texan cowboy, who is the reincarnation of the French artist. Your wife is the reincarnation of the pole dancer, who is the born-again version of the British nurse! Woo-hoo! Now we are talking confusion!
Satyajit Ray’s admiration for this particular work came through when it is discovered in Darjeeling Jomjomat that Lalmohan-babu had played the role of Nadu Mallick in a performance of the play and Feluda says, “You never told me that you played one of the most impressive characters in Bengali literature.”
Apart from this, very modern themes like hypochondria (Chikitsa Sankat), stock scams (Sri Sri Siddheswari Pvt Ltd) and pre-marital search & bonding (Kochi Sansad) came across in his works.
Satyajit Ray made two films based on Parashuram’s stories – Mahapurush and Parash Pathor – both wonderful examples of satire, one rooted in reality (god men and their cons) and the other in fantasy (a philosopher’s stone in modern society).

Shibram Chakrabarti
Shibram was a humourist par excellence, being the only one who extensively used puns in his writing and specialized in outrageous solutions for the problems of his protagonists.
One of his most famous novels is Bari Thekey Paliye of which, an excellent treatise is available here. The thrill of a runaway kid is captured brilliantly in the novel as well as its film version.
His most famous characters were two brothers – Harshabardhan and Gobardhan. They appeared in a series of short stories (which are not very well anthologised) in and around Calcutta, indulging in the general pastime of being merry. One of my favourites is their adventure in Paragon and Paradise (which were two erstwhile restaurants in North Calcutta, famous for their juices), where Harshabardhan takes a bet with Gobardhan if the latter can drink 6 glasses of juice in one minute. (He does, by a hilarious technique.)
Of course, his puns were legendary, still quoted once in a while and quite untranslatable for most part. “Chhilam mukto aramey Muktaram Babu Street-ey” and “Bhalo basha pawa bhalobasha pawar thekeo kothin” are two that spring to my mind.
Maybe, I should have a contest on how many Shibram puns the readers can come up with!

Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
If Bibhutibhushan had written only Pather Panchali and Aparajito in English, he would have probably been given the Nobel Prize and feted the world over as a literary genius.
These two novels – apart from being the source of world cinema’s most accomplished trilogy – perfectly blurs the difference between children’s literature and general literature. A boy’s journey from a rural childhood to an urban adulthood, his relationships, his changing worldview, his ambitions, his talents are so amazingly etched that every child would have identified with it for some part and empathized with the rest of it.
Chnader Pahad – which is clearly a story meant for children – follows a daredevil Bengali youth (Sankar) from his mundane existence in rural Bengal to a railway surveyor’s job in Africa. For the homebound Bengali, this leap across continents should have been breath-taking enough. But then, Sankar sets his sights on the fabled Chnader Pahad (literally, Mountain of the Moon) and its diamond mines. He sets off for the hidden treasures of the mountain, with a guide called Alvarez who had tried once and failed. On his adventures, he comes across umpteen hardships and encounters life-threatening beasts of the jungle (snakes and lions, among others). One of them was the Bunip, which ultimately wipes out almost his entire group.
Given the constraints of information flow in the times it was written (late 1930s, I think), the research and detailing of the African nations is very impressive. Basically, Chnader Pahad opened up a whole new vista for the Bengali reader, taking adventure to a different orbit altogether. And yes, all of us have dreamt of spending a night on Mount Kilimanjaro under the stars!
I have heard of a book called Hirey Manik Joley, which is a children’s novel by Bibhutibhushan (I think). Anybody read that?

Hemendra Kumar Ray
He had two young detectives – Jayanta and Manik (the latter being the former’s assistant) – accompanied by a police officer by the name of Sundar babu. Sundar-babu’s signature exclamation was “Hummmmm”, usually brought about by complicated clues, mysterious enemies and hunger! To satisfy the last mentioned problem, every adventure was preceded by a drawing-room scene when mouth-watering savouries would be brought in by Jayanta’s servant (I forget his name).
His two most famous novels are Jakher Dhan and Abar Jakher Dhan – both of which were essentially treasure hunts with the help of pretty facile clues. I remember one clue being engraved on a skull (!) and it being a numerical transliteration of the Bengali letters. As in A being replaced by 1, B by 2 and son on. Since Bengali (like most Indian languages) has a lot of compound letters, the clue was not as easy as it would be in English, but pretty easy any way!
By the way, Jakh is derived from the Bengali word Jakkha, which in turn, is derived from Yaksh (I think). But what would be the English for it?

Swapan Kumar
No remembrance of children’s literature in Bengali can be complete without Deepak Chatterjee, created by Swapan Kumar on an unbridled fancy. As pointed out by Dipanjan and Nilendu in the earlier post, Deepak Chatterjee usually carried two revolvers in his two hands and a torch in the other! His private jet, his armoury of sophisticated weapons, his black overcoat and pipe (?), a continuous stream of damsels in distress as his clients, and diamonds the size of ‘pigeon’s eggs’ were all quite fantastic and – despite the obvious hurry in which these were churned out – were very readable.
I think Satyajit Ray modeled Jatayu on similar lines – as an author of adventures with melodramatic names, unbelievable plots, zero research and huge success!
When I read the comments mentioning him after my previous post, I saw a parallel between him and Mithun Chakrabarti. While mainstream Bollywood produced big-budget films with polish and finesse meant for the multiplexes, Mithun and his bevy of B-grade producers had a veritable factory of shoestring budget hits, with guttural emotions, raw dialogues & action with unseen (by us) but very broad-based appeal. Swapan Kumar’s books were exactly the same. Given the number he wrote, his commercial success was undeniable but ‘critical’ acclaim eluded him totally! And of course, like Mithun, Swapan Kumar also seems to have a cult following on the blogosphere!

Okay, I am done… now – you, you and you start off!
And the rest of you are welcome to join in as well.

Updated to add Nilendu's comment, which had accidentally got deleted:
some clarifications -
'chander pahar' was not written on 30s..'raamer sumoti' probably was! bibhutibabu belongs to 50s and 60s along with manikbabu and tarashonkor..
there's a very enjoyable anecdote on how bibhutibhushan never really went outside eastern india, but read his "national geographic" issues very well..
"heerey maanik joley" is about treasure hunting in a remote island. that's the third of 3 children's novels written by BB, along with "chander pahar" and "moroner doNka baaje"..i think all three would be in vol 9 of his collection (originally published by mitra & ghosh)..a must read
swapan kumar's damsels in distress were indeed 'unputdownable', if you know what i mean!..and, i won't exactly brand it "children's lit" -- though "okalpokkos" like us grew up on a steady stream of those volumes..

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Idiot Box: Memories from the 1980s

Religion is the opium of the masses – Karl Marx.
Karl Marx did not know about Ekta Kapoor – Anonymous.

There is one irrefutable fact about my old age. As of now, a greater part of my life has elapsed in the age of solo-channel television. It is expected to change soon but as of now…
Though I have taken to the multi-channel entertainment and complicated remotes with a vengeance, the old fogey in me still pines for the good ol’ days of Doordarshan where one actually looked forward to a particular time-slot every week and if one missed that, there was no hope of catching a repeat. I liked the overall concept of planning one’s life around Khandaan and seeing the familiar logo of Richardson Hindustan before almost every show.

Sridhar Kshirsagar was the director of the series, which was rumoured to be a copy of Dynasty (probably because the name was an exact translation). But since the only access to Dynasty was through the terribly grainy & erratic transmission of Bangladesh TV, nobody ever got down to identifying plot similarities.
The director – despite the super successful debut – did only one more serial (to my knowledge) which was a sort of a thriller with Radha Seth and Benjamin Gilani playing a problem solving duo.
Khandaan gave us a phenomenal number of stars – Neena Gupta, Mohan Bhandari, Vivek Vaswani, Shernaz Patel, Sujata Mehta – probably second only to Buniyaad. Every Wednesday evening at about 9 PM, everybody congregated to watch “Badalte rishton ki anokhi dastaan – Khandaan” (spoken in the Harish Bhimani baritone) with its tantalizing pictures of high-society Bombay, the super-rich in their swanky mansions and their convoluted lives. There was very little business shown and no mention was ever made as to how these terribly rich people got terribly rich. Rather, it had rebellious children, adulterous husbands, spoilt brats and other monstrosities making all of India feel that the problems of rich were no different from theirs!

While on the topic of dynastic sagas, there is nothing to beat the two Manohar Shyam Joshi opii – Humlog and Buniyaad.
Hugely long (by those standards), the first one ran for some 78 episodes and the second for 104. Started off as weekly series, both of them got bi-weekly slots and gave ‘glued to the sets’ a whole new meaning.

Apparently, Humlog was commissioned to be a message for family planning as it had a veritable avalanche of misfortunes befalling the central family. I doubt if it worked because when the entire nation started to shed tears at the plights of Lalloo, Nanhe, Chhutki, Majhli and Badki, not having such a lovable brood was surely not on their minds! And of course, we cannot forget Ashok Kumar popping up at the end of each episode with his small speech of recap, sermon and preview which was watched just for the curiosity on how he would fit in Humlog at the end of the talk – and in which language!

From Baseswar Ram’s DDA flat, Buniyaad went right across the border with Ramesh Sippy and Indian couch potatoes came into being.
This time, stars were made of Alok Nath (Master-ji, still going strong) and Anita Kanwar (Lajo-ji, who vanished into thin air). While a new lease life came to the careers of Kiran Juneja (later becoming the director’s wife), Kanwaljeet (the first superstar of Indian TV), Mazhar Khan (only role of consequence after Shaan), Vijayendra Ghatge, Dalip Tahil, Sony Razdaan and the lot. For about a year, Haveli Ram, Raliya Ram, Veerawali and their broods were completely addictive.
In faraway Calcutta, rumours floated on how the book on which Buniyaad was based (is there one?) is available in Delhi and how everybody in Delhi knew the entire story beforehand!
And the story itself was quite a ‘page-turner’… Pakistani refugees, illegitimate children, family conspiracies, lots of emotions added up to one hell of a dynastic saga as it held eyeballs like no other.
That way, Humlog was a lot like Ramayana with its linear, simple narrative. Buniyaad, with its sub-plots and multi-layered narration, was a bit like Mahabharat.
Even now, I can still visualize the blue CP logo of Colgate Palmolive turning round and the red-brick-background of the titles appearing to the tune of “Tere mere jeevan ka yahi buniyaad…

What I miss most from those days of television are the comedies.
The best of the lot has to be Kundan Shah’s Yeh Jo Hain Zindagi – which made stars of all four characters. Shafi Inamdar, Rakesh Bedi, Swaroop Sampat and most hilariously, Satish Shah just ruled our Friday evenings with their zany problems. Eventually, the show brought on other characters as the earlier ones exited. Farida Jalal made her comeback to showbiz as the lovable Chachi in this serial and aunts became cool again! But like all good things in life, the punch of the initial days had fizzled away.

Nukkad – the other ‘funny’ – ran for a shorter period but managed to pack in a whole lot of quirky underdogs. It is quite amazing how the serial never left the street-corner-under-a-flyover set and managed to be engrossing week after week. Though it must be said that, given the budget constraints, the set managed to be very realistic. The cycle repair shop, the teashop and the paan stall below the row of chawl houses were all bang on! And of course, Guru, Khopri, Radha, Teacher-ji, Kalabaaz and Kader-bhai turned out to be completely real as well.

Sai Paranjpe (of Katha and Chashme Baddoor fame) gave two very funny serials – of which I remember only the name of Ados Pados. One was a love story between a rich girl (played by the director’s daughter – Winnie Paranjpe) and a poor (painter) boy, facilitated by the grandfathers. The other was a relationship between a son and his father (Amol Palekar) in the funny surroundings of an apartment block. Apart from the main stories in both of them, they managed to pack in a whole lot of sub-plots as well.

One very intelligent comedy was Mr Yogi (a.k.a Yogesh Patel a.k.a Y I Patel) – story of a US-returned Gujju-boy (Mohan Gokhale) looking for a wife according to the zodiac. 12 episodes to check out one girl each – and one to wrap it up! 13 episodes and we are done.
On the other hand, nowadays it takes one full episode just to show one tight slap with the multiple camera angles and musical zooms!

One genre completely missing from today’s television is the intelligent detective series. I emphasise on intelligent because what goes on in the name of mystery series nowadays is usually a nostril-flaring nincompoop thrashing confessions out of all the usual suspects till he reaches the correct one!
The ultimate Indian TV detective is – of course – Karamchand with his intelligence and idiosyncrasy getting along famously. His signature mannerisms – especially his response to the standard “Sir, you are a genius” – developed quite a bit of a cult following. When he returned recently, the episodes had stretched to an hour though the depth of the mysteries had not, so old-timers like me were disappointed and fans of CID just moved on to the trailers of Aashiq Banaya Aapne, I guess!
And yes, the new Kitty was no match for the forever-on-the-brink Sushmita Mukherjee. (Did you know that she is Keshto Mukherjee’s daughter? Well, now you do!)

One under-rated ‘detective’ show was Barrister Vinod – with Parikshit Sahni in a wig so shiny that it looked as if a gramophone record had been stuck on! Along with his assistant Neelam, the good barrister took up cases to defend people accused of murder and solved them neatly with the help of a little bit of detection, a wee bit of legalese and a whole lot of bonhomie. This one followed a set pattern of investigation in one episode and courtroom denouement in the second.

In the whole recap of the best of the times, it is time for me to make a confession on behalf of my family. Along with the above examples television excellence, we managed to watch a few execrable ones as well and we remember those ones better!
Karamchand had started when I was quite young (around Class V, I guess) and being a late night slot (and me being a notorious late-riser), I was often barred from watching it.

However, when I was a little older, a serial called Quile Ka Rahasya (Mystery of the Fort) started. It was about a group of friends who stumble upon an apparently haunted fort. Any non-believer who visits the fort returns with a bloody palm-print on the back and they die within 14 days. This reasonably interesting premise had a lot of promise – of an interesting horror/thriller show. But it turned out to be such a boring mish-mash of comedy and melodrama that we did not miss a single episode. We religiously assembled in front of the TV set and vilely abused the actors, makers and financiers of the show without a pause!

If you think this was the pits, you ain’t heard anything yet! Kanwaljeet Singh appeared in the title role of a serial called PC 1008, where PC stood for Police Constable. He was meant to be a do-good problem solver.
The serial turned to be the debris of bad acting, terrible dialogues and hilarious set design. Courtroom scenes were held in what was obviously an office, with the judge sitting on a revolving chair behind a corporate style desk!
But the absolute mind-boggler turned out to be the supremely irritating title song, which went something like “Pissi pissi pissi pissi (in a sing-song voice) One Zero Zero Eight (in a baritone)”. The written word becomes so helpless in situations like this as not even an infinitesimal part of the irritation can be conveyed through writing!

Which brings me to the crowning glory of my television watching life.
Since it is a Bengali serial, the appeal may get slightly limited but then, cinematic genius shines through the barriers of language!
Chowdhury Pharmaceuticals starred Moonmoon Sen and George Baker along with other stalwarts of the Bengali screen. In a casting coup, it marked the small screen debut of Congress politician Subroto Mukherjee (who later became the Mayor of Calcutta) as hero.
In an even more daring coup, the serial was supposed to have an extensive sequence in a swimming pool featuring the lead pair. Moonmoon Sen was obviously a natural in swimsuits but the semi-balding paunchy Subroto-babu promised to be a novelty like no other.
In a very early example of a ‘leak’, a small screen magazine called Television (from the Aajkaal group) published a whole lot of pictures from the shooting with both the lead players in scantily clad glory! The West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee screamed blue murder and bludgeoned Subroto Mukherjee. As if our pants are not getting taken off often enough, they reasoned. Think what will happen if Mamata Banerjee decides to follow suit, they threatened. So Subroto Mukherjee ‘requested’ the producers of the serial to edit the offending sequence and it only appeared partially and in the recap sequence of the later episodes.
This was only a part of the 360-degree hilarity of the serial. The story was about the Chowdhury family whose family business was in manufacture of hydraulic pumps (obviously not, see the name of the serial – silly!). So, the patriarch dies, mess is unearthed, faithful family retainer turns devilish, power struggle for inheritance ensues and serial collapses in a bloody heap!
With sub-plots copied from Robin Cook and Arthur Hailey, Moonmoon Sen pouting from Lalbajar to Ludhiana and Subroto Mukherjee hamming more than a sausage factory – the four of us used to fall off the chair laughing and later mimicking the scenes! One landmark dialogue “Rupa, don’t be shentimentaal. Be practicaal” by Subroto Mukherjee is still fondly remembered by us.
We were more than a little embarrassed at the enjoyment we derived from serial until we read an obituary of Satyajit Ray by Victor Banerjee. Apparently, on a flight back from Delhi, Ray told Victor that he was rushing back to catch the latest episode of Chowdhury Pharmaceuticals! He even acted out some of his favourite scenes, ordered Victor to watch the serial regularly and pronounced that it was better than anything Chaplin had ever produced!
Armed with this certificate, we proudly proclaimed our allegiance to all and sundry, became devout followers and still find great joy in discussing the abysmal vocal pitch of Subroto Mukherjee.

Evidently, a family that watches bad TV together, stays together!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hotel Freebies

Am just back from Agra. Yes, I must be the only person in the world who goes to Agra on work and gets single rooms with a Taj view! I deserve to be stuffed up an anaconda's arse... yes, yes - I have been told that already!

On a different note, the choices that one gets in these new age hotels are quite beguiling!

The ITC Hotel I stayed in this time offered me the following choices - Slim Rest, Supersoft, Cotton Comfort, Silk Cotton, Relaxed Support, Ortho Care, Air Care and Bath Comfort. In pillows. Aack!
Just when I thought these were different ranges of furniture and upholstery available in the in-house boutique, I was informed that they were pillows. And I may please contact the Housekeeping Manager if I wish to partake such hedonistic delights!
The last mentioned pillow is apparently a water-proof marvel of Slumber Engineering, which can be used for lounging in the bathtub. And to think, I checked in at 11:00 PM and checked out a 5:45 AM...

The Taj Group is also not missing any trick. They are offering the following choices in pillows:
Standard, Super Soft, Slim, Cotton, Energy, Spondi, Meditation, Tranquility and Peace.
Their range seems to be straight out of a Feng Shui book.
So many choices... As if, deciding between Kakori Kabab and Galouti Kabab at dinner was not bad enough!

On the other hand, The Landmark Hotel of Kanpur, a new Executive Floor has opened recently. And to lure the modern business traveler, a long list of the ‘free’ amenities provided is available at the reception board. They include (parentheses mine):
* Fruit Basket (Okay, not bad for a start.)
* Cookies (Excellent... chocolate ones?)
* Mineral Water (Thank you.)
* Soft Drinks (Not charged? What are you saying?)
* Packet of Wafers & Salted (sic)
* Chocolate (Slurp!)
* Buffet Breakfast (Ahem, the room rate is a bomb!)
* Tea / Coffee (You mean the electric kettle, don't you?)
* Toilet Kit (Hmm...)
* Slippers (Made of paper.)
* Hair Drier (Not for us to take away. The damn thing is chained to the wall!)
* Business Newspaper (Your eternal kindness...)
* Large Looking Mirror (So, is the mirror large? Or am I supposed to look large in it?)
* Wall Clock (Brilliant. So that I don't overshoot the checkout time!)

A colleague asked me to be thankful that they did not add the bed and the TV to the list! But of course...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Christian Brothers: More Stereotypes from Bollywood

In Hindi films, there are good Muslims and bad Muslims. Post Kargil and 9/11, the fundamentalist Pakistani/Islamic terrorist became too lucrative a choice for filmmakers to make a villain out of. So, he became the Bad Muslim. And obviously, there are millions of Muslims who contribute to the 9% GDP of this country and three who rule Bollywood. So, you give this guy some jingoistic lines containing the words ‘qaum’ and ‘badnaam’ – and you have the Good Muslim.

Unfortunately, there are no good Christians and bad Christians in Bollywood. Only stereotyped Christians. They drink a lot, swear in English, pepper their dialogues with ‘man’ and is by-and-large a Good Samaritan.
Of course, there have been a lot of Foreign Devils (made famous by Bob Christo and Tom Alter, exaggerating their accents!) but they were more of British oppressors and had nothing to do with religion. And of course, they died ever since Manoj Kumar stopped making films.

Christian characters in Bollywood have appeared in two broad types of roles:
* Priest – Usually a solemn person hovering in the background usually presiding over marriages and the occasional confessional, his dialogues have a profusion of ‘my son’ and ‘Lord tumko shanti de’. Made famous by Sujit Kumar in a French beard, they have also seen enough number of times as principals of ‘good colleges’.
This stereotype got smashed so badly with Vinod Pande’s Sins (in which Shiney Ahuja plays a psychopathic sex-crazed priest in love with a nurse) that Christians erupted in protests!

* Drunkard – Generally seen in a street corner, slurring over dialogue and sloberring over life. Pran’s part in Majboor is probably the longest example of this character as he even got to sing a song – “Daaru ke bottle mein tum kaiku pani dalta hain / Phir na kehna Michael daaru pee kar danga karta hain.
Otherwise they are restricted to borrowing money (Naseeruddin Shah in Ardh Satya) or giving tips to police (Om Prakash in Zanjeer).

The most important signpost of the Christian is a suitably bombastic name.
Anthony Gonsalves is undoubtedly the most famous Christian name in India and even overshadows Vijay Verma occasionally. Actually, it is probably Amitabh’s only screen name, which came close to overwhelming his actual name. Post the stupendous success of Amar Akbar Anthony, people actually started calling AB Anthony-bhai on the streets! A story goes that a girl in coma was mumbling ‘Anthony-bhai’ in her unconscious state and AB went and met her after she came about.
That the name was that of Laxmikant’s (of Pyarelal fame) violin teacher only added to the allure.
The second most popular name is probably Bobby Braganza, who spoke like an Indian teenager though her father (Prem Nath) managed to live up to every single stereotype of the filmi Christian!
Aamir Khan dressed in drag for a song in Baazi and with his customary perfectionism, Julie Braganza managed to sport even a cleavage!
Ajit’s villainy (which got exaggerated in the subsequent series of jokes) was always centred on a group of henchmen and molls with ‘Christian’ names, though no allusion was ever made to their religion and Ajit was quite happy with Punjabising the pronunciations! Raabert, Tawny and Mona have been flogged to death, actually!

Next is, of course, the device of attaching a sermon on secularism.
The secular message of having a Christian around has been used several times by Manmohan Desai, AAA being the most famous example.
However in Naseeb, he went overboard about the secularism when he showed Pran having three wives – Hindu, Muslim and Christian! Thankfully, trigamy as a lasting solution for communal tension is yet to find extensive usage in our country.

Parental opposition to teenybopper romance is more commonly based on affluence than religion in Hindi cinema. Probably because of the inherent touchiness of discrimination on grounds of religion, most films depend on ‘haisiyat’ and ‘khandaan’ (sometimes, dushmani as well) to keep lovers apart.
Saagar is a typical example, where the rich Hindu boy falls in love with the poor Christian girl but the grand-parental opposition invoked only the girl’s ‘poor-ness’ and not her religion.
Only a few films have covered this ground – and even fewer in the Hindu-Christian domain.
I remember a film called Lovers – starring Kumar Gaurav and probably Padmini Kolhapure, who are put to sword by the heroine’s brother (Danny Denzongpa). Finally, they take off their Crucifix and Om lockets and burn them in an act of defiance!
Julie is the probably the most famous film but the social divide shown between a ‘cultured’ Hindu family and a ‘crass’ Christian family was rather exaggerated. And of course, because it was a Christian family, they sang their family song in English! Thank god for that cliché and we have Preeti Sagar’s wonderful ‘My Heart is Beating’.

Basically, all of the above devices are caricatures of real life people and mainstream Hindi cinema has never done too much to get any tinge of reality. Very few films have done it right.
Prahaar is one of those films I can remember that have depicted Christians realistically – with their language, milieu and motivations clearly etched out. Madhuri Dixit gave a stellar performance as Shirley Pinto of Bandra village (as did the ensemble cast, borrowed from the theatre).
Baaton Baaton Mein was set in an authentic Christian domain and that was part of the novelty of the film but there was nothing in the story that was exclusive to the community. A love story in Bombay peppered with a genial uncle, crazy brother and pestering mother is as cute and relevant today as it was thirty years back.
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa was a love triangle set in Goa with Sunil, Anna and Chris running after each other but the religion was never the issue. Sunil’s forging of his mark-sheet was! Again, it had perfect atmosphere and casting – especially Naseeruddin Shah in the role of a ‘hatke’ Father, who insisted on taking lifts from everybody and spoke in a brilliant Portuguese accent!
Of course, if I want to get into arthouse territory, then we have Albert Pinto ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hain – in which Naseeruddin Shah (again!) played the title role as the angry son of a retrenched mill worker. I had heard somewhere that Albert Pinto was the name of one of the vendors (caterer / costume / something) one of the producer’s earlier projects, who could not be paid. In order to placate him, the lead character was named after him!
I don’t think Commissioner De Mello of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron can be counted as a Christian character because he was hardly alive!

Moral dilemmas have never been the forte of the Bollywood director – and Christian moral dilemmas, even less so!
In fact, the only one I can think of was presented in Aakhri Raasta – where David (played by Amitabh Bachchan) goes into a church and confesses crimes he is about to commit. His rationale being that he is a devout Christian and at the end of the three murders he is about to commit, he may not be around for a confessional so he was doing it beforehand.
The priest broke the sacred oath of secrecy and reported it to the police. He declared that while it was a sin to divulge details of a confession, he was doing so because he considered saving three lives more important.
The police officer (David’s lost son – AB in a double role) logically concluded that if the guy is indeed a devout Christian, he would get really upset by this and would probably try to kill the priest as punishment. So he wanted a whole lot of security around the priest.
He probably forgot that it was a Hindi movie as his father did the most illogical thing in the world. David walked into the police headquarters and murdered his first victim – the Police Commissioner himself!

Damn, all my posts end illogically or with Amitabh. This time, I managed both!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Seven: A Preview

One of my habits (started when I was a teenager) is to make lists of books that I wanted to buy. I keep a paper (much folded, scribbled and hence dilapidated) in which I constantly update my wish list, crossing out names when I have bought them and adding new ones.
Either I have bought more books than I can possibly afford or my wants are coming down, my current list has only seven names on them. To record the symmetry of today’s date for posterity (also my father’s 60th birthday), I thought I would list down the seven books I am going to buy next.

1. Red – I. Allan Sealy
Sealy is one of the most underrated authors in the Indo-Anglian space. He has consistently produced fine novels (Trotter Nama and Everest Hotel are the two I have read), which have not been best selling probably because he is not marketed as aggressively as, say, Vikram Seth. This is not to say he is better than Seth, though!
Red is his latest, of which the paperback version is now out and has an interesting premise. It takes inspiration from the life of Henri Matisse and is named after his favourite colour. Each of the characters is named after a letter of the alphabet and these 26 chapters make up the novel. Intriguing!

2. India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha
Guha is the finest writer on cricket that I have had the privilege of reading. For a long time, I used to claim that the three best cricket writers in the country – Sujit Mukherjee, Mihir Bose and Guha – are all Bengalis but Guha’s idolization of Vishwanath (initially) and Rahul Dravid (later) led to a sneaking suspicion and subsequent research showed that he was a Kannadiga.
As for this book, a modern day history of India written by a non-partisan and erudite scholar is always welcome since all our history syllabi routinely ended at that midnight of August 1947. And for events after that, I have relied on India Today Special Issues and urban legends. Maybe, Guha will be able to give the period a balance between authenticity and readability. And of course, the last line is priceless!
The book has also received unanimous praise from the reviewers as well as the author himself, who has called it ‘the most important book I will ever write’.
Maybe. But even without reading it, I can state that his Corner of a Foreign Field is probably better written. After all, the subject is more fascinating!

3. You Must Like Cricket? – Soumya Bhattacharya
4. Men in White – Mukul Kesavan
Anecdotal histories of cricket, I never tire of. There is an innate charm in hearing what a person was doing when India lifted the World Cup, when Javed Miandad hit that momentous six and when Bangladesh scored the winning run. If the person has a gift of the gab, then I am hooked for the rest of the evening. And if there is vodka in the vicinity, I am staying the night at his place! Both the authors have written extensively, on cricket among other things. Also, the ambit of their chronology roughly coincides with my own cricket watching days so I am relatively protected against the boredom of legends from time immemorial. I can relate to post-1970s stuff but theories about Mushtaq Ali – being India’s best one-day batsman it never had – can be a little soporific. Also, from their blogs on Cricinfo, they appear to be more chatty than scholarly, so hopefully there will not be too much talk on whether Sehwag’s right foot is moving as much as it should.

5. The Gardener’s Song – Kalpana Swaminathan
The detective – Lalli – made her debut in the Page 3 Murders, which I listed among my favourites of 2006 in the Food category! This is Lalli’s return to a Bombay apartment block where a despicable inmate gets murdered. A classic setting for a murder mystery, where there is a fixed group of suspects and gradually everybody seems to have a reason to kill the victim.
The reviews have pegged the level of detection higher than the first one – and of course, Lalli has a lot of charisma. After all, she is India’s first woman detective in print.
In cinema, Rituparno Ghosh’s Shubho Mahurat had Rakhee playing the role of a detective, known only by the name which her niece and de facto Watson (played by Nandita Das) called her – Ranga Pishima. The story was based on a Miss Marple novel and the film was very well directed with interesting sub plots.

6. The Google Story – David Vise
Very soon, all our life’s possessions and information will be locked in electronic accounts, all of which will be controlled by Google. By promising to pay us if our friends click on links on our blogs, they have started to take intimate information about our life, universe and everything. It is only a matter of time before we get an e-mail saying “Psycho-analysis of our Orkut profile, transcripts of your Google Talk conversation, pictures uploaded to your Picasa account and your posts on Blogger have confirmed that you are having sex with Ms ******** right now. We have debited your credit card $10000. If you refuse the payment, a movie of Google Earth pictures of the activity will be posted on YouTube.”
So, I just want to figure out how they are going to achieve that and this well-written book has been highly recommended for that!
And don’t laugh. If in the early 90s, somebody had told you that in fifteen years from now, you won’t be able to start your computer without software from a bespectacled Harvard dropout, you would have laughed – right?

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J K Rowling
Will Harry die? Where can I get an Invisibility Cloak?
Who will win the Quidditch Cup this time?
How many pages are there in the book?
How is Snape coming back?
Will the finale live up to the promise?
Is Ron going to ‘get’ Hermione?
Can I take that day off?
Where are the other Horcruxes hidden?
What does ‘hallows’ mean?
Where will the final showdown with Voldemort happen?
Can she resolve all of it in one book?
Is Dumbledore really dead?
Will the Fabmall guys manage to deliver it on the 21st?
And most importantly, is my guess about Harry’s aunt correct?

People write reviews of books they read. I wrote previews!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Random Movies I Like: Benaam Badshah

On a summer afternoon in 1991, a friend from school (Krishanu) and I ventured out to Priya Cinema (next to Deshapriya Park in South Calcutta) to see Jumma Chumma in London. For non-believers, this film was unique in the sense that it was an edited version of Amitabh’s stage show at the Wembley.
Krishanu’s uncle was a neighbour of Priya Cinema and managed to get tickets to packed shows quite effortlessly. Thanks to him, we saw innumerable first day first shows without spending a minute in queues. However, this time, not only was the show a sell-out, Krishanu’s uncle had also thoughtlessly vanished.
So, Krishanu and I faced the daunting prospect of returning home and trying our hand at differential calculus. Instead, we decided to run across to Menaka Cinema (about a 10 minute jog for 17-year olds) and check out the film there.

It turned out to be Benaam Badshah – which was also on its first day. Tickets were available. In fact, the counter guys were beckoning us from inside the ticket windows. We should have taken a hint from this but we chose to take the ticket instead.

The film starred Anil Kapoor – and this clash of his release with Amitabh’s led to speculation that they were stepping up their rivalry. Now, this happens when Amitabh’s releases clash with Shahrukh’s. AB has been unfortunate enough to have releases clashing with Rajesh Khanna, Anil Kapoor and Shah Rukh!
We were a little delayed and the opening scene of Anil Kapoor’s release from jail had gotten over.
Also over was the landmark scene in which the director establishes what a scoundrel Anil was. As a house burnt and everybody lamented, Anil sauntered up and lit his beedi from the blaze. Antonioni and Fellini can only aspire for such economy of expression to establish character!

Since it is almost 16 years now, the details are slightly hazy but I do recall the following plot devices:
* Anil Kapoor’s character was an abandoned child, who grew up to be a bitter bastard. He stayed in a ‘house’ with no roof and had Gandhi’s picture on the wall. Poignant Dialogue: Mera to koi pita nahin hain. Is liye rashtra pita hi sahi!

* As described above, he had nobody to name him. Ergo, he did not have a name. Ergo, the name of the film.

* Anil had strangely hennaed hair, which was explained when he was shown wiping blood on his hair.

* Amrish Puri was a corrupt politician, (is there any other kind?) whom Anil called Negu, abbreviation for Neta and Gunda!

* Rohini Hattangadi ran a NGO for destitute women, which was a front for trafficking women, with Amrish’s blessings.

* Juhi Chawla – the heroine – was raped by Anil Kapoor on her wedding night as her father’s enemies paid Anil to dishonour her. Her groom (a Perfect Samaritan) was prepared to ‘accept’ her but she refused and landed up in Anil’s locality, gradually ensnaring him to marry her.
This is because of some algorithm that for the ‘Hindustani aurat’, the first pati is the last and he should last you seven births (more than the Energizer Bunny). And, pati is obviously equated to the person who is responsible for taking one’s virginity.

* Shilpa Shirodkar played a prostitute in love with Anil. But as the fallen woman, she does not have a chance before the ‘chaste’ Juhi.

* Manjunath (famous as Swami of Malgudi) played Anil’s sidekick. Ashok Saraf (famous as the father of Hum Paanch) played Amrish’s sidekick. Neither of them had anything significant to do.
* Eventually, Anil reformed himself and married Juhi. After that, Juhi’s saheli called him ‘bhai-saab’, which drove him to tears because that was the first time in his life he got respect!

* Because Anil gave up Amrish’s henchman-giri, Negu sent him a tiffin-bomb, which killed Juhi by some cinematic machinations. Anil chased Amrish up the scaffolding of a construction site, threw him down, hammered him with (well) a sledgehammer and finally upturned a huge pot of boiling oil on him.
Deep Message: He did not kill him because he declared that he did not want to go to jail and make his son one more ‘Benaam Badshah’.

I liked this movie for having every single potboiler cliché and then trying to garb each one of them into a preachy reason! It was completely unaware of all the political incorrectness it had and innocently justified all of them. It aimed at the ‘masses’ with a vengeance and its failure at the box-office was not because of lack of effort.
In an avalanche of mediocre films, it turned out to be really bad and hence, memorable.

After coming out of the theatre, Krishanu made me swear that I would never confess to ANYBODY whatsoever that we watched this film.
I broke that promise today. Sixteen years is a long enough time – and hopefully, Dr Krishanu Das, MD will forgive me.

Actually, this is part of a Ping-Pong I am playing with Nilendu, called Random Movies I Liked. He started with Ajooba. This is my return. He will now write on Gentleman.

Updated to add Nilendu's comment, which had got deleted:
I too liked "Benaam Badshah", I too watched it in "Menoka" - though, frankly, do not remember with whom.
About Bachchan rivalry, remember his release clashes with Mithun's? The most prominent was probably with Ajooba itself, Mithun's Shikari (also an Indo-Soviet venture on circus stuff) released on the same weekend. Sometime before that both of them did "Ganga Jamuna Saraswati" together, and fans of both sects clashed near Menoka.
The scene where Anal Kapoor lits his biDi from a burning house is one of the most poignant scenes in the history of Bollywood. Kapoor -- his head as big as an August watermelon put on top of a couple of ear-bud legs, with practically nothing in between -- was desperately trying to break his "seedha sadha" image into toughened tapori one (Ram Lakhan, Tezaab etc etc). As duly noted, Anal henna-ed his hair - only the part that sits on the head. It would probably bring the world onto a critical "Henna Draught" lest someone decided to henna every hair strand Kapoor has on his surprisingly un-muscular, even by 80s "Chocolate Hero" standard, physique.
One thing that you should also mention is how Juhi, after raped, did not lose 'faith' and practically adopted a tactic to have Anal marry her. The tactic would later be famous as "Gandhigiri". She rented another "kholi" near Anal's and did not let him loose.
When the "tiffin bomb" killed Juhi, everyone in the hall probably laughed loud. This was not because the scene was constructed bad or something, but because Juhi - by then - had made it a habit of dying 11 minutes before the movie ended. QSQT, Pratibandh, Chandni etc. If Juhi had indeed lived through the point where dimly lit "Exits" would wide open, the movie would surely end up a big flop. Anyone today remember "Tum Mere Ho"?
Rohini Hattangadi's character was named a cryptic "Kaameshwari" - as Amrish, Jaikal - the evil politician, would shout at her to send new girls from her social service center to his bed.
Shilpa Shirodkar indeed played a prostitute, that - by bollywood definition of the word - restricted her to just an "item number" for the entire chawl.
Now that "Gentleman" is covered too, how about "Raam Shastra"?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Books I Grew Up On... Part One

This post is in partial response to Spaniard's Nostalgia Challenge, to find out whether we would still enjoy books we read as children (yes, I would!) and partially to fulfill Rimi's request to exchange notes on books we liked (I don't think so, considering I am probably a generation older!).

I very firmly believe that the quality of literature (for both children as well as general) in Bengali is of a very high order but ranking it ahead of other languages of India is fraught with the danger of being labeled parochial. As if that deterred me anyway!
However anecdotally, I have noticed one thing, which is exclusive to Bengalis. This is the exposure, enjoyment and memory of literature in Bengali. I have friends from all over the country – who come from a similar background as mine and speak their respective mother tongues quite fluently. But their exposure of literature is restricted to English. They are extremely well read, but not in their mother tongues.
Most of them learnt their mother tongue naturally and as a chore at schools. So did I – and hated every moment of taking Bengali exams but ended up reading a whole lot of greatly enjoyable literature.
My hypothesis is that on an average, the Bong is more familiar with his literature than any other linguistic group in India. There, I said it… now kill me!

The names I have gone back to in this post are the ones who wrote actively during my childhood, usually in a serialized form for the children’s magazine – Anandamela. Their stories for the annual Puja issue (Pujabarshiki) of the same magazine would also be eagerly awaited and involved a whole lot of negotiation as to when the issue would be purchased and who would get to read it first!

Apart from this list, there are several stalwarts whose works I read voraciously, admire greatly and keep going back to. I have excluded them from this piece more from a classification point of view as they were before my times. Maybe I will get back to them on a later day.
Also, everything in here is written from memory. So, errata and addenda to the post are actively solicited.

Buddhadeb Guha
Buddhadeb Guha’s passion as a nature lover comes across his entire body of work. A large number of his novels are set in the forests of Assam, North Bengal and the Santhal Paraganas.
The hero of his children’s stories is a nature lover – Riju-da. A pipe-smoking, Stetson-wearing gentleman whose adventures have taken him from India to Africa. His facility with guns was made obvious in the narrative though he preferred to use them against poachers and smugglers.

Moti Nandi
His specialty was sports literature, which is bit of rarity in the output of Indian authors in general. Moti Nandi’s annual novel in the Puja issue would either be an episode from the life of his heroine, Kalabati or about an unlikely sporting hero.
Kalabati was quite a unique character. She was a woman cricketer, having played club cricket and who became a sports journalist. The novels were quite pleasing – with a strong vein of sarcasm while discussing the politics, chauvinism, nepotism and – most importantly – the hopes of Maidan cricket of Calcutta.
Of his earlier novels, I remember Koni– about a teenaged girl who excels in national level swimming with the help of her coach. This novel was later made into a reasonably successful film with Soumitra Chatterjee playing the role of the coach and a real-life swimmer in the title role.
Of the two I remember quite vividly, one is Naran – chronicling the life of a village boy who is fan of Emil Zatopek. He reads about Emil and Dana’s pioneering Olympic records and starts practicing long-distance running. His passion – in the middle of life’s struggles – was quite vividly recounted as his obvious talent got wasted in the maze of India’s pitiful sports infra.
The other one is Jiban Ananta – which was the story of two friends growing up playing cricketer. The more talented one – Jiban – was a batsman and loses his arm in a motor accident due to the negligence of the other – Ananta. This loss inspires Ananta to take his talent – fast bowling – seriously and he eventually makes it to the national side but not before a very realistic depiction of Board machinations, regional selection politics, players’ ego hassles and contract rows.

Saradindu Bandopadhyay
Strictly speaking, Saradindu does not qualify for the ‘contemporary’ authors’ slot as his writing days preceded my reading days by a lot. However, by the criterion of authors whose works I eagerly waited for, he walks in because one of his series of novellas was being serialized in the comic-book format when I started reading.
The series, itself, was a great example of historical fiction (which was Saradindu’s forte, to begin with) set in the times of Shivaji’s rule. It traced the journey of a teenager called Sadashiv, who ran away from his village and accidentally bumped into the army of Shivaji, who was on the run from the Mughal armies. Sadashiv endeared himself to the Maratha king with his intelligence and sincerity – and his adventures were beautifully woven into his king’s military sorties.
The intricate details of life at that time as well as the depth of research on Shivaji were probably a by-product of Saradindu’s extended stay in Bombay as a screenwriter.
Of all these authors, it is Saradindu’s Byomkesh Bakshi who is best known outside Bengal, thanks to the eponymous TV series.

Sanjib Chattopadhyay
Sanjib Chattopadhyay’s forte was humour. For a very long time, his one-page humour column in Desh was most eagerly awaited. His children’s stories had lots of it as well.
His most well known series is that of Boromama-Mejomama – narrated by a boy living in a joint family of his two uncles (the aforementioned mamas), aunt and a motley crew of retainers. The uncles were both bachelors and had opposite temperaments. One a doctor and the other a professor, they collided often enough to provide a whole lot of funny incidents, observed silently by the boy and occasionally mediated by the aunt.
Later on, Sanjib Chattopadhyay came up with two ‘serious’ novels in successive years – Iti Palash and Iti Tomar Ma. The names signified the typical way a letter is ended in Bengali, iti meaning ‘this much’. (Ray’s Pratidwandi also ended with a letter from the protagonist Siddhartha and the last frame froze with the words ‘Iti Siddhartha’.)
Iti Palash was about a boy inflicted with polio, his talent for painting and his relationship with family & friends (especially a girl of his age) and his eventual migration abroad on a scholarship.
Iti Tomar Ma was about a family of three – where the boy gets constantly bullied by some spoilt brats of his locality and is inspired by his parents to learn martial arts and give it back to them. Though heavy on melodrama, the novel is extremely well written and loaded with details of middle class life in Calcutta. I remember, the eventual tragic end (as hinted in the title) haunted me for quite some time!

Shirshendu Mukhopdhyay
Shirshendu is one of the few authors in Bengali – who did not have a recurring hero. His heroes changed from story to story and he had a strong penchant for the underdog.
In several novels, there would be a dominating elderly character, who would have missed international glory (Olympic medal, foreign education) due to a quirk of fate. One specific character I remember could not join the Indian boxing team as he developed a carbuncle on his back at the last moment!
His stories were set in suburban Calcutta or rural West Bengal – and involved a hidden treasure being targeted by a slick outsider. His plans were foiled by a teenaged hero, usually accompanied by a young uncle. The apparently placid plots were peppered with witty dialogues, clever episodes of one-upmanship and several sub-plots making them eminently readable.
I remember Gourer Kabach - a story about a village boy who chances upon a medallion with supernatural powers and becomes a hero in saving his village.

Sunil Gangopadhyay
Sunil Gangopdhyay’s character – Raja Roychowdhury – had a physical disability. On one of his earlier expeditions, he lost one of his legs in an accident and used crutches. A typical Bengali bhadralok, he was a bachelor and fiercely independent. He refused all help offered due to his disability. His sidekick was his teenaged nephew (Shontu) who called him by his more popular moniker – Kakababu (Uncle).
Shontu was a regular boy-next-door or so I thought, till he stood fifth in Higher Secondary (Class XII Exams of the WB Board)! He was almost a carbon copy of Topshe though he knows karate and is more prone to fisticuffs.
In the later novels, a young girl of his age was also introduced, though not suggesting romance in any form. One of Shontu’s friends – Jojo – also started making regular appearances in the later stories as a teller of tall tales (“Kapil Dev calls on my father before every Test…”) and generally be the court jester in a rather lame attempt to copy Satyajit Ray’s famous trio. The attempt was not required as the duo of Kakababu and Shontu was quite interesting to begin with.
Kakababu was probably an archaeologist and most of their adventures centered on retrieval of an ancient artifact, usually priceless. The adversary would be an unscrupulous dealer of art, who thinks nothing of selling off the country’s treasures to the highest bidder.
One recurring twist in every tale would be that the object would get irretrievably lost. Somehow, I felt that Sunil was scared about someone asking him where the objects were if Kakababu had rescued them!
The objects were quite esoteric and unquestionably valuable – the original headless statue of Kanishka (Bhoyonkor Shundor), a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (Kakababu Heyrey Gelen) or a rare Egyptian papyrus (Mishor Rohoshyo).

Syed Mustafa Siraj
A retired Colonel – Niladri Sarkar – was the eccentric sleuth in Syed Mustafa Siraj’s stories, narrated by a lazy journalist (Jayanta) who accompanied him on his missions. The colonel was a butterfly collector, smoked pipes and had a Santa beard. He was also jovial and liked quoting Bengali proverbs & nursery rhymes.
I returned to three of his adventures in an English translation (bought by my wife) and was pleasantly surprised that the novels remain eminently readable despite being obviously outdated and the quality of detective work being quite childish! What scored in this author’s works (along with all of the others) is the expert build-up of atmosphere and character.

None of these authors started their careers writing for children. Their reputation was built on writing novels & poems for adults. Towards the later part of their career, they started writing for children given the huge demand for that genre in Bengali.
Apart from Anandamela (from the ABP group), there are several other children’s magazines that come out. All these publishing houses and their demands probably forced these authors to write for children regularly, create characters in a believable atmosphere and let them expand from year to year.
Their natural talent for literature ensured that the characters were believable, the plot grabbed attention and deadlines were met! Their honesty towards their craft ensured that they put in research and give correct information in stories meant for young people, thus making the stories authentic and believable.

Satyajit Ray created Feluda for a magazine run by his family (Sandesh) and then had to make it an annual feature, churning them out despite his hectic film-making schedule. Their popularity, even in Bengal, is more than that of his award winning films and Ray had accepted that his household runs on his earnings from writing.
Every Bengali child starts off on Feluda, becomes a fan and is very surprised one day when he gets to know that the guy who writes Feluda has also directed some films.
I will end here… the three Rays (Upendrakishore, Sukumar and Satyajit) need a post of their own!

Updated to add Nilendu's comments, which had got deleted:
No woman in the list?? Leela Majumder, Ashapurna Debi (teenage detective duo - tyaNpa and someone else), Meera Balsubramanium, Nabanita Debsen? Did not you read "Pandob Goenda" (a la 'famous five') by Sasthipodo Chattopadhaya? Kana Panchu is surely the most popular pet in bong children's lit. Or the timeless epics of Shailen Ghosh ("khude jajabor istasi" ityadi)?
Dinesh Chattopadhyay's "Duronto Eagle" -- written in the backdrop of Russian revolution, centered on a tribal hero of Russian alps called 'Jura' -- was probably the first book that I had to finish in one go.
Sankarshan Roy used to write odd but captivating stories on geology.
Late 80s, couple of sci-fi writers entered the arena. Siddhartha Ghosh is the one I remember a couple of stories from. Anish Deb - a math professor from Presidency college - also wrote sci-fi.
Talking of Dadas - Premendra Mitra's "Ghanada", Narayan Gangopadhyay's "Tenida" and (forgot the exact name of the author) "Pindida" comes to mind apart from the ones you mentioned. Pindida apparently used to play soccer in Brazil, but dislocated his knee after an illegal tackle by some team mate of Pele.
Apart from "Anandamela", people from my group also subscribed to "Chandmama" (up to the age of 6), "Kishore Bharoti" (age between 12 and 18), "Suktara" (8-14) and "Kishore Gyan Bigyan" (for the ultimate nerds who wanted to generate electricity from Tulsi leaves). I also remember subscribing to an extremely entertaining but very short-lived "Children's Detectives" (it was in Bengali though). Even before that, "Deb Sahitya Kutir" - the other powerful house than Ananda - used to publish one special puja volume just for kids. That would be named like "Sonar Kathi" or "Arun Alo" - and contain writings of pretty much all famed authors on a hardbound, printed on all glossy papers, edition. Luckily, I own a lot of these myself and till date have treasured them even more than my porn collection!
About detectives, another eccentric one is "Kikira" - Kiran Kinkar Roy (or Kishore?) -- basically a retired magician who solved some non-violent, everyday crime with the help of Tarapodo (a clerk) and Chandan (a medical student). "Kapaliker Kobole" was the first book in this series that was published in "Anandamela" (small sized ones those days) along with "Sobuj Dweeper Raja" (on Raja Roychowdhury, aka Kakababu; by Sunil) and the comic strips of "Tintin" (in Bengali, with Captain Haddock's immensely enjoyable but kid-safe Bengali swearing), "Rovers er Roy" and "Gablu" (Henry in English).
Bengali children's comics were the first one in India to actually conceptualize a series on till date popular "Bantul the Great", "HaNda-BhoNda" and "Nonte-PhoNte" -- surprisingly -- all by the same author - Narayan Debnath. Another great comic artiste was Mayukh Chowdhury with his angular, black ink sketches of characters from Hemen Roy's "Jokher Dhon" etc.
Bengali children's literature deserves a thick volume of encyclopedia, but even a short narrative like this one would not be complete without mentioning Bhibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's (same author who wrote "Pather Panchali") child trilogy that started with possibly the best ever children's novel ever written anywhere - "ChaNder Pahar". Every boy who has been born after this novel was written and who can read Bengali always dreams to become "Shankar" and spend a moonlit night near a tent in Kilimanjaro.

Yup yup yup!!! I did subscribe to "Kishore Mon" as well. Damn. That was a bad bad mistake to omit it out. Was a pretty good mag!
We forgot one more popular author here. Samaresh Majumder. And I must say, I have not yet read a more romantic take on the "young adult" infatuation and puppy love than Majumder's "Der Din" (one and half days). In the said story, Arjun (the detective from Jalpaigudi, not from Calcutta!) -- escorts 3 or 4 sophomores from Delhi in Terai forest. The description of the night out of Arjun and the lead girl of that group on top of a viewing tower in the forest is simply Uttam-Suchitra caliber stuff. Arjun has what we called "alur dosh" in college, whereas other detectives and their cohorts (other than Santu) pretty much look down when they see a lady. This was most apparent in Satyajit Ray's Feluda series. Leela Majumder, in her forward to the "Feluda Somogro" even complained about the fact that Feluda, Topse, Sidhujyatha, Lalmohanbabu as well as most of their villains are either single or lost their wives long before the story started! I have found ONLY one line in Feluda books that describes female looks -- in one of the later ones -- "Mrs Sen ke dekhle bojha jaaY je uNader poribarer sobai besh bhalo dekhte!"
There's also a flair for romance in Moti Nandy's "Kalabati" series between "Sotu" (Kalabati's uncle) and "didimoni" (Kalabati's headmistress).
Since we were discussing authors from our generations mostly, I did also not mention Shibram Chakraborty (and Shailo too, if you may, for the drawings). Harshabordhon and Govardhan or Detective "Kolke Kashi" were howlarious!
I used to be a big fan of Sapan Kumar's "Detective Deepak Chatterjee" series - 50-75 page paperbacks - that you could buy at wheeler book stalls in Railway stations. That requires a post of its own because of the uncanny descriptions like "dure geerzar ghorite dhon dhong koriya ekta bajilo" or "Dassu Mohan" series influenced "kotha hoite ki hoiya gelo, Deepak ghorer modhey ekta atom boma nikkhep koriya blake snake er koral bodon aral koriya ber hoiya asilo".

Damn! I forgot one thing. "Jibon Ananto" - the novel you mentioned from Moti Nondi - ends with Ananto taking 6 wickets in - wait -- 6 balls. I had tears in my eyes and shivers in my belly as I was reading the description of the over. That afternoon in October 1988, I tried to bowl a little faster and gave 8 wide balls before pitching one in good length!