Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray... 3

Illustrations courtesyBoimelaTanmoy Dutta's Flickr photostream

Before the year ends, I thought I should complete what I set out to do in putting together a series of posts on beautiful cover art of Satyajit Ray. As a graphic designer par excellence, he did a series of covers for reprints of Bengali classics and a series of magazine covers for two magazines consistently.
The final part of the series should be the cover he did for his own books - all of which are a study in simplicity. 

Satyajit Ray was a prolific writer of short stories. Each collection contained 12 stories and the names were a play on the Bengali words for twelve (baro) or dozen (dojon).
Ek Dojon Goppo (A Dozen Stories), Aro Ek Dojon (One More Dozen), Aro Baro (Twelve More), Ebaro Baro (Twelve Again), Eker Pithey Dui (Two on One) and Bah! Baro (Wow! Twelve).

His second-most popular series was, of course, Professor Shonku. The Shonku series started with mock-seriousness almost bordering on parody in the first story. However, the durability of the character was established with that first story and Ray had to invest a lot of gravitas into the character to make Shonku into a world-renowned, genius inventor. 
As a complete contrast to Feluda's modesty, Shonku was immodest in matter-of-fact manner. He had no qualms in calling himself a genius and his adventures took place across the globe. The covers reflected his slight eccentricity as well as the international settings. 
I particularly like Swayam Professor Shonku, where his beard and hair are made out of international newspaper cuttings and Punascha Professor Shonku, where his face has the topography of a globe. 

And quite obviously, Feluda has to bring up the rear in true 'last but not the least' tradition. The structure of the typical Feluda cover never changed. It had Feluda, Topshe and Lalmohanbabu in the foreground and a distinctive landmark of the story's location looming - sometimes menacingly - in the background.

It would be interesting to see some of the earlier covers - which are also in the same format - though Feluda and Topshe are much younger (and Lalmohanbabu missing). 

 The first illustration is not a cover but the full-page illustration at the beginning of the first ever short story (when it first appeared in book-form) and Topshe is almost a kid. Interestingly, the first Feluda story also did not envisage the durability of the sleuth and showed Feluda as a hobbyist, who happens to solve a crime while on vacation (from a regular job) in Darjeeling.
When the story first appeared in Sandesh magazine, the illustration on the first page was almost like a caricature!
By the time it was published in Ek Dojon Goppo, a few more stories had already appeared, the Bengali bhadralok had got as hysterical as they could have possibly got and Feluda was on his way to become the highest-read and second-most popular Bengali fictional character ever.

That, I think, caps off this series for the time being. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bad Songs

This was meant to be a public-service post.
There are bad songs. And there are bad songs that you can't get out of your head... You hear them once and you are doomed. Like ear wax, they take up permanent residence in your ear-canal. This post was meant to point out those bad songs you are not supposed to hear lest you cannot forget them.
But there is a problem.. if you click on any of the links to be warned, you will have to hear them and... suck that, Joseph Heller!
Anyway, here goes...

Aye Hip Hopper - Ishq Bector
This is probably the worst of the lot and keeping in mind the august company, that is saying a lot! A domestic help who has been certified by the same institute which gave Rakhi Sawant a secretarial degree is wooing her master with a strange mix of erotic bai-giri - eggs, rose-petaled baths, foot rubs and so on. And the voice, oh the voice!

No Touching Only Seeing - Himesh Reshamaiya
If you mute the sound and watch the video (from a movie called Damadamm), it is superior WTF material - which has wowed seasoned commentators like Amit Varma. Police constables, Singh is King, Shahenshah, Bangkok hostesses, Lucknow courtesans, Batman, Phoolan Devi... stupendous! And just when you thought you had come to terms with Himesh's voice, came the female voice...

Tandoori nights - Himesh Reshamaiya
If the many Zzz-s in the remake of Karz was not enough, they packed in as many bad songs as they could. The crowning glory of this monstrosity was Tan tan tan tandoori nights... sung with passion by Himesh and danced to with abandon by Himesh and Urmila. All of Urmila's sexiness cultivated from her dances in Rangeela got pissed away in this tandoori masala.
(But you'll have to admit the name of the song is catchy. I have seen many thekas/roadside joints in Gurgaon bearing this name!)

Chiggy wiggy - AR Rehman
My fingers quivered a little bit as I typed the last 8 letters of the previous line. But Rehman is nothing if he's not memorable so in a superb twist, his worst ever song remains unforgettable. Kylie Minogue (or whoever it was) shook her chiggy wiggy (or whatever it is called) as Akshay Kumar flailed his hands and screamed alliterative words like khatoon, khidmat, khiladi and khwahish before collapsing in a heap (along with the song or whatever it was called).

Do me a favour let's play Holi - Annu Malik
Actually, any of Annu Malik's songs he has sung himself deserves to be in this list. But I will avoid the temptation (or its exact opposite) to include Oonchi hain building, lift teri bandh hain and restrict myself to only this. The biggest tragedy of this absolute inanity of a Holi song appeared in a film which starred Amitabh Bachchan, the God who sang the Holi anthem.
Do me a favour. Don't let Mr Malik sing. Ever. Again.

Dr Dhingra - Baba Sehgal
Little children - who have only heard Himesh in movies and Annu Malik on Indian Idol - have vaguely heard of names like Rafi, Kishore et al and always wondered that Indian music has been a heaven of sur and taal.
They don't know Baba Sehgal and the terror he unleashed in a short burst of popularity in the early days of satellite television.
After a hugely successful and moderately tuneful first album (helped by Pooja Bedi in the video), he came up with a second album which was called Main Bhi Madonna (featuring Baba - Sehgal, not to be confused with present-day Ramdev - in drag). If people thought this was monstrous, it was followed by Dr Dhingra MBBS (Music By Baba Sehgal).
Look no further. Hear no further.

Hachhi aati hain - Jamai Raja
Only in India can composers & lyricist be so creative that they can make romantic scenes out of coughs and romantic songs out of sneezes. (What's next? Romantic scenes out of farts? Thankfully, that hasn't happened. Yet.)
Two leading stars of the day - Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit - enacted a complete song (composed by Laxmikant-Pyarelal, no less) interspersed with entirely believable sneezes as the junior artistes danced energetically and we watched enthusiastically. But when even a marginally audible song has loud sneezes happening between the stanzas, it enters your ear and refuses to leave. Yes, Jamai Raja released in 1990 and I still remember it.
(However, the film wasn't a total washout. There was one brilliant scene in which Hema Malini and Anil Kapoor faced off with dialogues built out of names of their previous films! Watch here, from 10:00 onwards. And excuse my excitement since I remember the scene to be much better than what I saw just now.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Resemblance Entirely Coincidental

Warning: A very, very long post. Recommended only for students of Engineering.

A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was an engineering college with an extremely illustrious Mechanical Engineering department whose fame spread far beyond the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

* * * * *
“Have you completed the Design project?” Deepak asked.
“Gone mad or what? The submission is two weeks away”, replied Nabendu with an air of finality.
This was the final semester of the final year. Nabendu was already placed – along with 3/4th of the batch – in a software company and submission of design projects was not his priority. In fact, his only priority was to make dreadful jokes on his employer including one which poked fun at their indiscriminate hires – “Trespassers will be recruited”.
With a large group placed and a substantial group accepted in institutions for future studies – truth be told – submission of Engineering Design projects was not anybody’s priority.

Usually, these design projects needed a ‘mother’ – a solution (typically done by a topper of the previous batch) – to get going. Once we knew from an acknowledged master how the ferocious flanges were being subjected to treacherous torque, the calculations seemed infinitely easier. And once the calculations were done, slapping a drawing sheet on the previous year’s drawings and tracing it out was a cinch!
This being the final year, the ‘seniors’ had already left and finding a ‘mother’ was not proving to be easy.

In a rare display of enterprise, Nabendu and Deepak went around asking classmates on the progress of this design project. Of course, you could argue that speaking to 7 classmates over cha-shingara isn’t a great display of enterprise. Even that ended swiftly enough when they found an antakshari gang in the Canteen. Nabendu joined them with gusto and started singing “Romeo naam mera, chori hain kaam mera…” completely out of tune but with exact dance movements. Deepak went home with a mixture of unease (flunking a course in the last semester was the – well – last thing he wanted) and comfort (after all, even Uttam hadn’t started on it).

* * * * *
“Arre, let’s go and ask him once…”
“He won’t help… he doesn’t know enough design to help…”
“At least, he can waive off the submission requirement…”
“Hmm… that’s an idea…”
Nabendu and Deepak squabbled unnecessarily for 5 minutes before deciding that the only person who could help in this project submission was the professor himself.

Dilip Kumar Chatterjee – DKC for short – was popular for all the wrong reasons. Firstly, he was said to have a comely daughter. Secondly, he was horrendously un-punctual leading to frequent class cancellations. Thirdly, he was – or seemed – as clueless about his subjects as the students he taught! Overall, he seemed to be the sort who could be requested to postpone (or, in the extreme case, cancel) academic requirements without the fear of getting one’s head bitten off.

They knocked on his door and waited. After a few minutes, they peeped in and were greeted by an empty room. It was one of those inexplicable things why they still walked in.
Nabendu marveled at the empty table and the computer which had probably never been switched on. Deepak saw something else – a cupboard towards the far corner of the room which was so stuffed that the door hadn’t closed properly. The papers inside seemed like… he walked over, took out one of the files, glanced through it, stuffed it in his backpack and was out of the room in a flash.

Nabendu caught up with him almost after the jheel. “What the hell did you do?” he asked Deepak after managing to catch his breath.
Deepak took his time to answer. He was panting harder. “Its. A. Mother. Last. Year’s. File. Just. Picked. It. Up. Will. Need. It.”
“What are you saying, bastard?”
High-fives happened before they both left campus with the firm belief that if God does exist somewhere in the universe, he is probably perched on top of the stairs in the Mechanical Engineering department.

* * * * *
Deepak returned the file to Nabendu the next day. He had managed to copy out the entire calculations and the complicated drawing in one marathon night-out. The plan was to finish off both their projects in 48 hours and return the file to the cupboard in DKC’s room. But these things never turn out the way they are supposed to.
For starters, Nabendu decided to gloat over their acquisition to half the University and their maternal cousins. Even batchmates in the Electronics department weren’t spared the details of the ‘daring raid’ – which seemed to grow on every successive retelling and soon resembled one of the dangerous expeditions his father – a senior police officer – undertook.

Very soon, there was a queue of classmates who wanted the ‘mother’ to finish off their projects and it didn’t look like the file was returning to the cupboard anytime soon. Nabendu magnanimously handed over the file to the queue and remained quite satisfied in telling the story again and again. After a point, Deepak lost track of the people who completed their projects from that file and just assumed that Nabendu would have done it as well.

* * * * *
At 9 PM, Deepak was wondering what movie they would be showing on the local cable channel when the phone rang. It was Nabendu.
“Do you have some drawing sheets?” he asked strangely.
“No. Bought and used the last sheet for the Design project”, Deepak replied. “But why do you need it now? We don’t have any other submissions after the…” and then it dawned on him. “Nabendu, you STILL haven’t done the Design project? The submission’s tomorrow!!!”
“What crap? Of course, I have done it. I have copied out the calculations. Now, I only have to draw the damn thing out.”  
“****er, why didn’t you do it earlier? Where will you get drawing sheets now?”
“Shut up. Just because you don’t have it and the Univ shop is closed doesn’t mean drawing sheets have vanished from the city. I will pick some up from the hostel… errr, what’s the 11 PM movie on Jain TV?”
When Deepak put the phone down at 9:32 PM, the Design project was not on his mind. But if it had been, he would have prayed for it to be on Nabendu’s mind as well.

* * * * *
“You got the drawing sheets?” Deepak asked as he saw Nabendu’s smiling countenance come through the nervous group of students assembled outside the professor’s room for the final Design viva.
“Done.” Nabendu smirked.
Having spent much of the last four years with Nabendu, Deepak knew the solution his friend had adopted was not the conventional one. “Show me your drawing”, he demanded.
“Let’s go over to that side. Its emptier.” Nabendu replied with uncharacteristic diffidence.
Subbu, Shamik and Dipanjan had gathered around by now. The vivas were conducted in groups of five and their roll numbers were 90 to 92 while Nabendu and Deepak brought up the rear.

They ambled over to an empty classroom and Nabendu’s brought out his design file. The design calculations were supposed to be the first 20 pages, which were normal A4 sheets while the large thick drawing sheet was folded at the back to fit into the file.
Nabendu’s sheets seemed to be a lot less. Without anyone asking, he volunteered a response – “Have skipped a few steps in between. Who’s gonna check all of it, anyway? Managed it in 12 pages. Had run out of sheets and…”
“…and the Univ store was closed.”
This was not a major problem since project calculations – done under extreme time constraints – of most students were shortened and close scrutiny would reveal many skeletons from the last 4 years.
They turned to the Design drawing at the back of the file.
“Son of a… what is this?” exclaimed Subbu. The drawing sheet seemed to have been taken straight out of Tutankhamun’s tomb. It was creased, frayed at the edges and had duct-tape holding out the folds.
“F***face, what have you done?”
Nabendu was his usual cool self. “Oh, don’t over-react! When I started on this last evening…”
“Why did you start last evening?”
“…I didn’t have any drawing sheet. The store was closed. Nobody in the hostel had any either. On top of that, it was getting late. So, I just erased last year’s name and wrote my name there. Even his roll number was the same as mine…” Nabendu seemed to take this last bit of coincidence as some divine hint that assured him this was the right thing to do.
As they stared at the yellowing papyrus with horror, they could hear their roll numbers being called at the end of the corridor.

* * * * *
The panic had gripped all four of them.
A viva group was susceptible to mood swings of the professor brought about by one bad apple. While none of them were terribly well-prepared, they expected to steer through DKC’s usually calm manner and silly questions with a mix of common sense and obsequiousness. But this cavalier bit of plagiarism had thrown everything off gear.
They filed into the room and took their seats in order of their roll numbers. As they handed in their files, the usual greetings were made with a quiver in the voice.

DKC calmly took their files and started going through them. Many years later, when Deepak first watched a show called Masterchef and saw the judges pause for inordinately long periods before passing judgments, he was immediately reminded of vivas.
DKC went through the first three files with some silly comments and bonhomie, only to be rewarded with nervous grunts. He finally took up Nabendu’s file. He flipped through the pages without too much attention to the details of the calculations.
Then, he came to the drawing. His frowned at the duct-tape as he started to unfold (unravel would probably be more appropriate) the sheet. For the first time in their lives, they heard paper creak!

DKC’s frown slowly turned into round-eyed amazement as he unfolded the ancient parchment to reveal pencil-cravings from ancient times, probably symbolizing some pagan rituals. The group held its collective breath as he carefully examined the description panel on the bottom right of the sheet. The only bright pencil marks on the sheet seemed to be ‘Designed by Nabendu Mitra’ while the name of the original owner was clearly visible under that as Nabendu’s erasing was clearly half-hearted. 
DKC fixed Nabendu with a stare as the other four started admiring the ceiling fan, the window grill, the door stopper and the outdated Bengali calendar on the wall.
“I will ask you a simple question, Nabendu. And you have to answer it truthfully.” DKC solemnly asked. “Did you do this design project yourself?”
If this had been a movie, a gong would have sounded for sure. But only the murmur of the waiting students outside punctuated the silence.
Nabendu cleared his throat before replying, “No, sir. I took the file from that cupboard.”
Cue for louder gong… with echo effect.
Later in his life, when Deepak had attended many marketing workshops, he got to know of a term called ‘moment of truth’. Whatever the real meaning of the phrase was, nothing came closer like the moment at hand.
And DKC decided to lift the dead-weight of the silence with what eventually became the ‘quote of the century’.
“Nabendu, your father is trying his best to stop crimes in this city. And you, yourself, embark on the path of crime…”
Deepak had visions of Nabendu running down an airport runway as his father chased him with a revolver in his hand. But he couldn’t laugh as he was too busy wondering what this statement would lead to?
Expulsion from the University? Repeating the year? What?

* * * * *
Deepak went on to do a MBA and sells soaps for a living now.
Subbu, Shamik and Dipanjan joined software firms after graduation. All of them lead large project teams now.
Nabendu is also a software engineer and is very curious about computer aided design software that don’t require paper to create complicated designs. 

This is a work of fiction.
All characters are fictional. All the described events are figments of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

No Reply

For the last few weeks, I have been calling up offices of several production houses in an effort to source photographs for the book I am writing. Everywhere, people picked up the phone and gave directions on what to do next.
Only the phone at Navketan kept on ringing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thappad ki Goonj: Seven Tight Slaps from Bollywood

On the enquiry of @vicramb and @GabbarSingh after today's momentous event, I decided to compile my list of favourite Bollywood slaps. You see, what we lack currently is a good book that will contain all such quirky and funny lists. If one comes out any time, do remember to pick it up (*ahem*). 
Hindi movies have a profusion of slaps and that tends to reduce the impact over a period of time. Hence, it would be good to look at some of the iconic ones.

So - here goes - in no particular order, a quick list (of which I have managed to dig out the videos of most *clap clap*):

Lage Raho Munnabhai
In a bid to get Atmaram's son to attend his birthday, Munna walks into the son's office and tries to convince him vinamrata se baat karkey. But Vinamrata is a very useless person and usse baat karke koi faydaa toh hota nahin. In fact, the prodigal son threatens to get into fisticuffs since he was a boxing champion. And that's when Munna announces that he is a Lafaa Champion. And proceeds to prove his credentials by slapping the guy to an inch from death.

Mothers and fathers have slapped children quite indiscriminately, especially when caught eloping. But a son slapping a mother is quite unheard of, really!
Aruna Irani - after a lifetime of sucking Anil Kapoor's lifeblood - has a change of heart when Anil lay dying after she poisoned him. She asks her own son to give up the property as her stepson Anil is the rightful owner. Her own son - drunk on impending richness - refuses and when things get ugly, he slaps her. Probably for the time in Hindi cinema, something like this had happened.
And continues to slap her while Aruna Irani screams her lungs out, calling for Anil. You know the rest, right?

In the Subhash Ghai multi-starrer of generational enmities, violence was not uncommon and slaps a little less so.
Nevertheless, Raaj Kumar proceeded to slap Amrish Puri with a satisfying crackling sound (for suggesting Raaj's grand-daughter marry a jerk)! And in a triumph of film editing, Amrish Puri's face almost came apart in a series of cuts.
Never able to explain these in words. See the scene.

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar
JJWS showed college life with a perfect balance of realism and style. And nothing was better depicted than the poor-boy-masquerading-as-rich-boy charade. And when the whole drama fell apart, Pooja Bedi and Aamir Khan had a fight in which both were found guilty of lying to each other. And when Pooja called Aamir  a sham, he called her a 'bloody gold-digger' (which eventually went to become a catch-phrase in our college days). And in retaliation, Pooja Bedi gave Aamir Khan ONE TIGHT SLAP!
Immediately afterwards, Kulbhushan Kharbanda joined in when he discovered his younger son was siphoning off his hard-earned cash and Aamir was given the same - once more!
Incidentally, Aamir pretends he is from the multi-billionaire Thapar family and is referred to as 'Thapar ka beta'!

Yash Chopra's best film had a veneer of style lesser filmmakers can only aspire for. And in the only scene of marginal violence, the style saved the day.
Sridevi's haveli is about to be usurped by his evil cousins who have won a court battle. In order to have her wedding pass off peacefully, Anil Kapoor starts to negotiate a later date for the occupation. The cousin turns out to be a complete jerk and Anil slaps him.
When asked to name his price for delaying the haveli occupation, he says - "chhe din ka chhe lakh. Aur iss thappad ka ek lakh."
Anil Kapoor walks up to him, slaps him thrice, turns to his munimji and says, "inhe 10 lakh ka cheque de dijiye."

What can I say about this scene that has not been said already? It is a thirty-year old film and yet the echo of the slap reverberates in the corridors of our memories.
Iss thappad ki goonj...

In a brilliant but under-rated film, Amitabh Bachchan is pitted against super-criminal Ajay Devgan and in a pre-climax encounter, AB manages to slap Devgan despite being cornered. Ajay has him and his entire police team on gun-point and asks a constable to slap Amitabh, the DCP.
What happens next? Who gets hurt and who does not? Watch the scene, no?
BTW, read this post on Khakee - which points out another scene in Khakee where Tanuja (a convict's mother) slaps AB in a later scene. Amitabh probably has never been slapped so many times in a movie.

So, aap ko kaun sa thappad sabse achha laga?

Updated to add: I have just been informed by the good people of BlogAdda that:

Monday, November 21, 2011

5 Tall Tales that Happened even before the Titles

I have received curt feedback that my previous two posts may well warm the cockles of the Bengali intellectual's heart but this blog may lose its 'mass appeal' (*snigger, snigger*) if I don't churn out a Bollywood post - pronto! 
So, I thought I will kill two birds with one stone. 
1. I will thulp a Godzilla-sized Bollywood post (2500-words). 
2. I will also give a quick update on the book. Book? What book? 
Oh you heartless people - you have forgotten that The Book of Bollywood Lists is in the making and you are expected to purchase large quantities of the book shortly.

Ladies and gentlemen, here is a zeroeth draft of the first chapter of the book (from the time when it still existed in my mind) before stern well-wishers asked me to cut down the length instead of Amazonian rain-forests. That I have... right now, not a single chapter is more than three A4 sized pages. 
Once my editor is done with her gig, it is rumoured that the book might even be readable. 

* * * * * * * * *
The concept of this post owes its origin to Rajorshi Chakrabarti, who propounded it in his essay ‘Perchance to Dream’ in the anthology ‘ThePopcorn Essayists’ (edited by Jai Arjun Singh). Great essay, great collection – BUY it! 

The censor certificate flickers off. 
A ‘Dedicated to the Loving Memory of’ card is followed by garlanded pictures of the producer’s father and/or mother and/or elder brother and/or mentor and/or Mohammed Rafi.
Then we have the Acknowledgments – including (but not restricted to) any or all of the following – financiers’ fiancée, staff of the hotels where the crew stayed, Police Commissioner of the outdoor location, some assorted goons and the caterers who hadn’t been paid yet!
And the first scene comes on.

Oh? Who’s in the film? Who directed it? Who sang the songs? WHAT’S THE NAME OF THE FILM?
Well, this was a device of great popularity till the 1980s – the pre-credit back-story compression – by which directors took economy of expression to a completely new level and said more in these 22 minutes than in the next 222!
In a burst of adrenaline and creativity, they managed to knock off the socio-historical context of film, motivation of the hero and the emergence of the key characters so that the ‘real’ story can begin!

Here is a look at five famous such back-stories – of which three are from the acknowledged master of the device – that could well have been subject of cinematic epics in less creative countries.

Amar Akbar Anthony
The most familiar façade of Bollywood – Central Jail – comes on. We see Kishanlal (in a white driver’s uniform) come out and count the few pennies he has in his pocket.
Kishanlal has bought some gifts and laden with them, he enters a slum only to be informed by the neighbourhood crone that his family is in shambles – sons hungry and wife suffering from TB. When he enters his house, he finds proof of these two assertions by way of a wife coughing, elder sons fighting and youngest son bawling.
A quick flashback reveals that he had gone to jail taking a rap for a hit-and-run accident his boss Robert (pronounced Raabet) had committed. He was promised a ‘jail pension’ by Robert but obviously, that had been forgotten.
Kishanlal leaves home to get his dues from Robert. On his way out, he sees his eldest son burying a toy pistol to hide it from his brother.
He arrives at Robert’s mansion (while the big man is celebrating his daughter’s birthday) and asks for redressal. Robert – obviously in a jolly frame of mind – gets him to polish his shoes before he pays up. When given an anna for his efforts – immediate and past – Kishanlal snatches a gun and shoots at Robert, who remains unharmed because he’s wearing a bullet-proof jacket.
Kishanlal runs to the garage and escapes in a car which has gold biscuits. Robert’s goons chase him. He manages to elude them and get home to pick up his family.
He finds his three sons and a ‘suicide’ note from his wife – who has left to commit suicide because of her debilitating disease. Completely distressed, he leaves with his sons.
To completely escape from Robert’s gang, he deposits his three sons at a park (under Mahatma Gandhi’s statue) and zips off. The eldest son runs after him, gets hit by a speeding car and falls by the roadside. He is picked up by a Hindu police officer. The second one too runs off and takes refuge in a church. A Christian priest takes him in. A Muslim gentleman sees the youngest son in the park and picks him up.
On her way to committing suicide, the mother has a tree fall on her and she loses her eyesight. The same Muslim gentleman rescues her and drops her home (with her own son in the same car – oh, the pathos!) She is devastated to find it empty.
Kishanlal, meanwhile, hoodwinks his pursuers – who think he’s dead – and returns to the park with his booty of gold biscuits but there is no one there.
Years pass as we come to an accident site where a blind flower-lady is hit and urgently needs blood.
A Christian do-gooder takes her to the hospital. At the hospital, there is a Hindu police inspector to lodge the case. A Muslim qawwali singer is also at the hospital flirting with a lady doctor. All of them are found to be the same blood group as the blind lady and they are co-opted to donate some blood.
As the transfusion starts, a doctor asks them their names.
And as the titles come on, they tell us their names… Amar… Akbar… Anthony…

We open in a bus-stop where Namdeo is seeing off his wife and son, John. They are being accompanied on trip by Salma, Mrs Gomes and her daughter, Julie.
At the bus-stop, they are met by John’s best friend, Vicky and his father, Damodar. It is Vicky’s birthday and he insists on being fed a ‘mawa’ cake on this one and every birthday from now on.
After the seeing off, Namdeo and Damodar quickly make way to the restaurant where the former is a waiter. They meet their two other friends – Jaggi and Raghu – who are being badgered for not paying the restaurant’s dues. Namdeo – as a good friend – offers to pawn his three rings to pay of the dues. These three rings have the symbols of Allah, Om and Christ on them and are the gifts from his three wives.
In the meantime, a drunkard is discovered who does not have money to pay his Rs 4 bill. However, he does have a lottery ticket worth Rs 5 and he offers that to the four friends at a 20% discount. Each of them pay one rupee each and draw cards to decide who keeps custody of the ticket. Jaggi wins and gets to keep the ticket.
We cut to the place where Namdeo’s wife, son, Salma, Mrs Gomes and Julie are staying and there’s an earthquake in the night. All of them get trapped in the falling debris.
The next morning, Jaggi wakes up to see his wife and two daughters off. He picks up the newspaper and is delighted to find their ticket no. 112061 has won a huge prize (of indeterminate size). Delirious with joy, he calls up Namdeo, tells him of their good fortune and asks him to land up.
Raghu and Damodar are waiting just outside his door and Raghu walk in immediately after the call. As he stabs Jaggi in the back (literally), the title appears.
We could go on for five minutes after the title and see how Damodar takes pictures of Raghu stabbing Damodar, how Namdeo walks in to get framed for the murder and he gets dumped into the river by his two friends. But that would be cheating. This is supposed to be ‘pre-credits’!

A British government honcho (slyly called Curzon) packs up priceless Indian treasures. When an Indian mob protests, they are gunned down by his henchman (even more slyly called Dyer). One bleeding heart (literally) manages to crawl to the palace of their Raja, Azad Singh – who has just been blessed with a baby boy.
On hearing, the burly Raja gallops off to an airstrip from where Curzon is making an escape, lassoes the tail of the plane and pulls it to a stop. For those reading these lines open-mouthed, let me clarify that the Raja was played by Dara Singh who made this feat look absolutely normal.
The scene changes to a quasi-courtroom presided on by Lady Helena who promises to help Azad Singh’s cause but not before he nearly squashes some of the Britishers and not after the Britishers pump a bullet into him but he escapes.
A half-Indian doctor is bribed to help arrest Azad Singh – who promptly visits the Raja’s secret den to treat his bullet wound. The doctor gives him a sedative and promptly the police throw a perimeter that’s tighter than a gnat’s ass.
Azad Singh now realizes two things – one, his wife and newborn son need to make a break for it. Two, it is supposed to be his son’s naamkaran ceremony. He solves the first issue by getting them on to his trusted steed. He solves the second one by making John Rambo look like a wimp playing with Barbie dolls. He takes out a knife and carves ‘mard’ on his son’s chest as the little tyke giggles! Woo-hoo!!
Azad Singh gets arrested by the British while the horse carries away his wife and son. The wife keeps the son in an orphanage while escaping from pursuing British soldiers and the horse picks the baby up and deposits him with a childless couple. When the mother realizes his son is missing, she promptly loses her voice in shock. *aarrgghh*
Meanwhile, in the British palace grounds, Azad Singh is about to be tortured when he delivers a rousing speech against the British, promising revenge which his infant son hears from the crowd. Lady Helena (see above) arrives to save Azad Singh from death (which was not getting executed by the sissy Britishers anyway) and he is incarcerated for life.
We cut to a decade or two later when the Doctor’s (see above) spoilt daughter zooms off in her car with her bodyguard. She manages to tangle Azad’s wife’s saree in her bumper who can’t complain (see voice loss story above) and drag her off.
Enter a tanga-wallah, who stops the car, beats the bodyguard to a pulp and extracts an apology from the brash girl. When asked for his identity, he tears open his shirt and proudly displays the name etched on his chest – MARD.
And, the title comes on. Amitabh Bachchan As…

The film opens in a courtroom that’s so packed that it looks like a Mumbai local!
The contesting parties are one Mr Ravi Verma and one Sir Juda. The judge solemnly rules that Sir Juda – who was Ravi’s father’s business partner – has not done well by trying to usurp the Vermas’ Ooty property and Ravi is the rightful owner of the same.
Ravi celebrates this verdict by immediately getting into a clinch with his girlfriend, Kamini, right outside the courtroom while Sir Juda’s ominous looks hint that we may not have heard the last of him.
The scene changes to Sir Juda’s den where his lawyer (“Bharat ke sabse mash-hoor vakil, PP Roy”) is summarily executed for losing the case (and suggesting a Supreme Court appeal). We are now made privy to two earth-shattering revelations:
1.      Kamini – the girl in the aforementioned clinch – is a Sir Juda mole (moll?), who is told to become Ravi Verma’s wife by 8th January and his widow by 11th. For the trivially inclined, the date of the scene is 5th January.
2.      Sir Juda is mute (but not dumb, as his admiring henchman Macmohan points out) and communicates by smiling, flexing his voluminous cheek muscles and beating out a tune on glass tumblers with his fingers.
As soon as the advance to Kamini is paid, she gets hitched to Ravi Verma in a mandir as her brother puts on a hyper-happy façade marrying off the two.
As they leave the mandir, we cut to Ravi’s palatial mansion where his mother is presiding over a major round of spring-cleaning to celebrate her only son’s only marriage. We are also introduced to Ravi’s sister, who does the usual simpering sibling routine templated by Farida Jalal.
The newly married couple drives down to their Ooty estate in a jeep (with a ‘Just Married’ heart on the front), his favourite tune plays on the stereo and all is well with the world. Till the car radiator runs dry and Ravi gets off to fill a can of water. 
And – to the accompaniment of clanging music – Kamini runs him over (again and again) in front an idol of Kali.
There is much chest-beating and head-banging at Ravi Verma’s mansion as the mother threatens goddess Kali that she cannot take away a mother’s son at such an inopportune moment and wants her son back. As her shrieks reach a crescendo, the titles start.
As the titles go on, a solemn voiceover reminds us that a mother’s sincere wishes are never unheard and as years pass, we have one Monty who’s the ‘inheritor’ of Ravi Verma’s curse (or Karz).
As Monty bursts on to a stage (helpfully marked 1980) and starts singing the first hit song of the film – Paisa yeh paisa – the titles keep on coming…

Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak
The film opens in the estate of landowner Jaswant Singh, who has just received an invitation to attend the wedding of Ratan Singh, the younger son of Thakur Raghuveer Singh. We are introduced to his ‘city-educated’ younger brother, Dhanraj Singh.
In a family scene, Jaswant’s brother-in-law – Bhagwan Das – tells him of the possibility of moving to Delhi and expanding his textile business. In this conversation, the wedding of Ratan Singh comes up causing some discomfort to their younger sister, Madhumati.
The scene moves to the haveli of Raghuveer Singh where great festivity is on. Benarasi sarees and elaborate jewelry are being purchased, with Ratan Singh being an active part of it. In between the bonhomie, Ratan comes out for an errand and sees Madhu striding purposefully towards his haveli. Despite the fact that he has impregnated her, he tries to wriggle out of his past promises. His offer to go into town and abort the baby is met with the familiar indignation sisters of Hindi films are hard-coded with. 
Madhu leaves in tears but Ratan’s mother overhears this conversation.
On hearing their sister’s plight, Jaswant and Dhanraj go to Raghuveer Singh and plead for the marriage to happen but they are insulted before being turned away. The confrontation is not helped by Ratan's own flat denial of the affair. Ratan’s mother tries to intervene citing the overheard conversation but she is ignored.
After returning home, the two brothers decide to escape their impending ignominy in the village by selling off their properties and move to Delhi. After Jaswant leaves to meet a prospective buyer, Madhumati is discovered with slit wrists.
And this becomes too much for the hot-headed Dhanraj.
Ratan Singh is about to leave with his wedding procession when Dhanraj Singh enters with Madhumati’s dead body. He reminds Ratan of the broken promise ("tumhare vaade ke mutabik isse aaj tumhara dulhan banna chahiye tha...") and announces that there’s going to be more than one corpse. With that, he shoots Ratan and all hell breaks loose. 
And as Dhanraj Singh takes aim once again, doomsday hits the two families and the titles come on.
Quite ominously, the title seems to suggest there will be one more doomsday in the future.

* * * * * * * * *
So, what do you think? 
If I tell you the edited chapter is, say, 23 million times (*cough cough*) better than this draft, will you buy this book? 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray and an Appeal for Sandesh

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

In the second instalment of tracing the art of Ray, I have just put together examples of magazine cover design. Ray's favourite format of design was to experiment with the fonts & typography of the magazine's title. For two magazines, he did this with an incredible inventiveness.
The first was Eksan (Now), a literary magazine edited by Soumitra Chatterjee (among others). The second was Sandesh (the famous Bengali mithai, also meaning news) - which was Ray's family enterprise started by his grandfather and revived by him.

But first, another angle of his versatility.
Being approachable, Ray got thousands of requests for contributions to magazines, anthologies and special issues - which he refused only on extenuating circumstances. For example, somebody approached him for an article on Pablo Picasso for a special issue on the legendary artist. Ray refused since he was in the middle of shooting a film.
But being the bhadralok he was, he got a little embarrassed by the disappointment of the people who came to him. He offered to sketch a portrait of Picasso for their cover.
Totally delighted, the magazine's publishers asked when they should come to pick up the sketch. He asked them to wait, picked up his drawing book and drew out the portrait you see here.

For Eksan, he also did quite a few portraits for special issues on a really diverse group of people. The three I found have Karl Marx, Manik Bandopadhyay (a fantastically, under-rated Bengali novelist) and Alighieri Dante on their covers!

All the covers of Eksan were radically different despite being essentially reprisals of the same three letters. Using the concept of negative space, different styles (from ancient scriptures to modern) and motifs, he made them look completely fresh.

And then, we have Sandesh - which follows the same principle as above but the visual imagery is completely different, keeping the audience in mind. Sandesh being read - and occasionally eaten - was the leitmotif here.

Sandesh ran almost entirely on Ray's creative output as he illustrated entire issues of the magazine, wrote stories and novellas, created puzzles and brain-teasers, judged contests and even answered fan-mail. His involvement can be summed up by the opening paragraph of this article by Sandipan Deb.

I met Satyajit Ray only once, when I was seven years old. Like every month, my father had taken me to the office of Sandesh, the children's magazine that Ray co-edited, to collect my copy. We rang the bell, and the door was opened by the tallest man I had ever seen. Far above me hung a huge face seemingly carved out of granite, which now turned and called inside in a voice of distilled thunder: "Mini-di, here's a subscriber of yours." (Mini-di, or Nalini Das, was Ray's cousin, whose home doubled as the Sandesh office.) As we waited, my father kept prodding me in the back: "Ask him, ask him!" So, finally, shyly, I did. "I sent in a story three months ago..." I squeaked to this unknown giant. (Sandesh had a section which carried the literary efforts of its underage readers.) "What's it called?" asked Ray. I told him. "I'll see," he said, and we left. The next month, the story was published in Sandesh.

The office that he talks about was a rambling building on Rashbehari Avenue, not very far away from my home in Calcutta. Every time I walked past this building, I imagined Ray to be somewhere inside - maybe hunched over proofs or changing some element of the typesetting.
In a comment on the earlier post, Sue mentioned that the office was being demolished and I have felt incredibly sad ever since. Here was a place which I can literally call my Palace of Memories and that was going to make way for - presumably - a swanky apartment block.
I wondered how apt it would have been (and a friend echoed my thoughts later on) to build a Feluda Museum in that plot.
I have no clue of the property prices of South Calcutta but surely, it couldn't have been too difficult for a million Feluda fans to contribute a small amount each and make it happen through a publicly funded trust? I believe a Feluda Museum will easily draw enough footfalls to be run profitably through ticket prices and merchandise sales.

Tintin has many museums and even parks dedicated to him. Surely, Feluda deserves his spot under the sun too...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Art of Satyajit Ray... 1

Images courtesy: Satyajit Ray Film & Study Centre - University of California, Santa Cruz

Recently, Blaft Publications (in their Twitter avatar, @blaftness) put up some antique Bengali book covers. While their dated value was undeniable, they were not really the 'classic' variety or the best of cover design. In fact, any discussion of cover designs for Indian books cannot exclude Satyajit Ray. So, I managed to pick out some covers designed by Ray from this wonderful collection.
I had come across some of these covers (on real books!) when I was a child and while I marveled at some of them, I did not know they were designed by Ray.

Some of these covers are for stars of Bengali literature while some of them are for unknown books. But the attention to detail, the play with typography and the connect to the content are present in each of the designs. I wanted to present them without comment but for the non-Bengali reader, a bit of description becomes absolutely necessary.

Aam Aantir Bhnepu is a part (about a third) of Bibhutibhushan's classic, Pather Panchali, which (roughly) corresponded to the plot of Ray's film. It was while illustrating a children's version of this book that he discovered the film. The cover has all the simplicity of an idyllic village life that distinguished the film.

Abanindranath Tagore, unfortunately, has to be introduced as Rabindranath Tagore's nephew. He was not only one of the major Bengali artists but an amazing author for children.
The following cover is for his autobiography, Apon Katha, and has a simple - yet perfect - portrait of the author.

Along with the above, I would put the cover of Raj Kahini - which was a rendering of the historical tales of Rajputana and its valiant rulers. As kids, we all got to know of the honour & valour of the Ranas from this wonderful. (If you want to convince your kids Chhota Bheem is not the bravest bloke around, you can pick up the book here.)

Talking of bravehearts, I have written about Shankar of  Chnader Pahad earlier. This cover for the book brings out the dangers of African jungles and a single boy's adventures quite chillingly. (My father and aunt had this book, which I read as a kid and never realised it was Ray cover).

The following book cover is by a completely unknown (at least for me). But Suruchi Senguptar Sreshtho Golpo is a collection of short stories, with the words of the title presented like the flowers in an arrangement.  

Lila Majumdar - another stalwart of children's literature in Bengali - wrote this book called Tong Ling (which I haven't read) for which the cover is a wonderful play of the Bengali fonts as two letters have become the eyes of sort of scary character.

The next book on - as is evident - Charlie Chaplin was written by Mrinal Sen has a lovely sketch of the auteur-actor on the cover. And it highlights how one top director lent his skills for the project of another (despite having many professional differences).

Banalata Sen is the most enigmatic woman in Bengali literature and the cover of the book of poems (containing the poem about her) keeps her exactly that way.

Bede (pronounced bay-day with a soft d) has a wonderfully done play of the two Bengali syllables put together almost like mirror images. 

And finally, an eternal favourite - Khai Khai - by Sukumar Ray (who's also, unfortunately, only Satyajit's father for non-Bengalis). It is a simple re-creation of the title which, literally (but inadequately) means "Eat Eat"!

That's the first 10. Any other suggestions / links? 

As you can see, I have every ambitiously numbered this post as  '1'. Evidently, more such posts are being planned. Hopefully, one for magazine covers and logos and one more for covers and illustrations from his own books.