Thursday, October 25, 2007

Romancing the Trap

A quadrilateral with two parallel sides - that's a trapezium (according to the brits; the yankees don't think so).

However this geometry lesson has little to do with the fair & lovely set. The trapezium outlined in the Google Earth image above is the part of Belghoria (in the northern suburbs of Kolkata) where I grew up, early 60s to late 70s.

There were occasions when what lay within the 'trap' stood for me as the very image of stagnant, uncelebrated decline. But on other occasions, especially till one's primary school, the limits of the quadrilateral (and further afield) held for me the very real promise (often fulfilled) of adventure and pleasure.
to be continued ... ... ...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Trikon Ka Chautha Kon

That's M.R. Sasidharan on the left, Nagarajan Lingam in the middle and Sagar Sangam Sarkar on the right. On a beautiful day in 1983 five innocents learn the ropes - of still photography and beyond.

The person behind the camera is yours truly and the one snipped out of the original image (she was standing further right) as a hurt afterthought is the one yours truly was happily chasing till a Bajaj M-50 arrived on the scene. Rest is Wisdom Tree.

FTII, Pune. First week of the first semester. The forest near the boys' hostel.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Har Fikr Ko Dhuen Mein Uda ...

I have been smoking, nearly continuously, since my second year at FTII (84-85). I must have been 24 then - a reasonably unpunctual age for getting hooked (did not smoke or drink through either higher secondary or college ! - actually all the 'consequential' events in my life have happened years later than when they were expected to unfold - I am a tale forever behind schedule).

This 7th May, on my niece Priyanka's engagement day, I kicked the smoking habit (it was more of a coincidence - my throat was once again acting bad).

It's now been more than five months and temptation sometimes seems perilously close and feasible (even reasonable). The only protection in my pocket - sparkling smile Happydent White.

photo by chinmayi arakali

Friday, October 12, 2007

Of Poppadoms and Marmalades …

I visited UK in 2003, to attend a week-long course in 'Writing for Television' conducted by the Arvon Foundation ( at Moniack Mhor (, a Writers' Centre situated in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, fourteen miles off the city of Inverness.

I arrived at Moniack Mhor around 9.30 pm in the night, on a Sunday, towards the end of July 2003. Bright daylight, a deserted dark cottage and curious sheep grazing in the adjoining rolling fields greeted me.

Earlier in the day, early morning in fact, I had arrived at Heathrow International Airport, London after a monotonous & tiring flight from Mumbai, with a longish break for a changeover at Abu Dhabi.

It took me a subsequent eight hours train journey through England and Scotland to reach Inverness, the main city of Scottish Highlands. I travelled without having made a prior booking. However one could find a vacant unreserved seat without much hassle. That was a surprise.

Another surprise was that one could keep the larger pieces of one’s luggage in the unlocked space provided near the coach entrance without bothering about their safety. In fact the lady in the seat next to me was quite amused to find me checking the health of my suitcase (kept near the door) at every station the train halted.

She turned out to be the granddaughter of the person who had founded the Glasgow Film Theatre, then called Cosmo, in the 1940s. Later in my travel, post Moniack Mhor, I was scheduled to visit the Glasgow Film Theatre!

The taximan at Inverness, a tall well-built genial Scot with an accent, was waiting for me at the station with a Moniack Mhor placard. His friendliness made me feel less nervous about the forthcoming overnight stay all alone in an unfamiliar land in the middle of nowhere.

I had actually arrived a night earlier than the scheduled course beginning. The original plan of staying overnight in Inverness itself was foiled due to unavailability of hotel accommodation, it being a weekend. Hence the Moniack Mhor people had graciously offered me their space instead. The only catch was that there wasn’t going to be anybody around.

“We will leave the house key in the post box on the wall outside the office. We will leave a note on the table telling you which bedroom you have, and we will see you Monday morning about 9:30. Enjoy the peace and quiet” - they had said.

So here I was, near the end of my FIRST day in UK, searching for the keys of an isolated Scottish farmhouse, seemingly situated miles away from civilization & help, in broad daylight at night!

The course proper began the next day in the evening. There were 12 participants in all (though there was room for 16), 10 of them being women. The other man beside me was a Scot working as a manager in a multinational firm in Hongkong. Most of the women were in their late 30s or early 40s. Many of them were mothers of young children, the majority living away from their former husbands.

The youngest participant was a college student, in her early 20s, studying History of Art. The oldest was in her 60s, a folk & cabaret singer by profession. Few of the participants were school teachers. Some others were working in the media, in the non-creative side. One woman worked as a driver of a tourist double-decker bus in Glasgow.

It was interesting to see this mix, from all over UK. One wondered what drew this heterogeneous group to Writing for Television. And all of them found my presence, having come all that distance from India, equally intriguing.

Initially getting used to their accents was a problem for me. Though English is spoken in many different tongues in India, and one is used to negotiating a wide variety of speech eccentricities in one’s own country, the English of the English (especially in a rapid-fire conversation) took some relearning. And the Scots speak the language in a different but fascinating folksy way. Thus an ordinary ‘Hi’ becomes a melodious ‘Hi-yay’.

The two tutors Marc Pye and Mamie Lang started by showing episodes of some of the television serials they had written for - principally HIGH ROAD, a soap opera (Marc & Mamie), and THE BILL, a cop drama (Marc). They also shared some of their work experiences in the field.

Both had made it in writing after a long struggle. Mamie’s story was particularly inspiring. She started writing only in her mid 50s. Before that she had been a nun, a mother, a singer, a snooker hall entrepreneur and many other sundry things in between. Hers had been a hard life, but her constant energy & cheerfulness hardly betrayed that.

In fact what distinguished both the tutors was their willingness (in fact, positive enthusiasm) to listen and to share. Their course didn’t really have a formal structure (I would have preferred a more specifically laid-out roadmap, what with some of the participants being beginners) but they tried to be useful by being available for one to one tutorials as & when and as often required. Since they were also residing on campus, it included late-night sessions as well.

Thus the course was largely participants driven. Marc tried initiating the rank beginners by giving a simple seed plot (a bald boy taunted by classmates ultimately triumphs as the rest catch head lice) to write a script on. Later he shared his own version of the script.

Marc and Mamie, 2nd & 3rd from left; Stevie, 3rd from right

I faced a block while trying to write. Having been teaching scriptwriting myself, I became self-conscious about the responsibility. Plus, all the ideas coming to me lent themselves more to a one-off movie rather than a TV series. Also the incredibly beautiful surroundings (the air smelt pure oxygen and the wind softly whistled through the nearby pine forest, leaving a delicate trail of divine silence occasionally interrupted by the distant of grazing sheep) was proving to be a distraction.

As the course drew to a close, some participants did manage to reach the end of their (short) film scripts. The credit for that must be shared with the tutors. Mamie Lang was almost like a fond mother. One day, seeing my plight at being daily saddled with the British version of vegetarian food (principally, boiled potatoes in various garbs), she quietly drove down to the nearest small town and bought packaged Indian curry from the local supermarket for my benefit.

I remember the loud peals of laughter (loudest of them being Mamie Lang’s) which illuminated the desolate beauty of Moniack Mhor for those five days, lending camaraderie and purpose to a disparate group. Many of the single mothers participating in the course led otherwise difficult lives (there was real-life drama midway through the course, when one of the ex-husbands angrily called up castigating his former wife for leaving the child behind). It was wonderful to see them loosen up and enjoy their creativity.

Kirsten, the tough one

An appropriate reaffirmation of the bonhomie that was generated during the course was the play/film script MANIACK MOOR (a deliberate pun on Moniack Mhor) that was enacted on the last night, with all the participants (and the two tutors) reading out a specific character’s lines from the play. The play was penned by Stevie (one of the single mothers) as part of her learning through the week.

It was a funny piece, about a group of unsuspecting unrelated hopefuls visiting a spooky writers’ retreat for a course and being tricked into eating the wrong marmalade twice over, with unexpected hilarious consequences. I spoke out the part of ‘Ranjit Kapoor’ - the famous Indian writer, who writes top stuff and who is fond of spicy poppadoms (British for papads or papadams), which are so hot that no British constitution could possibly take them and survive.

A version of this article first appeared in 'Cut Here' - the NID Moving Image Magazine ( Photos 1 & 3 by Arun Gupta; photo 2 source Marc Pye.

Monday, October 08, 2007

My Complete Profile: New & Improved

A product of Hindi-speaking North Indian parentage, Bengali-speaking Kolkata upbringing, Marathi-speaking FTII nurture and Gujarati-speaking NID evolution (and now a Kannada-speaking hangover), Arun Gupta is quite a confused desi. The fact that he is married to an ethnic Bong from Mumbai adds to this delectable mess.

Arun loves the Moving Image, but in his view the Sound came first, followed by the Word and subsequently the Image. Hence he lives in a permanent inferiority complex vis a vis the Musical, the Literary and the Photographic Arts. However he draws consolation from the fact that it is in Cinema these varied art forms find an (un)holy union.

As he grows older, Arun is increasingly drawn to the beauty of the commonplace and the everyday. And he is a memory freak – his memory is falling but he increasingly remembers ‘the obvious necessity to forget’.

The sketch is by one of my ex-students Sreejith Paul - he had drawn caricatures of ALL his teachers, for one annual convocation display. Most of the text was originally written for an aborted faculty profiles publication.

Look Ma, I Wrote A Song !

Once upon a time, I wrote this for a filmmaker friend.
He was polite. I did not like that.

Shahar Hei So Gaya
Safar Bhi Neend Mein
Ye Bhole Raaste
Yoon Saath Chal Pade

Woh Chand Chupke Bhi
Lage Hei Kyon Khila
Chupa Chupi Ka Yei
Ajab Hei Silsila

Thami Imaratein
Rooki Ye Khidkian
Subah Ki Aas Mein
Unidin Shyahiyan

Samay Ki Daur Ko
Chala Mein Laangh Ke
Mein Uske Peeche Hoon
Ya Uske Samne ?

Mein Uske Peeche Hoon
Ya Uske Samne ?

Now since I am at it, let me give you another one.
The same friend was equally polite about this one as well.

Tees Ke Uspaar Kashti
Tairne Ki Ab Tameej
Chand Kinare Saath Aye
Par Chahiye Kuch Aur Bhi

Karakasha Rahon Se Gujre
Peeche Peeche Pyar Ke
Nafraton Ke Dum Nibhaye
Par Chahiye Kuch Aur Bhi

Par Chahiye Kuch Aur Bhi
Par Chahiye Kuch Aur Bhi

Can I give you one more ?
(this one misfired badly, in the long run)

Uski Ankhen Kuch
Kehna Chahati Hein Shayad
Kankhiyon Se Bakhabar
Rehna Chahti Hein Shayad

Wo Jhijhakana Wo
Moohn Chupane Ki Ada
Dosti Ke Hak Ada
Karna Chahati Hein Shayad

Kankhiyon Se Bakhabar
Rehna Chahti Hein Shayad

Uski Ankhen Kuch

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Apne Moohn Mian Mithhu or The Art of Blowing One's Own Trumpet

I like being praised.

Teachers ought to be praised. Because that probably is the only asset they would manage to build in a lifetime. They are the monks who can never hope to buy or sell any ferraris.

This is one of my ex-students (no, neither Lekha nor Chinmayi !) talking about the scriptwriting course I took with her batch some years back -

"Cava! And thus he spoke the first word in class ...

The strings and strings of words that followed made so much sense that I felt I had learnt a lot in the very first class. In my opinion, the faculty could not have been better than this.

What was most interesting was the way the faculty handled all types of writing by students. It was the most unbiased approach. If everybody’s leg was pulled in class, everybody was also appreciated equally. Nobody was made to believe lesser than the other and I am sure everybody walked out of the class optimistic of his or her writing skills. At least, I did.

The faculty also gave us constructive criticism which I have not encountered in this place at all. If something was not upto mark in the assignments that we submitted, the faculty not only criticised it but also gave us alternative suggestions which made our minds work on different tangents to find out alternative solutions ...

I am not blushing.

Now the flip side of the coin, this time from another of my ex-students, in an other scriptwriting course -

"I’m really happy that u criticized me but there wasn’t anything special in ur feed back because I know I have a problem with my English language and I told u from the beginning of it also. And I’m working hard for it. Then you gave me an A in punctuality sorry to say I wasn’t punctual at all so I don’t deserve it, then you gave me B+ for motivation where I deserve more than that because I was injured and my leg was plastered and my doctor tolled me to take rest but I came to ur class. Unfortunately u couldn’t see it. any way I m not here to become an A+ guy. And I’m also not attending any personality development course. U said I’m rigid in learning I will be only rigid when somebody say that you can’t go to that way you have to go this way then I will ask why not? if that person can’t answer it or convince me I will explore the way which he told me not go or he have to allow me to explore the way. Because this is the only time I can explore more and make mistakes and learn from that. The day I pass out from here I can’t do it with somebody else’s money, time, energy etc. before that I have to explore every thing and I’m not afraid of committing mistakes ... In my all life so many people told me that you can’t do that it’s impossible, that is not possible etc when I explored things I was right ... I thing you should read Robert frost’s poem “Road not taken”. You always tolled me that I have to open if I m open you are also bound to be open because I don’t believe in one side opened road. You used the word I’m talent and a made for a movie person to hear these words about me I been working hard for a long time it didn’t came in one day and its not the way you described me that I’m impatient and jumping to achieve the goal. I admit that I was little bit impatient completing my assignments because I can’t sit more than one hour hanging my plastered pain full leg on top of my computer and think creative and type words with all my spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes. If you are taking my physical problem with my attitude then I can’t help it. If you want to tell something to me tell straight foreword don’t go like “you have very good skill and visualization but you have these problems, that problems also. I’m not impressed by telling that I’m talented or I have done a good work I’ll be happy if you talk about my lacking and mistakes so that I can cover it. Tell me directly what problem I have, don’t appreciate first and then take my case. It won’t help me in my learning. With all respect to you sorry to say but you always do this cheap trick ..."

I am still not blushing.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mysuru Days

This year I have been to Mysore thrice already. First time, in February, it was for conducting a Film Appreciation Workshop. The subsequent occasions, in June and September respectively, I was conducting Script Writing Workshops. All three times the location was the tranquil & unhurried Dhvanyaloka (Centre for Indian Studies).

My faithful and tireless co-conspirators in these ventures have been two amazing young people - Chinmayi (first from right, with a chunni) and Pavan (seventh from left, in white shirt).

Chinmayi, like Lekha (mentioned in an earlier post), is a former student of mine. Ideologically grounded and sensitive, Chinmayi has an intrinsic reservoir of talent which she is shy of acknowledging.

Pavan is a Fine Arts graduate and Photographer, whose creative output showcases an admirable eye for detail, in compositions which unobtrusively seek out inexplicit relationships.

photos by pavan k j

Monday, October 01, 2007

Upwardly Mobile

This is Lekha (Washington), at a busy crossroads in Mysore. And that's me looking up admiringly at her.

I am quite fond of her, though she is a wee bit fonder of attention en general. She was one of my brighter students; quite a rebel, often with a cause.

Now she is acting as female lead in one of the upcoming big-budget mainstream Tamil films (having already become a popular model and VJ in Chennai). is the link to two of her fine student films on YouTube. Go watch them.
photo by pavan k j