Monday, December 14, 2009

NID Convocation 2009

Main... samay hoon...

Parde ke neeche

Group photo

The Russians were here

KGB revealed

all photos: Arun Gupta

Friday, October 16, 2009

The New Claim To Fame

Times of India, Ahmedabad (16th October, 2009)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Bandra Blues: Part-1

The bus stop on Linking Road still celebrates Bandra Talkies. Behind is Shoppers Stop, the mega store which replaced it. 

---- ---- ----

I remember Bandra Talkies faintly. From early 80s onwards, since I shifted to FTII in Pune, and post it.

The squat building occupied a large piece of open land, little off the tri-junction of S.V. Road, Linking Road and Turner Road, visibly conjoining the first two, and probably facilitating a shortcut.

I don't remember having seen a film there, but it was a reassuring reminder then to the casual passerby that a way of (FSI greed free) life still found breathing space in the otherwise ruthlessly efficient & mercantile rush of Bombay.

---- ---- ----

Bandra itself had always been something of an attractive enigma. From one's childhood (in distant, ramshackle Kolkata) one had heard of Pali Hill (along with the Juhu-VileParle Scheme), where the filmi folks lived (actually lived !). For some reason Bandra of the imagination always consisted of well-tarred, tree lined, relaxed avenues, surrounded by elegant bungalows and tasteful lowrise flats, populated by genial, never-in-want-of-money English-speaking fair Anglo-Indians.

Perhaps it were the astute Gujaratis,  sinewy Punjabis and grandiloquent Bengalis (who dominated the Hindi film industry) who were the chief residents of this thus blessed suburb in those times. Perhaps they never spoke English (or spoke it self-conscious desi, like us). Perhaps the Christian community was black, and poor. Perhaps the roads did have an occasional pothole. But the contradictions never struck one. Not then, home alone in Belghoria...

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Prisoner and his cellmates

I was happy. I had just been told that my name came in the credits twice - once as script advisor and once in special thanks.

'See, my students don't forget me' - I told my spouse triumphantly. We had of late been discussing my (skewed) priorities in life, and I had been losing the argument much too often.

(the balloon's inflated state was to be partially altered later, when I saw that my claims to fame were embedded in a hurrying, rolling set of end-credits)

"Siddharth - The Prisoner", a feature film by Pryas Gupta, was released last friday. Pryas is an ex-student of mine and this story was originally going to be his diploma project, and I was going to be his academic guide. The year was 2005.

Time, as is its chronic habit, passed. Meanwhile we did discuss several early drafts of his film's script. Some samples -

Saturday, July 02, 2005

I have just read the first draft of your script. I quite like it. In fact, it has all the possibilities of evolving into a very engaging & sensitive piece of work.

My guess is, it will take you around 45 minutes or more, to tell this story, in its present form.

I think the two principal characters are well imagined, along with the plot, setting, mood and conflict. However, the film will gain if you reduce the gangster action/externally manifested action elements as much as possible, especially towards the end (the threat of action or action offscreen with an air of uncertain outcome is more powerful).

Possibly, the CITY can play an even greater role in the development of the narrative, character and emotional tone.

The old man friend of Roy is necessary and useful for the development of the story, but the context/logic of his existence is not sufficiently seemless. The wife who deserted Roy needs to be a stronger presence (in her absence).

Its not really important to know what Roy and Mohan actually did, after discovering the mutual cheating. Obtusely hinted, uncertain, future directions could work better.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I read your reworked script. It reads well. Some of the changes/additions you have done (children bursting crackers in front of cyber cafe, bai and her lover, KBC and Aastha channel, Bai walking past Mohan and the Guard, Mohan pulling the trigger but no bullet, old book with dried flowers, etc) work well as well.

However, the proposed length (90 mins) seems long for the story. I still think 45-60 mins will be ideal.

Why does Mohan blow in the ear of a co-passenger in the local train, in the beginning ? What do you want to establish and why ?

Why do the wind chimes rattle as the Writer walks in the cyber cafe (and, why wind chimes) ?

The initial Bai sequences (2 stealings and a lover) are ok. But the last one, after 15 days, when she says she is not coming back, is unnecessarily schematic.

The initial Mohan and his sister Geeta sequence is inconsistent in terms of Mohan's state of mind. And Geeta is unnecessarily cute.

The Old Man (mysterious family friend of Writer) still seems deliberately put in, only to move the plot forward. His existence in this story and his characterisation seem awkward.

The Writer getting into a wordy explanation - "Galti meri hi thi - mein kitaab time par khatam nahin kar paya..." seems out of character.

Neha and Anita being definitely dead is not such a nice thing. Uncertainty about their whereabouts and welfare would have been more powerful.

The coincidence of the Writer buying Ganja from Bai Lover is very schematic. So is Rosy Bar 500-rupee like flyer.

The end is a confusing maze. The Writer tends to Mohan but cheats him - why ? Has the Bai taken all the money - very convenient (therefore, not nice). Mohan cheats Writer but does not cheat the Gangster - why ? The Writer chooses not to open the manuscript, after cheating Mohan for it - why ?

Monday, December 19, 2005

A quick reply. I read your latest script once. I plan to read it once more soon before giving you my feedback in some detail. But the script already sounds pretty good. You improve with each draft.

The budget seems quite ambitious. Where are you getting the money from ? Are you planning a proper feature film, etc. ?

The one which flew over the cuckoo's nest...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Belghoria Babes: Part One

Biva, Mukti, Roopmandir - they were called. Named after a wife, a daughter, a desire perhaps...

And we were enchanted.

Much later, one fine winter day, a search began for lost treasures - in that now-not-so-decrepit suburb.

That things were worth treasuring was discovered in retrospect. Way back it was just everyday uneventful life - thodi khushi, thoda gum.

I grew up in Belghoria - a suburb of Kolkata. I had a love-hate relationship with that luckless piece of mother earth. I loved my late-sixties early-seventies childhood there, amidst friends, fights and food (mom's food!). But adolescence and teens were different. A burning desire to take a leap of faith, in spite of hard evidence to the contrary, made escape such a necessity.

And cinema was one such - only I did not know it then. Films gave sound and image to secret I-dare-not longings. That's how life could be lived; was lived...

Cut to 2nd December, 2008. Just past noon.

Accompanied by a (relatively) young para friend Raja, I reach Kamarhati. Kamarhati was (still is) a ghetto of Hindi-speaking Bihari Muslim industrial labour, some 2-3 kilometres from home - an oddity in a largely Bengali speaking refugee milieu.

We are looking for Mukti cinema hall. The last time I was here must have been aeons ago. One used to pass this way everyday, in the school bus, enroute the pretend English-medium pretend St. Xaviers', run by that enterprising superannuated babu popularly called Teko (Baldy - after the nature of absences on his pate. Teko's son was my classmate and my principal hush-hush rival for the expected affections of Ms Jonali, a bespectacled bong beauty in the same class.)

Mukti on B.T. Road (Barrackpore Trunk Road - the most important thoroughfare in the neighbourhood, linking Shyambazar in Kolkata proper to the mouldering suburbs, in an excruciatingly no-hurry, free-for-all sweaty manner) showed only Hindi films. Naturally so, it seems now, given the neighbourhood. I must have also visited it on occasions, as it was the biggest movie theatre in & around Belghoria (Biva was smaller; and Roopmandir, still more small, screened only Bengali) .

But Mukti was also more working class. Hence a large chunk of the moviegoing public, comprising of middle-class (or barely-so) housewives, would probably have kept their distance.

Coming back to December 2nd, 2008. Just past noon.

The busy Kamarhati crossroads, filled with amplified cacophonous sounds of local comrades, exhorting people (in a funny cocktail of Hindified Bengali & vice versa) to obey traffic rules and (newly installed) traffic lights (few days back there have apparently been fatalities) seems unfamiliar. And where is that huge, ornate structure?

"Flad Hoye Gaychhe" says one (has been flattened).

True enough, there is no Mukti. Only a tame, even piece of overgrown barricaded land, behind which stands a newly-built apartment complex. Flad Hoye Gaychhe!

Where the apartment complex is, there used to be watery land and cowsheds (khataals)... is my memory playing tricks... there were khataals all over these suburbs, surrounded by stagnant water - khataals manned by hardy invisibles from Bihar.

We investigate in the apartment complex. One curious lady calls us over. In her forty plus bourgeois boudi way she lets out her repugnance for the kind of place Mukti was - popular (Hindi) films and common folk. She anyway shifted here from elsewhere, once the flats were built, relatively recently.

Mukti closed down few years back. Towards the end it was in bad shape, with declining revenues and dishonest staff. The empty prime land still awaits a buyer (probably because of internecine litigation).

The now dead owner Suren Das was a Bengali, who lived near the river Hooghly, nearby. Mukti was the name of his eldest daughter. He had nine daughters. And one son (or was it, one step-son?). Mukti stays in Barrackpore.

We were to know all this dope a little later. Right now one was disappointed. And feeling cheated.

So we decided to go to the Ganga (Hooghly, if you please). The cycle-rickshaw ride to the nearest Ghat (Pituri) took us through the inner lanes of Kamarhati (unremarkable, like any other, in a similar state of precipitous survival). However I remembered our school bus travelling these lanes, nearly forty years back, to the Jute Mill compound by the river. The Mills on the Hooghly were originally built by the White Man, and the residences therein still reflected colonial pleasure principals.

The Kamarhati Jute Mill compound of my memory was elegant, spacious and clean - an acute contrast to the native ghetto just outside. It would have been interesting to check it out, four decades hence.

Instead one reached the river, past the Muslim living quarters, to the Hindu one. And got talking.

The cycle-rickshaw which brought us here was peddled by Muhammed Murtaja (in his early thirties?). He has been a Kamarhati resident since birth, and remembers sneaking in for free in Mukti film screenings as a young one. Probably it was the phase when Mukti was already set downhill.

Everybody seems to know about Suren Das (the now-at-peace ex-owner of Mukti), whose original house it seems is just round the corner. And everybody has some gossip to share on the subject.

So we sit down with Satyajit Patra and his friends, and over burnt-clay cups of tea (the tab on him, at his insistent insistence) he narrates what we want.

Satyajit, who seems like an unencumbered young idler (and whose father was apparently working in Mukti), has been eyeing us as we were talking to Muhammed Murtaja. He is curious, and very soon friendly (in this city of often unanticipated joys, everybody loves luck-by-chance conversations).

Meanwhile the great river, in low tide, flows sluggishly by, past a somnambulant group of assorted mortals. Beyond, on the far shore, one can see a row of brick kilns. A rickety half-filled ferry drops anchor.

Top left and right: flattened ground where Mukti once stood.
ottom left: Muhammed Murtaja with his cycle-rickshaw, at Pituri Ghat.
om right: Satyajit Patra in the tea-shop
by the river.

THE BIG PICTURE (from Google Earth)
Top right circle: my para Nandan Nagar Govt. Qrts, and its resident pond.
Top left circle: Biva.
Bottom c
ircle: Roopmandir.

Right circle:
Nandan Nagar Govt. Qrts .
Middle circle: Mukti.
Extreme left: Hooghly, with its turbid load.
Photoshop help: Siddharth Gautam Singh, Shradha Jain

Monday, February 16, 2009

24 times 70

Thus went the sexed-up name of an open elective course I had recently offered, on studying moviegoing in the 1970s. I was already working on a small research grant towards investigating "Suburban Sreen: Memories of Moviegoing in Bandra & Belghoria in the 1970s" and thought that an elective on a similar theme would be a comfortable spin off - a kind of buy 1 get 1 free end-of-season offer.

But these are recession times; the anticipated rush of candidates turned into not-even-a-trickle (with some of thus trickling misjudging their destination). The birdbrained bait of 24 'creative products' on 70s moviegoing, in just 10 days (and hence the title) was easily dodged by the smart set.

By the end one had 3-and-a-half partially interested participants, 2-and-a-quarter partially realised 'creative products' and a choke-full of sour grapes.

Beyond (and despite) the acetous fruit transpired some good things - a behind-the-scenes trip to an old single-screen cinema hall (groundworked by Mandakini, having especially come from Delhi to help), a humorous & affectionate recollection of eventful old visits to the Ahmedabad Drive-in (Shilpa at her eloquent best) and an astute & innovative presentation of the socio-political history of the times that were, through its postage stamps (Suchitra, the bonafide chronicler, among other things).

Last, but not the least, I read through the fat book that is "India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy" by Ramachandra Guha. Despite its unwieldy health (paperback edition of the tome literally comes apart) and widescreen ambition, the book manages to remain intelligent and cohesive. All my romance about the 50s and the 60s (the times one was young, or yet-not-born; when everything was more innocent, more wholesome, more true) (and the later times, when this florid innocence caught the virus) got punctured after reading the party pooper. Guha unveils post-Independence India to have always been a work in progress - thodi khushi, thoda gum - the para-struggle of human greed and munificence.

The well-informed softboard

...and its blockbuster counterpart.

Suresh Shah (centre), Rupam projectionist.
The first film he screened there was Manoj Kumar's Roti, Kapda aur Makan (1974).

Mandakini (foreground right) in the Rupam lobby.
Rupam was opened to the moviegoing public in 1952. Much of the architecture
and interiors have
remained unchanged since.

Shilpa in her elements.

1972 in stamps.

Wise men of the East.

Creative Product # 1
Arka's poster, inspired by his parents' life in 70s Kolkata.

Creative Product # 2
Anya & Meghana's unfinished board-game, based on Shilpa's animate nostalgia.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Mangalored !

kissa kursi ka

the missing link

Ujjwal (Utkarsh), Uday(raj PJ) and Ahsam (KR) came home for dinner. Uday (far right) (pun unintended) volunteered to prepare 'authentic' dishes from Mangalore, with a little help from his (Ranchi and Palakkad) friends. The Mixer Grinder decided on a determined halt. We enjoyed the food and the company. Sri Ram Sene was not informed.

Ujjwal and Uday are 'young designers' now. Ahsam is about to be.

I have been their Diploma Project Guide.