Friday 1 December 2023

Poets and Pancakes

Poets and Pancakes

                                  By Asokamitran


·       The story ‘Poets and Pancakes’ is written by Asokamitran, one of the pioneers of Modernism in Tamil literature.


·     The chapter "Poets and Pancakes" offers a rich and multifaceted exploration of the inner workings of Gemini Studios, focusing particularly on the makeup department and the presence of literary figures within the film industry.

·       The narrative blends humour, observation, tribute and reflection to offer readers a multifaceted view of the film industry and its unique characters.

·       This lesson is a beautiful and interesting description of working cultures, habits, interests, activities and departments of Gemini Studios in Madras (Chennai).


    Summary  /  Synopsis

§  In the chapter "Poets and Pancakes," the author provides a vivid account of the makeup department at Gemini Studios, a prominent film studio. The chapter delves into the peculiarities of the makeup process, the makeup room's atmosphere, and the diverse team of makeup artists. The studio's makeup department, situated in a building believed to have been Robert Clive's stables, is described as resembling a hair-cutting salon with incandescent lights that make the makeup application process uncomfortable.

§  The narrative introduces the makeup team's hierarchy, where the chief makeup man handles lead actors and actresses, followed by senior and junior assistants responsible for other roles. An interesting character, referred to as the "office boy," plays a crucial role in applying makeup to crowd players, showcasing the meticulous process of transforming actors into characters.

§  The author provides a glimpse into the protagonist's own work life in a cubicle with French windows. The narrative takes a turn when the makeup department's office boy, a frustrated individual aspiring for stardom, develops resentment towards Kothamangalam Subbu, the No. 2 at Gemini Studios. Subbu, a multi-talented figure, is depicted as an influential and loyal personality with success in both films and literature. The chapter explores the dynamics of the Gemini Studios, highlighting Subbu's impact and the tensions within the makeup department.

§  The narrative then shifts to the presence of poets at Gemini Studios, emphasizing the studio's appeal to literary figures. Subbu, who excelled in both filmmaking and poetry, stands out as a remarkable personality. The author reflects on Subbu's unique ability to balance his roles and contribute significantly to the success of Gemini Studios during its golden years.

§  The chapter concludes with an intriguing episode involving the visit of an English poet or editor to Gemini Studios. The reception for this visitor, later revealed as Stephen Spender, adds an element of mystery. The author expresses confusion and skepticism about the English poet's presence in a Tamil film studio, creating a sense of curiosity and foreshadowing future revelations.

§  Overall, the chapter provides a detailed and engaging exploration of the makeup department's inner workings, the dynamics of Gemini Studios, and the intriguing presence of literary figures like Kothamangalam Subbu and Stephen Spender. The narrative blends humour, observation, and reflection to offer readers a multifaceted view of the film industry and its unique characters.

Themes involved in the chapter

The chapter "Poets and Pancakes" offers a rich and multifaceted exploration of the inner workings of Gemini Studios, focusing particularly on the makeup department and the presence of literary figures within the film industry. 

1. Depiction of Gemini Studios:

The chapter provides a detailed and vivid portrayal of Gemini Studios, highlighting its makeup department's peculiarities, the hierarchical structure, and the diverse makeup team. The studio's location in a building with historical significance adds a layer of intrigue to its setting.

2. Makeup Department Dynamics:

The makeup department serves as a microcosm of the studio, showcasing a strict hierarchy and the intricate process of transforming actors through makeup. The description of the makeup application, the incandescent lights, and the discomfort experienced by the actors adds a touch of realism to the narrative.

3. Characterization of Kothamangalam Subbu:

Kothamangalam Subbu emerges as a multifaceted and influential personality within Gemini Studios. His success in both filmmaking and literature is emphasized, and his ability to balance different roles and contribute significantly to the studio's success is highlighted.

4. Exploration of Frustration and Resentment:

The chapter delves into the frustration and resentment of the office boy in the makeup department. This character's aspirations for stardom and his negative feelings towards Kothamangalam Subbu contribute to the interpersonal dynamics and tensions within the studio.

5. Presence of Poets in Gemini Studios:

The narrative sheds light on Gemini Studios as a hub for literary figures, particularly poets. The mention of S.D.S. Yogiar, Sangu Subramanyam, Krishna Sastry, and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya adds depth to the cultural milieu of the studio.

6. Mystery Surrounding Stephen Spender's Visit:

The chapter introduces an intriguing episode involving the visit of an English poet or editor, later revealed as Stephen Spender. The confusion and skepticism surrounding Spender's presence in a Tamil film studio create an air of mystery and anticipation, leaving readers curious about future revelations.

7. Blend of Humor and Reflection:

The author skillfully weaves humor into the narrative, particularly in describing the makeup process and the office boy's frustrations. However, the chapter also offers reflective moments, contemplating the role of poets in the film industry and the unique dynamics of Gemini Studios.

8. Themes of Identity and Ambition:

The chapter touches on themes of identity, ambition, and the complexities of individual aspirations within the film industry. The characters, especially the office boy, serve as vessels for exploring these themes.

In conclusion, 'Poets and Pancakes' stands out as a well-crafted chapter that combines detailed observation, humour, and reflection to provide readers with a nuanced and entertaining glimpse into the world of Gemini Studios and its colourful characters.

Important Question Answers

Q1. The author has used gentle humour to point out human foibles. Pick out instances of this to show how this serves to make the piece interesting?

Ans. In ‘Poets and Pancakes' Asokamitran uses gentle humour to point out human weaknesses and absurdities. The humour used by the narrator is not pungent or caustic. It tickles but doesn't bite. The first line of the narration gives a glimpse of it. The brand name of the make-up material is 'Pancake'. And it is bought in truckloads! The make-up room was in a building that was believed to have been Robert Clive's stables. The description of the make-up men is quite humorous.

They could turn any decent-looking person into a hideous crimson hued monster'. The narrator continues: "The chief make-up man made the chief actors and actresses ugly.... Another example of gentle humour is the description of the office boy. He wasn't exactly a boy'; he was in his early forties...”

The author's description of the lawyer is also quite humorous. The lawyer was also officially known as the legal adviser. But everybody referred to him as the opposite.' Similarly, he gently laughs at the ignorance of the MRA group about animals.

His description of English poet is equally humorous. He asks “What is an English poet doing in a studio which makes Tamil films ...?”


Q2. Why was Kothamangalam Subbu considered No. 2 in Gemini Studios?

Ans. Kothamangalam Subbu was the No. 2 at Gemini Studios. Subbu was the man who gave a new 'direction and definition' to Gemini Studios. He was a man of many sided genius. With Subbu around, film making became a sheer pleasure. He was the right hand man of 'the Boss'. Subbu was a self-made man. He faced difficult and uncertain times. He could be cheerful at all times, even after making a flop film. He turned all his energy and creativity to the advantage of his 'boss'.

Subbu was tailor-made for films. If the producer was not satisfied with a scene, he would come out with fourteen more alternatives. He was a good poet. He wrote for the common people. Subbu was an 'amazing' actor. He never aspired for the lead roles. He always performed better than the main players. He had a genuine love for everyone. But the office boy

considered Subbu the reason of all his woes and neglect.


Q3. How does the author describe the incongruity of an English poet addressing the audience at Gemini Studios?

Ans. The Gemini Studios was preparing itself to welcome another visitor. He was a poet from England. The simple Gemini staff heard of only Wordsworth or Tennyson. No one knew the poet visiting the Gemini Studios. And no one in the Studios was certain about the purpose of his visit.

At last, around four in the afternoon the poet arrived. He was a tall man, very English He was very serious. The Boss read out a long speech. It was quite clear that he too knew little about the poet. Then the poet spoke. No one knew what he was talking about.

What was an English poet doing in a film studio? Everyone asked that question. Gemini Studios made Tamil films. Their simple and hard lives couldn't afford the luxury of poetry. The whole uninteresting drama continued for an hour. Then the poet left. The people dispersed in utter confusion. The poet looked quite baffled too. In short, the visit of the English poet (Stephen Spender) remained an unexplained mystery.

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