Friday 1 December 2023

Poets and Pancakes

Poets and Pancakes

                                  By Asokamitran


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

·     The chapter 'Poets and Pancakes' is an excerpt from the book 'My Years with Boss' where the writer recounts his days at Gemini Studios providing 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 chapter explores the dynamics of the Gemini Studios, highlighting a prominent character, Subbu and his impact in the makeup department and film making.

·       This lesson is a beautiful and interesting description of working culture, interests, activities and departments of Gemini Studios in Madras (Chennai). The studio's location in a building with historical significance adds a layer of intrigue to its setting.

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


        Summary  /  Synopsis

§      In the chapter 'Poets and Pancakes' the author provides a vivid account of the Gemini Studios, a prominent studio in film industry beginning with makeup department which was situated in a building believed to have been Robert Clive's stables. 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 resembled a hair-cutting salon with incandescent lights at all angles, that make the makeup application process uncomfortable. There were half a dozen mirrors all around. The chief makeup man was a Bengali followed by senior assistant, a Maharashtrian man. There were junior assistants from Dharwar, Andhra, Burma including some local Tamils, which gave a glimpse of national integration.

§  The narrative introduces the makeup team's hierarchy, where the chief makeup man handles lead actors and actresses, followed by senior assistant who did makeup of second lead heroes and heroines and junior assistant was responsible for comedians. An interesting character, referred to as the 'office boy' who a man in his forties plays a crucial role in applying makeup to crowd players with his power of transforming actors into characters. Humorously the author describes it a transformation from a decent looking person into crimson coloured monster and for this truck loads of pancakes, potions and lotions were used. This boy entered the studio to become an actor, lyricist or director. He was a bit of poet, too. He used to see the narrator sitting in his cubicle with French windows and tearing papers. He advised him not to waste his talent in that department. The narrator always prayed for crowd shooting to avoid boredom.

    The narrative then shifts to the presence of poets at Gemini Studios, emphasizing the studio's appeal to literary figures. Kothamangalam Subbu,   the No. 2 at Gemini Studios, was a brahmin who excelled in both filmmaking and poetry, stands out as a remarkable personality. He wrote for masses. He wrote original story poems in folk song style. Subbu is depicted as a cheerful, influential and loyal personality. His loyalty made him identify himself with his boss and he used all his energy and talent for the advantage of his boss. Film making was so easy when he was around. He played second lead roles but performed better than main actors. 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 narrative takes a turn when the makeup department's office boy, a frustrated individual aspiring for stardom, develops resentment towards Subbu, a multi-talented figure but not more formally educated than the office boy.

    The story department also comprised a lawyer who became an instrument in ending the acting career of a moody but talented actress who burst out in anger on stage and the lawyer quietly switched on recording which was played later on. Everyone in the studio was stunned. The lawyer made one flop film also. He lost his job when the boss closed down story department.

§  The chapter concludes with an intriguing episode involving the visit of an English poet, Stephen Spender to Gemini Studios. The studio was the favourite haunt of poets. Most of them wore khadi and coffee there. They had a dislike for the communists and they were a host to MRA (Moral Re-Armamant Army). When they heard the news of arrival of a renowned poet, they heard that he was not a poet but an editor. The reception for this visitor when was later revealed as Stephen Spender, adds an element of mystery. Mr. vasan, the boss read a long speech but it not understood by many due to his accent. They couldn't understood the poet either due to his English accent. Everyone was baffled but the poet was baffled the most. 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.

   A short story contest was organised by the British periodical named 'The Encounter'. The author who was no longer in Gemini Studio wanted to take part in the contest so he went to the British Council library to know about the magazine. He was stunned to know that the editor happened to be Stephen Spender. He took the book 'The God That failed' consisting six essays by different authors, one of whom was Stephen Spender who had given up communism after getting disillusioned by it. The narrator didn't understand much about the book nor communism.

§  Overall, the chapter provides a detailed and vivid portrayal of engaging workings of the makeup department and the dynamics of Gemini Studios with the intriguing presence of literary figures. 

Themes involved in the chapter

The chapter 'Poets and Pancakes' offers a rich and multifaceted view of the inner workings of Gemini Studios, focusing particularly on the makeup department's peculiarities, the hierarchical structure, and the diverse makeup team. The makeup department serves as a microcosm of the studio vividly and humorously describing 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.

The chapter also offers moments for reflection and appreciation  contemplating the role of poets and writers in the film industry depicting    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 notwithstanding Kothamangalam Subbu who had an excellent talent for poetry.

The author skillfully weaves humor, appreciation as well as mystery into the narrative, particularly in describing the makeup process and intriguing episode with Stephen Spender who was mistaken for an editorThe confusion and skepticism surrounding Spender's presence in a Tamil film studio create an air of mystery and anticipation. The chapter touches on themes of identity, ambition, and the complexities of individual aspirations within the film industry through the characters like the office boy and his frustration.

Important Question Answers

Q1. The author has used gentle humour to point out human foibles. Pick out instances 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. Who was Kothamangalam Subbu? Why was he considered No. 2 in Gemini Studios?

Ans. Kothamangalam Subbu was the man who gave a new 'direction and definition' to Gemini Studios. He was tailor-made for films. He could be cheerful at all times, even after making a flop film. Subbu was considered No. 2 at Gemini Studios after the Boss. He was the right hand man of 'the Boss'. He faced difficult and uncertain times. He turned all his energy and creativity to the advantage of his 'boss'. If the producer was not satisfied with a scene, he would come out with fourteen more alternatives. 

Subbu was a self-made man. He was a good poet and an 'amazing' actor. He wrote for the common people. He never aspired for the lead roles. He always performed better than the main players. Film making overshadowed his poetic excellence. He was a man of many sided genius. He had a genuine love for everyone. But the office boy considered Subbu the reason of all his woes and neglect. Subbu, who excelled in both filmmaking and poetry, stands out as a remarkable personality. With Subbu around, film making became a sheer pleasure.

 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 Stephen Spender, a renowned 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 and 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. Pertaining to his English accent one understood 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. No body understood his accent nor the poet understood what they spoke. 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment