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.
“Mother*****…”
“B*****…”
“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.