Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Camera Capers: 1

Recently a fellow blogger wrote about her new Olympus E-510 camera and the fun she was having trying out its manual controls. Suddenly, I remembered Ram and me shopping for my first SLR in Singapore, very many years ago.

The Yashica FX-3 was a fully manual camera with none of the snazzy features that you see in present-day cameras. Focusing was manual and so was the metering. You had to decide what aperture/shutter speed combination to use and a very simple 3-LED system gave you basic feedback whether your picture was likely to be under-exposed or over-exposed. It was an ideal camera for picking up the basics of SLR photography.

“The smaller the aperture, the larger the depth-of-field, which means more things within the frame will be in focus,” says Ram, “ideal for landscapes.”

“Err...umm,” I say brightly.

“But if you want only the subject to be in focus and the immediate background to be deliberately hazy, what aperture will you choose?”

“Err...umm,” I hedge my bets.

“Correct. You will choose a larger aperture, say a F4 or a F5.6,” Ram goes on relentlessly, oblivious to the fact that his dim-witted pupil was having a hard time catching up with all this gushing gyan. “Now let us take shutter speed...”

Ram was a good teacher and I was never to forget the basics of photography that he drilled into me in that hotel room in Orchard Road in Singapore. The FX-3 was also to remain with me for over 15 years, ever reliable, letting me down not even once. Finally what did give away was not the optics, but the leatherette exterior cladding which started disintegrating and coming off in my hands. That was when I sadly made the decision to retire the old faithful.

In my more nostalgic moments, I still think of that first SLR--the aperture ring that clicked into position so perfectly; the tiny shutter-speed dial that one learned over time to manipulate with the thumb and forefinger; the reassuring whirr and click when the focal plane shutter came down and the entire camera seemed to shudder within your grip.

They don’t make cameras like that anymore and this, I state with due apologies to the Olympus E-510.
Photo Courtesy: Lens' Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Language Tangle

The peculiarities of the English language can prove to be a challenge for the best of us. To my friend Joymon, it was even more a daunting task, having studied in a Malayalam medium school in Kerala. Conversational English especially, was something he struggled with every day.

To his credit, Joymon never gave up and refused to be discouraged when his colleagues took pot shots at his Malayalam-accented English. He was not afraid to make mistakes nor was he ashamed to ask and clear his doubts on the correct usage of the language. Within a year he became sufficiently proficient in English and could navigate the treacherous linguistic by-lanes with a fair amount of felicity.

One day, all of us get invited to the Big Boss’s house party. Big B lives in a palatial beachside bungalow in Juhu. This is an annual event normally scheduled to coincide with the visit of the members of the senior management from Germany.

That year I have to miss the party as the date clashed with an official trip to Bangalore which had been planned weeks ago. I bump into Joymon in the corridor the following Monday and casually ask him whether he enjoyed the party at Big B’s place on Saturday night.
Joymon beams.

“Fantastic party,” Joymon says. “Big B lives in this fantastic house with a huge garden. There is even a swimming pool!”

“So, good food? Great Music?”

“Wonderful,” says Joymon. “Really enjoyed myself.”

“Great!” I am about to move on when Joymon says: “And Mrs Big B...”

“What about her?”

“Such a hostile lady,” Joymon says.

“What?” I am puzzled. I cannot co-relate Joymon’s bright smile as he uttered the sentence with the kind of antipathy one normally associates with the word “hostile”.

“She was taking care of each and every guest,” Joymon explains, “making sure everyone had enough to eat and drink and going round and chatting to even the junior managers. So hostile.”

Suddenly the coin drops. “Hospitable,” I say. “Hospitable is the word you want, Joymon. Hostile means just the opposite, like, being rude and unfriendly!”

Joymon listens intently and vows never to repeat the mistake. He also reassures me that while bidding good-bye, he had not mentioned to Mrs. Big B what a “hostile” hostess she had been!
Photo Courtesy: Woman-with-a-lens Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums

Friday, 19 September 2008

Ravan and the Cable Guy

It was 1993 and, as an aftermath of the infamous Mumbai blasts, anti-Pakistan sentiment was at an all-time high. Even though Pakistani serials were very popular those days, many cable TV operators had withdrawn such programmes from their channel-bouquet, bowing to the prevailing sentiment.

However, the cable operator in my area continued to beam the Pakistani TV channel (PTV) in spite of repeated representations from jingoistic viewers to take it off.

One day, casually over lunch, I mention this to Ravan Singh and he flies into a rage. “How can you tolerate this,” Ravan thunders. “We have to put a stop to this nonsense immediately! The fellow should be put behind bars for treason!”

“It is futile,” I say. “The cable guy is an arrogant fellow with political connections and does pretty much as he chooses.”

“We will see about that,” glowers Ravan. He pulls a telephone directory off the rack, finds the number of the service provider, and starts dialling. A lady comes on the line and Ravan asks her to put him through to the owner immediately. When she enquires who she should say is calling, he says with ominous calm: “Tell him this is Inspector Parulkar from Palton Road police station.”

When the owner comes on line, Ravan starts slowly, almost gently: “I have received a complaint that you are beaming PTV programmes in your cable network. As you know very well, this is against the law. Your viewers have requested you not to telecast these programmes, but you continue to do so. What have you to say about this?”

Perhaps Ravan’s conciliatory tone lulls the owner into a false sense of security. He is rather nonchalant in his response, saying that PTV programmes are popular and he is only catering to customers’ needs and many cable operators are beaming them anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Ravan explodes from his chair, draws himself to his full height and unships a few choice epithets in Hindi and Marathi, outlining the cable owner’s doubtful paternity, his unsavoury relationship with his sister, and his abject inability to satisfy his wife in bed.

“Do you know who you are talking to?” Inspector Parulkar shouts. “Do you know I can come with a posse of policemen in the next fifteen minutes and put you inside so fast that no one will ever even know where you are for the next fifteen years? Or should I make it easier for you by arranging a police encounter where a carefully-aimed shot is all that it takes to put an end to your miserable life?”

I can see, like all great actors, Ravan has merged with the character he is playing. At this moment he believes himself to be the tough, angry cop bullying the stuffing out of the criminal who has had the effrontery to talk back to him.

After fifteen minutes of this tirade, at the other end of the line, the cable TV owner is an abject mass of quivering jelly, tripping over words, profusely apologetic, and declaring his undying loyalty to his motherland. “PTV will be taken off immediately sir,” says the broken man. “You will have no further cause for complaint.”

“I give you exactly one hour,” says Inspector Parulkar, back to his deep, soothing voice. “After that, I come for you.”

And sure enough, the owner kept his promise.
Photo Courtesy: Chin Wu's Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Introducing Ravan Singh

I think it is time I introduced Ravan Singh to the readers of my blog.

Ravan was a tall and well-built man with a scraggly beard that he deliberately left untrimmed. He could have passed off as handsome, if only a prominently protruding paunch had not spoilt the overall effect. Ravan had a voracious appetite for food; could drink anybody under the table; and fancied himself quite a ladies’ man.

Ravan and I were colleagues for over a decade during which we became very good friends. Looking back, this was rather strange for, both in appearance and temperament, we were like chalk and cheese. Ravan was the hearty, back-slapping type while I was painfully introverted. Ravan could be impulsive and rash while I was methodical and boring. Ravan was always the life and soul of the party while I generally had a tendency to blend in with the woodwork.

Ravan had a reputation for becoming very boisterous after a few drinks; during office parties the task of keeping him under control or some semblance of it, always fell on me. When he was sloshed, the only person he listened to was me and his obedience on such occasions was implicit and childlike. But there were couple of occasions when things went horribly wrong.

One such was at the Ambassador Hotel in Bombay where we are holding a reception for customers. The business part of the evening is over and those who imbibe have made a beeline for the bar. We circulate among customers, clinking our glasses and making polite small talk. Suddenly someone tugs urgently at my sleeve. It is Ravan.

“I don’t like the way Customer S is behaving,” he says in a hoarse whisper. “He is talking ill of our service, the worm! I think I will pull his toupée off.”

“What?” I am distracted. “What toupée?”

“Everyone knows S wears a toupée,” he says reasonably.” I’m going to yank it off.”

“You shall do no such thing,” I say firmly. “Just ignore the guy and go slow on the whisky, will you?”

Ravan disappears and I forget about the conversation. The evening winds down peacefully and after couple of hours, most customers have had their dinner and have left. So have the top bosses of the company. There are a few stragglers in the bar and I can see Ravan and S having a heated argument. Suddenly, in front of everyone’s stupefied eyes, Ravan yanks the toupée off S!

All hell breaks loose. Ravan is swaying on his legs and guffawing while the hapless S, shorn of his hairpiece and dignity, is screaming and weeping and lunging feebly for the toupée which Ravan holds aloft like a trophy.

No, Ravan did not lose his job. Probably, if the incident had happened an hour earlier when the party was in full swing, he most definitely would have. The next day, Ravan visited S and offered his profuse and unconditional apology for his boorish behaviour.

The customer forgave him and, I suspect, they had a drink together afterwards!

Photo Courtesy: boomSlang's Public Gallery, Picasa Web Albums

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Kerala and Hindi Film Music: Part 3

Curiously enough, by mid-1960s, Malayalam film music began to give its Hindi brethren a stiff fight, mainly thanks to a slender young man in whites who came from the suburbs of Cochin and whose mesmerising voice, impeccable diction, and outstanding tonal range took Kerala by storm. K. J. Yesudas transformed Malayalam film music and took it to new heights of glory like no other singer before or after him, ably supported by poets-turned-lyricists like Vayalar Rama Varma and P. Bhaskaran and immensely-gifted music directors like M.S. Baburaj, G. Devarajan and V. Dakshinamurthy.

But the Malayali was not to forsake Hindi film music which, in the 1970s, re-invented itself thanks to another precocious talent called R.D. Burman. Trained in Hindustani classical music, Burman was also in touch with musical trends from all over the world and had this uncanny knack of connecting with both young and old alike. Thus in Kerala, he was appreciated as much for the lilting and melodious “Chingari koi bhadke” in Amar Prem as for the jazzy acoustical arrangement of “Dum Maro Dum” in “Hare Rama Hare Krishna”.

What should not be forgotten here, of course, is the fact that the 70s saw the re-emergence of the versatile Kishore Kumar as a credible singing force. Kishore could be soulful or mischievous, romantic or funny as the situation demanded, and was the perfect foil for Burman’s genius. Burman’s success was also, in no small measure, due to Asha Bhonsle and her sensuous and melodious voice which he was able to deploy in a manner that no other composer before him, with the exception of O. P. Nayyar perhaps, had been able to do.

And thus the Malayali’s love affair with Hindi film music continued to flourish, in the absence of other distractions such as television, cable TV and the Internet.

The 1980s were not a good time for Hindi film music in general, the focus having shifted to action dramas which had little scope or inclination to showcase music. The 1990s did show some marginal improvement but the old masters were either no more or retired from the scene. Crass commercial interests had taken over and the newcomers like Kumar Sanu and Abhijeet found themselves unfavourably compared to their legendary predecessors. But what about today? Are the present-day singers like Shaan, Naresh Iyer and Rashid Ali or music directors like Himesh Reshammiya and Pritam as popular in Kerala as they are in the North?

Perhaps, some young blogger living in Kerala now should write the concluding part of this post!


Friday, 5 September 2008

Kerala and Hindi Film Music: 2

Vividh Bharati service of All India Radio (AIR), started operations in 1957 and was designed around a format that gave importance to music, predominantly Hindi film music. This was not surprising, considering it was put together in the first place to stave off the challenge of Radio Ceylon and its extremely popular “Binaca Geet Mala”.

Radio Ceylon played the latest film music no doubt, but transmitted in the Short Wave (SW) metre band which called for a more expensive SW receiver. The reception quality was also inconsistent as the signal waxed and waned depending on the atmospheric conditions. Vividh Bharati on the other hand, beamed its programs from a series of linked transmitters installed in major cities and towns and that too, in the Medium Wave (MW) spectrum. Reception quality was excellent and the signal could be picked up from a low-cost, single-band receiver. Even from the sheer variety of film-music based programming that it offered, the new entrant scored, with specific time-slots targeted at youth, housewives, elders, jawans and so on.

But to come back to the Hindi film music of that era: while the songs were full of touching melody and meaningful as well soulful lyrics, it was still steeped in the traditions of Hindustani classical music and were sometimes heavy, ponderous, and overtly sentimental. It took the music director duo of Shankar-Jaikishan, a maverick composer called O.P. Nayyar and an upcoming actor called Shammi Kapoor to rewrite the prevailing rules of the game and in the process, save Hindi film music from its own excesses.

Shankar-Jaikishan and O. P. Nayyar lightened up Hindi film music considerably by giving it a racy beat and experimenting with a western style orchestra. Borrowing as they did from western music styles such as jazz, swing and rock ’n’ roll, they infused a robustness and vigour in their music, faithfully portrayed on screen by the inimitably-animated Shammi Kapoor. But, for many Keralites of that generation, the music of Shankar-Jaikishan or Nayyar was just a door-opener. Once they entered the marvellously diverse world of Hindi film music, they encountered the varied but distinct composing styles of such talented composers as Naushad, Madan Mohan, Roshan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Salil Chowdhury and were hooked forever.

Within a very short time, Vividh Bharati broadcasts became a rage and became the most preferred radio channel in every Kerala household.
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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.