Tuesday, 30 June 2009
A.K. Lohitadas, a highly respected scriptwriter and director of the Malayalam film industry, passed away last Sunday.
I do not know what it is about the Malayalam film industry that it has lost four of its finest directors within the last two decades at relatively young ages when they were still at the height of their creative powers. G. Aravindan and P. Padmarajan both died in 1991, aged 56 and 46, respectively. Bharathan, when he passed away in 1998, was 51. And now, Lohitadas at 54.
Lohitadas, or Lohi as he was popularly known, came into cinema from theatre as a scriptwriter. “Thaniavarthanam” was a critical and commercial success and Lohi won the Kerala State Award in 1987 for Best Screenplay. The director of that movie was Sibi Malayil; Lohi was to partner with him for the next decade or so to give Malayalam cinema some very memorable movies like Kireedom, Chenkol, Bharatam, Kamaladalam, and His Highness Abdullah.
In 1997, Lohi came out with his maiden directorial venture. Bhootakkannadi, a dark, brooding tale of one man’s descent into a personal hell of his own making, did not exactly set the box-office on fire but was acclaimed by film critics and movie aficionados alike. Many memorable movies followed –Kaarunyam, Kanmadam, Kastooriman, and Arayannagalude Veedu, to name a few.
What I like most about Lohi’s work is that he refused to bow down to the dictates of crass commercialism and spun simple stories of love and grief, sorrow and separation, hope and despair, that touched a chord somewhere in the average movie-goer. The protagonists were always people whom you could relate to and identify with; the very ordinariness of their lives acquired a rare poignancy at the hands of this talented film maker. No wonder that most of his movies did well at the box-office as well.
It is also interesting to analyse how women characters were portrayed in Lohi’s films. Lohi’s women were never mere embellishments to an otherwise male-dominated script like most Malayalam movies of today. Lohi’s women were complex creatures, hardened by adversity, defiant against injustice, and yet possessing an inner core that was both vulnerable and morally incorruptible. It is no coincidence that talented actresses like Manju Warrier (Kanmadam) and Meera Jasmine (Kastooriman) reserved some of their best performances for Lohi’s films.
Fate played an important role in the lives of the characters created by Lohi. In an interview given few years ago to writer and journalist Shobha Warrier, Lohi remarked: “...that is my attitude to fate. Life does not proceed the way we want it to. It has a course of its own and it will move only in that direction.” Did fate play a role in his end as well? Was it fate that made him ignore the doctor’s advice six months ago to go in for an immediate coronary by-pass surgery?
Lohi and his films will be missed.
Monday, 22 June 2009
It was not much of a bar. But then, it was not much of a hotel either.
We had arrived that afternoon in Galle, taken a narrow winding road that climbed up steeply and offered spectacular views of the Dutch fort and the sea to reach this old colonial mansion masquerading as a hotel, perched upon a desolate cliff-top. It was cloudy and overcast; a fine drizzle accompanied by sudden gusts of wind from the sea, added to the misery. The hotel seemed to bristle with menace, a feeling its forbidding exterior with its pitiless geometry did nothing to dispel. If we shivered, it was not only from the cold. The hotel somehow brought back memories of Wuthering Heights and the windswept, wild expanses of the Yorkshire moors.
An old lady and her manservant check us in. The room is huge with a high, vaulted ceiling and wooden floorboards that have not seen a coat of wax or polish for a long time. An old ceiling fan, the kind of which I had last seen as a small boy in the waiting rooms of Indian railway stations, starts rotating very slowly, creaking and groaning with the effort.
We feel depressed. It has been quite a long journey from Kandy through narrow, winding roads and we can feel the tiredness in our bones. It is an effort to unpack, but when we finally do, find that there are already somebody else’s clothes in the ancient chest of drawers.
The old lady is apologetic: Apparently, the clothes belong to a long-stay guest from Europe who has gone off somewhere for the weekend. Would we please leave the clothes undisturbed and she will give us another cabinet to keep our stuff? We nod dumbly.
An hour later, unpacking done, we get out of the room and walk along the corridor to reach a balcony that overlooks a verdant valley. It is almost dark now, but the rain has stopped and the wind has also subsided. But the atmosphere is heavy with humidity and very uncomfortable. Too early for dinner, I decide to pay a visit to the bar. The wife and the daughter decide to accompany me because they do not want to be left alone in the room.
The bar turns out to be a makeshift arrangement on the terrace of the hotel, with a temporary roof and netting all around to keep off the nocturnal insects. Sofas with lumpy upholstery are arranged haphazardly for the benefit of the patrons of whom we can find nary a trace. In the dim, dirge-inducing light of the incandescent lamps, we spot the barman, sitting and gazing at the sea in perfect solitude.
The barman turns out to be a young lad--a student earning some extra money by doubling up as a bartender--and a cricketer to boot. He seems happy to have our company and we spend an almost an hour talking to him. We discuss Sachin Tendulkar (but, of course!), the state of Sri Lankan cricket, and the cricketers Galle has contributed to the national team—players such as Romesh Kaluwitharana and Upul Chandana.
I remembered that surreal hotel in Galle and its solitary barman recently when I was watching the T20 World Cup finals between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
I am sure he would have been very unhappy with the final result.
Photo Courtesy: www.asiaexplorers.com
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Mahatma has flown in from Chennai, the previous evening. He takes a taxi to Hotel H in Byculla, has an early dinner, and very soon turns in for the night. He sleeps soundly till around midnight when he is woken up by someone softly knocking at his door.
Cursing the intrusion and half-asleep, Mahatma opens the door to find a personable young man who asks him politely whether he would like some female company. Mahatma is speechless with horror and just stands there rooted to the spot, which the young man misconstrues as a genuine expression of interest.
The young man tries to build on his sales presentation, by elaborating further on the services on offer, the virtuosity of the practitioners, and the rates for different services etc., cheerfully oblivious to the fact that his prospective customer has pulled himself erect and started bristling in an alarming manner. Glowering dangerously but still struggling for words, Mahatma manages to utter just one sentence. “No,” he says. “Please go away!”
Our personable young man now, knows all about overcoming objections and closing the deal. He knows some customers act shy and have to be brought out of their shell. Some, he knows, just act disinterested, just to bring down the price. So, as a first step towards breaking the ice and building rapport, he looks furtively around and making sure no one is in the vicinity, drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, and asks Mahatma: “Sir, aap service kar rahe hai, kya?” (Loosely translated and put in context: Sir, are you working as a salaried employee in a company?)
Mahatma is taken aback by this sudden change in direction the conversation has taken. He has had enough of this young man and his impudence. He is about to bang the door shut at the young man’s face when the young man, probably sensing an opportunity slipping away, plays what he feels is his trump card—empathy. Vital for building customer rapport.
"I understand you salaried-people’s problems, sir," says the young man in his broken English. "Company need bill for everything. Don’t worry sir, I arrange everything for you. I organise bill for specials meals sir. No need for pay from pocket."
That is when Mahatma finally managed to prise himself away from this engaging conversation, close the door shut and call the reception to keep his bill ready for an early-morning check-out.
The incident created quite a flutter in the office and poor Mantri was at the receiving end of a lot of flak for having booked Mahatma in an inappropriate hotel. An aggrieved Mantri came to me the next day and complained: “Nahin lene ka to, bolne ka. Baat khatam. Itna shor machane ki kya bat hai?” (If you don’t want the service, just say so and the matter is closed. Why make a song and dance about it?)
Mantri never got the point.
Monday, 1 June 2009
K. P. Mahatma was known for his temper tantrums. A well-built man with a blue-black complexion, K.P, when moved to anger, had the ability to contort his swarthy, Dravidian features into expressions of great ferocity that sent chills down the spine of many of his subordinates. When in a rage, K.P.’s eyebrows will move up and down in an extremely disconcerting manner and he will literally froth at the mouth, drenching the unfortunate victim in a shower of fine spittle. K.P. was our boss man for South and was based in Chennai. Even though all the junior managers sniggered behind his back at his various mannerisms, we were all a little, maybe more than a little, terrified of the man.
By contrast, P.K. Mantri was one of the most affable and laid-back people you could ever come across. Mantri walked the corridors of our Bombay office with a vaguely satisfied smile, his head up at an angle always, gently massaging his prominently protruding paunch. With his French beard and round-rimmed glasses, Mantri looked more like a college professor than a corporate lackey.
One day Mantri approaches me with an unusually grave face. KP is coming from Chennai for a meeting. All nearby hotels are full and the only place where he can get accommodation is at Hotel H, in Byculla.
“My God, Mantri,” I say, “you know that place is a dump.”
Mantri nods sadly. Hotel H those days was known for its “B” and “C” grade clientele from the Middle East and had acquired a very unsavoury reputation. Rumours even had it that the hotel had a secret entrance to smuggle in call girls without attracting the attention of the police.
“The rooms are ok. I have checked personally,” says Mantri. “And you know, the food is quite good.”
I caution Mantri about the possible repercussions and ask him to look for other alternatives. And as it so often happens in office life, I very soon forget all about our short conversation until the next Monday morning, when all hell breaks loose. KP is standing at the reception with his suitcase and he is ranting and raving. Eyebrows are going up and down like windshield wipers on high-speed and the man is generating enough foam to drown an armada.
We somehow manage to calm down Mahatma and try to piece together what had happened.
(To be continued...)
Photo Courtesy: www.cbgextra.com