Friday, February 25, 2011

Malgudi: How a village was transformed into R.K. Narayan's fabled town.

Author's Note: Please read My Reflections on 'Malgudi Days'.

In this post I'll write about... how a village was transformed into R.K. Narayan's fabled town... and about the genius that was Shankar Nag.

Early in the 1980s, director Shankar Nag handed John Devraj a sheet of paper. It was the script for Malgudi Days, based on R.K. Narayan's stories set in a fictional town in Karnataka. From the words on that page, Devraj, a sculptor, musician, art director and town planner, was asked to create Malgudi in Agumbe, a village in the Western Ghats, roughly 400 km from Bangalore, with a population of about 180 families.

Devraj began to fabricate carts, statues, trains, avenues, shops and temples. "I had to conceptualize everything from scratch," he says. "I had to then make everything by hand-often working 20 hours a day." Twenty-one years after Doordarshan took it off the air, Devraj's handiwork is now available for viewing in Big Home Video's two-volume DVD pack... as well as complete VCD set. Go grab them! What are you waiting for?

The task of building Malgudi was made even more daunting by Agumbe's isolation and by Nag's obsession with detail, note Devraj and several members of the crew. Production controller Jagadish Malnad recalls how one bright day, when everything was in place for a shot, a cloud suddenly floated in front of the sun. "Shankar motioned to me and asked me to move the cloud," he says.

Nag, who was killed in a car accident near Bangalore in September 1990 at the age of 36, invested loads of energy and enterprise into imagining the minutiae of life in Malgudi. "Nothing you see on screen was a result of an accident or chance," says Arundhati Nag, his wife, who also acted in the series. "He went about things with precision. He once asked Malnad to bring in a donkey (accompanied by its master) from Theerthahalli, 20km from Agumbe."

Arundhati says the cast practically lived in the village "in fits and starts" over the three years it took to make the serial. "Agumbe was not accustomed to film crews, so they just let us into their homes," she says. "The village became such a huge part of our lives that my daughter Kavya, who was a year old, went to school there."

Like most of Narayan's works, Malgudi Days is woven with ordinary concerns: the financial worries of a goat-herder, the glee with which a long-awaited letter is received. Nag was intent on preserving Narayan's vision, says Ashok Mandanna, who played the role of a postman in the episode 'The Missing Mail'. "We made the serial at a time when it was possible to take over an entire village and transform it into a fictitious place," says Mandanna. "The logistics and cost of such an enterprise now would prevent people from remaking it."

Arundhati agrees with Mandanna. "If Shankar were to make it today, I don't know if he would try it," she says. "I don't think you can recreate what he did in 1987." That became obvious when director Kavita Lankesh remade the series in 2006. Those episodes, which are also included in this package, lacked the full original cast and were shot in a bustling Agumbe that was twice removed from the sleepy village of Nag's time. No wonder they failed to impress audiences when they aired on Doordarshan.

Here are some excellent captures from Agumbe... almost 25 years after Malgudi Days was shot... courtesy Photographer Aniruddha Chowdhury (link).

For more on John Devraj... Art Director for 'Malgudi Days'... for its 56 episodes, shot on 35mm film format, (English and Hindi): Link.

About Shankar Nag: Shankar Nag's foray into TV would be memorable with the classic Malgudi Days on Doordarshan, which would be familiar to many viewers. Can any one of us forget Swami? I still remember, on listening to the brilliant opening musical score by L. Vaidyanathan... the 'Ta na na tana na na naaaaaaaa' title song/melody, I would just drop everything and rush towards the TV. Such was the attraction it held. For the next 30 minutes or so, I would just lose myself in the story of Swami. In these days of mindless Saas Bahu serials, how much I miss the endearing simplicity and brilliance of Malgudi Days...

Shankar Nag originally known as Shankar Nagarkatte... and lovingly called Shankar Anna ('Anna' means elder brother in Kannada) - by the people of Karnataka... was the younger of the Nag brothers. His elder brother Anant Nag, was a leading actor in Kannada cinema, and also familiar to Hindi audiences via offbeat movies like Ankur, Nishant, Kalyug, Bhumika to name a few. Shankar Nag initially was a theatre artiste, and started his career with the Marathi Theatre in Mumbai. Hailing from the Uttara Kanara region, he was fluent in Kannada, Konkani and Marathi. It was during his theatre days, that he met his future wife Arundhati, who later went on to become a well-known actress in her own right.

Born on 9 November 1954 in Karnataka (in Mallapur village from Honnavar taluk (Near Kumta) of Uttara Kannada district)... Shankar Nag acted as a lead actor in more than 90 Kannada movies from 1978-1990. He co-wrote "22 June 1897", an Indian National Award winning Marathi film.

Girish Karnad offered him the role of a mercenary in the epic movie, "Ondanondu Kaaldalli" (which literally means Once Upon a Time). This 1978 movie was loosely based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece, "Seven Samurai", and was directed by Girish Karnad. One of the finest movies ever made, the movie has some fascinating stunt scenes, involving Kalaripayattu.

His debut film (as an actor) fetched Shankar a National Award at the Delhi International Film Festival. Thus began his film career, where, in a span of 12 years (from 1978 to 1990) he acted in some 90 Kannada movies, as a leading man, besides co-producing (with actor-brother Anant Nag) and directing some films like "Minchina Ota" (a rare example of a heist movie in Kannada) "Janma Janmada Anubandha" and "Geetha" (both of which had melodious music by South Indian music maestro Ilayaraja).

Commercial film producers took notice of Shankar Nag and he began acting in typical masala movies. Shankar was an unconventional hero with an unshaven face, distinct swagger, dark eyes and a rough voice. Although he had never undergone any martial arts training, he earned the sobriquet of 'Karate King'. His popular films include Auto Raja, Geetha, CBI Shankar, S.P. Sangliana, Accident and Minchina Ota.

Shankar's role in the masala flick "Auto Raja", made him the darling of the auto drivers in Bangalore... and he earned yet another sobriquet... that of 'Auto Raja'. It is quite a common sight, to see his potrait on auto rickshaws in Bangalore. Apparently... to this day, in Bangalore, auto drivers would not accept any money from Arundathi Nag (née Rao), whenever she goes to Ranga Shankara (in Bangalore).

Even in "Apoorva Sangama", where he co-starred with Kannada matinee idol Dr. Rajkumar, he made an impact, not a mean feat, considering Annavaru's (tr: beloved elder brother) legendary charisma. He was one of the very few actors who could straddle both the commercial and parallel/art house cinema, without appearing to compromise. But then that was Shankar Nag. He was not a man who cared for labels or someone who craved for recognition. He was a person totally passionate about whatever he did, and whatever he believed in. He was as comfortable in a total masala flick, as he was in a more serious venture.

Apart from TV and movies, Shankar's greatest contribution would be to the cause of Kannada Theatre. Even during the peak of his stardom, he never forgot his theatre roots, and always took an active part in it. He co-founded Sanket, an amateur theatre group with his wife. His group bought famous Kannada plays like Anju Mallige, Barrister, Sandhya Chaya, to stage. His last stage production was Girish Karnad's famous play Naga Mandala, which he co-directed along with Surendra Nath. The Ranga Shankara in Bangalore, is a testimony and a tribute to his vision. Along with Girish Karnad, Anant Nag and B.V. Karanth he would forever be recognized as one of the giants of Kannada Theatre.

Shankar Nag died in a car crash at Anagodu village on the outskirts of Davanagere town on the morning of 30 September 1990, while proceeding to Dharwad with his wife Arundhati Nag and daughter Kavya, for the shooting of his film "Jokumaraswamy". His untimely death in 1990, was a great loss... not only to the Kannada movie industry and Kannada theatre. It was a great loss... to performing arts in general... and to viewers like you and me. 'Coz it is hard to find such a versatile and talented genius.

For more info please visit Shankar Nag's home on the net (Link)

Note: Some info courtesy link.

Photograph: A caricature of people seated at the foot of a statue of a man. Two birds are hovering above the statue, a bicycle is parked at its side, a cow is roaming by near it, and a bus is seen in the backdrop. The people at the foot of the statue include a street vendor, an old man and two others; they are engaged in conversation. Pic courtesy link.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chavanni, Atthanni aur Rupaiya... Raja, Kalmadi aur Radia! (Part-II)

Author's note: Read Part 1 of this post here.

We gave the thumbs down to the original 'Dashavatar' or maybe thumbed our collective noses at it... which increased the sale of Thums-Up... much to the chagrin of the folks who Peps(i) you up!

For... Marshad Heista appeared... along with Aaloo Yadav. Corporate heist became the buzzword... along with chara ghotala... leaving the already bechara cows, bulls and buffaloes feeling very, very be-chara.

Bofors had already made its mark by then... of course. So much so that folks who were not even acquainted with the English language... knew about 'Q'. Phew!

Thereafter... suitcases made its appearance... and became much sought after. Along with suits, cases and no-bail prizes of course. Since there wasn't any no-bell prize to bell the grinning Cheshire cats... going around once every five years with folded hands.

Next... it was the turn of the humble ladoos and sarees... along with the 'humble farmer' and sons, grandsons and sons-in-law. Nobody was feeling very, very 'saree'... except for the mango-man and woman. Aka aam-aadmi aur aam-aurat. They are 'aam'... yet do not have a mango to eat. Not even the mango seed... despite Aaloo Yadav telling us that he has grown a 'fruuut tareee'... that will bear fruuuts... while he has earned karores and karores. But 9 fruuuts of his labour... are to be found at his home... for sure.

You see... the aam-aadmi and aam-aurat were/are/will be mere nameless and faceless 'janta'... who were/are/will be somewhat visible once in five years. Rest of the time... wallow in tears. For their humble servants in starched kurtas... Cheers! Mr. India... Quit India.

Then came a succession of flash in the pan 'avatars'... all wanting to savour their 15 minutes under the air-conditioned sun.

To get any work done... 'chai-paani' was/is/will be the preferred route and the only route. If you want 'tatkal' service that is... wherein files sprout wings. Else they remain grounded forever. This applies to... both top-down and bottom-up. Equal opportunity you see. No 'labour pain' that way! Makes for a win-win, grin-grin situation. Kinda 'food-chain'. The 'food' = 'chai-paani' of course. This... despite Tata chai exhorting us to 'Jaago Re'! Methinks... 'paani' will be much more valuable than liquid gold in the near future. Therefore... a 'sheikh-up' is very likely to happen.

Somewhere down the line we did away with the 'Vedanta' and the 'Upanishad'... and plumped for the 'UPA-nishad' instead... in the hanging gardens of Peepul Sabha.

It was then that... CWG happened... and Kalmadi appeared... with his 'Midas touch'... applicable only to family, friends... and bosses of course. But he insists it was teamwork... while the team wants to remain invisible.

Then... 'UPA-nishad' was subjected to some 'RADIA-tion'. Followed by 2G and 3G. Not Parle-G mind you.

The government headed by the blue turbaned yogi... who firmly believes in the benefits of 'maun vrat' ('coz 'silence is golden' you see) - insisted that he was unaware of anything regarding the 2G scam. 'Coz the only 2G he knew of were... Sonia G and Rahul G. Which prove that he does not eat Parle-G. 'Coz that would make it 3G! He is now trying to learn more about the philosophies of Indira G and Rajiv G... in order to upgrade to 4G.

After CWG (or was it before?) came the 2G auction... and Raja caused a loss of 1.9 lakh crores. Can anyone tell me... how many zeros??

Errr... modified figures suggest it was not 1.9 lakh crores. But 1.76 lakh crores! Only. While Raja insists that he is innocent... and is being harassed and hounded only because he is a dalit. Even corruption has fallen under the spell of 'reservation', 'quota system' and been cast(e) away... I say. This is a sure sign of progress... nevertheless.

With corruption scandals running into lakh crores (1 followed by 12 zeroes), we need new numeric units to comprehend these humongous figures. Crore/Million is passé.

Btw... Rupee has now acquired a new status symbol... that is a sure shot/foolproof method of bringing down the prices and inflation. With the new symbol... Rupee has now shed its frumpy avatar (Re, Rs and the clunky "INR") and gone the designer haute couture way... to distinguish itself from the 'halal' version from archrival Pakistan. No identity crisis any more *wink*

The Indian rupee now has a unique symbol - a blend of the Devanagri 'Ra' and Roman 'R' - finally joining elite currencies like the US dollar, euro, British pound and Japanese yen in having a distinct identity. We have now entered into the realm of the developed world... without a shred of doubt. Yippee!

As for the symbol... it's simply 'Ra' and not 'Ra.One'. Sorry SRK. 'Ra.One' reminds one of 'Raavan'... but knowing the latter's fate at the BO... hopefully the former will meet with better luck. Maybe 'Da.bang' would have been more suitable. What? However, the presence of the Roman 'R' is fully understood... since we are very closely linked with that nation *wink*

The new currency symbol has put the rupee in the money. Not the money in the rupee. Therefore dollar millionaires are still preferred over rupee crorepatis! Status symbol you see.

A few ideas for new words to refer to large numbers... courtesy Mukul Jain @ 'Outlook' magazine... 'Coz any major events/occasions/personalities/contributions... deserve to be commemorated.

So, 1,00,000 crore = 1 raja;
10,000 crore = 1 radia;
1,000 crore = 1 kalmadi.

Therefore... Anilbhai's home in Pali Hill will now cost Rs 4.5 kalmadi;

While big brother Mukeshbhai's new abode - the multi-storeyed glass tower - named Antilla (after the mythical Atlantic island)... and inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is valued at Rs. 4.5 kalmadi. Some pundits peg it at... 8 kalmadi and even 9 kalmadi.

ONGC's annual output is Rs. 1.2 raja;

India's loss in the 2G scam is about Rs. 1.7 raja;

India's total annual subsidy on kerosene is Rs. 2 radia.

Parting shot: Mukeshbhai and family... are obviously no fan of Raaj Kumar and have never heard his most famous dialogue: "Jaani, jinke ghar shishe ke ho, woh dusron pe patthar nahin pheka karte." What?

Get used to the cryptic 'swalpa adjust kalmadi'. 'Coz Rupee has been conquered by Raja and hit by RADIA-tion *wink*


Photograph: Sabse bada rupaiyaa! Courtesy link.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Review: Corporate Atyaachaar by Abhay Nagarajan.

When on the 19th of last month Booklover enquired if I would like to review 'Corporate Atyaachaar... the comical journey of an office doormat' by debutant author Abhay Nagarajan... I was more than glad. I feel reading the works of debutant authors... is akin to opening a birthday present. One is unaware of the contents... yet is excited about finding out.

'Corporate Atyaachaar' rhymes with and reminds one of its distant cousin... the more famous (?) 'Emotional Atyachar'... featuring Abhay Deol. 'Corporate Atyaachaar' is by his namesake. No... Jhumpa Lahiri need not make an appearance here :)

Abhay Nagarajan has been in Finance for a couple of years... which should explain the presence of the 2 extra 'A's in 'Corporate Atyaachaar' aka 'CA'. Number crunching has led to numerology! See... even the initials of the book title gives ample indication as to the author's pedigree *wink*

CA - written in the first person... is the journey... rather trials and tribulations of the protagonist... a rather willing 'office doormat'. Not furniture, wallflower or a piece of decoration... but the lowest of the lot... the humble, unassuming, doormat. Eye candy or not... I have no clue. Whether Lord Fate conspires with Lady Luck... to pull the 'yes boss' doormat from under the obnoxious boss' smelly feet or not... well, read the book to find out.

CA provides some interesting insights into the corporate world... rather the world of personal finance. It is set during the stock market phase of 2007-08: The Boom (Part–I/Mar'07-Mid Jan'08) and The Bust (Part-II/Jan'08 and beyond). Methinks... if boom comes can bust be far behind. What say?

The protagonist assists his boss - the inimitable HBS - in managing the investment requirements for a set of high net worth clients (HNI)... in Bangalore. Please note it is HNI and not H1N1 *wink*

These HNI folks are all characters in their own right... like Fido Dido, Dennis the Menace, Captain Haddock... you get the drift? Here you will come across: the 'Old Man', 'Inflated Ego', 'Fem Dom', 'Truly Happy', 'Yuppie', the bushy moustache and bunny toothed 'CFO', et al. And 'Giggles' - who suffers from 15 minutes of dementia... due to the loss of the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. With the Hutch pug being the 'culprit'. Yuppie is obsessed with 'pass backs'... you know 'passing the buck'... literally! Yet manages to give some free advice on what makes a good marriage... while preparing for the final partition. The Old Man's homegrown recipe for keeping romance alive in his twilight years... is charming. But does his new found enthusiasm for exotic hot-body ayurvedic massages play a role in it? Could that have been his motivation to open a factory in Thailand? You know... mixing business with pleasure. Will his paying obeisance to both Vaastu and Feng Shui... help him recover his lost wealth? After all... health is wealth. Or is it vice versa? A supposedly bohemian artist-cum-client... who paints nude art for charity. All is fair in love, war... and charity! The makeshift pair of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson... who went hunting for a lost mobile... was it found?

In 'Corporate Atyaachaar'... 'bird hit' gets a whole new meaning. There is a bit about divine retribution... at the right time... via the 'fragrant' output of Kamadhenu's progeny. It certainly is comical. No wonder it is said: watch your step.

You get to read about a strange sounding Tarzan style love noise... or was it George of the Jungle style?? The curious case of a stubborn nipple, a baby who wasn't sulking properly, a Q&A session with God, astrology and astronomy getting mixed up quite effortlessly and a priceless right palm with a possible gran greene problem... and how the left hand gallantly rose to the occasion. No, nobody's granny became green with envy... and we aren't referring to Graham Green either.

The biggest character is 'HBS' himself - the mobile kissing Bangalore Boss of Wealth Capital Advisors Pvt. Ltd. (WCA) - a small non-banking boutique setup... with a 'client centric' approach... as opposed to the 'revenue focus' of banking entities. As to why and how he earned the sobriquet 'HBS'... read the book to find out. He is also the single largest contributor towards the buoyant sale of Marie biscuits... and its profits! HBS sure is 'ambidextrous' and is not fond of 'dirty things' falling on him and 'that type of women'... is all I am willing to reveal at this point. Does he agree with the "Johari window analysis" conducted by a trainer... regarding his interpersonal (s)kills? Ummm... "Johari window analysis" has nothing to do with a certain Karan Johar, his Koffee hamper and/or his favourite actor, btw.

The protagonist encounters all sorts of 'nuts'... including the crunchy munchy type and the one associated with bolt (not Usain Bolt though)... during his short association with WCA. He has a fancy designation - Associate Financial Advisor... yet is barely allowed to express his views at client meetings and is mostly relegated to taking notes, sending summaries and maintaining documents... while HBS hogs all the limelight. Will HBS garner all the credit and moolah too? Will work frustration make the 'office doormat' step up and challenge his boss? Or will he choose the known devil over an unknown one? Will he get a good appraisal... inspite of being compared to a lake, river, sea, ocean, a branch of a tree and finally to a banyan tree itself? Not peepal tree... mind you. What would the new recruit be like? Who is the 'Sweet Lady'? Is she just sweet... or spicy and sour too? Questions. Questions. Read the book to know the answers.

ULIP, Mutual Funds, Debt, Fixed Maturity Plans (FMP), Tax savings, Fixed Deposits... all make their cameos in 'CA' - where the author has tried to keep the financial jargon to a minimum. Result: a reasonably entertaining book... that will also appeal to folks who are not enamored or well versed in the matters of personal finance. Their GK will surely travel northward at the end of it.

Even equity PMS makes its appearance! No... it is not what you are thinking of... silly! And SIP. Nope... we aren't discussing any health drink or fruit juice here. Sorry, Red Bull... the Beers have taken over :)

'Succession planning' aka 'estate planning' takes on a whole new meaning... caused by the double entendre on 'assets' of a different kind. Would I be comfortable if someone was to touch my assets without my knowledge? Do I want my assets to be overexposed to outsiders? Would I be happy if my hard earned assets which I have grown and developed over the years be wasted away? Would I like my big, well developed assets to wither away and shrink with time? Do I want my assets to be respected and judiciously used over generations to come? Do I want control over how others share my assets? Do I prefer having a choice of whom I can transfer my assets to? No... these are not rapid fire Qs shot by a certain Ms. Sawant... in a reality show. Not even on 'Rakhi ka Insaaf'. But wait till she reads 'Corporate Atyaachaar'... and we may find several episodes dedicated to 'asset allocation'. Exclusively. *wink*

... And what was the million dollar question asked by the 'Old Man' after an 'entertaining' session on 'succession planning' by a domain expert? Guess? Guess?

Interspersed with a smattering of humour... 'Corporate Atyaachaar... the comical journey of an office doormat' makes for a fun read... and a light read. Its light on the wallet too! One can finish the book in one sitting itself... that is one of its USP. If you are hard pressed for time... 2/3/4 days should suffice. The humour isn't the rolling on the floor laughing (ROTFL); laugh out loud (LOL); or the very long Cheshire cat like grin type... but you'll be sporting a gentle smile while turning the pages. Happy reading!

Suggestions: Some typos... need to be corrected. After all... 'Mekhri Circle' metamorphosing into 'Makeri Circle' may upset our legions of mannina magas/magalus! Plus there is something that may get the Paper Tiger's goat! *wink* But then... that would mean free publicity in the Commercial Capital of India. Ha!

The author writes about mouth-watering menus @ various get-togethers, a wedding feast, etc. But barely mentions the culinary delights on offer. That would have made the book... meander into the readers' hearts via their stomachs (R.K. Narayan would agree) as well as provided the much-appreciated 'food for thought' since 'fuel' prices have started 'bhav khana'. Again.

My Rating: I'll give it a good 3/5. It is a good effort by a debutant author... who also happens to be the grandson of Malayatoor Ramakrishnan. Therefore writing is in his jeans... oops genes!

Details of the book: Corporate Atyaachaar... the comical journey of an office doormat: Abhay Nagarajan, pp 212; Rs.100, Srishti Publishers & Distributors.

Photograph: Pic courtesy link.