Poets and Pancakes, is taken from Asokamitran’s book ‘My Years with Boss’. Asokamitran worked in The Gemini Studios. His duty was to cut out newspaper clipping on a wide variety of subjects and preserve them in files.
‘Pancakes’ was the brand name of a make-up material. The Gemini Studios bought a lot of it. Many well-known dresses must have used that material. It was used by make-up men to turn decent looking players into hideous looking monsters. In fact it was because most of the shooting of a film was done on the sets. The sets and the studios lights required that every pore of players’ faces was closed. A strict hierarchy was maintained in the make-up department to make the player look ugly. The chief make-up man made the hero and heroine ugly. His senior assistant made the second hero and heroine ugly and so forth. It was the office boy’s job to make the crowd players ugly.
The make-up department had an office boy. He was not a boy but a forty years’ old man. He had joined the studios years ago. He believed that he had a great talent and hoped to become a star actor, director, screen writer or lyrics writer. But he was frustrated. He blamed his disgrace on Gemini Studios. The make-up department was at the upstairs of the building that was said to have been Robert Clive’s stables. The make-up room looked like a hair cutting salon because it had large mirrors and lights. The lights gave out intense heat. The person who underwent make-up had a miserable experience of being scorched like that of being in a hell.
The make-up department presented a picture of national integration long before AIT began broadcasting programmes on national integration. In the beginning, the department was headed by a Bengali. He was succeeded by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by people from all parts of India.
The nature of author’s job appeared to be insignificant. He was usually seen tearing newspapers. Everybody would walk to his cubicle and want to give him some work to do. The office boy would come in to recite his poems. He Wished to impress the author by his talent and how it was going waste on account of Subbu.
The office boy was frustrated. Probably he was jealous of Subbu’s stature. Subbu was very close to Boss. When Boss had any difficulty in presenting a scene in a film, Subbus could suggest a number of practical ideas.
Subbu was a good poet too. He could write poems of high order. But he deliberately suppressed his talent to write for the masses. He was a novelist too. He had written a novel in which he recreated the mood and manner of Devadasis of early 20th century. He had created life-like characters too.
Subbu was an excellent actor. But he never aspired for lead roles. But whatever minor roles he played, he acted better than the main players.
Subbu loved all. Several friends and relatives stayed with him for long periods. But Subbu did not care. He never gave a thought to the money he spent to support them. But the office boy hated him. Perhaps Subbu appeared to be a sycophant.
Though Subbu was always seen with the Boss, he was a member of the story department. Besides writers and poets in the story department there was a lawyer too. Officially he was known as egal adviser. But people called him by an opposite name. Once the legal adviser unwittingly, ruined the career of a talented actress.
One day the actress, who was not seasoned in worldly wisdom, lost her temper on the sets. She spoke angrily against the producer. The legal adviser switched on the recording equipment. When she paused, he played back the record. The actress was dumb founded to hear her own voice. Though she had said nothing offensive, she never appeared on the stage again.
The legal adviser wore trousers, a shirt and a tie. Sometimes he wore a coat too. He appeared off among khadi clad poets and writers. The poets and writers worshiped Gandhiji though they had no affiliation to his ideas. But they were averse to communism. They had a notion that a communist loved nobody. He was an anarchist.
The feelings against communism were widespread in South India. Moral Rearmament Army was a sort of anti-communism movement. It visited Gemini Studios in 1952. They were about 200 people belonging to at least 20 nationalities. They presented two plays ‘Jotham Valley’ and ‘The Forgotten Factor’ in the most professional manner. The Gemini family of 600 and the citizens of Madras were greatly impressed by their plays.
Their message was simple but the sets and costumes were excellent. For many years, the Tamil drama imitated the sunrise and sunset scenes presented by MRA. The scenes were presented on a bare stage with white background and a tune played on the flute. But the MRA did not influence the outlook of the Gemini bosses. The enterprises continued unchanged. The staff had enjoyed hosting MRA.
A few months later, Gemini Studios received another guest. It was an Englishman. Nobody knew who he was. Some said he was a poet. But he was not one of the poets known to them. Some believed that he was an editor because the top men of The Hindu were taking the initiative. But he was not the editor of any of the newspapers which the staff of Gemini Studios had heard of.
The Englishman was welcomed by the Boss, Mr. Vasan. He read out a long speech talking of freedom and democracy. Then the Englishman spoke. Nobody could understand what he said. His accent had made it impossible. But they were baffled. They could not understand the purpose of his visit. They made Tamil films for simple people who could not be expected to have any interest in English poetry. The visit of the Englishman remained a mystery.
The author saw a notice in The Hindu. The Encounter, a British periodical, was organizing a short story contest. The author had never heard of the periodical. He wanted to send an entry. He wanted to have some information about it before he sent the entry. He visited the British Council Library. There he found copies of The Encounter. He learned that its editor was Stephen Spender, who had visited the Gemini Studios. After a few years, the author had retired. One day, he saw a pile of low-priced paperback edition of The God that Failed. He bought a copy. It contained six different essays of six different writers. They described writers’ journeys to communism and the disillusioned return. One of the writers was Stephen Spender. The whole mystery of Spender’s visit was cleared. Mr. Vasan was not interested in his Poetry but was interested on his views on communism.