Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Explaining old filmstars to new generation

Sholay may be a blockbuster for people of my generation, but those who were born two decades after Sholay was released are just as unimpressed with this movie as I used to be with Devdas and Mother India, movies that were released before I was born.

I tried to introduce my daughter to Sholay, and she was not impressed. I realised that she did not know any of the characters and as such she could not identify with them. Telling her the names of these actors also did not help matters. Then I got a brain wave.

"Look, that person in the movie is Amitabh Bachchan- father of Abhishek Bachchan."-I informed her.

"But he is Mr Crorepati."- She corrected me.

"Yes, he is the anchor of Kaun banega crorepati but he was a famous film hero before that."- I informed her.

"And look, that is Jaya. She is the mother of Abhishek Bachchan."- I continued.

" Crorepati's friend in the movie is called Dharmendra. He is the father of Sunny Deol,Bobby Deol and Esha Deol. And look, the tangewali is Hema Malini, mummy of Esha Deol".

Adding 2+2=4 ( she is good in maths),my daughter said-"Why dont you just tell me that she is the mother of Sunny Deol, Bobby Deol and Esha Deol."

"Err, she is not,... I mean..Look that is Helen. She is the mother of Salman Khan."

My daughter took a closer look, trying to find any resemblance between Helen and Salman Khan.

"And look, that is Sachin.You know him, he comes in TV serials."

"Yes, I know him", she was pleased to see someone whom she could identify from her TV watching.

"See, look at that bearded fellow Sambha,his name is McMohan and he is the uncle of Raveena Tandon. And that fellow Kaalia, he is the brother of the lady who plays the role of Principal in the serial Zabaan Sambhal ke".

By now she was getting interested by the realisation that these oldtimers were relatives of present day actors whom she knew. She brought me a piece of paper, and asked me to write which of the oldtimer actor was related to which present day actor, so that she could memorise it and later impress her friends with her knowledge of these retro actors.

I started to make entries, but soon I found myself making flow charts, where every film personality was somehow related to everyone else.

I started with Kapoors. See, Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh are the papa and Mummy of Ranbir Kapoor. Randhir Kapoor and Babita are the Papa and Mummy of Karishma and Kareena. Their grandfather was Raj Kapoor, and great grandfather was Prithvi Raj Kapoor.

Realising that such explanations would be boring to her,I decided to show her some movie clips and explain to her who those people were. I showed her a clip of Tanuja, and explained that she is the mom of Kajol and saas of Ajay Devgan. Nutan, well, she is the mother of Mohneesh Bahl and mausi of Kajol. Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor are brothers of Raj Kapoor and uncles of Rishi Kapoor and Randheer Kapoor.Feroz Khan is the father of Fardeen Khan and father in law of Hrithik Roshan.Premnath, and Rajendra Nath, they are brothers, and they were the brothers in law of Raj Kapoor. Sharmila Tagore is the mom of Saif Ali Khan and Soha. And look this is Jeetendra, papa of Ekta Kapoor, who makes all those saas bahu serials that you watch like an old lady.

" But you too watch cricket on TV,papa."

" Yes, I do, but in cricket you never know the result so there is suspense. But these serials are all similar, where everyone is conspiring against everyone else."

" that is why I watch reality shows." she pointed out.

" Err.. well.. where were we, yes,we were talking about old actors."

"Papa, it means that every film actor is related to everyone else in Hindi movies."- she observed.
Even I was coming to the same conclusion. I realised that Rajendranath was related to Ashwarya Rai, and Mumtaz to Roshan through marriages that took place many decades ago, or many decades later.

When I showed her the clips of Kishore Kumar's songs of "Chalti ka naam gadi", she was hooked. She herself enquired about Kishore Kumar and she quickly grasped the fact that Ashok Kumar and Anup Kumar were his brothers, and that Amit Kumar was his son. In fact, she on her own initiative watched the entire movie, enjoying it to her heart's content. Later I showed her Kishore Kumar's songs from Asha ("eena meena deeka"), Half ticket ("chel cheel chilla ke"), and Padosan ("Ek chatur naar"). She was mightily impressed with Kishore Kumar, and I was pleased that here was one great film celebrity from the past whom even the younger generation finds worthy of admiration.

"Papa, where is Kishore Kumar now ?"
"He died 20 years ago"
"Oh", she was genuinely sorry-"How old was he?"
"He was 58."
"He should have taken better care of his health." She opined, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

"Who were the top hero and heroine those days"- She enquired.

Thinking that now I could sell her on my favourite stars from 1970s, I played a rain song filmed on Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz.

" See, this is Rajesh Khanna, father of Twinkle and father in law of Akshay Kumar. And this is Mumtaz, mother in law of Fardeen Khan."

My daughter watched the video, accompanied by the song sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata. Then she commented- "Papa, India was a poor country those day, was it not? "

" Yes, it was, but how did you know ?"

"See, Fardeen's saas is getting drenched in rain, but she does not change her clothes even once in the song. These days, people change their clothes so many times in a song even when it is not raining. Twinkle's papa is also dancing in the same clothes throughout the song."

"Well, err.. you see..Look.. here is Joy Mukherjee, uncle of Rani Mukherjee..." I exclaimed.
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Monday, August 4, 2008

My experience with direct salesmen

In olden days, we were confronted by salesmen only in the showroom, but these days they have become proactive, and they come to your home/ office as well.

Door to door salesmanship in India was pioneered by vacuum cleaner sellers and water purifier sellers. Then there are carpet sellers who also do their sales pitch by going door to door.

I refuse to entertain them, saying I do not want whatever item they are selling. So that rules out door to door salesmen at my home.

It leaves salesmen who approach me at the office.

Unlike other people, I just cannot make people wait. I respect everyone's time, and that includes even salesmen. So when they want to come see me, I let them in.

It appears that there is some management college in the city ( obviously nothing like IIMs) and they teach their students various skills. And one of the skills is supposed to be direct selling to customers. As practical, they are sent to various offices where they try their newly acquired knowledge of salesmanship.

It is these management students who come trying to sell things.

Here is how they do it.

Two of them approach me. They start their sales pitch- " We all need to have good general knowledge , and we need to know what is going on around us. You must know who Darwin was, you should be aware how many legs an octopus has, who had written Kalidas's Shakuntala, why sky is blue, how computers work, how a locomotive works..."

I,losing patience, state- "That is all right, but what has that got to do with your visit.."

Salespitch continues-" unless you know all these facts, you cannot answer these questions in interviews, you cannot score high marks in exams, you cannot win Rs one crore in KBC.."

I, losing patience again-" OK, I cannot do all that, and you have come to tell me my limitations ?.."

Salesmen--" One can improve one's general knowledge if one has a good book where all these information are presented in an easy to understand manner. Here is this book "Discovery facts and figures". If you buy this book in stores, it will cost you Rs 1500. But our company is committed to spreading general awareness among public. That is why this book is being offered at a concessional rate of only Rs 600."

And they take out the book from their bag with a flourish. It is a book that I have with me for the past 25 years, and in fact I have many such books with me which I purchased in the past when I was an avid book collector.

I tell them that all this salespitch is alright if you are dealing with a college student or someone who actually needs to improve his GK. All these things that they are telling me- "appearing in exams,appearing in interviews, having to know how a computer or a locomotive works" all that is old hat for me. In fact, these days I am in a position to be the examiner,interviewer,manufacturer of a locomotive etc. Moreover, I know all the facts they want me to know. And I add more information to my memory cells than what is available in these books. The stuff contained in this book are meant for school kids. The information that I seek are far too advanced to be available in a book like this.

"Well, then you can take this book for your children, or for any relatives or friends who may use it".

"I think you did not hear me. I said that I already have this book, and in fact I have similar books from many such publications that I purchased when I was a college student, which was 25 years ago." -I explain patiently.

The salesmen are obviously taught that their customers are fools and they need to be explained things very slowly and in a step by step manner. They put that book back into their bag and take out another book "Oxford English dictionary" and start telling me- " Every one needs to have a good vocabulary in English. They need to know the meaning of difficult English words such as superstition, acrimony, stupefied etc.."

"But I already know the meanings of such words and more. And I do not need a dictionary. I have as good a vocabulary as I need. I think you people did not listen carefully to what I said.I do not need to impress people by using English words memorised from a dictionary. One does not learn words from a dictionary. One learns them by reading books"- I explain.

The salesmen do not seem to believe me. Their training and exposure did not include such information. They take out another book. "We all need good careers in life. And one of the best careers is Engineering. But getting into Engineering is not easy. There is tough competition. One needs to have clear fundamentals so that one can clear entrance examinations of Engineering colleges..".

I lose my composure and ask them to get the hell out of there.
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Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Radio Ceylon fan from 1960s and 70s

Though Jhumri Tilaiyya was the most famous of all places known for sending farmaishes, it was not the only such place. Jhumri Tilayya, a small town in Bihar ( now Jharkhand) was the only such place in that region. But most such places, known for sending farmaishes were in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Small towns in Maharashtra known for sending farmaishes were Yavatmal, Buldhana, Akola, Nanded, Parbhani, Balharshah,Gondia etc. Their Madhya Pradesh counterparts were places like Ganj Basoda,Nainpur,Mandi Bamora,Bina etc.

I always wondered what these fans were like, and what did they do in their lives apart from sending farmaishes. Also, where are they now, and what are they doing now? What follows is a brief account of one such fan whom I know personally.

The question that can be asked is, what about me? Was I not one of the radio fans ? The answer is, I was a radio fan, but I never sent any farmaishes. Moreover, I was not growing up in a small town, and most farmaishes tended to be from small one horse towns, and each of the place mentioned above was a small town, where everyone knew everyone else, and life used to be slow paced and leisurely.

I have been to most of the places mentioned above, and in fact I can vouch for the facts that life in some of these places continue to be just as leisurely and relaxed as it was 30-40 years ago.

Growing up in his small town, he caught the radio and movie songs bug in 1960s when he was in his teens. His elder brother was a fan too, but the younger brother was a much bigger fan.

He would send farmaishes in Radio Ceylon, and it was common in Aaphi ke geet to listen to, " aur Nainpur se Prakash,Mukund .."
The farmaishi letters were written by Mukund and he possessed the most important pre requisite for a successful farmaish sender- he had a superb handwriting. His handwriting looked like calligraphy, ("moti jaise akshar likhta hai" were the comments made about his handwriting), and that helped him catch the eyes of the Radio Ceylon announcers more often than many other farmaish senders.

Apart from just sending farmaishes, he was actively involved in other things associated with songs. For instance, he was an avid reader and collector of filmy magazines. He would also faithfully maintain the list of Binaca geetmala weekly countdown statistics. He maintained these records from 1970 onwards.

All these documents were kept stored in a big trunk under lock and key.

One night,when everyone was fast asleeo, a thief entered his house. Looking at the trunk with a big lock hanging on it, he thought that there must be valuables inside. He tried to lift the box. But the box was very heavy. Thinking that heavy box meant big booty, he gathered all his strength and with great difficulty, decamped with the trunk.

Hardly had the thief gone a small distance that his strength and resolve gave way, and he stumbled under the heavy weight of the trunk. The noise woke people up. "Chor, chor" was the alarm raised by people, and the thief, sensing trouble, ran for his life, leaving the trunk behind. The box lying on the ground was retrieved back. People wondered what was there inside it. When opened, one saw heaps and heaps of filmy magazines, notebooks containing details about binaca geetmala weekly positions of songs etc.

His letter writing was not just limited to sending farmaishes. He was a fan of film stars too, and he would write to many film personalities.Unlike farmaishes, his letters to film personalities did not yield much result. But he caught the eye of the singer cum actress Sharda. She became sort of like his pen friend, and she would send him Rakhi during the Rakhi festival for many years.

He had younger sisters, and like a good elder brother , he would exhort his sisters to study, and would make them open their books and study evey morning and evening. Those times were also the times when the best musical programmes would be on the air. He would have his transistor tuned to these programmes, and he would multi task- viz supervising the study of his sisters as well as listening to songs on the radio transistor. His sisters too would be distracted into listening to the wonderful songs emanating from the transistor. Noticing that, he would reduce the volume so low that his sisters would be unable to listen to the songs. As mentioned, he was an archtypical elder brother to his sisters.

In those days ( late 1960s), filmy magazines had called for applications from people who wanted to act in movies. Oldtimers would remember that Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan became actors through this method. Both sent their applications, which were accepted and they were called to Bombay to act.

Mukund too had sent his application. And unbelivably, his application was accepted too.

But that is where dreams met harsh realities of life and got shattered. Economic condition of his family was not such that they could have afforded sending him to Bombay and helping him financially. Also, his parents, though tolerating his radio listening and movie loving ways, would have none of this film acting. So that was the end of his Bollywood dreams.

Was he made of Bollywood stuff? Well, imagine a person of Amitabh's height and physique with the complexion of Mithun da. Appearance wise, he had the right credentials. In his town, he was popular, thanks to his farmaishes and other cultural activities. He was the head of the trustees of a leading temple of the town, and he was a good leader.If his aspirations of acting were confined to local dramas, then there was the option of becoming a leader. But deterioration of politics had begun in 1970s, and his simple and straighforward ways would not have taken him far in politics. For record, his maternal grandfather (Nana) was a member of parliament, and his cousin was a minister in Madhya Pradesh. So it was not as if his political aspirations would have been just a pipe dream had he decided to pick that career.

Sending farmaishes and aspiring to be a Bollywood actor were all right, but with time, he needed to decide what to do for a living. So he started applying for jobs. He got one and left his town for West Bengal.

There he became an active participant in cultural activities including Durga Puja and Kali puja.

His radio farmaish days were obviously behind him by then, but he was a big fan of cricket too ( now who in India is not a fan of Bollywood as well as cricket)?

What about his carefully collected and stored documents related to movies ? The problem with these books were that they were occupying too much space in the modest house where he lived with his parents and siblings. So the magazines gradually ended up with raddiwalas. But he resisted the efforts of his binaca notebooks to be disposed that way.

It was in 1996 or so that he suffered a string of personal tragedies, and he decided that holding on to his memories of Binaca geetmala records was not worth it, so he burnt his Binaca geetmala related notebooks.

The first time I met him and I was introduced to him was in 1996. Of course, I was not aware of his radio farmaish past at that time.

By now, we know each other well. He does not talk much about movies and songs , mainly because there are not too many people who are interested in movies and songs of that era. But he still has an encyclopaediac knowledge about songs of that era, which he displays if asked.

Ofcourse, he talks about cricket, because he finds many takers for this topic. Often, when cricket matches are in progress, he would ring me and discuss the match. Once or twice in a year, when he comes on leave, he meets me.

He is a few months short of 60 now. (How time flies)? He has an Amitabh like goatie (white in colour). I often wondered how it would be if he had to come face to face with Amitabh Bachchan. Similar appearance, similar goatie.

He is a nice and caring person, and kids adore him. I am hoping that he may have atleast kept some of his past notebooks intact. That would have been such big assets for me. I have been writing articles in internet for a few years. When I showed him one of my first articles published in a website, he felt so pleased about it and about me. He will be retiring soon, and I hope I will have enough opportunities to learn from him about the days of 1960s and 70s from his point of view.
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