For nearly thirty years from 1940, the Gemini Studios of Madras (Chennai) was the most influential film-producing Organisation of India and its founder, the brilliant multi-faceted entrepreneur S.S. Vasan lent substance and quality to the rather fragile and unpredictable movie business. The Gemini emblem of two small boys with bugles was true to Vasan's slogan for the Studios,' when the bugles blow, there is a great show,' Gemini films entertained millions all over India and abroad,
Sahitya Akademi award-winning Tamil writer Ashokamitran worked for the Gemini Studios from 1952 to 1966.a full twenty years after he 'renounced' films, poet-editor Pritish Nandypersuaded Ashokamitran to record his reminiscences and the result was a series of articles making up My Years with Boss. The book covers only five of his fourteen years with the Studios but captures that phase of Indian movie business when the key factors of the box office were imperceptibly shifting from the studios to the stars.
My Years with Boss is one of the most unusual books to be written about the entertainment world and clearly indicate the emormous impact of the movies of virtually every aspect of life in India.
The author's ability to capture the life and breath of people and events, and his puckish narrative make this a brief but special book of film history.
I was twenty when I came across an issue of The Illustrated Weekly of India containing among a bunch of sterling reading materials, an article titled "The Great Dream Bazaar" by Ashokamitran. Actually it was the first of a series of articles and at tha time not only those in Tamilnadu but readers in other parts of India also keenly looked forward to successive instalments. The articles contained a pleasantly unpredictable sequence of events and details. (Like an English poet in a Madras studio.) of course at that time I did not discern the artistic and stylistic aspects of the pieces but my friends, relatives and I were excited that what we knew about films hazily and what we did not know at all, was issuing out of the articles in an exceedingly informative and entertaining manner.
It was the year 1984 and Tamilnadu had outgrown the MGR-Sivaji Ganesan syndrome and was gradually settling down to another pair, Kamalahasan-Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan was Kamalahasan in those days. In the north, Rajesh Khanna had given way to the tall phenomenon called Amitabh Bachchan. A film society movement was flourishing in Madras and though my generation listened to Ilayaraja's film songs and watched Kamalahasan's films, we worshipped Kurosawa and Fellini. A separate genre of films known as the art film had come about with its votaries in Aravindan, Ritwik Ghatak, Kumar Shahani and Mani Kaul. There was the middle cinema or the parallel cinema headed by Basu Bhattacharya, Shyam Benegal and others. Satyajit ray had created his great Charulata and Sippy's Sholay was still drawing crowds. In such an atmosphere of abundance and variety, the 'Dream Bazaar' (which I knew was the editor's title and that the writer had called it 'My Years with Boss') made reflecting on Indian films and movie business an great but the panorama of the entire film movement in the context of prevailing sociological, political and cultural focus of India made them a challenging and highly rewarding field of study. The articles also made one more tolerant towards field of study. The articles also made one more tolerant towards popular cinema. There must be a tiny bit of truth to make hundreds of thousands of film-goers spend their hard-earned money and sit through the film in a dark uncomfortable hall for three hours When that tiny bit of truth is out of synchronization, the film is rejected mercilessly.
In the Upanishads there is a discussion between a guru and his disciple about a particular daily ritual. The guru had said the ritual performed three times a day was valueless as far as mukti or freedom was concerned but still had to be performed. The disciple naturally asks why. The guru says that at least while performing the ritual one is protected from accumulating harmful Karma.
The history of films is now important not only to film scholars but to all thinking men and women with a concern for people and society. Many histories are straightforward narratives of events in sequence. Very often mere chronology leaves one unconvinced. But if the historian is able to capture the life and breath of events and make us believe those men and women really existed, then history becomes meaningful. It is this liveliness and vivacity that makes MyYears with Boss a brief but special book of history.
In Ashokamitran's fiction, human beings are written about as human beings with all their failings and shortcomings but still presented with dignity and earnestness. This book is vintage Ashokamitran. In the growing body of literature on Indian films My Years with Boss is sure to find a choice place.
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