Saturday, April 12, 2008

My life as an ‘art’ movie buff. (Snigger, snigger.)

The trouble with being in advertising – and that too in an ad agency that was a successor to the one where Satyajit Rai had once worked as an art director – is that you’re bound sometime or other to deceive yourself into imagining that you’re a movie aficionado par excellence. In my case, I happened to get into my profession at a time when the Indian art movie movement was just about beginning. NFDC was up and running. (I remember seeing Bhuvan Shome, the Mrinal Sen-NFDC movie made in 1969, at Dreamland, a hop, skip and a jump away from 233 Khetwadi Main Road. An NFDC Film List is here: ) Film societies were sprouting all over. On top of it, I had also deluded myself into believing that ad writing was an art. Ergo, I was an artist. When I first joined Clarion in 1965, I used to wear a shirt with a tie. By the time I became a senior writer in a couple of years, I had switched to jeans and khadi kurtas. I also took to visiting art galleries, craft shops like Contemporary Arts & Crafts (I used to buy fairly inexpensive artifacts from this shop at the time located on the first floor of a musty old building with wooden flooring opposite the University on Mahatma Gandhi Road) and watching experimental plays at Tejpal like Mohan Rakesh’s Adhe Adhure. As luck would have it, I became friendly with an art director from the Clarion-McCann Calcutta office, Shyam Guha, who used to visit us from time to time on work junkets. A good raconteur, he used to regale me with his stories of Rai qua art director. I had in the meanwhile become friendly with Saeed Mirza, a fellow copywriter who later became an art movie maker. You can imagine how facilely I must have slipped into reading about and discussing genre, film noire and all that jazz including movie and play scripts published by Calder & Boyars, mostly left-of-trad stuff. Having been weaned on a diet of the standard Hindustani film and Hollywood fare – cowboy flicks, comedies, musicals, crime, cartoons – thus far, I began to abhor songs and dances and straight forward story-telling. I began to view film as art, not meant for mass entertainment but for meaningful “communication”. All this had an inevitable fall-out in my view of advertising too. I started to view it as “communication” and an adjunct to education. I started scouring for books on communication models and spouting these half-baked “received ideas” (to borrow the Gustave Flaubert phrase for “fashionable banalities”) to anyone who would be willing to listen. It amazes and amuses me now to think how many people were actually willing to listen to this new-fangled rocket science about advertising creativity. My romance with art movies and ad creativity qua rocket science ended fairly late in life. Thank my lucky stars for making the scales fall from my eyes.