Year: 2016

List: Things Adults Do At A Supermarket

Nasty things.

  • Window-shop without the intention of buying
  • Take one product from a rack in aisle 3 and put it back in a rack in aisle 23 (don’t you often find a pack of biscuits smothered between two pairs of jeans?)
  • Take ownership of an aisle by artfully placing their trolleys in the middle
  • Drop things and pretend to not have noticed
  • Drop things and leave them for the housekeeping to pick up
  • Gaze at other people’s trolleys
    • And then judge them by their contents
  • Ogle at women
  • Ogle at good-looking men
  • Bring their crying babies
  • Bring their better halves who fail at tending the crying babies
  • Use a trolley when they want to buy only a packet of bread
  • Park their trolleys literally anywhere before going upstairs to check out those colourful bean bags
  • Empty perfume/deodorant bottles
  • Keep away from sanitary pads and undergarments section
  • Discuss recipes
  • Try out a tee, hate it, wring it into a ball, and then put it back in the toys section
  • Clog entranceways
  • Criticise the hypermarket for not managing their entranceways
  • Take home trolleys and/or baskets with them
  • Spill loose products
  • Keep the refrigerators open
  • Try to replace price tags hoping the CCTVs don’t catch them
  • Vent ire about paying 3 to 5 rupees for polythene bags
  • Decide to not buy that sauce while at the counter
  • Forget their credit card identification number
  • Forget to bring their wallet
  • Block the exitway
  • Forget at least one thing to buy

Enough to make supermarkets one of the worst places to work.

List: Things Kids Do At A Birthday Party

But, that’s why they are invited for by parents who throw such parties.

  1. Collect balloons
  2. Collect balloon sticks
  3. Run around in an attempt to trip someone over
  4. Spill at least one liquid or semi-solid dish (usually curry)
  5. Burst those collected balloons
  6. Continue bursting balloons because that elder jerk has now joined them
  7. Do not care about the kid whose birthday it is
  8. Embarrass their parents for not being ideal
  9. Attempt to burst all balloons
  10. Attempt to burst all balloons and fail
  11. Attempt to burst all balloons and fail and cry
  12. Spill some cake
  13. Cry
  14. Play with the candles
  15. Forget it’s a birthday party

Enough to make an adult stay miles away from such dos.

Who Copywrites For Them?

Update: I have developed this into a series since. Here – https://whocopywrites.tumblr.com/.

Have you ever visited a public place like a tourist spot or a popular restaurant and noticed that the messages written for the public are riddled with errors? Have you wondered how they came to be? As in, who wrote them and on whose command? This post tries to understand the conversation behind such embarrassing texts. Grammatical mistakes, errors in diction, punctuation slips, and typography gaffes are the most common.

While your local cake shop may have wanted to advertise about an offer which provides their patrons with the option of buying two pastries and getting the third one at a hefty discount, the text more than often translates to “Buy II pastrees and GET 3 in 50% discount……….” Smart people can give a try at deciphering the meaning, but we are talking about the greater good here. To practice good English so that when times such as a national-level demonetisation move by an authoritarian government comes, you are prepared.

Following is a list of frequently updated examples of such textual blunders noticeable everywhere in India, be it your neighbourhood cafe or a UNESCO World Heritage site.


At Karachi Bakery, Secunderabad

Manager: Aye Sugu, have you printed today’s special offer?

Sugu: No, Sir. Had asked the new boy Kumaran to do it.

Manager: Has he done it? Did you tell him to focus on the buy 1, get 1 offer?

Sugu: Yes, Sir.

Manager: What about the T&C that the free one will be from our stale stock? No one should be able to read it.

Sugu: Yes, Sir. Here it is:

img_20161123_132903

 

At Golconda Fort, Hyderabad

Manager: Saqib, I had told you to place that placard on the garden restricting foolish tourists from plucking flowers. Did you do it?

Ramu: Saqib has not come today, Sir. I have done it. I also thought about the poor leaves:

img_20161121_120734

 

At Paradise Hotel, Secunderabad

Admin: Goddamn this demonetisation! Rizwan, take an A4 paper and write few sentences to warn our customers that we do not use the old 500 and 1000 denomination notes.

Mukesh: Sir, Rizwan is tending to a customer who is insisting that we accept the old notes.

Admin: Shit! You write it then! Mention about the government circular and use MS Paint to create some images. And bring me some biriyani.

Mukesh: The new waiter we hired yesterday has already done it, Sir. Although, he was telling me he was confused with upper- and lowercase letters. Have a look:

img_20161121_133323

 

At an apartment building, Navi Mumbai

Secretary: Watchman, I don’t want that fish seller again in this society.

Watchman: Sir, but he is beckoned by our people only. He does not pay heed to my requests to stay out, and also deposits the dirty water inside.

Secretary: Bastard! Do one thing. Ask one of the painters working in Mehra’s flat to come and paint a warning on our gate that salesmen and outside vehicles are not allowed. I’m forever putting an end to this (smirks)

Watchman: As you say, Sir. But, we only have a problem with that lone fish seller, and that too because of Mrs Das. Plus, there is no space even for our vehicles inside.

Secretary: You do as I say, Babloo. Have you not seen other buildings use the text that goes, “Outside vehicles not allowed…”

Watchman Babloo: Yes, Sir. But, that fish seller is the only one…

Secretary: God damn it, Babloo. Do it! Ask the painter to keep that in mind.

Watchman Babloo: But, the fish seller does not know how to read English…

Secretary: (shouts) Babloo!

img_20161125_224041

 

Indian Railways

Suresh Prabhu: Now that we have bio toilets, we need placards to inform illiterate Indians how to use them.

IRCTC Admin: I have asked the boys to get in touch with an agency to create an instructions panel.

Suresh Prabhu: No need. Just ask your boys to make it at home, and also ask them to focus on “Eco-Friendly Bio Toilet”. They should all be in uppercase. Ignore the punctuation.

IRCTC Admin: LOL. They don’t even know what punctuation marks are.

Suresh Prabhu: Yeah, yeah. I’m getting late. Need to tweet about these toilets…

img_20161124_221128


 

The Decline of Malayalam Actor Jayaram

Malayalam film actor jayaram

Last night I was watching Aadupuliyattam (2016), and I knew I would be writing this today. It narrates the story of a young man who lives a luxurious life with his wife and daughter. He is some kind of an affluent humanitarian with an eventful past which has now come back to haunt him and his dear family. Basically Sathyajith, played by Malayalam actor Jayaram, is a compulsive sinner who committed a heinous crime for money during his youth. Which is still not the biggest problem I have with the film. My issue is with a supporting character – one of his close friends – dying as collateral damage for Sathyajith’s sins.

I understand when horror comedies deviate into a territory where unintended humor makes the audience laugh, but Aadupuliyattam fails in almost all cinematic departments. It qualifies as one of year 2016’s worst (Malayalam) films with zero entertainment quotient to offer (compare it with the year’s best here).

Jayaram’s worst films can be listed and talked about like an essay: the recent debacles – Pattabhiraman (2019), Marconi Mathai (2019), My Great Grandfather (2019), Daivame Kaithozham K. Kumar Akanam (2018), Achayans (2017), Satya (2017), Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare (2015), Ulsaha Committee (2014) – and the back-to-back flops in 2012 – Madirsasi and Njanum Ente Familiyum – the list is crowded and endless. And I haven’t even counted over a dozen turkeys he acted in between 2010 and 2014.

Jayaram, the Hit-Maker

What we can gather from this inexhaustible list of flop films above is that the actor has not produced a single watchable film since the 2011 multi-starrer Makeup Man (dir. Shafi), which mainly relied on his and the writer’s ability to generate slapstick. Half a decade later and after acting in more than thirty-three odd films, Jayaram Subramaniam – better known by his stage name Jayaram – has still not been able to match his 1990s’ success.

Malayalam film actor jayaram
Padma Shri Jayaram Subramaniam / Commons

Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, the classic 1999 Malayalam film by Anthikad-Lohitadas duo is one of the all-time greatest dramas to come out of Malayalam film industry, but still, critics won’t and cannot fully credit the actor for its success, because most still consider veteran actor Thilakan to be its star (even though Jayaram is top billed in the opening and ending credits). But, for the sake of an argument and considering him as the “other” actor who propelled the film into a blockbuster, let’s assume it as his film.

On the heel of that film’s success, he then gave back-to-back hits throughout the 1990s such as Sandesham (1991), Kadinjool Kalyanam (1991), Georgekutty C/O Georgekutty (1991), Meleparambil Aanveedu (1993), Thooval Kottaram (1996), Kaliveedu (1996), Sneham (1998), and Summer in Bethlahem (1998) to name a few.

A string of cherishable film awards also followed him, starting with a Filmfare acting honour for Thooval Kottaram in 1996, which also earned him a Kerala State Film Award. Then came other few new-wave features like Friends (1999), Njangal Santhushtaranu (1999), Theerthadanam (2001), and Yathrakarude Sradhakku (2002). But, his entry into the 2000s millennium also marked the beginning of his slump, with films like Vakkalathu Narayanankutty (2001), Sharja To Sharja (2001) and Daivathinte Makan (2000) bombing at the box office. People had begun to talk.

The Beginning of a Slump

After Y2K, while the general movie-going audience shifted their attention to other life-changing elements like the internet and personal computers, the effect and perception of films as a source of entertainment slowly started to falter. This not only affected the Malayalam film industry, but also challenged filmmakers in the neighbouring Bollywood and other industries around the globe. Which is why ‘best films lists’ around the web currently cherish the 80s, 90s, and then the 2010s, sometimes altogether skipping the 2000s decade. Of course, there were a very few exceptions, but majority feature film releases in the 10-year span were box office disasters.

Even in the case of Jayaram, Malayalam films like Njan Salperu Ramankutty (2004), Mayilattam (2004), Sarkar Dada (2005), Anchil Oral Arjunan (2007), and Parthan Kanda Paralokam (2008) failed at the box office so gloriously that directors and writers started approaching other actors. But, by then, the ‘new generation wave’ had already reached the Kerala coast and would quickly encapsulate the industry. The rise of Soubin Shahir from a small-time comedian to a top-billed actor and a successful director is a small example, a testament to that evolution. So is the rise of new-gen romantic comedies like Premam which released in 2015 and partly set the stage for more realistic cinema, something that has recently found even more traction with films like Kumbalangi Nights (2019),[1]Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019. Ee.Ma.Yau (2018),[2]Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018. and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017) getting made and finding viewership as well as continued fondling from critics and award juries alike. Unfortunately for Jayaram, it looks like he didn’t get the memo as he continued to join hands with directors that brought him failure. Even though he tested the waters in the more friendly Tamil film industry, he couldn’t really replicate his 1990s’ success even there.

But it wouldn’t be fair if we skip the fact that the neighbouring Tamil Nadu gave him some success in the early 2000s decade while he struggled in Mollywood, helping him win two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards for his work in K S Ravikumar’s Thenali (2000).

His slump, however, was not going to just disappear.

Flop Movies of Jayaram: Cause and Effect

It is not entirely Jayaram’s fault that the films he acts in gets panned by both critics and the audience. Let’s take the case of the 2015 mega-blunder, Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare. It was primarily a launchpad for singer Rimi Tomy who was finally going to live her dream of acting in a motion picture. Of course, the script would have to be cheesy, similar to that of the talk show named “Onnum Onnum Moonu” that she hosts on Malayalam TV channel Mazhavil Manorama. The script was written by – wait for it – none other than Kannan Thamarakkulam – the same person who directed Aadupuliyattam and, more recently, Pattabhiraman (2019).

The trailer of the 2015 film

As is a usual and understandable thing that no established actor wants to be paired with a newcomer despite of their popularity and/or creativity in another field, the makers must have felt a need for casting a known face rather than going for two fresh faces. I don’t know how Jayaram fell for Thamarakkulam’s offer, but it must have been either the package or out of friendship, and I am inclined to believe it was the latter. Anyway, the film made it to the screens and we had to sit through two hours of slipshod comedy. The amount of cringeworthy sequences that the film has would put a turkey like late director Diphan’s Satya to shame. But, the primary reason why the film failed is that for a comedy film it lacked adequate amount of comedy. Jayaram suiting up as Mickey Mouse and running around is definitely not funny.

A Lack of Bankable Actresses

Rimi Tomy’s debut film also shines light into another fact behind Jayaram’s fall in the film industry. Leading ladies say no to him. They just don’t want to act with him, unless they themselves are trying to land roles. A close look at his last 14 releases gives us the following result. He has been paired with (the actress has to play a character who is either a love interest or has considerable screen space to be considered):

  • Athmeeya Rajan
  • Divya Pillai
  • Anna Rajan
  • Anusree
  • Iniya
  • Parvathy Nambiar
  • Sheelu Abraham
  • Ramya Krishnan
  • Honey Rose
  • Kanika
  • Priyamani
  • Isha Talwar
  • Meera Jasmine
  • Kadambari

An average movie-goer in Kerala will not recognize half of the actresses mentioned in this list, yet they were the lead actresses in his films. Most of them are only a few films old, and as stated before, are only trying to make a name for themselves in the industry. The point here is not to measure their film success rate but to expose that Jayaram is not being entertained by bankable actresses. Nor is he being cast by successful filmmakers. (Although the former is a discussion for another time because Malayalam film industry hardly pays attention to actresses. This feature article being about a male actor is an irony. Plus, other than Parvathy Thiruvothu, Manju Warrier, KPAC Lalitha, Lena, and Rajisha Vijayan there’s hardly anybody who has maintained a consistent filmography in the 2010s decade for even a comparison.)

Consider these directors and their films: Thamarakkulam with his back-to-back flops; slapstick king Shajoon Kariyal; Benny Thomas; king of 90s Sibi Malayail; and one-hit wonder Akku Akbar. Those who directed him in the 90s are either no longer with us or are not making films anymore while the good ones who are doing it right now are not interested in him.

Staying Above Water

Despite this slump in his filmography, he did manage to stay afloat with a handful of rare quality films like Manassinakkare (2003), Veruthe Oru Bharya (2008), and Swapna Sanchari (2011), some of which also bagged him one or two awards. And thanks to his sporadic presence in the Tamil film industry, the Indian government decided to help him improve his spirits by honouring him with the Padma Shri in 2011. A very well-deserved honour for a mimicry artist-turned-actor with so much talent and influence, but even that did not help him land better roles in the decade that started with mega-blockbusters for his contemporaries.

To keep his finances up during this slump, he had to make do with endorsement deals for brands such Ramraj, Vayodha, and Kalyan Sarees. As of October 2019, he is still an ambassador for the last one.

Filmography in the 2010s Decade

An acquaintance collectively appropriates Jayaram’s last few characters to the comical identity of a joker. Take Sir C. P. (2015) or Onnum Mindathe (2014); both dramas testing a social theme but advertised as comedies, probably just because they credit Jayaram as an actor. The only watchable film of the lot in the last half decade is the 2014 comedy drama Mylanchi Monchulla Veedu, which again worked because of the ensemble cast and sufficient support from youngster Asif Ali. Two other examples would be Tamil actor Samuthirakani’s debut Malayalam directorial feature Aakashamittayi (2017) and fellow mimicry artist Ramesh Pisharody’s Panchavarnathatha (2018).

Early in 2014, Jayaram also did veteran filmmaker and Cannes’ Golden Palm nominee Shaji Karun’s tragedy Swapaanam. The film was written and executed badly using a hollow story, which again the actor should have thought twice before accepting. I am sure money is not the issue here, but a serious lack of better offers (and better script-choosing ability on his part) from filmmakers who are evidently vying for young and successful talent is playing against him. But, if that was really the case, then how does one comment about Mammootty’s enthusiastic bout? He does a fair share of films each year and sometimes comes up with really good ones (Pathemari (2015) and Unda (2019)) occasionally. Same is the case with Mohanlal, although, matter-of-factly he hasn’t had a qualitative hit since 2013’s Drishyam. The 2019 film Ittymani may be considered a comeback, but let’s be a bit more critical.

Trailer of Pattabhiraman (2019), his most recent release

The craze before the release of Jayaram’s Aadupuliyattam was regarding his salt-and-pepper look. For his fans, I agree with the craze, but it does not aid a bit in increasing the appeal of the film. Jayaram fooling around in his gray beard is the same as him fooling around in a beard dyed black. Experimenting with one’s looks for a film with a hollow story and lackadaisical execution only pleases the die-hard fan, but it does not guarantee box office success or critical acclaim. Sure the members of the All Kerala Jayaram Fans Cultural and Welfare Association will check out all his future films and voluntarily fill the seats the starting week, but that is not what one should do with art. A film should ignite a sense of feeling in a person when he’s least expecting it. And none of Jayaram’s films in this decade, or the previous, have even remotely succeeded in doing that.

Possible Bounceback

Jayaram is a talented classical percussionist (a video of one of his recent concerts is embedded below) and actor, no doubt about that, but after watching Aadupuliyattam, I couldn’t resist writing this feature.

For someone who braved the industry when it was just starting up, I respect him for giving the world some great dramas and comedies, for being an influential career-starter for a lot of newcomers including his son Kalidas Jayaram who is dangerously treading up the same territory lately,[3]Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops. for being an animal (pachyderm) lover, for collaborating with some of the greatest minds in Mollywood.

I hope that his current slump is only a phase. Here’s wishing him good luck for his future endeavors. TN.

Something to end on a high note; Jayaram’s pandi melam performance

Update: Copyedited; added more data to reflect the subject’s career progression; added and removed a few links. (15 January 2019)

Update #2: Copyedited; added new film titles; changed images. (26 September 2019)

Update #3: Copyedited. (3 October 2019)


Did you find this feature insightful? If yes, consider buying me books.

footnotes   [ + ]

1. Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019.
2. Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018.
3. Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops.

No Indian Author in the 2016 Edition of Man Booker Prize Longlist

I have been following the madness behind Man Booker Prize ever since I started reading literature few years ago. It began when a friend of mine handed me Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and later after finishing it I looked it up on the web. The book cover had informed me that it had won the Booker Prize in 1997, which Wikipedia confirmed, but I had no idea of its importance in modern English literature nor the heated discussions and the pomp and circumstance that surround the event, which usually starts in July and climaxes in October every year. Subsequently, I read a lot about the literary award, so much to know that the Guardian has created a parody award, aptly named ‘Not the Booker Prize‘, and that the Man Booker International prize is different from the one we are talking about here. For the uninitiated, in the most basic sense, the Man Booker Prize is awarded every year to a work by an author writing in English whereas the Man Booker International Prize is awarded to a translated work by an author and its translator. Both awards have been reconfigured a couple of times, and now it suffices to say that authors of all nationalities are considered for both. Interestingly, the Wikipedia article for The Vegetarian by South Korean writer Han Kang and British translator Deborah Smith, this year’s Man Booker International Prize winner, was created and edited by me with help from fellow Wikipedian Josh Milburn.

Coming back to our topic, for anyone who has gone through this year’s ‘Booker dozen‘, the most vivid observation will be that most authors are upcoming talents. Honestly, despite of having closely following the literary scene, I had only heard about 3 of the longlisted 13 authors (which embarrasses me). The statistics tells us we have six women, four debut authors, one previous winner (J M Coetzee), and one previous shortlistee (Deborah Levy) in the list. The general review of the list has been good, with pundits straining on how the committee is continuously (since 2013) selecting underdogs rather than big names. For example, people all over the web were hoping that biggies like Ian McEwan, Don DeLillo, and Julian Barnes would make the list. But, fortunately for the up-and-coming, here we are with a list so diverse and interesting, it will be fun to predict which 6 will make the shortlist in September.

Last year I was first rooting for Anuradha Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter), then for Sunjeev Sahota (The Year of the Runaways), and eventually for Hanya Yanagihara (A Little Life), but they gave it to Marlon James, whom I tried to read but found the prose a bit too difficult. Nine months later, it still is on my TBR list. But, that’s no surprise. What surprises me is that this year no Indian name is on the list, not even a PIO. We had Neel Mukherjee (The Lives of Others) in 2014, Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland) in 2013, and Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis) in 2012, all three frontrunners for the coveted prize. While Eleanor Catton became the youngest winner for her crime story, The Luminaries, Mukherjee was possibly robbed by Richard Flanagan with his dull Burmese chronicle The Narrow Road to Deep North. Haven’t yet read Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel’s follow-up to Wolf Hall, so let’s not comment about that. India has not experienced any luck since 2008’s win by Aravind Adiga for his brilliant The White Tiger, a story taking place in Delhi, which I incidentally read while touring Kerala. 155 novels were apparently submitted for the prize this year, out of which the baker’s dozen were chosen. Amitav Ghosh’s The Flood of Fire must have been submitted, but the reviews were mixed, so no luck there.

Something that’s dawning upon us right now is that there were very few books written by Indian authors in the first place. Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs sounds nice, but again, the reviews said it is average. Adiga’s last book came out 7 years ago and Arundhati Roy has seemingly decided to perpetually continue kicking the political hornets’ nest. The fact is that we haven’t many authors left who write good literature. Just when I was researching for this piece, I scanned through a list of Indian authors that one should read in a popular website. It started well with Vikram Seth, Amita Ghosh, and Suketu Mehta. But then names like Preeti Shenoy were being listed and I had no courage to scroll down for the fear of finding Chetan Bhagat. Frankly speaking, both Senoy and Bhagat are decent writers, but when it comes to literary criticism and comparison, things will take a murky turn, and people will have to use harsh words. It’s not like Devdutt Pattanaik will draft a fictional story about some God and he will be longlisted or Ravi Subramaniam will finally stop accusing God of being a banker. We need authors who will scribble words and incite thoughts, not be complacent and churn out garbage. Only then can we find our place back in a longlist, let alone a shortlist.

Patriotism never bothered me, so as a book reader, I do not much care about an Indian novel not being longlisted this year. What matters is that we appreciate good literature so that writers like Ghosh and Seth can come up with new books and enlighten us with their thoughts. Enough of pulpy romance drama screenplays written in the disguise of 99-rupee novels. We need strong literature, we need strong storytellers, we need ideas, we need new authors, and we need them now. Who knows we may just be next year’s winner?

I will start reading The North Water by Ian McGuire this week and will hopefully publish a prediction article before September. This year, at this point, I think I will root for Serious Sweet by A L Kennedy, who was previously associated with the Booker as a judge back in 1996. The novel’s premise sounds very interesting.