Recalling days with The Boss
A DELIGHTFUL little book, a compilation of half a dozen pieces that had appeared in The Illustrated Weekly of India in the 1980s, was released the other day by Orient Longman's and I only wish its author would expand it into a full-length recollection of the years he spent with `The Boss'.
Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ashokamitran, that well-known Tamil writer, writes as felicitously in English as he does in Tamil. That comes across clearly in his "My Years with Boss" at Gemini Studios, where Ashokamitran started his career as the founder member of the Studio's public relations department. With wry and sometimes biting humour, he recalls the years that followed the success of "Chandralekha" (1948) till Gemini began to fade in the mid-1950s, year by year reducing its stable of 600 actors, actresses, extras and production staff, including story and script writers.
Telling the story of that stable and the trainer, The Boss, would alone be an unputdownable book, forget all the stories about the films made.
The Boss, of course, was S.S. Vasan and he appears to have got that universal sobriquet following the way his first General Manager addressed him. When Vasan took over the Studio in 1941, he appointed William J. Moylan, an American, as General Manger of the facility and the Moylans, who lived on the premises, acquired a legendary reputation for its upkeep and maintenance. Moylan also addressed Vasan in the familiar American manner and the name stuck.
To discourage studio visitors, Moylan had put up a board that stated, ``This is not a picnic or sightseeing spot. Serious work goes on here...''. When the American left to go to war, the first thing Vasan did was to ``shove the signboard under a pile of cast-off things, mostly files of papers'', narrates Ashokamitran, who adds, ``And when he got a well-read, information-hungry, tight-lipped young man to work for him, he made him organised a public relations department which took care of the assault of visitors''.
Amongst a host of delightful stories packed into just 48 pages, my favourite is one that adds a far more significant footnote to a story I had related in this column a while ago (31/12/2001). Remember Rajaji being invited to see "Avvaiyar" and the comment he later wrote about it? Apparently this special showing followed an ecstatic review, after an earlier preview of the film, by Kalki even though he and Vasan had been on strained terms ever since Kalki left Vasan's Ananda Vikatan to found Kalki.
A few weeks after the film was released in late 1953, a driver parked his car at the Wellington Cinema (where now stands a shopping centre at Mount Road and Patter's Road), went in and bought a single balcony ticket. A ``small, frail man'', waiting unnoticed on one side of the unprepossessing foyer, took the ticket from the driver and began to slowly climb the stairs. That's when someone recognised him and everyone who was someone in the Wellington came to help him. ``A quarter hour later, anyone who counted in the Gemini kingdom was at Wellington and I am sure Rajaji felt distracted by all the fuss.''
As for me, I wonder whether that was the last time a Chief Minister in India bought a ticket to see a film and to see it for a second time at that.
All Gemini, by the way, thought Rajaji had liked the film. Rajaji's diary jottings quoted by his biographer-grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, in 1984 told a different story.
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