January 28, 2012

If you are a vintage Hindi music buff then you will be familiar with the name Anthony Gonsalves. He was a legendary music composer and the inspiration behind the song 'My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves' from the film 'Amar Akbar Anthony'.

Anthony passed away recently in Goa. He was 84.

Gonsalves orchestrated the music for many Hindi songs during the 50s and 60s. He was named as one of India's finest violinists in his time and worked with legends like S. D. Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal.

His life story is fascinating. He left for Mumbai in 1943 as a child, when he played violin at the church in his village. He later made a name for himself after he orchestrated music for songs like 'Jyoti Kalash Zhalke'. His musical arrangements in 'Hum aapki aankhon mein' in 'Pyaasa' and 'Ayega aaane wala' in 'Mahal' are considered among his best works.

He went on to teach the violin to Pyarelal.

Gonsalves became a household name after the musician dedicated the song to his real life 'guru' in the 1977 release 'Amar Akbar Anthony'. The song was picturised on Amitabh Bachchan.

He returned to his native place in South Goa in 1983 and lived a life away from the glitz and buzz of cinema.

Goans were at the heart of Bombay's music. In Madras they and the Anglo-Indians formed the nucleus of Thamizh film music.

In the small neighbourhood called Narasinghapuram now cannibalised by the teeming radio/electronics/computer market of Ritchie Street, off Mount Road there used to be a small community of Goan and Anglo musicians who were stars in Kodambakkam's studios. And a Gonsalves was among them. You rarely saw or met them because they went to work at noon and came back at 2 a.m.

I met many such musicians when we did a documentary on the Anglos of Madras and their music.

Reading the tributes that were paid to Anthony Gonsalves recently, I realised that the Goan and Anglo musicians of Madras' movieworld also deserve a film or a book.

Naresh Fernandes has published a book, 'Taj Mahal Foxtrot: The Story Of Bombay's Jazz Age'. It tells the story of India, especially of Bombay through the lives of a menagerie of geniuses, dreamers and eccentrics, both Indian and American, who helped jazz find a place in this subcontinent.

If you love jazz and vintage film music, this book is a good read. It also offers a CD of old recordings.

And if you have stories on our wonderful musicians of Madras' film studios, I want to hear them.

January 22, 2012

Malaysian Cinema ; seeking friends in Chennai

Decorate a traffic island with festoons, string every lamp post with banners, hire a band to play film music and get the word around that film stars will be streaming by and you are guaranteed a huge, milling crowd.
A fortnight ago, I let myself into such a milling crowd and waded into a convention hall of a star hotel in Theagaraya Nagar to be greeted by a dozen film stars, everybody 50 years plus.

I was not here to meet the stars.

I was trying to meet up with a few young film makers from Malaysia.

Prior to this gala, a city-based film society had screened a series of independent Thamizh films which were made and produced in Malaysia.

The screenings had a bigger purpose.

How could the greater Thamizh film industry based in Chennai be of help to a fledging body of creative people in a neighbouring country?

It was by chance that I got talking to a young man who calls himself Krishna. Krishna is the managing director of his entertainment company and he also produces and directs films.

His business covers everything from TV and radio, animation and advertising to event management and New Media.

Thamizh cinema in Malaysia has a small but firm following but the budgets do not allow the space and freedom for young film makers to make films that can rival the ones made in our city.

Despite the constraints, the young filmmakers who once used to primarily produce content for the VCD and the cable channel markets are pushing themselves to make feature films.

Krishna says that the time has come for the Chennai-based community to help collaborate.

"It is but fair that your industry which makes tons of money by selling films rights in the Near East region must think of giving back to film makers like us," suggested Krishna.

This is easily said than done.

The Thamizh film industry is hugely politicized and often polarized too. So country-to-country collaboration will not be easy.

Getting our TV channels to air the films made by Malaysian film makers will not be an easy deal.

Krishna says that when he took the DVD of his recent documentary on Thamizh heritage and customs to a TV channel here, the executives told him they would air it if he gave it for free.

January 15, 2012

Interact with the ward councillors

Every month, the elected councillor of your Ward submits proposals to the Chennai Corporation.
These are generally projects that your area requires for its development.
Relaying roads and streets, maintenance of parks and equipment for gyms, painting the sidewalks and repairing public toilets and the like.
Lakhs of rupees are budgeted. And lakhs spent.
For many years now, as part of our commitment to local journalism we have covered local council meetings closely - observing the discussions and publishing the plans of our councillors.
One of the proposals listed against the name of councillor R. Boomi of Ward 125 intrigued us when the list of last month's meeting reached us.
There was a proposal to erect medians on a main road in San Thome for the 'Independence Day' event.
The budget - Rs.1,00,000.
The proposal sounded out of place so we called the woman to check.
"Is that so?", she replied. " I did not know it was a proposal against my name and for my ward."
"But it is listed here clearly", we told her.
"Then I will check with the Corporation official," she said.
Councillor R. Boomi has not got back to us yet.
Elected local reps and civic councils are great examples to hold up for what we claim to be a vibrant democracy. But do we know what really happens at the local level?
Many previous councillors I have interacted with have told me that often, they are warmly coaxed by civic officials to submit projects which mean little to a Ward but sit nicely in their bigger plans.
So you get a string of gyms or a set of public loos or play equipment for the local park listed for all the Wards.
I suppose it makes it simple and easy to execute them in one go though they may not be useful or required in our Wards.
Do our councillors then really have a voice?
And does this voice echo the needs of a neighbourhood?
In the zones we cover, most councillors are women and many do not have even basic political and civic experience.
You can imagine the situation when their responsibilities roll.
I still have not heard of the Corporation hosting training programs for them or exposing them to the nitty-gritty's of local administration.

I still have not seen many councillors taking initiatives to interact with their communities.

In some Wards, activist-residents have set up face-to-face meetings and are planning follow-ups. This is positive news.

More will have to be done.

Engage your Ward Councillor. Take a look at local civic proposals. Keep an eye on them.

Your responsibility does not end with the casting of the ballot.

January 07, 2012

Have Elai sapad at a Mylapore traditional house

This Sunday, I will be looking forward to a call from the Srikanths. The call is important because I will want to know how a simple idea worked that afternoon.
Every edition of the annual Mylapore Festival which got underway on Thursday, presents an idea, an event which could be significant at a bigger level.

The idea of serving guests the traditional 'elai sapad' in a traditional setting.

On Sunday, the Srikanths will hopefully play host to four groups who are booking for lunch at their Madras-tiled house off Devadi Street in Mylapore.

The house, over 100 years old and a vestige of the times when Muslims populated this neighbourhood is a nice setting for people who like going back to the past!

The 'elai sapad' idea was shared by senior IAS officer Sheela Rani Chunkanth, who now heads the TN Handicrafts Corporation. We took it up but it was not easy to get it going. Many people who we wanted to play host were tentative, unsure or simply private.

Such ideas can work only if we are proud of our heritage, are creative and enjoy sharing hospitality with people we may not have met before.

The Srikanths almost pushed us to collaborate. And we hope the idea works. For, if its does then we intend to use this example to motivate a few other families in the heritage zones of Mylapore-Triplicane to offer 'sapad' at lunchtime or 'tiffin' in the evening to people and tourists and showcase what is truly Madras.

Many years ago, we launched the 'mikeless' concerts at Nageswara Rao Park in Luz, as part of the Mylapore Festival. Sundaram Finance, which sponsors our Fest has taken it forward and hosts such concerts once a month at this park. Two other bodies host similar events elsewhere.

The Mylapore Festival then is not just about having 30 events at ten venues across 4 days. It is also about floating ideas, experimenting with small events and envisioning larger projects.

How do we creatively use the Sri Kapali Temple precincts keeping in mind local businesses, traffic flow, residents' interests and surviving heritage so that the outcome is wonderful?

If you have ideas too, do share them.