For 14 years, from 1952-66, Ashokamitran worked at Gemini Studios, the film production house in Madras founded by S.S. Vasan— the Boss—that was then an entertainment powerhouse. The young Ashokamitran’s job, he writes, in “this movie kingdom of six hundred subjects” was to “mutilate large numbers of newspapers and affix the clippings under a variety of heads from ‘Aarey Milk Colony’ to ‘Zoroastrianism’. These were stored in cupboards and cupboards of files.” At Gemini, it was not just film stars that Ashokamitran encountered. In a droll memoir of his time there, ‘My Years With Boss’ , he writes of keeping company with poets. Besides the home-bred variety, Gemini Studios and its increasingly befuddled staff also played host to poets and lapsed Communists from outside India. An excerpt from Ashokamitran’s account of the visit of a poet from England, who was neither Tennyson nor Wordsworth nor Shelley, the few English poets the employees at Gemini could feign familiarity with.
Gemini Studios was the favourite haunt of poets like S.D.S. Yogiar, Sangu Subramanyam, Krishna Sastry and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya. It had an excellent mess which supplied good coffee at all times of the day and for most part of the night. Read more
Source: Live Mint
By N. Kalyan Raman
With the death of Ashokamitran on 23 March in Chennai, a unique chapter in the annals of Indian literature has come to an end. For readers everywhere, the special power of Ashokamitran’s fiction derived from his exclusive focus on the experienced reality of individuals rather than on abstractions of ideology or intellect. In this way, his literary mode was very different from other eminent Indian writers who were his contemporaries. Even in the Tamil literary milieu, he stood apart from his peers, forging an inimitable style and language for his fiction, and remaining the engaged outsider in his voluminous output of essays and columns on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from literature and cinema to personalities and politics.
What were the factors that had engendered Ashokamitran’s unique perspective and influenced his chosen literary mode? How different were they from the influences and circumstances that had shaped the work of his contemporaries like Mahasweta Devi, Nirmal Verma, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Sunil Gangopadhyay? Read more
Source: Live Mint
I first heard about Ashokamitran when a friend caught me watching old Tamil film snippets on Jaya Max (‘Madura Geetam’). If I was into that sort of thing—MGR, Nambiar, Manorama—he said I ought to read a small book called My Years with Boss, a chronicle of life in Chennai’s Gemini Studios in the 1950s. Next, a film critic in Mumbai recommended the same book to me, adding that she wished something this good had been written about a Bollywood studio. When I mentioned My Years with Boss to my publisher, however, she had not heard of it. She knew of Ashokamitran only as the award-winning author of a novel called Water. I soon discovered that some people—especially Indians who write in English—regarded the name Ashokamitran (which was clearly not a name at all, but an alias) with something like fear. His translator, that man Kalyan Raman, “is our great enemy”, a Mumbai poet told me. It turned out that Ashokamitran was as associated as U.R. Ananthamurthy with the campaign to deflate the egos of Indians writing in English. So who was the real Ashokamitran—the author of a beloved memoir of the golden years of the Tamil cinema, an avant-garde novelist, or a mascot for those who argue that this country’s best writing is hidden away in languages other than English?
All three Ashokamitrans, and a few more, reside in the frame of a frail 81-year old man whom I find working at his desk in a modest flat in Velachery, a middle-class neighbourhood of Chennai. The cover of my copy of My Years with Boss features a chubby, grinning man, whom I mistook for the author—it was actually the face of S.S. Vasan, the legendary boss of Gemini Studios. Both physically and temperamentally, Ashokamitran is his late employer’s antithesis: lean, long-faced, watchful and taciturn. He gazes around his room, covered with portraits of Hindu gods, and seems confused by my appearance at his home until he recognises the name of my maternal grandfather, a famous surgeon in Madras in the 1960s and ’70s. In the way that older folk accept what they cannot change, he now seems resigned to my presence; tells me to try his wife’s coffee; and answers my questions with short statements.