Thursday, March 10, 2016

Class XII - English Core - Flamingo - Chapter 6 - Poets and Pancakes

English Notes for Class XII - English Core - Flamingo - Chapter 6 - Poets and Pancakes

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Summary of the Chapter

This chapter has been taken from "My Years with Boss", written by Asokamitran. Asokamitran worked in Gemini Studios, a very famous film studio of its time. His job in the studio was to cut newspaper clippings on various topics and maintain a file.
Through this write-up, Asokamitran brings up a lot of topics pertaining to the film industry in particular and India in general and provides the reader with a glimpse of Independent India in its infancy.
He first takes up the make-up department and makes fun of the trouble that the artists took to look "ugly" and the pain they underwent under the glare of the big light bulbs. In fact, the term 'pancakes' refers to the brand name of make-up material, which was excessively by the artists of the Gemini Studio. 
He talks of the office boy, a grown-up man of forty years who once aspired to be a director but blames Subbu(the number 2 in the studio) for his current state of affairs. Thus, Asokamitran highlights the plight of thousands of aspiring actors, directors and producers who end in umpteen oblivious jobs in any such studio.
Kothamangelam Subbu, the number two in Gemini studio, is a story in himself. He is very talented, a poet, novelist, actor and filmmaker. He is an all-rounder and very loyal to his boss.
Another character that comes into focus at Gemini Studios is the legal advisor, who wears Western clothes among the rest of the Khadi-clad gentry.
Asokamitran also tells about the manner in which the legal advisor ruins the career of a talented actress unwittingly.
Communism also finds a place in the musings of Asokamitran. At that time of India, the educated folk took pride in showing their support for Communism, and Gemini Studios was no exception. In the same stride, he also mentions the anti-communism movement run by the West. In this context, he mentions the play troupe of the poet/editor who visited the studio. Later on, he discovers that the poet was, in fact, the editor of the then-famous magazine 'The Encounter.'

· Pancake was the brand name of a make-up material. The Gemini Studios bought a lot of it.
· Make-up men used it to turn decent-looking players into hideous-looking monsters.
· In fact, it was because most of the shooting of a film was done on the sets.
· The set and studio lights required that every pore of the players’ faces was closed.
· A strict hierarchy was maintained in the make-up department to make the players look ugly.
Ø The chief make-up man made the hero and heroine ugly
Ø His senior assistant made the ‘second’ hero and heroine ugly
Ø It went on in like manner
Ø It was the office boy’s job to make the crowd players ugly.
The Office Boy
· The make-up department had an office boy. He was not a boy but a 40-year-old man
· He had joined the studios years ago
· He believed he had great talent and hoped to become a star actor, director, screenwriter or lyric writer.
· But he was frustrated à He blamed his disgrace on Kothaman.
· Galam Subbu àwho was considered No. 2 at the Gemini Studios.
The Make-up room
· The make-up department was upstairs of a building that was said to have been Robert Clive’s stables.
· The make-up room looked like a hair-cutting salon because it had large mirrors and lights.
· The lights gave out intense heat àThe person who underwent make-up had a miserable experience of being scorched as if in hell.
Author appears to be idle:
· The nature of the author’s job appeared to be insignificant.
· He was usually seen tearing newspapers
· Everybody would walk into his cubicle and want to give him some work to do.
· The office boy would come in to recite his poems. He wished to impress the author by his talent and how it was going to waste on account of Subbu.
Kothamangalam Subbu”
· The office boy was frustrated. Probably, he was jealous of Subbu’s nature.
· Subbu was very close to the boss. He had no better qualification than the boy.
· But he had worked hard to reach this position.
· Subbu had a more affluent exposure because he was a Brahmin. He would remain cheerful in spite of failures.
· He had talents which he used to the advantage of his Boss.
· Whenever the Boss had any difficulty in presenting a scene in a film, Subbu would suggest a number of practical ideas.
· Subbu was a good poet, too. He could write poems of a high order.
· But he deliberately suppressed his talent to write for the masses.
· He was a novelist, too. He had written a novel in which he recreated the moods and manner of the Devadas of the early 20th century.
· He had created life-like characters too.
· Subbu was an excellent actor. But he never aspired for lead roles.
· But whatever minor roles he played, he acted better than the leading players.
· Subbu loved all. Several friends and relatives stayed with him for long periods.
Ø He never gave a thought to the money he spent to support
· The office boy hated him à Perhaps Subbu appeared to him a sycophant.
Story Department:
· Though Subbu was always seen with the Boss, he was a member of the story department.
· Besides writers and poets in the story department, there was a lawyer too.
Ø Officially, he was known as a legal advisor, but people called him by an opposite name.
· Once, the legal advisor unwittingly ruined the career of a talented actress.
Incident relating to an actress:
· An actress who was not seasoned in worldly wisdom lost her temper on the sets. She spoke angrily against the producer.
· The legal advisor switched on the recording equipment when she paused; he played back the record.
· The actress was dumbfounded to hear her own voice. Though she had not said anything offensive, she never appeared on the stage again.
Anti-communism perception:
· The legal advisor wore trousers, a shirt and a tie. Sometimes, he wore a coat, too.
· He appeared odd among the khadi-clad poets and writers.
· The poets worshipped Gandhiji, though they had no affiliation to his ideas.
· But they were averse to communism.
· They had a notion that communists loved nobody. He was an anarchic.
Arrival of MRA
· The feelings against communism were widespread in South India
· The Moral Re-Armament Army was a sort of anti-communism movement. It visited Gemini Studios in 1952.
· They were about 200 people belonging to at least 20 nationalities.
· They presented two plays, ‘Jotham Valley’ and the ‘Forgotten Factor’, in a most professional manner.
· The Gemini family of six hundred and the citizens of Madras were greatly impressed by their plays.
· Their message was simple but the sets and costumes were excellent.
· For many years, the Tamil drama imitated àThe sunrise and sunset scenes presented by the MRA.
· The scenes were presented on a base stage with a white background and a tune played on the flute.
· But the MRA did not influence the outlook of the Gemini Bosses.
· The staff had enjoyed hosting the MRA
Visit to an Englishman:
· A few months later, Gemini Studios received another guest.
· It was an Englishman. Nobody knew who he was.
· Some said he was a poet. Some believed he was an editor because the topmen of The Hindi were taking the initiative.
· But he was not the editor of any of the newspapers the staff of Gemini Studios had heard of.
· The Englishman was welcomed by the Boss, Mr Vason.
· He read out a long speech talking about freedom and democracy.
· Then the Englishman spoke àwho could not be expected to have any interest in English poetry.
· The visit of the Englishman remained a mystery.
Mystery solved
· The author saw a notice in the Hindu.
· The Encounter, a British periodical, was organising a short story contest. The author had never heard the name of the periodical.
· He wanted to send on entry à but wanted to have information before.
· He visited the British Council library. These he found copies of the Encounter.
· He learned that its editor was Stephen Spender, àwho visited the Gemini Studios.
· After a few years – The author retired
· One day, he saw a pile of low-priced paperback editions of ‘The God that Failed.’ He bought a copy.
· It contained six different essays by six different writers.
· They described the writers ‘Journeys into communism and the disillusioned return.
· One of the writers was Stephen Spender
· The whole mystery of Spender’s visit was cleared.
· Mr. Vason was not interested in his poetry but in his views on Communism.

Questions & Answers: 

1. What does the writer mean by ‘the fiery misery’ of those subjected to make-up’?
The incandescent bulbs used in the make-up room produced a lot of heat and caused a lot of discomfort to the artists while in the make-up room. Every actor had to undergo some sort of make-up before shooting and suffered the heat of the bulbs in the room. This misery has been referred to as fiery in the lesson.

2. What is the example of national integration the author refers to?
The make-up division of the Gemini Studios was an example of national integration. According to the author, this is because people from different regions and religious groups worked together in the same department. The department was headed by a Bengali who was succeeded by a Maharashtrian. The other helpers included a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, a Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and the local Tamils.

3. What work did the 'office boy' do in the Gemini Studios? Why did he join the studios? Why was he disappointed?
The office boy applies makeup on the lesser-known actors who usually play the role crowd. He would mix various potions and apply them to the group playing actors in the most unprofessional way. He had joined the studios hoping that he would become a star actor someday or hold a prominent position in the film industry. But he failed and remained a mere 'office boy' and this left him perpetually disappointed.

4. Why was the office boy frustrated? Who did he show his anger on?
The office boy was frustrated because despite getting a good opening, he remained only an office boy. He had had a good formal education and would write poetry also. But his great literary talent was being allowed to go to waste. He showed his anger at Kothamangalam Subbu, the No. 2 at Gemini Studios.

5. Who was the Boss of Gemini Studios?
    Mr. S.S Vasan was the Boss of Gemini Studios.

6. What caused the lack of communication between the Englishman and the people at Gemini Studios?
Most of the 600-odd people at Gemini Studios were Tamil speakers. The Englishman was addressing them in his own language. He had a peculiar accent. Hence, there was a lack of communication between the Englishman and the people who could not follow what he was saying.

6. Why is the Englishman’s visit referred to as unexplained mystery?
The Englishman’s visit to the Gemini Studios is referred to as an unexplained mystery because no one could decipher his identity, whether he was a poet or an editor. Besides, when he spoke, no one at the studio understood what he intended to say, as his accent was beyond their comprehension.

7. Who was the English visitor to the studios?
The English visitor to the Gemini Studios was Stephen Spender. He was the editor of The Encounter, a British Periodical, and a famous English poet, essayist and novelist of the twentieth century.

8. How did the author discover who the English visitor to the studios was?
Before investing money in participating in a short story contest organised by an English periodical, The Encounter, the author did research on the magazine. He went to the British Council Library where, while going through an issue of that periodical, he discovered that its editor was Stephen Spender, the poet who had once visited the studio.

9. What does ‘The God that Failed’ refer to? 
'The God That Failed' was a compilation of six essays written by six eminent writers, namely, Andre Gide, Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone, Arthur Koestler, Louis Fischer and Stephen Spender. In each of the essays, the respective writers described “their journeys into Communism and their disillusioned return”.

Understanding the Text

  1. The author has used gentle humour to point out human foibles. Pick out instances of this to show how this serves to make the piece interesting.
    The instances of humour used by the author mark the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies without making any direct and rude comment about anybody. For instance, the author portrays the make-up artists and the usage of the pancakes in an exciting way. Even the caricature of Subbu is hilarious. The way he tries to help his principal by offering quick solutions to his problems is quite amusing. The episode of the legal adviser that inadvertently causes the end of an actress’s career is yet another example. The frustration of the office boy, the superficial praising of Gandhi, hatred of Communism and the ‘mystery’ surrounding Stephen Spender are some of the instances where the author has incorporated gentle humour.
  2. Why was Kothamangalam Subbu considered No. 2 in Gemini Studios?
    Kothamangalam Subbu succeeded in securing the place closest to The Boss by means of flattery. He was not brilliant but a rather cheerful person and exceedingly loyal to The Boss. He offered solutions whenever The Boss was in a fix. Thus, the other employees considered him No.2 in Gemini Studios.
  3. How does the author describe the incongruity of an English poet addressing the audience at Gemini Studios?
    The English poet was addressing the Tamil audience at Gemini Studios in English with a typical provincial accent. He was talking about the thrills and travails of an English poet to a dazed and silent audience. This was the incongruity because his audience could not understand him at all.
  4. What do you understand about the author’s literary inclinations from the account?

    The writer was a prose-writer. He wanted to send a short story for the short story contest organised by a British periodical by the name 'The Encounter'.

Talking about the Text

  • Discuss in small groups taking off from points in the text.

    1. Film production today has come a long way from the early days of the Gemini Studios.
    2. Poetry and films.
    3. Humour and criticism.


  1. Film production is more technical nowadays. While earlier, only five per cent of the shooting was done outdoors, nowadays, outdoor shooting is no longer limited to such a negligible percentage. The cameras and other equipment are more advanced, allowing for a more varied and accurate presentation.

    The quality of make-up has improved many folds from the days of the Gemini Studios, where only pancake was used. The people involved in various departments are experts in their specialised work, be it the director, producer, scriptwriter, lyricist or actors. The overall quality of the films is more striking and lively.
  2. In India, poetry and films are intricately linked. The people at Gemini Studios all claimed to have the talents of a poet. The main reason behind it was their monotonous and leisurely life at the studios. However, these people were not knowledgeable or educated enough to be poets. Unlike poetry, films can be enjoyed by people with little resources who cannot afford to cultivate a taste for poetry and literature.
  3. The story is interspersed with instances dipped in subtle humour. The humorous instances, however, make interesting and relevant comments on the behaviour of general people. A humorous story has more readers, and a humorous film has more viewers. This is because they provide entertainment and a respite from the tedious existence. Criticism by means of humour is more effective; hence, writers and filmmakers often use humorous elements in their works and make sarcastic comments and criticism.


  1. CHaracter sketch of kothamanglam subuu

  2. Helpful tommorow i have exam to attend and it really help me in understanding the chapter thanks to the editor ..

  3. The main character sketch of this chapter

  4. Yes ! There are all important questions & easy summery

    Thank you - uploader

  5. So it....😁😁😁

  6. what idea do you get about the narrator from the chapter of pancakes.

  7. First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics, i will be always checking your blog thanks. Kernbohrungen

  8. Sir is chapter ka note making kaise hoga