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POETS AND PANCAKES -Question and answers

Q.1. What does the writer mean by the fiery misery of those subjected to makeup?

Ans. The heat produced by the lights in the make-up room brought about a lot of discomfort to the actors in the make-up room. Hence the writer refers to this pain and trouble as ‘fierymisery’.


Q.2. What is the example of national integration that the author refers to?

Ans.The make-up department of the Gemini studios had people belonging to different states, religions and who spoke different languages. The head of the make-up department was earlier a Bengali who was succeeded by a Maharashtrian assisted by a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, A Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and local Tamils.


Q.3.What work did the ‘office boy’ do in Gemini Studios? Why did he join the

studios? Was he disappointed?

 Ans.The office boy applies make-up on the players who played the crowd. On the days of crowdshooting,he would mix his paint in a big vessel and apply it quickly and noisily on the faces of the players. He had joined the studios with the hope of becoming a star actor or a screen writer, director or lyrics writer. He was disappointed because he failed and remained only a‘boy


Q.4. Why did the author appear to be doing nothing at the studios?

Ans.The author’s only duty was to cut out newspaper clippings on a wide variety of subjects and store them in files. Many of these had to be hand-written. The onlookers noticed him merely tearing up newspapers. Hence, it appeared he was doing nothing at the studios.


Q.5. Why was the office boy frustrated? Who did he show his anger on?

Ans.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 waste. He showed his anger on Kothamangalam Subbu, the No. 2 at Gemini Studios.


Q. 6. Subbu is described as a many-sided genius. List four of his special abilities.

Ans.Subbu had the ability to look cheerful at all the times. His sense of loyalty made him turn his entire creativity to his principal’s advantage. With him around, film-making was easy. He was a poet, a novelist and an amazing actor too. He had a generous and a caring nature.


Q.7. Why was the legal adviser referred to as the opposite by others?

Ans.The lawyer was in the Story department. He was officially known as the legal adviser. However, his actions were not useful to anyone. He had inadvertently brought to an end, a budding actress’s career. Hence, he was referred to as the opposite by others.


Q.8. What made the lawyer stand out from the others at Gemini Studios?

Ans. It was the lawyer’s dress that he wore which made him stand out from the others. He wore a pant, a tie and sometimes a coat also. Others put on a khadi dhoti with a slightly oversized and clumsily tailored white khadi shirt, which looked like everyone’s uniform.


Q.9. Did the people at Gemini Studios have any particular political affiliations?

Ans. Most of the people at Gemini Studios were followers of Gandhiji and wore khadi. Beyond khadi and wearing of khadi they did not have any particular political affiliations. However, they were all against communism.


Q.10. Why was the Moral Rearmament Army welcomed at the Studios?

Ans. The Moral Rearmament Army was a kind of counter movement to international communism. The Big Bosses of Madras like Mr. Vasan simply played into their hands. So the Moral Rearmament Army was welcomed at the Gemini Studios.


Q.11. Name one example to show that Gemini Studios was influenced by the plays staged by MRA.

Ans.The plays staged by the MRA greatly influenced Madras and Tamil drama community. For some years almost all Tamil plays had a scene of sunrise and sunset in the manner of ‘Jotham Valley’ with a bare stage, a white background curtain and a tune played on the flute.


Q.12. What caused the lack of communication between the Englishman and the people at Gemini Studios?

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


Q.13. Why is the Englishman’s visit referred to as unexplained mystery?

Ans. During the Englishman’s speech no one understood what he was talking about. The audience was baffled. They did not know what an English poet was doing in a film studio which made Tamil films for the simplest sort of people. His visit remained an unexplained mystery.


Q.14. Who was the English visitor to the studios?

Ans. The English visitor to the studios was Stephen Spender. He was an English poet and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and class struggle. He was also the editor of ‘The Encounter’.


Q.15. How did the author discover who the English visitor to the studios was?

Ans. The author went to the British Council library to get an idea about the periodical ‘The Encounter’. He read the editor’s name. It was the poet who had visited the Gemini Studios. Thus the author discovered the identity of the English visitor to the Studio.


Q. 16. What does ‘The God that Failed’ refer to?

Ans. ‘The God who Failed’ was the collection of six essays by six eminent men of letters. In these essays each of them described separately his journey into communism and his disillusioned return. In the last line of the extract the expression refers to communism.


Q. 17 .Why was Kothamangalam Subbu considered No. 2 in Gemini Studios?

Ans.Subbu was always seen with the Boss. His sense of loyalty made him identify himself with his entire creativity to his principal’s advantage, he was considered No. 2 because he seemed so close and intimate with the Boss.


Q. 18.How does the author describe the incongruity of an English poet addressing the audience at Gemini Studios?

Ans. 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.


Q. 19. 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.

Ans. The author Asokamitran, in his excerpt ‘Poets and Pancakes’, has recounted the years he spent at the Gemini Studios owned by S.S Vasan in Chennai. In his subtle and gentle way, he has used humour as an effective tool to point out human foibles. In his typical rambling style, he sets the tone of humour in his narration. He says that there was a great deal of national integration in the Gemini Studios long before A.I.R and Doordarshan began broadcasting programmes on national integration. He makes use of exaggerations to tell that any decent looking person could be turned into a monster with the help of truck-loads of pancakes and ‘locally made potions and lotions’. Irony is used to evoke humour saying that boys and girls were ‘made to look ugly in order to look presentable in

the movie. Paint in the studio was mixed in a giant vessel and slapped it on the faces of the crowd players. In the process of applying make-up, every pore on the surface of the face was closed. Humour is employed by the author in situations when he admits that people thought he was doing nothing when he was seen tearing up newspapers day in and day out. Literary talent was being wasted in a department fit only for barbers and perverts. The author uses satire to expose people in authority. The story department was closed and this was the only instance in all human history where a lawyer lost his job because most humorous situation arises when the concept of Communism gets defined. ‘a godless man with no filial or conjugal love’. The staff at Gemini, opposed the concept and became Gandhiites and Khadiities. There is irony in ‘The God that Failed’, a collection into Communism and their disillusioned return.


Q. 20. Write a brief character sketch of Kothamangalam Subbu.

Ans. Kothamangalam Subbu has been given a lot of significance in the essay ‘Poets and Pancakes’ by Asokamitran. He has been portrayed as a man whom everyone at Gemini Studios held in high esteem. He was born a Brahmin and perhaps due to this virtue rose to the position of No. 2 at Gemini Studios. He had contacts with affluent people. He was cool, calm and composed and even a flop film, in which he was involved, never made him sad or unhappy. He looked cheerful all the time. He was very loyal to his boss and that endeared him to the boss. He was a man who could be inspired when commanded.

He was creative and displayed this skill when effortlessly he could give fourteen alternative ways to handle a particular scene. Subbu was a poet of calibre and had a separate identity of a poet. His success in films overshadowed his literacy achievements. He had composed truly original ‘story poems’ and had authored a novel ‘Thillana Mohanambal’ with lots of characters. He recreated the mood and manner of the Devadasis of the early 20thcentury. He was an amazing actor yet never aspired to play lead roles. He loved everyone genuinely and selflessly. He was charitable and improvident yet he had enemies probably due to his closeness with the Boss. The author Asokamitran has portrayed him as an extremely talented, creative and lovable human being.


Q. 21. Describe in your own words the Make –up department of Gemini Studio?

ANS.The make-up room of the Gemini Studio was looking like a hair-cutting saloon. There were half a dozen large mirrors and brightly shining lights. The room was in the upstairs of a building which was believed to have been Robert Clive’s stables.


Q.22.What is the example of national integration that the author refers to ?

ANS. The make up room of Gemini Studio was a fine example of national integration. The department was first headed by a Bengali. He was succeeded by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by a Dharwar Kanndiga, an Andhrian, A madras Indian Christian, an Anglo –Burmese and the local Tamils. Thus there were people from all types of communities and states of India.


Q. 23.Who was Subbu? What were his qualities?

ANS. Subbu was No.2 at Gemini Studios. He had the ability to look cheerful at all times. He was creative genius. He was tailor-made for films.  He was very loyal to the Boss. He was a good poet, a charitable person and a wonderful actor.


Q. 24. What was (MRA) Moral Re-Armament Army? Why was it welcomed at the studios?

ANS. The Moral Rearmament Army was a movement against communism. The people at Gemini studios hated communism and believed that a communist was a godless man. The big bosses of Madras like Mr.Vasan played into the  hands of MRA. This was the only reason that it was welcomed at Gemini Studios.


Q. 25. How can you say that Subbu had literary inclinations?

ANS. Subbu had a separate identity as a poet .He wrote poems for the common people. He had composed original ‘story poems’ in folk refrain. He had also written a novel entitled ‘Thillana Mohanambal’. The characters in this novel were created in a beautiful manner.


Q. 26. ‘A strict hierarchy was maintained in the make-up department’ what was the hierarchy?

ANS.The make up department followed and maintained a strict hierarchy at Gemini Studios. The chief make man made the chief actrors and actresses ‘ugly’, his senior assistant the second hero and heroine, the junior assistant the main comedian and so forth. The ‘office boy’ used to do the make

up of the crowd players.


Q. 27.What was the fiery misery inside the make-up department of the Studios?

ANS.The makeup room had a lot of hot bulbs always burning inside and a number of mirrors to reflect the heat. Madras, being a hot city and no cooling at that time at the studio, it was a real

misery inside the makeup room.


Q. 28.All this shows that there was a great deal of national integration long before A.I.R. and Doordarshan began broadcasting programs on national integration. Explain.

ANS. The heads and the subordinates of the make-up department were from various parts of India. There was no preference to any state or language or religion. Anyone could be the head. Once there was a Bengali as the head of this department. He was succeeded by a Maharashtrian who was assisted by a Dharwar Kannadiga, an Andhra, a Madras Indian Christian, an Anglo-Burmese and the local Tamils.


Q. 29.How was the author’s job odd in the eyes of the other staff? How did they respond to this?

ANS. Asokamitran’s job at the Gemini Studios was to collect information from newspapers and magazines and to paste the cuttings in files for reference. This was probably the only work odd in the Gemini Studios while every other staff was some sort of an artist. They therefore advised the author to do some better jobs other than wasting his time cutting papers in a department similar to a barber shop.


Q. 30.Why did the author pray for crowd shooting?

ANS. Like many of the other staff who believed that Asokamitran was doing next to nothing in the Gemini Studios the Office Boy too used to advise him for hours. When the author was tired of his unending epics, he used to pray for a crowd shooting to which the Office Boy assigned.


Q. 31.Discuss Subbu’s identity as a poet. Why was he not known as a poet?

ANS.Apart from being an amazing director of movies, Subbu had the identity as a poet. The world of his time and later never recognized Subbu as a poet yet he was a great unknown poet. He wrote poem in the simplest Tamil language and was able to recreate the classical poems in his own style.


Q. 32.In spite of all the good qualities and readiness to be a host any time, Subbu had only enemies. Why?

ANS. Subbu was good to everyone he came by, spoke in his niceness, fed his relatives, excelled everyone in the Gemini Studios but was hated by most of them just because he was so close to the boss of the studios. Being a clerk in the attendance register he was above all and above all the departments. Those who bore designations above Subbu felt it intolerable to obey him.


Q. 33.How did the legal adviser behave illegally in the instance of the actress? 

ANS.The legal advisor was, of course, an advocate, yet was known as an illegal advisor. Once he recorded the voice of an actress who shouted at the producer and director while in the shooting sets. The legal advisor’s behavior turned out to be illegal because he did it without the actress’ permission.


Q. 34.What is Communism? What ideas about the communism gathered popularity in India?

ANS.Communism is a political order that believes in the equality of citizens and abolition of private ownership. The state or nation is the owner and caretaker of each citizen. Citizen’s welfare is nation’s prime concern. It sometimes resorts to armed revolution to establish social and political equality.


Q. 35.Spender’s Speech was a shock for him and a matter of utter shame for the literati of the Gemini Studios. Explain.

ANS.Stephen Spender was specially invited to the Gemini Studios to enlighten the staff there with communist ideas. When Spender began his speech he was amazed to see the way he was being listened to. But soon, when he realized that his audience didn’t follow him the least due to his accent, Spender’s amazement turned to utter shock and embarrassment and he stopped his speech in the middle.


Q. 36.Spender’s Speech was a shock for him and a matter of utter shame for the literati of the Gemini Studios?

ANS.Stephen Spender was called to the Gemini Studios to talk to the staff there about Communism but what he spoke was of his struggles as a poet. Whatever he spoke, his talk was not followed by practically anyone. When Spender realized that his audience didn’t follow his talk, he stopped in utter shame to have made a talk to a deaf audience while the Gemini staff got dispersed in great humiliation because Spender’s accent failed them.

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