Poets and Pancakes was written by Asokamitran, a famous Tamil writer and winner of Sahitya Akademi. He was one of the few writers who could write in Tamil and English fluently and wrote several novels and hundreds of short stories in his career that spanned over six decades. He spent the starting years of his career in Gemini Studio of Chennai and was entrusted with clerical tasks of cutting and pasting newspaper articles. He learned a lot about how Gemini Studio operated and depicted it humorously in his autobiography My Years with Boss.
The chapter Poets and Pancakes is taken from Asokamitran’s book My Years with Boss and highlights several issues relating to India’s film industry specifically and provides a glimpse into the infant years of Independent India. The boss that the writer talks of was S.S. Vasan, the founder of Gemini Studio and producer of several films that influenced all aspects of e Indian Life. He talks about the manner in which a legal advisor ruins the career of an actress. The story also portrayed the writer’s and Gemini Studios’ support of communism and mentioned the anti-communism movements by the West.
Poets and Pancakes Summary
The writer talks about his days at Gemini Studio and is known for his humor and satire. He talks about a makeup material from a brand called Pancake. The material was bought and used in the studio and named some actresses who used it. He suggested that the makeup department was situated in a building believed to have been Robert Clive’s stable. There were several buildings associated with Clive’s residence, but this was not true because his stay in India was very short.
Asokamitran has described the makeup department as a sign of national integration and the makeup room as a hair cutting salon. Pancake and several other lotions were used to make the actors look ugly and presentable in the movie. In the make-up department, there was a forty-year-old office boy who dreamed of becoming a star actor or director or lyrics writer, but his dreams were not fulfilled, and he blamed the Boss’s favorite, Subbu, for it. His job was to slap paint on the faces of players during crowd shooting.
The author talks about the poets who wear khadi and believed that the Communists were monsters and about the legal advisor who was a member of the story department. The legal advisor was at odds with the story department and even lost his job with the closure of the story department, and he has once brought an abrupt end to the promising career of a talented actress. People considered him to be the exact opposite of a legal consultant. The Gemini Studio gets the opportunity to host the two-hundred-strong Moral Rearmament Army that showed two plays in a highly professional manner. The play was a huge success and left a long-lasting impression on Tamil drama. The writer later found out that MRA was a counter communist movement. They did not have complex plots, and their sets and costumes were near perfect.
The author joined the studio to become an actor, screenwriter, director, or lyricist and has a cubicle where he collects newspaper cuttings on several issues and stores them in files. However, people who saw him cutting newspapers perceived that he had no work, so everyone wanted to deliver some work to him. The office boy always came in with complaints, and the author believed that Subbu troubled him and had the upper hand because he was a Brahmin. Subbu is seen as a resourceful man who is very loyal, and films and filmmaking are impossible without him.
The writer humorously talks of the visit of an English poet, Stephen Spender, in the studio. They prepared for it royally but concealed the purpose of his arrival for a long time. At the studios, they had not heard of the poet’s name before and owing to the language barrier, it was difficult to understand what he said. The writer noticed a notice in The Hindu about a short story contest organized by a British periodical called, The Encounter. The writer wanted to send an entry but wanted to know the status of the periodical and to understand that he went to the British Council Library. He learned that the editor of the periodical was Stephen Spender.
Post the writer’s retirement, he came across a book titled- The God That Failed, and it had six essays discussing the failure of Communism. One of the essays was written by Spender and revealed the mystery of Spender’s visit to Gemini Studios and has relevance to the anti-communist perspective.
Poets and Pancakes Analysis
Poets and Pancakes is based on the initial years of the Indian film industry and is an important description of the same. The writer mentions the famous makeup brand-Pancake that the makeup artists put on the actresses’ faces in abundance and make them look ugly. He talks about the office boy who complains of favoritism, and the same stop him from becoming a star actor, director, or lyrics writer. The writer mentions that the reason behind the office boy’s misery is Subbu, who gets an underlined advantage because he is a Brahmin. He talks about a guest that no one knew much about and later understanding the reason for his visit.
Poets and Pancakes Theme
Poets and Pancakes by Asokamitran is an extremely important biographical description of Gemini Studios and circles around some very important themes. One important theme is that of favoritism at the workplace and highlights how Subbu reached the point of being second in command at Gemini Studios based on that. It talks about Subbu remaining overpowered and various sides of life. It presented office life to a large extent and issues about life at work like jealousy, hierarchy, favoritism, sycophancy, and more. However, it also speaks of social integration and bringing communities together.
Poets and Pancakes Characters Sketch
The Office Boy aspired to become an actor, lyricist, director, or writer and was in his forties, and his job was to do crowd makeup. He brought his complaints about Subbu to the writer and said the dirtiest things about him. Kothamangalam Subbu, a Brahmin, was the number two in command of Gemini Studios and was known for his loyalty and resources. He was known to be charitable and had a genuine love for anyone he came across, and he always entertained his far relatives or acquaintances at his house. He was tailor-made for films, and it was impossible to make films without him.
The Lawyer usually looked alone and helpless and was responsible for bringing an end to the career of a talented actress. He was neutral when among Gandhites and Khadiites and lost his job when the poets were asked to go home.
Poets and Pancakes Key Points
The story is humorously based on how the film industry operated in its early years. It takes account of favoritism, casteism, and jealousy, among other problems in the workplace. The story is based around the writer’s and the studio’s support of communism and an unknown writer publishing stories.