Title: The Ghosts of Meenambakkam; Author: Ashokamitran; Publisher: Penguin Books; Pages: 149; Price: Rs.299
For decades Gemini Studios was one of the best-known names in the whole of India. Its owner was the self-made and legendary S.S. Vasan, who once hawked watches on railway platforms but finally went on to win the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian cinema.
"Fourteen Years with Boss" is a fascinating, at times funny, account of how Ashokamitran, who would emerge as a leading light in Tamil literature, found work at Gemini Studios when he was financially distressed.
Ashokamitran began writing in the 1950s and has to his credit over 250 short stories and more than 20 novels and novellas besides a lot more, earning him a key place in modern Tamil literature. His work has been translated into many Indian and foreign languages. But he was a nobody when Vasan's large heart for those in trouble fetched the young man a much needed job in the iconic Gemini Studios.
Vasan, known to his employees as the Boss, wrote to him because he had counted Ashokamitran's father, who had just died, as a friend and he knew the family was now in distress. It was in February 1952 that Ashokamitran became the assistant to the studio's public relations officer - without any experience.
From that vantage point, it was easy for Ashokamitran to see how - and why - Gemini Studios grew and grew, producing some great hits and nurturing a lot of talent in the film industry. Ashokamitran resigned in 1966, and Vasan died of cancer three years later. By then, Gemini Studios was on the slide though it continued to make films. The good old times were over. In 1975 it shut down, ending a chapter in Indian cinema. This is an insider's view of Gemini Studios.
"The Ghosts of Meenambakkam" is a gripping story of a film producer-turned-terrorist from a neighbouring country (we are not told which country but it is implicit it is Sri Lanka) helps a professional killer to bomb the Chennai airport, and how the narrator of the story gets caught in the plot. The story is based on a real incident that tore through the Chennai terminal in 1984 when Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka was beginning to gallop. "The Ghosts of Meenambakkam" is without doubt one of Ashokamitran's best works of fiction.By M.R. Narayan Swamy