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Poets and Pancakes Summary Class 12th Commerce

Poets and Pancakes by Asokamitran About the Author


Asokamitran (22 September 1931-23 March 2017) was a famous Tamil writer and Sahitya Akademi, winner. He was one of the few writers who wrote fluently in both Tamil and English. In a career spanning over six decades, he wrote 8 novels, 20 novellas and hundreds of short stories, on a wide range of issues.

He spent the initial years of his career in the famous Gemini Studios of Chennai. Although he was entrusted with the clerical task of cutting and pasting newspaper articles, he learned a lot about the functioning of Gemini Studios, which he humorously depicted in his autobiographical book My Years with Boss.

Poets and Pancakes Summary by Asokamitran


Poets and Pancakes Introduction to the Chapter

Set up in 1940, for almost thirty years, Gemini Studios of Madras (Chennai) was one of India’s pioneering and influential film-producing organisations of India. Founded by the brilliant and talented S.S. Vasan, it had a staff of over 600 people and made movies for Tamil Nadu and other southern Indian states. Pancake was the make-up material used by Gemini Studios. Sahitya Akademi award winning Tamil writer Asokamitran worked for the Gemini Studios from 1952 to 1966. He later recorded his reminiscences in the book, ‘My Years with Boss’.


Poets and Pancakes Theme

This chapter has been taken from “My Years with Boss’ written by Asokamitran. Through this write up, Asokamitran brings up a lot of topics pertaining to film industry in particular and India in general, and provides the reader a glimpse of independent India in its infancy. 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. He also mentions the anti-communism movement run by the West.



Poets and Pancakes Summary in English

The essay, “Poets and Pancakes” is an extract from Asokamitran’s book “My Years with Boss.” The Boss was S.S. Vasan, who founded the Gemini Studios which produced a number of films that influenced every aspect of Indian life.


Asokamitran talks about his days at Gemini Studios. He is known for his humour and gende satire. He explains us about a make-up material. The brand name of this material was Pancake. This material was bought and used up in the studios. He gives name of few actresses who used that material. He suggests that the make-up department was located in a building which was believed to have been Robert Clive’s stable. However, there were several buildings associated with Robert Clive’s residence but this was not true as Clive’s stay in India was very shortlived.


Further, he gives a description of the make-up department as a symbol of national integration and the make-up room as a hair-cutting salon. Pancake and many other lotions made actors ugly as it was necessary to make them presentable in a movie. In the make-up department, there was a forty-year-old office boy with dream of becoming a star-actor or director or lyrics writer. His dreams remained unfulfilled, making him frustrated. For this, he blamed Subbu, who was No. 2 and a favourite of the boss.

The writer tells about poets who used to wear khadi and believed that Communists were monster^. He even tells about legal adviser who had been the member of the story department. He was at odds in the department and lost his job with the closure of story department. The legal adviser had even once brought an abrupt end to the promising career of a talented actress.


The Gemini Studios even hosted a two-hundred strong Moral Rearmament Army (MRA) which showed two plays in the most professional manner. The plays became a good success and left their impression on Tamil drama. Later, the writer however, learnt that MRA was actually a counter-Communist movement.

The writer even tells us about Subbu, a man of many abilities and kind-hearted person. However, the office boys felt jealous of him, and cursed him.


The writer humorously tells of an English poet’s visit to the studios. Though royal preparations were done but the purpose of his arrival was a mystery for long time to come. At the studios, they had never heard the poet’s name before. Further, they did not understand what he spoke. The poet also perhaps felt baffled.


Asokamitran’s duty at the studios was to cut newspaper clippings on several issues and store them in files. However, anyone who saw him tearing newspapers thought he had no work. Thus, everybody wanted to deliver some work to him.


The author saw a notice in The Hindu. A short story contest had been organised by a British periodical called, The Encounter. The writer desired to send an entry. However, he wanted to know status of the periodical. For this, he went to British Council Library. There he found it. He learnt that the editor of the periodical was Stephen Spender, the poet who had come to Gemini Studios.


After his retirement, he came across a book titled, The God That Failed. It had six essays about failure of Communism. One of these essays was written by Spender. The mystery of Spender’s visit to Gemini Studios was cleared. Perhaps it had something to do with his anti-communist perspective.


Poets and Pancakes Main Characters in the Chapter


The author of the narrative and an employee of Gemini Studio, Asokamitran’s work was to cut newspaper clippings, paste these and maintain a file of the same. The other stafflooked down on his job and believed themselves to be superior to him.


Office Boy

The office boy was not really a boy, but a grown-up man. He was forty years old. He was in charge of the crowd make-up. Though his job was an easy one, he considered himself to be a skilled artist. He had once aspired to be a star actor or a top screen writer. He blamed Subbu for his failure.


Kothamangalam Subbu

Kothamangalam Subbu was the No. 2 at Gemini Studios. Though he definitely came from a less advantaged background than the office boy, being a brahmin by birth had given him better exposure than the office boy. He had the ability to look cheerful at all times and his undivided loyalty was to Vasan, the principal of Gemini Studios. Extremely creative, Subbu directed all his talent to his principal’s advantage.

Though a brilliant actor, he was content playing secondary roles and usually performed better than the lead actors. Without a doubt, Subbu gave direction and definition to Gemini Studios during its golden years. Subbu was an extremely talented poet as well. Though capable of writing complex poetry, he deliberately chose to write in simple Tamil verse to enlighten the masses. Generous to the core, Subbu’s house was a permanent residence for dozens of near and distant relations, whom he fed and supported without a thought. Yet, even Subbu had enemies.


Legal Advisor

Like Subbu, the story department of Gemini Studios also had a lawyer, officially known as legal advisor, though better known for the opposite reasons. While every other member of the story department wore a khadi dhoti and white khadi shirt, the legal advisor wore pants and a tie, and sometimes an oversized coat. He is described as a man of cold logic in a crowd of dreamers. He was responsible for destroying the acting career of a highly talented actress, by his irresponsible behaviour.


Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender, an English poet, editor and a one-time communist, came to Gemini Studios and gave a speech. His lecture was about Communism on one side and about his struggles to establish as a poet on the other. The content of the speech and the accent of the poet left everyone utterly bewildered. The reason for his visit remained an unexplained mystery. Asokamitran later discovered that Stephen Spender was the editor of the British periodical, ‘Encounter’. When he accidentally chanced upon Spender’s essay on Communism in the book, ‘The God that Failed’, Asokamitran understood the connection between the English poet, Stephen Spender and the owner of Gemini Studios, S.S. Vasan.

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