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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 23, March 16-31, 2013
By Ranjitha Ashok

"Director sir, this may be a futuristic movie you are shooting, but I can't imagine anyone will ever keep their phones here, like this!"

You are watching an old movie from decades ago.

You join in the laughter over the hair and clothes, but not too heartily ... you've worn bell-bottoms like those yourself ... (and, yes, you also went around pasting love-flowers on your cupboard, much to your Mom's irritation, and once wore a badge advising people to 'Make Love, Not War', leading to some amount of unpleasantness with your grandmother).

You tell yourself that ever since the beginning of Time, each generation has always laughed at the Ones-That-Went-Before, and decided to stay in sync with the general mood – but something keeps bothering you, niggling away at you.

Something is missing, overlooked in the script, perhaps...?

Like – you are watching the heroine get into the car with Mr. Main-Bad-Guy. Now, this genial old college friend is actually a monster in disguise, someone who'd make Gabbar Singh look like a particularly loving, fluffy kitten.

The girl's boyfriend has only just discovered this, and is yet to warn the heroine. And here she is, amazingly trusting as only an 'our-movie' heroine can be, all set to drive off God knows where with Old Worst-Intentions.

"Get out and run, you fool," you want to yell out to her, "and you, the boyfriend, what are you doing? Quick, call her on her…"

And there it is.

The missing element.

No cell-phone. That's right – this is a 'BC' – Before Cell-phone – movie, from the Pre-Cellular-lithic Era.

You sit back, relax. It's going to be a while before the last minute rescue happens.

And you can't help wondering – how many plots would have gone differently, how many story endings changed, if cell-phones had been around when your world was young, when people dum-maro-ed while angry young men surrendered to a Higher Power, but only after making impassioned speeches.

Take that much-used 'our movie' staple – the Grand-Gesture-Suicide-Attempt.

You know the scene. The heroine, either to drive home a point, or to condemn her near and dear to a lifetime of ghastly guilt, suddenly takes off like a bat out of hell, weeping copiously as she runs, hair and saree pallu streaming glamorously behind her, heading either for the nearest high spot to do a bit of leaping... or for the ubiquitous kerosene supply in the kitchen.

If cell-phones had been around, a simple SMS would have ended this nonsense. "Truth revealed. Do not jump off cliff."

(Or bridge.)

Or: "All's well... and step away from the kerosene and matches, genius. You could hurt yourself... and others."

(The premise is, of course, that once you acquire a cell-phone, you get so addicted, you'll never leave home without it... even when you are busy quarrelling with Fate, Family or Friends.)

Timely calls or messages would have also spared long suffering 'engine drivers' the irritating delays, (and sheer horror), of having people suddenly popping up on railway tracks, wanting to end their lives.

"Real thief found... leap briskly to left."

So many misunderstandings prevented, so many crossed wires straightened out in the nick of time.

"I said 'yes' to you, not your best friend. Check your msgs. Put away gun, and stp bng a drama Kng."

Timely warnings would have saved so many from so much unpleasantness. The feisty daughter-in-law busy searching her mother-in-law's room for evidence to prove it is the latter who's behind all these mysterious 'accidents' in the house would have been spared a teeth-rattling surprise by a simple: "Dragon-lady returning to room. Abort mission."

Travel plans would have been simplified.

"Do not board flight/train. All is forgiven. Wait for me."

You'd then have had less of those running-to-catch-up scenes on railway platforms.

As for the time-honoured lost-and-found formula?

A simple "Lost in mela. Wre R U?" would have set things right in a trice – and protagonists wouldn't have had to wait the mandatory twenty years before re-uniting with family and sundry loved ones.

Part of an unfortunate threesome that got separated by trains? Not a problem in a cell-phone-enabled era. All you would have had to do is call; speak sharply to the ones who didn't run fast enough to leap aboard, then, deciding to be magnanimous, make plans to catch up at the next station. So much easier than having to remember songs you once sang just so you could use them later as reunion devices.

Would this have created some consternation in the music industry?

Probably not – those guys never run out of occasions to sing; they'd have been okay.

Of course, movies would then have finished about one and a half hours too early, leaving everyone at a bit of a loss.

Things have changed.

Cell-phones are now part of the plot – not always in a good way, though.

The heroine forgets to put her cell-phone on silent while hiding from the Faceless Fiend... it rings...


Or that all important 'signal' collapses with an ominous death rattle, leaving the hero in a fix.

And while imagination can handle soulful sad songs over photographs and old love letters, it totters over the image of a cell-phone being crooned over.

Makes you wonder how much mental re-adjustment older script writers have had to make over the years.

"No, no, we can't have the hero waiting in the storm ... not these days ... all she has to do is call him and tell him she can't make it ... let him sing after he gets her call. So change the words... he knows why she can't make it. And for God's sake, get him out of the rain."

Oh well – every time they innovate another innovation, imagination has to get innovative too.

(Author's note: Original version published in 'S' magazine for Satyam Cinemas.)

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In this Issue

Dear Mr. Finance Minister
Desalination plants
Govt. funding helps heritage thrive
The Memorials of Schwartz
KVK and his public causes
The Stanley Hospital Story by Shobha Menon
From Gandhi & Rajaji to Em & Big Hoom
Past Times
A management guru remembered

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary
Madras Eye


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