Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Event at Hyderabad - "Jump Cut" By Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

It was great to be in the company of author Krishna Shastri Devulapalli who's second novel 'Jump Cut' has just been released and Mohana Krishna Indraganti, whose film 'Antaku Mundu Aa Taravatha' is at the 50 day mark, a rarity these days, discussing Krishna's book. I read the book and its a lovely, racy read with tonnes of irreverent and quirky humour stamped with Krishna's inimitable style. The humour is just one angle to it - the book has some unforgettable characters like Satayajit Ray Raman (I'll never forget this man, he will remain in elite company of the Corleones, the Count of Monte Cristo, Borei Gowda etc), Abie, Sumi, Padmini, Selva, Rajarajan and the unforgettable Dog Raj (a dog). Of course there are deadly bazookas, Brazilians, JLo and cold blooded revenge too, in case you get bored with the above. I flipped through the book yesterday again and found it even better the second time (I am slow on these things). Funnily I also enjoy Mohan's movies also a bit more when I watch them for the second and third time.
Krishna Shastri Devulapalli speaking at the event held at La Makaan, Hyderabad

Anyway the venue was La Makaan, Banjara Hills. Shobhs and I landed up on dot - at 630 and found Krishna and Chitra busy meeting people and setting up the show. It did not rain thankfully and the event was conducted in peace in the lovely courtyard. A good crowd came, friends, family, press, film students, book lovers and so on. I saw Papa Raju after a long time, actor-director Srini Avasarala and the highly creative and well informed Sagar were there, Vinod Ekbote, popular book blogger was there with Uma Shankar and Sreenath, Shobha, Radhika and her father Mr. Rajaraman who told me he played cricket for Civil Services team in the local league, young Sudheer of Golconda High School fame, Nikhil Kuruganti from HCU and a young entrepreneur now, Suresh and AP, my brother Ram, Venkat Sidda Reddy, and others.
Fine view of the event
Chitra, Krishna's wife, probably the most accomplished author in that setting, simply because her first novel is due to be published by Harper Collins in January 2014 through its literary imprint Fourth Estate (which boasts of some heavy duty writers), welcomed the crowd and introduced the panel - Mohana Krishna and me, in conversation with author Krishna Shastri Devulapalli. The conversation covered many topics - the title Jump Cut itself, copyright violation, the intense father-son relationship, the presence of strong female characters, Krishna's treatment of the book, his writing journey, the burden of carrying his grandafther's and his father's legacy and much more. Krishna read two hilarious pieces, one of which was about Sugandhi's Secret, and I could not help but laugh despite myself, at the description of Selva wielding a thong like a Gandiva. I did not dare look at the senior citizens, Krishna's family friends, who were seated in the front row and I can only hope they enjoyed it too.
Mohana Krishna Indraganti and I in conversation with Krishna Shastri Devulapalli
It went on for more than an hour and though Shobhs was critical on my customary stiff start, I think it was a decent event finally. Both Krishna and Mohan Indraganti speak authoritatively, honestly, wisely and funnily, and I could not have enjoyed listening to them more. Mohan's nuggets about the use of 'Jump Cuts' in movies, its origin, the copyright violation, the film industry, the constraints one works with, the adaptability of the book to a movie and many more of his own film making experiences are always wonderful to listen to. Krishna shared honestly his growing up years, the reason for 'Jump Cut' racing ahead of his trilogy, the loss of a parent, his love for the writing process and in the same vein his discomfort at the marketing process, the lack of money in writing books (when will this change, it's taken too long?), the desire to write and also his great desire to write screenplays and direct films which I am sure he will, sometime soon.
Mohan Krishna making a point

The event went off well I thought though I must confess I was disappointed with the way the La Makaan management handled it. Don't get me wrong. I love the place, the concept behind it, and the wonderful space it has created for Hyderabadis and I will be the first to applaud the effort. However, it is not the best place to do book launches. Book launches to me are best done in book stores for the simple reason that they are part of the books and booklovers eco system. Publishers benefit, authors benefit, bookstores benefit, customers benefit, everyone takes care of one another, acoustics are good, people come with the intention of reading and buying books and everyone is oriented to the event well. La Makaan is into many activities - and it does not lend itself as easily for a book launch for many reasons - the crowd is too diverse, the acoustics and arrangements do not match the ambience of even a small bookstore, and the focus is just not there.

Nice pic of the books
A small book event, a small author, I can understand - it will be a nice, simple affair at La Makaan. But when a premier book publisher like Harper Collins is promoting a new author it believes in enough to give a three book deal, the choice of the place matters much. Take for example the matter of buying with credit cards - most non-bookstore venues do not have that facility making it difficult to buy more than a certain amount of books which would normally have been bought otherwise. What about other stuff that people tend to pick up when they walk into stores? (I remember my friend Narasimha Rao picking up stuff worth Rs. 20000, an entire Asterix collection or something like that, at the If You Love Someone launch!) For me even a small event in a small bookstore establishes solidarity with the ecosystem - if there is a dispute with one bookseller then honour another bookseller who has been having a good relationship with you. In fact I enjoyed all the events at Akshara Book Store before the big chains came, and though Akshara was still gracious enoguh to send their people across to sell the books at this event, I do wish the events slowly head back into the bookstores.
Krishna reading from Jump Cut

As any careful planner does, Krishna wanted to check out the venue and meet Mohan and me on the previous day to run over the event. It is best that one does that. But as the manager was away due to personal emergency Krishna tried to locate someone who could help or guide and found none but the man at the canteen. For some reason he was curt, absolutely unhelpful and positively rude and I gave up on him (I normally don't so easily). He seemed happy to see me go. Finally Chitra went to speak to some youngsters who were setting up the show for a stand up comic act and found out what one needs to do, what we get, what we need to get, who helps with the chairs, the mike, the chai etc.

Section of the crowd
I completely loved the way the canteen boys shut the canteen in our faces even while we had been in queue for chai saying that 'ab nahin denge chai, canteen bandh ho gaya, event shuru ho raha hai'. It's not the sudden shutting down without warning (perhaps the only ones they did not serve was us) but the rudeness with which it was done, that made me smile. Not many times in my life have I seen such total disregard for a customer. (Or is it because of those wonderful samosas and mirchi bajjis that got reported in the newspapers recently?) Just as Shahrukh Khan says he goes to the US to get humiliated once in a while, I suppose I needed to go here. But I am used to these things having played cricket in Hyderabad and having dealt with the Hyderabad Cricket Association and some wonderful chaps there. Not sure Krishna is though. He tried to reach the Manager on the phone meanwhile and gave up.
Conversation flowing

Next day, I heard that Krishna got a call from the La Makaan manager who chided Krishna for calling him on his private number when he was away on leave. I did not understand why anyone would do that. If you're in charge, you take the responsibility or assign responsibility to someone else. You cannot leave no instructions, no assistance and no recourse. Even if everyone is expected to do their own thing at La Makaan, I am sure someone in that line could have handled it better here. As an author, and the star of the show, it is extremely distressing for someone in Krishna's place to deal with such situations an hour before the event. It would certainly disturb his focus, which I felt it did. Krishna was far more subdued than I have seen him ever. Me, I would have been glad to conduct the show in the nearby Vengal Rao park, rather than put up with all this. Surely an off day but certainly, most avoidable, and the type of stuff that can put authors off events forever.
Another section of the crowd - Chitra in the foreground and Sagar in the background

But across the board I think more professionalism, more humility, more client focus and certainly some politeness in the world would help in all areas. It is not about the place ever - it is always the people. I heard PV tell me yesterday that employees don't leave companies, they leave their managers. Similarly customers also do not leave the place, they leave the people at the place. Come on fellows, you have such a wonderful place doing such wonderful work - take it to the next level. I have been planning with Vinod a meeting of writers at La Makaan for a few weeks now so we taste their samosas, chai and bajjis but now I think I just might stick to where we normally go for a while.

Once again a case for book events in book stores, even small ones. It's just that everyone understands the importance of the event, of the author and of every prospective customer who walks in. (However, let me also add that every author has his/her share of grouses with book launches but as Krishna, Chitra and I decided after the event - 'we must grin and bear it and do our best to help our books along'.
Radhika on the phone, Sagar and Chitra

But apart from these behind-the-scenes aberrations which one tends to forget as things written in sand, the evening was brilliant. There were complaints about the sound system but we made up for that by looking pretty surely. The pics look great, taken by Krishna's friend Mr. Malapaka Poornachandra Rao, and I could never have imagined that the event could look so good. Chitra and Krishna very graciously gave Mohan and me a lovely hamper of books, I got one titled 'Triumph in Bombay; by Vaibhav Vats, which Chitra says she chose especially for me. I cannot wait to read it now. The youngsters were helpful, the crowd gracious, books were sold and signed, people were smiling, all was well with the world. Now I know what they mean when they say all's well that ends well. Good luck Krishna, with 'Jump Cut' and its journey, the film it will be made into someday soon, and the books that are on the way.


Chitra said...

Hari, most affectionate as usual. Thanks for a great account of the event. Lots to think about in re book launches, book promotion and how the publishing world operates and how it ought to.
You're a fine writer, so lucid, so warm and so effortless. Waiting for your cricket book. And want another on the lines I suggested :)

Rajendra said...

Interesting. Both the main event and the sidelights on Service from the venue and the man in charge. Hope to pick up the book.
I recently attended one (Devapriya Roy's second, The Weight Loss Club) at the Piano Man, a small cafe in Delhi, and it was quite nice. But bookstores are a little better, I guess.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Chitra. Wonderful meeting up with you all. Yes, will get going on the cricket book you suggested and am looking forward to your book coming along in January. Good luck you two and like they say in our Bison regiment here in Secunderabad, Bash on regardless.

Harimohan said...

Most interesting from an academic perspective too when you consider services marketing. My experience with eateries and other service providers has been this - they all have their seasons unless they are fully sorted out in terms of commitment to delivery. You're aware of the fluctuating fortunes of the biryani joints in Hyderabad and how they rise high and fall every couple of years. My one learning - in service industry you can never afford to be complacent - ever. Because one word, one bad day can start the slide.