I know I am beaten. Can’t ignore him any longer.
For thirteen months, I’ve managed to run this blog without writing about Santosh Sivan (1976), the most famous Loyola old boy. When he won an award for an ad film or earned praise for a new short film on AIDS, I pretended that I hadn’t heard. Because I believed that my mission was to write about less-known Loyolites who did interesting things or performed well in their fields, away from the glamour of filmdom. But look what Santosh Sivan has gone and done now. He makes history such that no self-respecting Loyola history blogger can skip the moment. Folks, I give up.
Because Santosh Sivan is taking Loyola to Hollywood. On 9 May, Before the Rains, his first Hollywood movie — an English language film, an American production — will hit the screens of New York and Los Angeles. I haven’t heard of any Hollywood movie set in colonial Kerala, or with Malayalam dialogues. In that sense, Santosh Sivan is probably taking Kerala (not just Loyola) to Hollywood.
This is the time for renewed debates on “How would Padmarajan have fared in Hollywood?” or “What if Mohanlal had rubbed shoulders with Al Pacino?”, or “Is Santosh Sivan that great (even if Hollywood sees potential in the man)?” But more likely, Indians will rush to occupy the high ground and yell “What Hollywood? What is so historic in this? Bowing before the white man!” Yes, please brace yourself for yet another sms poll.
I am an ordinary guy and so I asked the man-of-the-moment a few ordinary questions. Excerpts from the interview with Santosh Sivan.
Q. In their youth, many Indians desire to become cinematographers or directors. What’s your advice to such people in their teens and twenties?
A. You have only one life. Do whatever you want to. Time is the most valuable commodity, so don’t waste it. If you have a dream, just go for it. The rest follows.
Q. On the screen, when people see a picturesque landscape, they exclaim “Nice cinematography.” Beyond that, what should viewers be really looking out for in the movies, with regard to cinematography? What is good cinematography from a cinematographer’s point of view? When does a cinematographer say, “Ah! I’ve done well.”?
A. Difficult question, it needs a debate actually. Cinematography should be like music…explore the scales for melody and respect silence. Cinematography can be imitative, though one appreciates it when it is innovative. Innovation often happens when you actually try and draw from your experiences and the visual culture that influenced you — the place where you grew up is what makes you have a certain sensibility. And you want to create your own worlds. You tend to imitate more when you are recreating works which have influenced you.
Q. You see the dance of light in a way that most people don’t. Do you see comedy in light? Can we expect a comedy movie from Santosh Sivan?
A. Ha. Humour, yes. Comedy movie, not yet. I enjoy them, though.
Q. Like M.T. Vasudevan Nair, you raise the standard (and win awards) in whatever you do — ad films, films, children’s films, documentaries, short films. Have you thought of giving us a world-class TV series in Malayalam?
A. NO. I love being “hungry” always and exploring new avenues and ideas. It was a dream to release a Malayalam/English film in the US. So Before the Rains is a first of its kind, presented by Merchant-Ivory. When we were to make it, the folks at Hollywood asked me, “Why Malayalam? Our research says, Hindi and Punjabi are better options, since Malayalis don’t see films and only buy pirated VCDs”!
Q. Asoka was partly inspired by your history teacher in Loyola, and Malli was an adaptation of a story you studied in school. Is there a Loyola connection to Before the Rains?
A. Though the story is from the Hollywood producers, it deals with a colonial background, where there are always cultures clashing. For instance, it’s perfectly normal for us to sit in front of computers and crack our head on logic, and equally normal to sit and do religious rituals and break coconuts. I was always fascinated with the roads that wind up into the Wayanad hills, and the efforts to build them. Sort of clashing of nature and man. A road is always a leftover of the clash. And becomes timeless. So many landmarks are British. So these images trigger off. Imagining about them and their life in Kerala and our forefathers, and their relationship. The movie is about such people. Rahul Bose, who is caught in-between and the choices he has to make. So with Linus Roache, Jennifer Ehle, and Nandita [Das] who all have to make choices. It resonates today too where all have to make choices. The film explores the grey areas. No one is stereotyped black or white.
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Is the movie then a world away from Loyola, about which Santosh Sivan once said “Everything from blackboard to the priest’s dress to the school uniform to the pencil to the pen… everything has a black and white quality to it”? Or is there a Loyolite beneath Rahul Bose’s character, who reportedly “has the mentality of an Indian but also wants to be an Englishman”?
In junior school in the early 1980s, we were assigned to either of the two clubs, Sparrows and Magpies. But on Sports Day and for inter-house games, we were free to align (mentally) with one of the four Houses of the senior boys.
When I was a very young Loyolite, I chose SS House. There were three weighty reasons: the attractive red flag of Sputnik Spacemen; the logo with a prominent Superman-like ‘S’; and that the House Captain commuted along with us in Bus Number 3.
Ten days ago, I met the man behind the red flag and the super logo.
Giles Francis, son of an army officer, was schooled for the most part in northern India. In 1963, he returned to Trivandrum and joined Mar Ivanios College to study Economics. While there, Giles did not merely draw demand-supply curves as I was to do thirty years later; he enrolled in a correspondence course in art. By the time he graduated in economics, Giles had also become a qualified commercial artist.
In the early 1970s, he drew greeting cards (bought by USIS staff in Trivandrum), designed textiles for firms in Madurai and Coimbatore, and in his spare time, privately tutored schoolboys in Hindi. Among his students were Loyolites.
One day (in 1973 or 1974), a Loyola student of his took the artistic Hindi teacher to Fr C.P. Varkey. The four Houses in school — Green, Yellow, Blue and Red — had recently been rechristened Apollo Pioneers, Gemini Giants, Jupiter Jetsetters, and Sputnik Spacemen. Giles was asked to design the logos of the four Houses and make a flag for each House.
Giles Francis in front of the building where he painted the House flags in the 1970s – Photo: Ashok R Chandran
In going about the task, was he influenced by the Houses in his own school, the Jesuit institution St Xavier’s, Hazaribagh? “No. The Houses there were Britto, Gonzaga, Loyola and Xavier”, Jesuit saints light years away from the space age names he encountered in Sreekariyam.
“I was interested in calligraphy. For Apollo Pioneers, I used a monogram with the letters A and P joining together,” Giles revealed. “Sputnik Spacemen…the House colour was red. For the logo to be prominent on red background, I chose white. The ‘S’ with an orbit just struck me.”
I told Giles that I found the Gemini Giants logo quite complicated. I mean, AP had the spacecraft and SS had the orbit, but GG was bewildering. He asked, “Isn’t that the Gemini twins?” Even as I wondered whether it was he or me who had a memory lapse, I quickly drew a crude version of the logo. He took one look at it and said “Yes. That’s the astrology symbol for Gemini.” In less than a minute, by pointing to the stylised symbol for Gemini, Giles had snatched my admiration from the SS camp and placed it in GG.
As a kid I could barely say Jetsetters and the dark blue House vest is as unappealing now as it was then. Thankfully, I was in Jupiter Jetsetters only for one year. Yet, that’s where my loyalty lies. Because I led JJ House in my final year of school. And when you are house captain, you don’t fail to notice that on Sports Day, you carry a light blue flag but wear a dark blue vest. Giles unravelled the puzzle. “On a flag, from a distance, dark blue can look like black. That’s why light blue was chosen,” he explained.
Giles should know because he was the one who went to Chalai and selected the cloth for each flag. “The cloth is crape, not satin,” he said. That’s another Loyola myth broken. How little we know about the objects we worshipped in school! Giles tells me the benefit of silk,”Satin is heavy. A flag has to flutter. Crape is best.”
Giles used fabric paint to paint the logos on the flags of Houses. He then made badges for the House Captains, the School Leader, the Assistant School Leader, and the General Captain.
Giles’ artwork for Loyola was not limited to the logos of Houses. Fr Kuruvila Cherian was a man of ideas. He had worked with Giles on the design of logos, and as Vice-Principal he commissioned a series of paintings on Jesus Christ (Jesus as a toddler, a young boy, and so on), one to be hung in each classroom.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Giles drew a school map on a wooden panel, designed a school magazine cover, and served as a judge at La Fest. His other connection with Loyola is that Giles is a cousin of the former Rector Fr Dominic George.
When Giles’ father retired from the army, he had settled in Trivandrum and set up a foreign languages institute. But it did not take off. Today, on request, Giles takes language classes in German, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and spoken English. His students include Japanese computer professionals visiting India, and Indian doctors wishing to learn Chinese.
After retiring from Keltron (where he worked in the advertising and public relations department), Giles has also been running a homestay for tourists. It was at Graceful Homestay, with a glass of pineapple juice in one hand and an afternoon breeze in the face, that I heard the story of Loyola’s logos. “You are the first to ask me about it,” said Giles.
As I took leave, it was his turn to quiz me, “Do you know who designed the emblem of Loyola School?” I began hesitatingly “Er…you did that one too?” “No,” he replied, “Laurie Baker designed it.”
Acknowledgement: The tipster wishes to remain anonymous. Fr Edassery and Madhu uncle helped me take the photo of the new JJ flag.
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Newspapers like the New York Times and The Hindu offer a history section where they cull out news reports from the archives and present slices of the past. For Loyola, the LENS and Wall Diary squads are best equipped to carry such a section. But till then, let me offer you a series — 25 Years Ago — based on the school magazines of yesteryears.
- For a school that has made a mark on the national quizzing scene in recent years, the most significant development of 1982-83 was probably the setting up of a quiz and debate squad — “the brainchild of Mr B.O. Sebastian” and guided by Mrs. Santha Nair. Mitu Gulati (1983) wrote “The Squad started its work with house-wise quiz programmes for different standards. In the second term, a debate for Std IX and X was conducted on the topic ’20th Century Man: Better Off than his Predecessors’.”
- 105 students were involved in service squads, whose number rose from twelve to nineteen in 1982-83. (It is not clear as to which ones were introduced that year). There were service squads for maintenance, auditorium, wall diary, buses, safety, picture display, weather chart, indoor games, inter-school competitions, morning study, and LENS. Sankar Krishnan (1983) wrote about LENS, “Loyola English Newspaper Service aims at reaching all the item of news in the school to the students through their weekly publications. Some special issues regarding the School Day, St. Ignatius Day, the Loyola Basketball Tournament and indoor games have also come out. We carried out a few interviews and also conducated an indepth survey of Cheruvickal School to find out exactly to what extent it profits from Loyola’s helping hand.”
- The School had children from four religions — Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. Prayer services or special assemblies were held before major festivals, and programmes included singing of devotional songs by the school choir, reading of extracts from sacred books or of well-known writers, and an explanation of the festival’s theme by the Principal.
- “Every Saturday our blue bus rolls by / Every Saturday we Loyolites in blue get on” to go to school for NCC parade, wrote Rajiv Narayanan (1985), then in Std VIII. Rajiv’s poem reveals that aeromodeling was taken seriously, and so was shooting. “When they whistle after theory class / We Loyolites jump up from the grass” suggests that the class was held outdoors. I counted about 70 cadets in a photograph. And yes, the Troop Commander was Mr C.T. Varkey.
- It was the year of the Asian Games in Delhi and the sports fever was quite high in Sreekariyam. In school sports, there was a Loyolite in the state hockey team, one in the state athletic team and two in the state cricket team, not to speak of several in the district teams, including eight in the Trivandrum district basketball team. Loyola were the district champions in basketball.
- But Loyola was runner-up in the school’s own basketball tournament, losing to St Thomas 63-85 in the final. Varghese Varghese (1983) in his analysis of the ninth Loyola basketball tournament wrote
[t]he St. Thomas team are older in age and experience, and are taller too. We Loyolites, as an average are of medium height and in basketball, height has a great advantage. lacking this we should patch this up with accurate shooting, for which we have not yet got the knack. Quick and short passes with drive-ins can often change the tide of the game and the St. Thomas players dominated in all these fields. But in outside shots, we Loyolites are far superior…. Coaching is another factor which decides the fate of the game. This coaching given by Mr P C Thomas though very useful was really very brief and short. The lack of dedication and interest taken by the players is responsible for this. We have yet to master the art of man to man defence.
- Students of Std VII went on a half-day study tour to the neighbouring Central Tuber Crops Research Institute.
- The School Day was held in November, as in the previous year. This was probably a hangover from the past, when the academic year (till 1979) was from January to December. “About 350 students, i.e. 1/3 of the whole school” appeared on the stage. Earlier, “about 85%” of the students had taken part in the school’s own youth festival, according to the Principal’s annual report.
- Loyola organised an inter-school youth festival for neighbouring schools. “About 150 students from five neighbouring U.P. and L.P. schools participated,” said the Principal.
- On the social work front, the school was active. The Principal’s report says, “Students donated Rs 1,000 to Sisters of the Poor, Rs 3,000 for the rehabilitation of the blind and Rs 10,000 to the Cheshire Homes. They donated text books and uniforms worth Rs 6,000 to poor children studying in neighbouring schools.” A later publication put the figure at Rs 5,000. The school offered full or half fee concessions to 61 students.
- The construction of the silver jubilee block (building) was in progress. It probably began in 1982-83. If so, some of you may see this as the biggest contribution of 1982-83 to Loyola history.
- Principal Fr Varkey conducted a day-long seminar for parents, on child psychology. Dr Manoranjan Rao, a scientist at VSSC wrote “Topics like Motivation, Responsibility, Jealousy, Sex education etc. were also dealt with. Also certain case studies were analyzed by the participants who were divided into ‘groups’ for this purpose. The ‘group discussions’ were carefully ‘guided’ by the Principal…” Fr Varkey’s ‘human relations approach’ seminars were popular in not just Trivandrum, but far away Bombay too, revealed one letter from a parent in the metro.
- Old boys outside Trivandrum wrote letters to the school. Rajiv Vijayan (1980) wrote from IIT Madras “Dear Fr Varkey, I reached IIT on 12th July. Our classes began on 19th July. I am staying in Mandakini Hostel….Here I have met four ex-Loyolites–Lagichan, Joseph Mathew, Roy Mathew and Vani Prasad.”
- The School Magazine of the previous year did not have students on the editorial board. In 1982-83, five student editors appeared: Paul Augustine, Sajit N., Anand M., Sankar Krishnan and Sanjay Kumar (all 1983). Though the editorial board did not mention his name, the statutory declaration said that Fr C.P. Varkey was the Editor.
- I have not confirmed this, but it looks like the medal for the school topper in the SSLC exam was named after Renji Mathew in 1982-83. The previous year’s school magazine mentions it as “Loyola Medal”.
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What are your recollections of 1982-83?
How different is Loyola today (or the Loyola you studied in)?
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LA Fest 2007 will be held next week. How did this inter-school arts festival organised by +2 students of Loyola, begin?
The story is recounted in ’10 Years of LA Fest’, a souvenir brought out in 2005. On page 2, under the heading ‘The Rising’ it says:
In November 1996, Vivek Krishnan, Harish K., Rahul Warrier and their 12 standard classmates pleaded with the class teacher: Madam, we need a break from the grind of textbooks and classes; let’s organise an inter-school arts festival.
The idea gathered momentum among students. But somebody had to get the green signal from the Principal Fr. Mani Manimala.
One afternoon, as the school bell rang, the teacher surrounded by students egging her on told Fr. Mani, “The students have been saying that they want to organise a festival for schools in the city.” The Principal, full of energy but looking stern as ever, replied, “If you are ready to take full responsibility, go ahead.”
The students who overheard this were ecstatic. The teacher who had bravely conveyed the proposal could not back out. Her students would ensure that, year after year.
The last page of the souvenir reveals who the teacher is.
LA Fest claims to be ‘an all-student affair’. But the invisible hand of 12 standard class teacher Deepa Pillai (DP) has been there in every fest since 1996. Her passion for anonymity forced us to delete her name in ‘The Rising’ (page 2). But we have the last laugh.
Every year, the school magazine’s LA Fest report captures the excitement of the fest. But I would argue that these reports do not capture the fest well. I have heard that within 2-3 days of the concluding ceremony, the student volunteers sit and critically look at their work in organising the fest. The LA Fest, in fact, ends only after that group session.
But such wonderful spirit of learning does not make its way to the school magazine. Instead, we get reports that are too self-congratulatory in tone, with each successive batch rushing to claim that they organised ‘the best LA Fest ever’. I see this whitewashing as emblematic of modern Loyola, where a culture of advertising and hype prevails. But more about that another day.
For now, best wishes to LA Fest 2007. And brothers, please write a fair report for the school mag. Or as you say in Loyola these days, the ‘best report ever’.
BONUS! Download ’10 Years of LA Fest‘ (.pdf; 0.4 MB)