Tag Archives: Director

My Very First Job

First job, like first love, always has a special significance in everyone’s life. Mine was in 1989 in Ask Me Services (Saraansh Teleinfo Services Pvt. Ltd.)  as a Sales Executive. My 2 years’ tenure in this company was an extremely tumultuous one.

It was during this period that I underwent a complete makover; from a bookish, painfully shy, and severely introverted girl who was always scared of meeting new people and visiting new places, I turned into someone completely different. This was one reason why I joined Sales because the best way of overcoming your fears is by doing precisely those things that scare you. I became more outgoing and practical and I actually began looking forward to meeting new people and seeing new places.

I also made lots of mistakes. I often trusted wrong people because I went by the face value of what they said, and not what they meant. But God was merciful and kind. I scraped through all these challenges without getting harmed.

I joined Ask Me straight after an M.Sc. in Maths from Delhi University, as I had no intention of going into teaching or research. Everyone thought I was crazy when I joined this company as I had passed my exams with a first class. They said I ought to wait, be patient, and aspire for better and cushier jobs in line with my education. But all I wanted at that time was to get away from books, to see the world through my own experience, to be financially independent right away, and, of course, to earn a lot of money.

I had heard lots of stories of many college seniors taking up school teaching in frustration after completing Ph.D. in Mathematics. They had to do B.Ed. to make themselves more suitable for school teaching, as no other option was available, and out of fear of being rejected because of overqualification,  they had to keep their Ph.D. degree hidden!  I didn’t want to end up like this. Ask me seemed to be the kind of opportunity I was looking for. I grabbed it with both hands. One of my colleagues was Sukhangshu who became my husband 3 years later.

I was lucky as I had full support from my parents. My father, a retired school teacher, said, “Just follow your heart and do what you want, as long as it’s not teaching. Teaching is not meant for ambitious people. Day in and day out, you do the same work for years and only a very tiny fraction of teachers ever get the chance to become headmasters or principals in their lifetime. In private schools, the situation is much worse. Apart from harassment by so-called educationists who are basically crass businesspeople, you are often paid much less than what you are made to sign on every month. I don’t want you to weep like those teachers I interacted with during a brief stint in a private school after retirement.”

Before joining Ask Me, I did, however, attend a couple of job interviews in a few private schools because that was what nearly all of my classmates were doing and I didn’t want to leave the rat race yet. The outcome of these efforts was an offer of Junior Teacher at a local school at a monthly salary of Rs.700. When I told my father about it, he scoffed at it and advised me to wait for something better to come along. In the meantime, I had also applied for B.Ed. in MD University, Rohtak. But when I was invited to pay the fees and take admission, my father suggested I do MBA instead. So I forgot all about MDU after joining Ask Me and as advised by Dad, I subsequently completed MBA from IGNOU through distance education.

I joined Ask Me at a salary of Rs.1500, which was a princely amount way back in 1989. Month after month, I kept giving my salary cheques to my Dad and it was always with great pride and joy that he deposited them in my account. He used to say to our relatives, very proudly, “See, I told you. A daughter is as good as a son. Perhaps even better.”

And one day, I got an award in the form of a cheque of a very big amount for a great sales performance. With Sukhangshu’s help and guidance, I spent most of it on clothes for my family and myself (an Arrow shirt for my Dad and salwar suits for my Mom, my sister, and myself). I still remember how my Dad’s face glowed with happiness as he tried on that striped light green shirt. He was pleasantly surprised to see that a ready-made shirt fitted him so well. For me, he was the most handsome man on earth that day!

Now let me tell you a little bit about this company. It was an innovative startup venture at a time when the Indian economy was being liberalized. It was started in 1989 by 3 partners, Rakesh Aggarwal (his family owned TCI, Transport Corporation Of India), Vivek Dutta, and V.S.S. Mani. It operated initially from Samrat Inn, South Extension, Part 2, Delhi.

Rakesh was the one who provided most of the funding and his presence, I think, gave the company a certain amount of credibility and respectability that all startups require intially to gain acceptance in the market. One nice thing about him that I still remember is that he did not have a very flashy lifestyle and always came to the office in an autorickshaw, quite unlike Indian managing directors of those days in the late 20th century.

It was Ask Me which launched the concept of a “Yellow-Pages-on-Phone” in Delhi and the job of the Sales Team was to get businesses in Delhi to buy space in its computers for promotion. The idea was that a special calling number would be advertised and to get information about any business, its location, etc, people would just have to call up this number. An executive would take this call and look up the information in the database. She would give the required information on phone itself.

Ask Me grew phenomenally after its launch and soon diversified into another product, Information Supermarket, which was a collection of various business directories.

Three years later, however, the company collapsed like a pack of cards, mainly because the ground realities were not favorable. Very few people had phones. Mobile phones were still not available and it used to take 10 years for MTNL, which was the only telecom company at that time, to provide a single landline connection. Another reason was probably internal management squabbles so characteristic of partnerships.

It was quite tragic, really, but nothing could be done about it. All the Ask Me employees had to move on to different companies; a lot of them with uncleared dues that were never cleared…

Like a phoenix, however, the company rose up again with a new name, Justdial, in 1996 in Mumbai, Maharashtra, with V.S.S. Mani as the new Managing Director.

(Link: http://cms.justdial.com/management-team).

Justdial is now a household name all over India and is doing very well, thanks to the burgeoning use of mobile phones, internet, and intelligent entrepreneurship.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone in Justdial still remembers us, the pioneers, who slogged hard, went door-to-door, office-to-office, convinced so many tough customers, to get the first few headings for the company’s database when there was no evidence to prove the company’s authenticity. It was as good as selling dreams!

I recently stumbled upon an old album from those early days (1989-1990). Here are those pics from a Sales Awards Ceremony. I am one of the winners, that’s why I am smiling in these pics! They are a bit hazy since they have been clicked from pics kept inside the album. Digital cameras had still not come into the market yet.

Pic 1: This is the West Delhi Sales team. Starting from left: Me, Sanjeev, Sukhangshu, Rakesh Aggarwal (Managing Director), Puneet Mehta (Team Manager), Devender Pal Singh (we called him DP).

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Pic 2: Left to right, Ravi (RSM), Rakesh Aggarwal (MD), me, Ashok

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Pic 3: Awards Ceremony speech by MD

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Raja Oedipus…An Actor’s Wife Speaks…

Sukhanghsu as Creon (Center)

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I had the pleasure of watching Sukhangshu play as Creon in the Bangla play ‘Raja Oedipus’ at Muktadhara Auditorium on both 5th and 6th March 2016. Perhaps you will wonder why I went on 6th as well. Well, I missed the first 20 minutes’ show on 5th as I couldn’t leave office in time. But I managed to catch up with it the next day and got the chance to understand the play better.

Here is a little bit about the play. Raja Oedipus is a Bangla version of Sophocles’ Greek classic ‘Oedipus, the King.’ The translation from the original to Bengali was done by late Dr. Sisir Kumar Das. The original play ‘Oedipus, the King’ was first performed around 429 BC and is widely regarded as Sophocles’ masterpiece. Of his three Theban Plays that deal with Oedipus, Oedipus the King was the second to be written. However, in terms of the chronology of events that the plays describe, it comes first, followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. Oedipus the King tells the story of Oedipus, a man who becomes the king of Thebes while unwittingly fulfilling a prophecy that he would kill his father, Laius, and marry his mother, Locasta.

Raja Oedipus was enacted this time at Muktadhara by Backdrop Theater and directed by Deepak Guha.

I found the play quite interesting and I was amazed to find that even though it is based on a mythological story from a different culture, the adapted form and the way it was played did not look alien at all. All the actors looked very natural in their different roles. The colorful make-up worn by the actors, their masks, their slow, gliding movements and the varying stage lights were all very graceful and dignified and gave an ethereal feel to the play.

To be honest, I am not really a theater buff and I generally go out to watch a play when Sukhangshu is one of the actors or when he insists on my seeing certain plays which he considers too good to be missed, like Sekhar Sen’s ‘Kabir’ which played in Delhi’s February 2016 NSD Theater Festival.

The best part of watching Sukhangshu perform on stage, as far as I am concerned, always comes after the play ends, when the viewers come up to him to congratulate him and sometimes the thrill gets prolonged for a few more days when rave reviews on his performance appear in the newspapers, as in Anjon Kanjilal’s ‘Asukh’ where he played a lead role and Bapi Bose’s ‘Seventeenth July’ in which he played the role of a Police Officer.  Sukhangshu has been into theater since his teenage years and by God’s grace, he seems to be getting better and better.

Sukhangshu and I came to know each other about 26 years ago in a company where we worked as Marketing professionals and our work had nothing to do with theater. But a few years after we got married, we decided that it would be better if he just followed his heart and that’s how he turned into a professional actor.

In 2009, Sukhangshu played in Amal Allana’s ‘The Metropolis’ during Delhi’s Ibsen Festival. Just 2 days prior to the show, he met with a serious accident during the rehearsal and fractured his left arm. On the D-day, with just a few hours to go, his stomach became severely upset due to the heavy doses of antibiotics and painkillers. His condition kept on worsening and none of the medicines that were prescribed seemed to work. It was in this state that he played his role of Usman Mirza while our daughter Suroshri and I watched anxiously in the house-full Kamani Auditorium. The play turned out to be completely different from the ones I had seen earlier. Never in my life had I witnessed such a grand production played out on stage in this manner, replete with so much high-tech wizardry. It was for the first time in my life that I saw sub-titles flashing on stage. We were all absolutely wonder-struck! Sukhangshu told me later that after every scene of his, he had to rush to the washroom.

Finally, when the play ended, one of his mentors remarked excitedly, “Sukhangshu did an excellent job. He is, I think, one of the best actors now and I don’t think he is even aware of it! It is just as well that he doesn’t know.” From where did Sukhangshu get his strength come from? This was what I asked myself that day. It must have been God, I told myself quietly. It couldn’t have been anyone else!

A couple of years ago, when our only earthly possessions were the clothes on our bodies and the dreams that throbbed in our hearts, we had once gone out together to see a movie. While eating popcorn during the interval, I remarked casually, “One day, perhaps, we would eat popcorn while watching one of your movies.”

Caught off guard, he exploded into laughter and said, “Me in movies? How very unlikely! I don’t think I am that good!”

But in 2013, God heard our prayers and gave us something really wonderful to celebrate about. It was Shoojit Sircar’s movie Madras Cafe’ in which Sukhangshu played a small role as an undercover agent. The camera focused on his face in a close-up shot for only about 2 minutes, but for us and all our friends and family members, that was a historical moment, something  to cherish all through our lives. Here is that shot!

Sukhangshu in a scene from Madras Cafe’ (Sitting beside him is late Jayanta Das of Vicky Donor fame)

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Sukhangshu subsequently got another chance in 2015 to shoot for a film. It was for ‘Hai Dil,’ along with the immensely talented and highly acclaimed actor Benjamin Gilani!

This was followed by a prominent role as Suraj Singh, a villain, in the TV serial ‘Wah Chaudhary’ on DD Kisan. Sukhangshu says that for a long time he had dreamed of playing a bad guy a la’ Pran and Jeevan of Bollywood and this serial fulfilled his heart’s deepest desire. Take a look at the scene below. It’s my personal favorite. Do you see here what I see? A poisonous snake spewing its venom with angry, blazing eyes!

Sukhangshu in a scene from ‘Wah Chaudhry’

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Now here is something that will bring a smile on your face. Several years ago, in the Bangla play Pratham Partha, as soon as Sukhangshu appeared on stage in a very unfamiliar getup, our little Suroshri clapped, laughed and shouted loudly, “Oh, wow, see what Papa has turned into!”

For a few seconds, the spell was broken and the audience sitting in the B.C. Pal Auditorium turned away from the spotlight on the Sutradhar (the storyteller) and stared at his daughter. It was a very awkward moment, but as the well-known cliche goes, the show must go on, and this play too went on and was highly acclaimed by one and all…

Sometimes, during my idle moments, I shut my eyes and allow myself to daydream about how it would feel like on hearing someone announce breathlessly, with a pause in between, “And the Oscar goes to …Sukhangshu Chatterjee!” I know that’s a bit too far-fetched at this stage, but it gives me a very beautiful feeling inside. Who knows, even this dream might become real one day…

Given below is our family pic which was clicked by a friend at the end of Raja Oedipus…

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Wish you all the very best, Sukhangshu, and of course, many, many more years of mishap-free, exciting, and challenging roles !

To read more about Sukhangshu Chatterjee’s work, check out his blog: 

URL:https://schatterjee210.wordpress.com/