Camera! Action! Imagine a scene where Bulla, Pote and all the character of the epic movie Gunda are standing and from the sky makes a dashing entry, a man with a laptop in his hands! This Man is a Assistant Adjunct Professor at University of Maryland. He considers himself a disgruntled Movie fanatic and wants to become a politician one day. For now he is phamously known as ‘The GreatBong‘. Our Cameraman breaks into the set of the Movie ‘Gunda – 2’ to interview Arnab Ray aka ‘The Great Bong‘. Here is what he had to say…
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
A: I started blogging in August 2004. I had just graduated from Stony Brook and had moved away from where I had been for the last five years to another cold city, leaving behind the conversations I used to have with fellow graduate students over beer and chicken wings, conversations that continued into the wee hours of the morning, immensely politically incorrect discussions where voices were raised and language used that would make a Lyangda Tyagi blush. Missing that invigorating company, I started a blog to dump my brain since I had no one to share it with.
I started “personal” blogging – essentially what I ate and what I am doing. Soon I realized my life was so boring that even I didn’t want to read about it. So I shifted to issues and movies, replicating in cyberspace the free-wheeling conversations of my graduate life. Except I was the only one talking. Which now that I thought of it was exactly how our “discussions” sometimes went. That is me talking and others counting down till I stopped.
Q: What topics do you generally blog about?
A: Anything that catches my fancy. B-grade Bollywood, Cricket, Politics, Wall Street meltdown explained using characters from “Gunda” (an iconic Bollywood B movie), reminiscences of growing up in Kolkata. Random Thoughts of a Demented Mind. Describes it perfectly.
Q: Do you ever get stuck when writing an entry? What do you do then?
A: I usually have my thoughts organized before I start writing a blog. I arrange most of it while I am driving home from work or listening to my wife speak (which explains why I never hear of much of what she says). But if I do get stuck sometimes, watching the first fifteen minutes of Gunda always clears the cobwebs from my mind.
Q: Do you promote your blog? What promotional techniques work best for you and why?
A: I usually find getting kissed by brother-of-famous-Bhangra-pop-singer in front of cameras works the best for promotion. Or saying “I was stopped at the airport because my name is Bong.”
Q: How important is it for the blogger to interact with their readers? Do you respond to all the comments that you receive?
A: Possibly the most important thing to do. A blog is best when it is a conversation. I used to reply to all comments at one point of time. But now with my job responsibilities increasing, I am a little shorter of time than I used to be. Which is why I selectively respond to comments. Nothing personal against my commenters. No disrespect intended. I really wish I could reply to each and every one of you as I used to.
Q: Let us start with ‘May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss’. which you describe it as ‘It wuz da best of tyms, it wuz da wrst of tyms’. What inspired you to come up with this book? Was the success of your blog a factor?
A: Actually that line is used to describe the 90s – it is a SMS-ization of the famous line from “A Tale of Two Cities”. The inspiration was to spread my brand of writing to people, and there are many of them, who love to curl up in their beds and read books and couldn’t be bothered to get textual enjoyment from the screen i.e from the world of blogs. Yes, I presume the blog was the principal reason why my publisher was willing to go with a first-timer like me.
Q: August 20, 2004 – ‘Yeh din kabhi nahin bhulogey :P’. This was the day you started blogging. Did you have an idea that you will blog for such a long time and will become a ‘great’ bong? Now, that you are a well known blogger, what are you planning next?
A: No I had no idea. For a year, no one but my family and a few friends read my blog and that too because I would email them “Did you read my blogpost?” and follow it up with “Did you really read my blogpost?” and then with a “I wrote another blogpost to follow up the last blogpost you didnt read”.
Everyone has a level after which they get ashamed. For my friends, that level is pretty high. Now that people read my blog, my plans are to write a number of books. One after another.
Q: Arnab Ray is known to make bollywood film lines famous! Haven’t you received an offer to start writing film dialogues? Do you actually watch all the C grade Bollywood films? It would be great to know your favourites for the best film, the best actor and the best actress both for bollywood and hollywood.
A: I actually received an offer to make a movie out from one of my blogposts. That never worked out though. My Hindi isn’t that good that I can write dialogues on my own. Yes, I actually watch and buy C grade Bollywood films. My favorite Hindi film, actor and actress are in order – Gunda, Mithunda and [any lady who acts opposite Mithunda].
As to Hollywood, the corresponding spots would be Universal Soldier, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal. Yes I know. Steven Seagal sometimes has a ponytail and sounds like “See Gal” . Hence I put him in the actress slot.
Q: According to you, ‘Indian Television’s Finest Hour’ was Rakhi’s swayamvar :). Now we have Rahul Mahajan’s as well. What is your take on the current state of Indian Television and your predictions for the future?
A: Indian Television is at an exciting stage in its evolution. I am looking for India’s first televised murder and/or amputation (preferably done without anesthetic) to make its way onto the airwaves in a few years since every few months, we have programs raising the shock threshold of the viewers.
Q: Let’s talk about IPL now. You are among the biggest cricket fans of India. How do you think has IPL changed the face of cricket? Who is your favorite for this season and why?
A: IPL has finally removed the hypocrisy of the whole gentleman’s game thing and shown cricket for what it is – paisa phenk tamasha dekh. My favorite as always will the Riders because they crystallize the spirit of IPL namely that it doesn’t matter if you don’t win as long as you entertain, even if that entails tripping on your shoelaces.
Q: Fake IPL player was the spice of the last IPL season. Not even the media knows who he/she is but Arnab managed to pull a coup and interview him. How in the world did you manage to do that? Do you know him? Is he actually an IPL player?
A: No credit to mine. Debashish, who runs the Indibloggies awards, arranged it and I just sent him the questions and set it up as a post. I do not know his real name. And no he is not an actual IPL player but someone who claims to be an “insider”.
Q: Readers, Do you know that Arnab is also a Ph.D in Computer science and we should add Ph.D in humour as well. How do they go together? How important is humour in a day to day stressful life? Share with us a situation where your humour has saved your day.
A: It is impossible to get through the life of a Ph.D student without having the ability to laugh at yourself. After all, your advisor and committee and the people who review your papers laugh at you. So why should you not join in? The moment you lose your sense of humor everything becomes a calamity. In life – Ph.D or not, I really cannot recall my humor having saved any day of my life. All I can say is that any day without humor isn’t worth saving.
Q: What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of blogging?
A: Making friends with like-minded people from all over the world. When somebody says that a blogpost of mine made him/her laugh or think or even pause for a while, it makes my day.
Q: How, in general, would you rate the quality of Indian blogs? Share your favourite five blogs.
A: Very vibrant with a wide spread in quality (thats only natural). It is difficult to choose favorites as there are so many I love. But here goes, in no particular order.
- Sidin Vadukut: Finds humor in places one wouldn’t usually think of looking
(Latest Post: The book is nigh. Dork cometh. Full updates.)
- Ramesh Srivats: Puntastical.
(Latest Post: PUB – The Progressive Union of Bloggers)
- Diptakirti: As my senior in Jadavpur University, he once wrote an article in our college magazine and I remember telling myself “Wow I wish I could write like that”. Many years hence, when I read his blog, I still feel the same way.
(Latest Post: Sach)
- National Interest: A group blog which is the definitive place for serious opinions and commentary about Indian politics and policy.
(Latest Post: The origin of agriculture)
- Jaiarjun Singh One of the first blogs I started reading. Has a very distinctive style of writing that I really appreciate.
(Latest Post: Morose humour; notes on an opening chapter)
Q: What is your advice to someone who wants to start a blog?
A: Just be yourself. Don’t write on topics you think are “fashionable” or “get traffic”. Write things that move you and you will set the fashion and you will define the traffic. Trust me on this one.
Q: Do you earn revenue through your blog? How does one go about it?
A: “Bada Ana De Char Ana De..O Aii Aii Kabse Khada” – describes beautifully the amount of revenue I earn through my blog. India-themed blogs normally wont make money- that’s just the way the model works.
Q: Let’s conclude off with a few favorites.
Color: Yellow. And no that does not make a dirty fellow.
Movie: Difficult to say one single. But if God gave me three hours to live and one movie to watch, I would ask him for four more hours and two more movies. If he agrees, I would watch the Apu Trilogy. After that I don’t care whether I go to heaven or not. Because I have already been there.
TV Show: A tie between Yes Minister, Star Trek Original Series and X Files
Book: Mahabharata. The greatest story ever told. Ever.
Time of Day: Just before falling asleep.
Your Zodiac Sign: Capricorn. That’s my Rashee …
Thank you Arnab for this wonderful interview and we wish you all the best for your book. Readers, After reading this interview rush to your nearest bookstore or order online, Arnab’s latest book ‘May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss‘.