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Pop goes papa’s Pinarayi ploy

Little Joe’s message to big dads of spin: don’t bluff
Vijayan at a media briefing

K.M. Rakesh   |   Bangalore   |   Published 16.04.20, 11:42 PM

Time was when testy mothers could send irrepressible toddlers to bed by invoking the name of Gabbar Singh. Evidently, the nature and profile of such indisputable icons of persuasion have changed. So have children.

Joe Baby, a Malayalam movie maker, thought of using the time gained from the lockdown for responsible parenting by instilling some good habits in Music Joe, his four-year-old son.

The elder Joe knows a thing or two about that most impenetrable phenomenon called childhood: he had made the critically acclaimed Malayalam movie Kunju Daivam, which translates as “Little God” and spins a world of miracles around a child.

Joe Senior decided that the most effective way to get the message across to his son was to remove himself from the picture and deploy someone the child would take more seriously.

The answer lay in the shape and size of Pinarayi Vijayan, the Kerala chief minister.

Make no mistake. Vijayan has little in common with Gabbar, the dreaded outlaw in Sholay. But one point of convergence does exist: their “screen” presence, so to speak.

Just as Gabbar was omnipresent on screens across the country in the mid-1970s, Vijayan is a familiar fixture on television screens across the southern state in the evening these days.

Unlike the unsettling Gabbar, Vijayan is a reassuring presence in the drawing rooms, updating Malayalis on the status of the coronavirus affliction in the state without hyperbole.

Even on the worst days, Vijayan steers clear of hollow promises but tells it as it is and details what his government plans to do to deal with the challenge. So far, his Left government has done remarkably well in tackling the virus outbreak in the state, literally on the frontline in the initial days because of its high exposure to fliers from abroad.

Not without reason, the chief minister’s understated media briefing has become the most watched — and trusted — event in news-obsessed Kerala.

It was against this backdrop that Joe Baby zeroed in on Vijayan as the persuader-in-chief for his son.

The filmmaker dubbed his voice over that of Vijayan in a video clip showing one of the news briefings of the chief minister. The dubbed voice and that of the chief minister are not identical but the manner of speech — staccato sentences with abrupt pauses — and the intonation are strikingly similar, which is not unusual in a state that has perfected mimicry into a fine art.

In the dubbed version, the chief minister’s image tells the child to brush his teeth and take baths regularly.

Then comes the steel, another hallmark of Vijayan, who is not known to suffer inefficiency and can be quite cutting with some of those who cross his path, including the media. Once when the chief minister -– many veteran Marxists like him usually cut an inscrutable visage --- had smiled without reserve and embraced the daughter of a communist ideologue, the occasion was uncommon enough to be chronicled in a newspaper.

The clip “warns” kids of punishment for misbehaviour. “A tendency among children drinking tea without brushing their teeth has come to our attention. Stringent action will be taken against such kids,” says the dubbed voice, which Joe the dad incorporated with the help of a film editor and friend.

“Children must bathe twice a day. Punishment will be recommended against those who refuse to do so,” it goes on. “Another issue that has come to our attention is the excess use of mobile phones by children. This cannot be allowed.”

The father’s own eagerness to watch unhindered the chief minister’s briefing comes through. One transgression the voiceover lists is this: “It has been reported that some children change channels and refuse to hand over the TV’s remote control at the time of the chief minister’s media conference.”

The video ends on an indulgent avuncular note by promising rewards to children who behave properly. When the camera pans at the end, it catches a brief glimpse of Music Joe with a closely cropped head, watching the “CM’s briefing”.

But Joe the Elder had not learnt a cardinal lesson from the chief minister’s briefings: never bluff, especially to the “woke” generation.

The lad with the lyrical name, Music Joe, was smart enough to call the bluff and figure out that it was the familiar voice of his father, and not that of the chief minister, delivering the sermon from the television pulpit.

“We used to get him to do things by saying our chief minister had said so. But my video didn’t work because it was I who had dubbed the voice and my son figured it out without much difficulty,” Jeo Baby told The Telegraph over the phone on Wednesday.

“It was my wife who had given me this idea. I had initially tried an audio clip in my voice. That had flopped badly,” he said with a chuckle.

The video has evoked attention – and mirth -- on social media. “I had posted it on Facebook for some innocent fun. I’m glad it has been received well,” the filmmaker said.

The no-nonsense Vijayan is certain to approve of the deception-busting instincts of Music Joe. And, if and when their paths cross one day, it may be an opportune moment for the stern Marxist to break into another affectionate smile without reserve.

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