Monday, March 27, 2006

P. James Magic Show

One of the first things that one notices in this city are the humungous advertisements on what seems to be every square inch of public space--Towering billboards promoting the latest in consumer goods, colorful wall paintings paying homage to a favorite Tamil film star, government signage urging citizens to practice traffic safety and family planning. If I could read Tamil, I would probably be more affected by the never-ending advertisements (which, incidentally if it hasn’t already started, I suspect advertising and marketing will be the next big outsourcing of Western business to capable Indian hands—these are VERY slick and professional done adverts). Though our regular driving pathways I have some to recognize how you can recognize the change in season, or time of year simply by being mindful of the change in billboards. More sari ads around Diwali, AC ads leading up to the hot (April-June) summer months, jewelry for wedding season. Yet, although the cost to advertise must be a fraction of the cost that it would be in say, a large Western metropolis, the cost is still prohibitive for most. Many still rely upon the more low-tech means of getting their name out. Perhaps the best example of this in Chennai is P. James, the magician.

It was back in the fall when I visited an area of the city that I had never been to before and saw the “P. James Magic Show” advert painted on a wall that I realized just how this fellow had really canvassed the city with his name and telephone number. Since that time I have kept a keen eye for his trademark black lettering that can, really, be just about anywhere; and that is what makes it both interesting and fun. In some ways it is a form of urban, guerrilla art, running counter to the professionally produced billboard ads. I particularly like it because whomever paints the ads (I have noticed new ones coming up here and there) is really consistent in their scripting. I would imagine that Mr. James is in a constant battle with the Public Works folks painting over his signs and, since his phone number is there, he is not hard to track down.

For Kaia and I, P. James has become sort of a mythical figure. A man who not only pulls cobras out of his mystery bag, but who can also materialize fire from his palms and saw Brahmin women in half. I still haven’t had the nerve to call him up, but intend to do so before we leave. I’d love to know what kind of response he gets from his ads and how he’s had to pay off the local authorities to keep them off his back. But then again, he’s a magician, so I’m sure he’s got the whole creating illusions and escaping danger thing down. While we’ll never likely be able to see his show in person, he’ll always be the great performer in our memories of Madras.

Why I Love this Time: Chocolate for breakfast!?! I don’t know if you could say that my parenting is getting better.


ira levine said...

i just returned from my 4th trip in 12 months to chennai and i was astonished at the amount of adverts he has around the city and surrounding areas. i went from ana beach to spencer plaza and counted no less than 50 incidents. i go with the theory that he truly is magic and made them appear

Sneha Abraham said...

had been as curious as you about these adverts for long. today, as i needed to find a magician to entertain some folks for a weekend, P james came to mind. I googled him and found that he has a wikipedia article on him!
What a way to make a mark on the world! Have booked him, yet to see if his show is as smart as his campaign