START .. CAMERA…ACTION Jeeth called out
A white sedan is parked on a village road with three tracks - lush green in the middle and solidified red path on the sides. The road goes straight for about hundred meters between a fully pregnant paddy field and turns left.
Ben dressed in formals walks hastily towards the car . He slings the woolen sweater on to his shoulder as he walks. The harassed look on his face is amplified by the calm chill in the air. He is closely tracked by Akash – the domestic help with a timid look as if his whole life depended on Ben. Ben pays no attention, gets into the car, closes the door with a thud and starts it. Akash follows the car as it revs up slowly with his hands folded asking for Ben’s forgiveness. Ben ignores and speeds away.
CUT .. CUT …the director Jeeth called out. “ For god’s sake Akash… can’t you feel it. You need to look desperate. This is taking too long” and walked to grab a cup of coffee.
A makeup man brushed Akash’s face off the sweat. This is not going per plan, he thought. Countless hours spend rehearsing the expression and movement for this role. His guru used to savor him sparring with co-actors at theater workshops. But roles were not easy to come and auditions were a mere ritual. Every one wanted to work within the comfort zone of known actors or ones who came with references. Without contacts in the actors mafia and circumscribed social skills Akash could never land up in good roles. He was almost giving up when he came across Jeeth few weeks back.
Jeeth was a close buddy of the mad advertising days. Days where Akash believed that one has to be defined by their work. Campaigns for undies to sugar water - they had been through it all until one day Akash snapped and quit the make believe. Jeeth limped a little more and resigned to wander a bit. The lust for unknown propelled him to places far and wide , the Bombay ad world, managing communications for a health resort that turned out to be elaborate money laundering venture and a host of others. Finally he landed up as an ad film maker in his home town and made it in a few years. Not as a success with money and power. But with a string of uncompromising films that took the adworld by its clarity of purpose. The wild bunch met over arrack after a chance encounter at a concert, chastised by the years in between. That is when it took off. Jeeth was casting for a new film and Akash seemed to fit perfectly.
For Akash this role meant a entry to the world of fantasy. For him a character was a tool to explore the depths of his mindscape. Akash pitted again himself. He fought with it, loved it and even imagined how the character made love. The Freudian approach to character building injected a strong dose of realism into his performances. No wonder the times that he played Iago in a modern adaptation of Othello was when his marriage broke up, irretrievably. By then he was smitten by the acting bug and quit his regular job. A good performance in Jeeth’s ad film will get him in the view finder of film czar’s and a maybe meatier role in the feature film that Jeeth was secretly scripting.
“By the power of grey skull I haaaaave the power” he roared inside as Jeeth cranked up for the next take.
This one was more forceful and came from the depths of kundalini. He dug into the hearts of all the maids who looked after him while his parents very busy going up the corporate ladder. It came effortlessly. The quality of emotion varies only in tones. You just have to be able to project your pain to another.
“CUT, that was good” called out Jeeth as he canned the shot and moved towards the next.
Ben got out of the car and they started walking towards the next shot. It was set in slightly elevated platform after the sharp left turn ahead. The crew was setting up the lights and equipment. A buffalo with a white tuft between the muddy horns dragged its head from the thick undergrowth and gawked intensely at Akash as if he were a star. He chuckled at the ovation.
Abruptly a loud clamor erupted from where the new shot was being set. There were sounds of metal clanking and a boom from a blast. Jeeth was shouting for help on the top of his voice. The buffalo darted away with a below that shook the life out them. They scurried in top speed towards the turn which was a little far. As they were running an open Jeep advanced threateningly waving swords, metal sheaths and daggers like mahakali of ten hands. A gang of screaming rowdies, swinging swords asymmetrically, chopped the foliage and anything that came in between. Akash hopped away from the road to evade the trajectory of an iron rod that hissed death.
He puffed and gasped beyond the turn to the scene. The musical show set designed by the art team was thrashed into a temple ground after the festival. Destruction was all around. Light bulbs and glass pieces powdered the floor. The cutter stands bend to gravity defying shapes and sets chopped with the plaster of paris clinging in oddball shapes. He rushed towards Jeeth perched on the edge of the set - a cutter stand on him. They had sprayed a bucket of red paint from the art team all over him. He was alright but for a minor bruise on his left arm. Light boys, art director and others in the set were limping back to their frames over a layer of smoke, their spirits sullied.
Jeeth hitched on to a stool as he scanned the remnants of the sets - dreams beaten to pulp. This was to be his last. Ad-films is not what he wanted to do. Peddling a rotten whisky or making a murky builder look cool. Advertising had lost all its sanity - dressing up a pile of crap into a femme fatale, complete with oomph and character. But there was money in pimping and he needed it, to make his feature debut. Being a national brand there were loads of cash in this project. He just had to deliver on time and the feature film was in sight – not as a reams of paper that it had been for the last ten years. But there it was razed to the ground like a pack of cards.
“What happened ? ‘ Akash called out in anxiety.
“Those were Mini’s goons”
“Mini who” Akash cried out. Then he realized. It was a couple of days ago. Akash had been with Jeeth since the start of this ad-film helping him out with creative inputs and running errands. Busy days usually ended at a local bar, over rice brew and choicest sea food. The conversation was good with an eclectic mix of mill workers, fishermen, traders etc and always bordered on the political. They were discussing the candidates for the municipal elections once and Jeeth with his strong center of left politics went ballistic on Mini the current member from the ward. She hadn’t done much except for pushing the contracts for her loafer husband called Mr fifteen percent for the cut he demanded from municipal projects. Few folks in the next table who had come after Mini’s election campaign didn’t take kindly to Jeeth’s diatribe and picked up the argument. The political animal in Jeeth got unleased and he challenged them for a bet that Mini would be defeated in polls and would loose her margin money. Akash had to be at his persuasive best to get Jeeth out of the bar that night.
“Is she crazy to take a bar brawl so seriously” Akash couldn’t help.
Mini was defeated badly in the elections as Jeeth predicted. Maybe this was her way of getting back at Jeeth for declaring the obvious.
“They have taken the camera and all the lighting equipment. My film is dead even before it is born” Jeeth was beaten. Akash looked around. If only they could get the camera they could continue with the shoot. The production guys can arrange the smaller equipment and sets pretty quickly he thought. They could atleast restart the shoot tomorrow. It was important for him too.
“Let me try talking to my brother” Akash sparked. His brother was a contractor in the Municipality and was in first name terms with Mini’s Husband. Maybe he could broker a compromise. There is quite a lot at stake here for everyone. The sets were bumping back into action. The whole incident was big fight sequence to the production boys and they were back in business after it.
Akash’s brother called back. Apparently he had arranged for a compromise discussion and Jeeth had to meet Mini. But the skeptic in Jeeth lost the verve to fight, even to salvage his reputation as a filmmaker. Akash had to nudge with all sorts of dire consequences to get him for the meeting. They drove through winding roads to Mini’s den – a beautiful compound with impressive brick house in the middle.
Mini was perched on a reclining chair with her cohorts around. They walked in and stood sheepishly in her durbar. Did it beat Jeeth to think that a Woman was reigning over his destiny. He hadn’t seen her much earlier , but She looked very familiar. It had a calmness that reminded him of someone. yes ..yes the lead character in his film- the one for which he had sweated all this while. It swiftly hit on Jeeth. Hers was the demeanor that remained elusive, a middle aged mother struggling with a paraplegic son. Money woes apart he never could identify a face true to role. In all the auditions for ad films he was secretly looking for that unique face- a continence that takes all the pain in the world with a smile. And there she was, at the most unexpected of places. Jeeth cried Eurekaaa inside.
“Do you remember me?” asked Mini stoically. “I had auditioned for an ad-film with you . The one for an ayurvedic soap.”. That was his fist film done at a shoestring budget for a client who was bend on selecting the models himself. But he couldn’t remember her from the hundreds he auditioned.
“She is too dark for the role. That’s how you dismissed me”