He was seated in the front row with other prominent members of the industry. It was the night of the annual Filmfare Awards, an event he would attend as mere formality every year. Awards meant nothing to him anymore; neither did the glitz that came with being a superstar. His solitary and almost reclusive lifestyle invited a lot of intrigue from the paparazzi, with the shroud of mystery designating him an enigma that could be only speculated but not unravelled.
The announcer on stage proceeded to open the small gold envelope that held the name of the winner.
“And the award for the best actor—male goes to,” he paused for effect.
It was just then that she had reached, as if fate had worked it out that way. She was visiting Mumbai after seven long years. She hadn’t thought she’d ever see him again other than on the big screen. But when she’d read about the award night, she just couldn’t resist.
“…my favourite, Kabir Sharma,” the announcer shrieked like an excited teenager.
Standing at the entrance of the huge auditorium, Geeta smiled at the mention of his name. The wheels of her mind moved back in time to the days when they first met.
Geeta and Kabir were both students at Rastogi’s Acting Institute, the only acting school in Mumbai that middle-class strugglers could afford to qualify from. It wasn’t long before Kabir had realized the scam. Deepak Rastogi, the popular actor after whom the school was named, had not once shown up during the entire tenure of the course, and Mr Ghanshyam Vaidya who was the sole professional managing the institute was, in reality, nothing but an overconfident, pot-bellied, dipsomaniac who imagined himself as a theatre artist.
“This idiot can’t act for nuts, and look at him imparting acting tips like his house is overflowing with awards.” Kabir would complain. “Seriously Geeta, I’d quit this shitty academy long ago if the fees were not non-refundable.”
“Shhh…” Geeta would silence him with her optimism. “I am sure we will learn something.”
She had been right, learn they did. Kabir learned that becoming an actor was nothing short of an ordeal especially when one did not have a Godfather in the industry. He learned that nobody in the industry acknowledged Deepak Rastogi anymore, leave alone students from his acting school. However, time spent with fellow strugglers also made him aware of cut throat competition. He stayed away from building friendships with fellow colleagues but stayed informed of their progress. He learned the art of self-improvisation by watching veteran actors on rented DVD’s. Only two things made sense to him now, his career and his feelings for Geeta.
Geeta, on the other hand, learned some things the hard way. She was soon made to realize that the film industry was a male dominated industry and that being a woman made things both, easier as well as tougher for her. She learned the meaning of her father’s words—Never consent to something your heart does not agree with. She eventually learned that acting did not fascinate her as much as it once did. The sole reason she was still in Mumbai was to see Kabir achieve his dream. The most important lesson the acting school managed to teach them was how much they had begun enjoying each other’s company.
Kabir and Geeta would now see each other each regularly. Everyday, they would relentlessly wait in long queues outside film studios, in waiting rooms of production houses, in between shoots, hoping they’d get lucky.
People in the industry were now getting used to seeing this young couple come in everyday hoping to meet a producer who was willing to offer them a break. While Kabir and Geeta often met with disappointment, a lot of people had started acknowledging them as a couple and greeted them with nods and smiles.
It was one such a weary day when renowned director Rakesh Sinha had spotted them in the waiting area of a production house. Kabir had faced three rejections that morning, two of whom had refused to even look at his file. The third had bluntly waved him off saying he was not cut out to be star material. So when Sinha’s attention was drawn in their direction, Kabir immediately plunged at the opportunity and introduced himself.
As they shook hands with each other, Kabir did not notice Sinha’s lingering gaze on Geeta.
“Leave your card behind, young man. My P.A will call you.”
Kabir quickly scribbled his cell number on a piece of paper and handed it over to the disgruntled secretary.
“Yes Sir. Please Sir. I will be waiting for your call, Sir,” he waved out behind the director.
“The landlady has seen you coming to visit me often. She was asking me about you.”
Kabir and Geeta let out a collective sigh. Why didn’t people stick to their own business? They knew exactly what Jaishree Tai, the landlady had been hinting at. But without a secure income, Kabir just could think of marriage right now. Geeta understood his dilemma and said nothing. But heart of heart, she still wished they could have a simple court marriage. At least, that would shut up people from gossiping. Kabir, however, believed they didn’t need a piece of paper to validate their love. But deep inside, he was aware that it was just a defence technique for his joblessness.
“If only I get a break,” he wished. “It would sort out a lot of things for us.”
The same evening, he received a call from Sinha’s office asking him to come in for an audition.
They were sitting in the lobby of Rakesh Sinha’s production studio, waiting for their turn.
The audition went faster than expected. As they waited for further directions, Geeeta and Kabir kept their fingers crossed. Just then, the secretary informed Kabir that the director wished to see him.
Waiting in the reception area, Geeta prayed for Kabir to be selected. It was an important moment for both of them.
“Hello young man, I have seen your portfolios and audition roll,” said Mr Rakesh, extending a hand to Kabir, “And I must say I’m pretty impressed.”
“Thank you, Sir. Thank you very much.”
“I will surely consider you for the main role in my forthcoming project, Jannat-e-Ishq.”
Kabir could not hide his excitement. Jannat-e-Ishq was a big-budget project. A main lead in Sinha’s film would be a dream come true.
Sinha spoke on, “We haven’t finalized the female lead as yet. Since we are thinking of casting you, it would only be fair to cast a fresh face opposite you.”
After a moment’s contemplation, he added, “Would your friend be interested in auditioning for the role?”
Kabir stared with his mouth agape. What could be better news than Geeta and he cast as the lead pair in such a huge movie? They could be the super stars of tomorrow, the dream couple of the future.
When Geeta was told about the audition, she panicked. She hadn’t come prepared for this. She hadn’t even carried her portfolio along. However, the opportunity to act opposite the man she loved was tempting. Kabir gave Geeta a reassuring smile and a thumbs-up as she entered Sinha’s cabin.
“Please be comfortable,” said Sinha rising from his chair. There was something about the way he looked at Geeta that made her feel uncomfortable. Her experience with directors so far had given her enough insight into their character.
As he talked about his project, Sinha walked up and stood behind Geeta’s chair. Before Geeta had time to react, he swirled her chair towards him, leaning in close so that her face was now only inches away from his. With his hands on both the arms of the chair, Geeta felt locked under his lusty gaze.
“We want fresh faces like you,” he said, flashing her a toothy grin. Geeta realized she had not been listening to him until now. Her father’s words had been playing in her mind all this while, creating a sense of foreboding within her.
She felt his breath on her face. Still giving him the benefit of doubt, she excused herself nervously and stood up. Sinha frowned. He hated when these new girls made a fuss.
“Getting a role is not an easy thing. I’m sure you and that hero of yours know this by now.” Then stroking her bare arm, he said, “But I can make it cake walk for you if you comply to my…”
“Stop it,” Geeta flew with rage. “You’ve got the wrong girl.”
She wanted to slap Mr Sinha across the face, show him the kind of response he really deserved, prove that not every newcomer is ready to compromise on her ethics in exchange of a role in his films. But then she thought of Kabir and swallowed her anger. Picking up her handbag, she was just about to leave the cabin, when Kabir entered.
“Sir, I was wondering if…” Kabir paused mid sentence on seeing Geeta.
“What happened?” he asked looking at her kohl smudged eyes.
“Seems like your friend is too uptight to audition for me,” Sinha smirked.
Kabir could not afford to let Sinha slip into a bad mood.
Without even offering her a chance to explain, Kabir frowned. “Geeta, Mr Sinha is offering us an opportunity of a lifetime.”
“Try to understand,” he chided her, “Why are you being so difficult?”
“Difficult? Do you even know what this man…”
“Look here, young chap,” Sinha interrupted. “Thousands of strugglers come to Mumbai wanting to become superstars. But the industry demands hard work, talent, and more importantly, sacrifices…”
Then looking at Geeta, he continued, “A lot of young girls would kill for a role in my films. To top it, you don’t even have a proper portfolio done. You should be thankful I agreed to audition you.”
Geeta could not tolerate it now. She had to speak up.
“Firstly, Mr Sinha, It was YOU who called me in for the audition,” she spat, surprising the director with her arrogance. “I had come here only for Kabir. I know how much he deserves this role. But I also know that his talent and dedication will make sure he gets there,” she paused and added, “without your help.”
Sinha was furious. He felt this irresistible urge to shatter this girl’s pride, smash her ego. One look at Kabir, and he recognized the desperation in the boy’s eyes, the way he stood there helplessly clenching his jaw in embarrassment, gulping down every word Geeta spoke, hoping that it would not ruin his chances.
Sinha knew what he had to do. He would hit Geeta where it hurt the most. Turning towards Kabir, he exclaimed icily, “You can leave now. We will get back to you IF we are interested.”
All through the following week, Kabir received no news. When he went to meet Mr Sinha, he was told that he was busy in a meeting. It was clear that Sinha was avoiding him. As days passed into weeks, the frustration escalated.
“Kabir, is there something wrong?” Geeta had started noticing the changes in behaviour.
“You have been acting different lately?”
“Really? Like what?”
“Well, I just thought. You hardly talk nowadays.”
“That’s the problem, Geeta. You think that talking can make things better,” he said glowering at her. “But sometimes, just sometimes talking too much just ruins everything…EVERYTHING!”
Geeta instantly realized where this was coming from. Kabir was still mad at her for losing her temper at Sinha.
“You know Geeta, I was this close,” Kabir said pinching his thumb and index finger together. “This close to getting my dream fulfilled. But you had to go right ahead and spoil it all.”
Geeta’s eyes brimmed with tears. It was the first time he was yelling at her.
Just then Kabir’s phone rang catching him completely off guard. It was the director calling him from his private number.
”Oh , Mr Sinha, th…thank you Sir for calling,” he stuttered. “I apologize on her behalf as well. You know how it is with women, they change their decisions like snap. One day she wanted to become an actress, the next day she didn’t. But acting has always been my passion, Sir. If you give me one chance, I promise I won’t let you down.”
Geeta stood with tears in her eyes. She could not believe Kabir was lapping up to the man who had insulted her. The next line was an even bigger shock.
“No, Sir. Not at all. She is only a friend. We went to the same acting school, and so started out struggling together. People spread rumours all the time. They see a young boy and girl together, and they start pairing them up.” He laughed nervously.
After a brief pause, he spoke again, “Yes Sir, I do understand it is not right for my career. Rest assured, there is nothing between us.” Then looking icily in her direction, he said sharply, “I can even break all contact with her if it’s going to affect the film.”
This was again followed by a laugh, after which the conversation ended with Kabir thanking Sinha profusely for his big break on the silver screen.
By the time he turned to face Geeta, she was gone.
“…Kabir Sharma,” The name boomed in the auditorium, snapping Geeta from her reverie of thoughts. The audience broke into a thunderous applause. All eyes were transfixed to where Kabir was seated. The auditorium reverberated with a thunderous applause. As he alighted from his seat, millions of fans gasped and sighed. Bollywood’s latest heartthrob, looking dapper in his designer suit and equally stunning attitude, made his way to the stage to receive his award. On reaching the dais, Kabir bowed down in humility to touch the feet of the veteran actor handing him the ‘Black Lady’. Overcome by emotion, the senior actor pulled him up and embraced him in a tight hug. As if on cue, the stage assistant rushed forward to hand him the mike.
Geeta’s heart was beating a little faster. She was sure Kabir hadn’t noticed her in that teeming mob. Besides, the lights on the stage were so blinding that it was impossible to see anyone clearly from that distance.
A distant memory touched her mind.
“My love can spot you anywhere in the world,” he had said. “Because even in a room packed with people, you are the only one I see.”
That memory made her blush even today. She laughed at her stupidity.
Her thought was interrupted by a voice behind her.
“Ms Kapoor,” it said.
She turned to see a uniformed man smiling at her. Seeing the confusion on her face, the man clarified.
“Allow me to show me your seat,” he said, requesting her to walk ahead.
Geeta’s mind was a blur. There were thousands of thoughts spiralling in her head, but none that she could make sense of. He escorted her led her to a seat in the front row. She sat down nervously, her feet turning cold. She was just a couple of feet away from the centre stage, where Kabir was standing, mike in hand.
He had already finished giving his vote of thanks. Geeta’s mind had gone numb. The absence of a wedding ring and Mangalsutra must have given away her single status, she thought. Getting over Kabir had been impossible for her, but she didn’t want him to know that. She cursed herself for coming there.
“I have been receiving this award for five consecutive years now. Every year, I make a hurried entry and an equally quick exit. But today,” he was smiling.
“Today, I want to tell you all a story—a story of a fool and a princess. The fool was an ambitious chap, tired of always being called a fool, tired of feeling unloved, unwanted. Every evening, when he stood alone at Marine Drive, he looked at the city speed by and said to himself, ‘This is what I want. I want this whole city to want me.’ The princess, on the other hand, was as virtuous as she was beautiful. Going by the age-old rule of opposites attract, the two fell in love. The fool always knew that the woman he loved was a princess. Unfortunately, the princess never realized that the man she loved was just a fool.”
Kabir was now looking straight at Geeta.
“One day, an ugly troll struck a deal with the fool; all the power, money, and fame in the world in exchange of the love in his life. Blinded by greed, the fool agreed. The troll cast a magic spell, and the princess vanished from his life forever.”
Kabir’s eyes started tearing up now. Swallowing the lump that has formed in his throat, he spoke on.
“However, power and fame, unlike true love, are not permanent. Soon the excitement wore off, and the fool started missing his princess. He yearned to hold her hand, feel her close to him, celebrate trivial joys. The troll had tricked him---the fool now realized that there was no bigger happiness than loving someone who truly loved you. Regret and remorse filled his heart. Every night he’d cry himself to sleep. But come morning, and he’d don his golden mask and perform for the world. After all, that was what he was doomed to be, an entertainer, a jester, a fool.”
The audience was listening spellbound.
Kabir was now advancing towards where Geeta sat. With his riveting gaze fixed on her pretty face, he whispered in the mike, “I know I am seven years too late, but there has not been a single day when I haven’t thought of you, missed you, tried to find you.”
Then bending on one knee, he took her right hand in his. With his head bowed down and eyes lowered, he finally popped the question she had been waiting to hear all these years.
“Ms Geeta Kapoor,” he said, “Will you marry me?”
Smiling through the tears, she looked at his anxious face. After a moment’s pause, she nodded, “Yes, I will.”
The grand proposal met with a rapturous round of applause as the princess and the fool embraced each other in a passionate kiss.