Atif stood ready, waiting to pounce on her. Her hands were behind her back. She came forward and brought her hands in front of him.
"Here. You forgot your bag. See you tomorrow, Sir." She smiled.
Atif was stunned and embarrassed at the same time. The chauvinist that he was was, he felt offended.
"Hmmm.." He said and walked out of the trailer.
The assistant quickly stubbed his cigarette, waved a salute and went back into the trailer.
Sania was early the next day. The scene to be shot was her murder scene. The continuity of the scene they had shot yesterday. She was supposed to step into the bath tub and then a stranger would appear and drown her. This scene was vital for the movie. She was then to come back as a ghost and haunt the people who killed her. Cliched, she had thought initially. But as she continued reading the script, she realized that it was not like those usual revenge movies. Horror was probably not the genre she wanted to debut with in mainstream cinema, but given that this was her only choice, she had to accept it.
She had auditioned for more than a hundred roles in two years, but always found disappointment staring right back at her. She did get tiny roles like that of a best friend or a junior artiste, but she wanted only main roles. She still remembered the day a month ago when she had auditioned for this role.
She was called to a old dilapidated building. When she arrived there, she saw that there were more than a hundred girls there waiting for their chance. "165" was her role call number and a number she would never forget for the rest of her life. She sat down on an old wooden bench and looked around. Some of the women around her, were drop dead gorgeous. She suddenly felt insecure. There were also a few B grade actresses around whom she recognized, but chose to ignore. She sat quietly reading the mock script she had carried with her.
A bored looking lady then started sending the girls through the door marked 'Casting' one by one based on their role call number. It was very obvious from her body language and clothes that she herself had tried auditioning many times but had only ended up as an assistant.
Finally after close to four exhausting hours, it was Sania's chance. She walked into the room through the door, that was then closed with a loud thud. Three man and a lady sat in front of her across a table busy looking through stacks of paper placed in front of them. Atif was no where around.
The lady dressed in a black shirt looked up and smiled half heartedly.
"Hello. You are?" She asked trying to camouflage her yawn.
"Hello ma'am. I'm Sania Tripati."
The shorter of three men then started to talk.
"Oh yeah, I have seen some of your work. You are good." He said looking at the other two men who nodded.
Sania sensed the sarcasm behind the tone but did not react. "Thanks." She managed to say.
Without acknowledging he spoke again. "So you have read the scene? Sit on the black chair there and perform." He said pointing to a rusted chair in the corner.
Sania remembered the scene well. All the participants were emailed the scene and the dialogues once their application forms were accepted. She had received it a week ago and she had had enough time to prepare.
She nodded and left her bag on the floor and walked towards the chair.
The scene was fairly simple. The brief had said that she had to confront her lover who admits to have cheated on her. The dialogue read thus.
"You think I would just forget it and act like nothing happened? No way Arun. I shall never forgive you for this. I trusted you and lived my life with you, but you turned out to be so terrible. You don't deserve it. I'm walking away."
She slowly walked towards the chair and sat down. The guy next to the short man spoke up. "Ready?"
"Action!" He yelled.
Sania repeated her well rehearsed dialogue almost convincingly. She even managed to shed out a tiny tear amidst it.
Nobody reacted when she finished. Sania for a second wondered if they had even heard her. They seemed busy talking to themselves and pondering over the papers in front of them. Disappointed, she decided to get up and leave. As she was about to stand up, the shorty screamed.
She felt humiliated, but this was how the struggling actors were always treated. Slowly, she sat back.
The shorty looked straight at her and said "You leave when you are asked to leave. Understand?"
Sania nodded. "Sorry." she softly said.
He did not seem to care again. "Good. Ready?" He asked.
"Yes, Sir." Sania managed.
This time Sania surprised herself. She got up from the chair and walked towards the judges as she effortlessly chanted her dialogues.
"You think I would just forget it and act like nothing happened? No way Arun. I shall never forgive you for this." She grabbed shorty's collar as she said this. Perhaps it was her inner frustration that was coming out.
Shorty sat motionless while the lady next to him giggled.
Sania ignored her and looked straight in to Shorty's eyes and shed a tear in her own. "I trusted you and lived my life with you, but you turned out to be so terrible. You don't deserve it. I'm walking away." She walked away wiping her tear and sat back right in the chair and looked up.
Four faces stared back at her. She sat quietly waiting for their reaction.
Shorty spoke up. "You think you do all this and it will look natural? Almost half the women who came in before you tried this stunt. Don't think you are a genius. And definitely don't expect an applause." He said flatly.
Sania was visibly upset. Her face shrunk and she was on the verge of tears.
"We're done, you can leave." The lady said in between her yawns.
Sania murmured a thanks and hurriedly left.
She came out of the room and sank back into the bench. There were about forty more women left there. She saw the water filter at the other end of the room and walked to it. She drank about four glasses of water and approached the assistant.
"Will they let us know right now if we have been selected or sometime later?" She questioned.
"You can leave. If you are selected someone will call you." The assistant said without looking up.
"Ok. Thanks." Sania said and left.
A week later, as she was on her way back home from a shoot, her phone rang.
A male voice spoke. "Hello, Sania Tripati?"
"Yes, Sania here." She replied.
"This is Mahesh calling from Atif's casting department. Congrats Sania, you have been chosen to play the lead in Atif's next movie. Please contact him on 7876765438. You got that?" He seemed to be in a hurry.
Sania was thrilled. Her first ever main stream movie. First ever. With many more to come. She wanted to scream.
"Thank you so much, Sir. Can you please repeat the number again?" She fumbled for her tiny note book and pen.
"78.. 76.. 76.. 54.. 38. Its Atif's direct line. Please call him within the next ten - fifteen minutes. Alright?" He ordered.
"Sure, Sir. Thank you again." She said and the line went dead.
By then, the auto had reached her house. She paid the driver and rushed inside clutching her bag and the notebook.
She unlocked the door, let herself in and went straight to the bathroom to wash her feet and hands. She was back soon and then went to the corner of her kitchen where she had made a small puja room with a Ganapati idol in the centre. She lit a lamp and applied kum kum on her forehead. She then closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. After four to five minutes, she came back to her living room with a cup of coffee, sat on the lone plastic chair and stretched her feet on the old wooden center table in front of her. A couple of film magazines were strewn around the table. She slowly sipped her coffee and dialled the number. The phone rang. A ring, two rings, three rings, four rings, five, six, no response. She cut the line.
She waited a full two minutes and called back. This time he immediately picked up.
"Yes?" A hoarse voice said.
"Hello, Atif Sir?" Sania was trembling with nervousness.
"Sir, This is Sania Tripati. Mahesh asked me to contact you." She said slowly.
"What for?" He questioned rudely.
Sania was taken aback. Why were people in this industry so rude she couldn't understand.
Gathering every ounce of her patience she said, "For the movie Sir. Your next. I was selected after the audition. He asked me to talk to you."
"Oh. Ok. Good, Mahesh will send you the script and your dialogues by today, start preparing. We start shooting on 16th, next month. By then understand the role and choose your clothes and make up accordingly, half your payment will be sent to you by next week. On 5th you'll be introduced to the team. Someone will contact you soon. Okay?"
Even before Sania could reply, he hung up. She just stared back at the phone trying to remember what he had said. She quickly grabbed her notebook and wrote it down. 16th March - Shoot starts. 5th March - Meeting the team. The mention of the payment excited her. On her application form she has quoted twice of what she usually earned from a movie. They had agreed to it. She smiled.
Everything happened really quick after that. The running around for clothes, finding a make up artist, picking up shoes, rehearsing her lines, parlor visits etc. By the time 5th approached she was totally exhausted. But prepared.
The team was nice to her and she felt comfortable. She hadn't met Atif in person yet, but had seen pictures of him. He was a smart looking guy. In his late thirties, she guessed.
The first time she met Atif was on the first day of the shoot. He said a hello and had briefed her about the scene. Sania has no clauses with nudity and she had signed the contract without any questions. The scene was okayed in the first take and Sania Tripati was a happy woman. A knock on her trailer's door jolted her back to the present. She was still dressed in the robe as the scene was to be a continuity from the previous day. She opened the door and Atif's spot boy stood there.
"Madam, Atif Sir calling you for shooting madam." He said proudly.
She smiled and said "Sure, I'm coming."
Wrapping a shrug around her she called her assistant, who had gone for tea. He said that he'd be back soon.
Sania checked her makeup for one last time. Then on an impulse, she unwrapped her shrug and opened her robe. The mirror showed a flawless, neatly maintained body. Having admired herself, she suddenly thought of how it would be if Atif was around her, touching all of her. She felt her stomach go into a knot. She had been attracted to him since the time she had seen him. She had met many men before who had walked in and out of her life before she had realized it, but Atif was different. There was something about him that she craved for. The way he had looked at her yesterday made her feel sexy and desirable. She wanted him with her. She wanted him around her. She wanted to make love to him. She wanted to feel his body on top of hers. She stood naked in front of the mirror, lost in his thoughts when there was another knock on the door.
To be continued.