Sania did not hear the first knock. She was too busy dreaming about Atif. She turned her back to the mirror and held her hair up with her hands and gave a seductive look to the mirror. Her back was slender and had the perfect arch. She smiled looking at herself. After two minutes, the knock came again. This time for a long time. Sania heard it now and frowned. Then she blushed. What if it was Atif. His spot boy had come and called her a few minutes ago, but she hadn't left. So maybe he himself had come to call her. She felt excited.
Quickly she covered herself with the robe and stylishly wrapped the shrug around her. She took a quick look at the mirror and adjusted her makeup. The makeup lady had done a good job she thought. She was worth the money she was getting paid. Adding some gloss to her lips, she rushed and opened the door with her widest smile, which soon turned into an expressionless curve.
Lalit, her assistant stood there looking impatient.
"Sorry madam, I got a little late. The spot boy came to call you again madam. Are you ready?" He said in a single breath not waiting for her reply to his apology.
"Hmmm..." Sania said but kept looking behind, expecting Atif to walk in any minute. Nothing of that sort happened.
"Go tell the spot I'll be there in two minutes." She said, rammed the door and went inside.
Lalit was offended. He lit a smoke and kicked the mound of dust next to his feet.
"These so called stars and their tantrums." He mumbled and went into the set looking for the spot obliging Sania's order. After having delivered the news he walked back to the trailer and continued smoking and cursing. If only he hadn't had an argument with his boss and quit his job at the celebrity management center he was working with for the past five years, he wouldn't have had to be an assistant to a B grade actress.
The door opened and Sania stormed out without saying a word. Lalit gave himself a face palm. How much more crap would he have to put up with he wondered. He locked the door and leaned against it smoking wondering how life messed him to this extent.
Sania was walking towards the set. The set for today was the same as yesterday. A room made in the garage of an old apartment. There was a group of women waiting outside the room today. Just like the way it had been yesterday. All of them were there to catch a glimpse of the "dashing" director. Atif usually spoke to all of them and Sania had heard that occasionally some women even accompanied him back to his place. She felt a pang of jealously but continued walking. She turned to give a last look at the crowd and turned away immediately. But, she stopped again. Almost too quickly, she turned back and looked at one particular woman in the crowd.
The lady looked beautiful. Sharp and clean features with black lustrous hair that fell till her waist. She was dressed in a simple blue dress that accentuated her curves to perfection. Unlike the others she was not peeking into the set. She seemed impatient and kept looking at her watch every minute. It was almost like Atif had kept her waiting. Sania continued to look at her and was shocked. How could this happen? The same height, the same complexion, the same features. That lady in the crowd looked exactly like her!
Sania was interrupted by the spot boy.
"Madam, Sir getting angry. Please come in soon." He almost begged sounding obviously upset at being given a sound hearing by Atif.
Sania looked at him with a blank expression. She then gave a last look to the woman and walked into the set. As she was about to enter she saw Vishwas, the newbie who was chosen to play the lead opposite her. They had met during the brief introduction session and had shared a instant camaraderie. She smiled at him as she walked inside. Atif looked at her with disgust, he had still not forgotten the incident that had happened the previous day. He had expected her to "offer" herself to him, but that did not happen. He had stood there completely turned on, but she had just sent him away. He was angry and offended. This was one of the reasons he preferred to work with new comers. They were willing to do anything to get to act in a movie. He never cited a clause, but they were more than willing themselves to show appreciation. However, this had not happened with Sania. But since the movie announcement was made, there was little that he could do about it now. He gave her another angry look and walked away to have a talk with Vishwas.
Sania wondered what was wrong with Atif. Had she been wrong about him? Yesterday he had seemed so cool and interesting, but today he felt luke warm and bored. Sania thought maybe her attraction was too soon that was based on a first impression. She turned back to look at Atif who was busy explaining the scene to Vishwas. The actor seemed to nod his head vigorously. Then something strange happened. Both the men turned towards her and Atif gave Vishwas a weird look, who nodded in return. Atif continued to stare at Sania, making her feel very uncomfortable. She looked away and explored the set.
It was exactly the same as the previous day. She came closer and inspected the water in the tub. It was soapy and warm, just like the way she had instructed. It even smelt good. She looked around, there were only two technicians on the set. One held the camera and the other adjusted the lights. Atif's chair that had "Director" written on it was placed behind the main camera. His jacket was tossed hastily on it. Suddenly Sania felt uncomfortable. This was not how she felt yesterday. Today she almost felt like a pariah. Like she did not belong there.
"You ready, Sania?" Atif growled from behind.
"Yes, lets start." She said faintly.
"Okay, Vishwas come here." Sania looked at Vishwas who came running like an obedient puppy.
"Sir." He said and stood with his hands behind his back.
"So, we'll continue from yesterday's shot. Sania will get into the tub and the camera will focus on her for a minute. Next you enter, we'll only start with your shadow first. So you'll walk in as soon as Subash dada changes the light. You place your hands on her neck and push her into the water. No dialogues, no reactions from your end. We only need your shadow for this shot."
Atif then turned towards Sania. "The minute he pushes you inside the water, you act like you are struggling. You flap your hands and legs inside the water continuously until the light comes back to normal. Then you hold your breath and stay still. The camera will focus on you for another minute. I don't need air bubbles nothing. Put your head out of the water if you must, no problem."
Sania was relieved. She was not sure of holding her breath for more than thirty seconds in water. She decided to keep her head above the water throughout. Any way the camera would focus only on her remaining trembling body. Later she can lie still for thirty seconds which would show that she is dead. She suggested this to Atif, he agreed and nodded.
"No problem, as long as you are fine with it. Vishwas, be careful. The lady is delicate." He said with a snicker.
Sania unwrapped her shrug and stood in the white robe pretending to ignore the snicker. This was not the man she had met yesterday. Something felt weird. Maybe she formed an opinion of him too quick. She made a mental note to herself to be careful. She decided to tread carefully and not get carried away by his charms. Maybe he expected every actress to sleep with him on the first day itself, probably that's why he is behaving irrational today. A thought went back to the crowd she had seen outside. Its better for Atif to go to bed with any of those women, she did not want it anymore. Or maybe tonight he could spend the night with the woman who had looked just like her. It would make no difference to him obviously. She felt disgusted and bile began to rise up her throat. She looked up, stood still and let the moment pass. Thank God, she did not fall prey to Atif.
"I'll be strictly professional. I'll finish this movie and end all contact with him." She told herself.
"Ready guys? Subash dada, two minutes after she enters the tub change the light. I only want Vishwas's shadow. And when the struggling stops, switch back the normal light. Okay?" Atif addressed the crowd.
Subash dada, the light man who had worked on every movie of Atif's showed a thumbs up and began adjusting the lights.
Atif looked at Sania with a glint in his eye. "Ready?"
Sania turned her back towards him, removed her robe, tossed it behind the tub so that it can be hidden from the camera, quickly got into the tub and readied herself. She nodded and looked away.
"Lights." The almost dim light was on that fell straight onto the tub. Almost like a spotlight.
"Camera." The camera man cum assistant director moved to stand vertically adjacent to the bathtub and stood ready to take close ups.
Atif finally peered into his camera and screamed "Action."
Sania began playing with the warm soapy water, seductively splashing it all over her face. She occasionally lifted her naked leg up in the air and caressed it with her hands, just like she had seen some top actresses do the same in soap ads. The camera kept rolling. She then unhooked the hand shower and began spraying water all over her face. The AD was taping closeups of her face. She fluttered her eye lids, made expressions, bit her lip, looked sexily right into the camera. She did everything she had to do, to get half of the male population to watch the movie. The AD was impressed. After finding sufficient closeups he moved back.
Atif signalled to Subash dada who immediately changed the light to a pale yellow that cast a pale shadow on the wall behind the tub. Vishwas slowly entered the scene. Atif's camera focused on the wall and the AD still focused on Sania. Vishwas's shadow came beautifully on the wall and Atif smiled at Subash dada who nodded back. Vishwas walked slowly towards the tub and parked his rough hands around Sania's neck, who pretended to be surprised. The AD came closer and Sania started splashing around the tub creating a struggling scene. She looked at the AD, who was still focusing on her face. She was angry, wasn't he supposed to focus on her body so that she could keep her head above water. Just as she was thinking about it, Vishwas started pushing her head into the water. The shadow on the wall clearly showed a murderer drowning his victim. Sania was really struggling now, she caught hold of Vishwas's hand and tried to free herself, but he was too strong for her.
She couldn't understand what was happening. She was fighting for breath now and her face was turning pale. She put her hands up hoping Atif would stop the scene knowing that she was genuinely drowning instead of acting, but he continued taping. She pulled herself up above the water as much as she could and looked at Atif. He seems undisturbed busy recording the scene as if this is exactly how it was supposed to be. The reality then suddenly hit her. This was what Atif had instructed Vishwas. He wanted Vishwas to drown her for him. He wanted to kill her and blame the shooting on the pretext. As Sania was struggling for breath, it all flashed in front of her eyes. Her audition, meeting Atif for the first time, the nudity clause, the white robe, her trailer, Lalit, the crowd, the woman who looked like her........ Her thoughts stopped. The woman who looked like her was no coincidence. Was it? No, it couldn't be. She was expected to replace Sania once she was dead. Oh God, it all made sense to her now. They would just dispose her body and continue shooting with the look alike and act like nothing happened.
Sania's eyes were filled with tears as she felt her body go weak. She finally took her hands of Vishwas's hands and let go of her body. That's it. It was over. Her career, her life everything.
She wanted to take a last look at Atif before she closed her eyes, but it was too late. Within the next minute, her body settled at the bottom of the tub. With no air bubbles. Just like the way Atif had wanted it.
To be continued.