By Dev Chaudhry
The producer was clearly in a foul mood. He seemed pretty pensive, too. For a while, he stood at the window, looking out to the open sky above his beautifully manicured garden. The sparse grey-hued cotton clouds hovering around freshly watered green grass in the lawn soothed his senses a bit. Okay, let me bring in some background to this scene. To start with, he had seen the new story of Budho, his film writer and he was mightily miffed with this new story that Budho had written and shown to him. His last two films had tanked at the box office and he had held Budho squarely responsible for the fate of those films. He was expecting something different from Budho this time but he had again brought a story, which was only fit for a staid boring documentary.
Seeing all this pacing up and down and looking out of window without saying anything was making our poor writer very nervous. Sitting on a narrow old wooden chair, he himself was pacing up and down, back and forth, but inside. And Mumbai’s sultry afternoon was having full effect on him – he was sweating like a pig (well, that is a saying, though I must admit that I have never seen a pig sweating, so I cannot vouch for the veracity of this saying).
Budho had come up with a new story. It was based on real events; it was realistic and it was hard hitting. He was very happy and confident that the producer would like it and finally he would get his full payment this time for a story. But seeing the pensive mood of the producer, he was not so sure anymore. He knew the producer was upset with the story. The producer’s last two films had flopped at the box office and each time he had blamed the writer for bad, old-style stories, which were totally out of sync with the new times and the new generation, the New India.
The producer threw the cigarette out of the window into the garden below with a deft flick of his first finger. He turned away from the window and looked at Budho. He walked across the room and sat on the chair on the other side of table. He looked at our dear profusely-perspiring writer intently and said, “I told you to give me something new, something fresh. What is this rubbish?”
“Sir, this is a totally new story as you had asked. It is a hard-hitting, realistic story based on real events,” the writer said.
“What is this Kathua? You want to put me in jail with this kind of film title?” the producer said furiously.
“Why will anybody put you in jail because of this?”
“All these libtards, socialist numbo jumbo walaahs will be after my neck, you moron, because of such a title against a community.”
“No, No, Sir, this is not that. Kathua is the name of a small town in Jammu and Kashmir.”. The writer hid his smirk skillfully while saying that.
“Hmmm, a small town. Too local. You do one thing – name it Kashmir.” The producer was a bigger dodgier (I am sure if he would have played Hockey, India would have had many more Olympic Gold Medals); he had skillfully turned his lack of knowing the small town into writer’s smallness of thinking.
The writer thought for a few moment and asked, “Jammu and Kashmir?”
“No, just Kashmir. That beautiful place, Jannat on this Earth. And put some situations for songs. The songs will be shot in those lovely beautiful climes of Gulmarg. Those mountains, huge hovering chinars, the maple trees, great Himalayas in the backdrop, the rope taxis and beautiful Bakharwal girls with red scarf on their heads and foreheads, tending to their sheep. Lovely, beautiful. This will be a hit.” Thinking all this, the producer was excited and had started humming something. He got up and went to an old wooden almirah from the last century, opened it and took out a bottle of Black Dog. He put the bottle on the table, between him and the writer, and asked the writer to go downstairs and bring two glasses, water, soda, and ice.
As the writer, also excited (actually relieved, seeing the changed mood of the producer), ran downstairs. The producer started humming, “Yeh Kashmir Hai, Yeh Kashmir Hai’.” The writer came back with two glasses in his hands and the water bottle tucked in his armpit. As the writer placed the glasses and the water bottle on the table, the producer pushed the bottle towards him. Budho got the hint and opened the bottle and made two pegs, one for the Saaheb and one for himself. He gave the glass to producer saab and said cheers. The producer ignored his cheer thing. He had finally found a hit plot for the movie and had moved to another song, “Husn Pahadon Ka.” He cheered to the mountains, which he imagined to be waving at him clearly from his windows.
The writer, now happy and sitting on the floor to be more comfortable (that narrow chair was restricting his girth and his thought process), took few quick swigs and said, “Sir, great, sir. This story is actually about Bakharwals. To be very frank, it is about a Bakharwal girl. But, sir, there are no songs in the movie.”
Still in his reverie of pahad, husn, rope-taxi, snow, mountains, the producer said, “Bullshit. I am not asking no Vishal Bhardwajs to direct this movie. I am not making a documentary. There will be beauty, dreamlike beauty in my movie. There will be songs about this beauty. A couple from Delhi on their Honeymoon in Kashmir. Beauty, beautiful, husn.”
The writer gulped down the remaining whiskey in his glass in one ghoont, and still had to make efforts to swallow his saliva down the throat to clear his throat to be able to speak. But no sound came out of it; maybe his brains were all jammed with this kind of violent butchering of his story. He made another peg, took a sip, then another, while rearranging his thoughts (he did not want to upset the producer and get thrown out of his house unceremoniously, again). After arranging, rearranging and several attempts at paraphrasing his own thoughts, he cleared his throat one more time and said, ‘But the story is different, sir.”
The producer, who was lost in his own dreams of his new hit movie, opened his eyes and looked at the writer with an expression of full-on pity and said, “First you get up, go downstairs and bring soda and ice. Maja nahi aa raha. Let me think. I need a movie, a bloody hit movie this time.”
With a peg down and thoughts of his story getting butchered again, this time the writer did not rush down the stairs. He ambled along the curves of the stairs, with a blank expression and a numb (may be, it was dumb) feeling. He was preparing himself again for the eventual – his own baby, his creation, his story will be vandalized, brutalized, butchered once again, to the extent that it will be unrecognizable, dead, bereft of her soul and spirit.
“Budhu, change the story,” the producer said as soon as Budho put soda and ice bucket on the table.
Resigned to his fate, once again, the writer said, “Ok, sir. Should I put one or two ice cubes?”
“Fill it with ice, baby. Black Dog on the Rocks,” the producer said chirpily.
For a few minutes, there was complete silence. The producer had again retreated to the window and had lit a cigarette. Our writer Budhadeb was silently nursing his peg.
After some time, the producer again flicked the cigarette in the garden below and said, “Don’t change the story. Change the characters.”
“Yes, change the characters.”
“Interchange them. Make the heroes villain and make the villain heroes.”
“But for god’s sake, how?” remonstrated our writer.
“You start naming and I will tell where to put them.”
“Yes, do that.”
“Police” – “Villains”
“Lawyers” – “Hero”
“The woman lawyer” – “Villain”
“The bheed, the crowd” – “Off course, heroes, you idiot. We are a democracy, Janata is Janardan.”
“Bakharwals” – “Props. With their prettily smiling girls, dancing in and around the sheep herd.”
“The Girl Lawyer?”
“No, the girl?”
“The eight year old girl.”
The producer did not say anything but he had lit another cigarette. He was puffing at it furiously. He seemed lost in deep thought, and actually little disturbed with this new character in the story. Looking at the producer, our writer smiled and thought, “Finally he gets the marm, the crux of the story.” Thinking this, he felt relaxed, put his left elbow on the arm of the chair and caressed his hair with his right hand. He took out a cigarette from his pack of classic regular, lit it, and took a deep satisfactory kush and exhaled the smoke leisurely. He took out the script from his bag once again and held close to his chest and caressed it few times softly with his hands.
The producer’s words broke his tandra, the reverie. In hard crisp and distant voice, he was saying, “Cut the girl from the story”. Without fully listening and comprehending what the producer had said, Bhudho said, “What? Remove the girl from the story? The girl is at the centre of the story. If we remove the girl, then what will be the centre of the story?”
“Kashmir,” said the producer. “Yes, now this is a brand new story,” he exhaled a bucketful of smoke as he said this. He turned again to the writer and said, “And, do not forget to put that bloody usual disclaimer at the end.” “Ok, sir,” the writer said.
Budho made the changes in the story and wrote at the end:
“This is a work of fiction. All the characters have been changed and any resemblance to any one of them is purely coincidental.”
Dev Chaudhry has been associated with the development sector for last 15 or so years. He has worked with several national and international NGOs. A social scientist by training, he did his master’s programme in sociology at JNU, New Delhi and as a result loves to observe people and their behaviours. He did his Ph.D. in Community Health Sciences from University of Manitoba, Canada and his thesis was on ‘migration and health’. He loves to read all kinds of books but his first preference lies with poetry and fiction. He is currently based in Delhi.
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