“So you want to become an actor, is it?” said Ramesh Sengaonkar.
“Not just any actor sir; I want to be leading man; a hero,” said Bholu Jha.
“Oh, so you’re one of those; I see,” said Ramesh Sengaonkar, thick with sarcasm, trying hard to suppress a smirk.
Ramesh Sengaonkar was a fourth rate producer/ director of Bollywood movies who had never managed to make it to the big league. He had spent a life time pursuing this line, and it had all come to naught. This failure had made him a hardened cynic, as is so often the case with people whose efforts have been infructuous. He ran his hand over his bulging stomach, and then the same hand over his bald dome of a head. All five fingers of his right hand were ringed. Once, a long time ago, in the inchoate stages of his career, as a fledgling director, he had managed to make a movie which had shown some promise at the box office. But thereafter, it had all been downhill.
Ramesh Sengaonkar belched. He was beginning to enjoy this. “It’s been ages since I encountered such a specimen,” he thought to himself. It was only of a whim that he had acquiesced to meet Bholu Jha, when the latter’s casting agent, that pimp, Dinesh Ghorpade had pleaded with him. “Please Ramesh ji,” Dinesh Ghorpade had said, “just give the boy ten minutes; you’ll find it very entertaining- he says people have told him that he looks exactly like Prakash Kumar.” And he burst out laughing as he said this.
Prakash Kumar, the great Prakash Kumar- legendary Bollywood hero; who could make girls go weak in the knees with a single glance; who had a physique that every twenty year old male in the country aspired to attain, and who had money rolling in like water into his bank accounts- that Prakash Kumar, had, unfortunately for the producers who were stuck half way with their projects, disappeared all of a sudden. Just like that; vanished. The police were under great pressure, and even the fabled Crime Branch of the Mumbai police department, which by the way, prides itself on being rated second only to the Scotland Yard, had hitherto been unsuccessful in locating the great film star’s whereabouts. The Chief Minister had made a statement in the press saying that he was personally monitoring the case, and that it would be cracked in no time. It had been six months to this day, and he hadn’t been found yet. In addition to the pressure that is inevitably associated with such a high profile case, there were daily conspiracy theories being propounded by the television news media. The media frenzy showed no signs of abating. The lengthy duration of Prakash Kumar’s disappearance had got television news anchors really excited; they were orgasming at the prospect of his dead body showing up in some non descript location of the city, or even somewhere else in the country, because they would then have a real story at their hands. Better still if he were to be found murdered in another country; this would add an international dimension to the entire affair, so that the news channels could send their reporters to that foreign location and bring that ‘breaking news’ straight into the viewer’s drawing room. One television news anchor even went to the extent of suggesting a Pakistan angle to Prakash Kumar’s disappearance; the reason cited being the fact that Prakash Kumar had starred in back to back blockbusters, in one of which he plays a RAW agent and in the other an Indian Army major, but both of which had a common conclusion- he whoops the Pakistanis in their own backyard and saves the day; not to mention his ability to woo Miss Universe’s hand, perform the tango better than the best Argentinean dancer, solve complex mathematical calculations which help stave off the enemy’s assault, and many more such attributes that a Bollywood hero must possess these days.
In the news channel debate playing on the television in Ramesh Sengaonkar’s room, the anchor was accusing one of his guests from Pakistan, a retired lieutenant general, of having been behind the kidnapping of Prakash Kumar.
“I’m sick of this ‘Prakash Kumar’ story! Don’t these news channels have anything else to report?” said Ramesh Sengaonkar.
“Sir, please don’t talk that way,” said Bholu Jha. “I visit the temple everyday and pray to the almighty that Prakash ji may be found as soon as possible, in the best possible shape with nothing untoward having happened to him in all these terrible days of his disappearance.”
“And what has Prakash ji done for you?” said Ramesh Sengaonkar. “Apart from amassing a huge fortune and sleeping with all the heroines in the industry, what has he done that fools such as you consider him a messiah?”
“Sir, Prakash ji is next only to God, as far as I’m concerned. Please don’t talk in such a derogatory way about him,” said Bholu Jha entreatingly.
“All right, all right,” said Ramesh Sengaonkar with mock seriousness, “I’m sorry. But your casting agent Dinesh Ghorpade, told me that you look a lot like Prakash Kumar. Do you think you resemble him in any way?”
“Yes sir,” said Bholu Jha. “I noticed this similarity right when Prakash ji had made his debut with Hum Tumhare Liye Hazar Bar Mar Mitenge Sanam (which, when translated reads: ‘I would die a thousand deaths for you’). I told all my friends of this similarity, and many of them concurred. They said that especially from this angle, I look exactly like him. ‘Carbon copy’, they had said.” And Bholu Jha turned his face sideways to illustrate the similarity. Ramesh Sengaonkar burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, which he was able to successfully conceal, by turning away slightly and feigning a constriction in his throat. It took him a full five minutes to recover from this laughter attack, and when he had finished, his eyes were red and watery.
“Are you all right sir?” said Bholu Jha, in a perturbed tone. He had failed to detect the laughter in Ramesh Sengaonkar’s pretended cough.
“Yes; I’m quite all right, thanks,” said Ramesh Sengaonkar, as he took the glass of water that Bholu Jha had picked up off the stool and offered him.
“Hmm, so all you friends agreed with you when you pointed this similarity out to them? What about your father, what did he have to say?” said Ramesh Sengaonkar.
Bholu Jha’s father was a migrant laborer from Bihar, who had gone to Bangalore, along with his family, which comprised a wife, two daughters and a son. He had gone to Bangalore in search of work, which he had found. But Bholu, who had already been infected by that virulent disease called ‘acting’ wanted to become a great Bollywood hero, just like Prakash Kumar, who had attained stellar success despite the humble beginning. It was said that when Prakash Kumar had first come to Mumbai, he hadn’t even possessed the proverbial ten rupees that all great men who come to cites from villages happen to have in their pockets. It was ten rupees, no less, no more. Ten rupees seemed to have a wholesome roundness to it. The effect would have been destroyed had it been twenty or hundred or even a thousand. No; ten rupees it had to be. So Prakash Kumar, reigning hero of the hindi film industry until six months ago, hadn’t even possessed ten measly rupees. He had worked as a manual laborer, the story went, then moved on to becoming a mechanic’s assistant at a garage, a cleaning boy at an udipi restaurant, a vegetable vendor and a whole host of other such humble positions before he caught the eye of some director who launched him in his movie in a negative role, but then his performance was so convincing that in no time he began getting offers to play the leading man, and the rest was history. But the true story of his success, which was an extremely well kept secret, diverged from the widely acknowledged one of ‘innocent hard work and belief and tenacity’, almost at the beginning. Yes, it was true that he had risen from humble beginnings; that he hadn’t even ten rupees when he had arrived in Mumbai, but thereafter the divergence between the two stories commenced- there were no long hours spent washing utensils, or pushing a cart laden with vegetables, it was simply that when Prakash Kumar had been doing the rounds, trying to cadge a role for himself in some movie or the other, his casting agent had told him of a director who was interested in his portfolio. Prakash Kumar was elated at hearing this, and got an appointment with the said director immediately. It turned out that apart from his portfolio, the director was also interested in something else; upon hearing which request Prakash Kumar was filled with indignation at first; but then his cool and calculating side kicked into action, and the images of life in his miserable, non descript village flashed past in his mind, and he simply dropped his pants and bent over. And so it was that the meteoric rise of a movie star began.
But, as mentioned earlier, the general public, including innocent Bholu Jha, were oblivious to this true reason behind Prakash Kumar’s rise. To poor gullible folk like Bholu, it was enough to evince belief, exhibit immense faith in their dreams, pray ardently to the Gods, and get the next train ticket to Mumbai- third class. And now Bholu’s leap of faith had brought him to Ramesh Sengaonkar’s office, after having spent two years in the city, with just enough money in his pocket to get him to the next meal.
“My father sir,” said Bholu, “he’s not interested in movies at all. I did tell him once about my striking resemblance to Prakash ji, and he scolded me like he never before had; and told me to complete my graduation and forget about all this film non sense.”
It was true; Bholu’s father had read him the riot act when he had confided in him his plans of pursuing a career in the movies. Bholu’s father hadn’t gone past the sixth class, and his one burning ambition was to see Bholu occupy the district collector’s chair at the Nawada district in Bihar, of which district their village was a part. But Bholu had stars in his eyes; he wanted to move beyond the district, the state, and become a national sensation, just like ‘Prakash ji’. Moreover, the main reason behind Bholu’s father’s vehement reaction was the fact that Bholu was anything but good looking, and even a ninety year old with cataract in both eyes could corroborate this fact. In fact, he was extremely plain looking. He was short, painfully thin, had converging eyebrows, a cleft lip. He walked with a stoop and spoke with a lisp. And worst of all for him, he had dark skin, for in India, a man may be Clint Eastwood’s clone, but if he had dark skin, he was relegated to the lot of the ordinary. On the other hand, a positively ugly looking man, but whose fairness of skin bordered almost on Albinism, would receive a plethora of marriage proposals from the eager parents of equally eager damsels. Such is the subtle color discrimination being perpetuated in our country. This obsession with the association of fairness with beauty had all the men scrambling for women’s fairness creams, which they then applied surreptitiously, until the makers of the product came out with a ‘male’ version of the cream, which it was ‘okay’ to apply, without any need to hide in corners and blush with shame if discovered. And the same went for women, as well. Fairness cream advertisements showed dark girls as being unable to forge marriage alliances, and that within a month of their use of this or that cream, there was a torrent of proposals. With women, the obsession with fairness went a step further, or rather, lower. The cosmetics’ market was now flooded with ‘tightening and whitening’ vaginal creams, which were ‘100% natural’ herbal products, ‘no side effects, guaranteed’.
But all these differences in appearance between Bholu Jha and Prakash Kumar were nonexistent to Bholu. The overpowering desire to become a Bollywood hero, nay, to become Prakash Jha himself was so intoxicating, that he let his reason go terribly astray. This sedating of reason by Bholu led him to actually believe his friends’ comments that he looked just like Prakash Kumar, when all they were doing was getting a kick out of making fun of him. And when the girls started telling him that he bore a strong resemblance to the actor, he went over the moon, but he couldn’t detect the sarcasm with which the compliment was laced; neither did he hear the peals of laughter when they thought he was just out of ear shot. And posters of Prakash Kumar in various poses went up on the walls of his room, and he went on persisting in this fallacy believing it to be gospel truth, until finally even the town’s fool began telling ‘Bholu’ jokes. But as mentioned earlier, all of this was imperceptible to him; desire had vanquished rationality.
The ceiling fan in Ramesh Sengaonkar’s room churned up the warm air, noisily. He leaned back in his chair, which made a squeaking noise, and looked at Bholu. After he had asked Bholu a few questions, he had made him act out a scene of his choice, with the obvious intention of having a great laugh at Bholu’s expense, which he did, given the fact that Bholu was a terrible actor, and more so because the scene he had enacted was from Prakash Kumar’s famous movie, where he played the anti hero who after all still has some good left in him, which leads him to lay his life down for his country. And the audition had been truly hilarious, and Ramesh Sengaonkar had got his buck’s worth. But now an inexplicable sadness overcame him, and scenes from his own travails during the beginning of his career flitted through his mind, and though this annoyed him greatly, he began to pity this unique fool, who refused to see reason. There was an upcoming movie that he knew of in which one of the characters was that of a crazy butcher who went around hacking people and palming them off as genuine mutton from his stall. It was a minor role, since the butcher gets shot by the hero in the beginning of the movie itself- the butcher’s utility being limited to merely bringing out the hero’s character- and Ramesh Sengaonkar had been asked to recommend a few actors.
“Bholu,” said Ramesh Sengaonkar, “there is an upcoming role which you might be able to pull off. But you would require some real training to pull it off.” And he went on to explain the role to Bholu, even offering him a sponsorship for a week’s crash course at his friend’s acting school.
Bholu was elated. Hadn’t even Prakash ji begun his career with a negative role? He went around the table, sought Ramesh Sengaonkar’s feet from under it, and laid his forehead on them. Ramesh Sengaonkar was truly embarrassed. After all the genuflection and the thanks in profusion, Bholu Jha left him, having taken the address of the acting school where he would be given lessons.
Ramesh Sengaonkar sat staring at the door, and then picked up his phone to dial a number.
“Yes, this is Ramesh; Ramesh Sengaonkar,” he spoke into the mouth piece. “That butcher’s role that you were auditioning for, I think I’ve found the person for the job.” He put the phone back on the cradle and chastised himself for having gone soft. “If you continue along these sentimental lines,” he said to himself, “pretty soon you’ll be cleaned out. I’ll never let myself be swayed by sentiments again!”
Meanwhile, after having left Ramesh Sengaonkar’s office, Bholu first went to the temple to give his thanks. He ran up the steps to the temple, taking them three at a time, and prostrated himself before the statue of the deity. He spoke to the priest and told him of his happiness; fished in his pocket for money and found only a fifty rupees note, which he used to buy some sweets and gave them to the scraggiest, most miserable looking of the beggars seated along the road to the temple. As he made his way back to his room, if it could be called a room, a black Mercedes with tinted windows screeched to a halt, just as Bholu was half way across the road, to get to the other side. The front offside door opened and a mountain of a man wearing a black tight T-shirt and black formal pants leaped out and accosted Bholu.
“Get into the car,” he whispered, as he caught hold of Bholu’s wrist in a vice like grip.
“But, but. Who are you? And what do you mean by this coercion?” protested Bholu.
Just then the huge man in black jabbed with two fingers at a point on the right of Bholu’s neck, near the collar bone, with lightening speed, and no sooner did he make this move, than Bholu went absolutely limp, just like a sack of potatoes. The burly man held Bholu under the armpits, and dragging him around the car, opened the back door and bundled him in. Then he got in himself in the front and the car sped away.
When Bholu came to, he found himself seated in a chair, in the middle of the room, with a table in front and another chair on the opposite side. A single bulb with a conical lamp shade hanging from the ceiling about five feet above the table spread a yellow light in a circular pattern around it. There was darkness beyond this circle of light, and Bholu couldn’t quite make out where the floor ended and walls of the room began. He rubbed his eyes and felt the spot where he vaguely remembered he had been struck. He looked around; there seemed to be no one else in the room. About ten minutes had elapsed before the door to the room, which Bholu discovered was to his right and rear, opened, and in walked the burly man, still draped in black, and in his wake came a short, thin man, who seemed to be walking with a stoop. Bholu could see neither of their faces; he only heard their feet shuffle on the floor, but the burly chap he had recognized from his silhouette formed against the doorway. Then the door slammed shut, and the two men began approaching the table where Bholu sat. The thin man- he was painfully thin- reached the table and stood before Bholu, but his face was at a height above the lamp shade, and his body was illuminated only up to the shoulders. He stood like that for a while, and Bholu stared at the man; it all looked vaguely familiar to him- the gait, the frame, the stoop. And then, all of a sudden, the man put his hands on the table, bent lower and thrust his face toward the light so Bholu could see. And what he saw made his heart jump to his mouth. He had a sinking feeling- it was a kind of smooth sinking, like when an elevator descends- and he was so terrified that he closed his eyes. But the feeling wouldn’t go away, and neither did the man standing before him, when he had opened his eyes. Now the man began to laugh, very softly, and his laughter found resonance with that of a deeper tone emanating from the area of the room which lay in darkness. Then the thin man turned around, and joined the burly chap in a hearty gurgle. When they had finished, the thin man turned back toward the table, pulled the chair and sat down, while the burly chap receded once again into the shadows.
“Do you know who I am?” said the thin man. “Can you at least guess? Now, now, don’t give up that easily; I assure you, you do know who I am.”
Bholu couldn’t find his voice, and when he did, it didn’t sound like his own. He closed his eyes again and began muttering a prayer under his breath. But no divine intervention came.
“I don’t know who you are,” said Bholu, terrified, “but you look just like me. Are you me?”
And it was true. The thin man was a spitting image of bholu- the shortness of height, the stoop, the converging eyebrows, the cleft lip, the dark complexion, even the lisp- everything was identical. It was as if a mirror had been place between the two. Even identical twins can be told apart from each other, but the similarity between Bholu and the thin man surpassed all precision of identity that even nature could muster.
“Oh no, I’m not you; most certainly not. But I do look exactly like you,” said the thin man.
And Bholu nodded his head in acquiescence.
“Ok, let me give you a hint- I’m your favorite actor and you’ve watched all my movies, most of them more than once,” said the thin man.
There was a thick silence, which was peppered by the sound of the two men breathing. Bholu had gained a little equanimity. He began to think, and then he mentioned, in disbelief: “No; it cannot be! How could it be so? Are you…. Are you…..”
“Yes? Go ahead, I think you have it. It’s right at the tip of your tongue,” said the thin man.
And then Bholu blurted out: “You’re Prakash Kumar, the great actor!”
“There you have it! Right on the money,” said the thin man. “I am Prakash Kumar, the movie actor. Well, at least I looked like me, until some time ago. And now I look like, like this; like you.”
“But how could it be?” said Bholu, his terror now giving way to astonishment.
“Oh, I think you know the answer to that question too! By the way, what’s your name?” said Prakash Kumar.
“Bholu, sir. Bholu Jha. I can’t express in words what a great honour it is to meet you in person, Prakash ji,” said Bholu.
“Yes Bholu; I’m pleased to meet you too,” said Prakash Kumar.” more than you could ever imagine.” And he turned around and laughed looking at where he thought the burly chap was; the subject of Bholu seemed to be an inside joke between the two.
“Now coming back to the question of how I did come to look exactly like you; do you want to know? Then listen.” Prakash Kumar said.
It was just a little over six months back (said Prakash Kumar) that I first began to notice these changes. They were very subtle at first; quite imperceptible, really. The first thing to change was my voice. The baritone that I had been so proud of began to change into this squeaky little voice, no offence, but you know how you sound. And then this horrible lisp (lifp!). It was then that I realized something horrible was happening to me; something that I had no control over. My complexion began to darken- I used to be so fair! My clothes hung around my body- my clothes were used to my big, bellowing chest and my 18 inch arms, not this scrawny little frame that I’m stuck with now! And the height! From six feet two to I don’t even know how much. And I had to go into hiding; Prakash Kumar had to disappear. I feel so sorry for the poor producers who had such large fortunes riding on my back! But what could I have done? Have you ever seen a short, dark, lisping, cleft lipped hero on screen, ever? Of course you haven’t. It just couldn’t be. I consulted the best physicians from all over the world. I even went in for plastic surgery and other procedures, but no sooner did the surgeon change a certain facet of my appearance, than it reverted to look like you. And then I realized that even the most modern technology could not save me. I plunged into despair. After about three months, the deterioration stopped, and I began to look like you see me now. And I was still absconding. But I had my ear to the ground and got to know a lot about what people really thought about me, when they spoke with gay abandon in what they thought was my absence. The only person who knows about this metamorphosis is Rishab, my bodyguard, standing there, at the back. Fortunately I had stashed enough money away in my Swiss account which I could access to keep myself going. And then it was just by chance, by the most tenuous quirk of fate, that I happened to hear of this mystic who lived only on sunlight and water, in Alexandria, Egypt. Not many people had heard of this man at all, and he led a very private, extremely reclusive life. My source told me that he was two hundred and thirty one years old, and though I was inclined to laugh in his face, I took his statement at face value, especially in the light of the inexplicable, bizarre experience that was I going through. We fixed up a meeting with the mystic, which had been extremely difficult to achieve; he had relented from his intransigence only on hearing the nature of my dilemma. So then we flew to Alexandria, on false passports of course, and by the way, the name I had assumed to go along with this appearance was Charan Mohan. And I was really surprised when I did see the man, for he looked no more than twenty, if a day. It was extremely difficult for me to believe that he was 231 years old, but hey, strange things do happen from time to time! He was an extremely good conversationalist, and guess what, he knew Hindi! We spoke the entire time in Hindi. He may have been young in appearance, but his eyes betrayed his age; such wisdom in them as you’d have never seen! Hour after hour passed by swiftly, and I hadn’t spoken much at all, so engrossed was I in the words that he spoke. And then he came to the subject of my visit of his own accord.
“Yours is a very unique problem,” the mystic had said. “You see once long ago, in China, while the Qing dynasty was in power, one of the concubines of the emperor, who had been his favorite, fell from the emperor’s grace due to the machinations of the empress. But the empress was not satisfied at merely removing this thorn in her flesh; she wanted the concubine destroyed. So she arranged for charges to be trumped up, which of course the emperor didn’t see through, and he sentenced the poor concubine to death. But the concubine was only full of devotion toward the emperor- such was the nature of her love for him, for it may have been a mere physical relation for the emperor, but she on her part had loved him with all her soul. As she sat on the death row, she thought only about the emperor, and she began to believe with all her might, that they were united; that they were one. Even while she had been a part of the harem, it had not been a matter of only one night a year for her; she truly loved the emperor. And her conviction in her belief of their unity grew so strong that strange things began to occur. The empress, of a morning, woke up to find the concubine asleep next to her on the bed, while there was no sign of the emperor. The emperor of course kept claiming that he indeed was the emperor in the concubine’s appearance, but to no avail. After all, who in their right mind would believe such an incredible, dubious story, of kings turning into concubines over the course of the night! And so it was that she called in the imperial guard and had the concubine, who was actually the emperor in the concubine’s appearance, put to death right there, in the imperial chamber. It was only later that a prison official had tried to dispel the misconception of the concubines death, for he had seen her quite alive sitting and weeping in her cell, that the empress went down to the jail and saw for herself the concubine in flesh and blood. The empress lost her reason when she became cognizant of the colossal blunder that she had made. This crisis in the royal family paved a smooth way for the erstwhile emperor’s nephew’s accession to the throne. The queen died shortly afterward, while the concubine committed suicide while in prison.”
“So you mean to say,” I said, “that a person’s appearance changes merely because someone is intensely in love with them?”
“Well, it’s not only love that would result in such an outcome; it could be any type of desire, provided it’s strong enough. And especially desires and ideas which border on the fantastic; which would normally be considered to be beyond the realms of possibility by normal, intelligent, sane, rational men and women. When such people persist with that particular belief beyond all forms of rationality; beyond the point where they’re ridiculed for this singular persistence, that’s when such absolutely inexplicable happenings occur. But when looked at from another, simpler perspective, there seems to be nothing inexplicable at all: you desire something; you get it, that’s all. It’s all a matter of belief. You see, it’s only the human mind, that in its arrogance, tries to decipher the way in which a particular wish or a desire would fructify; and when the painfully limited human intellect fails to design a ‘rational’ explanation as to how that desire would fructify, it dubs that desire as an impossible one; as a flight of fantasy; irrational behavior and such like. So therefore, you see, the ‘possible’ and the ‘impossible’ are heavily relative terms, subject to individual interpretation,” the mystic said.
The words of this twenty years old or 231 years old mystic were swimming in my head. ‘Chaahat’ was the term he had used in Hindi. Chaahat- desire.
“So how does this work in my case,” I asked.
“I can think of two possibilities,” the mystic had said. “One, it could be a case of extreme homosexual affection; two, it could be that this person, whose appearance you’ve been forced to change into, is extremely desirous of charting his life along the same path as yours, point by point. They’ve studied your life so intensely, that they begin to imagine themselves in your place, but here’s the reality- they don’t change into you; rather you change into them, because even when they’re visualizing themselves as you, they don’t see themselves exactly as you; they see themselves as themselves in your place. And it so happens that if the desire is strong enough, then gradually the characteristics of the idol are banished by those of the worshipper, until the idol becomes the worshipper.”
I hated to contemplate the ‘homosexual love’ angle.
“Is there anything I can do about it?” I said.
“There’s only one thing you can do,” the mystic said. “You need to find this person out for yourself and explain to him the nature of things, because, more often than not, they’re unaware of the extent and potency of their own powers of desire. Only when that person consciously wills your freedom, will you revert to your original appearance. Judging by your appearance, this person is of course a male, and he’s definitely Indian. And if he’s an admirer of your movies and wants to become a film star like you had been until sometime back, your own city, Mumbai may be a good place to start, since I’m given to understand that that’s where all your country’s great cinema originates.”
I marveled at this young looking old man’s wisdom. He had hit the nail right on the head. So I thanked him profusely, prostrated myself before him, and took his leave. Rishab and I flew back to Mumbai and set to work. I had my own photographs taken and distributed around. There really was no method to our madness, how could there be? We hadn’t even known your name. It would be like searching for half a needle in twenty hay stacks. We spent two months hunting for you, but it was all in vain. And, today, it was after a tiring morning’s fruitless searching that we luckily ran into you, and now here we are.
Bholu Jha was quite speechless. All that Prakash Kumar had been saying, made no sense to him. But yet, here he was, in flesh and blood, looking exactly like Bholu. How could such fantastic things occur in this world? Could it be that desire turned into something so magical, so terrifying?
“So how may I be of assistance, Prakash ji?” said Bholu.
“Look, all you have to do is to consciously make an effort and tell yourself that you don’t want to be me. It’s that simple,” said Prakash Kumar.
“But it may seem simple to you, Prakash ji,” said Bholu, “but I’ve spent my entire lifetime wanting to be you! To walk like you; to talk like you; to everything like you do!”
“All that may be very well, Bholu,” said Prakash Kumar, “but look where your desire has got me! Do you think I’ll be able to do even a pimp’s role looking like you? And in the first place, people aren’t even going to believe me if I tell them I’m Prakash Kumar. And do you know why you wanted to look like me, to be me? It was because you yourself unwittingly acknowledged the fact that you weren’t good enough; that you were ugly! Otherwise why would you ever want to be like me?”
And now Bholu was really hurt; all the denials came back to him in a torrent of recollections, and as he juxtaposed Prakash Kumar’s present appearance with his former one, he began to realize how different from Prakash Kumar he really looked. But this realization also brought with it a certain calm; a certain fortitude. He became painfully aware of all those years he had spent idolizing Prakash Kumar, trying to be like him. But he didn’t chastise himself for it. He realized there was more to life than mere appearance, and he suddenly felt comfortable with his own. For the first time in his life, he thought he really looked handsome.
“All right, Prakash ji; it should be no problem at all. After you’ve shown me your true colours, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with you,” said Bholu. “You’re a far cry from the characters you portray in your movies, I can tell you.”
“Yes, Bholu, that’s why it’s called acting. And I’m an actor,” said Prakash Kumar. “I’ve got a life to lead, and it was a fabulous one until you stepped in.”
“And that’s why you’ll always be a pretender- flitting from one role to the other. You’ll never be any one thing for real. Even a stage prop has got a stronger identity than you!” said Bholu. “You’re absolutely without any substance. You think your so called ‘good looks’ will last you an eternity; that your biceps will retain that same fullness and tightness even when you hit seventy? That your carefully kept ‘fair skin’ won’t sag; that your chest will not droop? And then will you still remain as proud and conceited about appearance as you do now?”
“All right; we’ve had enough of your discourse; who gives a rat’s ass how I’ll look when I hit seventy; or if I’ll even live up to that age? I always live in the present, and I want to live it to the lees,” said Prakash Kumar. “Now, if you’ll be so kind as to turn your mind to more important things.”
And Bholu laughed; he laughed so hard at Prakash Kumar’s stupidity, that his stomach began to ache, and he bent double with his hands on his stomach to alleviate the pain, and after a while, when the laughing spasm had subsided, he straightened up to see Prakash Kumar seated before him, in his original form- the bulging muscles, the towering height, the elegant nose- everything. And then Prakash Kumar looked at his hands; felt his face with his hands; flexed his biceps and triceps, and was reassured to find them as they had earlier been. And Bholu Jha sat opposite him, in stark contrast. But there was one other major difference between the two: Bholu looked breathtakingly beautiful with his dark complexion and cleft lip and converging eyebrows, while Prakash Kumar looked painfully mundane, despite his chiseled features and classic physique. And both of them were suddenly aware of this distinction, and so also was Rishab, Praksh Kumar’s bodyguard. And Bholu laughed a hearty laugh, confident in his lisp and reveling in his small size. He seized Prakash Kumar’s hand, gave it a vigorous shake, and left the room.
“Cut it!” shouted the director. “Arre Prakash, you need to work a little more on the posture; get the right degree of stoop in the shoulders; or we’ll have to pad your shoulders up a little more to create the perfect look. And what about the lisp? You were supposed to be ready last Thursday, but you still haven’t mastered it. At this rate, it’ll take us two years just to get the first shot.”
The location was a godown in suburban Mumbai; the time fifteen years since that fateful meeting between Bholu Jha and Prakash Kumar, and the occasion the shooting of the first scene of ‘SP Bholu Jha’ , the latest project to be undertaken by bollywood’s renowned director Sudeep Chakravarty. He had been working on the script for the movie, which was largely based on true accounts, for the past two years. And now, finally, the shooting had commenced. It was slated to be Bollywood’s largest budgeted movie till date, and had a lot of money riding on its success. The movie was about Superintendent of Police, Bholu Jha, as the name of title suggested. Yes, the very same Bholu Jha whom we’ve all along been following. And no, Bholu didn’t make it to the Indian Administrative Service and therefore couldn’t realize his father’s wish to see him occupy the collectorate, but he did make it to the Indian Police Service; and while he didn’t get allotted to his father’s beloved Nawada district in Bihar, he was allotted the Maharashtra cadre, and there began his career, proving to be an honest and upright civil servant; in the twelve years of his service hitherto, he had solved several high profile cases, and had also received the President’s medal. His reputation as a top police officer grew so compelling that movies based on his life had already been made in 3 south Indian languages and now Bollywood had chosen the expedient path of cashing in on the immense popularity of this living legend.
It so happened that Bholu, after having left Prakash Kumar and his lackey Rishab, went straight to his humble abode and gathered up his meager belongings, scrounged up enough money to get back to Bangalore, and left by the earliest train. Upon reaching Bangalore, he searched for a part time job, and enrolled himself in the government arts college for a bachelor’s in Philosophy. Upon completion of his degree, he then took up preparation for the civil services examination, and managed to clear it in his fourth attempt.
Meanwhile, Prakash Kumar, after having delivered three more hits, started on a steady decline. He was well received after his absence of six months, fifteen years back- and his cronies had fabricated a tale of his having gone into a spiritual retreat- for public consumption, of course. His fans had been quite satisfied with that explanation. But, all of a sudden, people were bored with his movies- the same adversity; the same damsel in distress formula had got people gasping for a breath of fresh air. And so his lifestyle took a turn for the worse, and he got heavily into debt. Producers and directors had abandoned him. It was after a lot of lobbying that he had managed to secure this role, in which he would star as Bholu Jha. The latest sensation, the curvaceous Shalini Mehta was to star opposite him.
“Cut, cut, cut!” said Sudeep Chakravarty, “Boss you’re not doing it right at all! These days people want to watch method acting! You need to get into the skin of the character! Now look, I’m willing to postpone the shoot by a week, but we have to get it absolutely right when we resume. Meanwhile, I’m going to arrange for you to personally meet Bholu Jha sahib, so you can just observe him and try to acquire his mannerisms. And Prakash, one more thing- this tan yaar, it doesn’t look deep enough; I think you’ll have to spend some more time in the tanning bed to the get the complexion just right.”
Glossary of terms from the local language:
Chaahat: The Hindi word for strong desire.
RAW- Acronym for the Research and Analysis Wing- India’s External Intelligence Agency
Bollywood- the Hindi film industry in India, made to rhyme with ‘Hollywood’, with the ‘H’ replaced by ‘B’, since it is primarily based out of Bombay (now Mumbai).
Collectorate: Office of the district collector, the chief administrative and revenue officer of a district who exercises general control over the functioning of various district level government departments; a position considered by many in India to be of great eminence.
SP- Superintendent of Police- an officer belonging to the Indian Police Service
Sahib- A polite title or form of address for a man
Yaar- Friend, buddy
Indian Review | Author | Read the works of Diwakar Ralph on Indian Review – The Literature Magazine.