On Tuesday, I was in Mumbai to collect some money that Producer owed me for developing a patriotic story into a script. Producer had paid for the air ticket and the hotel stay but then had run out of money by the time I landed a regular Bollywood occurrence. Hope and bullshit.
Producer had tried (he said) to arrange for the funds through Investor, also a patriot, who was happy to partner the project and my developmental fee, but then Investor had to fly to London for a discussion with a famous star who had suddenly remembered him as he was pissing into a five-star commode a part of his third Macallan before breakfast, and had called Investor over.
Investor caught the next plane so he could share old memories with the star before the star blacked out, but the investor was now stuck because, on his way from Heathrow to Chelsea, he had contracted Covid.
From his quarantine, Investor, a hopeful man, confessed to Producer, mostly a bullshitter, that he was proud to be quarantined in Britain all set to be ruled by a man of Indian origin, Rishi Sunak. Rishi! It had to be a Rishi! Producer said he agreed with Investor and, later in the evening, pointed out that this was the reason why the lions (of Ashoka) had to roar in Delhi and not be meditative: India was emerging. But, sorry, there is no money, just now, Producer said. But would I go to a party with him, instead?
It was not much of a bargain, even I knew that, but I went. In his green Discovery, Producer complained about the price of petrol, and I looked out and saw the city was exactly as it was last month when another party and another chief minister was in power. The craters on the road from Santacruz to Bandra were filled with dark rainwater, and they continued to look like various countries on the map. I made out Russia and China and then lost interest. Producer drove carefully and used the clutch a lot because of the holes. Oh, my car, he said. Then, while I was looking out, he switched off the AC with a thick, hairy, bejewelled, Rolexed hand, but turned on the radio in full blast. To distract me from his extreme thrift, I thought.
Bollywood music these days is just terrible, Producer said, just as we reached sociology professor Shakthi Ahuja’s place. The professor was an old friend, Producer said. They always fought and then became friends again. She is a Liberal, but kind, he said.
We parked the car and got out. We debated taking the stairs ( it’s only five flights of stairs, and it will make you younger by a week, Producer said,) or the lift, and settled for the lift which was an old affair with grills and a single tube-light that went off and on when you shut the door. It stopped between the fourth and the fifth floor so that our knees and shoes were in the fourth, our trunks facing the wall in between and our heads in the fifth, and we could see the painted toes of Ms Ahuja who had a bunion on her right foot.
She had come out to see what the commotion was about as Producer was shaking the shutter and shouting ‘Shakthi,’ at the top of his voice. When he shook the shutter, his eyes rolled in their sockets in some kind of panic at the way things were going for him, and sweat ran down his oiled hair, down his right cheek and neck, and collected in the folds of his gold chain. ‘Oh, stop it, Yogesh,’ Ms Ahuja said. She called for somebody on her cell and got the lift up to the fifth, and Producer looked back at the lift with something like terror on his face.
Ms Ahuja’s hall was chic and cool. The walls had a lot of original paintings and tastefully hung reprints. The men and women, mostly in their 50s, looked chic and cool, too. The men were bearded and the women wore perfumes and were indignant at the politics of the nation. Only a fortnight earlier, Uddhav Thackeray had lost his job as chief minister to Shinde and Fadnavis. Last week, goddess Kali had been turned into a free speech problem. And this week it was the four saintly lions of Sarnath roaring like their MGM cousins on top of the new parliament building. Both men and women offered solutions and were scandalized that these were all in plain sight but will not be seen by the powers that be.
Producer introduced me as the best script writer he ever met, and that under his training he hoped I would improve. Ms Shakthi Ahuja offered us drinks. An offer only I accepted; Producer looked away, a little disgusted at the crowd, and before he could express his feelings cuttingly, his cell phone rang, and from the way his eyes lit up, I thought it might be Investor. He went over to another room to take the call.
A young woman, (an assistant professor in zoology, it turned out) in sari and trying her best to look like Mahua Moitra when she must have been really young said to a thin, apologetic-looking man with slightly bulging eyes (professor in politics, it turned out) and a big book in hand (The New BJP by Nalin Mehta) that she was a Hindu and that she had every right to see Goddess Kali the way she wanted, cigars, chicken, and all. Ms Shakthi Ahuja put a protective arm around the shrinking shoulders of the professor and said, Pritha, do you have a problem with the lions laughing after 2300 years of meditation? Yes, I do, Pritha said, you can’t mess with the lions, they are a part of Indian history. Well, Ms Ahuja said, if you can tamper with our gods, why can’t we tamper with your lions? Then she handed her glass to Pritha and asked her to refill it, and hustled the New BJP Indian away to another corner.
When we left the place and got into the car, Producer said people with salaries and pensions (professors of all kinds, in short) had no idea what life was about. Zero, he said, bringing his left forefinger and thumb together, it was touch and go, touch and go all the time, that is what Bollywood teaches you, it’s all stars one night and pitch black the next. All hope and pure bullshit.
I wondered if he would put the AC on. He did. So it was Investor, then. Tell you what, Producer said, as he eased the car into the night traffic, tell you what, I can pay you the second installment now, and I will pay the remaining three once Investor is back? Thanks much, I said, I hope you will pay the rest soon enough. He nodded. He was not sweating too much now.
We reached Bandra, and instead of going on to Santacruz, Producer took a turn to the right toward the Sea Face. I will show you, Producer said, Mannat and Galaxy and that new place that Ranveer Singh bought for some Rs100 crores! 100 crores!
When we reached the Sea Face, Producer slowed down. He rolled down the windows and we breathed in the salted air blowing fresh from the sea looking like an endless rolling blanket. Producer turned to me and grinned. He said, now, we go past these balconies from where SRK and Salman Khan come out and wave at the crowd. They may come out tonight. It’s touch and go.
Between hope and bullshit, he steered the car forward.
(CP Surendran is a poet, novelist, screenplay writer, and columnist. He lives in Delhi.)
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)