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Fiction: Dreams— Sanjana’s love for acting started when she was eight. She had taken part in a play in her school. That was her first brush with acting, and she fell in love with it.
Sanjana’s love for acting started when she was eight. She had taken part in a play in her school and had played the role of a maidservant. Though she was not the lead character in the play, her role still was substantial. She played it with such sincerity that after the play was over, everyone praised her.
That was her first brush with acting, and she fell in love with it. After that, whichever film or TV serial she watched, she used to act it out in front of the mirror and used to enjoy it a lot.
Sanjana was a tall, slender, and beautiful woman. Now that she had completed her graduation, it was time to go to Mumbai to fulfil her childhood dream.
Mumbai was like a fresh air of breeze to her. She was staying with her childhood friend Grace until she found her own accommodation. The city never seemed to sleep. It was always hustling and bustling with activity.
It was a Sunday morning.
The sun was shining on the horizon and its golden rays were filling the room. At one end of the room, an incense stick was burning, which seemed to be in the last phase of its existence.
The Gods were sitting contentedly in their neat little aromatic compartment decorated with artificial flowers and bulbs. As Grace entered the room, a new aroma of coffee tingled Sanjana’s nostrils and taste buds alike. She handed over Sanjana’s coffee mug and broached the subject of her career.
‘So, what’s your plan?’
‘Right now, my entire focus is on the acting school that is about to begin next week. Afterwards I’ll make my portfolio, give auditions and apply for modelling jobs,’ Sanjana replied in her sweet, smiling manner.
‘See, I don’t want to discourage you but as you already know that daily hundreds of girls come from all over India to this dreamland to become successful actors. Most of these girls are beautiful, sincere, hard-working, and talented. But not all of them can reach the top or be successful. So I just want you to be realistic and not have any false hopes. I am saying this despite knowing that you are the best and deserve the best.’
Sanjana was listening and nodding.
Sensing the pause Grace continued, ‘I have known you since childhood and I know how passionate you are about acting, how you used to live out your ardent fantasies via the school plays, and how even at that age you used to get so immersed in the character that for that time being we used to forget it was you on stage. However, despite all that, it is hard to make it big in the film industry.’
‘Grace, you are too liberal in your praise of me. I do not nurture any false hopes of attaining stardom within a fortnight. Whether I am talented, I do not know. Luck is also not in my control; however, the only factor that I can control is my hard work, and I am going to do that for sure.’
‘I am happy to hear that,’ said Grace, and the conversation drifted to other topics.
Next week, Sanjana’s classes started. The first day at school was introductory. The teachers prepared the students for the upcoming rigorous six months of their lives that were to change their lives forever – at least that’s what they said.
They were told the basics of performance studies, body movements, speech modulation, scene study and all the courses that they will be studying. There were thirty students in her class, seventeen boys and thirteen girls.
During the day, she found out that two of these girls — Tanya and Garima –- were looking for a flatmate.
She spoke to them, and they showed her the flat later in the evening. Sanjana found it so airy, so brightly lit by the evening sun, that she immediately agreed to rent it.
The next day itself, all three girls brought their stuff and arranged it in their new flat. There was one bedroom and one hall. They put up their beds in the bedroom and used the hall as their drawing cum study room.
It took them some time to get used to their new surroundings.
All three of them were easy-going creatures, so there was hardly any conflict of any sort. Classes were on a full swing by now. At home, they had divided their household chores and the three of them soon became inseparable.
Tanya’s father was a small business owner, and her mother was a homemaker. She was the eldest of the three siblings. Her two younger brothers were still in school, and there was a good amount of pressure on her to return the money she had taken from her father for her acting school. The fee was hefty and accommodation was expensive in Mumbai.
Garima and Sanjana had no such obligations. Garima’s father was a bank manager and mother was a nurse in a government hospital. She had one elder sister who was a practising lawyer. Garima was working as a software developer when one day she quit her job and decided to try acting. Her parents tried to stop her, but since she refused to budge, they relented.
Sanjana was the only child of her parents. Her mother was a school principal and father a professor. They were wealthy people in their own right on account of the ancestral property they had inherited. She was born after seven years of their marriage.
Thus, she was a most loved child. She did not remember a single wish of hers that her parents had not fulfilled. They were extremely careful, though, and not made her a spoiled brat; they kept her grounded and humbled.
Acting school was fun. It kept on throwing new and exciting classes now and then. Like there was a positivity class the other day when they were given psychological lessons on how to stay positive in the face of adversity, a Yoga class, a Pilates class, and even a Zumba dance session.
For one class, the students were divided into groups of five students each, and they had to perform a play on the stage. Before the play started, the students had to undergo a breathing exercise routine to release any tension in the mind. While many students were nervous and needed these stress relievers, Sanjana was completely at ease with herself.
As the drama started, Sanjana’s performance struck everyone. Her acting, facial expressions, body language and speech were so natural, so relaxed, so comfortable that it was a treat to the eyes to see her perform.
Six months passed happily like that. They were learning under the guidance of some of the best actors in the country. Apart from acting, they were also leaning yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, martial arts and dance. They had a hectic schedule with the classes starting at 8 am and continuing till 6 pm.
But as O. Henry so appropriately said, ‘When one loves one’s art, no service seems too hard.’
This schedule did not seem hard to them because they were loving every moment of their life, both on campus and off campus.
It was the month of December and the last day of school. There was a grand farewell party for the students where pictures were clicked, promises made, hugs given, and occasional tears rolled.
After the farewell party was over, the three friends went out on a dinner night.
‘Tanya, I can’t believe how swiftly these six months have passed,’ Sanjana said with a surprise in her voice.
‘Certainly, it feels like we came here yesterday only,’ said Garima and after a brief pause continued, ‘So gals, tomorrow I am going to get my portfolio made. You can tag along if you want to. And I insist you do this one-time investment if you are actually serious about getting good projects.’
‘But you already have a portfolio. Why do you need another one?’ asked Sanjana.
‘I need to up the ante, baby. Three things are required for that: a high-quality acting portfolio that makes me appear professional and hireable; a professional-looking headshot; and a demo reel showcasing all the skills that I learnt in the past six months. We need to highlight the variety of our acting abilities,’ Garima explained.
Sanjana agreed to go with her the next day. ‘Tanya, you also come with us,’ Sanjana insisted.
‘I have already spent lakhs on this course. Now it’s my turn to earn. No more spending!’ she said brusquely. And sensing the rudeness in her own voice added, a little embarrassed by her impoliteness, ‘I want to focus on the modelling assignment I have got right now. May be after that I’ll think about the portfolio.’
Last week she had got a modelling break in a jewellery company that was paying her little money. But she took it anyway, thinking that it’d be good for her resume.
The next day, Sanjana and Garima got their portfolios made. After that, both the girls jumped straight into auditioning. They also started reaching out to all the professional connections that they had made in their acting school.
Their teachers had told them it was important to touch base and see if any of those connections were hiring or knew someone who was hiring for any acting jobs. Most of the time they got a reply in the negative, but they still left the line of communication open, hoping to stay on the top of their minds.
They soon found out that it was easier said than done. They worked hard and did all that was advised to them by their seniors and teachers. However, when none of this worked and the need to be self-sufficient arose, they went hunting for a day job.
Taking money from the parents was no longer an option, as they wanted to prove a point to themselves that they can do it on their own. They didn’t need anyone’s support. Not even of their parents.
In the meantime, Tanya had got some cameos in the Tamil Film Industry, so she left Mumbai and moved to Chennai. She went mainly for the money as they were paying her handsomely and the work culture was also good.
Sanjana got a job as a part-time tutor in a coaching centre, and Garima got a job as a data entry operator in a small company. They earned little, but it was at least a good beginning, for they did not know for how long they have to wait for their dream job in acting.
Now they had to divide their time between their jobs and giving auditions. They had shifted to a smaller flat in Kandivali. They had given hundreds of auditions for movies and TV serials, but to no avail. One year passed like that and still there was no sign of any progress.
One evening, after a long, tiring and frustrating day, Garima and Sanjana were sitting on their balcony and silently watching the sun go down on the horizon. It had rained heavily during the day and the sky looked gloomy.
Was the sky actually gloomy, or was it the despair and uncertainty of their future lingering in their minds that was spelt over? For some minutes, both girls sat quietly, engrossed in their own thoughts.
At length, Garima said, ‘I am going to make a cup of tea. You want one?’
‘Yeah,’ Sanjana said in a heavy voice.
Sanjana could hear her crushing ginger. Soon, the mind-numbing aroma of ginger, cardamom, and clove came from the kitchen.
That stirred something in Sanjana’s memory. The time she had just arrived in Mumbai and was having coffee with Grace. How happy and hopeful she was that day. What a naïve fool she had been.
Garima came with a big tray with two mugs, a plate of cookies, and lots of relief. Sanjana felt her spirits somewhat uplifting with the aroma.
Garima sipped her tea and started the conversation.
‘I am exasperated now and can’t do this any more. I am going back to my hometown.’
Sanjana could not offer a consolation or say something that could boost her friend’s morale.
Garima continued, ‘I am away from my family and my loved ones, staying here alone in a shanty flat chasing a dream that has not turned into a nightmare. I did everything what the teachers in the acting school told us to do. Still, apart from a few modelling assignments, I have got nothing! I just don’t understand why do they take auditions in the first place when they have to hire the daughter of a superstar or a famous director? This is such a hopeless situation.’
‘That’s true. I don’t know what to say to you.’ Sanjana was at a loss for words.
Garima continued, ‘I am almost twenty-seven and so far have done nothing significant in my life. That makes me feel like a loser. It’s time to concede defeat, go back to parents and get married – as they want me to. I’ll just be an anonymous and ordinary housewife!’ She was trying hard to hold back her tears.
‘A housewife’s job is not only respectable, but also difficult. And there is nothing wrong with being anonymous and ordinary as long as you are enjoying your work.’
‘You also want me to quit and get married?’ Garima asked incredulously.
‘I want you to understand that you should get married when you feel like it — no matter what your age is; not because when you think you are a loser and the only option left is getting married. Don’t say miserably, ‘I failed,’ say proudly, ‘I am satisfied that I tried my best.’
‘These things sound good in novels and movies only. In real life, they do not help,’ Garima replied curtly.
‘Trust me, they do. You must learn to praise yourself. But, anyway, it’s true that we have reached the nadir of our acting career that had actually refused to start. Today, let’s make a pact with each other. We will try with complete enthusiasm, even if it’s a facade, for six more months and if nothing works by then, we’ll leave. Let’s give our best shot this time. Both literally and figuratively.’
‘Giving out the best shot is what we had been doing for the past one year,’ Garima said sardonically.
‘I want to be one of those passionate people who keep on following their dream without expecting a reward. But in the last one year, I had found out that I am an ordinary mortal who needs some reward for her hard work. But okay, let’s hang on here for six more months. What do we have to lose, anyway?’
One afternoon, Sanjana was sitting outside one audition, waiting for her turn for the past two hours. Of late, this had been her daily routine. She used to take some snacks, magazines and books with her to pass the time. She was surprised to get a call from Garima. They usually used WhatsApp messages instead of calling unless something was really urgent.
She looked at her watch and went outside. ‘Yes Garima…’
Before she could complete her sentence, Garima cried in an ecstatic voice, ‘Sanjana! I am selected for a film with Sourav Kumar as the lead actor! Can you believe that? I want to meet you right now!’
‘What! That… that is great news! You mean selected or shortlisted for the final interview or something like that.’ She couldn’t believe what Garima had just told her.
‘No, I mean finally selected! I have signed papers and everything. Oh my God! I can’t believe this. They called me and just signed me and that’s that! Mummy is calling me, we’ll talk in the evening.’ She spoke hurriedly and hung the line abruptly.
Garima had given four auditions for this film in the past three months. However, she was not at all hopeful because this had happened to her so many times that she had long stopped nurturing any hopes.
Sanjana was ecstatic for her dear friend. She closed her eyes and silently prayed to God for her friend’s happiness. Tears came rolling in her eyes. She knew how hard Garima had worked and how well she deserved it.
Later in the night, when all the celebrations of getting this big break were done, when all the friends were gone, and finally when the two friends were alone, Garima held Sanjana’s hand and said, ‘Sanjana I wish you also get a big break like this soon. I know you deserve it more than I do.’
And sure enough, within a month, Sanjana also got the lead role in a big-budget film directed by the renowned director Badal Verma. The actor opposite her was a newcomer like her. His name was Aarush Kelkar. It was his first acting assignment in a mainstream film. Although, having worked in theatre for many years, he was a seasoned actor.
The two girls couldn’t believe their good luck. Whenever they were home, Garima used to daydream about their soon-to-be attained stardom. She was on cloud nine most of the time. Sanjana was happy, but was more grounded.
The shooting for Sanjana’s cinema was about to start in a few weeks, while Garima had already started going to the film set. Each day was a new learning experience for her. Despite his huge stardom, Sourav Kumar was a nice and humble man. She was very nervous on the first day of shooting, but he instantly made her feel welcome and comfortable.
Sourav Kumar was almost thirty-eight. He was married and had a nine-year-old son. His wife was a renowned TV anchor.
A few weeks later, Sanjana’s director called her and told her they had to go to Manali for the shoot. A few days later, she left with the crew.
Sanjana was in Manali for a month now. The shooting had begun the very next day of their arrival.
One day it was raining and the shooting for the day had been called off. She was sitting in her hotel room and listening to Mohammad Rafi song, ‘Deewana hua badal… sawan ki ghata chhayi.. ye dekh k dil jhooma..’
The song was in complete sync with the outside and inside–outside, it was raining and inside, her heart was dancing with joy. It was a matter of pride for her that she was working with Badal Verma.
She was marvelling at her good luck when someone knocked on the door. She thought it must be the tea that she had ordered a few minutes back. Quick room service, she wondered and happily opened the door, anticipating hot, steaming ginger tea.
However, it was Dinkar – Badal’s assistant.
‘Hi Dinkar. How are you?’ She asked and wondered what must have brought him here.
‘Sanjana, can I speak with you for a moment?’ he spoke hesitatingly.
‘Yeah, sure. Come inside.’
He got seated but did not speak for a full minute.
‘What’s the matter, Dinkar?’ she implored.
‘Sanjana you are… I want to tell you… You are out of the film.’
His voice was shaking. She realized she either heard something wrong or he was joking.
She just blankly stared at him.
‘Yeah, you heard me right. Do you know Ramesh Sharma, the superstar of 90s? He called Badal yesterday and told him he wants his daughter Samaira to work in this film. Badal could not say no to him because Ramesh is one of the producers of the film. Samaira is coming from London tomorrow and will join us shortly afterwards. I am really sorry Sanjana. This shouldn’t have happened to you.’ He left the room.
Sanjana’s mind registered whatever Dinkar had told her, but it could not process it for a long time. The tea came. She got up and drank it. Slowly, the processing began. The enormity of the news struck her now.
She rushed to Badal’s room, but it was locked. She tried calling him on his phone several times, but there was no reply. After seven or eight calls, he picked up the phone. ‘Badal sir Dinkar told me that…’
‘Yes, Sanjana, whatever he told you was correct. I cannot do anything on this matter now.’
‘But sir, we have already started shooting, and I have told everyone about my role in this film…’
‘Tell them you are no more a part of the film,’ he said, and hung up the line abruptly.
Sanjana tried calling him again, but his phone was switched off now.
She could not think of what to do. She called her mother and told her the news. Tears came rolling down her eyes. Mother was stunned to hear that.
‘Mamma, I don’t know what I am going to do now,’ she said amongst sobs.
‘Did you speak to Badal? Did you ask him the reason?’ Her mother was worried.
‘They have replaced me with the daughter of Ramesh Sharma. You know him, right— everyone knows him. I feel so humiliated. They can sign me for a film and then throw me out as per their wishes. What’s more insulting is that Badal Verma did not even bother to tell this to me in person. Let alone an apology. I don’t want to be here for a moment now. I feel like everyone is laughing and making fun of me right now in their rooms.’
Sanjana was inconsolable. Amidst her sobs, she could not listen to what mother was saying.
She packed her bags and left the hotel unceremoniously. The next evening, she reached Mumbai. Due to work commitments, Garima could not come to the airport to pick her up. Later in the night, Garima came.
Both the friends hugged each other tightly.
‘How are you?’ Garima asked. She was in a sombre mood.
‘I am fine,’ Sanjana sighed.
‘I think we should file a complaint against Badal,’ Garima suggested.
‘They clearly wrote it in the contract that they can remove me anytime if they found my conduct unprofessional and such shit. Even if it’s a lie, it would be easy for them to prove that. The entire crew is with them. They must have done it many times before. Stomping on people’s hopes, happiness and self-worth.’
‘Don’t let those idiots decide your self-worth. Being rich and famous doesn’t give them the right to play with people’s feelings and careers. I want to call that evil girl Samaria and give her a piece of my mind.’ Garima was furious.
‘I have nothing against that girl. She might not even know what her father has done to bag her this role. She must have casually mentioned it to him one fine day that she wanted to act in a film, and lo-and-behold, Daddy bought it for her.’
‘You want me to believe that Samaira didn’t know that you were already working on this film? It was all over the news when they signed you. She is not naïve enough to not know that. She had not even done a single acting workshop in her entire life.’
‘There is no point in criticizing her. Maybe we would have done the same had we been in her position?’
‘They replaced you with someone who is a most undeserving candidate. That’s what hurts me the most. This is injustice,’ Garima said in an offended tone.
‘As of now, I just want to take a break from all this. I am going home tomorrow,’ Sanjana said.
‘When will you be back?’
‘I’ll be back when I feel like it, so I can’t give you an exact date.’
With a sigh, Garima asked her to be back soon.
It had been five months and Sanjana wasn’t showing any sign of going back to Mumbai. She had started learning Kathak under the able supervision of a guru.
Garima was exasperated by repeatedly calling her to Mumbai. ‘Sanjana, I did not know you were such a coward. Just because you got expelled from one stupid film, will you never come back and try again? Is that all for your fighting spirit and your acting dream?’
‘Who said I will never act again? I have got a few acting assignments here,’ Sanjana said in an exuberant voice.
‘What! How?’ Garima asked in disbelief.
‘I have got a couple of students who want to learn to act from me. I have agreed to teach them the nuances.’
‘And what about the assignments you were talking about?’
‘They are my assignments.’
‘Are you crazy? You deserve to be famous. You deserve to be successful. I want your photo to be on the cover of every prominent magazine and newspaper. And you want to remain obscure for the rest of your life!’
‘You know what do I want in life?’
‘Yeah, it’s apparent now — insignificance,’ Garima said angrily.
Ignoring her remark, Sanjana continued, ‘I want happiness.’
‘There is no happiness without success.’
‘True, but the meaning of success is different for everyone. For some, success may be recognition, money, or name and fame. For me, it is doing things that make me happy and satisfied. I don’t want to run behind something as fleeting as name and fame.’
‘Then why did you come here and struggle for so long to get an acting job in a film?’ Garima asked sarcastically.
‘There was a time when I really wanted to make it big in the film industry. I tried really hard for it. Now, in retrospect, I am thankful for all the struggle and heart-break that I had to endure, because they made me realize the true meaning of happiness.’
Garima said with a sigh, ‘You will regret it later. Don’t give up so easily.’
‘I have not given up. I have awakened.’
Garima understood she was not coming back. She wished her luck in her new endeavour, and they hung up the line.
Sanjana had started a YouTube channel where she used to post short movies. She used to write the screenplay, and the was acting done by herself and her students. Because of the fresh stories and excellent acting, this channel had struck a chord with the viewers. It had garnered over twenty thousand subscribers within six months.
She was the content.
Tanya had made a niche for herself in the Tamil Film Industry and was happy with her work and salary alike. She was not only sponsoring her sibling’s education, but also supporting her father in his business. She couldn’t have asked for more.
Garima’s film had released with much fan-fare but despite having a famous actor, it tanked. No one took notice of her afterwards, and she eventually went into oblivion.
She was still giving auditions, where one day she met Karan. He was also a struggling actor. The two instantly got a liking for each other. After dating each other for six months, they decided to get married.
Garima wanted to share it with Sanjana, and so she called her on the phone. They made small talk for some time, and then she told her the news, ‘I am getting married, Sanjana!’
‘Why?!’ Sanjana asked in surprise.
‘What do you mean, why? Because we love each other.’ Garima said with a laugh.
‘Congratulation. By the way, that’s a good reason to get married. I am sure you two are going to be happy.’
After a pause, Garima added, ‘Remember what you told me the other day to praise ourselves for our efforts. I had been doing that, and you know what now I am proud of myself that I gave my best effort and then failed in a dignified manner. I will join my engineering job again.’
‘Who said you failed? You can become a successful engineer, a successful wife, a successful mother. The possibilities are endless… don’t limit yourself.’
‘Is that a line from one of your YouTube movies?’ Garima said jokingly and told her she would call later. Karan was waiting for her. They had planned to go to Juhu beach in the evening.
Success and happiness are often abstract terms. Sometimes less is more. No followers on Instagram, no pictures on magazine covers, a nondescripta existence, and mundane life – that may not always mean abundance and joy; but then that may as well.
Image source: iso100k via Getty Images, and StockSnap via Pixabay, free on CanvaPro
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I am an avid reader, a writer, and a yoga instructor. I like to write about social issues, especially women's issues. With my writings, I want to contribute my share in making a truly read more...
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