Summer afternoons in Delhi were unnaturally still, she mused. Not a leaf moved as the scorching sun beat down on the tiled terrace and wilting potted plants. A persistent cuckoo’s relentless cooing was the only sign of life in the neighbourhood. The heat, the spotted tiles, the heady scent of ripe mangoes, the invisible cuckoo– all merged into a sleepy haze as Khushi Gupta dozed off in the deck chair, placed strategically under the shade of a large mango tree that spread its branches over the western corner of the terrace.
A sharp poke to her ribs startled her awake.
“Maasi! Wake up! The power’s back! Come back inside!”
Khushi stretched before wiping her damp brow with a dainty lace handkerchief. “Thank the Lord.”
Following her niece downstairs, into the air-conditioned confines of her room, she sighed in relief. Although she was no stranger to Delhi summers or to Delhi’s frequent power outages, her years in Mumbai had spoiled her. The heat felt unbearable these days.
“Payaliya, be a sweetheart and go get us some iced tea na!”
Payaliya frowned. “You always make me go.”
Khushi turned on the dazzling smile that had won the hearts of millions of people all over the world. “I’m your only Maasi in the whole world, Payaliya. All I’m asking for is a measly glass of iced tea in this sweltering heat. Please?” She batted her lashes for effect.
Payaliya snorted. “I’m your niece, Maasi, not a besotted fan. That doesn’t work on me. You’re going to owe me if I fetch you the iced tea now.”
Khushi gave up. She knew when she’d lost. “Alright, you brat. What is it going to cost me? And remember: all that is at stake here is a two minute trip to the kitchen–albeit in the heat– to fetch two glasses of iced tea. So name your price carefully.”
Payaliya beamed. “All you have to do is go through the JoLav tag on tumblr with me for ten minutes. Ten minutes– I swear! Come on, Maasi! You’re not going to regret this!”
The groan that met her enthusiastic request suggested otherwise. “Payalia, please! This is so lame! Why do you want me to see this damn JoLav tag so desperately? I get linked up with random actors all the time! It doesn’t mean anything! I don’t even know this…this…Jo-person!”
Payaliya rolled her eyes. Her aunt could be so trying at times. “Maasi, I KNOW! I’m telling you na– this is different! You don’t understand tumblr, so let me show you. The JoLav tag is truly incredible.”
Flopping down dramatically on her bed, Khushi covered her face with her hands. “Fine. Jeez. If ten minutes of JoLav is going to get me some iced tea RIGHT NOW, I’ll do it. And you better not forget the fresh mint.”
Payaliya ran out of the room with a grin and was back in record time, carefully balancing a tray with two tall glasses of iced tea and a plate of her Maasi’s favourite chana chaat. She downed her own glass in one go and retrieved her laptop from under Khushi’s bed.
Khushi watched her hurried movements with awe, the iced tea and chana chaat forgotten. Rarely had she seen Payaliya display such enthusiasm and excitement for anything. Not since she had turned thirteen last year and decided that it was ‘uncool’ to display any excess of emotion.
The laptop was summarily shoved in her face and Khushi grabbed it before it could tilt over and meet its death on the stone floor. “Er…Payaliya, you’re going to have to give me a little background here. Who are JoLav again?”
“Maaasssiii! This is why you ought to read more! How can you not know JoLav? Does the name ‘Love Struck A Chord’ mean anything to you at all?”
Khushi decided not to point out that she’d been away from the country for six months, in a breathtaking valley surrounded by ginormous mountains that ensured almost no internet connectivity.
“Why don’t you enlighten this pop-culturally deficient aunt of yours?”
“God! So ‘Love Struck A Chord’ is the latest novel by Sunanda Shikre and has become HUGELY popular. So much so that I hear she’s been making that insufferable Kishen Magan insecure. I really hope she sells more copies than Magan’s latest offering ‘A Half-Life’. Speaking of, please tell me that you’re not doing that new film based on Magan’s ‘Seven Days’, like gossip suggests you are. You can’t. Magan is such a terribly overrated writer, and so regressive and stereotypical, and…”
“Payaliya, while your opinions about Kishen Magan are riveting, the clock’s ticking. You have exactly another eight minutes left to show me whatever you have to.”
“Oh my god! Right, so ‘Love Struck A Chord’. It’s a super book, Maasi! I’ve been completely obsessed with it since I finished reading it a month ago. And I am so in love with the hero, Joshua Lewis. He’s…perfect. Which of course means men like him don’t exist. I’m telling you, Maasi, I’m going to end up alone with thirty cats.”
“Your mother will be delighted to hear that.”
“Don’t be mean na! Coming back to Josh– this book is basically about the love story between Josh and Lavanya Kashyap. Josh is a music teacher at a boarding school in Ooty and Lavanya is the Principal’s snooty daughter. It’s about how their relationship gradually develops and how they fall in love along with multiple interesting subplots, these crazy side characters and lots of humour. It’s just a very witty, feel-good read, okay? So after I was done, I couldn’t get over Josh and Lav and I googled the names. I stumbled across the tumblr tag and I was thrilled. I suddenly had a bunch of other people to fangirl with, right? And then, going through the tag, I started noticing something incredible– which is what I wanted to show you. Why don’t you take a look?”
Khushi finally focused on the screen and started scrolling downwards. It was clearly a repository of various fan-opinions, some amount of fan fiction…Khushi raised an eyebrow…some very detailed accounts of sexual encounters between ‘Josh’ and ‘Lav’, quotes from the book…She stopped short, eyebrows almost reaching her hairline in disbelief.
“What are these?”
Payaliya grinned triumphantly. “Those, Maasi dearest, are gifsets. They are fan made. A gif is basically a series of images edited to play constantly in a loop. So those are fan-made gifsets featuring Arnav Raizada as Joshua Lewis and Khushi Gupta as Lavanya Kashyap!”
“That’s…insane!” Khushi shook her head. As an actor, she wasn’t unfamiliar with the incredible things computer graphics could do, but she still had a hard time swallowing the moving images on the screen in front of her. The gifs had been cleverly edited to look like a continuous scene from a story using clips from different places. She recognized scenes from one of her earliest films, ‘Suhana Safar,’ where she’d played a college girl determined to fulfil an eccentric wish of her mother’s by buying one saree from every state in India. She could also see images from ‘Kashish’– a thriller, where she had played a young woman dangerously obsessed with her married employer. The clips chosen for her were all from movies where she had played young, urban girls. And interspersed with her own scenes, were images of a scruffy, rakishly good-looking man. In some frames he played a guitar, in some he seemed to be arguing with her, in a few he appeared to be staring intensely at her, and in one, he looked like he was leaning in for a kiss!
Khushi blinked, scrolling further. There were more of those gifsets with different scenes, there were photoshopped images of the two of them–it was insane!
“Who…how…who made these? How? I don’t understand…”
Payaliya giggled at her Maasi’s incoherent wonder. “I told you, Maasi, these are all fan made! The ‘Love Struck A Chord’ fandom unanimously agrees that the best faces for Josh and Lav are Arnav Raizada and Khushi Gupta! And there are some fans with MAD photoshop skills who take scenes from random movies and edit them all together to make it look like you guys ACTUALLY played Josh and Lav at some point! Isn’t this cool? You know how I feel about magazine rumours that link you to your costars, but I have to admit, you look SO good with Arnav Raizada! God, it would be a dream come true if you two actually got signed on for the movie that is sure to eventually be adapted from the book!”
“I have just one more question. Who is Arnav Raizada? What movie are these scenes from?”
“Okay so I didn’t know him either before I found his pictures with you– don’t get any ideas. Arnav Raizada acted in ONE Hindi serial called ‘Sur’ where he played a struggling musician– not a teacher. It was an emo love story with a blind girl called Sur who started singing for his band, etc. Apparently, it was your run-of-the-mill melodramatic crappy soap, but Arnav’s role was received very well. That was five years ago. In fact, that show is where his clips are from. Thereafter, he disappeared and came back a couple of years ago as a director on the indie film circuit. You must have heard of his debut film ‘Aahatein’ that screened at a bunch of those foreign film festivals?”
Khushi nodded. “Yes, of course! Now I remember. I didn’t make the association because I have heard of Arnav Raizada, the director, not the actor. Not that I’ve ever met him personally.”
“Yeah, well, there you go. I think he’s currently wrapping up post-production for his second film ‘Mandodari.’”
“And just how are you so well-informed? I thought Bollywood and Hindi soaps were beneath your notice?”
“They are. Except for your films. And after I discovered him, Arnav’s– because have you seen how hot he is? That particular gif where he casually takes his shirt off because you, that is, Lavanya spilled water on him, and you stare open-mouthed at him is my favourite. Uff! I can’t believe he quit acting to be a director! What a waste of eye-candy!”
“Payaliya, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that last comment.” With a last, lingering look at a gif of Arnav smiling down at her– that is, Joshua smiling down at Lavanya– she corrected herself, Khushi shut the laptop with a snap. “Okay, time’s up.”
“That’s…it? You don’t have anything else to say? Any further questions?”
Khushi shrugged. “Yeah. Considering how much you dislike stereotypes, how are you cool with a Christian music teacher?”
“Maaaasi! Any REAL questions?”
“What else could I possibly want to say or know? I admit, that was pretty neat. Weird, but neat. What else do you want me to say?”
Payaliya bounced on the bed in equal parts excitement and exasperation.
“Arrey, show some excitement na, Maasi! Pull some strings! Make this happen!”
Khushi stared blankly at her niece for a minute before a gurgle of laughter bubbled up and spilled forth.
“Payal, you know that’s not how it works! Hypothetically, if I wanted to do this– not even an actress of my experience has that kind of clout. Not unless she has a rich Daddy who buys her the rights to whatever catches her fancy and keeps financing her attempts at ‘acting’– which I don’t!”
“Wow Maasi, still bitter about Kyra Saini’s snide remarks about you being a ‘veteran actress’ whom she has ‘always looked up to?’ She’s just jealous. Because she can’t act to save her life and the only reason people talk about her are her clothes and her idiotic, nasal comments on celebrity talk shows. And she’s what– five years younger than you? She needs to learn to act her age already. No one’s buying the cutesy just-out-of-college girl act anymore.”
Khushi whistled before pulling Payal into a hug. “I love it when my kitten bares her claws. I should just hire you as my bodyguard, agent, manager, publicist– all rolled into one.”
Payal wriggled out of Khushi’s grasp. “Yuck, Maasi, you’re ruining my hair! I blow-dried it especially for tonight. It’s Raunak’s birthday party.”
Khushi wiggled her eyebrows. “Raunak, haan? What are his grades like? What does his Dad do?” Her exaggerated imitation of Payal’s razor sharp great-grandmother drew a reluctant grin from Payal.
“Don’t change the subject, Maasi. Achha promise me one thing. If this movie gets made, and you get a call for it– you have to, have to do it! Pleeeeease!”
Khushi nodded with an indulgent smile and took a sip of her rapidly warming iced tea.
The sound of a car braking in the driveway distracted Payal. “Shit! Mom’s home and I haven’t cleaned the kitchen!” She ran off to clear the evidence of the iced tea and channa chaat before her mother walked in.
Khushi slipped under the covers for a well-deserved nap, but before falling asleep, she made a little note on her cell phone that said ‘Love Struck A Chord– JoLav’.
So after AGES, I have something to celebrate. It started running too long which is why I decided to make it a mini-series. It’ll probably end up at roundabout 4 parts. I’ll try to update every couple of days. Not telling you what we’re celebrating yet– I always reveal that last. Of course, you’re free to guess in the meantime. 😀