September 1, 2014
“Do you know what day it is?”
“1st September, Monday,” Khushi answered without looking up from her script. Sheetal tsk-ed under her breath. “Wrong. I mean, it is 1st September. But I’m asking you whether you know the significance of this date.”
Khushi looked up, a little mystified. “Is it your birthday?”
Sheetal continued munching on potato chips with the look of a martyr on her face. “No. It’s the day the Hogwarts Express leaves Platform 9¾ to take all the kids back to school. I have never quite gotten over not receiving a Hogwarts letter.”
Khushi really didn’t know what to say to this admission. She cleared her throat and tried to look suitably apologetic.
“Waise, what House do you think you’d have been in? I got sorted into Hufflepuff on Pottermore, but I’m pretty sure I would have been in Gryffindor if I had gone to Hogwarts.”
“I…er…” Khushi was saved the necessity of responding by a sharp interruption. “Sheetal, do you have the changes I’d made to the script last evening typed out yet?”
Sheetal shot to her feet. “Yeah! I do!”
Arnav closed his eyes in frustration for a second. “If you do, why haven’t you given me a copy yet?”
“Oh. I didn’t realize. Right. I’ll just go get a printout. I’ll be back in five.” She sprinted away, an embarrassed look on her face.
Arnav dropped into the seat that Sheetal had just vacated, sinking low and leaning his head against the back of the flimsy plastic chair.
“She’s learning, you know. She really is trying.”
Arnav didn’t have to look at Khushi to know that she had her disturbingly frank gaze levelled at him. “I know she’s trying. And the whole point is that she is here to learn. If all she had to recommend her was her Daddy’s money and connections, I would have ensured she didn’t last two days as an AD on my set. But she’s not going to learn if I pat her on the head and hand out lollipops.”
“Fair enough. It’s just that she seems to have a bad case of hero-worship going on and it makes her very upset when she feels that she’s disappointed you in any way. Just…let her down gently?”
Arnav opened one eye and flashed her a lazy grin. “You’ve noticed?”
Khushi snorted. “I’d have to be blind to miss it. She hangs on to your every word with stars in her huge eyes. And you know it, don’t you?”
The grin stretched wider. “What can I say? Sheetal is a refreshing change from the usual mutinous male AD’s I work with, all of whom curse me to hell the moment my back is turned and spend hours day-dreaming about how one day they’re going to make the perfect film that will make my movies look like B-grade trash.”
“Jerk,” Khushi said without heat, “you know as well as I do that being an Assistant Director is one of the most painful and thankless jobs in the world. Especially with an obsessive freak like you in charge.”
“You’re making me blush, babe.”
Khushi shook her head and went back to reading her lines again when Sheetal returned with a sheaf of papers in her hand and an apology.
Arnav immediately sprung up and took the papers from her. Moving to stand behind Khushi’s chair, he bent over her shoulder and pointed out a couple of minor changes that he had made to the script. A gentle tingle of awareness raised the hairs at the nape of her neck as his warm breath washed over the bare skin exposed by the low-neck of Khushi’s kurta. She suddenly found it rather difficult to pick up the pen he offered her and mark the changes in her own script. After she fumbled a second time, Arnav leaned closer with a sigh and directly started writing on the page she held open. He was just close enough for her to feel his body heat without actually touching her. If she shifted slightly in her seat, would his chin graze her neck? Would his stubble sting? Would he turn his head to drop a kiss on the burn and soothe her?
“Khushi? Do you follow? I’ve re-numbered the cues on your script too, in case you forget. Is there a problem?”
His face was so close to hers, if she leaned forward an inch, she could press her lips against his and satisfy her raging curiosity about what they felt like.
Khushi gave herself a quick shake and forced a nod. “Yeah, I heard you the first time. If I have a problem, I’ll ask.”
Arnav straightened up. “Okay, shot’s almost ready. You’ll be on in about a couple of minutes.”
Mustering as much nonchalance as she could, Khushi tried going to back to her script to actually read what he had written in it.
“Oh, and Khushi?”
Physiologically impossible though it was, her heart skipped a beat and she looked up.
“Ravenclaw. I think you’d be in Ravenclaw.”
“There is a very strong Luna Lovegood aura around you. I expect you to start talking about Crumple Horned Snorkacks at any moment. So Ravenclaw.”
“What are you even saying?”
“God Khushi, you need to read more. It’s a Harry Potter thing.”
As he walked away with an amused half-smile on his face, Khushi reflected weakly that he was the second person in two months to tell her so.
September 10, 2014
“Khushi Maasiiiii! How could you?” Khushi grimaced, pulling the phone away from her ear to avoid any permanent damage as the high-pitched shriek rang through.
“Payaliya, there’s no need to yell. You’re using a cell phone, not a loudspeaker.”
“Your lame attempts at humour are soooo not going to distract me, Maasi! You are SUCH a traitor! After everything I’ve done for you? Everything I’ve told you. After knowing EXACTLY how much this means to me– you still didn’t think it was important to tell me?”
“Wow, tone down the melodrama, Payaliya. I’m the actress, not you. Also, what part of Non-Disclosure Agreement don’t you get?”
“Arrey, NDA’s are for other people. Not for family!”
“Payaliya, please never become a lawyer.”
“Stop trying to distract me! And tell me all about it! Did you tell him about JoLav? Did he say that he wants to make this movie with you right after Ek Pal? Did he confess any secret feelings to you? I want all the dirty details on you two!”
Suddenly aware of the curious glances she was getting from around the lunch table, Khushi lowered her voice. “Payaliya, please. I’m busy now. I’ll call you later at night after I’m done for the day, alright?”
“Aha! So you ADMIT that you have dirty details to share that you can’t tell me right now because there are other people around you?”
Khushi choked on a sip of water. “I am disconnecting this call right now. Go do your homework or something, brat. Better yet, go bother Kalpana Di.”
“Fine. But this conversation is NOT over.”
Khushi slipped her phone into her pocket and quietly went back to her food.
“Family?” Khushi looked up to find Devyani smiling kindly at her. Devyani Bapat played Jannat’s old grandmother in the movie. Although much older than Khushi, the two got along very well. Something about Devyani reminded Khushi of her own crotchety grandmother and Devyani indulged her like one too. While the other younger cast members kept her at a polite distance, Devyani sat with her during the breaks between shots and during meal times. Arnav had requested that characters who shared a close or intimate bond in the story eat together to get to know each other and consciously become more comfortable with each other and this arrangement had suited Khushi fine. She loved eating with Devyani, digging into the spicy dal she always brought and listen to her talk about her early years on stage and later in cinema.
A week or so ago, however, this had changed. Whenever he had time, Arnav had started joining them for lunch and by default, the rest of the cast and a few other crew members had as well. Now they all sat together around a large table eating, playing ridiculous games and sharing laughs. In fact, the younger cast members had thawed substantially towards Khushi and did not exclude her from the conversation.
All of this meant that most of the table had heard Devyani’s question and looked expectantly at Khushi.
“Er…yes. My niece, Payal. She saw today’s press release on social media and is very excited about this film. She wanted to know why I hadn’t told her earlier that I’m working with Arnav. She’s a…er…fan.”
Sheetal chimed in with a giggle, “Oh, what does she do?”
“She’s still in school– she’s only fourteen.”
Arnav looked up from his food, an eyebrow raised. “A fourteen year old is a fan of my films? I didn’t think too many fourteen year olds are acquainted with my work.”
Suddenly, the Devil seized Khushi. She could have responded nonchalantly with a comment about Payal’s maturity. She could have deflected. She could have shrugged. Instead, she said, “Oh, your films came later. She is a fan of you as an actor. I believe she’s been watching reruns of a show you once did– Sur? Where you played a musician?”
Arnav’s eyes narrowed and a dull red flooded his neck. The rest of the table burst out laughing.
Serves you right, Khushi thought a little hysterically. Freaking me out all the time. It’s all your fault.
Just when it seemed that Arnav would get up and leave, he leaned back in his chair and smiled lazily.
“You seem rather well-informed about that show, Khushi. Have you been watching as well?”
And suddenly the ball was back in her court, she realized with panic.
Khushi smiled sweetly. “No, rockstar. I just have a very enthusiastic niece.” Somehow, she didn’t think she’d convinced him.
September 20, 2014
The door had barely clicked shut behind Khushi before she dropped onto the couch, drew her knees up to her chest, and cradled her head into the crook of her arms. She felt exhausted; the sort of bone-dead numbness that wouldn’t even allow her to fall asleep. Her nerves were frayed and her body still trembled with the emotional upheaval of the last four hours.
Arnav had said that this schedule would be grueling–not because of the number of shots that had to be canned, but because of the intensity of the scenes that were involved. The penultimate act where Jannat truly understands the fatality of her situation and decides to stop fighting it was a complex one that required a whole range of emotions in quick succession. Each scene left her completely drained and she found it increasingly difficult to climb out of the despondency that took her over at the end. Her years of experience and considerable skill helped her keep it together in front of the rest of the cast and crew, but thereafter, she needed close to an hour in her vanity van to calm down before wrapping up for the day.
This day had been particularly difficult.
Arnav had put her through a particularly difficult scene where Jannat breaks down again and again until he’d been satisfied with it. At the end of it, Khushi had been so tired, she didn’t have any tears left.
The prospect of curling into a ball and going to sleep in her vanity can seemed very appealing except she was too wound up to sleep.
A gentle knock on the door of her vanity van roused her from the semi-stupor. She just didn’t have the energy to deal with anyone at the moment. Khushi dug her head further into her arms, hoping that whoever it was would eventually go away if she ignored the knock.
After the fourth tentative knock, Khushi dragged herself to the door and wrenched it open, prepared to give a dressing down to whoever stood on the other side.
Her mouth dropped open as Devyani twinkled at her, a large mug in her hands. “Devyani…aap? What are you doing here? I thought you’d left!”
Devyani shrugged. “I was about to, but then I thought you might need this.” She handed Khushi the mug. “It’s chamomile tea. Very, very soothing and it’ll help calm your nerves a sight better than that nasty black coffee you’re so addicted to.”
A wave of gratitude washed over Khushi and the missing tears suddenly felt close to spilling from her eyes.
“I…thank you. You didn’t have to, but thank you.”
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Get some sleep. It’s been a bloody long day. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Khushi sat down on the steps of her vanity van, inhaling the aromatic steam that rose from the mug in her hand. The buzz of activity on set as the crew wound up for the day was a pleasant distant hum. A quick shower earlier in the evening had cooled the breeze and sweetened the earth.
Khushi suddenly felt a lot better than she had a few minutes ago.
A fact that may or may not have had something to do with the dark blue ceramic mug in her hand that she knew belonged to one asshole of a director.
Fifteen minutes later when Khushi went in search of him to return his mug, she found him talking on his cell phone, lounging around the entrance to the editing room. He nodded once before returning to his conversation and she waited for him to wrap up.
“Nothing. Just wanted to return your mug.” Khushi smiled and held it out towards him.
He took it without comment. “Thank you.”
Khushi stared at him, waiting for him to say something. When he didn’t, she stepped forward and slipped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder. “Thank you.”
In response, he only returned her embrace, pulling her closer and stroking her hair.
Khushi inhaled deeply and sighed. He smelled of cigarette smoke, innumerable cups of coffee, the faint, lingering traces of cologne and salty sweat. She could easily fall asleep like this.
She pulled away reluctantly after a minute, mildly embarrassed. “Goodnight then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Khushi.” She could hear him grinning even without meeting his eyes. Bastard.
A second later she gasped as he leaned forward, his hands resting on her waist, pressed a kiss to her temple and walked away.
You’re a sick pervert, Khushi. He’s being unbelievably nice and comforting and all you can think about is how to get him to your apartment and tear that white shirt off of him. Get a grip and take another shower.
September 22, 2014
“You know what the rains are ideal for, lovelies? Garam chai (sugar-free), spicy pakodas (baked not fried) and a sizzling filmy romance! That’s right, the latest love-birds on the block are none other than our resident heartbreaker, Khushi Gupta and the delicious Arnav Raizada. While Arnav’s new movie Ek Pal is generating a lot of curiosity in the commercial circuit with his previous films Aahatein and Mandodari having done surprisingly well, we’re more interested in the brooding director and sexy siren’s personal equation. A little birdy told me that the two have been getting more than friendly and share everything from coffee mugs to sweet goodnight kisses.
Don’t you just love an old-fashioned romance?
We were wondering where the gorgeous Ms Gupta’s sudden interest in these arty-sharty films was coming from, especially now that she already has one National Award in her kitty, and we finally have the answer. It’s not so much the films as it is the filmmaker, apparently. Khushi, darling, we sympathize completely. At first we thought you were being greedy and aiming for another award. Now we realize that you have a much nobler end in view.
Arnav Raizada and Khushi Gupta were both predictably unavailable for comment, which suits us perfectly. The tired old ‘we’re just friends’ cliché makes things so boring.
So will Khushi Gupta lose interest and leave another broken heart behind? Will Arnav tire of a pretty façade with nothing behind it? Keep watching this space for more!”
Two pairs of eyes regarded the article in a leading newspaper’s Page 3 gossip column with equal parts disbelief and fury.
A/N: We should be able to wrap up in another part. Last part will be up in about 4ish days. For all those who’ve been asking for hints about what this is celebrating– there are PLENTY of hints in the story so far. 😉
And for all of you who have welcomed me back so kindly, thank you. It’s good to be back. Trust me, if I had the time, this is all I would do.
And finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY RITH123! We’re celebrating your birthday today, deal?