18th March, 2015
Title: Ek Pal
Cast: Khushi Gupta, Ashwin Singh, Devyani Bapat, Amita Datta, Shailesh Sareen
Direction/Screenplay: Arnav Raizada
Music: Neil Raghavan
Production: Paagal Kutte Inc.
Duration: 122 minutes
The interesting thing about Arnav Raizada’s films is that you either love them or you hate them. They always incite such a visceral range of responses that it seems almost impossible for any viewer to remain indifferent to them. After the poignant Aahatein and edgy Mandodari, Ek Pal is no different. At thirty, Raizada already seems to be on his way to becoming a formidable name in the alternative films industry. Ek Pal’s story is straightforward– another Raizada hallmark. Jannat (Gupta), a young woman with no last name, is the owner of a shop that sells clocks in a nameless galli in Lucknow’s old city. While the place looks like any other shop peddling antiques and a little bit of Indian history and culture to gullible tourists, a second look makes certain oddities apparent. A professional photographer from a travel magazine, Rehaan, (Singh) stumbles upon her shop and an unlikely friendship springs between the two. Rehaan is in denial about his troubled marriage to a school teacher, Tasneem (Datta) while Jannat has her own set of problems that come to the fore as the film progresses. Ek Pal is a fascinating study in the role of time, realism vs romance, and truth vs illusion in relationships. The treatment is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Raizada– whimsical, unexpected and proof that the devil really is in the details. Stunning art direction and a haunting background score help Raizada draw the viewer into the hazy twilight world of Ek Pal with such finesse that the sharply juxtaposed scenes of everyday Lucknow bring you disconcertingly back to reality.
While veterans Bapat and Sareen deliver fabulous performances as Jannat’s grandmother and the neighbouring owner of a choodi shop respectively, newcomer Singh makes quite a mark too. Datta needs to work on her dialogue delivery, but fits the role of the tired-dissatisfied school teacher fairly well. The real surprise, however, is Khushi Gupta whose casting as Jannat was positively inspired. If Amaanat showed us that Ms Gupta is a force to reckon with in the world of 200 crore films about macho men, Ek Pal really pushes the envelope. Gupta doesn’t act, she lives Jannat.
Where the film flounders slightly is in its tendency to stop and admire its own beauty that begins affecting the pace in the second half of the film. Crisper editing could have easily shorn off twenty minutes without affecting its lyrical beauty.
Ek Pal is obviously not a film for everyone. Other than its obvious lack of a ‘big hero’, some viewers may find the deliberately ambiguous answers to what is real and what is not, too far on the ‘indie’ side. However, if you’re looking for a little bit of old-world Lucknow magic and a film that forces you to question what you know and believe to be true, Ek Pal hits the spot.
Tossing the newspaper away with an inelegant snort, Khushi tucked her head under Arnav’s chin, letting the warmth and gentle rise and fall of his bare chest lull her into a space of blank contentment. He ran his fingers through her hair, making her shiver with pleasure.
“Keep doing that and I’ll fall asleep right here.”
“I’m hoping you will.” He ran a thumb gently over the dark circles under her eyes, trying to erase them with his touch. “Let’s skip tonight’s party and stay in.”
Khushi didn’t even bother opening her eyes. “You know we can’t. This is a party to celebrate our film. We cannot skip it.”
“God, how narcissistic! We don’t even know how well the film will do! And NK Jr is already throwing a success party!”
Khushi grinned and tilted her head to meet his eyes. “Well…if everyone watching it is an obvious fan of yours like Anwesha Sanyal, we probably don’t have anything to worry about.”
Arnav rolled his eyes. “That Sanyal-woman is more pretentious than I am. And that isn’t an easy task. It’s like she memorizes pages of a film-terminology-thesaurus every night before bedtime. I almost wish she didn’t like my movies.”
“You and I both know that the reason she always speaks so glowingly of you is because you flirt absolutely shamelessly with her whenever you two meet.”
“Of that gray haired ex-film studies professor? You wish!”
It was Arnav’s turn to grin. He tightened the grip on her hair and leaned down to kiss her. The smile on her lips as she kissed him back unhurriedly sparked a need to pull her even closer. She obliged by swinging one leg over his thighs and grinding against him. A gurgle of shaky laughter escaped her as his wandering hands lifted her t-shirt and dug his fingers into her waist.
“Don’t! You know I’m ticklish!”
“I would never have guessed,” he drawled, whipping her t-shirt off and sliding his hands up and down her sides, teasing the underside of her breasts but never quite touching her where she wanted him to.
“Arnav!” Her tone warned him of severe consequences if he didn’t get a move on.
“Is this what you want?” he nipped at her ear lobe, just barely brushing his fingers over the taut peaks. Khushi didn’t bother responding. She tugged his mouth back to hers while simultaneously reaching behind her to unclip her bra and shrug it off.
This time he groaned, crushing her to him and flipping them over.
Imprisoning her hands in his own and pinning them beside her head on the pillow, he lowered his head, dropping feathery kisses around her breasts, slowly making his way to the centre of each. She squirmed trying to free her hands.
“Arnav…you know I don’t take well to being bossed around in the bedroom.”
He chided her with a smirk. “Liar. I think you protest every time I do it because it turns you on more than you care to admit.” Then he lowered his head again, drawing a hardened bud into his mouth and suckling gently.
All conscious thought fled Khushi’s brain as her back arched involuntarily and her eyes fluttered shut. She decided not to push the point this time.
Warm, heavy lethargy pulsed through their entangled limbs and hypnotized by the thundering of his heart under her palm, Khushi felt slightly disappointed when the haze started dissipating.
With a reluctant sigh she tried to push herself off his chest but found herself locked in his arms, unable to move an inch. “Arnav…let go! Both of us have to shower and get dressed! We’re already going to be late…and we’re going to be showing up together. We may as well tattoo ‘Yes, we’re dating.’ on our foreheads and be done with it. The media is going to have a field day! Let’s not make it worse.”
Arnav didn’t relax his hold on her. “Khushi, at this point, even if we hadn’t been dating, no one would have believed that we’re not. Bombay Glitz more or less ensured that. So I think we can lie in for a few more minutes. Let bloody NK Jr panic about whether we’re showing up or not. It would serve him right after what he did to us.”
“Are you sure it was Nishant who leaked all that info to Bombay Glitz?”
“Absolutely. I don’t flirt with film journalists to get them to give me good reviews, y’know? I do it to stay in the know. The good reviews are a bonus. Anwesha Sanyal told me herself– unofficially, of course– that the calls were from fucking Nishant Kapadia, on condition of anonymity. Publicity for his film and eyeballs for Bombay Glitz. Win-win.”
Khushi shook her head ruefully at the disgust in his tone. Arnav was still strangely idealistic about the world of filmmaking. And while it was undoubtedly one of the things she loved most about him, it also set him up for disillusionment and hurt all the time.
As she dropped a kiss on his chest, he finally loosened his arms, letting her sit up and stretch. “I’m showering first since I take longer to get dressed, but don’t you dare go back to sleep. It’s going to take us at least an hour to get there.”
Arnav covered his face with a pillow and stifled a groan. “God, just move in with me already! I live right in the heart of the city and not in the boondocks like you!”
“Firstly, I live in the old part of the town not the boondocks. It’s the posh part of the town– not nouveau riche like yours. The travel time is a small price to pay. Secondly, I have the better view so why would I want to leave? And thirdly,” her voice softened, “I need more time to think about it.”
He didn’t lower his pillow or say a word. Khushi waited, worrying her lower lip with her teeth. At long last, he pushed the pillow away and nodded, face impassive.
Khushi smiled, leaning down to kiss his stubbled cheek one last time before hopping into the shower.
Arnav inhaled deeply, letting the steam rising from the aromatic brew in his hands soothe him. Khushi sat curled up in the armchair opposite him, nursing her own cup of coffee.
She’d been strangely quiet all evening. Not so that the media or other acquaintances would notice, but to him it was as clear as day. She had been withdrawn and contemplative through the party and even after when he’d driven her home. The thought of what worried her so much had given him a pounding headache. He cursed himself for the millionth time for asking her to move in with him when she was clearly not quite ready for this step.
“Arnav, I wanted to talk to you about something. About moving in with you, that is.”
There was a sinking feeling in his stomach. Some instinct told him that he wasn’t going to like what he would hear next.
“I…I know this is the next logical step, but I just…don’t feel comfortable with it. Give me a little longer, please?”
Arnav nodded mutely, gripping the mug tighter. A hollow, numbness began gnawing at him from within, tempting him to acknowledge the pain it masked, but he dared not. The throbbing in his head worsened. He’d always known that there was a possibility she’d say no, but he hadn’t imagined how much it would bother him.
“Arnav? Are you…listening?”
He forced himself to take a gulp of the scalding liquid, the burn in his throat taking away slightly from the tightness in his chest. “Yeah.”
Khushi took an audible breath and looked hopefully at him. In her pyjamas, with her face scrubbed clean and hair pulled back with a clip, she looked gorgeous. And nothing like her screen goddess side. This was the Khushi Gupta he’d fallen in love with, he realized– this no-nonsense, hard-headed, fiercely independent woman who was full of contraries. And there was nothing he could do about it now. He smiled in resignation.
“I understand. Take your time. Talk to me when you feel you’re ready.”
Khushi looked so relieved; he had an irrational desire to laugh. She’d actually been worried about his reaction.
“But…there was something else.”
This time he looked genuinely worried.
“I’ve worked back to back on two films including Ek Pal and I’m absolutely exhausted. I need a vacation for my own sanity. Post-production for Jhilmil ends soon– by early April and I was thinking about taking off to Istanbul for a couple of weeks. En route, I’ll stop in Delhi for a few days and visit my older sister, Kalpana Di’s family. Will you…come with me? I don’t want to go alone.”
Her eyes shone with hope and just a touch of fear. That’s when Arnav had his second epiphany. Khushi may have her reasons for not wanting to move in with him, but she did care about him and was committed to this relationship. Knowing how much her family meant to her, this was her way of showing it to him.
He put the mug down on the table and held his hand out towards her. “I’d be crazy to say no. Come here.”
Her smile was dazzling as she jumped out of her chair and took his hand, sliding onto his lap and nestling in his arms with all the comfort and familiarity of a life time.
Arnav knew it was just a matter of time before she said yes.
5th April, 2015
“Would you like some iced tea, Josh–Arnav?” Payal smiled sweetly at him, completely ignoring the daggers her aunt was shooting at her.
Arnav grinned back. “Sure!”
Payal skipped away in glee, leaving Arnav and Khushi alone in her room. They’d arrived the previous evening, and after an elaborate lunch that day, Kalpana Di and her husband had retired to their bedroom for an afternoon siesta leaving Payal to entertain and chaperone her aunt and her aunt’s boyfriend.
“You know, I’d been a little nervous about meeting your sister and I’m still not entirely sure if she approves of me or not– but rarely have I seen the sort of enthusiasm for our relationship that Payal displays. It’s like she personally set us up or something.”
Khushi rolled her eyes, tamping down on the guilty urge to tell him about JoLav. “Payal is a romantic teenager no matter how hard she tries to conceal it behind a façade of nonchalant cynicism. That’s it.”
Payal returned in record time with three glasses of iced tea garnished with mint leaves and slices of lime, smile still in place.
“Here you go!”
“Payal! I was just telling your Maasi how happy you seem to be to see us…er…her, I mean. You guys are really close, huh?”
“Yes! Khushi Maasi is my most favourite Maasi in the world. Of course, she is my only Maasi in the world, but that is an irrelevant detail. I cannot tell you how cool it is that you two are going out! I am so happy for you!”
“Payaliya!” Khushi groaned. “What have talked about with regard to tact and propriety?”
“Cool it, Maasi! He’s practically family! Kya tact? I didn’t say I hope you two break up na? What’s your problem?”
Khushi shook her head, falling back on the pillow.
“Don’t listen to Maasi, Arnav. She can be such a wet blanket sometimes! I’m all of fourteen which means I am not the kid everyone thinks I am. Tell me about how you got together? Pleeeease! I swear when I read those Bombay Glitz articles about you and Maasi, I’d been so pissed off! I couldn’t believe Maasi hadn’t told me about you two! Then of course she explained that it was all just gossip and she hadn’t really been dating you at that point. But she still wouldn’t tell me anything about when and how you two actually got together!”
Arnav did his best to maintain a straight face, knowing Payal would never forgive him if he laughed.
“Er…I can’t really pinpoint a moment, I guess. We’d eventually become friends and we sort of were attracted to each other throughout. When exactly that became something more, I honestly can’t tell you. But I will tell you this much, those Bombay Glitz articles played their part in our relationship and forced us to acknowledge how we really felt about each other. We…have our differences. But we realized that we are far happier arguing together, than sulking separately.”
Payal sighed happily. “Just like JoLav.”
“Payaliya!” Khushi screeched, throwing a pillow at her niece.
“Uff Maasi, you’re being so silly about this! You’re together now! Do you even KNOW how the JoLav tag reacted every time an article about you two came out in the papers? It’s been NUTS!”
“Payaliya, will you PLEASE shut up and go away?”
“And leave you two alone here? I think not. I’m going to tell Arnav about JoLav whether you like it or not and then you’ll see how lame you’re being.”
Finally deciding to put Khushi out of her misery, Arnav took a deep breath, fiercely dispelled his desire to laugh and turned to Payal.
“Payal, will you please leave us alone for just half an hour? Khushi…er…Lavanya and I have some things to discuss.”
Ignoring Payal’s victorious whoop and Khushi’s look of horror, he firmly pushed Payal out of her own room and shut the door behind her.
“You…how long have you known about JoLav?”
Arnav folded his arms, cocking his head and smirking at her. “Since before your audition. Where do you think I’d first seen clips from Suhana Safar?”
“Yes. One of the art department interns from Mandodari, who had been a fan of that stupid Love Struck A Chord, had discovered the ‘JoLav’ fandom on tumblr and been hugely amused. She brought it to my attention. While I’d been amazed at how incredibly creative and absolutely vella some people are in life, I’d been particularly struck by the clips of yours from Suhana Safar. I watched it that night. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Khushi still looked horrified. “I don’t believe this. You’ve known all along? And you never said a word? Do you even know how many times I’ve been on the verge of telling you but didn’t only because I thought you’d laugh at me?”
Arnav did laugh at her words, coming to sit beside her on Payal’s bed. “I probably would have if you’d brought it up. You have to admit, it’s pretty funny. Who would have thought that your own niece would turn out to be a JoLav fan who’d actively wanted us together?”
A mischievous gleam appeared on Khushi’s face. “Did you go through the tag personally?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Does that mean you saw all the erotica being written about us?”
Arnav narrowed his eyes. “Yes, I did. THAT was disturbing. I…er…Josh apparently has an insatiable libido and also the stamina of a horse, not to mention the flexibility of a yoga guru. I hope you don’t expect any such thing from me.”
Khushi laughed. “Serves you right for not telling me sooner! Now you can spend the rest of our lives wondering whether I expect you to live up to Joshua.”
The smile faded from Arnav’s face, a stormy intensity replacing his good humour. “What did you say?”
Khushi looked bemused. “Er…that it serves you right?”
“No, after that. About us spending the rest of our lives together?”
Khushi shifted uncomfortably. “Oh. Yeah, I mean, it’s just a way of saying things. Don’t freak out.”
“So you mean that you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
“Of course, I do! Don’t be ridiculous, I lo–” Khushi stopped short. Her exasperation had led her to say more than she’d intended and she looked like a deer caught in headlights.
“You what, Khushi?” A hand shot out and caught her by the wrist, tugging her to him as she attempted to escape.
“Is that it?”
“What had you been expecting?”
“Love. I’d been expecting love.”
Khushi both looked and felt at a loss for words. Unable to meet the blazing honesty in his eyes and his voice, she frowned. “Well…you never indicated that you love me! How do I tell you that I love you?”
“What? I asked you to move in with me! How much more of an indication do you need? And you refused! Since we are talking about indications, that’s a pretty ominous one!”
“So what? I have a perfectly valid reason for refusing! If you must know…it’s because I don’t want to upset my grandmother! She’s very conservative. And while she’ll brush off gossip about me and my supposed boyfriends, I’d never be able to lie to her about actually living with you! And it would disappoint her so! That’s why I can’t move in with you right now– not without at least introducing you to her and stuff! But I asked you to come meet my family, didn’t I? That’s a huge deal!”
“You could have just told me that! You know I’d never push you to do anything you have a problem with! What do you want me to say now?”
Khushi gave him a watery smile. “The truth. Like always. Never lie to me about what you want or how you feel.”
Arnav clenched his jaw in frustration. “Fine. Khushi Gupta, I love you. I’ve been in love with you for a while now. And it drives me mad that you won’t say the words back to me.”
Khushi’s shoulders sagged and she looked at him in wonder. “You…mean it? You…actually said the words! That’s not what I…I…didn’t think…” She threw her arms around him, kissing him a little clumsily in her excitement.
“I love you, Arnav Raizada! I don’t know how long I’ve been in love with you. I just didn’t know how to tell you without coming off as a romantic fool whom you’d want to run away from.”
The light in his eyes gentled and he held her more securely against him. “Who said I don’t like romance? I just don’t like absurd romantic dramas. There is a world of difference.”
Khushi giggled although she felt suspiciously on the verge of tears. “You know…for all your airs, you really are very Joshua Lewis-types: moody, melodramatic declarations-wala romantic hero. I stand by my Hero Complex theory.”
Arnav threw his head back and laughed. “And you clearly fancy yourself the Lavanya Kashyap to my Joshua Lewis so we’re even.”
“Do you think Payaliya is standing outside and eavesdropping?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Should we let her back in? This is her room. I can’t believe you just said you love me here, in Payaliya’s room!”
As Arnav got up from the bed and went to open the door, he threw a wink over his shoulder at Khushi. “Well, I think it’s rather apt that we made our declarations in the room belonging to one of JoLav’s most ardent supporters ever. Never underestimate the power of a fangirl.”
Tada! After nearly 4000 words more than what I’d originally anticipated (I suck at editing), we’re finally done! (What a bunch of drama queens, you guys. I said ‘unfortunately’ the last time because it just meant that the story would take longer to wrap up.)
So, what are we celebrating?
Let me tell you another little (I promise) story. There is another fictional world out there that I am deeply passionate about. It is the Harry Potter universe created by JK Rowling. In that universe, my favouritest ship is Jily, that is, James Potter and Lily Evans– Harry’s parents. They never appear in the series except for in memories and dreams but they are two of my most favourite characters. Luckily for me, a lot of other people share my love for Jily and there is TONS of Jily fan fiction and fan art out there. If you scroll through the Jily tag on tumblr, you will often find gifsets that look as if they originated from a Marauders-based movie with the most adorable couple playing James and Lily. This freaked me out a little because there is no such movie. A little research told me that the featured actors Aaron Johnson and Karen Gillan have never worked together! These crazy talented fans just took clips from their individual movies and edited them to make it look like it’s all from one Harry Potter movie! You have to see it to believe it!
And then JK Rowling herself went and made this announcement and the kinda dormant Harry Potter fandom exploded again!
All of which just goes to show that there is nothing more exciting or unifying than fangirling.
So that is what this story is celebrating– the joy of being a fangirl. You can fangirl over anything. Whatever floats your boat, gives you feelz, and makes you cry and laugh all at once is worthy of being celebrated and cherished. A lot of you were very close in your guesses!
Thank you for being such fantastic fellow fangirls! I truly enjoy writing and being a part of this fandom– it has given me more than I’d ever believed to be possible. No, seriously.
Until we meet again,
Just another fangirl.