by Ananya Sarkar
It was raining at a rhythmic pace, noiselessly yet incessantly. He looked outside from time to time through the glass pane of the window. It offered a hazy view. The street lights glimmered in splotches of yellow against the damp darkness. Passing vehicles were obscured into individual whizzing flashes of colour. It was strange how small drops of water could distort the ordinary view of things. The rain made him feel wistful and restless today, arousing a poignant yearning and at the same time a tantalizing ache. It was as if it was beating in unison with his heartbeat and striking a deep, invisible chord somewhere. He found it difficult to concentrate on the script that he was reading.
At the other end of the room, he could see his wife arranging the cutlery on the table. Her long, lucent hair appeared like a cascade of black rivulets, enticing in its velvety richness. They were expecting guests tonight, one of his old school friends along his wife. The latter had not been able to attend his wedding due to an important overseas work assignment at the time. So he had extended an invitation to them to have dinner at his house today. It would be the first time that Sumit and Supriya would be meeting his wife. Of course, they must have already seen her picture alongside him in all the leading newspapers of the country as well as on the internet. And they had, in all probability, made their own offshoot comments on the match too. But during this visit, they would be personally acquainting themselves with Rekha.
He was a popular lead actor in the Indian film industry. At the age of twenty-nine, he boasted having several box-office hits to his credit such as Kahani (The Story), Josh (The Streak of Energy), Zindagi Ek Pal Ki (The Transience of Life), Bewafa (The Betrayer) and Adarsh Prem (Ideal Love). He had been paired opposite veteran heroines as well as newcomers to the glitz world. But no matter who his co-star was, with a few exceptions, his movies had always topped the charts, earning him bouquets of appraisal on the way. The media, of course, lost no time to hype about it. His name was showered with hyperbolic phrases such as “a smooth sailing to the top”, “the man with the Midas touch” and “the success-bearer”.
Inwardly, however, he sneered at the words. How easy it was for these journalists to derive conclusions about persons whom they hardly knew! You only had to observe the outward achievements of a public figure in order to pronounce veritable, palpable judgements on him or her. But…was it really that simple? For instance, what did they actually know about his efforts to come to
this point? Were they aware of the anxiety, inhibitions, and the mental struggles that he had combated, that corollary story to success so neatly stowed away in obscurity?
He remembered the awkwardness he felt when the director had for the first time announced the sequence of a kissing scene in the film. He had always associated this intimate act with one’s inmost feelings of the heart. But here, he was being asked to kiss an unknown young woman, a complete stranger! His mind veered on the possibilities of the outcome. Would he then be irresistibly attracted to the heroine? Would they grow physically and emotionally close? But even if the suppositions did occur (as in some cases they did), he had to restrain himself during the time of shooting. For after all, he was a professional here, simply required to carry out a convincing act.
Mentally schooling himself to this idea, he had absolved his mind of all feeling whatsoever at the particular moment. When the shoot began, he was only an automation going about his allotted task--- detached yet expressive, aloof yet sincere. It was approved on the first take as “excellent” and later went on to become one of the most talked-of scenes after the film’s release.
That was only the beginning, after which he went on to do quite a number of kissing scenes in the forthcoming films. Some were required to be done on bed, bare-bodied, with the heroine equally scantily clothed. But in all of them, he held his self apart, with not a little difficulty and determination. The warmth of his co-star’s skin against his own had at first kindled his blood, stroking the leaping flame in his bowels, but with practised control, it was subsumed in the vast ambit of neutrality. So that soon, he found himself capable of performing any intimate act on screen with laudable ease and perfection. There were no more contestable feelings vying with each other or trying to avert his concentration.
Yet, all this had involved not only patience, but varying degrees of anger, frustration and desiccation as well. It was, in fact, far from the “smooth sailing” with which the media identified him.
He had been married to Rekha for hardly a month. Rekha, his fashion-designer girlfriend for the past one year was now a loving, doting wife at home. He was glad to have her as his partner. A feeling of affection suddenly overcame him and he walked up to her. On gently touching her shoulder, she turned towards him, a little bemused. He bent his face to kiss her. But when he had closed his eyes and pressed his lips against hers, he could not feel. For the life of him, he could not feel. The end