Arun Vijay. Popularly known as AV. Age twenty-four. His face seemed to be everywhere. On the covers of magazines. On billboards. At road crossings. It was the kind of face that you wouldn’t tire of wherever you saw it, irrespective of how many times you saw it. After two years of hard make-up, a strange kind of fairness had become frozen on his face. His olive black eyes had a clear tinge of sadness. A melancholy that deceived. The kind of eyes that made thousands of women lose sleep at night in yearning and agony. When his lips smiled, his hesitant eyes would take a while to join them. There was also a wee sign of a squint. Inside those rosy lips, one tooth looked a little out of place. There were those who said this was a significant feature of his good looks. Fans loved to discuss these quirks. And there were so many of them. So many.
Arun was still in the process of waking up. Standing at a height of five feet ten inches, he could look down at his female co-stars from where he could see the parting in their hair. Or peep into their brassieres.
He now wore a T-shirt with a lungi. Three hours of sleep deficit hung like a cloud over his droopy eyes. It was 1 a.m. when he’d hit his bed last night. Arun got up from the bed and peered into the mirror.
“When you peep into the mirror, do not look at yourself. Look at others.” He vaguely recalled a quote from Russian theatre guru Konstantin Stanislavski. “Must finish An Actor Prepares,” Arun told himself. But when? He also had to read Jean-Luc Godard. But when? He needed to visit the National Film Archives in Pune to watch Battleship Potemkin. But when? And make that experimental film. But when? Visit Uttamarkovil. But when?
Bhaskar glided into the room quietly and eyed the bottle of pills on the bedside. “So, you’ve started this again?” he asked.
“It’s Valium, man. Won’t do any harm.” Arun, unmindful of Bhaskar’s presence, took off his T-shirt and lungi, and walked naked to the towel stand and wrapped himself in one. He brushed his teeth noisily in the washbasin and splashed his face with water. The cold water infused some life back in him. He hummed happily to himself.
“What’s the day looking like, Bhaskar?”
“At 8.30 am, you’re at AVM Studio B. It’s a full day’s call sheet. You catch a plane to Bangalore in the evening and shoot through the night. Balu is waiting for you there. By morning, SP will send you two reels for a dubbing session at Chamundeshwari. You come back home by car in the afternoon.”
“Eeeeeeeee! When am I going to get some sleep?”
“You have five hours in the car back from Bangalore, Arun.” Bhaskar offered him another towel, afraid he just might take off the one from his waist to wipe his face. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. Gnanasekaran is waiting on the studio floor for you. To do an interview.”
“Gnanasekaran? Kick him! Bash him up!”
“The interview is with college girls.”
“I guess it’s fine then,” Arun said.
“Apparently their mothers are tagging along.”
“Oh god, that is awful. Leave me alone,” Arun said, and then paused. “But you never know. Sometimes, the moms are more attractive. Once, in Ooty, one of them took my hand, put it on her chest and said, ‘Look how my heart beats for you.’”
“There is also somebody called Lakshmanan waiting for you. He insists on meeting you. Been waiting for a while.”
“Let him wait, my dear machine!” he told the secretary. “And do tell me when I am going to get some real rest.”
Arun took a hard look at Bhaskar. “I am finished. I am dead.” he said. “I am going to hang as a portrait on the wall before I turn thirty!”
“Bhaskar, why aren’t you married yet?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Tell me the truth – you’ve never slept with a woman before, have you?”
“Don’t be silly!”
Arun combed his hair and then ruffled it with his fingers. He put on a black-and-blue shirt and trousers and zipped up in a hurry. An elderly lady walked in with idlis and filter coffee on a platter.
“Maami, how are you?”
She smiled in answer.
“Send me some boiled cabbage and cauliflower with salt and a bowl of curd for lunch,” he instructed. “And just a spoonful of rice. Only this much,” he said, gesturing with his fingers.
“Okay, pa,” she nodded. She was about fifty years old, a widow fallen on hard days.
“And how about my wonderful relatives? Have they all woken up?” Arun asked.
“Have they all eaten their free meals?”
As the lady stood frozen in embarrassment, Bhaskar chided Arun. “Don’t you know what to speak and with whom?” And then he said, “Maami, you please carry on.”
“Bastards!” Arun was not yet done. It was apparent he was fuming at someone not in the room. “What movie are we shooting today?” he asked Bhaskar.
“Annayin Thyaagam,” he said. Hmm. A movie on a mother’s sacrifice.
“My god! With that cow Premalatha! Bhaskar, she eats garlic and splashes Charlie on herself. Why does she use so much? I can smell it when I am crossing the Kodambakkam Bridge. Oh, these Andhra girls…”
They both walked downstairs. The phones were still ringing. Unmindful, Arun walked up to the car that was waiting for him in the portico.
“Glad you are back home, thambi,” Lakshmanan said, still hoping to get a word in. Arun walked on as if the man did not exist and got into the car. Bhaskar hopped into the front seat.
“Please, thambi,” the persistent producer dashed after him. “I need those dates only in February. I can adjust the call sheets. You just have to sign and attend the puja on this amavasai.”
“Get lost!” Arun snapped harshly. The car sped off.
Lakshmanan stood stunned for a while as he watched the car leave and then muttered to himself, “You creep! You call yourself a human being? I’ll finish you off one day – you just watch.”
Excerpted with permission from Dream Factory, Sujatha, translated from the Tamil by Madhavan Narayanan, HarperCollins India.