The Day I Got Shot
Living In A Violent World
In this violent world, getting shot at is a distinct possibility and something we must accept as a harsh reality. But to be a target twice in one lifetime should be enough to reinforce one’s belief in God and kismet. For me, the first time was when I was hijacked at gunpoint in Kenya. The second time was no less dramatic but in different fashion, many years later in the western Indian city of Pune.
A TV Commercial
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of the second episode, let me tell you what happened at the park last evening. There I was, doing my limbering up thing when up walks my young friend Ranjan. “Hi Sabu” he says, “Would you like to take part in a TV commercial”? I nod, surprised that anyone would consider me model material.
Ranjan introduces me to Smitha, a pretty young lady who is part of the casting crew of a film production company. Before I know it, there I am holding against my chest a white board with my name on it. You know the way prisoners do. I try desperately to cover the pronounced bald patch on my head with my thinning hair before Smitha photographs me, I hope, into fame and posterity. I have no idea whether a serious look or a cheesy grin is more likely to impress the powers-that-be. The final product I guess is somewhere in-between.
Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr
The Bald and the Beautiful
Smitha mentions that she is looking for some more faces. Just then, I notice Pranay and his wife Mala entering the park. I think Mala, with her graceful looks, slim figure and greying hair will make a nice model and suggest this to Smitha who agrees that Mala is what she has in mind. I still continue to harbour doubts as to how my bald pate will figure in the scheme of things.
Smitha asks Mala and me to be ready by 6 o’clock the next morning when a taxi will pick us up. We are both to be dressed much as we are, in sporty wear and as a precaution, we should also carry alternate sets of formal wear, should the Director of the shoot decide on a last-minute change.
We Reach The Site
Early next morning I am rushing around packing into a bag what I hope are appropriate changes of attire. Mala has already arrived. Two boiled eggs lie uneaten and although I hate leaving home on an empty stomach, I reason that this is a small sacrifice for the fame that beckons so suddenly.
Mala, even at that unearthly hour, is her usual radiant self, silver-grey hair setting off the mauve tracksuit. She informs me that another hopeful star has to be picked up enroute. I am pleasantly surprised when this turns out to be my old friend Ahmed, who I know has done a bit of modeling earlier. We reach the shopping mall where the shoot is to take place around seven.
The shops are still closed at that early hour. A few security men look at us disinterestedly. The three of us exchange desultory conversation. Like me, Mala is a first-timer. She too is carrying a number of changes. Ahmed has a grey jacket over a white tee shirt and jeans and carries nothing else. Perhaps he knows more than we do.
The Competition Heats Up
We are soon joined by two young men who it turns out are studying at the local Film Institute—one with a small goatee is studying to be an actor, the other wishes to be a director. A little while later along comes a sharp-featured, fair-looking, well-constructed young lady. Ah, she must be the lead actress, I think. It turns out she is an Iranian from the US, a journalist visiting family in Pune. She carries an issue of Foreign Affairs , a learned magazine that immediately positions her as a beauty with brains. A short while later, another young man approaches the group and introduces himself as Ashutosh. He is a professor at a local engineering college.
So, the competition is heating up, I say to myself, as I try to gauge how each of them would look in front of a TV camera and what I could do to outsmart them. Surprisingly, no one has a clue what the shoot is about. Smitha isn’t telling either. Come to think of it, we form a motley crew. What product could this be—cutting across age groups, interests, clothes and hairstyles?
Breaking the Fast
It is now getting on to 8 o’clock and those little mice in my stomach are ready to revolt. Almost on cue, two men appear carrying baskets which we are told contain our breakfast. The first thing out of the basket is halwa (a sweetmeat usually eaten after lunch or dinner) and a small pouch containing chili pickle. Quite a bizarre combination for breakfast. Perhaps the chef has a keen sense of humour. The mystery is solved when an omlette appears next wrapped in two slices of bread. These are quickly devoured.
The Plot Thickens
Meanwhile the casting director, another young woman named Radhika, appears. She seems to know most of the people around and greets Ahmed affectionately. Ahmed quizzes her about the nature of the shoot. She is not forthcoming either. The suspense is finally broken when one of the young men says he has heard that the product is a motorcycle and one of Bollywood’s hottest attractions named Ranbir Kapoor is the star. This would explain the long delay as movie stars are not known to be icons of punctuality.
But what, I wonder, are grey-haired women and balding men doing in a TV shoot for a motorcycle? The obvious target market for a mobike is youth. “Perhaps we are meant just to be part of the décor or a crowd,” says Mala. Or perhaps they wish to show parents who encourage mobike riding, I reason, in which case we may still win more than a walk-on part.
Patience Is the Name of the Game
The morning wears on and between Radhika and Smitha, we are cajoled and consoled and shown visions of greatness whenever anyone threatens to depart. Both of them are in constant contact with the production team through a walkie-talkie handset and we are repeatedly told that things are getting ready.
Ahmed tells us that waiting is part of this game. The location of the set is still a secret. Eventually, the two aspiring students are called and a car takes them to the set. Things seem to be moving at last. The Iranian girl is next.
I am hoping that since Mala and I were together at the park, we will be cast together. But my hopes are dashed when Smitha says that Ahmed and Mala have been called. That leaves me and the Professor still waiting. The clock meanwhile has struck One. We have been waiting for six hours. Fame doesn’t come easy I guess. Even great stars have had to wait, albeit in more comfortable surroundings.
Ahmed and Mala return. When I ask Ahmed what transpired, he is deliciously vague. “Go and see for yourself,” he says. I am intrigued by his response and figure that the genes that control male competitiveness are making him act the way he is.
The Wait Ends
Finally, the great moment comes. Apologising profusely, Smitha ushers the Professor and me into the car and bids us good luck. We are driven to a park nearby where another crew member named Sandeep asks us to wait under a big tree. Sandeep asks me to change my shoes saying the Director is a very finicky person and my white shoes may appear incongruous in the shot. I think that is strange considering I am wearing sports clothes but decide to keep my opinion to myself.
He asks me to try on his shoes and says he will try and find another pair before the shoot starts. I sit on the bench, untie my laces and remove one shoe. The Professor is facing me and we are talking about how long the entire episode has taken. Both of us swear that we shall never volunteer for a TV shoot again.
Just as I bend to put on one of Sandeep’s gargantuan shoes, there is a loud thud. The professor looks up and startled, leaps backwards, arms flailing. I turn around to see that a large greenish yellow object that looks like a mango has fallen from the tree onto the nearby road. The object is so big that a man would have difficulty putting his arms around it. With one of my shoes on and one of Sandeep’s, I limp towards a security man who has run towards the tree and ask him to remove the mango so that there is no danger to oncoming traffic.
By this time, Sandeep is back. He shakes my hand and says “Well done. The Director is happy with the shot”. “What shot?” I ask. The crew member says there were two cameras focused on us during the entire episode. The shot was for a mango-based soft drink advertisement and the idea was to record our natural, unrehearsed reactions to the falling mango.
It seems ours was the first shot that went off without a hitch. So my worthy competitors lost out for no fault of their own. I do not know whether our shot will live beyond the editing table as they still have to shoot at other locations including one at the airport where these large mangoes will come off the belt conveyor.
So this, my dear friend is how I ended up being a target for the second time in my life. And it is true I almost died—of boredom that is.
In retrospect, the entire experience was interesting. I met new people and learnt that patience is a virtue well worth having. Yes, if they ask me I shall volunteer again. Just so long as they ensure the mango does not land on my head, and the shot they use is film in a camera and not buckshot.
On Air At Last
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