Dhavani - complete short story
The Dream of an Actress
If looks can kill, sarees are accessories to murder. In my three years of acting, sarees have helped make me look soft and demure, strict and matronly, pious and orthodox, and frequently mysterious and seductive. Gujarathi housewife, Marathi fisherwoman, Tamilian bride — I have portrayed them all, with the support of five or six metres of eloquent fabric.
My sarees have caressed heroic faces and been pulled by villainous hands. They have been convenient in providing privacy to breast-fed babies or in ending tragic lives. I am a star and my sarees are popular. Shops now sell sarees branded after my film or me.
In my latest, which you have, no doubt, watched at least five times, the director-cameraman has used my saree as a powerful tool of communication. For example, in the airport scene, my character’s conservative upbringing permits her to greet her husband only with joined palms and bowed head. The close-up shows glycerine-induced tears of happiness, but the long shot reveals the end of the saree waving a welcome, freely in the breeze. In the climax of this ‘family drama’, where I am supposed to be a pillar of strength, the vertical pleats of starched cotton make me resemble a Greek column.
You may even state that, to a great degree, I owe my success to my sarees. That could be true but let me tell you a little secret: They bore me stiff. After three years of being seen in these unnecessarily long pieces of cloth, I have grown sick and tired of sarees.
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And I have a dream my fans are not aware of: A dhavani dream. I fancy myself in a dhavani or half-saree. I wished, with all my heart, that an open-minded director would approach me for a dhavani-wearing role. Whenever I see a girl wearing one, a pang of nostalgia brings back memories of my village, my first love, temple bells, early-morning kolams and the smell of sambrani. Can’t put it accurately in words, but I promise you one thing. Give me a village girl’s role; Allow me to wear a green blouse, green skirt and a magenta half-saree; I will give you an award-winning performance. And it is not just sentiment; I have the figure for a dhavani. I have more flesh at the right places than, say, Miss Universe.
Now you will understand why, when an upcoming director-producer whose payment would very well end with a meagre advance, tried to book me for a village girl’s role, I agreed, though I was at the peak of my career. All for the coveted dhavani-role.
“Madam, my budget isn’t big. But my story is strong. I am setting it in a village near Madras and will use the locals for most roles. You have a strong role…”
“Do I wear a dhavani?”
“You will have to wear only half-sarees in the first half of the film. After you get married in the second scene of the second half you can wear sarees. And, you can wear ‘modern-dress’ in the dream-sequences.”
He didn’t get it. He thought he was doing me a favour. Who cares about his dream-sequences? My personal dream-sequences are dhavani dream-sequences.
“And there won’t be bathroom scenes, I promise. Only…er.. if you permit, the fans want it… a waterfall scene… No extreme close-ups, I promise.”
“No problem, sir,” I interrupted him with a kind smile. “I accept. Fix the advance with the manager.” I rose and he departed with his dreams.
I was thrilled. At last! I couldn’t wait for the shoot to start. When I danced around the statutory trees that day, I wasn’t acting. I was really happy!
The next week the director booked me with an advance that didn’t add up to my manager’s expectations. He was upset.
“If you want to wear a dhavani, madam, why can’t you do it in your free time? Why do you have to act in ‘cheap’ films?” He must have intended that pun. He didn’t understand! I am an actress, an exhibitionist. I want to be seen wearing a dhavani! I want dhavanis named after me!
Two days later, the god-sent director called me to invite me for the muhurtham.
“Great news, madam! Finance is arranged! We are shooting in Switzerland! You are studying in Europe! You can wear jeans and only ‘modern-dress!’”
Disappointment! I wouldn’t be needing glycerine for that day’s sob scene.
“But please bear with me, madam, when the hero dreams in the first half, you have to dance in a dhavani.”
Thank God for small mercies.