Every day, thousands upon thousands of young people board trains and buses all over the country, leaving behind their homes and families, in order to come to Mumbai. With big dreams and little else stuffed into backpacks and suitcases, these young people all believe they’ll one day hit the jackpot in the big, bad world of Bollywood.
It is equally true that out of these, 99.9% of them never achieve what they’d set out to achieve. They fall prey to humiliation, exploitation: overburdened by the intangible costs demanded by the big city, they pay the price with a part of their soul.
The fractional percentage of people that do make it are treated to a false sense of security. Having struggled against all odds, they feel they’ve finally arrived, and start to take their stardom too seriously. But success is a fickle seductress: she flits easily from one to another, without a care for the one she’s leaving behind.
Women, especially, are dealt a cruel hand of fate. When their star is rising, it’s all good. The producers line up outside their door, ready to accept every little demand hurled at them by a condescending, rude, brash youngster, barely old enough to manage their lives, let alone make life-altering decisions (which film to choose, which endorsement to sign, which co-star to date…) Hangers-on can always be found around these starlets, from hairdressers, to makeup artists, managers to PR people, secretaries, assistants and the ubiquitous “man Fridays”: they’re all there, in abundant supply.
But when things get rough, these selfsame ‘yes men’ are the first to jump ship. PR agencies drop these stars on their downward spiral, hangers on abandon the out-of-work actresses for more lucrative prospects elsewhere, secretaries and assistants stop answering calls, because, “Mem sa’ab, sorry, very busy today. Kal call karoon aapko?”
The first harbingers of doom.
Then come the tragedies in their personal lives. Boyfriends and lovers suddenly lose patience with their “actress girlfriend’s” incessant whiny ways. They start to distance themselves from the women, with no explanations offered and no excuses given. They start to look for greener pastures, fuelling the falling star’s already mammoth catalogue of insecurities. Every girl agrees that when her career plummets, she’d at least like the support of a rock-solid man by her side. But if the man in question turns to sand, and is washed away by the troubled waters, it really is the beginning of the end.
A downward spiral into drugs, alcohol and depression. A pattern of abuse. A series of rebound, failed relationships. Desperation. Panic. Frustration. More desperation.
By now, the actress knows it’s only a matter of time.
She desperately tries to cling onto any semblance of fame that’s tossed with pity towards her. She’ll readily agree to appear in sleazy ad-films, endorse tier two products, appear in B-grade and C-grade films, if only to keep the ship afloat.
She’ll try her best to network with the few semi-powerful people she met on her way up the ladder; the ones she’d treated with derision and defiance. Memory doesn’t serve her: they remember each injustice and humiliation meted out to them, and even more unfortunately for her, have kept the fire of vengeance burning within them. Outwardly, of course, they’ll promise her all sorts of deals; they’ll throw her a frayed rope to hold onto, while she desperately tries to cling onto the edges of the boat. They’ll throw scraps of food at her, food that’ll barely keep her alive, but won’t nourish her soul.
And then, all too suddenly, even that will be taken away from her. Now she really will be left alone out at sea. Shipwrecked and drowning, she’ll make a last-ditch effort to save herself.
Sometimes, a lifeboat magically appears on the ship. A rich, NRI businessman will turn into a manna from heaven, if he offers the fallen star marriage and the chance to redeem herself.
Alas, for the less fortunate ones, even this last option is a limited-time-only proposition. If she fails to grab this opportunity, in the vain hope that things will turn around someday, she will be finished.
And then, comes the cruel hum of the whirling ceiling fan. The soft, bittersweet rustle of the dupatta. The bright, tantalising glint of the shiny new blade. The strong, silent appeal of the revolver. The promise of nothingness.
Whirr. Rustle. Snap.
Shine. Glint. Slit.
Open. Click. Bang.
It’s over now. You’re free. You can finally rest your head, my lovely, without a care in the world.