Sona has been waiting in the coffee shop for twenty minutes, and has been pleasantly surprised by the number of people giving her that furtive, surprised second glance that indicates that they recognise her. She would not have thought the West Bandra crowd would watch a soap on Colours that runs against the Zee English rerun of Friends, but then the second smart young college girl on a date with her boyfriend stops to say how much she enjoys her Nikita D’Souza role. Sona smiles charmingly, and signs an autograph on a paper napkin for the Bihari waiter who grins about it to a clearly unimpressed North-Eastern cashier.
The Nikita D’Souza role has not only paid for her new flat in Malad, but has been the subject of Bombay Times articles that question, “Do men actually want a saucy, sexy Nikki even when they marry a simple Namrata?” And Kunal, who is now writing serious culture pieces for Tehelka, forwarded her a link to a blog post that talked about how Nikki was one of the few Christian characters on mainstream Indian TV who was permitted to not be a vamp. The blog post had comments even from people in Houston, USA, and Melbourne, Australia. Sona knew, vaguely, that cable TV reached everywhere, but she still remembers how surprised she was when she had been flown to Dubai for some promo party, and two Malaysian ladies had talked her ear off for half an hour about how upset they were when Nikki’s kid brother Pinto got killed by the heroine’s sister’s drunk husband’s car.
A girl plonks down in the chair across from her, and starts babbling anxiously about how she’s so sorry, her phone got wet in the rain, and she couldn’t get on the express and so had to take the slow local all the way from Churchgate, and she knows Sona must be really busy with all her work and she really appreciates that she has waited for her, and motherswear she is not normally this unprofessional.
Sona sighs, and calms the girl down. She’s a Mumbaikar, born and raised in Dadar, who went abroad for film school and now is back to shoot a film with her daddy’s black money. Sona’s seen too many rich brats to be bitter, and so she lets the kid—the director—pull out a script and then eagerly narrate the synopsis.
“…and because it’s an art film, we’re actually going to, that is, I’m hoping, I mean, I am really planning to make sure… well, that is, your character will be kissing her, in the end.”
Sona bites back a smile, and pages through the script. The director quails a little at the silence, and makes hesitant, defensive comments about how she knows it might have repercussions on a famous soap star to play a lesbian character who doesn’t even die at the end, but has the audacity to live happily ever after, but how she needed to make a film that was set in a chawl to show that it wasn’t just some phirang thing, like that fucking awful Dostana movie, and how she knows the money is shit, but there are those action sequences in the Marine Drive scenes and she’s seen Sona’s old movies, the Bhojpuri ones where she jumped off a horse and she wrote the script with her in mind, motherswear.
Sona checks her phone, and grins. The ad agency has agreed to her price, which means that she can do the ceiling fan ad shoot in Mauritius and afford to take the three months off that this film is going to require despite the girl’s fancy foreign shot breakdown that insists it will be wrapped up in eight weeks.
Sona doesn’t know about foreign films, with their sync sound and NDAs, but she knows this industry.
“I’ll do it,” she says, and watches an incredulous smile rise like a sunrise across the girl’s face. And then she smiles a serene, satisfied grin of her own as she invites her director to a film festival in Dadar, where the Marathi picture with Sona’s guest appearance as a laavni dancer is being screened.
Sona knows all the rules of a successful professional courtship, and she lets the director pay for their overpriced coffee, before pulling her towards a paan stall for something meetha to seal the deal.