Shriya examined herself in the mirror, smiled, gave a thumbs up signal and exclaimed,” Go Shriya go. Go conquer the hearts of the audience as you always do. Mesmerise them with your fabulous performance. The stage is all yours. You are the best.” Just then she heard her name being announced. Giving a final glance at herself, she walked onto the stage. The curtains were still drawn. She took her position.
As soon as the curtains were lifted, she heard the Oohs and the Aahs. “ Oh my she looks exactly like the actress Rekha. The same almond shaped eyes, the short pert nose, the small curved painted red lips and of course the mole on her upper lip.” Shriya was by now used to these remarks. She did not let it distract her. Today she was performing the famous dance number ‘ Dil Cheez Kya Hai’ from the movie Umrao Jaan.
She was attired in the similar cream and gold anarkali with her maang tikka on the side of her forehead. Shriya played the tragedy stricken courtesan with ease enthralling the audience with her grace, poise, the delicate nuances and her impeccable expressions. She transported the audience back in time and captivated their attention. As she was performing, her eyes were scanning the audience , for that perfect someone. But she couldn’t spot him. Unknown to her, hidden from view was a person who just couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Her performance came to an end and the audience rose to applaud her. She bowed her head in respect and made her exit. Shriya was a little disappointed. She had only one dream from the day she turned eighteen. “When will I find my very own Amitabh Bachan?” She had celebrated her twenty fifth birthday recently and she was beginning to get flustered and impatient.
Her parents were at a loss. They couldn’t fathom the extent of their daughter’s extreme obsession with Bollywood especially Rekha and Amitabh Bachan. Her mother lamented, “ This girl is forever on cloud nine, behaving like a diva. She is so starstruck. ” Her father however would support her and say,” And whose fault is that? We only took her to watch their movies because of our obsession.”
Shriya was changing when there was a knock at the door. It was her father informing her that there were people waiting to interact with her and congratulate her. Shriya changed into a simple cotton cream coloured churidar kurta, left her wavy hair loose on one side and stepped out to greet her fans. She loved the attention and adulation from them. She posed for photographs with a few of them. From the corner of her eye she saw a really tall young man standing at a safe distance waiting for the crowd to disperse.
Shriya’s curiosity was aroused. As the crowd began to thin, she watched him walking towards her. It was his denim jacket casually thrown around his left shoulder that caught her attention. He had thick hair, the same dark brown eyes, well chiseled lips and lanky body. Just two or three strides of his long legs and he was now standing in front of her. He smiled, offered his hand and said,” Hi, I am Amit Kumar and I just wanted to say how brilliant your performance was.” Shriya almost swooned. He had the same baritone voice. Shriya couldn’t believe her eyes. Amit……short for Amitabh, is this really happening, she wondered.
A short cough from her father brought her back to her senses. He introduced himself saying, “ I am an Event Manager. I arrange performances all over the country and even abroad. If you are interested in expanding your horizons please do get in touch with me. We can work out all the nitty gritties once you have decided. Please think about it. You have great potential and I think the world should see you.” He pressed a card into her tiny hand and sauntered off. Before she could even gather her wits, he just disappeared.
Shriya was in a daze. She was tongue tied for the first time in her life. As she sat in the car, she toyed with the visiting card in her hand. She was just six years when she watched her first Amitabh Rekha movie and she had returned home feeling euphoric. Every movie her parents took her to watch of their favourite stars had a deep impact on her. As she grew older, it was her friends who first noticed her close resemblance to Rekha especially in the movie Khubsurat, with her two long pigtails and non stop chattering. She thought of the strange encounter with Amit.
Shriya’s father looked at his daughter through the rear mirror. His chatterbox daughter was silent today. That young man Amit definitely shook the boat. Shriya’s mother too noticed her daughter’s silence. These silences were rare occasions in their otherwise noisy household. Shriya didn’t utter a word. She straight away went into her room and locked it pleading to have some time to herself. Her parents left her alone knowing the repercussions if they did so.
Shriya lay on her bed, the visiting card still in her hand. She had been dancing since the age of five. Her parents had enrolled her in a dance school watching her perform brilliantly, imitating the stars on T.V, not missing a single step or expression. She went on to do her graduation and post graduation in dance. She wanted to master all forms of dance.The stage was her second home.She started performing some famous dance numbers of her idol and people went crazy over them.
Shriya realised her concerts were limited only to her city Mumbai. She once again looked at the card. She contemplated on her future. “ I cannot be a small frog in the pond. I have to explore something outside my comfort zone. Dad cannot be my Manager all my life. He is getting old. I need an agent who will help me broaden my horizons.I want to be famous and renowned all over the world just like my famous stars.” With these thoughts in mind she drifted off to a deep slumber dreaming of Amit.
Shriya was confident about her decision. She informed her parents about it. They just accepted as no argument could be won against Shriya once she had made up her mind. Shriya called Amit. The same baritone voice said,” Hello, Amit Kumar speaking.” Shriya sat down feeling weak on her knees. Faltering, she replied,” Hi, I am Shriya. Can you meet me today to discuss a few things?” He immediately consented and fixed up a meeting.
Shriya noticed the crestfallen face of her father. She assured him she will be cautious and not take any hasty decisions. He realised that his daughter had grown up and wanted to find her own bearings.Shriya had butterflies in her stomach . She was going for a business meeting, that’s it.Then why did she feel she was going on her first proper date? She chose a simple white top and jeans. There were days when she wanted to be just herself and not a diva.
Amit was punctual. He was wearing a simple white cotton shirt and dark blue jeans. He too was dressed casually. Yet it caused a flutter in her heart. He was polite and courteous towards her parents. Shriya noticed that her mother was taken in by him. She kept smiling at him foolishly. Her father on the other hand was rather formal and brusque. He took her to a nice cosy coffee shop which had private cubicles so that no one would disturb them. After the usual pleasantries, Amit briefed her about his work and the plans he had for her.
Shriya was mighty impressed with the repertoire of clients he had under him. Some very well known dancers and artists were under his belt. He had travelled almost half the world conducting dance and music concerts. He had even roped in some actors and actresses to grace a few occasions. It was obvious he was well connected and his company represented many personalities from diverse fields. What was more surprising was the fact that he had also done a thorough homework about Shriya, her performances and the concerts.
Shriya returned home in a happy and chirpy mood. Her father scrutinized the contract minutely. It seemed okay, nothing to worry about. He suggested,” Let’s do some shows in India first. Better to take baby steps. If it goes well, we will think of performances outside the country.” Shriya was excited about the fact her father didn’t turn down the proposal made by Amit downright. The next day she told Amit about the suggestion. He readily agreed to it. Shriya signed the contract. Her first show would be with a troupe of various artists in Delhi though hers would be a solo performance.
Shriya practised diligently. She had to prove herself. Amit had told her,” We always save the best for the last. So yours will be the last performance, like a grand finale.” Shriya was enthusiastic and all charged up on hearing this. The concert in Delhi was a huge success. People flocked to her to congratulate her. Like a film star she had to be whisked away from a back entrance. She never expected this kind of an adulation on her first big concert. She was in seventh heaven. She couldn’t thank Amit enough. Amit on the other hand assured her coolly and calmly that he was just doing his job. It was purely her talent that was drawing in the crowd.
For the next six months Shriya was booked. She was performing in six different cities: Jaipur, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. She shuttled from one city to another garnering more and more fans. Every concert was a hit and Shriya was the star performer of the troupe. She also won the hearts of every member of the group, she was their favourite, the lucky mascot. Her father accompanied her for most of the shows, he was still wary as far as his darling daughter was concerned.
One night Amit took her out for dinner after another stupendous concert. Shriya had been dreaming of Amit quite often and even after six months of being in his company, she still was coy and bashful in his company. He had selected a wonderful restaurant with a beautiful view. Shriya chose a red silk suit for the occasion. She looked resplendent in it and noticed Amit’s eyes lingering on her a couple of times. After a sumptuous dinner he said, “Shriya, you have been wonderful in all the concerts. The audience just loves you. I have a surprise for you. You just need to trust me on this one. I can only disclose one thing. You are going international.”
Shriya returned home feeling dizzy in her head. What was Amit planning and why the big surprise? Was she ready to place her trust wholly on him? What will she tell her father? Shriya loved surprises but this was too big a decision. She decided to sleep over it. The next day she announced to her parents,” I have got an international show. Amit has started with the paperwork. I have to travel alone with the troupe and of course Amit will be there.” Shriya’s father wanted more details but he didn’t get any from Shriya. It was a surprise and she herself was feeling a little lost.
Within two weeks all the formalities were completed and Shriya was on her way to the airport with Amit. He informed her that the troupe would accompany them two days later. Only when she got the boarding pass in her hand, she learnt her destination was Saudi Arabia. She was bewildered, became alert, warning bells started ringing. Saudi Arabia and Dance! Isn’t it a bane there? Something fishy about the whole thing,” she thought to herself. It was a surprise so she couldn’t ask Amit anything. She decided to remain calm and go with the flow. While Amit was away interacting with few officials, Shriya herself decided to act upon her own instincts.
Four hours later Shriya landed in Saudi Arabia. There were new rules for women tourists. As long as they were modestly dressed ,covering their knees and shoulders, they didn’t have to wear the hijab or abaya. She was wary of Amit now but hid her nervousness in front of him. He had contacts everywhere. He asked her to be seated in a designated place while he took care of their baggage and paperwork. She phoned her parents on her arrival. She knew there were a few relatives from her father’s side staying here for many years. She asked her father to send her their phone numbers and other details.
Amit was at his charming best, trying to ease her and make her comfortable. Throughout the flight he didn’t disclose anything to Shriya. A car was waiting for them which took them straight to The Ritz Carlton in Riyadh.Shriya gasped at the luxurious wonder in front of her, it was sheer opulence. Amit said,” This is your first surprise. Let me lead you to your room.” Shriya was dumbstruck. It was The Royal Suite. She wondered if the whole troupe was booked in here or only her. Amit swirled her around suddenly and exclaimed,” Only the best for you my darling!” Shriya was taken aback at this gesture and face reflected a myriad of emotions. Amit went on, “ And now for the main surprise.You have been especially chosen to perform for the Royal family. I showed them the videos of your performances and they were just blown away.”
Before Shriya could absorb what was happening, Amit asked her to rest and just disappeared leaving a whiff of his fragrance behind. Everything was happening too fast. Her sixth sense was warning her of an impending doom. Her mind was racing. Amit was always polite, courteous and attentive towards her and she was slowly falling for him but now she was jittery about the whole thing. She was beginning to have doubts about him. Was he a wolf in sheep’s clothing? He was definitely not what he appeared to be.There was an ulterior motive in bringing her here. She had to find the missing link. She locked the door firmly and opened her suitcase. She took out her second mobile and the copies of her passport. She also took out the hijab which she had brought along.
Shriya looked breathtakingly beautiful in her pale lime green silk sharara suit with zardozi work. Amit couldn’t take his eyes off her. A limousine was waiting at the foyer. Shriya was knotted up from inside but appeared calm and composed. She had to keep her wits about. Amit casually asked her,” I hope you have carried your passport with you? You can give it to me if you want for safekeeping.” Shriya hesitantly handed over her passport to him. He slipped it in the inside pocket of his suit. He was wearing a dark navy blue suit with a red silk tie. Shriya was finding it difficult to keep her eyes off him. Can her hero be a villian? She sighed.
Shriya was nervous and excited at the same time. The palace was grand and eloquent. There were only a few guests, the ladies sitting on one side, a transparent veil separating them from the men. A stage was set in the centre. After the initial introductions, it was time for her to perform. She had prepared a medley of all the famous dance numbers of her heroine Rekha. Throughout her dance, her eyes scanned for Amit. Instead of watching her perform, he was busy talking to a group of men and at one point he even took out her passport and showed it to them. Now she was convinced there was something more in bringing her to Saudi Arabia. She was a bundle of knots from within but exhibited confidence.
As soon as her performance ended, she was swarmed from all sides by the men. They were getting too close for comfort. She noticed that all the women had disappeared except for one who kept staring at her,gauging her. Amit seemed to have vanished into thin air. His surprise for her was nauseating. She was feeling faint. She gasped for air and indicated that she wanted to use the washroom. The men seemed agitated to let her go but they complied to her wishes. Miraculously the same woman appeared by her side and guided her towards the washroom. Once inside Shriya acted fast. She quickly changed into comfortable clothes and wore the hijab over it. She took out her second phone and made a few phone calls. She peeped outside, the coast was clear.
The palace was huge and Shriya went unnoticed. She was in the women’s section and there were many walking around in hijab. A car was waiting for her at the main entrance. She got into it and said “Airport please.” Shriya heaved a sigh of relief. Amit thought he could fool a naive gullible girl like her but it was not without reason that people called her a female detective. She was well prepared. She had handed over her duplicate passport to Amit.Thank goodness he didn’t examine it minutely and just trusted her. She had contacted the embassy and apprised them of her fears. They had given her their full cooperation without arousing any suspicion. The woman who helped her was from the embassy.Less than an hour later Shriya was aboard a private charter flying to India. The heroic actions and decisions taken in the movies by her stars were her true saviours.
Shriya believed she had made her hero and her heroine proud by displaying true star qualities. The stardust had not settled completely for her.
* Prompt: Dancer, finds out loved person is not what he is, Middle East
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