Books: The Silver Castle — Chapter 16 |
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Chapter 16

WHERE GUPTA was concerned, Sanjay had burned his boats, if that is the appropriate metaphor for saturating the floor on which one stands. It might be better to say he had painted himself into a corner. He had never earned enough from Gupta to make it worthwhile paying Ajay a commission, so he had never admitted the friendship. But his reasons were not just financial. Nor was Gupta’s coldness the decisive factor. Sanjay had simply — gradually but simply — grown sick of that way of life. The film world, with all its consuming purity of purpose, had taken him over. He had even concluded that if it came to a rupture with Elizabeth he would not try to repair the damage. As it happened, Elizabeth took the decision for him. She was not severe with him — or at any rate no more severe than she always was — but she was disinclined to argue.

“Well, you must have known that I would find it unacceptable if you tried the same trick again. You know what that means, ‘unacceptable’?”

“It means you are angry.”

“No, it means I am not angry. It means I am just going to write you off. But I expected it. Your ridiculous film magazines have driven you mad.”

Sanjay stood silent.

“Do you think you are going to be a big star? Do you think your face is going to be up there on the buildings? You with your broken nose.”

“I will not do love faces. I will do tough faces.”

“Well, maybe all those brainless women will love your tough face.” Then she did a strange thing. She reached out and touched his scarred eyebrow with her fingertip. “Tough face,” she said. “Go on, then, tough face. Come back to me one day if it all goes wrong.”

He thought she was giving him a chance to kiss her. He moved forward with his arms prepared for an embrace. “You’re beautiful when you’re angry,” he murmured.

“What are you doing? Go on. Go!” Sanjay, feeling silly, turned and left her little office. But only a short way down the street of saris he heard her calling.

“Hey, tough face!” He turned. She was standing at her doorway, still half inside it but leaning out. “Good luck.”

It was a message he needed. His first day on the new film he was thrown in at the deep end. More accurately, he was thrown off a balcony, at night. It was the same permanent street set where he had previously gone with the Australians, but it was a different film and this time he was in it. On the first afternoon of filming he was meant to be a sort of glorified extra, a member of a gang. All he had to do was fight with his fists. Rajiv was not there. It was an assistant fight arranger with an American cap worn backwards who took five minutes to show him how to throw a short punch and how to react when apparently struck. Sanjay got it right first take. This was a dubious triumph because when the night scenes started he found himself promoted immediately to the status of a gang member falling off a roof. “This is a very simple box-fall,” said the assistant fight arranger through his chewing gum. “You are only a junior so you don’t have to bounce off the awning. You just fall into those boxes down there. You can do a somersault?”

Sanjay did not precisely know whether he couldn’t, so he nodded. “Good. Just turn over a bit on the way down so you hit the boxes with your shoulders.”

Sanjay asked if his padded suit was ready.

“There are no padded suits in your colour. But you will not need one. It is a very simple fall. Just remember to let the other man fall first and bounce off the awning. The camera is coming up past him in a long panning shot and then it sees you as you go straight down. Nothing to it. But whatever you do, you must go. If there has to be a retake, you will not be in it. Understand?”

Sanjay understood. And indeed there was nothing to it. He and the other man were up there on the roof with lights behind them. The Pepsi sign, which the camera could not see, looked pale in the far distance. Down in the street there were more lights to illuminate them as they descended. On the other side of the street, behind the line of the camera, were all the people of the crew and its attendant services. Even the actors who were snacking or changing costume were looking up in expectation. So there was no choice. When Sanjay saw the other man bounce off the awning he had a powerful impulse to go home, but the thought of having his new career terminated on the first day was too much to bear, so he dosed his eyes and dived. He forgot all about turning over and went straight down head first into the boxes. They absorbed nearly all the impact. The contact between his head and the pavement was minimalised by the multiple layers of suddenly compressed cardboard. He was almost fully conscious when the assistant fight arranger helped him up.

“Not bad,” said the assistant fight arranger. His sharp voice was joined by another, deeper voice.

“Clever stuff. It looked real.”

“That was the director talking,” said the assistant fight arranger. “He was impressed. How many fingers am I holding up?”

Sanjay guessed. It had to be fewer than four and it looked like more than one. He said three.

“Pretty close. OK. Medical examination completed. Go and get something to drink. In half an hour we’ll do a set-up on the roof where you two chaps get hit before you fall over the edge. Then there’s just a couple of easy shots that show your gang making plans. No action. All easy. You’re having a good first day.”

When they wrapped at midnight, Sanjay was thinking clearly enough to realise that his first day had indeed been good. Just before he left he heard the director talking about him to the script editor. “Good face, that kid. Very tough. Injured beauty. The women like that.”

“We could put him next to the gang chief,” said the script editor. “He could be the silent, brooding lieutenant. With a death wish because of his lost love. Ready for any danger.”

“Any danger,” said the director reflectively. “Yes, I like the sound of that. Write him in. No words, though. Just the face.”

It was almost a part. Sanjay did not have any lines, but he had been given a character. He was even given a girlfriend, to whom he was meant to be indifferent. It was easy to be indifferent to her because she was a silly person with the apt name of Chattedee. But it was nice to be granted so much attention. Unfortunately he was not granted any more money. In his new elevated role he was excused work as an extra. This proved to be a mixed blessing. Over the next three weeks he had to turn up when he was on call, but he was paid only for those days. As an extra he would have drawn a day’s pay for just waiting. Now he was marked for payment only on the days when he did something. He never knew which days those would be far enough in advance to take work on another film. Stars and feature players with proper contracts and schedules could work on three or four films at once. The lowly had to be on hand. His pay scale as a junior stunt-man was double that of an extra but he was marked present for only two-thirds of the total time, so he barely came out ahead. The magnitude of the financial risk he was taking was brought painfully home to him. It was almost as painful as his bruises. The assistant fight arranger was, effectively, the fight arranger. Rajiv was hardly ever present. Rajiv was working on another film, at the Silver Castle. The exteriors for the film Sanjay was in were shot at another location, over the next hill, where nothing could be seen of the castle except two pointed towers with flags on them. The exterior set for the gangster film was a big modern house, or anyway it pretended to be. In actuality it was just a lot of separate walls around a courtyard in which the chorus of gangster girlfriends could dance to playback. In the facades and half-built rooms round this courtyard there were staircases to fall down and windows to be thrown through. Sanjay was excused from being thrown through windows. Only the fully-fledged stunt-men were required to do that. Sanjay lost some of his eagerness to try it when the assistant fight arranger filled him in on the facts.

“In Hollywood they always use toffee glass,” said the assistant fight arranger. “The glass is made of candy. It can’t hurt you even if you go through it face first. But here we can afford the toffee glass only for the big stunts. Mostly we have to use real glass and you have to know how to go through it with your arms up and plenty of padding. Very professional work. Maybe next year you can try it. Not now. I don’t want to be filling out a lot of forms.”

Sanjay was relieved. He found it hard enough just falling down short flights of stairs. The stairs were padded but they still scuffed his good suit, which was looking less good by the second week, and in the third week had to be replaced for filming. Sanjay was not fond of the substitute suit that he was issued. It was brown and too tight under the arms.

“His suit is a different colour,” said the director, a bearded mouth under a large-brimmed black hat tilted casually forward.

“We can assume his character had two suits,” said the ever-resourceful script editor. “I have checked the early scenes and there is no problem with matching. Maybe some of his mid-shots will have to come out.”

Sanjay did not enjoy hearing this. He had already learned that the closer the shot, the more desirable it was to appear in. At his level he could not expect to be given any individual close-ups, but in several mid-shots of the gang he had featured prominently. He was disappointed at the prospect of losing them. He was also disappointed at how rapidly his good new suit had been converted into something that looked much less impressive even after it had been cleaned at great expense. So from barely ahead on the deal he had graduated in the reverse direction to being considerably behind. Preoccupied with his sufferings, he added to them on the last day of shooting when he forgot to duck a punch. The stunt-man who threw it was one of the group who had warned him off on his previous film. Perhaps the man threw the punch an unnecessary distance. But Sanjay should have jerked his head back earlier. His lip was split quite badly. When the camera cut and all the bodies picked themselves up and dispersed, Sanjay was left there looking at the blood on his fingertips.

“I like the way he looks now,” said the director. “That is very good make-up for once.”

“That is real blood,” said the assistant fight arranger. “Vikram must have connected.”

“Real blood. I like that even better. Let’s get a close-up.”

“We are losing the light.” “They can pump it up in the lab. I must have that blood.”

Sanjay was encouraged not to touch his lip during the short time it took to adjust the set-up. Because he was still in shock, it was easy for him to stand still and wait. Quite often the director allowed his assistant to deal with the fight scenes. This time he looked through the eye-piece personally and even called for some lights on stands to be re-angled so that Sanjay’s bloody lip would show up to greater effect.

“Don’t move,” said the director. “Just keep looking stunned the way you are doing now.”

“Running,” said the operator. “Keep running,” said the director to the operator, walking to one side. Then he raised his voice to talk to Sanjay. “Now just use your eyes to look over here at me. Don’t move your face. That’s it. OK ... Cut! Put a mute end-board on that.”

Sanjay was led away to have his lip dabbed with something that stung. After a while, with everyone else going home, the assistant fight arranger joined him. “The director has been talking to the producer about you. He was saying how good you looked with the blood running down your chin and the look of pain in your eyes. It might lead to something, you never know. How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Three,” said Sanjay with some difficulty. He could see all right, but had trouble enunciating.

“Medical examination completed. Don’t forget to draw your pay.”

Sanjay’s mashed lip healed with a sinister bump, adding an extra point of interest to his face. His lip had plenty of time to get better. The monsoon had come again. Since most films of violence required a large amount of exterior shooting, there was a long time without work. It was not a good time for the lavatory roof so Sanjay visited Sunil in his slum room. There they would exchange magazines and smoke. There was a new magazine, Debonair, which featured bare female breasts. These demanded a lot of concentration, for which intense smoking was only appropriate. Sometimes they would smoke heroin, always performing the traditional elaborate ceremony with the silver paper. But their camaraderie was not what it had been. Sanjay got the sense that Sunil thought his erstwhile protégé nowadays required an extra size in hats. Sanjay did his best to talk down his achievements. Expressions of humility were, after all, soundly based. He hadn’t done much except get hit in the mouth. His income, averaged out over time, was less than before. Because he had broken his connection with Gupta without first lining up another protector, he would have found it hard to get back into that way of life even if he had wanted to. Sunil and Ajay might have arranged some casual work for him but he did not see himself in that role again.

He saw himself in a film role, as a tough face. Yet even here, when auditions started again, he found himself with weeks stretching ahead before the next violent films were scheduled to begin shooting. Lacking funds to go out, and reluctant to touch what was left of his nest-egg, he spent a lot of time in his room studying. “Speaking about Shashi Kapoor,” said Smart Alec in his excellent Good Oil column in Cine-Blitz, “I recently saw his Jab jab Phool Khile, Aa Gale Lag Jaa and Trishul and how I went into a depression, darlings! Couldn’t believe that this irresistibly charming man had wrecked his physique so drastically. It’s truly sad to see one of our most good-looking heroes in such awful shape. Perhaps that’s the reason why his role as the despairing Urdu poet in Muhafiz has a similar poignancy. Hope someone drills some sense into him. We really miss the Shashi Kapoor of yore.”

Having looked up ‘poignancy’ and ‘yore’, Sanjay took comfort. Even the greats had slumps in their careers. On the other hand it was galling to read about aspiring young actors already in the midst of an exciting life. “Recently bumped into Saif Ali Kahn,” said Smart Alec in another instalment of his fascinating column, “and let the lad know I’d heard that he’s played cupid between Kamar Bose and Raveena Tandon. Guffawing at my suggestion, he exclaimed that one needn’t play cupid to a guy like Kamar. Maybe he’s right. Is it any wonder then that Sharon Prabhakar found Kamar just right for her sexy man ensemble in a recently conducted poll? Phew!”

Though it was undoubtedly a healthy sense of ‘why not me?’ that helped spur Sanjay on, uncontrollable personal envy was not among his failings, but after he had looked up ‘guffaw’ he found it hard not to be envious of Saif Ali Kahn. It must be satisfying, he thought, to be in a position where one could guffaw at a distinguished, talented writer like Smart Alec. Sanjay looked into his fractured mirror and practised guffawing. It would have been easier if he had had someone to guffaw at. To his dismay, he now found that he himself was more likely to be the object of derision. The first film that he had been an extra in was released for the screen. Sanjay went to the Palace with Sunil’s gang for company. When they saw him climbing up the castle wall, everyone except Sunil guffawed. In the crowd outside afterwards, Dilip appeared. Dilip managed to guffaw and sneer simultaneously.

“We didn’t see much singing and dancing from you,” he said. “But you fell over quite well. You always were good at falling over.” Sanjay knew what he was referring to and felt the usual shame of the victim. Sunil tried to encourage him on the way home.

“Don’t listen to that kind of talk,” Sunil said. “It all comes from jealousy. Dilip would like to be the one meeting Raveena, you can bet on that.”

“I never met her,” said Sanjay candidly. “I hardly ever saw her. She was working on two other films as well, so she would just arrive and leave.”

“Oh well,” said Sunil. “You looked almost as natural as the others.” Sanjay correctly took this to mean that Sunil had thought his performance unnatural. What neither of them knew is that to see an acquaintance from your real life up on the screen is always to be struck by embarrassment at the incongruity. The opinion that matters is the one formed by all the people who don’t know you: the public. As yet unapprised of this important fact, for the time being Sanjay was invaded by a disabling self doubt. It was all he could do to haul himself down to the hiring hall every morning. But eventually he was called up to the gallery, where a remarkable new turn in his fortunes was announced.

“Apparently,” said the casting master, “Talat Anand was pleased with a close-up he took of you in his last film. He wants you specifically for the new film he is directing. A very important film with sewn songs and nine murders. No title as yet. But the female lead is the great Miranda. A particular favourite of mine. You will be one of her bodyguards. It is a very small part but there is three weeks of work all told. You will have two lines. One line is ‘Bow when you address the princess.’ Can you say that?”

“Bow when you address the princess.”

“Quite good. With a bit more of a snarl, perhaps.”

“What is my other line?”

“Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.”

This time Sanjay gave it more of a snarl. “Bow when you address the princess,” he snarled, “son of a dog.”


“I can do it with a guffaw also.”

“That will not be necessary. Shooting starts in ten days. Here are the details.”

For ten days Sanjay addressed his fractured mirror each morning, when his brain was clear and his imagination was at its height. “Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.” He frightened even himself. His confidence was already coming back. He treated himself to a new haircut and a carton of imported cigarettes. He decided to tell Sunil nothing as yet. Better to make sure it all happened. His only worry was about whether he should, or should not, try to remind the great star that he had met her earlier in her career. On this subject his emotions were oddly turbulent. He harboured an urge to avenge himself upon her for her betrayal. On the other hand he well realised that these vengeful feelings would be less acute if she had not once represented for him his ideal of beauty. As many of the magazines so cruelly said, she was no longer in the very first flush of her youth. They said that her famous poise had become staid, that she was a prude, that she had been outstripped (‘literally’, said Smart Alec, with characteristic wit) by Dimple, Karisma, Mumtas and the other wild youngsters who could not keep their shirts on and did not want to. But she still had a lush warmth that struck Sanjay as the acme of opulence. It was just that it was so difficult to contemplate her image, or even her mere name, without arousing that powerful memory of being shut out. It was her fault that he had been banished from the Silver Castle. Now that he was back, should he raise the subject? She had probably forgotten all about it. Perhaps it would be wiser to talk about something else. He imagined speaking to her. As an aid to inventiveness, he addressed her photograph in one of the latest issues of Stardust. The interview that began opposite the full-page photograph was suddenly of vital interest to him personally.

“Your hang-up about your age is showing,” said the Stardust questioner in bold type. “How come you accept only roles that require you to look youthful? Younger actresses have no problems playing mother but with you it is a ‘no-no’. Come clean!”

“The allegation is absolutely false,” replied Miranda in ordinary type. “I lied about my age when I came into films, so that I wouldn’t be rejected by producers. I was thirteen but told them I was eighteen and my mature figure led them to believe me.”

“Your comeback film Aadmi Khiladi Hai,” the questioner continued, “bombed at the box-office despite being helmed by the same director J. Om Prakash who once made your biggest hits like Aasha, Arpan and Apnapan. The much hyped Bedardi vanished without a trace. Can’t you take a hint or don’t you realise what is happening? In other words why are you forcing yourself on the audience? Get real!”

“This is ridiculous,” Miranda answered. “Are you trying to say that I am no longer wanted in the industry? If that were correct how come I am still being offered films? In fact the offers never stopped coming in even after marriage.”

Sanjay agreed that the imputation was ridiculous. Nevertheless he found the interview admirably thorough. There were full details of Miranda’s unsuccessful second marriage to a younger man. There was an implication — a puzzling one for Sanjay, in view of his memories — that she had been romantically involved with the shining man, Rahul Kapoor, at the time of her first marriage and his first divorce. Now, it was clear, she was once again in search of emotional sustenance, even as she strove to re-establish her high profile. “A sudden interest in looks,” Sanjay read in the summing-up. “Crash diets, aerobics, specially imported Jane Fonda video workouts to get that plump figure back to its original effortless svelte shape. Queening it as of old at her legendary dinner tables. Sudden visibility at social dos.” In the photograph next to the summing-up there seemed nothing especially plump about her figure, except, of course, in the region of her celebrated bosom. She looked svelte enough to him. He had looked ‘svelte’ up. As so often, the guide to pronunciation read like a misprint, but it was a useful word to have. He rather fancied the idea of being svelte himself. Meanwhile there was some comfort to be obtained from evidence that Miranda’s current position in the film industry was less than dominant. In the memorable words of the headline on the interview, things were ‘far from hunky-dory’. There would be no reason to feel intimidated when he finally met her again.

Nevertheless he was, thoroughly. The film’s exteriors were shot first. The location was the Silver Castle. He had a week to play himself in before she appeared. This was lucky, because there was an unsettling development, or lack of it. The director Talat Anand who was supposed to be so enthusiastic about him treated him as a stranger. Sanjay was just one bodyguard in a team of six. Dressed in curled shoes, baggy pants, armless open jackets over their bare chests and strange flat turbans, they had to jump off a wall together while flourishing their swords and then go into a dance. Sanjay knew very little about dancing beyond what he had seen in the movies. Now that he was dancing in a movie himself, he was sorry to discover that it was hideously difficult. He did not shine. After the dancing mistress had shown them the next step, everyone else picked it up faster than he did. The bare-footed, toe-belled dancing mistress having holy status, she was not supposed to look impatient, but when she looked at him she could not be said to smile. He could have told her that he was fairly sure she was the same small large woman who had once smiled at him years ago. But he was only fairly sure, and not sure at all how the information would be received. So he persevered in silence, often breaking into an unaccustomed sweat. The director looked frankly impatient at the hold-ups. The sequence was finally completed only on the third day. Other sequences had been shot too, of course, but there was no blinking the fact that Sanjay had slowed the dancing sequence down. When, with the last light looming, it was at last secured, the director said something which Sanjay greeted with mixed pride and shame, glad to be remembered but sorry about the circumstances.

“Tomorrow it is action. At least you know how to get hit.”

To Sanjay’s great relief, Rajiv the fight arranger, scarred veteran of many a fracas, was present the next morning to supervise the battle. “At least you didn’t lie about your dancing abilities,” said Rajiv. “That would have been a big mistake.” In the battle sequence, the bodyguards were to protect the princess, who would be filmed at a later time. She had to be protected against a gang of assassins. Twenty men fiercely dressed in brown, the assassins ran up the castle terraces in drilled formation. They were met by the bodyguard and a fight ensued. Rajiv choreographed the fight. Standing somersaults by the bodyguards were doubled by acrobats, but Sanjay and his colleagues still had to do quite a lot of leaping, falling and rolling. Bruises were the inevitable result. The assassins were mown down in spectacular fashion. The same acrobats doubled their back flips, but once again the actors had to absorb a lot of the impact. The twenty assassins were soon reduced to eighteen. That was judged to be a sufficient number. Rajiv was very active and the director had so many instructions to give that the assistant director had to do all the shouting. The scene took two full days to shoot. It culminated in medium close-ups of the individual bodyguards wheeling to receive the approval of the princess. On the first day of the second week of shooting, she arrived to bestow it.

Sanjay was flabbergasted. Under the bright sun, her hair stirred by the gentlest breeze from the wind machine, she looked more beautiful than ever. To start with, she was wearing much less than when he had first met her. Films having moved on in the interim, her costume was more revealing than he remembered it. Now he could see not just the swell of her breasts, but their sweet division, and her jewelled belt was slung so low that he fancied he could see where hairs had been plucked. What really rocked him was the light in her eyes. He had kept her face in his mind, but memory had stylised it. Here was the actual, vivid thing, the intensity of spirit that no still photograph could reproduce, because it was generated by her vibrant movement; and that no film image could ever fully capture, because it would translate her, into a sphere she fitted, from the real world that she outshone. Even in repose, she radiated energy. Not bothering to disguise her boredom when she was shown her marks for the thousandth time in her life, she still glowed. When the shot was rehearsed, she caught fire. The camera was behind the bodyguards. While they knelt, it would shoot past their obedient backs to observe her conferring imperious, unaccustomed thanks on her brave servants.

“You have done well. But I expect no less. To guard me is your ... what’s the next line?”

“To guard me against evil is your task,” said the script editor in a raised voice.

“You have done well. But I expect no less. To guard me against evil is your task.”

After final checks the shot was secured on the first take. Sanjay could hardly believe it: he was in the same shot as the great Miranda. Admittedly he was pointing in the wrong direction, but the chances were that his face would get into the same shot with her eventually. If only he could study the script. Like every participant below the level of star he would never see even the small portion of it containing his own scenes. The script editor himself carried only the portions of script currently being shot. It was hard to know how big your part would be or how long you would stay alive. In that respect, the director was a god, and even he had other gods, the producers, somewhere behind him. Sanjay felt like a toy of fate. But for as long as he was near her he was a happy toy. He had decided to forgive her. The only question was whether he should tell her about it. To do that, of course, he would have to be alone with her.

Three days later the opportunity came. Unfortunately grief came with it. They were filming beside the fountain. The camera could not see the fountain’s plastic lining and rusty pipes. The princess rehearsed beneath a canopy to protect her from the sun. Her singing handmaidens were in attendance, pouring water from silver jugs and decorating the air with strewn petals. An envoy from the bandit chief arrived. He strode towards her but was stilled by the upraised hand of her deputy chief bodyguard. That was how Sanjay found out that he was the deputy chief bodyguard. He was the one deputed to raise his hand. He was also given a medium close-up in which to deliver one of his two scheduled lines. All his practising, however, had been to small avail, because the rehearsal went badly.

“Bow when you address her. She is a princess.”

“That isn’t right, is it?” Miranda asked the director. “I’m not a princess. I’m the princess.”

“Yes,” said the script editor. “That line was wrong. ‘Bow when you address the princess.’ That is the right line. He was told.”

“You can remember that?” asked the director impatiently. “Let’s go for a take straight away.” But Sanjay was flustered.

“Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.”

“Cut. Good.”

“No, not good,” said the script editor. “That line comes next week, when the bandit chief is brought in as a prisoner. This time it should be just ‘Bow when you address the princess.’ He is trying to pad the part.”

“You were given the line, weren’t you?” asked the director, even more impatient than before.

“I haven’t got time for this,” muttered Miranda. Her words stung Sanjay like a bad memory. On the next take he got lost altogether.

“Bow, son. Bow when you address a. The. Princess.”


Miranda burst out laughing. Sanjay thought the world was coming to an end. The director was looking at a patch of bare earth in the scuffed lawn and shaking his head. Sanjay expected to be fired there and then. At that moment Rajiv the fight arranger arrived out of nowhere and took him aside.

“Breathe in,” he said.

Sanjay breathed in.

“Now breathe out slowly.”

Sanjay breathed out slowly. He was glad to see that Rajiv was smiling. A smile hurt much less than a laugh.

“Now say the line to me.”

“Bow when you address the princess.”

“That’s it. Now forget everything else and do it.”

Sanjay, for a mercy, got it right on the next take. He felt no sense of elation. Lunch was called. He seriously considered walking away and never coming back. He had been betrayed again. Outside the castle he lined up for his plate of food, shook some saffron on it, and walked away to eat it alone.

“Hey. Bodyguard:”

It was Miranda. She was sitting with her entourage of women at a folding table erected beneath the awning of her caravan, in the partial shade of the trees.

“Over here.” Sanjay walked over, feeling very young, as if it were the first day he had ever been to the Youth Club and he could hear the yells of children being washed.

“I apologise to you,” she said. ”I was rude. I know how hard it is, the first time. Or at any rate I should have known. You forgot your line but I forgot my manners, and for that there can be no excuse. You did well. Your voice is beautiful.”

“A poor thing but mine own.”

“And in English! This is wonderful. Sit down and eat with us.” The women who had been staring into their food, he now realised, had been trying not to laugh, but suddenly it didn’t matter. Nervous about his manners but glad to be present, Sanjay sat quietly while Miranda and her retinue gossiped. This they did shamelessly. The dancing mistress was there, chiming and chinking when she laughed. The retinue dished dirt about other film stars while Miranda professed to be shocked. Sanjay could tell that this was only a pose. They were telling her what she wanted to hear. Some of it was very scandalous.

“So when her husband turns up,” said one of the retinue, a plump woman whose double role was to brush hair and speak the unspeakable, “she is still in her caravan with both the young men.”

“No! I don’t believe it. She must be crazy,” said Miranda.

“No, she is smart. Because her husband breaks off the lock with one twist of his hand and comes bursting in and one of the young men has only just finished getting his pants back on. She says ‘We were rehearsing.’ Her husband screams ‘You call this rehearsing?’ And she says ‘Yes, I can prove it. Because he is here too.’ And the other young man steps out from the other end of the caravan.”

“Complete with pants?” asked Miranda, a plum half way to her lips.

“With pants firmly in place. A chaperon, you see? So her husband has to accept it.”

“He should not have done all that shouting before he broke in. He would have caught them at it.” Miranda was smiling wisely.

“If he was that smart she would never have betrayed him,” said the dancing mistress.

“Betrayal is her nature,” said Miranda. “The only thing she has never betrayed is a hint of talent.” She bit into her plum. Everyone laughed except her. It was her technique. She liked to be the still centre. But she was still smiling, her lips moist with juice, and Sanjay was pleased to find that the smile included him. It was almost as if he were her only audience.

“Are you shocked by this kind of talk?” she asked unexpectedly. Sanjay had his mouth full so he merely shook his head.

“You ought to be. These women are scandal-mongers. They continually disgust me with the filthiness of their minds.” Then there was a lot more of the same sort of conversation until it was time to go back to work.

“You may walk with me,” she said as she rose. “You are my bodyguard and that is what bodyguards do. In fact you can stand by my chair when you are not in a scene.”

“Are you sure he is handsome enough for you?” said the plump speaker of the unspeakable.

“Be quiet. It will not hurt to have a man beside me I can trust. It will be a nice change.”

Back inside the castle, the beginning of the afternoon was slow for Sanjay. Apart from having to leap off a low wall a few times he could spend most of his time standing beside Miranda’s chair.

“What is this?” asked the director during an idle moment while the assistant director was blocking out a scene.

“My bodyguard is practising,” said Miranda.

“Make sure he practises his dialogue too.”

“Practise your dialogue,” said Miranda, after the director had wandered away.

“Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.”

“Very good. What else can you say?”

“Tell me when you want your chair moved and I will carry it for you.”

“The grips do that. But I will let you do it if you like.” She said this with her eyes closed and her head tilted back while one of her women was touching up the paint on her eyelids.

“I have done it before.”

“Who for?”

“For you.” This was the moment.

“Never. When?” “Long ago. When I was a boy.”

“Hello, what are you now? Oh. Wait a second.”

The tiny paint-brush was withdrawn and she turned her open eyes to him. “My goodness. It’s you. I remember.”

Sanjay said nothing. Her voice was so troubled that he was sorry he had spoken.

“My God, you were such a perfect little boy. A perfect sparrow bathed in dust. Now I really do owe you an apology.”

Sanjay did not know how to respond. It turned out not to matter, because her conversation was with her own memory.

“I have had you on my conscience ever since. That thug Rahul Kapoor and I were fighting the way lovers do when they should never have parted. Especially when they should never have met in the first place. I’m afraid you got caught in the battlefield. Like dear dead Prakash. My favourite director. But it was shameless conduct on my part. I was younger then.” She closed her eyes again, this time, it seemed, for no other reason than that she did not want them to be open. Or perhaps she was gazing within. “My God, how much younger I was then.”

“We all were,” said the speaker of the unspeakable.

“Be quiet, Ghita.” And Ghita, because her name was used, knew that the admonition was meant.

From that time forward, Sanjay was one of Miranda’s party. When he was not required for a scene, he stood near her, and bodyguarded her chair when she was in front of the camera. His new role caused much giggling among her retinue of women, and the opposite of giggling among the other male bodyguards. Never before in his career had Sanjay been the focus of quite so many annoyed stares. He didn’t let it matter. An episode of his life was being repeated, only this time it was going right, which made it a different episode altogether. Towards the end of the following week, he was even allowed to live out his fondest wish: his face and Miranda’s were in the same shot. The captured bandit chief knelt before him. Sanjay delivered his line without a hitch.

“Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.”

It was Sanjay’s inspiration to cap his line by placing his right foot on the bandit chief’s head and forcing it down between his shoulder-blades.

“Cut,” said the director.

“He was not supposed to do that,” said the script editor.

“It looked good, though,” said the director. “Let’s do another take and hold it a bit longer. Mirry darling, if you can do a bit more of the approving look, that would be nice. Bit of electricity between you and the cruelly handsome bodyguard, I like that.”

So Sanjay was actually filmed with Miranda giving him an approving look. If this ever gets into the film, thought Sanjay, Sunil will never talk to me again. Dilip will probably kill me. Somehow it didn’t matter. He had come a long way and it was worth it. This was the last day he and Miranda would be on set together. He had used his time well. None of it had been wasted. It was enough for him. He was not expecting more. But there was more. Miranda took him aside.

“I am giving my team drinks at my apartment this evening,” she said quietly. “I think you deserve a drink too, after all your hard work. After you get changed, join us at my caravan.”

Sanjay’s nerve failed. He would not know how to behave. Everything he had learned with Mr Desmond and Gupta, all the manners he had acquired, would not be enough. What would he say? He shook his head.

“Bow when you address the princess,” she said, “son of a dog.” But her smile was the real command. So he stopped shaking his head and started nodding it, feeling as awkward as he ever had in his life. It was like having Pratiba’s hands on his back, while looking at a policeman flexing his cane. It was very confusing.