Sunday, 16 August 2020

Last part : Life Behind A Camera (ss)

 "Alright guys. Let's make this the last scene for today. Both of you give it your best, I don't want to stick around here any longer" Mohit said, rubbing the tiredness out of his eyes, his sixth cup of coffee on its way. Ridhima nodded, as she looked back at the mirror, fixing her hair and make-up. She could do this. She was an actor for crying out loud! When she had signed up for this as her career choice, she knew that she would be required to act in any sorts of scenes, and she just had to view the next scene as part of her acting learning experience.

So what if it was Armaan as her co-star? She could still do it. She just had to put on an act, and get through this last shot. So what if her heart was racing madly, and her palm were sweaty, she had to get through this.



Taking her place back on the staircase, Ridhima took in a few deep breaths. Mohit had sent most of the staff home, holding back only a few technicians to help with the shot. Armaan was still in his dressing room, and Ridhima found herself glancing at his door every now and then. She wanted to rip it off like a bandaid, but Armaan was taking his sweet time, putting Ridhima on an edge.

"Armaan, let's do this" Mohit called out as he let out a tired sigh and slumped on the director's chair. Ridhima quickly averted her eyes as the door to Armaan's dressing room opened.

"Yeah. Sorry had to do a last-minute check-up on the lines" Armaan muttered as he took his place outside the door of the fire-escape.

Come on. Come on. Come on. It's just an act. Just an act. Nothing more. Just an act.

Ridhima continued to tell herself, her hands getting clammy, and she had to wipe them on her dupatta. Using her hand, she quickly dabbed away the sweat forming on her forehead and chin. Why was she so nervous? She was a great actor. She knew she was a great actor. She could do this.

"LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION" Mohit called out, and suddenly there was pin-drop silence.

Ridhima hadn't slipped into the role of Jennifer yet, and she found herself panicking internally. She could still feel her heart rate accelerating as she heard the fire-escape door open. She refused to look up.

Why couldn't she slip into her role of Jennifer? That had never been a problem.

"CUT!" Mohit shouted. "Ridhima! Do you remember the scene?" Mohit called out, frustration seeping in slightly.

"Yeah. Sorry" Ridhima said, as she wrung her hands together in nervousness.

"One more time. LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION" Mohit said once more, and once more it was pin-drop silence.

Ridhima closed her eyes and willed for her brain to shut down. She forced the traits of Jennifer to take over, and suddenly she felt herself snap into character.

When Armaan opened the door, her heart skipped a beat, but Ridhima ignored it, and forced the character of Jennifer to stay in place.

Looking up, Jennifer let shock register on her face as she saw KSG standing there.

"What are you doing here?" She shouted as she got up immediately and backed into the wall, trying to put some distance between herself and KSG.

"Came to see you" He said, his eyes glazing over as he stared at her lovingly.

And suddenly she was out of character again. She saw the love in his eyes. The same love that she had yearned for, for a while now. She wanted to be in his arms once more. She wanted to hug him and kiss him and forget about the past few months.

It was her line, but she didn't say it. Ridhima continued to look at Armaan, tears swimming in her eyes. Her chest constricting painfully making it harder for her to breathe.

"I..couldn't stay away" He said, taking a step closer, his eyes never leaving hers.

Come on Ridhima. Snap back into Jennifer She scolded herself. And she found the character of Jennifer being put in place again.

Cringing away from KSG, Jennifer quickly took a few steps towards the door.

"Stay away from me" She spat out, venom laced in every word. Since her back was facing KSG, she didn't see the look of anguish on his face.

"Jen! Please. Just...listen" He said, grabbing on to her arm to stop her from taking any more steps towards the door.

The tears slipped from her eyes, and Jennifer shook her head.

"No" She said, a finality in her voice as she tried shaking his grip from her arm. "I am with someone else now. So. Leave. Me. Alone"

Suddenly she felt herself being yanked back, and she stumbled slightly, almost tripping over her own feet, but Karan's hands found her waist and pushed her against the wall, his body pushing against her, trapping her against it.

Jennifer's breath came out in a whoosh and she found herself suddenly very close to Karan.

Ridhima found herself to snap out of character once more as she stared into the stormy grey eyes. As she saw the intensity of the emotions within his eyes, the strong jaw, the thinning of the lips, the strong grip on her waist, the way his hands held her and protected her at the same time, the way his body was completely flush against hers, the way that if he tilted his head and moved closer by an inch, he would be kissing her.

Ridhima's breath became labored, and her chest pushed against Armaan's. She found that he was getting affected too by the way his eyes were glazing over, and his breath was shortening. His hands were no longer gripping her waist, rather his thumbs were slowly stroking her hips, sending tingles up and down her spine.

Ridhima closed her eyes slowly. She couldn't take it. It was too much. Much too intense. Too soon. She was craving for it. She was yearning for this closeness, for his warmth. She missed the way his breath washed over her face, she missed the way his eyes twinkled every time he smiled, she missed his dimples, she missed his jokes, his teasing looks. She missed him.

Feeling a sob threatening to burst through her, Ridhima held onto Armaan for support. She couldn't collapse on set. Not again. Armaan seemed to realize that she was conflicted, and he pressed closer, providing her with all the warmth and comfort she needed.

Ridhima had to say something. She had to become Jennifer once more, but she found it impossible. So Ridhima recited the lines as she had learned them. For the first time in her acting career, Ridhima was unable to put her feet in her character's feet.

"Grover..please" She whispered as she half-heartedly pushed him at the shoulders. He didn't budge, but tiled his head slightly, his nose brushing against her cheek.

"Please what, Jennifer" He said, and Ridhima found her heart skipping a beat as she realised that he wasn't in character either. He was, just like her, reciting the lines they had memorized. It meant he was affected by the closeness as well.

"Leave me alone" She said, finally opening her eyes and glaring at him. She was sure that the glare was not even half as effective because she wasn't in character, but it would do.

"No" He said, his lips twitching as he realised she wasn't in character, but merely reciting her memorized lines. Averting her eyes, Ridhima pushed against him some more.

"Karan will-"

"Don't talk about him" He cut her off, pushing against her even more, and Ridhima found it harder to breathe. But she loved the closeness. She loved his possessiveness.

But he had left her.

This realization felt like an ice bucket had dropped on her head. He wasn't hers anymore. She shouldn't be near him. She was meant to avoid Armaan at all costs.

Suddenly Ridhima felt herself snap into character, and emanated the coldness towards Armaan.

"He is my boyfriend. He proposed to me. Let me go. NOW" She shouted the last word. However Armaan had suddenly become confused by her coldness. He had thought that she was just as affected as he was, but Ridhima's sudden change in character completely threw him off.

Jennifer took advantage of his confusion and pushed him away. He stumbled but caught himself against the railing of the stairs.

Jennifer wiped the tears on her cheeks and ran up the stairs, and out of the fire-escape.

Why did he come back? Why?

********

Ridhima made her way towards the car, a sense of Deja Vu washing over her as she struggled to find the keys in her purse.

Where had she kept them? Furiously digging into the depths of her purse, she could feel her hair forming a curtain around her face. Giving out a sigh of frustration she looked up confused, trying to remember where she had kept her car keys.

Suddenly she remembered how she had left the keys on her dressing table, and in her hurry at trying to distance herself from Armaan, she had completely forgotten to take a sweeping look at her dressing room to make sure she had forgotten nothing. But now the entire place was locked up and Mohit had left ages ago bidding her goodbye. She wasn't even sure that anyone was back at the set, or if the watch-guards would open the gates, since it was against protocol.

Giving out a few choice words, Ridhima rested a hand against her hip and looked around helplessly. The parking lot was relatively empty, and being alone in an empty parking lot attracted danger. Ridhima shouldn't be here so late at night, without anyone. Feeling her senses prickled to alertness, Ridhima rested her handbag on her shoulder and took quick steps towards the entrance of the parking lot.

It was only when she had taken a few hurried steps did she strain her ears and heard the quick sharp footsteps coming her way from behind. Her breath quickened and her grip on the strap of her bag tightened. Not daring to look behind, Ridhima tried walking faster, without letting the person behind her know that she was aware of their presence.

Sweat broke out on her forehead and neck, and her fingers were starting to hurt from holding onto the bag so tightly. But Ridhima did not falter, she continued to walk at her brisk pace, her breaths coming out in short gasps and her heart rate thudding in her ears.

Silently praying to God, Ridhima wished that she would get out unharmed. Sure the parking lot had cameras, but what if her attacker was covering their face? What if something horrible happened?

She remembered how her parents had been against her working odd hours of the night, but she had dismissed all their worries. Now she wished that she hadn't. Now she wished that she had listened what they had said, and been more careful.

The footsteps were getting closer, and Ridhima was tensing up. It was either fight or flight.

Ridhima knew that she would be no match physically for her attacker, but she would not back down without a fight. If he attacked her, she would attack back.

But she prayed that he would not. That she was mistaken, and he was just a person in a hurry to get to his sets.

But who would be working at 3 am in the morning. Feeling tears prickling her eyes, Ridhima blinked hard to get rid of them. What should she do? Should she run?

It was when the footsteps were hot on her tail that Ridhima broke out into a run. The footsteps picked up momentum as well, and were gaining speed on her.

She was going to die. She was sure of it.

Feeling panic seizing up, Ridhima tried running faster, but her heels caught up one behind another, and before she knew it she was tumbling forwards. Giving out an ungraceful yelp of fear, Ridhima's hands darted forward to protect herself from the impending fall, but just then two hands grabbed her from the waist and hauled her back.

Ridhima tried struggling against the body, but they did not let their grip falter. Their grip tightened on her waist, and Ridhima let out a shout of frustration.

"Ridhima. It's me." The voice said, close to her ear, but Ridhima didn't listen. She tried struggling more, her hands trying to pry his hands away, and her head shaking from one side to another, her hair flailing everywhere.

"Jesus woman, calm down. It's me!" He said urgently, his grip tightening further. An arm snaked around her waist and hugged her close to his body. The familiarity of the warmth and the body immediately stilled Ridhima.

She knew that feeling. She knew that voice.

And suddenly she realised that she was being embraced by Armaan Malik.

Ridhima went completely still, not daring to breathe, nor making any moves. She wanted to get away, but at the same time was paralyzed at the closeness.

His breath was still washing over her neck making the hairs flutter slightly. He was breathing hard from running and his arms were still tightly wrapped around her waist.

"Ridhima?" He questioned, as he realised she was completely motionless, not even attempting to get away. His arms started to loosen their grip, but did not drop away from her waist.

The tension was building up, Ridhima could still feel his warmth behind her back, and her breaths were still laboured. She wanted to move away, but at the same time her body was craving the comfort and the familiarity of the body behind her.

She wanted to turn around a slap him but she just wanted to be in his embrace for a moment longer. She missed him. But he had left her.

Finally finding the courage within her, Ridhima said, "Let me go". She was herself surprised to find that her voice did not waiver, and the coldness with which she spoke.

"No" He whispered, his arms once again tightening around her, yet not crushing her to him like before. Ridhima closed her eyes slowly. Why was he making this harder on her?

"Why?" She whispered, her eyes still closed, the pain becoming unbearable, her chest constricting painfully, her hands shaking and the tears threatening to break lose.

"I love you" He answered simply, and she felt something wet fall on her neck, sending another tingle through her spine. Hearing him sniff, she realized that he was crying, and she yearned to turn around and wrap him up in her arms. To comfort him, to take away all his pain.

But he had hurt her.

"No you don't" She said, as a tear slipped past her eyes. Her arms still lay limply by her side, and his arms were still around her waist. Her back was still held against his chest, and his breath was still washing over the side of her face.

"I do" He said, squeezing her waist to try and convey his sincerity, but Ridhima shook her head defiantly.

"No" She whispered harshly. "if you did, you wouldn't have left me" A few more tears slipping down her face.

She was becoming tired of this. She was getting drained second by second. It was almost as though Armaan was slowly sucking the life from her.

"Please Ridhima. Give me another chance" He whispered back, his cheek coming to rest at the crook of her neck, and Ridhima closed her eyes painfully at the gesture.

"How can I trust you again?" She asked him softly. How could she trust him not to leave her again? How could she trust him not to hurt her again?

"I'll earn it back. But please give me another chance" He pleaded, his arms bringing her closer to his body, almost moulding her body to his, and Ridhima let out a sharp breath. The closeness was clouding her head making it swirl around, not letting her think straight.

Shaking her head to rid herself of the haziness, she said, "But why did you leave" Her voice cracked as the pain became fresh once more, and it felt as though she was experiencing all those horrible months once more.

He was quiet. He didn't utter a word, but his warmth was still there. Ridhima was tempted to lean her head back and lean it against his chest. She was so tired. She was so drained.

"I had a sister" He finally said. And Ridhima opened her eyes in shock. He had never spoken anything about having a sister. "She was my twin sister" He explained, his voice low and soft. Ridhima turned her head slightly so the side of her face was facing him, and she frowned in confusion.

Why hadn't he talked about his sister before?

"She was-" He started, but halted. Ridhima did not say anything, giving him the time to gather his words. He cleared his throat a few times before speaking up again. "She was...she was schizophrenic" He said finally, his voice breaking at the end, and she felt a few more tears drop onto her neck.

Ridhima frowned as she listened. Her arms, which had lain limply at her side during the entire duration, were now holding the arm around her waist, to give him some comfort to continue on.

"She was unstable. Which is why my family did not want me to get into acting. Once you start getting recognised, the media are after you like hungry dogs. Wanting to get every bit of information of you life" He said, and Ridhima nodded.

She clearly remembered how they had followed her around after Armaan had left, not letting her have a moment of peace. Some called her up at odd times during the night, hoping to catch her off-guard and get more information out of her.

"I..I still went for acting though. So my family moved to Shimla. It was away from Bombay, and away from me" He said. Ridhima squeezed his arm, indicating for him to continue.

She was afraid of opening her mouth, in case he stopped.

He cleared his throat some more, and when he spoke, his voice was hoarse, "I talked to them occasionally on the phone. I never once went to Shimla, in case the media followed me and found out about Naina. That was her name"

Ridhima nodded, and he continued, "One night, I got a phone call from ma. She was hysterical on the phone and was shouting at me to come back to her. I was worried. I wasn't thinking straight. I couldn't think. Ma was scared, and I wanted to be there for her"

Ridhima was getting scared. She wasn't sure where the story was heading, but she wished she had been there for Armaan during the ordeal.

"I packed my bags and slipped away to Shimla in the middle of the night. Drove the entire way by myself. I did not trust anyone. I was just trying to protect my family." He explained, and Ridhima saw that more tears were slipping from his eyes. It made Ridhima's heart clench painfully. She couldn't see tears in his eyes, and she wrapped both her arms around his arms, and tried comforting him.

"I reached there, and Naina had taken a turn for the worse. She was completely delusional. She could not longer distinguish between reality and dreams. The voices were getting worse. Telling her to commit suicide. And she had attempted many times, failing each time. My parents were getting older and it was harder for them to look after Naina, so ma called me."

"She was in the hospital, and I was with her most of the days. Sitting with her, reminiscing about the old, good days. And the doctors said she was improving slightly. There were small changes, but they were there. Ma and Pa said that it was a God's miracle, the doctors thought it was somethign to do with the fact we were twins. I don't know what it was. All I remember is that I wanted her to get better. It physically hurt me to see her attached to all those tubes. Sometimes they would bind her to the bed so she wouldn't try attempt suicide."

"Ridhima. I...I can't even describe to you the pain. The torture at seeing someone you love in that condition. It's almost unreal. It's surreal to think that this would happen to you."

"At first, I was in denial. I couldn't accept that she was this bad. I...I couldn't bring myself to accept that her condition had taken a turn for the worse. But spending more time with her, I had to face the facts. There were times when she would lean in closely and tell me to hide her in a closet because the nazis were going to kidnap her. I...I..." He faltered, his body shaking with tears.

Ridhima turned in his arms, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hugging him close to her. Her tears were slipping past her cheeks, and Ridhima was shushing him as she rubbed him back.

He held her close to him as his body shook with the pain and tears.

Finally they subsided and he continued, "The doctors came to us one day. They said that her delusions were getting worse. She no longer had a grip on reality, and they were afraid that their treatments weren't working. Ma broke down. She couldn't handle it. I didn't give up though, I went to her every day and sat by her. Tried talking to her, and tried making her face the facts. But she just...couldn't. We got a call one night, it was round 4 am, and the hospital called. They said she had jumped from her window"

Ridhima let out a gasp, and her arms tightened around him.

"I..couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it. She couldn't have. We found that she had somehow acquired a sharp object, and broken through the bindings. Opened the window, squeezed herself through and jumped through. The doctors concluded that she had done it under hte influence of a delusion. The nurse came only a few minutes after to check up on her since, a staff was appointed to check up ever 15 minutes. The nurse found the bed empty, the open window, and called security. The body was taken by the hospital, and we rushed to the hospital." He said.

"I am sorry Ridhima. I couldn't trust anyone with this during the time. I needed to be with my family. I needed to support them, and so calling you or letting you know..it didn't fell right telling you all this over the phone. I am sorry" He whispered. Ridhima shook her head. He needed to stop apologizing.

"No. I am sorry Armaan" She said. She felt absolutely rotten. How could she expect him to apologize for this?

"Armaan. I am so sorry. I...I..I should have been there for you. I jumped to conclusions and I-" Ridhima stammered, her emotions going in a whirlwind as the guilt weighed her down.

"Shhh" Armaan whispered, his arms tightening around her. "Stop apologising"

"No I need to. I am sorry" She whispered, her eyes closed tight as she hugged him back, trying to get him as close to her as possible. "I am so sorry" She kept whispering, her arms running up ad down his back.

"It's okay. I knew I had hurt you, so I am sorry about that. I should have told you. You were...are... the most important part of my life Ridhima. I love you. A lot" He said, pulling back from the hug to look her in the eyes.

Ridhima's eyes fluttered at the words, and her lips pulled up into a small smile, the tears still fresh on her cheeks. "Armaan, I really can't live without you. I almost died-"

"I'll never leave you again" He cut her off, a small dimple appearing on his cheek as he passed her a small smile. "I promise" He said, and Ridhima's heart soared up in the air at those words.

"I love you" She whispered, as she hugged him once again, enjoying the closeness, the feel of his arms hugging her close, his breath on her neck, his chest against hers.

He nuzzled his nose in the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply. "I missed this so much" He whispered, and Ridhima nodded. She had missed it too.

Finally pulling away, Armaan looked at her, and Ridhima at him. The smile on his face was dazzling, and she couldn't help but smile back. He was beautiful. He was hers.

"You are mine" She said, a cheeky grin on her face.

"As you are mine" He said, bumping his nose against her affectionately. Ridhima let out a small giggle and looked down shying from his gaze.

"Do you want me to drop you home?" Armaan asked, the twinkle in his eyes had returned.

Ridhima nodded, a blush settling on her cheeks. When Armaan leaned down to peck her on the cheeks, the blush intensified.

Intertwining their hands, Armaan and Ridhima made their way towards his car. He snaked an arm around her waist and held her close to him, his thumb stroking the curve of her waist. Ridhima leaned her head against his chest and took in a deep breath.

The moment she reached home, she was going to ask someone to repaint her room into the pale yellow. The sunshine had returned in her life.

Ridhima couldn't be happier. He had returned back to her. He was hers. And she was never letting go. 

Sweety

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