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Your days are numbered
“Autograph please, Ma’m”
“You are my all-time favourite. Please give me an autograph.”
Fans crowded around the gorgeous lady in a glittering turquoise gown outside
Patkar Hall, showering her with bouquets and autograph books. Her heart swelled
with pride on seeing so many people struggling to get a small signature from the
famous actress, the shining star of tinsel world. She scribbled in a couple of
books and walked haughtily, her secretary pushing away the swarming crowd to
make way to her black Mercedes. With a nod of her head, the driver set off
towards the most beautiful house in Juhu, Mumbai.
Sandhya Mitra, who hailed from a middle-class family, was lucky to establish
herself in the cine field within a short span of time. She had never let
anything get in the way of her dream of becoming an actress. She got her first
break when she modeled for a local fashion pageant by the recommendation of her
classmate, a relative of the show’s chairman. Her hard work paid off when she
won the event. After that she started doing modeling as full-time duty knowing
that it would serve as a gateway to filmdom. Her irresistible charm won the
heart of Bhimraj Patel, veteran actor who saw her in various shows. As an
excellent talker, she was able to ‘soft-soap’ him and get her first chance in a
movie. In 3 years time she had done eight films, four in progress and dozens
waiting to get her callsheet.
On reaching her home, Floral Towers, named after the exquisite garden she had on
her terrace three stories high, she strolled past the grand walnut doors at the
entrance and made her way to the bath. She ordered her maid for a Jacuzzi with
chamomile and ylang ylang essential oils fragranced off with lavender. After an
exhilarating experience she dressed in a red satin nightrobe and sat in front of
the dresser. As she sat smoothing her auburn tresses, her thoughts shifted to
her family. Memories of chasing her kid brother for hiding her mascara, the
tantrums her father threw on seeing her term exam marks, the way she sobbed
silently hugging her mother floated by.
Her father, an industrious officer in a private trading company, dreamt of
seeing his daughter as an IAS officer. She remembered how her father subscribed
only for Competition Success and India Today magazines. A forlorn expression
took over her immaculate features as scenes of the fights with her father played
in her mind. She could never convince him on how much she aspired to get into
cinema. When she got into modeling, he stopped talking to her altogether. Till
now, her acting talents had not been able to win the heart of her father and
renew their relationship. But she had decided not to see him first. She wanted
him to come down and praise on her achievement.
The starting notes of Linkin Park’s Numb cut through her thoughts. She turned to
see her cellphone vibrate and flash with the streaming polyphonic ringtone. She
turned it on and said, “Hello”
“Miss Sandhya Mitra,” enquired a husky male voice.
“Yes, speaking,” she said in a pretentious tone.
There was a brief silence. The husky voice spoke again, slowly and clearly.
“Your days are numbered. Prepare yourself to die!”
Her breath caught in her throat. She sat still for a few seconds but soon
recovered. “Is this some kind of jo…” she stopped as she heard a soft click. He
had hung up.
She tossed her mobile on the velvet bedspread and flopped down next to it. She
lay on her back and stared at the intricate carvings on the head-rest of her
mahogany bed wondering which idiot would call a popular actress in the middle of
the night and threaten to kill her. She considered herself to be the most
well-guarded personality in Mumbai next to the Chief Minister, judging from the
security outside her bungalow. In her career she had got lots of threats from
pre-successful actresses for taking their place and frustrated producers for
refusing their films. She was sure some aggravated person in that lot was trying
to scare her off. She remembered she hadn’t checked the number and went through
her received calls list. Strangely the number couldn’t be traced. She thought of
calling Enquiry but her drooping eyelids forced her to snooze off.
On waking up, she had completely forgotten the late night episode and got busy
with her schedule. She remembered only after the late morning photo session in
the Filmistan Studios. As she checked with her secretary for her next
appointment, she noticed a man standing across the street, dressed in an olive
green biker’s jacket. She thought it was a weird colour for a biker’s jacket,
mostly she found only black and brown, occasionally red. As she looked at him,
she felt that she had seen him somewhere. She sat thinking for a few minutes,
then left it as she got busy with a call from her banker.
Sandhya next went to Audio Genic Studio where she had a dubbing session. She was
about to enter the building when she remembered she had left her script notes in
the car. As she turned on her heels, she squinted a glimpse of olive green
disappear around the corner. On an impulse, she ran to the street but saw no
sign of the man in the biker’s jacket. She then walked briskly inside to avoid
unnecessary questioning. Her secretary looked mystified, but followed suit.
Sandhya’s heart was pounding. She knew she had seen that man outside her house
when she left her house that morning. Realization dawned on her. He had to be
following her. He must be the late night caller. The one who threatened to kill
her. But who was he? She thought hard and tried to remember if she knew anyone
who looked like him. Her mind drew a blank.
Sandhya bit her lip worriedly. The day was a disaster. The director lost his
temper on her after they did 15 takes for the same scene. She knew she was
screwing up. At this rate, he might opt for a dubbing artist. And she knew it
would be a major bombshell in her career. From her first film, she was lucky to
dub in her own voice. It gave her a sense of originality and the public loved
her voice. Now it would be a tremendous let-down if some foreign voice is heard
speaking for her.
She knew this was serious. She began to think who it could be who wanted so
strongly to kill her. She knew she was not a favourite among her co-artists.
Many a time she had spoiled many actresses’ dream roles by her way of tackling
the producers and middlemen. She had once bribed producer Gaurav Krishna to sign
up for his film. Her major adversary was Premalata Yadav, the ex-girlfriend of
hotshot actor Vikram Chaterjee who now had his eyes set on Sandhya. There was a
long list of people who may want her dead.
She was now in Khandala, a famous public shooting spot in Mumbai. They were
doing a song sequence for the film ‘Pyar Zindagi Hai’. Her make-up man Anoop
Kumar had to keep touching up as her face was sweating heavily. Little did he
know that it was not only the hot weather but the thumping tension that was
making her sweat so badly. As the director signaled her, she started prepping
up. She forced herself to calm down and took a few deep breaths. She saw the
director busily discussing the scene with the cameraman and the dance director.
Her secretary came and told she had a visitor.
Sandhya frowned as visitors were not allowed during shootings. She glanced at
the visitor and was thunderstruck. It was the stalker. He had come here too. Her
secretary took her silence as a yes and told the man he could have a few minutes
She looked around the huge mass of viewers. She looked at the film unit
comprising of at least 50 people. She knew she was completely safe. This guy
would not be that silly to attempt any games here, she thought. He was now
within few inches of her. His hand slid into his pocket.
Sandhya was terrified. What if this maniac was stupid enough to shoot her in the
midst of scores of people? She opened her mouth to find she had lost her voice.
She shut her eyes and rolled her lips.
“Excuse me,” she heard him say. She opened her eyes and saw him holding a book
and pen. “Autograph please.”
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