to sum up: Things don’t go well for Zaara in her first photoshoot, but they improve well as Nectar CEO Arjun Bajaj sets eyes on her.
When the doorbell rang, Raahi jumped out of bed in anticipation and put her book down on the sofa. She had been doing crossword puzzles all day to avoid worrying about her baby’s first photoshoot. She had wanted to be there, herself, to supervise him, but Zaara had adamantly refused to leave her on set.
– It’s bad enough that we look exactly alike, Mom. If you’re really there, the comparisons won’t stop.
“Some people would kill to look like me,” Raahi had whispered.
But she understood where her daughter was coming from. Zaara was shy in front of the camera. She had to be able to do it without Raahi and his great personality there, training her. She had to forge her own identity if she was to pursue the path of being an… influencer.
In his private moments, Raahi couldn’t believe this had come to this. It’s up to her daughter to have to work on a set just like she did in the 70s. Caring about every little crease in her skin. Sprinkle on her face to look exactly right. Listening to a million opinions about her appearance from men who knew nothing about beauty. Standing under harsh lights for hours. And not even for a movie. Not even to see the passion light up in the eyes of his co-star. And then see that passion replicated in public adoration for the next decade.
As she ran for the door, Raahi braced herself, hoping the shoot had gone well. It might not have been the fate she would have chosen for her daughter, but now that they had decided it was best for them to start making it work to their advantage. Raahi was going to grill Neelu Guru about the photos and make sure she approved them all before they were released anywhere. She didn’t care what the CEO of the company wanted. Or what the contract says. Raahi would have the final say on how and where his daughter was presented. And she would like to see Neelu Guru try to talk her out of it.
But as she opened the door, Raahi was surprised to see not her daughter’s agent, but a tall, broad-shouldered young man in a shirt and tie, with a clean face, smiling at her with green eyes.
And in his arms was his daughter. Unconscious.
Raahi must have screamed because Seher came running downstairs asking, “What happened?” Are you OK?”
But Raahi couldn’t answer. Black dots began to dance in front of his eyes. She felt her feet turn to rubber beneath her.
“I think you should hold on to your mother,” the young man said, softly. Then he turned to Raahi, “Madam your daughter is fine, I assure you. She just sleeps.
Raahi looked up at the handsome young man in his twenties in front of her and tried to believe him. His breathing stabilized. But before she could ask him who the hell he was and why the hell his daughter was being carried by him, the elevator rang and Neelu Guru stepped out.
“Ah thank you Arjun,” Neelu said, then turning to the mother, explained. “Before you ask why Arjun is hanging on to Zaara, I didn’t want one of the drivers carrying her. And there’s no way I could have done it on my own.
Raahi has found his voice.
“I think the most relevant question is WHY should it be worn? What the hell happened on that set ?! “
“Well, the shoot didn’t take place,” Arjun said evenly. “Because your daughter took three Restorils and passed out for the next eight hours in her vanity van.” “
Neelu pulled out a bunch of white tablets from Zaara’s little glitter case.
“Oh my God,” Seher blushed. “I told him to only take half of it.”
Raahi turned to his now supposedly responsible daughter, furious.
“Why did you give him opioids?” “
Seher flinched, unaccustomed to being yelled at by her mother.
“I knew she would be nervous. And she refused to let us on set. She was only supposed to take half of it to calm down.
“Why didn’t you watch how much she was taking?” Raahi was yelling at Neelu now. “I should never have let you represent her!” She knew she was being unreasonable but she didn’t care then. Seeing Zaara’s elongated body had made her lose all rationality.
“Ms. Pandit,” Arjun said softly, “please relax. She should wake up now. The effect only lasts eight hours. We’ve already had some noises from her.
“Oh my God,” Seher said, biting his lip. “Has she…”
“Meow?” Arjun’s mouth twitched. “Yes she did. An almost perfect imitation of a cat. My mother had a Persian, so I consider myself an expert on it.
“She’s going to kill me,” Seher said sadly.
“I’m going to kill you,” Raahi said, still shaken. “I can’t believe you drugged your sister. “
“I told him to take half of a restoril after eating. I had no idea she was going to take three after throwing up.
“Seher don’t be ridiculous. When has Zaara ever stopped at either of anything!?! “
A burst of laughter escaped Arjun. He couldn’t help it. His own house had none of that camaraderie. Sadly, it only earned a murderous look from the two women before him.
“Thanks for all of your help,” Raahi said icily, to what she assumed was a Nectar marketing employee before her. (The prettiest always go to marketing.) “But now you can put my daughter on the couch. You don’t have to keep holding on to it.
Arjun set Zaara down on the cream sofa and took one last look at her pretty face.
“It was good to meet you,” he told his sister and mother. “I hope she is feeling better.”
As he turned to leave, Neelu stopped him. “Why don’t you have dinner with Jaspal and me tonight, Arjun?” We live just downstairs.
Raahi was surprised at the zeal in Neelu’s voice. Why was she so anxious to invite a middle manager from Nectar to her house? Ah, but then, he was beautiful in that chiseled and coarse sense. Kind of like an Indian Liam Hemsworth. Maybe she, like her enthusiastic husband, also enjoyed a bit of eye candy at dinner. My God, they were a strange couple. There was no way Raahi would let Zaara do a shoot alone with Neelu after that.
“Maybe another time Neelu,” Arjun said. “I have to go to the Vapi factory tonight to validate the skincare line, before it ships to London. Do me a favor and make sure the filming takes place tomorrow, right? I’ll try to move on towards the end.
“Yes boss,” Neelu said.
As Arjun disappeared into their marble hallway, Raahi and Seher looked at Neelu with a range of expressions passing through their faces – surprise, realization, embarrassment, all of which were greeted with a grimace of yes, exactly. They didn’t dare say a word.
Then the elevator doors closed. Beethoven’s symphony is comfortably fading away. And as it opened on the first floor, the women exploded.
“So that was…” Raahi couldn’t even bring himself to say it.
“The CEO of Nectar,” Neelu agreed. “Mr. Bajaj. “
“Why would he bother to…”, but Seher stopped realizing, as her mother glanced at Zaara, with a slow smile spreading over her face. Of course, he would take the trouble. Seher was smiling now too, mocking his little sister, who even in her sleep would cause so much drama.
Raahi kissed his young daughter’s forehead. “Sleep well Cheri. You are going to have some kind of adventure tomorrow.
Only a low meow was heard in response.
(To be continued)
This is the 25th episode of Riva Razdan’s serialized novel Nonsense and Respectability, released every Sunday.