Excerpt | ‘I thought if I touched her, she might get dirty’

Excerpt | ‘I thought if I touched her, she might get dirty’
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First Published: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 08 50 PM IST

Before leaving for the Oscars ceremony, Rubina’s cousin painted her hands with ‘henna’.
Before leaving for the Oscars ceremony, Rubina’s cousin painted her hands with ‘henna’.
Updated: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 08 50 PM IST
Since the Oscars, my father’s new telephone hasn’t stopped ringing. There are foreign journalists requesting interviews as well as various other work offers. As soon as we got back to the class, Azhar and I had to miss some classes again for another film. This time, shooting took only a couple of days.
Before leaving for the Oscars ceremony, Rubina’s cousin painted her hands with ‘henna’.
It was just a small role in this movie called Kal Kisne Dekha. I don’t know what this movie is all about. We just had a few scenes in which Azhar and I are coming back from America after the Oscars. At the Mumbai airport, there is a bomb threat. The hero is trying to move people out, and he rushes us out of the airport and saves our life. It was funny playing our own roles. But it was a typical Bollywood movie scene, where the hero saves everyone except the bad guys. The movie had new stars so I didn’t know any of them.
We had barely finished the filming when Azhar and I flew to New Delhi to appear in a fashion show for designers Asheema and Leena. Now I was going to be a model, which was perfect because I love dressing in pretty clothes. I had never been to a fashion show. I have seen them in the movie Fashion, of course, so I knew a bit about them.
Azhar’s mother accompanied us, along with my father. When we arrived, we were taken to a five-star hotel. We had this huge room with a nice view. Now I was getting used to such amazing hotels and they didn’t surprise me as much.
It was great going to new places. My father told me that Delhi is where all the big politicians stay. I was excited to see as much as I could.
My father had to meet someone from our community so he left us alone. As soon as he’d gone, I slipped on my nightdress and went to sleep with Azhar and his mother. The next morning I ate my breakfast, in a hurry to go to the swimming pool. I quickly ran back up to the room.
Rubina says if a slum kid can win an Oscar, then she can certainly become a millionaire.
‘Azhar!’
‘What?’
‘Hurry up—there’s a swimming pool!’
We didn’t stay in the water for long: my father yelled at us soon. ‘Rubina, Azhar, get out of there at once!’
We got out, reluctantly.
‘You have to meet Sonia Gandhi! Now go get dressed quickly—everyone is waiting for you!’
From the sound of my father’s voice, there was no possibility for argument. I knew today would be a very busy day. Sonia Gandhi is a very big neta, we had to meet her, and then do the fittings of our outfits. Finally, in the evening, was our fashion show.
There was a car waiting for us downstairs and we left in a hurry, as no one keeps a big politician waiting. My father told me on the way that Sonia Gandhi was the President of the Congress party. We passed many important sites on the way and my father pointed out India Gate to me. It had a very beautiful park around it, full of people, and a boating area as well. Delhi, I thought, was less crowded than Mumbai.
To reach Sonia Gandhi’s house, we passed some beautiful roads full of big trees. Finally, we arrived at her house, a huge house full of armed guards everywhere. That’s normal, when you’re someone as important as Sonia Gandhi. We went through I don’t know how many security checks before being allowed to go inside. We were taken into a large sitting room and it had many photographs.
She was sitting on a sofa, reading a book. When we arrived, all these dogs came and started circling round us. I even saw a parrot! A gentleman from security warned us not to get too close to the dogs as they could bite. Those dogs were huge and fat, three time the size of dogs in our slum.
Azhar and I were quite intimidated, as much by these big animals as by the nicely dressed lady coming towards us with a big smile.
‘Rubina, Azhar, welcome to my home. I am delighted to meet you.’
‘How do you do, ma’am?’
‘Thank you for coming all this way. I wanted to congratulate you on the work you have done in this film.’
A handshake, a few smiles and a picture: the meeting lasted only for very short time. She tried to reassure us that everything would be fine, and that they would help us to get a new house. And then we left. I was very proud to have met such an important political figure. What was more, I could tell my friends that I had not only met her but also been to her house.
After the meeting, we went to Ashima and Leena’s house for our fittings. It was a huge house, unquestionably the most beautiful one I’d ever seen. In the garden, they had their own swimming pool and two enormous statues of elephants. The house was full of beautiful decoration pieces, carpets and furniture. The walls had beautiful colours and everything seemed perfect. Even the plates and glasses were matching.
Ashima was a charming lady. As soon as we arrived, she invited us to sit down on a table and eat. She had prepared chicken biryani. At Sonia Gandhi’s residence we hadn’t had time to eat anything. I was very hungry and was glad to be offered some food. After lunch, Ashima and Leena took us into the sitting room to show us the dresses we were going to wear in the evening. They were of Indian and western styles mixed together, very stylish and colourful. For Azhar, they had planned a black sherwani embroidered with red designs, over matching trousers. But it was my outfit that I fell in love with: a colourful shimmering gypsy skirt, long and full, made up of seven or eight layers of cloth. It had so many colours: red, green blue orange and many more. For a top it had a little sleeveless blouse studded with multicoloured stones. I had never seen a dress like this before.
They told me it was an exclusive piece they had designed just for me. That made me giggle so much. It was quite extraordinary and it fit me very well.
‘Go ahead, try to move now. This evening, you’ll be on a very long catwalk.’
I wondered what the catwalk was all about. They explained us that it was quite simple.
‘On a catwalk, you have to walk normally on this long stage and when you get to the end, you pose for a few seconds, turn so that everyone sees the dress from every angle, then you walk back in the opposite direction.’
I tried to practice. I took a few steps, hands on my hips, trying to be graceful and smiley. Following Ashima’s indications, I tried to pose and take a turn at the end and my dress swirled with it. She said ‘Perfect, Rubina.’ Azhar, on the other hand, didn’t look too much at ease. When I saw him walk, he was stiff and he forgot all of his turns, I couldn’t help but laugh. For my part, I kept spinning to make the skirt twirl around me.
‘I love this skirt—it’s too beautiful!’
‘I’m happy you like it, Rubina. It’s looks beautiful on you.’
‘Can I keep it?’
‘Of course—it’s yours.’
I was sure not many had a skirt as beautiful as this. Obviously, dresses like these are not meant for my slum but I would surely pose for my friends at my house. Then again, who knew? After all the fancy evenings and places I’d attended lately, maybe I’d have other occasions to wear this dress.
After the fittings, there was, surprise, a round of interviews with journalists. Azhar sat on the elephant outside to speak to them but I was scared of getting dirty. We were taken back to our hotel for some rest. After a while, we went to another grand hotel where the fashion show would take place. It was a big event, full of beautiful people and clothes.
When we reached the venue, they immediately took us back stage to get ready. That area was full of activity. A makeup artist was waiting for us, she powdered my face and then put some red blush on my cheeks and coloured my lips with a pink gloss. They put a maang tikka in my hair, it had a huge coral colour stone hanging down from it and it complimented the whole outfit very nicely. Then I put on the skirt and vest, and finally the last accessory: a heavy belt made up of large multi-coloured stones. I was ready and couldn’t stop admiring myself in the mirror.
I ran to the other side to observe the fashion models getting ready. There were some very pretty women, very tall, wearing huge heels and dressed in magnificent outfits. Some wore very long saris in silk or velvet in red, blue or green, others wore kurtas embroidered with sequins, pearls and stones. They were smiling at me and many even complimented me on my dress. When the show began the atmosphere became electric, and there was a rush. Azhar and I were a bit anxious. Finally, we were pushed onto the catwalk. The first notes of the song Jai Ho, which was the background music while we were walking, motivated us and then there was no stopping us. I was enjoying the feeling so much.
Slumgirl Dreaming: Random House India, 175 pages, Rs195.
We had taken only a few steps when the audience began to clap and shout. At the end of the runway, I spun a couple of times and gave a few poses to the camera. The reporters called out, ‘Once more, Rubina.’
Azhar stood like a tree, looking up at them, hands on his hips as if he were Amitabh Bachchan in person. There was a great atmosphere, everyone was hooting and cheering for us and then we danced a bit to Jai Ho, to the great delight of the audience, who stood up to cheer us on. In the hall, there were people who sang the lyrics of Jai Ho at the top of their voice! It was a great rush, and we could no longer stop ourselves. We kept posing or dancing and stayed much longer than we were supposed to because Ashima and Leena finally came looking for us and joined us in the mad euphoria.
After the show, journalists came up to ask our reactions, wanting to know what we had thought of it all and the outfits we were wearing. After that many people came to compliment us or ask us for our autographs. My father enjoyed the show and couldn’t stop telling me how great I was. We only had time to eat a bit at the dinner after the show. It was a fantastic show and our designers were very happy and thanked us again. We said our goodbyes with a promise to meet again.
We were taken back to the hotel, where we packed and left for the airport. We took an evening flight back to Mumbai. It had been an amazing day. I was sure my family would have watched the show back home but I was eager to show them my dress.
This time, I didn’t spend much time at home, as I was leaving again for Udaipur, in Rajasthan, to film a commercial with Nicole Kidman. It was a commercial for some drink. I was excited to learn and discover new places. As for Nicole Kidman, I remembered this really tall, milky-looking, fair lady who I had met on the red carpet in Los Angeles.
Natasha Didi, the make up artist from Slumdog Millionaire, had called my father with this offer. I was jumping with joy. Not only was I going to be in an advertisement with a Hollywood star, Arjun Rampal was also going to be in it. He is a big star now and I particularly liked him in the movie Om Shanti Om, which also has Shah Rukh Khan. In this movie, Arjun Rampal plays the role of a bad guy.
This time, Azhar was not going to be there for the shoot, to tease and annoy me, which was good! For this five day trip, it was my uncle Mohiuddin who went with me, again. I was a bit more confident seeing another familiar face on the shoot; Natasha Didi.
Udaipur airport was much smaller than the ones I have been to. There was a man dressed in a costume who greeted us when we came out of the plane. We were taken directly to the film location, at the Taj Lake Palace Hotel, the former palace of a real maharajah, converted into a luxury hotel. It was situated right in the middle of the lake.
To take us there, a boat came to pick us up. It was a nice boat with a cloth cover on top as a shade. I had already taken a boat in Calcutta to the village of Munni, my stepmother. But this time, it was a private boat!
When I looked around, I realized that this place is only full of palaces. They are really big and very beautiful. People must be getting lost in these huge palaces all the time, I thought, and wondered how much fun it would be to play hide and seek in a place like this. It was like a fairytale land. I told myself that if I had to choose the most beautiful spot in the world to live, this was where I would settle. At the hotel, I was taken into a room where I met the whole crew. I immediately recognized Natasha. I was so happy to see her again and hugged her immediately.
Nicole Kidman was seated on a sofa, her long golden hair falling down on her back, looking a bit lost. When I came in, she stood up and came over to me, incredibly beautiful in her long, white dress.
‘Hello, I am so pleased to meet you. How are you?’
‘Fine, thank you.’
After a few months of studies at the Aseema School, I now knew how to say a few basic sentences in English. But it is always very hard for me to understand foreigners’ English as they speak very differently from my teachers. Meeting Nicole Kidman up close, I realized that she looks like a beautiful doll. I have never met any woman as tall as her. I thought all the women from my slum would be so small in front of her. But her skin, lips and hands, they were all perfect. I thought if I touched her, she might get dirty.
Arjun Rampal was there, too. When I shook his hand, he praised me and complimented me a lot on my acting in Slumdog Millionaire—so much that I blushed! Finally, the director of the advertisement came to introduce himself.
‘Hello, I’m Shekhar.’
‘Hello, I’m Rubina.’
‘Oh, I know. I’ve heard a lot about you, you know!’
As for me, I’d never heard of this Shekhar Kapur, but Natasha Didi told me that he is one of the greatest directors. In a few words, Shekhar explained to me what this advertisement was about.
‘This is an advertisement to promote a new ginger-flavored soft drink. The film only lasts two minutes, and your role is important. Natasha is going to do make you up and then I’ll tell you what you have to do.’
I wondered who drank gingerflavored cold drinks, but remembered that they have all kinds of strange food and drinks in America. So, this was no surprise for me. After the make up was done, a lady came to help me put on a long black skirt with a little red blouse embroidered with pearls, a typical Rajasthani dress, they told me. The hairdresser plaited my hair around my temples and placed a heavy silver maang tikka on my head. I also wore a silver belt round my waist and a heavy necklace. The whole look was truly magnificent. I thought my dress and look were more interesting than Nicole Kidman’s, as she just wore a white dress with very little make up.
Hearing me going crazy over the outfit, the dresser pointed out: ‘You know, after the filming, you can take this dress home with you, if you want.’
‘Oh, thank you!’
I was excited about having another fairy tale dress for myself; another exclusive dress in my wardrobe.
My uncle took a boat back to the hotel, quite taken aback by the luxury and the beauty of the place. Shekhar uncle briefed me on my role. They asked me to walk amidst dancers, just admiring and looking at Nicole Kidman. Then, I was supposed to hold her hand and run, not too fast, along a passage of the hotel. Next, we had to climb down stairs, still holding hands. We were standing on a platform and there was water in front of us as well as a boat. After that, Nicole let go of my hand and I touched her, marvelling at the jewels and her beauty. I had to behave as if I was completely taken back by her looks; a light touch on her cheeks was to make sure that she was indeed real and then I smiled at her, watching her leave on the boat. After that I again appeared when she was having the ginger drink.
That was it for the day, and the camera test was to be held next morning. They told me that Nicole Kidman, for security reasons , wanted to film only between six pm and six am.I didn’t understand the security reasons behind this odd shooting time chosen by Nicole Kidman but Natasha Didi told me that she was a very famous star and was concerned that ‘paparazzi’ would follow her. She also didn’t want to be recognized by the public, and wanted to maintain her privacy. In the evening, there weren’t many people and it was less hot as well, that’s why she could work in peace.
I found these reasons rather amusing. First of all, paparazzi sounded like some kind of pizza people ate in America. But then Natasha Didi told me it was photographers taking pictures of celebrities when they were not aware about it.
I found the American actress strange but then sometimes very charming. Everything was done on the sets according to her desires and mood.
Today was just a briefing and location inspection. It was quite late when I went back to my hotel. Unlike Nicole Kidman, I was not staying in that big lake hotel but in town, at a very nice hotel, which we arrived at late that evening. It had a palace-like look and beautiful rooms with lot of candles in them. There were two rooms booked for us, one for my uncle and another for me. They each had a television, a refrigerator filled with drinks, chocolate and a huge bed. My uncle went to bed, and I stayed alone in my room. It was at that moment that I missed Azhar the most. If his mother and he had been there, I would have gone and slept with them. I was quite scared to sleep alone in the room but I had no option, so I decided to leave the light on. I got in bed thinking of tomorrow and nervously waited to fall asleep.
The next morning, I jumped out of bed; happy to still be alive. I went down to have breakfast with my uncle.
‘You know, Rubina, we’re in no hurry. The camera test doesn’t begin until late, and they won’t come looking for you before the end of the morning. So you can have fun!’
The hotel looked more beautiful in the morning, I wanted to explore the place. I didn’t even go back up to the room, straight away rushed to the terrace with a swimming pool. There was a beautiful view from there. The sunny weather was perfect for bathing, and I didn’t want to waste time.
There was no jacuzzi or small swimming pool here like the one in America, however. I was not a good swimmer, and the water looked very deep to me so my swimming plans were crushed. I returned to my room to eat some cookies and watch TV. Finally, some time in the afternoon, I went to the Lake Palace. I was immensely bored there as the shooting was suppose to start only in the evening. I roamed around the hotel, up and down between floors and around the lovely gardens. I saw some multicoloured glass windows, which were really beautiful. I liked looking through them as things appeared in different colours, through them.
I ate but the food wasn’t that great again. I made myself full though, with different coloured cold drinks. Even the food did not agree with me. It was quite similar to American food. I think my grandmother and aunt are the best cooks in the world, and missed their food. For the rest of the shoot, I had to make do with Coca Colas and ice creams when I wanted something tasty.
Fortunately, Natasha Didi came looking for me then to get me ready. Nicole Kidman finally arrived. She didn’t come even once during the afternoon. She just came down for her shoot and then ran back to her room. Natasha had warned me, ‘She’s not too well, It’s probably too hot for her. She prefers to stay in her room.’
I would have liked to play and chat with her a bit.
That evening we rehearsed our sequence of shots. They asked me to think about the expressions on my face. I also did a bit of dancing in the opening shot. But mostly there were professional Rajasthani dancers dressed in local costume, much more professional than Nicole and me. I loved watching them, the way they turned and twirled. In films, the dance scenes have always been my favourites, and as always I enjoyed this one. I watched the dancers quite closely as I wanted to pick up some steps to teach my cousins back home.
Like the night before, I got back to my hotel quite late. The next day, I hung around in my hotel with nothing much to do till evening. This time, we filmed in our full costumes. Nicole Kidman wore the same white dress in which I’d seen her on the first day. A magical sort of white thin cloth covered her shoulders. She wore beautiful jewels and Natasha Didi told me they were real diamonds. Between each shot, the star took big breaks, with all her assistants around her. She had so many assistants, along with a dozen bodyguards and she didn’t like to mix too much with the team. When she was present, she spoke very little. I felt bored quite quickly. The following days went by in the same way. Afraid of the heat, Nicole Kidman stayed in her room all day, whereas I just walked round and round. By the end of it, I knew every corner of the hotel and made friends with some of the staff of the hotel too.
Shekhar Uncle and I became friends and he was quite happy with my work. The only thing I didn’t like was the long wait because of the time constraints imposed by the American star. Those five days were so long for me and I couldn’t wait to get over this shoot and head back to my friends.
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First Published: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 08 50 PM IST