“Ha Chokri tho nathi sudharvani che!” Baa says in Gujarati from the kitchen, in between flattening dhokla with a wooden roller. This girl will never improve, never!
“Look here, Bapu, father of my daughters, Cricket or Shahrukh Khan movies; she will go mad, and drive us mad one day.”
“Leave her alone,” is all what Bapu would say.
Parul is seated on the doorstep of their modest house in Ghatkopar in a lowly housing complex listening to the radio which is playing the song “Badi Mushkil Hai,” from Anjam. She likes Anjam in which Shahrukh Khan leaps over cars to flirt with Madhuri Dixit. She likes the song particularly because of her favourite star: his raw energy, the twinkling of his eyes, his dimpled cheeks, his full lips, “Oh, what a man, hai, hai!” she exclaims.
She watches all his movies, wheedling compact discs from friends to watch them on her friend Pallavi’s compact disc player. Her father can’t afford discs or players, he is too poor. She fancies him playing negative roles that none of the others stars would touch: serial killers, and characters veering towards the dark side of life.
“I am fond of him because he has unconventional looks, he isn’t tall and strikingly handsome, is good-looking in a homely way, which adds to his charm,” she tells Pallavi.
“But aren’t you aiming too high, dear girl?” Pallavi taunts.
“Doesn’t matter I know he is made for me. If not in this life, in the next,” Parul says. She believes in Karma and rebirth.
“He is such a super star and you….” Pallavi doesn’t complete the sentence and Parul knows what she means. She has acne on her face, and she is fat.
“She is in love with a star,” her elder sister Purvi teases.
“Why are you troubling my girl so much,” Bapu says between reading the newspaper. He is a writer and a dreamer that is when he is not teaching in a nearby school.
“But what if she fails in her final B.A. exams? You will responsible,” Baa accuses Bapu.
But Parul Kapadia keeps dreaming of Shahrukh. How his hair falls over his eyes, how his cheeks dimple into those deep crags of the flesh, how shapely and attractive his lips are.
Oh! How she wishes she could meet him once!
Then along comes Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hosted by Sharukh Khan. Parul knows this is her chance. She sits beside the phone and dials the contest number, for hours. Her fingers ache. But she knows she can, at least, be in a room with him, even if she doesn’t get to the “Hot Seat.”
Her mind is a whirl with the hum of the telephone’s recorded messages repeating in her mind. She imagines Shahrukh talking to her in her sleep, his lips forming the words like magic. She imagines talking to him when going to college, when in class, and when she is at home listening to the music of his movies.
She wants to win the KBC quiz contest and take Bapu and Baa and Purvi out of the miserable housing complex they live in. She wants to see her father, Bapu, happy.
“Soo thaye gayo? What’s wrong with you people? She has a dream, that’s all.” Bapu would scold Baa and Parul. Baa is old-fashioned and superstitious, both her daughters know, but on this she has Purvi’s support.
“If she goes and does something unusual, then don’t blame me,” Baa warns.
Parul knows Baapu like Baa doesn’t entirely believe in her and thinks this is a passing phase, something all girls go through. But she knows he believes in the power of dreams, how dreams are made of the substance of the mind. It is the force of the mind that makes her dream and, if she strongly believes in her dream, her mind can achieve anything.
Unusual is what Parul does. She skips meals and sits for hours holding the telephone in her lap, dialling.
“Did you get through, son?” Bapu would ask from his easy chair in the small verandah of their house. Since he doesn’t have a son he calls Parul “son” considering her the son he couldn’t have.
“No, Bapu, not this time. But, next time when the phone lines open I surely will,” she says, rubbing her bleary eyes.
“Son, why are you doing this? See how angry Baa and Purvi are. We aren’t getting any phone calls because you dominate the phones so much.”
“They don’t understand. They just don’t understand me, or, what my heart says. Shahrukh is a really nice man and I have a feeling I will meet him, talk to him.”
Bapu looks at her earnest face, her misty eyes, her chubby cheeks and his heart melts for her.
“Do whatever is right, son. I will support you, I am with you.”
Then it happened, without warning. It marked the end of all her expectations and the beginning of all her fascinating dream, now slowly coming true. When she is selected to appear in KBC quiz contest; she dances all over the house, teasing Baa and Purvi.
Two nights ago she had dialled the phone numbers till her fingers had grown numb and her sleep-deprived brain had become blank. “Next one, next one…” she had kept goading herself. She knew no telephone line could be engaged for ever. Then she got a recorded message with a simple question to which she gave the right answer.
And so things begin to happen! She receives a letter from the KBC organizers with the dates and details of when and where she has to appear for the show.
“Don’t worry, you will never get past the first round,” Purvi says.
“Yes I will, I will tell Shahrukh to blow you a kiss,” Parul replies.
“That is if you first get through, no?”
“You wait and see,” Parul says.
“You lucky girl,” he friend Pallavi says. Pallavi is happy for her.
On the day of the quiz Bapu escorts Parul to the studio of KBC. She is amazed by how a television studio looks. The shooting is done during the day. She had imagined it would be done at night as it was broadcast daily at 9 p.m. A shooting takes hours of preparation. There are the studio hands, there are bright lights, there are people hurrying about shouting instructions. Then there is make-up, and all seem to pass in a whirl.
Then Shahrukh makes his appearance. He looks so relaxed and jovial; all nervousness disappears when she looks at him. Here is the man she truly loves, and the man of her dreams, now right before her. Her Shahrukh! She can reach out and touch him if she wants.
Then the opening round of “Fastest Fingers First” starts after the previous episode’s contestant withdraws after winning Rs 650,000.
“Arrange these films of Shahrukh Khan, that’s me (Oh! He dimples so sweetly!) in the ascending order in which they were released. Meaning starting from the earliest, arrange these films of mine in the order they were released,” his super-confident voice rings out.
Parul swallows hard. She can’t believe it! Luck is on her side. She has seen all his films, and knows the years in which they were released.
A. Darr B. Anjam C. Swades D. Mohobatein
Her fingers fly on the screen; she is done in a flash. BADC. Then a pause when she can hear her heart beat, her ears ring, and the music pauses for effect.
“The winner is Parul Kapadia, who answered in 3.02 seconds, congratulations Parul!” Shahrukh has called her by her name.
It feels like a dream when Shahrukh hugs her. She walks to the hot seat as if she is in a dream. He wears a nice-looking suit that looks expensive and his face and skin are glowing as he looks at her. She is going to ask him to marry her, she is determined.
The first few questions, till she reaches Rs 20,000, are simple. She knows all the answers.
“From now on Parul the questions get a bit tough,” he says, “are you nervous?”
“Yes,” she mumbles.
“Main Hoon Na? I am there for you. Main Hoon Na is one of my films. Do you know that?”
Then he reaches across and shakes hands with her. His hand is a little moist in hers.
“Shahrukh, I have a request,” she says, her voice tremulous. A silence falls over the audience.
“Tell me,” he says with all his usual earnestness.
“I want you to greet my father Bapu, who is here, my mother Kantaben Kapadia, my sister Purvi Kapadia, and my friend Pallavi.”
Shahrukh greets Bapu with a namaste. Then he turns his shining eyes towards the camera.
“Kantaben, Purvi and Pallavi, I hope you are watching this. Here’s lots of love and, muaaaaa,” he blows a kiss towards the camera.
A twitter passes through the audience.
“Shahrukh I want to ask you a question.”
“Yes, go ahead.” He looks slightly puzzled; one eyebrow shoots up effortlessly, eloquently, as she has seen in his movies.
“I know how much you love your wife Gauri, but I am in love with you, too. I want to marry you.”
The audience looks on, stunned. But the star doesn’t look ruffled and it seems as if he has met with such girls, with similar requests, that too, often.
“Yes, I will marry you,” he beams, his dimples cutting fissures down his cheeks.
“Y-y-y-yes?” she is ecstatic and couldn’t control her voice from breaking.
“Yes, not in this life, but in the next one.”
Her heart almost misses a beat. Her head throbs, drowning the audience’s laughter.
“That’s enough for me. I believe in Karma and after life. I will wait for you, Shahrukh, promise?”
That answer makes her happy, and she glows all over. Her mind works faster; even the answers come fast to her mind. For the Rs 1, 250,000-question she is asked:
Q: What did Galvin Corporation first manufacture under the brand name Motorola?
A. Battery Eliminator B. Walkie Talkie C. Cell Phone D. Car Radio.
She knows it’s a trick question. Motorola’s famous brand is Cell Phones, but they still manufacture all the other products. The question is what they manufactured first under the brand name. Cell phone is the obvious answer as Motorola is a popular brand. She answers “C.”
Shahrukh is playful now. Something tells her she is wrong. She has exhausted all her life lines.
“Shall I freeze “C”?” he asks.
“Yes,” she says seriously while the star, her love, tries to create tension with his trademark goofiness.
“No. I think it is “D” Car Radios,” she says. Epiphany has struck.
“Shall I freeze “D”?”
“Oh, why did you change your mind? Parul, you were playing so well, you got all your answers right. I told you to be careful. I told you, if you gave the wrong answer you would lose a lot of money.”
Gone, all that money gone in a second! Parul is disappointed and angry with herself. She has acted stupidly and has lost a lot of money, and her dream of a better house for her family is never going to be a reality. The handle of the Hot Seat seems to slip from her grip. Her eyes can hardly meet his. Her throat feels as if furry creatures are clawing at it.
“However, if you had answered “C,” you would have been wrong; “D” is the right answer.”
Was she right?
“You win Rs 1,250,000. Congratulations!”
Yes, she is right!
The next question for Rs 2,500,000 is:
Which cricketer’s autobiography is titled: Beyond Ten Thousand – My Life Story?
A. Sunil Gavaskar B. Allan Border C. Steve Waugh D. Brian Lara
Parul is a cricket addict. She knows it is Allan Border who has written that book. But she hesitates.
“What importance does Rs 2,500,000 play in your life?” he asks flirtatiously.
“I want to take you with me on a Hawaiian holiday,” she says.
He pretends he is touched, places both palms over his heart and says, “Jaaneman, sweetheart, my loving wife in my next life, what is the answer?”
Oh, how her heart beats when she hears him call her “sweetheart.” How she would have liked to hug and cling to him for that. She is prepared to give all that she has won, to be his, only his. How her eyes betray her love for the man who sits opposite her, his eyes twinkling in the studio lights, his face a halo of charm, calm and friskiness.
But she has to help Bapu, Baa and Purvi. They need the money to move to a decent house away from the lowly housing complex in Ghatkopar.
“The answer is “B” Allan Border.”
“Congratulations Parul! “B” is the right answer. You have won Rs 2,500,000. Now you can take me on my Hawaiian holiday.”
The next question is tough and Parul is so excited, doesn’t remember what it is. She is ecstatic and in a frenzied state of mind. She says she would quit rather than take any risks.
As Sharukh Khan, the star, her love, envelopes her in a warm hug for the last time she is wondering, does he mean what he says? But she believes in Karma and the eternal chain of death and rebirth. She plans do a lot of good work with the money that she has won. Then when she is reborn he would be hers, in her next life.
As they exit the studio into another world Bapu looks at her and the cheque she is holding and says, “Son, the power of dreams. Didn’t I tell you to trust in the power of dreams?”