Drugs, Drama and Dragon Mama
Recap: Things don’t go well for Zaara at her first photoshoot, but they get way better the moment Nectar CEO Arjun Bajaj sets his eyes on her.
When the doorbell rang, Raahi sprung up in anticipation from her bed and plonked her book on the sofa. She had been doing crossword puzzles all day to keep her mind from worrying about her baby’s first shoot. She had wanted to be there, herself, to supervise it, but Zaara had categorically refused to let her on set.
“It’s bad enough that we look exactly the same, Ma. If you’re actually there, the comparisons won’t end.”
“Some people would kill to look like me,” Raahi had huffed.
But she understood where her daughter was coming from. Zaara was camera shy as it was. She had to be able to do this without Raahi and her big personality there, crowding her. She had to carve out her own identity if she was going to pursue the path of being an… influencer.
In her private moments, Raahi couldn’t believe it had come to this. To her daughter having to slog on a set exactly as she had done in the 70s. Fussing over every little crease in her skin. Powdering her face to look exactly right. Listening to a million opinions on how she looked from men who knew nothing about beauty. Standing under harsh lights for hours. And not even for a movie. Not even to see passion light up in her co-star’s eyes. And then see that passion replicated in the adoration of audiences for the next decade.
As she raced to the door Raahi braced herself, hoping the shoot had gone well. This may not have been the destiny she would have chosen for her daughter, but now that they had decided upon it, it was best that they start making it work to their advantage. Raahi was going to grill Neelu Guru about the pictures and ensure that she got to okay them all before they were released anywhere. She didn’t care what the CEO of the company wanted. Or what the contract said. Raahi would have the final say in how and where her daughter was presented. And she’d like to see Neelu Guru try to talk her out of it.
But as she swung open 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 his green eyes.
And in his arms was her daughter. Unconscious.
Raahi must have shrieked because Seher came running downstairs, asking, “What happened? Are you okay?”
But Raahi couldn’t respond. Black spots had begun to dance before her eyes. She felt her feet turn to rubber beneath her.
“I think you should hold on to your mum,” the young man said, smoothly. Then he turned to Raahi, “Ma’am your daughter is alright, I assure you. She’s just asleep.”
Raahi looked up at the good-looking twenty-something before her and tried to believe him. Her breathing steadied. But before she could ask him who the hell he was and why the hell his daughter was being carried around by him, the elevator dinged and Neelu Guru stepped out of it.
“Ah thank you Arjun,” Neelu said, and then turning to the mother, explained. “Before you ask why Arjun is holding on to Zaara, I didn’t want one of the drivers carrying her up. And there’s no way I could have done it myself.”
Raahi found her voice.
“I think the more pertinent question is WHY does she need to be carried up? What the HELL happened on this shoot?!”
“Well the shoot didn’t happen,” Arjun said evenly. “Because your daughter took three Restorils and passed out for the next eight hours in her vanity van.”
Neelu lifted a strip of white tablets from Zaara’s little glitter vanity case.
“Oh dear,” Seher reddened. “I told her to take only half.”
Raahi turned on her supposedly responsible daughter now, furious.
“Why did you give opioids to her at all?!”
Seher flinched, unused to being yelled at by her mother.
“I knew she’d be nervous. And she refused to let either of us on set. She was only meant to take half to calm herself down.”
“Why didn’t you keep an eye on how many she was taking?!” Raahi screamed at Neelu now. ‘I should never have let you represent her!” She knew she was being unreasonable but she didn’t care at that moment. Seeing Zaara’s prone body had knocked the rationality out of her.
“Mrs Pandit,” Arjun said smoothly, “Please relax. She should be waking up about now. The effect only lasts eight hours. We’ve had a few noises from her already.”
“Oh dear,” Seher said, biting her lip. “Did she…”
“Meow?” Arjun’s mouth twitched. “Yes she did. An almost perfect imitation of a cat. My mother used to have a Persian, so I consider myself something of an expert on the subject.”
“She’s going to kill me,” Seher said woefully.
“I’m going to kill you,” Raahi said, still shaken. “I can’t believe you drugged your sister.”
“I told her to take half a Restoril, after eating. I didn’t know she was going to take three after throwing up.”
“Seher don’t be ridiculous. When has Zaara ever stopped at one of anything!?!”
A snort of laughter escaped Arjun. He couldn’t help it. His own home had none of this camaraderie. Unfortunately, it earned only a murderous look from both the women before him.
“Thank you for all your help,” Raahi said icily, to what she assumed was some marketing employee of Nectar, before her. (The good-looking ones always go into marketing.) “But you can put my daughter down on the sofa now. There’s no need to keep hanging on to her.”
Arjun lowered Zaara down on the cream-coloured sofa and took one last look at her lovely face.
“It was good to meet you,” he said to her sister and her mother. “I hope she feels better.”
As he turned to go, Neelu stopped him. “Why don’t you have dinner with Jaspal and I tonight, Arjun? We live just downstairs.”
Raahi was surprised at the zeal in Neelu’s voice. Why was she so eager to invite some mid-level executive of Nectar to her home? Ah, but then, he was handsome in that chiselled, rough sense. A little like an Indian Liam Hemsworth. Perhaps she, like her enthusiastic husband, also enjoyed a little eye-candy at dinner. Gosh, they were an odd couple. There was no way Raahi was going to let Zaara go on a shoot alone with Neelu ever again after this.
“Perhaps another time Neelu,” Arjun said. “I have to get to the factory in Vapi tonight to okay the skincare range, before it’s shipped to London. Do me a favour and make sure the shoot happens tomorrow, yes? I’ll try and drop by towards the end.”
“Yes boss,” Neelu said.
As Arjun disappeared down their marble corridor, Raahi and Seher looked at Neelu with a range of expressions passing across their faces — surprise, realisation, embarrassment, all of which were met with an answering grimace of yes, exactly. They didn’t dare say a word.
Then the elevator doors dinged shut. Beethoven’s symphony became relievingly faint. And as it dinged open on the ground floor, the women exploded.
“So that was…” Raahi couldn’t even bring herself to say it.
“The CEO of Nectar,” Neelu nodded. “Mr Bajaj.”
“Why would he take the trouble to…,” but Seher trailed off in realisation, as her mother glanced down at Zaara, with a slow smile spreading across her face. Of course he would take the trouble. Seher smiled now too, laughing at her baby sister, who even in her sleep would cause this much drama.
Raahi kissed her young daughter’s forehead. “Sleep well dear. You’re going to have something of an adventure tomorrow.”
Only a faint mew was heard in response.
(To be continued)
This is the 25th episode of Riva Razdan’s serialised novel Nonsense and Respectability, published every Sunday
Riva Razdan is a New York university graduate and currently working as a screenwriter and author based in Mumbai. Her debut novel Arzu was published by Hachette India in 2021