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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Stars, Earth, Sky

No, not that kind of star : not the big ball of burning gases, billions of miles away in space.

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When I was a little girl, I loved to watch costume drama movies in the cinema theaters. Any old theater, with its rickety wooden seats, peeling screen and crumbling plaster walls and ceiling would do. The moving images on those screens mesmerized me, as did the stories of  kings and queens of yore, the smiling-faced benevolent gods and goddesses.

One favorite was the Tamil classic film "Veerapandiya Kattabomman", a story of an insurgent king who dared to challenge the British East India company interlopers in his native land. It was hard enough to see a movie once in the theater, but this was one movie that I managed to catch at least three times before my watching spree ended. It resulted in my firm conviction that the king Veerapandiya Kattabomman looked exactly like the lead actor Sivaji Ganesan. Ergo, Sivaji Ganesan himself was Veerapandiya Kattabomman in all his glory.

A few years later, while visiting my aunt in Madurai, I spent a day in great excitement, having been informed of Sivaji Ganesan's pending visit to a Medical College exhibition, and  obtained a promise from my aunt to be taken to meet the great man himself. I walked through the various stalls and exhibits, laughing at the silly plastic skeletons, grimacing at the real ones, the eerie jars of formaldehyde with misshapen body parts, miscarried foetus or two... But my mind was counting down to when we would go to the reception tent and see the king, of course.

I was ushered to the reception seats and as I sat there, a bald gentleman of benevolent aspect and stout frame sat right next to me. He wore a white kurta and dhoti. I glanced at him and turned away, indifferent, my eyes still on the sharp lookout for Veerapandiyan in full court regalia. The function started and droned on interminably as boring speaker after boring speaker took the stage. Finally the call came for Sivaji Ganesan, and to my horror, it was the bald gentleman sitting next to me who stood up to speak.

My aunts and uncles still go into gales of laughter as they remember my reaction to the discovery that stars are down-to-earth people, who do not go about in full 'filmi' style when they are off-screen.

Now years later, I just smile and wonder, who was the real character? Is it the role inhabited by the actor playing a role or are we all just actors playing roles in a 3-D cinema space somewhere.

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My mother had just recovered from a serious illness and was now flying to Netherlands to visit my sister. She boarded the flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam, nursing a growing migraine that gets triggered by long hours in the confined space of an air cabin. As she sat, increasingly in pain, in her row, she decided to get the medication bottle from her bag and turned to her seat mate to help her with it. He was a short man wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, with abundant dark straight hair, a striking resemblance to some famous martial arts star in Hollywood. Could it be....No, no, it can't be. A Hollywood superstar would never travel coach on a commercial flight.
The gentleman was very kind and solicitous, helping my mother whenever she needed assistance, first with getting her bag down, then with offering his 'air sickness' bag, pouring out some ginger ale and generally being as unobtrusive as possible while she tried to sleep away the headache.
Half an hour before the flight was due to land, a flight stewardess rushed back "Mr.Chan, hope that you had a comfortable flight....Yadda, yadda, yadda..." My mother did a double take. Could it indeed be....
The flight landed. Mr.Chan helped get the bag down for my mother. As he handed it to her, she asked"May I know your name please?" He replied curtly "Jackie", as they filed out of the cabin.

Later, my sister joked,"You should have taken a selfie with Jackie Chan, to prove that you had indeed been sitting next to him on the flight!"

A star in the sky, indeed.