World premiere

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 19, 2020 Published on June 19, 2020


“What were you doing yesterday?” Bins asks. I say, trying not to burst with pride, “I told you what I was doing! Becoming a film star!!” He’s standing in the garden in Delhi, watering the plants as we talk. I’m in my tiny two-room apartment in Elsewhere. I can hear the crows talking and the cars honking on his side of the planet. “Oh yes,” he says, “you mentioned something about acting in some porno film...”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I shriek. “It’s a seven-minute video-recording of one of my short plays! Me in Elsewhere and an actor friend in Bombay, reading from the script —” “Pure porno,” says Bins. “Dangerous for young minds. Which script is it?” “Well,” I say, “it’s the one called The Anarchist...” Bins starts to laugh. “What did I tell you? Not just porno, but POLITICAL porno!”

“I never realised how difficult it is to act,” I tell Bins. “Even alone in my room, with only my laptop’s camera to look at, I felt so self-conscious!” The entire script is barely six pages long and yet I couldn’t memorise my lines. “But it’s your own play!” Bins reminds me. “You wrote the whole thing. How can you forget the lines?” That’s just the thing, I tell him. Writing the lines is very different to delivering them! Plus, I had to keep looking up at the camera’s tiny little “eye”, along the top edge of the laptop’s screen. I was, in effect, just staring at myself, while pretending that I was talking to my fellow-actor, in Bombay.

“Why couldn’t you be talking to each other while saying your lines?” Bins wanted to know. “Oh no!” I exclaimed. “I would have just died of embarrassment. Also, he’s really good at pretending. Whereas I...” The actor’s name is Pablo Manuel Silveira and he recorded his lines with apparently no trouble at all. “Even for this tiny little film, he really threw himself into the role,” I say. Which makes my performance all the more pathetic by contrast.

“What’s the role?” Bins asks. “Well,” I say, “he and my character are supposed to be in bed, when he tries to wake ‘me’ up —” Bins falls over, laughing. “Uh-oh! Bad move!” he says, knowing that in real life, to shake me out of sleep is to risk disembowelment. “Yes,” I say, “that was my only starring moment!” “So are there naughty bits?” asks Bins. “Only in the form of cartoons,” I say. After all, there’s a limit to how much can be achieved while performing in remote locations.

“I had to record my lines at least three times over. I couldn’t stop looking down at the script,” I say. “I sent the clips to Pablo and he put it all together. It’s very cute. Complete with title cards and everything.”

“Wonderful!” says Bins. “Maybe it’ll win an Oscar — but no! It can’t.” “Too short, you mean?” I ask. “Nah,” says Bins. “Because they don’t award Oscars for porno-films!”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on June 19, 2020
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