- Roy Daniel D'Silva
Yes, this story is inspired by true incidents. In fact, every important happening in the story has been eye-witnessed by me. I have seen with my own eyes how true creativity is subjugated, downsized and finally trampled by unscrupulous people with money. To make better sense of the story, I think I should give my readers a background of the author - Roy Daniel D'Silva.
I had always wanted to be a fiction writer, something very difficult for a middle-class Indian in Bombay. Three years ago, I didn't know how to go about it. I had the ideas, but not the body.Having nothing to do, and wanting a job, I had gone into sales. I spent around a year in sales, selling everything from imitation toy cars, cell phone SIM cards and finally, air-conditioners.
My relation with writing started when I was employed as a sub-titlist for Bollywood media. It was there that I learned a lot. Not especially about literature, but about life. I learned, how, on a day-to-day basis - creativity just didn't exist.
I know Terence Glibber. I have seen him. Four years ago, in a restaurant at Lokhandwala, Andheri. I know Samantha. I have seen her, two years ago, at the International Film Festival of India, Goa (IFFI).
And that is where my problem starts. Everyone who reads this story will immediately recognize Maude Turnmouth, but none will know Samantha or Terence. Maude Turnmouth can play God, but she's nothing without Samantha and Terence.
'Accept it, because that is the way it is, and nothing else.'
Roy Daniel D'Silva.
"So..." he took the customary pause which would denote to all viewers that something important would be asked, "Will you be bumping off Luther?"
"Well, the script calls for it. And also, he has lived his role. It is the right time for his character to call it quits."
Both knew that they were reading out from a prepared script, and it would have been a wonder if even a single word of what came out was true. But they were doing their job, they were getting the TRPs.
Maude Turnmouth looked at the young anchor. His nervousness showed in everything he did; his attire carefully selected by a girlfriend in the office, or a boss who liked him too much. His questions were by rote, in fact, Maude could almost picture the paper he had read before he hounded her out at the event. She had been through all this before. Ten years in the media had given her a lot of insight. And she, of all the people, should know. She was Maude Turnmouth.
Her interested glance flitted across the young man. While he blushed in person, professionally he knew that this could be the events that would transport him from the fringes of celebritydom to being a celebrity himself.
She liked this characteristic. He would go far. He had already learned to keep his professional and personal life separate. Even to Maude's experienced eye, it was difficult to decipher - but decipher it she did. After all, she was the Maude Turnmouth - creator of two hit shows, both into their third season now.
"How does it feel to kill off a character?" The man subtly thrust the microphone into her face.
By this time she had gone into her 'answer-question' mode and was answering questions as her tutored by her Amanda. She was simultaneously processing the questions and the man asking them.
"I don't think about them. They are just characters in the greater storyline. If they die, they die."
Was this a rote question? Well, it had to be, because this man definitely won't even piss if told not to, given his current security line.
"So... have you decided how you will finish off the character? And how do you REALLY feel about it?"
"Oh... no, not really. All I can promise is... it's gonna be exciting. As for how I feel..." she gave one of those loud guffaws that characterize a confident woman. "I repeat that don't think much about my characters. They exist for their allotted time. After all, life is all about moving on.'
The evening culminated as usual - with Maude fawning over richer friends and poorer friends fawning over Maude. At around midnight the grand dame of soap operas swept past the guards and got into her car, closing the door to the outside world.
Her car was the one place where she felt insecure in - she had feared closed spaces since her childhood, though it was a fear she faced and fought down as she did all other things in her life.
She had walked the dull and dreary path of a writer to an author in the television industry. It had been a long journey, but worthwhile. From subtly thrusting a microphone into a face, she had come to the point where people were thrusting one into hers for some valid sound bytes.
She knew that the young man was fair game, wanting and available. But not tonight. She knew she'd have to attend at least three phone calls. Not that the man would have minded, but she didn't want him to be part of the occasion.
Tonight, Maude would play God to a character on her show. The character was a male - one who had victimized many other characters on the show. He was what was in currently popular media lingo called a 'gray character'.
Maude's found private amusement in the fact that such grey characters had existed all along, but suddenly someone had the guts to really depict them. She didn't care either way; she made her money and her name.
Maude walked to the staircase and looked down at the lower floor. Staircases were always the stuff that interested her. Her first memories with a staircase was she was enthralled by her mother, a star herself, coming down to her fans waiting downstairs - god to the mortals, messiahs to the people.
She always wanted to know how it felt to go up those stairs and come down, while people waited for you at the other end. Their hopes and ambitions all wrapped in you.
She could play God.
Terence felt the heat under his collar. Two years under the arc lights had changed him a lot on the outside, but he was still the small town Terence Glibber in the inside.
He was comfortably indecisive at heart, but life had nevertheless forced him to take many decisions. One of them was walking away from his ancestral country home in search of fame for his talent - acting. Along with the home, he had to make do without his father's legacy and even the family name.
His belief in himself was as strong as his father's disbelief in the world of entertainment. His father always thought that this fickle world had no proper career to offer his son. It was only later in life that his father saw his son's dream clearly, but it was too late. His father died a premature death at sixty, without a proper will.
Terence didn't quite mind his father leaving him at financial loose ends because he was at the moment the cynosure of everyone's attention. He had landed a part in the season's top-rated TV series. Though the character was the exact antithesis of Terence's own, even the most respected of actors grudgingly admitted that the newcomer was handling the role well.
Life had been a cakewalk for the young and handsome Terence till the day the production house decided that his character's death would make the show more popular. By now Terence's name was almost synonymous with that of his character - Luther. Luther, the step-brother in the extended family, responsible for everything negative on the show had engulfed Terence.
At first, it felt good. But eventually he was lost in Luther's world, his own identity absorbed into the fictional character. He was 'that guy from the show - the evil guy'. With the death of the character, Terence was without 'Luther', his recognition and more importantly, his job.
He was now waiting nervously for an appointment with an old friend in the industry, whom he had known before their mutual plunge into entertainment careers. Sitting across her in a restaurant that was known to be haunted by celebrities didn't alleviate his nervousness any.
After a while of beating about the bush, both knew what Luther/Terence was here for.
"Shauna... I won't have a job after this month. Luther is through."
He couldn't look above his soup bowl while saying it. He hid his defeat behind the pretended composure of a man playing with his soup with the spoon.
"You mean they are killing him off? That's great...!"
The pause in the conversation said it all to Terence. In the cut-throat world of entertainment, he didn't matter nor did his problems. People didn't matter - characters did.
"Oh, I mean... you will have to look out for some new work... I am sure..."
"No... there is nothing coming along. Nobody will cast the guy who played Luther. It would be too big a risk for them. But I have a heck of a lot to lose. My career is at stake here. I am at stake here."
It took a moment for the words to sink in. But it was the undeniable truth.
"Please Shauna... do something. I'm almost broke. Everything has been invested, bought... I'd go bankrupt."
"I will do what I can, Teddy. But you do know that the market is very slack at the moment... it will take time."
Her cell phone rang, and Terence could discern from the gleam in her eye that it was an important person on the line; more important than him and his problems at least.
While she spoke over the phone, Terence gazed at the woman in front of him. He could see no semblance of the small and silent girl he had known in the past. Instead, he saw a woman of the world, ready to fight for what she considered her rights.
Shauna shut down the phone and placed it in her handbag, a discreet indication that the conversation and meeting was over. The waiter, taking the hint, appeared out of nowhere with the bill. The bill stayed between them for a while - it was still a man's world and Shauna expected Terence to pay it.
Summoning all his strength he said, "Get me a job, Shauna. I don't have money to pay the bill." He didn't have the guts to look up. But he did hear a definite 'I'll try' and sensed her moving out of the hotel.
Terence was left looking at the bill and the payment.
He hated himself.
Samantha leaned back in her chair and folded her glasses, rubbing her tired eyes and heaving a sigh of relief. She rose and prepared some much-needed coffee, then looked from the window of her fourth-storey apartment down at the hustling, vibrant city down below.
Not long ago she had been part and parcel of the life she was looking at and catering to. She hailed from a simple family, but cherished a magnificent dream - she wanted to be a writer. She had exposed herself to the difficult world of spinning stories, addressing people from vastly different walks of life. It had been a hard journey, but a good one.
She had risen from an anonymous aspirant to a name of sorts in the scrolling credits of the most talked and most watched serial in America. It didn't matter that she was the one who made the storylines, the plots and subplots. She was just a person who worked for Maude Turnmouth - the creative director.
Samantha still remembered her days as an aspirant, peddling a non-moving script in the various so-called 'workshops'. Eventually, she had learned that writing stories was a vastly different ballgame from selling them. A difficult lesson- well learned. She could now look back and smile at one of her experiences on the journey that had changed her life.
It had been a bright, sunny morning at a tropical island resort. In keeping with her aspiring writer status, she was attending a workshop-cum-film festival. Samantha had made one of her infrequent inspections of herself in the mirror. At twenty-three, petite was the word that described her best. Her straight hair had been pulled back into a severe ponytail, leaving the subtle curve of her head exposed. She hoped she had selected a suitable attire for this day - a brown pullover t-shirt and a flowing black skirt.
She was ready.
She made a nice picture, clad in unassuming clothes, with her work, her script clutched in dainty hands.
Once downstairs, Samantha had navigated to a foreign director and wife who she knew were attending the workshop. She stood at a distance, watching the overweight man eating sandwiches as his wife browsed through a society magazine. Much of the things pictured in the magazine were out of her reach. Her womanly instinct told her that the wife could afford everything in the magazine at twice the price.
"Sir...," she ventured.
The slight bearded man raised his podgy face and looked at her through oval glasses.
"I am Samantha Wilber. I have read about you..." She was telling the truth - she had. He was a director who made films of the so-called parallel cinema genre - stories different from the usual contemporary lot.
His body language suggested that he was not impressed, and that he wished she'd get on with it.
"I have this small script... If you'd take some time off to read it..."
The man's face dissolved into a false, world-weary smile. He had sized her up before she'd even spoken. He knew that her concept would probably be interesting; these amateur offerings usually were. Experience, however, told him that salability was another thing. After all, the commercial angle was the only one that counted. He extended his sun-burned hand for the script. Samantha placed the file into his hands. He skimmed through it, barely long enough to judge the quality of paper it was written on.
He closed the file and kept it on the table.
Looking at her he said, "Your story seems interesting. But as you know, our governments don't have a policy of cooperation as of now. So, I can't get my local producers to look into the script. But... could I keep the script with me? I am sure we could work something out."
That folder had cost her half of all the money she owned in the world. She had thought it'd be used for more than once. Well, so much for planning.
"Sure, sir. I am sure you will find that it has potential."
She didn't know whether it was frustration or inspiration that had prompted her to scan the classifieds in the newspapers for a job. It worked, with her finally being taken in as an apprentice concept creator at ImageWorks, one of the upcoming television houses. Her stint with ImageWorks lasted till today, with her rising pretty quickly in the ranks and learning a lot. She was now a concept creator on one of the longest running shows on television. It was the team of four which churned out the storylines, the spin-offs and whatnots, but with the credits going solely to the creative director. Maude Turnmouth.
She remembered the characters since their inception, the various brainstorming sessions she had with herself to create, nurture and give the characters well-defined personalities.
On this day - the day every creator dreads - she had to dismantle the house of cards she had so carefully constructed and make it vanish. It wasn't the first or the last time she was doing so, but the character in question was close to her heart. Nobody could breathe life into him as she could - after all, he was her creation. The world may have viewed him as a negative character; maybe he would go down in the annals of television history as The Negative One - but she knew what he was, and how he had come to be and what made him tick.
'Luther' had been the last character she had introduced on the show... the clichéd stepson who everybody hated. But that wasn't what she had envisaged him. Her concept had been that of the original black sheep of the family- the sore thumb, the Outsider. The killer.
Needless to say, the character didn't win any popularity sweepstakes with the country music crowd. "Keep the medieval fantasies to yourself, Samantha," was Maude's short analysis. "We are catering to television here. The only way to woo an audience is to pay those guys to make pink colored TV screens. Get on with it. Scrolls are out, documents are in. And you know the rule, babe. Shape up or ship out."
She would give anything to spend an invisible day in her creative director's presence. That woman's character fascinated her - the way she looked down on everyone, her know-it-all approach - and her success despite the extreme bitchiness. Did she have the same problems she faced? Had she known the trials and triumphs of an ambitious scroll-writer before she plunged into the commercial world?
Samantha figured she still had one chance. She could get through to the woman who controlled Luther's life. She could call her.
Maude entered her home and activated her answering machine before sitting down. Nothing. There were moments in life when Maude was surprised - this wasn't one of them. She was amused, though. She liked the way people knew when she'd take calls, and would be accessible. Well, she had worked a lot in life to achieve this shield of privacy, doing things when she wanted to do them.
Settling down, she took the telephone to the table next to it and nodded when the phone rang. The wheels were in motion.
She had taken this from a popular movie she'd once seen. Important people didn't greet, it wasn't necessary. The person on the other line would thank their stars that they had reached that person.
"Hello, ma'am. Terence here."
Her face reflected passing irritation. She had told her accountant to pay the man and shut him up. If he was calling for a pay raise...
"Yes?" the question in the tone was obvious.
"I wanted to speak about my character."
"Look, Terence. What must be done will be done. I have decided that the character should come to an end. He is through."
Her tone was, as always, dominating. A tone that precluded the possibility of protest by this pip squeak of a boy.
"I am sure you will find new work." Afterthought. An act of mercy, maybe. But she could do little more. She didn't even find him interesting, let alone sexually intriguing.
"Yes, ma'am... but I was..."
Terence knew his gut feeling was correct. It was useless speaking to her. He knew he had committed a mistake by calling her.
"Whether the schedule could be changed for tomorrow... the shooting..."
"As a rule at ImageWorks, the shooting schedule are never changed. It is inauspicious. I hope you will make your final stint at the studio memorable."
Terence took the hint. He could see a pathway opening through the darkness engulfing him. Though torturous to his eyes, it was welcome. Lesser torture to the larger one.
"Yes, ma'am. I will be there. Good..."
Tame. She thought. She knew that the man was ruined. Nobody would risk taking Luther in their project. Well, to hell with him and the others. The phone rang again. She frowned. This could be difficult. She hated these dreamers.
"Samantha here. I wished to speak to you."
"There is a change in the scenes?"
"Excellent. So we are meeting tomorrow? I still have to arrange for the cameras to be placed... but it will be done."
"Yes... I wanted to know the angles, that's all. I thought I'd put some more spice in them."
"Don't worry, child. Prepare the meal, I shall add all the spice I need."
"Yes, ma'am. Good..." Click.
Maude leaned into the sofa and looked at her blank TV screen. Tomorrow, she could set another benchmark. The most famous TV character in recent tabloid history would be dying. It was a televised miracle. She could picture women leaving their housework and getting glued to the screen - their husbands, returning from work, waiting in puzzled impotence for entry.
She didn't quite remember when she drifted off to sleep, but when she opened her eyes she was sure she was somewhere else.
She looked around calmly. After all, she was Maude Turnmouth - she invulnerable. Still, her perplexity increased when she found out that the room was very much like a particular room of her serial. The same wall hangings. The walls of the same color. She looked down and found she wasn't on her favorite sofa any longer, but on the ultra expensive one she rented for the serial.
"Where am I?"
"Excellent. I have been waiting to hear that."
Startled, she looked around. A bearded man came out of the darkness. The darkness was not natural. It was the kind they usually used while shooting to hide some ugly spot in an otherwise splendid set.
"You..." Maude felt stupid recognizing the man. She had never seen him, of course, but his attire and his body language told her who he was.
"Yes, Me. You should know me. You made me."
"What kind of sick joke is this? Who are you? Where am I?"
"You are in your world." He spread his hands to point to the surroundings. "This is yours."
"Bullshit. A call to the cops will take me to the real world." She muttered under her breath and walked firmly to the telephone. She picked up the receiver to find dead silence on the line.
"Don't you remember? All the phone lines will be disconnected. You made it happen."
"Well, lady. There are two options now. Either you go stark, raving mad and I kill you, or you speak to me and know why I kill you. The choice is yours."
Maude wasn't certain of the latter choice, but saw more threat in the first. She chose the second and settled into the sofa.
"As your genius mind has deciphered, I am Luther, your creation. And I am here to suggest to you."
"You are not Luther. Luther is fictional. You are some madman who is obsessed about a character I made just because he is so famous. If you as much as touch me, the police will hound you down."
"In the real world, quite possible. But in this world, don't you remember... the law is in my back pocket. It wouldn't hold water in real life, but what heck, it seems good on television, right?"
With Luther's trademark swagger, so masterfully practiced by Terence, the dark skinned, pony-tailed man sat on an opposite easy chair. His grin was something that was made to be pulled off his face. His eyes were two piercing vertices of concentration, filled with some unnamable passion.
"You wish to kill me, then?" Maude understood that she'd have to distract this lunatic while she tried to think her way out of this. She was no stranger to violence and wasn't one of those women who'd scream for help. If she ever were attacked, she wouldn't be doing the screaming.
"Yes. You have come full circle. You have played your part, an important part in the life story of the family. And you will be punished for your deeds - the logical, gratifying end. We must think of the audience's moral sensibilities."
She realized that he really could be a lunatic - a schizophrenic, maybe. The authorities could be looking for him.
"Excellent. I am honored to be put to rest. My story has been told, though not well told, but told. How do you plan to kill me?"
Maude blinked. They were to shoot the death scene tomorrow. Samantha had called her to speak about the script, the scenes. She didn't have the time to talk to her, nor did she care. ImageWorks did not use ironclad scripts. It was always Samantha typing the day's input and random inspirations, with Maude going through them, chopping, cutting, trimming and shooting.
"I'll tell you, bitch. You have NO idea how I am to die. There is NOTHING fixed about how I will be dying. And you say your serial has a STORY?"
"And what the fuck did you tell that little boy you were speaking to? You don't think about characters? Bitch! What would Shakespeare say if asked about him killing Romeo and Juliet?
She knew it wasn't exactly flawless, but Maude didn't see anything wrong with her system. The daily installments of a long running serial took a lot of story changes along the way. Also, if there was a new advertiser, something 'extra' would have to put into it.
"You don't know how we make serials, do you?"
"Oh, I know, slut. My life is one. I started out smoking Camel and one fine day I find Marlboro in my pocket. You smoke, bitch? You know how much it affects me?"
Maude was stunned. This man sitting in front of her was an avid follower of her show. Yes, they had shown him using Camel. It was sometime later that Marlboro came with an advertising campaign and she suggested - decided - on this plug-in.
"And you aren't even giving me a proper burial for all I know, slut. I am to die tomorrow. So tell me how I am to die, so at least I can make the most of my last hours."
Her fear was a real thing now - she couldn't kid herself any longer. She knew she was with a genuine psychopath. She gave in to the panic and made a dash for the door.
"The doors are closed, bitch. Locked. I know more about the story tomorrow than you do. And you are what? A creative director? A creator? *$##!"
"Now sit down here and listen to me, and I will make your death painless."
Time. She had to buy time. She hoped that the authorities would arrive. She prayed they had been notified. For once, the creative director prayed to the Creator.
"First of all, I shall take the nine-iron you so like to batter nice people with and break your legs. I shall break them only below the knees. Your hands... I think I shall use the knife you used to have my sister killed to plunge into your elbows. Finally, a stump of wood would do well in your heart."
"No!! Get away from me!!"
Luther stood up from his seat, eclipsing everything in her line of sight. She saw his pale pink complexion turn into fiery yellow. She could see shreds of his skin come off his jaw-line and turn into small tongues of slick flesh. He grew in height and form, though his eyes remained the cool blue she had always wanted him to have. Horrified by the nightmarish transfiguration, she screamed but could look away from those eyes.
"First'.. he was calm, deathly calm. She couldn't take it. She just couldn't accept anyone with the calm he showed in her presence. She wanted him to shout, to be gibbering in her presence. It was not to be.
He took a baseball bat from the set props, Maude's eyes flickered for a moment. In the moment of chaos logic that she had, she thought that the baseball bat was only a prop, something that couldn't hurt her.
"Aaaaaaiiieeeerrrggghh', a painful blow on her knees told her that she was wrong. That bastard had brought real baseball bat, and it hurt... really.
She had now doubled up on the carpeted floor. Her entire body was on fire now, the crux of the fire at her broken knees. Her stupid mind had her worrying for the blood stains on the carpet, she was half thinking about getting them cleaned the next day when the bat struck her neck, breaking her throat into two, leaving her sad and crumpled body on the red carpet, against blood and glamor, she was dead flesh.
x x x
Maude Turnmouth: Bizarre End of an Era
The Gossip Gazette
Maude Turnmouth, creator of the famous TV series 'Away', is no more. She was a victim of a bizarre studio accident. Apparently, Ms. Turnmouth one of her co-creators Samantha were discussing the fine points of the day when the studio ceiling collapsed, killing her instantaneously. Co-creator Samantha Wilbur escaped without injuries. Studio hands report that Maude Turnmouth had looked uncharacteristically preoccupied the entire morning. 'Haunted' was how the key grip described it.
The incident took place while they were filming the death of the character Luther. The future of the character remains uncertain.