Hello Dear Readers and Listeners, can spoken words possess the power to kill? This story is about an actress who certainly has reasons to wonder if her words can put lives to end. Read on or listen or do both. And don't forget to leave your comments. Your words - both praises and criticisms - help me improve as a writer and a podcaster.
Welcome to OBSCURUS, your weekly dose of paranormal fiction. Every Wednesday OBSCURUS features new short stories and serialized novels written by novelist, screenwriter, and voice-over artist Biswajit Banerjee. The realm of the paranormal stretches far beyond the usual horror story. So, while you will get to listen to lots of ghost stories on this podcast, there will also be many tales of lesser-known paranormal themes. To get us started, here's your host Biswajit Banerjee.
HOST TALK 00:00:47
Hello and welcome to OBSCURUS. Today’s tale is about an actress. Her exemplary talents make her an international celebrity. Well, we will learn more about the actress shortly.
But before we start the story, I urge all esteemed readers and listeners to visit my website biswajitbanerjee.com for information on my books, movies, and voice-over works.
Also, do find time to visit obscurus.buzzsprout.com, my second website dedicated to this podcast alone. You will find all OBSCURUS episodes, their transcripts, and chapter markers over here.
Okay, now let’s dive into the story. A talented actress suspects that her spoken words could cause death? What’s the truth? Come, let’s find out.
THE MOVIE STAR 00:01:59
Written and performed by Biswajit Banerjee
"I loved you so much, Samrat. Never thought about my own career or associations because all I cared for was your success -- and today, you are successful. The world knows you as one of the sharpest and most successful entrepreneurs. You realized your goals. But I guess you had some other goals in life I wasn't aware of. Well, I don't blame you for anything. Maybe as a wife, I failed in my duties. Perhaps one woman was not enough for you. You needed variety in love and sex. And you achieved it. But think about me, Samrat? Imagine what I felt when I spotted you in Lisa's arms. No, Samrat, I cannot live with this ignominy. Go ahead and do anything; I won't stop you. But this marriage is over. Trust me, I will never hate you. But I have got self-respect. So, I want a divorce. Don't worry, you won't need to pay me a single dime. I want no alimony from you. It is you I loved, not your resources. I am leaving, Samrat."
By the time Natasha finished delivering the dialogue at the audition for a major Bollywood film, tears were rolling down her cheeks. The Director and cameramen clapped and cheered after her performance.
"Oh, fantastic — you are a great artist," Aman Shekhawat, the Director of the film, said.
"Sir, I am so thrilled you liked my performance," Natasha said.
"This is what I call acting, Natasha. True acting is no acting — a performer is not supposed to act. She is supposed to live the role. With this stupendous performance, you just exemplified the idea."
"Does that mean ..."
"Yes, Natasha, you are selected."
"Thank you so much, Sir."
"Oh, there are no reasons to thank me. With this performance, you have proved I will not get anyone better for the role — you are playing Bhavna, a loving friend of Ananya, the heroine of the movie."
"But Sir, the lines I just spoke are of Ananya, the lead character."
"Indeed, but those were just lines of the audition. Didn't anyone tell you Neelam Chhiber has already been shortlisted for the role of Ananya?"
"So, I guess there has been some miscommunication — I was under the impression that you were auditioning me for the lead role."
"The role I am offering you is also good."
"No, Sir, I would not be interested in Bhavna's role. Is there a possibility you reconsider your casting decision about Ananya's role?"
"A strange question! So, you expect me to replace Neelam, a superstar, a big crowd puller, by yourself."
"Look, Natasha, no doubt you are a good actress, but you are asking for too much. Please understand — you cannot be the lead star. The truth is you don't have the lead star looks."
"But Sir ..."
"Well, I am acting a little harsh, but your words forced me to speak the truth. One of the project's Assistant Directors told me that you have been auditioning for the lead roles for the last two years. But you didn't bag any. And you also declined the supporting roles. The sooner you acknowledge the truth, the better — you are not made for lead roles. However, you can achieve success as a supporting actress."
"Thank you for your advice, Sir, but I would rather wait for an opportunity to do the lead."
Natasha packed her bag and left the studio. This wasn't the first time she was denied the lead role. And this wasn't the first time somebody said a thing like you cannot be the lead star. She had heard dozens of Directors, Assistant Directors, Financiers, and Cinematographers tell her that. Yet, she didn't settle for a supporting role. In many ways, the Indian film industry is unidimensional — typecasting of actors and actresses is common. Many said — Once you settle for a supporting role, you will never do the lead. And this saying proved true for a multitude of talented actors and actresses. So, she would not play second fiddle to anyone, even if it meant not doing a single movie role.
Aman Shekhawat's words returned to trouble her as she stood in her apartment veranda sipping whiskey.
The truth is you don't have the lead star looks — how insulting those words were.
"I don't have the looks, or you don't have the brain — can anyone in Bollywood perform like me? Only a moron will not be able to spot my depersonalization skills. While performing, I lose myself and become the character I need to play. Can Neelam Chhiber do that? Never. And what makes you say I don't have the lead star looks. Despite being the Glitzy Fairy Beauty Award winner, you think I don't look like a star. Die you, scoundrel. And may that bitch called Neelam Chhiber, your favorite star, also die."
In less than ten minutes, Natasha was on the bed, with her mind completely hazy under the influence of the six shots of whiskey. The news channel playing on the television featured a piece of breaking news. But her senses weren't absorbing things anymore from the world around her. With changing lights and unintelligible noises of the television adding to her mind's haze, Natasha fell asleep.
When Natasha woke up from her slumber in the middle of the night, the news channel was still flashing the news. Dream or reality? Superstar Neelam Chhiber and famous Bollywood Director Aman Shekhawat killed in a car accident — the headline ran. After rubbing her eyes, Natasha focused on the screen — the headline was the same. The time of the death was 10.44 p.m. According to the police reports, Aman was driving the car, and Neelam was sitting next to him. While moving in the downward direction on a steep road, the car skidded and hit a massive truck going up the slope. The probable cause of the vehicle going out of control was the presence of thin layers of oil in various parts of the road that leaked from an oil tanker that had moved over the same road minutes back.
"Oh, I started drinking around 10.30 p.m. and shortly afterward said that Aman and Neelam must die. At what time did I say they must die? Perhaps 10.40 p.m. or so. Within minutes of what I said, the two of them died. Could the cause of their death have been my words?" Natasha whispered to herself.
As she watched the reports of the accident, a sense of guilt filled her mind.
"What did I do? Killed two people?"
Soon after, Natasha realized how stupid it was on her part to be blaming herself for the accident.
"How foolish — why am I blaming myself? The accident didn't have anything to do with me. Spoken words don't possess the power of causing accidents. What happened was destiny."
A month after the strange incident, Natasha received an email from Balram Kapoor, a noted director of Hindi and Marathi films. Balram invited her for coffee at a seven-star hotel in the heart of the city.
"Any ideas, Natasha? Why have I called you here?"
"Not really, Sir."
"Please call me, Balram; I will be more comfortable if you address me by my name."
Natasha smiled. "Okay, Balram, as you say."
"So, you have no clues why you are here?"
"No clues whatsoever."
"Well, you had auditioned at the studio of Uday Films for a movie titled 'Tokyo Calling' about a month back."
"Oh yes, and the people over there found my performance impressive."
"Without a doubt, it was an impressive performance."
"But how do you know about it, Balram?"
"The Uday Films has now appointed me as the new Director of the film. I signed the contract last week. During a discussion with my casting director, she showed me your audition tapes. Although their intention was to audition you for the role of Bhavna, you spoke the lines of Ananya before the camera."
"Yes, that's correct."
"Will you be interested in the role, Natasha?"
"Sorry, Balram, I wouldn't be interested in playing Bhavna."
"But I didn't offer you the role of Bhavna."
"Yes, what you are thinking is right — I am offering you the role of Ananya."
The words didn't register in Natasha's ears for a while.
"Are you ... really ... offering ..."
"Let this be loud and clear — I am offering you the role of Ananya, the lead character of the film."
The shoot in Japan was like a dream. Although Natasha was on debut, she worked with confidence. Playing opposite the superstar Vikram Khanna was quite an experience.
The movie 'Tokyo Calling' was loved by the audiences the world over, and now she was a superstar herself.
Natasha got a dozen of other film offers. Soon she had a professional team of agents and managers working for her.
Her brilliant performances won her millions of fans. In less than two years, she became one of the largest tax-paying individuals in the nation.
With the assistance of a professional writer, she wrote a book on depersonalization. She called it The Art of Depersonalization. The expression 'depersonalization' became a buzzword amongst her followers. Several online tutorial forums approached her to run acting tutorials. The amount of money on offer was substantial. So, she also took to online teaching, and her training program on natural acting became popular with aspiring actors and actresses. The emphasis of this program was on 'depersonalization.' Although her book on depersonalization explained how one could work one's way through to a character’s psyche one is supposed to play, in her online training program, Natasha demonstrated the process for her students to watch and learn.
The training program earned her millions of dollars. Soon, the international movie magazines started calling it the Bible of Acting.
With fame coming her way in such large measure, could Hollywood be far away? Over the next two years, she did two super hit Hollywood films.
By now, The Art of Depersonalization and Natasha's online training program became essential parts of the repertoires of most actors and actresses. Many American, French, English, Australian, and African performers followed Natasha's depersonalization techniques.
And there was another development — she was in love with Vikram Khanna. Whether Vikram loved her or not wasn't clear. But his eyes, Natasha believed, conveyed his feelings. This belief turned into near-conviction in no time, for she saw no reasons why a man could not be in love with her. Everything a man could look for in a woman was in her — beauty, fame, talent, riches, humility, and most of all, a loving heart. But till the time she heard Vikram acknowledge his love for her, she couldn't rest.
One evening she invited Vikram to her bungalow in Bombay and decided to get things clear.
"What are your thoughts about our future, Vikram?" Natasha asked, sipping whiskey.
"Already you are an international celebrity. The best international movie directors want you in their films. If the present is so glorious, can the future be bad, Natasha? Obviously, more glory awaits you in the future."
"Perhaps you didn't hear my question. I asked what your thoughts are about our future?"
"Well, you will be even more successful in the future. As for me, my fame, I guess, will be confined only to India and fans abroad who like watching Hindi movies."
"Are you not understanding my question or pretending not to understand?"
"Hey, you sound angry, Natasha. What's the matter?"
"I don't like these pretenses."
"You must tell me."
"Vikram, are we going to be together in the future? If you want me to say it with still greater clarity — are we going to be married?"
"A strange question — what made you think we are going to be married?"
"Don't you love me, Vikram?"
"Well, we are good friends, but ..."
"Just friends, nothing more than friends?"
"Isn't it enough that we are friends?"
"But I love you, Vikram."
Vikram responded after a minute of silence.
"Listen, Natasha, I have always seen you as a friend, and I don't think our getting married is a good idea."
"How can you say that after so many years of association?"
"Did I ever say that I love you?"
"You didn't say it with your mouth, but your eyes said it all the time."
"Oh, come on, Natasha, that is a ridiculous thing to say. Get it clear in your head — I don't love you, and marriage to you is totally out of the question."
Vikram kept his glass of whiskey on a table and walked out of Natasha's bungalow.
Rejection! This was a rejection of her love by a man whose achievements were not even as a speck of dust when compared to what Natasha had accomplished. How could he do this? More than a hundred marriage proposals had come Natasha's way from the most handsome and richest men from all parts of the world. And Natasha didn't accept any of those offers because she had given her heart to Vikram Khanna, the man who just rejected her.
No, Natasha wouldn't forgive Vikram for what he did. She quickly emptied several shots of whiskey into her system.
"Oh, I never thought you would do this to me, Vikram; you have cheated me. All the while, your eyes have been saying it loud and clear that you love me. How could you lie to me? Look at yourself — a small Indian actor. People here might call you a superstar, but most moviegoers in the world don't even know you exist. And now cast your eyes on me, you moron — I am an international celebrity. I have one thousand times more money and fame than you. No, you shouldn't have done this, Vikram. For what you did, you deserve death. Die, Vikram, die ...you don't deserve to live anymore."
Natasha kept muttering something or the other about Vikram till the time she fell asleep on her couch.
After a twelve-hour sleep, Natasha woke up with a heavy head. When she skimmed through the newspapers that a servant had arranged for her on the table of the living room, she couldn't believe her eyes. The headlines in the newspapers read — Superstar Vikram Khanna dies of heart failure. She put on the television. The news channels were airing the same news — Vikram Khanna was dead. Doctors ascribed the sudden death to a massive cardiac arrest. Some of his friends and relatives appearing on the television expressed surprise at the cause of the death. Known for his disciplined life and physical fitness, it came as more than a shock to everyone that Vikram died of heart failure.
"No, this can't be," Natasha said as tears rolled down her cheeks, "this can't happen to you, Vikram. Hey, wait a minute. What did I say before sleeping last night — I said Vikram must die, didn't I? Oh, my goodness, did he suffer the heart attack because I spoke those words? Did my words kill Vikram? What the hell! Do my words have the power to put an end to a life? Even Aman and Neelam died after I said they should die. O, that's horrible — my words can kill, can they?"
When she finished talking to herself, Natasha looked up on the wall — an ugly lizard moved slowly toward its prey.
"Let's see if my words can kill — hey damn lizard, die."
Nothing happened to the lizard, and it caught an insect and swallowed it.
"Rubbish, my words don't have any powers to kill. Those deaths were all coincidences."
Tears filled her eyes as thoughts of Vikram crossed her mind.
The shadows of Vikram's death stayed in her psyche for a long time, but then time heals all wounds. After six months, she got back to work. The glitter of the tinsel towns diluted her sense of loss further, and soon enough, the tragedy turned into merely one of the many setbacks of her life.
A row of hits shot her fame and popularity to the skies.
The international offers grew in number. One of these offers was hard to refuse — it was a rare opportunity. In a massively budgeted Hollywood film, Natasha was offered to play opposite Brandon Smith, the biggest American star. Her managers told her that the producers had preferred her over several top Hollywood actresses. The movie could make her a star of the stars.
Around six months later, Natasha was standing close to Brandon Smith for the maiden shot of Call of the Soul in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, a beautiful green space on the Brooklyn side of the East River, one of the most picturesque spots of New York City.
"Can we do this in a single take, Natasha," Brandon asked.
"Certainly, Brandon, I will do my best."
Then Natasha closed her eyes and did what she called quick depersonalization meditation. It helped her to get into the character.
"Okay, now be ready," the Director of the film Kevin Brown said.
Natasha was back in her position.
"Brandon," Kevin said, "you remember the lines?"
"Yes, I do. We will try to do this scene in a single take," Brandon replied.
"Wonderful, and what about you, Natasha? Are you too prepared to do it in a single take?"
"Absolutely, Kevin, a single take it shall be."
"Wow," Kevin said, "please remember Natasha, you must begin to fall after speaking all your lines, and Brandon, at that moment, you must hold her with an expression of shock and grief. Is it clear?"
Both Brandon and Natasha answered in the affirmative.
"Okay, silence please," Kevin spoke in a loud voice, "Roll camera."
"Rolling," the cinematographer responded.
After a few seconds, with his eyes on the monitor, Kevin said, "Roll sound."
"Rolling," the sound mixer said.
With love reflecting in their eyes, the two performers kissed.
"Emma, I love you," Brandon spoke his lines in the avatar of Richard.
"I love you too, Richard, but I can sense my time has come," Natasha said, playing Emma.
"No, I will not let you go anywhere."
"But this disease ..."
"This disease can't snatch you away from me, Emma."
"The doctors say the end can come at any moment."
"To hell with these doctors."
"Don't worry, Richard, I shall see you from the skies."
"Please don't say such things."
"Oh ... this pain ..."
"Where is it paining, Emma."
"It's all over my body ... my heart."
"Something is very badly wrong, Richard. I knew my end was near but didn't quite have a hint it was so close."
"No, nothing will happen to you. Let's go to the hospital."
"Richard, I would rather spend the last moments of my life in your arms."
"Come, I will help you to the car."
"Listen," Natasha spoke in a choked voice, "there's no time left now. I will be dead soon."
And she began to fall, Brandon held her. Suddenly, Natasha felt a horrible pain on the left side of her chest. Within seconds, it grew unbearable. She struggled for breaths as her eyes bulged out.
"No, don't go, Emma," tears flowed down Brandon's cheeks.
Natasha's face turned to one side, and it moved erratically as gushes of air escaped her nostrils and mouth. At this moment, she realized that her words could cause death only to humans. In the next second, her body appeared to become lifeless. As her eyes turned stony, Brandon pulled her closer looking crestfallen.
"Cut," Kevin said, clapping like mad, "what a performance by the two of you. Natasha, get up now. The shot is over. I can guarantee you are going to win this year's Oscar for this performance."
"The shot is over, Natasha," Brandon said, "you could blink your eyes now."
Natasha never blinked her eyes again.
Thanks for listening to OBSCURUS. If you like what you heard, please subscribe and visit biswajitbanerjee.com for more information about Biswajit's books, movies, documentaries, and other creative pursuits. We shall see you next Wednesday with another episode of OBSCURUS. Till then, take care!