The Spotlight.

He couldn’t bear it much longer. If the programme didn’t start in another five minutes, he would die of anxiety. Had they shifted his item to a later time slot, or worse still, had they cancelled it?

It was not the first time he was performing. The stage was his second home, with several shows all over India and abroad under his belt. No sir, definitely not the first time he was performing. And yet, an hour before his item, a queer excitement seemed to hit his guts so hard that other performers kept asking him, “ Hey, are you okay? You look a little stunned”. It never failed to happen, this little shiver of excitement wracking his entire being. And it was not abnormal, considering he had performed with the Khans, Hritik and innumerable celebrities.

He’d had a blast and his friends were happy for him. They knew his journey was no smooth sailing one. It took a lot of courage and talent to be up there with fellow stars. And no one — absolutely no one — had been able to throw him. He had held on to his place like a leech, practicing his art (what he did for a living was nothing less than that) day and night, showing up at rehearsals on time so no one could point a finger at him. His dedication had paid off. No one ever sullied his reputation or faulted his work. They loved to watch him on stage, performing alongside other celebrities.

He knew he did it for the spotlight. He did it for fame. And glory. Ever since he was a kid, he had watched stars perform, sometimes live and at other times, on TV. That one circle of light that separated the star from lesser mortals had him spellbound. Fate, though, seemed hell-bent on not letting him be a part of the glitterati. His father was a peon in a big office, his mother a maid who didn’t earn enough to feed his father’s ego, let alone a house full of children. They just about got through. Mealtimes were scavenging scenes for him, so he avoided eating at home as much as possible, preferring to beg on the streets.

As he begged, his network grew until eventually, he was bribing his ‘lucky’ friends working backstage at shows to let him meet superstars after their performance. His efforts paid off and before he knew it, he was a part of their world. His father had always laughed at his ambition: “Father, someday I will be famous”. He had taken the first step toward proving his father wrong. And tonight was the grand finale.

Tonight, the spotlight would be on him. Tonight, he would be famous. He had been flown down from Mumbai just for this programme, and he was determined to give the performance of a lifetime. His partner, soon to be his wife, was with him. There were a couple of guys, all dressed like him in clothes too bright and faces too made up. The same clothes and makeup, he knew, would look marvellous on stage.

Thousands of people swarmed the Bangalore Palace Grounds, like giant bees in a claustrophobic hive. The place was chaos, the MC having a tough time controlling the crowd.

“Alright guys”, said the event management lady backstage, “Get ready, it’s your number now. All the stars are here. When the first line of ‘Chadhthi Jawani’ finishes, go on out there and do your bit.”

A calm descended over him. He knew he was going to be great. Let the countdown begin, he said to himself. Five. Four. Three. Two…

…And then he was out on the stage, dancing and gyrating to the remix of the song from Caravan. His dance troupe followed behind him, gyrating in a similar fashion, but it was obvious to the crowd that he and his partner were the chosen ones that night. He was their leader, and they were his flock.

A hundred yards away, the actors from the recent box office hit danced, all smiles. The spotlight was on them, but it cast long shadows on him and his partner. Seconds later it shifted position, to the left, to the right, closer to him, closer, closer… till he could feel its heat singeing him.

Then, for a frozen second, the spotlight was on him. Falling full on his face, turning sweat into gleaming diamonds. Turning him into a star. Only one though ricocheted in his head: Look father, I’m famous.

And then the spotlight moved on.