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Telling Tales: Seethasharan, superstar

The ‘it’ factor.

This is what makes a superstar stand out from the rest of us. Repeated attempts by the learned ones haven’t resulted in its decoding – yet. If the at first theoretically postulated God Particle was found to actually exist, then some day the ‘it’ factor too will be revealed to inhabit probably the genes or will be attributed to a conditioning of an impressionable hypothalamus. Till then the attributes bandied about will be as flattering as it will be flummoxing, will be contradicting as it will be a cause for consternation.

The many 'it' qualities

She may not look great but goes to great lengths to look different.

He may not have outstanding physical attributes, but takes every effort not to belong.

She might be riddled in poverty but will have that one possession which could be either expensive or just flaunt value or both.

Composure, composure, composure: They are carefully collected even while sharing a heartrending biography or south-bound career graph. But they will never break down – at least not in front of you.

Tales of glory, if any, from the past are reminisced in minute detail with invariably abounding photographic proof adoringly tended to. These are variably treated as effective narrative props or even shrugged off dramatically for effects.

Seethasharan’s oiled-shiny flocks curled down to his shoulders and the jet black dyed moustache twirled up to his ears. A glittering clean Ray Ban stood out with all the incongruity of an Antilla against the tattered white of his undershirt. His barber shop was surrounded by framed photographs of him in different poses – in a denim jacket carrying an ancient rifle sporting the frowny villainy, earnestly pleading with the camera to love him standing next to a car parked kerbside, the classic thumps tucked and a stare dare with the camera. All of them memories from a dream that was ‘cut’ even before the ‘action’.

“Must be close to 25 years since I starred in Dushman,” he tells me with an almost imperceptible nod towards the photograph of him with the gun. “I played the role of a bandit.”

“Did the movie do well?” I tried to egg him on. “Did you get more offers after that?”

“Well, what do you think?” He asked me matter-of-fact but this time quite perceptibly nodding his face around his shop. Wafer-thin plywood which barely rose to his waist separated his living quarters from his workplace.

On a straw mat lay a rumpled sheet that was dirtied beyond colour and a pillow which recklessly strew rolls of cotton around. A rusted stove stood dangerously close to all the flying cotton, reeking of kerosene and held an unwashed steel vessel which had just made his morning tea. Next to his pillow were the film magazines, of course. While most of them dealt with Nepali cinema in one way or other, I could not help but notice that the ones closest to the bed were predominantly those with overtly made up buxom belles with busts barely held inside bodices threatening to plop all over the cover. The joys of single living?

Memories make the man

“This has been my office and my house for over 20 years.” Seethasharan said as if reading my thoughts. “I hail from Janakpur quite far from here where my wife and two sons stay. I visit them maybe once every six or seven months.”

I was on my way to the more happening Neon Palace, a dance bar next door, when I saw the barber shop. I noticed a giggly young girl with old eyes, clad in a wayward sari yakking incessantly over her mobile phone, daintily dangling her feet as she sat on the edge of the high barber stool. Seethasharan was caught up adjusting his own flowing manes against the mirror next to the one where the girl was watching herself on the phone. After a while she slid off the stool, helped herself to the cheap talcum from the table and applied it to her underarms. She then took a broken comb from an array of broken combs and brushed into place an imagined out-of-line tangle. On her way out she massaged circles with two fingers on Seethasharan’s vested chest. But he stood there seemingly imperturbably focussed on cuddling his moustache further skywards.

“The music is so loud inside,” he explained the girl. “So whenever they get a call or have to make a call, they come here.” When I asked him whether he charged for the talcum, he just laughed it off. He didn’t want to talk about his starry-eyed younger days, how he dreamt of being the superstar someday. He had told me that when he didn’t have enough money to send home or even eat, he would imagine he was a superstar and he wouldn’t feel so miserable anymore. No, he didn’t want to tell me how it worked either. But he wanted to speak about the royal family of Nepal – mass murdered by an unhinged family member – whom he deified like the majority of Nepalis.

Choose your past and your memories

“The members of the royal family were great believers,” he told me. I had, from my two weeks’ stay in Nepal, learnt that the prevalent atheism in the corridors of Maoist power wasn’t going down too well with the prayerful public.

“They all used to roam the streets like us ordinary people,” he remembers. “The King now, probably out of fear, travels on the roads like other politicians creating massive traffic jams with numerous roadblocks. He is scared which he never was, he never had to. But things have changed. Today, even the King fears for his life.”

Seethasharan still fondly remembers the day – over two decades ago – when Queen Elizabeth came visiting and the then-king Mahendra ordered all buildings renovated and repainted.

“That was the last time I had my shop repainted.” He looks around at paint that had peeled off in large swathes and the caved-in roof supported with bamboo poles that crisscrossed each other at haphazard angles.

“Then it looked so new, I still remember the smell of new paint…” His voice tapered off into an invisible hollow that loomed large.

Looking away, he put on his Ray Ban.

Later when he turned I saw that a tear had trickled down from somewhere behind the dark glasses and made its way into the thick bush on his upper lips.

When it came to superstar qualities, I think I was wrong about some.

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