Tuesday, 9:37 am.
Manak Dey was conflicted.
The task at hand called for his devotion to the idea. But before that windfall, there was the challenge he was scurrying from.
“Listen, you two-bit reporter. If my money isn’t there by the end of the week, you can say goodbye to your dream car. That’s the first thing. Then your flat. After that, maybe goodbye to one of your limbs too.”
“But, bhai, I will return the money. Please give me a few more days.”
“Where will you get the money in 10 days if you can’t get it in 5, eh?”
“I’ll manage something.”
“Do that in five days, then.”
“Bhai, please, listen…”
The line went dead.
Here it was, then. Taking loan from the mafiosi had its dangers. But he knew that life was all about dangers. Manok (how tiring for him to explain to everyone that it was spelled ‘a’ and pronounced ‘o’) was in a tight place. But he’d always come out of such places. Why not this time as well? Manok survived accidents, sackings, enemies, and this city. Manok will survive this problem too.
“Get to work,” he thought to himself.
Work was waiting for him on his laptop. He opened it and started going through the photos.
When he’d received the pics through his source on Sunday, he’d easily identified the man. Who wouldn’t? Karanjit Kapoor, megastar. Darling of the masses. The A-lister among A-listers. Old, sure, but still enjoying the flavours of life. It was the woman who was less identifiable then.
Now, it was crystal clear.
By that evening, he had her number. He’d called her up and explained the situation.
“Yes, I’d like to interview you for my network.”
He could put up the pics and cause a furore, sure, but an interview with the woman would be 100 times more potent a clickbait.
“Yes, I have a news website.”
“I’m not sure about the amount.”
The woman was calm as fuck. “If you want to interview me, you’d have to pay me 1 crore. Simple.”
“No but, Mr. Dey.”
“Let me see what I can arrange. Fair if I call you half an hour later?”
He’d disconnected. Later, of course, he’d agreed to pay. The question was, where from? If he had that sort of money, he’d have paid Pakya bhai a long time back.
Karanjit Kapoor, of course! Who else?
He’d have to call Kapoor’s secretary, Aditi Dhillon. She will understand what he was going to say. If not, well…
Dey chuckled and dialled a number on his mobile.
“Hello, Ms. Aditi. This is Manak Dey from EXTv speaking.”
“Hello, Mr. Dey.” The voice was less cheerful than the words suggested. “I know who you are. What can I do for you?”
All business-like, these secretaries. Might be thinking of themselves too as Bollywood royalty. Anyway.
“I’d like to talk to Mr. Kapoor.”
“His interview schedule is packed for the next 20 days.”
“Not an interview. A telephone call.”
“Purpose?” Faint curiousity there, was it?
“I have to talk about one of his, what shall I say, liaisons.”
An imperceptible silence, unclear to all but the most trained ears, like Manok’s.
“”Mr. Kapoor with a woman. Not family-friendly, I must add.”
“I think you get my drift.”
“Do you have any idea whom you are talking of? This is the greatest actor…”
“…yes. That’s what I mean as well.” Manok had no time for hagiographies.
“What do you mean?”
“An actor like him, an institution in himself, revered by billions. How would it look if this news were to leak?”
“I don’t think you understand, Mr. Dey. You’ll be finished before you publish this on your petty website.”
“Ms. Aditi, I haven’t worked in the media for 22 years without knowing that.”
“What do you want, then?”
“Copies of what I have are with four other people. Well-wishers like me. If any harm comes to me, those pictures will be on every known and unknown social media platform within the hour. The loss of credibility, the lost projects, the ostracism — I think you know the costs all too well. You’re his secretary, after all.”
There was no response, which Manok took to mean that his point was getting across.
“I’m a well-wisher, Ms. Aditi. I don’t want any harm to come to Mr. Kapoor. In fact, I might be his greatest fan, seeing as what I’m going to propose now is dedicated to his own benefit.”
“What’s that?” She jumped at it.
‘I’d like to talk to him directly.”
“You can tell me.”
Manok rolled his eyes.
“I’ve told you enough.”
“I…I’ll have to consult with Mr. Kapoor.”
Before she could mutter fake pleasantries to cut the call, he blurted, “You know my number,” and did the honours himself.
The clock on his phone’s screen read 10:08 am. It rang before the digital minute hand could run through two more minutes.
A new number.
“Hello,” Manok was at his mellifluous best.
“Hello, Mr. Dey, this is Karanjit Kapoor,” a familiar baritone voice boomed.
“Hello Mr. Kapoor…sir.”
“I was informed by Aditi ji that you wanted to talk to me about an urgent matter.”
“I never said urgent,” Manok thought, “and you have clear knowledge of the matter. Why the false fucking pretense?”
He kept his inquisition to himself, and decided to focus on the business.
“Yes, Mr. Kapoor.” The “sir” went out the window.
“What is the matter?” The query was so innocent, a lesser mortal would’ve been fooled for a moment.
“I have some “material” about the time you spent with a woman.”
“I meet with many men and women, Mr. Dey.” A soft laugh.
“But you don’t take them all to your farmhouse in Lonavla, do you? Or to your villa in Goa?”
The laugh vanished, as Manok knew it would.
“What do you want?” No more courtesy. Hurt hero had replaced the gentle public figure.
“You don’t want to know who the woman is?”
“I know who it is. What do you want?”
Manok Dey was impressed at the man’s ability, even at this age, to remember the exact woman. Mind you, this wasn’t a one-off fling for the “Ruler of Hearts.”
“5 crore rupees.”
“I don’t want to repeat what I told your secretary, Mr. Kapoor. You have a 1000 times more money than what I’m asking for. Pay me that, and you can forget about me forever.”
“What’s the guarantee that you’ll not repeat this again?”
“My track record speaks for itself, Mr. Kapoor. I have always been loyal to my clients and my sources. Besides, I could’ve easily sold this to media firms anywhere in the world for a comparable fee and years of celebrity. But, I didn’t, and I won’t.”
He let his words hang in the digital air between them, growing in potency with each passing second.
“I’m ready to double the amount. But I want to be confident.”
It was a pity that Kapoor couldn’t see the 1000-watt giggle on Manok’s face.
“Of course, Mr. Kapoor…sir, whatever you want.”
Pakya bhai will be paid off. His car and flat were going to be safe. And he didn’t need to pay the woman.