He was unlike any other, dishevelled yet graceful, slouching yet impressive, antagonistic yet charming. A heated argument was on outside the cinema hall.
“Sir, you are not allowed inside without a ticket.” The guard told him rather gruffly, for the umpteenth time. Several ticket holders streamed past, having eyed the greying intruder anxiously.
“But the movie that is playing is based on my life. Let me in. I’m the reason this film was made! So what if I don’t have the money to buy a ticket? You have to let me watch it….”
Unmoved the guard rolled up his narrow eyes .By then I had reached up to the guard and flashed two tickets .I tapped the broad old shoulders “Come along, You deserve every second.”. Surprised but unfazed, the man followed me at his own pace. He seemed under no burden or obligation of any kind. Meanwhile, I fancied my chances of getting a story for the weekly magazine I worked for.
“Salted or Plain” I asked as I headed to the pop corn Stall.
“Do they have a Caramel flavoured?”He expressed suavely. I patted myself to have picked him up expecting to extract a good write up.
“So, what’s your take on the storyline, Is it really based on you, Mr…..” I paused as our fingers touched inside the popcorn tub.
“Anthony… Well, I will be surprised if it’s not. The finest details were dug out from me by the scriptwriters.” His euphoric voice choked as he munched a few corns.
The screen started showing a Southern Goa village and a bunch of pre-pubertal boys playing with pebbles in the background of Crimson Sun at horizon. “That’s where I learnt my first few lessons in Shooting.” He lowered his pitch as the screen showed a foreigner appreciating the skills of a young boy in the group. “Had Mr. Smith not been there, I would never have ventured into the world of Sports.”
I straightened my recliner Sofa and looked at his nostalgic eyes. The movie was unfolding right next to my seat through his words. Though it was the premiere show, it seemed he had watched it several times before. The young protagonist in the movie kept winning accolades at all levels while Mr Smith kept training him. The prodigy was soon representing the national shooting team. The chirpy old man sat motionless as his life continued to rollback on the gigantic screen.
“Never ended up a loser in my entire sports career.” He mumbled.
Moment of pride came to him as he was selected to represent the country in a major international title. Anthony looked taller than me while still being seated. His chest was swollen with pride. I was too eager to know how the movie unfolds further. The screen flashed the young boy being escorted to the sports director moments before his international debut match.
Anthony gestured to imply that something important was coming up. The director patted on the young shoulders appreciating his talent “Congratulations, in advance, to win your first international title on debut, Anthony. We have worked hard to carve out this deal for you. You should just lose first three matches in a row and we have ensured that you win all the remaining thereafter.” He sat on his seat across the young lad and looked straight into his eyes and mumbled last few words before the intermission sign flashed “Give your best but make sure it is no better than your opponent in first few matches and I shall see you on the concluding day at the winning podium.”
The silence of the hall was replaced with a chirpy noise as the hall lit up. The movie seemed engrossing till now. A few in the crowd appeared to be in a hurry to satiate their taste buds, a large part of the audience was willing to relish what was being served onscreen.
“I need an espresso.” Anthony was all charged up as we too moved outside. Taking a brief pause after his first sip, he began, “I was as stunned as the audience is now. But I could never betray the game that had given me so much. This would be the scene my self esteem would be highlighted, ” His voice was choked “ So, I ignored the orders and won the first two matches in a row. I was threatened by the officials to comply with their orders. When their warnings didn’t work out, I was pulled out of the tournament midway citing an injury. Before I could understand, I was further accused of misrepresenting the facts about my age and was debarred by the association to play any further tournaments. But my pride never took a dent.”
We resumed our seats after the break. Chivas was running its advertisement with the tagline “Win The Right Way.” The coffee had a powerful aroma and was still hot. “The coaches started shying away from me. My career was cut short very soon but I was contented that I had kept up the pride of the nation and the game itself.” As he was unfolding the events in words, we both watched in dismay what flashed on the screen.
The movie started portraying quiet contrary. The protagonist accepted the sports director’s offer. Anthony was shocked to watch the unfair display of the events. I could see Anthony’s fingers curled and rolled into a fist. His face distorted by an unusual clenching of his teeth. He could not believe what was being screened. He had expected his authentic story to come out in the public. The audience watched the central character winning the title and wearing a national flag while posing along with the director at the podium.
Tears started rolling down Anthony’s eyes–“Betrayal continues to haunt me everywhere”. He got up from the seat and gestured me not to follow him as he started moving out. “Thanks for letting me in”.
I stayed back as my mind was flooded with thoughts. He was down, yet stood firm. He was betrayed time and again yet his belief in sincerity never took a hit. Now, I could understand his dejection in life and his present state of affairs. However, on-screen, the central character in the movie kept winning the titles. A few scenes rolled and the hero of the story became an established international star. As he was enjoying the global attention, slowly charges of fixing started surfacing in the media. His handlers disowned him. He cried foul, but the voice was muffled by the overaggressive media. The sports director labelled him the biggest shame of the game on national news.
I got up from the seat and walked out of the hall. Across the street, a crowd had gathered around a stuntman who was trying to walk over a rope 50 ft high in the air. People watched in awe and clapped as he jumped from the height on to a net after completing the act.
“A fall from an impressive height is sure to catch attention of the crowd” –A thought came across my mind as I crossed the street.