DOLLY SINGH’S FABULOUS FACE FLOATS across the screen of the TV in the family room. Two happy sighs float off the couch, one from Dini and the other from her best friend, Maddie.
Dini is a Dolly fan. She has been forever, from the time she discovered that Dolly’s first movie, in which she was just a kid, came out the day—the very day!—that Dini was born. You can’t be more closely connected than that.
Maddie is a fan because best friends share everything.
Closer and closer comes Dolly’s face, until her hair turns to mist and the sunlight catches her brown gold skin. Dolly opens her mouth to sing a perfectly tuneful song in this, her latest movie, Mera jeevan tera jeevan, or My Life Your Life, MJTJ for short. Dini and Maddie sing along, tapping their feet and dropping from the words into quick little “la-la-la’s” whenever they have to.
“Dolly is sooooo . . .,” Dini says.
“She is,” Maddie agrees. “She’s sooooo . . .”
So smart. So elegant. So talented. So perfect. Other stars must rely on lip-synching and playback singers. Not Dolly. Dolly can act. She can dance as if her feet were on fire. And she can sing.
“I’d love to meet her,” Maddie says. “Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
“Oh wow,” says Dini. Not much else to say. She tap-taps her feet in a moment of pure delight. “You know what I love about Dolly?”
“Everything!” says Maddie, throwing her arms wide in that special Dolly way.
“Oh yeah, but you want to know specially what?” She has just this moment realized this thing about Dolly. “When she says stuff, people listen!”
“Except the bad guys,” Maddie points out, “and we know what happens to them.”
“Must be nice to say stuff and have people listen,” Dini says.
“Dini,” Maddie tells her. “I will always listen to you. Anytime.”
“I know that,” Dini says. “I meant—you know, parents and people.”
“Oh. Parents,” says Maddie.
It’s true. Parents do seem to exist just to complicate the life of a kid. Dini’s parents, for example, are not fans. They laugh at the sad parts in the movies and groan at the funny ones, even though they are from India, where Dolly lives, and they should know better.
“Oh-oh-oh, listen!” Dini says, “Here comes that amazing song.”
“Sunno-sunno,” Dolly sings, right into their hearts, “dekho-dekho.”
Dini listen-listens. She look-looks. And here is the best part. Maddie is doing exactly the same thing. Two friends together, sharing this wonderful music. What could be better?
Many people love Bollywood movies from India. They are made in the city of Bombay, which is now really called Mumbai, only filmi people like Dini still call it by the old name because it’s classier. The dialogue in these movies is all in Hindi, but you can get them with subtitles in languages from Arabic to French to Thai because so many people all over the world are fans, just like Dini and Maddie.
“I can’t wait for dance camp,” Dini says.
“I know, me neither,” Maddie says. “It’ll be soooo . . .”
Maddie’s parents are not from India, and Maddie understands even less Hindi than Dini does, but little things like language don’t get in the way of a really good fillum, which is what true fans affectionately call these movies. Fillums. In just another month Dini and Maddie will be in that camp for a whole two weeks of Bollywood dance—what a treat that will be.
Chan-chan-chan, go Dolly’s silver anklets.
Dhoom-taana-dhoom, go the drumbeats.
Dini and Maddie watch MJTJ from start to finish, snapping their fingers and tapping their feet. Then they watch the special features, with interviews and bios of everyone from the camera people to the director to the stars, including, of course, Dolly herself.
“Wait-wait-wait,” Dini says, “go back just a bit.”
“What? To the interview?” Maddie hits the back arrow on the remote. “Hey, they’re talking in English.” A TV reporter is interviewing Dolly and asking her for her opinion on the latest trends in Hindi movies.
“It’s surreal what’s happening in the movie business,” Dolly is saying. “Surreal, I tell you.”
“What’s that mean?” Maddie says. “Surreal?”
Dini shakes her head. “Real” she gets, and “unreal.” But “surreal”? What’s that? “I’ll ask my dad,” she says. Dad is her vocabulary consultant for the Hindi words and sometimes a few English ones too.
Playing the interview over is not much help. Dolly says that the Bombay movie business is becoming that surreal thing, whatever it is.
“She doesn’t seem happy,” Dini says. “What do you think?”
“You’re right,” Maddie agrees. True fans can pick up on even the tiniest of cues.
“Nandu!” It’s Mom. “Are you upstairs? Listen, sweetoo, I have news for you.” Dini wishes her parents would not call her Nandu. In their time, in the last century, that was how you shortened Dini’s real name, which is Nandini.
Mom comes in with a handful of mail (including the latest copy of Filmi Kumpnee magazine). “Hi, Maddie, I didn’t know you were here. Nandu, guess what? I just got the contract in the mail. Such wonderful news.”
What contract? What news? Dini pauses Dolly with a click so she can listen to whatever boring thing Mom is about to tell her.
Mom puts the new Filmi Kumpnee into Dini’s outstretched hand. “We’re moving to India,” she says.
© 2011 Uma Krishnaswami