*Recounted “off-the-record” by TV Producer Sallu to our intrepid correspondent, Raja Romeo.
HOURS BEFORE THE MEETING:
I could imagine only two situations where Chairman Baig’s unqualified look of horror was appropriate.
Either for a man on the business end of a hangman’s noose, or who while scouring the internet for violent porn found his teenage daughter.
But neither, as far as I knew, applied to this badger-haired beaver with a bushy-browed frown so grim it would set Satan on fire. Then why?
I’d invited him to my ritzy home theater for a private viewing of my new TV series that I bet my left nut would instantly go blockbuster.
And I’d sat next to him in the first row of plushy leather recliners tanned a rich walnut-brown, hoping he’d gush over my masterpiece and lift my spirits.
Bah, no such luck. His utter lack of awe for my sacred space vexed me most.
Hell, I handpicked the cherry-red of the bespoke walls, decked them with vintage half-moon sconces, and shelled out enough dough on the tiered burgundy carpeting to end polio.
And I’d flown in experts to install the earth shaking, state-of-the-art surround sound, and scented the theater with enough Oud to send Arab princes into a drooling frenzy. Yet even once did this fool compliment my taste? NO.
Humph. Anyone who sported a rose-red scarf over a matching tartan jacket should be shot, anyway. Pity I can’t do the honors.
Still, I’d hoped once the credits rolled, he’d snap to his feet and burst into wild applause. Instead, he kept his unsettling countenance as the last scene played out on the projection screen overhead.
Not good, I fussed. This wrinkly yokel with all the cheer of a terminal Saint Bernard was a mere desk-jockey and I, a celebrated producer.
The man wouldn’t know a video edit point from the flaming boil on his tush, and yet only he could green-light the project. Life is effing cruel.
In the cool darkness, I cast him furtive glances and fidgeted with the buttons of my shirt that bellied to their limits from my blubbery gut.
The screen faded to black, and at once the sconces soaked the room in a blonde glow.
He flopped backward in his seat and rolled his neck toward me in slow motion; and though his mouth moved, there was no sound.
Then he reset his old-maidish spectacles and hoarsely cleared his throat as if a tennis ball lodged in the windpipe. “This can’t go on air.”
My beefy jowls deflated. “Why in blazes not?”
His head joggled as if epilepsy had gripped him. Then he trained his flattened palms toward the screen and pumped them like a machine gun.
“Where are the illicit romps and the rollicking dances?” he screeched.
I puffed out my chest to appear taller. “Didn’t you instruct us to produce shows in line with Pakistani values?”
“Yes, yes,” he groaned while touching his forehead. “But don’t produce shows that’ll invite a firing squad. Shit, I must call a meeting ASAP.”
My lips pursed. “I don’t understand. Corruption and kickbacks are as Pakistani as siri paye (goat trotters).”
He patted his clammy cheeks with knobby fingers that shook. “You’ve lost your damn mind. People will riot round the country if this goes on air. We want people to believe in Naya Pakistan, not torch it to cinders!”
I lumbered to my feet and jabbed a finger at him. “Look here, old-timer. This cost me nearly a million bucks. You thwart its release and I’ll make it my business to eject you from office.”
With sad eyes, he sized me up and sighed. “You’re lucky I saw this first. Otherwise you’d already be en route to the parliamentary dungeons.”
That place really exists? Mother-lover, what now?
He vacantly stared and kept nodding.
Did he die mid-thought? I stepped forward to jolt his shoulders, though I’d rather punch his throat.
He winked back to life asudden. “We must burn the tapes, Sallu,” he said gravely.
My tongue licked blood. Over my dead body! I should KO him and later toss him into the nearby nullah (storm drain). Plenty of peckish jackals prowl about at night to strip him to bones. He should die with his kind.
His maniacal cackle cracked my fantasy. “You’re not the first one to want me dead, fat git. You’re all the same, aren’t you? No idea of what’s coming.”
Bile replaced the blood at the tip of my tongue. “Oh, yea? Why don’t you enlighten me?” I snarled.
“Two words. Tax-es.”
It’s one word you cow pie collector and crap, crap, crap. I glowered at him, speechless.
He wore a wan smile. “You get it, right? Anybody hears of this and our lordships will reverse your generous tax breaks and audit you to bankruptcy.”
Then he caressed the curly locks of his grotesque scarf. “Why, you’ll be selling peanuts this time next year, ha.”
The bile set as a thick ball of snot and I fell into the recliner, pouting.
Goddam inbreds, I should’ve known. These weasels just want local drama to rewind to the Stone Age when you couldn’t romance a girl from less than six feet away.
If I force the issue, they’ll reduce me to filming on cheap smartphones. But if I don’t, there’s my million bucks and career down the drain…
An ogreish yawn overcame him and he smacked his lips. “You got anything to drink?”
“Go drink your own piss.”
He leaned toward me and whispered, “If you’re game, there’s a way to recoup the money, no, double it.”
I eyed him askance and grunted.
He smirked as an ape bloated from blue-ribbon bananas. “You know, my son always wanted to make a movie.”
“And we’re going to fund it how? By selling your ancient kidneys?”
He tsked and his palm fluttered as a hand-fan. “Who do you think runs Pakistan? All we need is a virtuous Chinese character, if you know what I mean.”
My eyes shone like a disco ball. Of bloody course! “Shall we name him Xi or Mao?”
THE HEADLINE NEXT MORNING:
LAHORE: Private TV channels have been asked to review scripts of their dramas and bring them in line with the Pakistani values, PEMRA Chairperson Muhammad Saleem Baig said Friday.
Baig directed for strict action to be taken in line with the law against immoral content and Indian channels. He also reiterated the authority's commitment to bringing the themes in Pakistani dramas in line with the country's social, religious, cultural, and moral values.
*Autocrit scores our stories against published general fiction. Here's why we decided to report these scores.