Shanti Priya pounded on the locked door as the flames grew around her. Om appeared at the window, trying desperately to break the glass. Suddenly, a perfect moment: the door and window were just hot enough to bend and break. Shanti tumbled out. The moment ended and the building exploded.
Shanti came to, surprised to find herself face down in the grass and not dead. Not quite. She shakily rose to her feet, bloody and burned. She could see moving lights: a road. She stumbled toward those lights, her vision blurry with tears.
The car stopped as she fell to the pavement. Rajesh Kapoor got out, already worried about his laboring wife, now worried about the mess in front of him. Shanti was breathing but unresponsive. Rajesh managed to get her into the car and raced both women to the hospital.
In her final moments, Shanti thought about her friendship with Om. Lovey Kapoor gave birth to a healthy baby girl that she named Shanti.
Shanti Kapoor was the most in-demand heroine in Bollywood. She moved effortlessly from drama to comedy, she danced, she was gorgeous. She was a diva, but her box office returns made her difficulty worthwhile.
Life had been easy for Shanti Kapoor, and she didn’t plan on making it easy for anyone else.
Her father introduced her to Mukesh Mehra, an Indian director who had made it big in Hollywood. Shanti would be perfect for a co-production. As she shook his hand, she shivered, a flash of heat at her neck. Not the heat of attraction, but of fear.
She made an excuse and slipped away to the bathroom, taking her cutting edge iPhone with her. Shanti hid in a far stall and looked up Mukesh. Big in the ‘70s. Made some movies with an actress named. . .Shanti.
She furrowed her brow and looked up Shanti Priya. She had died in a fire on a movie set. Shanti shivered, feeling heat at the back of her neck again. She sighed and returned to dinner.
“Mukeshji–” she started.
“Call me Mike,” he interjected.
“Mike. Didn’t you work with an actress named Shanti before?”
He looked surprised for a moment. “I’m sure I have. It’s a lovely name, but common.”
She nodded. “But didn’t an actress named Shanti die on one of your movie sets?”
Her father, Rajesh, nearly choked on his drink. “Shanti!”
“No, no, it’s alright,” Mukesh said. “That was a long time ago, but yes, there was an accident on set, and the actress died. Poor girl.”
Dinner continued, though Shanti stopped listening. She thought about that actress named Shanti. She started thinking about all of the other actresses whose names she didn’t know. She thought about the actresses she knew now. She looked at her father to Mukesh and back and suddenly realized how much of an actress’s life was controlled by men. A woman’s life. And she had had a very good life, but because of her father.
That night, Shanti stayed up late, reading her father’s old magazines and books. So many women whose careers had ended so swiftly, because of marriage or children or simply because of shelf life. A woman’s life over so quickly.
Shanti closed a book and stared at the ceiling. She’d had it so easy and had never made it easy for anyone else. But as the daughter of Rajesh Kapoor, she could.
Shanti used her fame and popularity to honor the actresses who came before her, and to improve the lives of women currently working in the Bollywood industry. She thought about Shanti Priya, gone so soon, and worked hard so that other women could have it easy.