The audience was in splits. Viraj gave a victorious smile and ambled gracefully to the corner of the stage. He picked up the water bottle from the side table with one hand with the mic casually held in the other. Every movement a flourish, he made an occasion of something as mundane as sipping water. His ripped body showed through his crisp white shirt and he knew it. Every errant drop spilled on it sent ripples of desire through the veins of his female audience. His distressed jeans, although a tad misplaced, enhanced his Greek God looks. Light brown eyes, fair complexion added to his charm, and with a sense of humour to boot, standup comedy was perfect for him!
Even as a child Viraj had been a crowd puller. Often funny and sometimes brash, his antics won the hearts of his audience in no time. Although his relatives overtly disapproved of his veiled jabs at them, his mother dismissed it as mere jealousy. Her son was destined to be the next Rajesh Khanna, after all. Wasn’t he just as handsome and loveable with that unmistakable starry air about him? He had won several school and college awards for his acting too. Why did he choose to do standup comedy like Johnny Lever then? What would he earn? If only he listened to her. Sigh!
Viraj loved being on stage and taking a dig at anyone and everyone. Standup comedy allowed him to be devilishly cute, belligerently snarky and brutally honest, all at once. Urban relationships, scheming in-laws, chatty cab drivers, mischievous kids, bad roads, or loudspeakers in the neighbourhood, his sharp tongue spared no one. Sadly, this affected his love life too forcing him to remain single. While most of the time his crackling humour led to packed and overbooked shows, last month his punch at a local politician had landed him in jail for a night. What more, he was warned in no uncertain terms that he was being watched round the clock and had to behave, or else.
Viraj placed the bottle back on the side table and resumed his position on the stage. The next segment was crowd work; something he looked forward to. This audience was engaging, fun and had taken his whackiest jokes with a pinch of salt. He had managed to momentarily shake off the unease that had been endlessly nagging him too. Little joys. What could ‘or else’ mean, anyway? As he dismissed that thought and braced himself for another laughter riot, his eyes unwittingly settled on something shiny behind the last row.
A bald guy stood there wearing what looked like a thick chain and stared back at him, quietly and purposefully. He couldn’t make out his expression in the dark but the hairs at the back of his neck instantly stood on end. His throat went dry and his speech started faltering. Assuming it to be a part of the standup act the audience rolled with laughter. Was it them? Were they threatening him? Why now? Should he raise an alarm? Or should he make a run for it?
Just then someone delivered a hastily scribbled note to him from backstage. Due to incessant rains police authorities had requested them to cut the show short and inform everyone to disperse peacefully. The situation was under control but their area was in the risk zone and could make navigation difficult in time. While he read out the note to the audience the lights came back on. The bald guy at the back was the new watchman carrying the lock chains of the studio on his neck. People were already on their feet, the winning camaraderie forgotten within moments. Volatile life!
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