On set, everything was scripted and controlled. On location, Jasapal basked in the fact that his agents and producers and directors would not let anything happen to him, their golden child, their champion of Indian cinema, and their man who would put Indian film on the global map. Jasapal had become a true star, routinely cast as the hero, the heart throb, and the champion.
But he was no hero. And yet there he was, in a tuxedo and a black clip-on tie reciting his lines, standing on the edge of the bridge over Dudhsagar Falls performing the part of Jaikar Bond. The train was not supposed to come that day. The production company had been sending in requests and permits for months to be able to shoot a scene for the Bollywood Goldeneye. Finally, they had been approved the week before and only from three until seven. They were almost done with the second take of the standoff between Jasapal and the villain when they felt a trembling beneath their feet and a roar behind the turn of the bridge. The train had come anyway, right on its normal schedule at four forty-five. Jasapal, Saanvi, his love interest, and Jhumpa, the actor cast as Agent 006, had jumped. Jasapal was a hundred feet away and had landed on a ledge jutting out from one of the bridge’s support pillars. Saanvi and Jhumpa were both dangling from their safety harnesses (a precaution dictated by their insurance providers) about fifty feet below the bridge. It had been their only choice, jump or be hit. Millions of gallons of water churned beneath them, swollen from the recent monsoons. Saanvi was screaming in her gown, torn and revealing her almond skin-colored thighs. Jhumpa was unconscious, slumped and hanging like an unmanned marionette. The film crew had also jumped, without safety harnesses, weighing the falls beneath to be better than the train coming on ahead. Jasapal couldn’t let himself think about what he knew had happened to them. He could only try to figure out how to get himself back up to the top.
Saanvi started screaming his name.
“Help, Jasapal! Help us please!”
There was a good amount of rebar sticking out of the side of the bridge pillar. It was a slow process, some of the pieces of metal too loose to support his weight, some too far from the next place he might try. Eventually, he made it up and over the guard rail. Saanvi was crying uncontrollably now. She was gripping onto her harness like a girl would grip her blanket after a bad dream.
Jasapal took only a minute to catch his breath once he reached the top before he began running towards Saanvi and Jhumpa. Large pieces of equipment that hadn’t been scattered down into the falls, lay broken and smashed in the wake of the train. He wondered why no one had returned yet, why the conductor had not stopped or sent help.
The safety harnesses were nothing more than thin metal wires, invisible to the viewer’s eye and attached to a loop on a guard rail. It appeared to have been damaged when the train burst its way through the crew, equipment, and dollies. It didn’t look as if it could hold the weight of two people much longer. Jasapal dropped to his stomach and looked down. He could see Saanvi’s breasts, they were exposed as well after her dress had been torn during the fall. He thought about how much he had been attracted to her during filming and his attempts to seduce her – in spite of her happy marriage to an American actor.
Jasapal could barely hear her. It was easier when they were across from each other but once he was above them, all he could hear and see was the water, stirring and whipping up into a mist that sprayed his face.
“Is he alive?!” he screamed down to her, Jhumpa still not awake or moving.
“I don’t know! He hit his head when we jumped!” She wouldn’t reach over to touch him, afraid of letting go of the wires, digging deep red cuts into her upper arms and hands.
He went to try and pull them up but the wires were too thin and too sharp, slicing into his palms. Even when he tied his jacket around them and tried to lift, they slid right through, the weight of them too much for him to pull over the edge.
He looked around, trying to find some sort of leverage or even another person who survived the crash. No one and nothing was left that wasn’t smashed to pieces and strewn at his feet. He heard a sharp snap and looked back to the loop where his costars were connected. The guard rail was beginning to creak and bend and lean closer over the edge. He knew what he had to do.
He grabbed a shard of glass that lay at his feet and ran back to the edge. Saanvi’s eyes were clenched tight now and she was hyperventilating. Jasapal’s eyes followed her wire up and over the rail to where it was connected. The base of it was a simple mesh cloth, stretched taut. He thought about what a silly design that was, metal attached to metal by a cloth band. It only took one touch of the glass to the mesh of Jhumpa’s wire to release. He lurched over expecting to see Saanvi dangling there alone. But she wasn’t there. Only Jhumpa. Jasapal couldn’t believe what he had done, but had little time to think about it, the guard rail still shrieking from his weight as if alive. Jasapal was now able to lift Jhumpa, a slight man, and once he had him over the edge, he was not able to find a pulse.
Jasapal was no hero.