We all have party favour stories. The ones we tell when we're in a group of relatively new people, and we're not yet drunk, but drifting away on a haze of happy alcoholism, wanting to impress. Wanting the entire room to stand spellbound for a moment by the Adventures Of You. There's no greater thrill than having a good party favour story. It stands you in good stead through various parties, it breaks the ice for you and best of all, if it's not a time-bound story, it helps locate you as the person you want to be. The Guy Who Bravely Battled Adversity In Ghana. The Girl Who Was Picked Up By Cops Who Thought She Was A Hooker, Only To Stand Up To Them Defiantly. The One Where You Were Drunk (Oh My God, So Very Drunk) And Wound Up Partying With Roger Waters. Good stories, all, mostly told with some sort of humour or irony, and which will earn you backpats and drinks and you're-such-a-rockstar! comments.
My favourite party favour story actually happened a long time ago. I think it was the year I had just turned 23, and The Vagina Monologues had just come to India. Bombay was where the big show was--we had heard Marisa Tomei was a part of the cast---and so it had been all over the papers for a couple of days. Naturally, then, by the time it came to Delhi, it was tired news, old news, and most papers sent their youngest correspondents to see whether they could get a small page 3 filler item. My paper didn't even send me with a photographer. "PR pictures," said my editor, and when the editor asks for PR pictures you know your story is pretty much doomed to either not run at all or run in a tiny box with no byline. The tabloid I worked for then was pretty big on their party pages, they had two dedicated party reporters, and I was the theatre/book person, which sounds like a really big deal, but not so much, because out of the six features pages assigned to us, one went to movies, two to parties, the centrespread to "important" stories and I got random little stories scattered wherever there wasn't a party piece. Anyway. I had already seen the play in London, with my father a couple of years before when it first released. I had heard a lot about it, and when I saw the posters advertising it in London, I begged for us to go, and my dad being the sort of guy who prides himself on not flinching when the word 'vagina' comes out of his nineteen-year-old daughter's mouth, agreed, and we went together. It was an awesome show (Sophie Dahl!) but every time they made references to "loving your vagina" or even "my hoochie-scrotcher" I cringed in the seat next to him. (And seeing as the play is called The Vagina Monologues, you can imagine there's a lot of cringing). My dad seemed to enjoy it though, but I was looking forward to watching the play without the presence of a parent.
I took Dee with me, having two passes and no photographer, and we went to the India Habitat Centre, I introduced myself to the PR saying I'd need pictures and we happily sat back and watched the show. Good fun. Afterwards there was a cocktail thingy happening up on the terrace, but before we headed for that, I thought I'd join the line of TV reporters on stage, you know , get a quick quote for my 150 word story and we'd carry on with the rest of our plans for the night. TV reporters are never kind to their poor print cousins. The number of times I have been banged on the head with a camera (being about the same height) probably explains the sudden blackouts I keep having. Anyway, having learnt my lesson at a young and tender age, I preferred to stand back and watch as the TV guys did their thing, before swooping forward with the rest of the print journos and getting my quote. Most were clustered around Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, the director of the play, but a few were around the other actors.
"Let's go," said Dee.
"Hang on, hang on, let these guys finish," I said to her, and then she wandered off to say hello to someone and I was left standing on stage, looking around, wishing the bloody cameras would move already.
Which is when I spotted this nondescript looking white woman standing off to the side of the stage, watching the television cameras and smiling to herself. She looked familiar, I thought, letting my gaze wander again, and then, you know how it is when someone looks familiar, you have to keep looking at them and looking at them while you flip through your mental portfolio to see where they fit in. I examined her again. Lessee, mousy brown hair, not unpretty features, wearing a white kurta and khaki pants--typical dip wife attire, I thought. It must be someone I met at an embassy party. But there was something niggling at the back of my mind, this was more than the usual I've-seen-her-somewhere-before feeling. This was a sense of absurd familiarity, like we had hung out on occassion, gotten drunk somewhere or something. I gasped
and grabbed Dee by the arm, dragging her away from her conversation.
"What?" she asked, exasperated.
"Dee, look at that woman--no, don't look now, don't look now--haan, now look."
She did, and looked back at me, rolling her eyes. "Yes?"
"Dude, that's Marisa Tomei."
"No, it's not." She looked again and gasped too. "OH. MY. GOD."
My dilemma was now complete. This was a story worthy of a full party page spread. This was a story my editors should hold the press for. (We were an afternoon paper, so often the party reporters returned late at night and filed whatever they had). And I was a) minus a photographer and b) anxious not to draw attention to Ms. Tomei, just in case anyone else should see and ruin my perfect exclusive. I whispered to Dee not to call too much attention to it, and called my editors. "There should be our freelance party photographer there," I was told, "Ask him to shoot her."
I found the freelance guy--this weird effeminate chap, who was involved in a battle of power with me over my desk. See, he got the desk I used during the day at night, and being one of the youngest reporters, I was also in charge of the television listing pages, which meant huge dossiers from all the channels lay all over my desk. I called it my open plan filing system, he called it a mess, and often, I came in in the morning to find all my stuff in the trash, because he was a "creative person who could not work with untidiness." We both yelled and complained and bitched, our editor patted us both on the back and told us to live with it. Anyway, tonight he was there and charming, because I was the creature of power. "Who is that?" he murmured to me after a "Hello, sweetie!" which made my eyes widen in disbelief. "Marisa Tomei," I whispered back, "Famous actress, Oscar winner, get a good picture."
At the cocktail party, Dee and I managed to corner Marisa Tomei, who was once more standing by herself, with a glass of wine in her hand. I asked her the usual, "How do you like India? And Delhi? And what have you done so far on your trip?" before breaking down and saying, "I am SUCH a huge fan of your work."
"Thank you," she said, smiling. She was really very nice, and close up, even without makeup, very pretty.
Think of a good movie, eM, think of something to say about her work. No, NOT What Women Want, something where she had a substantial role.
"I loved you in The Guru!" I blurted out, "I've seen it like five times!"
Her eyebrows rose, but she smiled again, "I'm glad you liked it."
Then we talked about shopping in Delhi and where she should go, and I exited, still riding high on my neat little coup. "Dude," said Dee, "The Guru?" "I couldn't think of anything else!" I said defensively. "Erm... How about the role she actually won an Oscar for? My Cousin Vinny?" "Crap," I said.
And there's my party favour story. Won me much acclaim too. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it did run as a full party page spread and no one else had it and I got calls asking for her number and/or email address for weeks. Which also I had forgotten to get. I was so much younger then, what can I say?