x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shagufta Rafique dancing her way to the top of Bollywood with Jannat 2

"I am very happy that this girl has now become a writer to reckon with and that tonight she will walk on the red carpet in the same city where she used to be a bar dancer once upon a time."

The film Jannat 2 has grossed nearly Dh1m in the UAE since its release. With a Dh1.6million opening weekend in its hometown of Mumbai and similar success in other desi capitals across the globe, the Emraan Hashmi-starrer raked in money right from the start.

The cast and crew were in the city earlier this month for the UAE premiere. The press conference - which I had missed - seemed to have featured some bizarre gun-toting. The plot revolves around illegal arms and the promoters had wangled firearms for the event. By the time I came in, various guests were posing with the guns. To add to the curiosity of the situation, journalists and photographers were scrambling to get that photo/quote/sound bite from the lead actress and debutante Esha Gupta. Granted she looked flawless in her cream dress and asymmetric hairdo, but with no other films to speak of, I wondered what I would ask her. So I decided to skip it.

Instead, my eyes were drawn to a quietly composed lady at the back of the room. Dressed casually in a kurta and jeans, she looked interested enough to be assumed part of the cast or crew, yet detached enough to make you think your assumption might be wrong.

Had I not missed the press conference, I would have known that this was Shagufta Rafique, the scriptwriter of Jannat 2. Mahesh Bhatt, the director and producer, pointed her out to me as he told me the story of how she came to his office one day "like a struggler, looking frail and vulnerable, but with a fierce conviction in her eyes". Bhatt gave her a chance. She co-wrote a few films with him, moved on to writing one entirely by herself (Murder 2) and then was assigned Jannat 2.

"She was responsible for the project being given the green light," Mahesh revealed, "because she mesmerised the right people with the initial scenes she had worked out." And then he hit me with the words that made me do a double take: "I am very happy that this girl has now become a writer to reckon with and that tonight she will walk on the red carpet in the same city where she used to be a bar dancer once upon a time."

Bar dancer?! I shifted nervously. In a city where everyone seems to have been born wearing Prada, we're not used to skeletons being dragged out of the closet so casually. I waited for Shagufta to express her outrage at the liberty her producer was taking in divulging her Prada-free past. Instead, she smiled warmly.

"I've always taken pride in doing well whatever I do," she beamed. "When Bhatt gave me the chance to write, I vowed to do nothing less than my best, which is exactly what I did when I was a bar dancer. I'm proud to say that - just like I am great at what I do now - I was the best at what I did back then. A lot of people judged me, but I had nothing to prove to anyone. It's something I had to do because my family fell on tough times, and that's that. And funny how times change. Tonight I'm going to be walking the red carpet, being cheered on by the same people who I used to dance for."

After a few minutes, Shagufta excused herself to go back to her room before the evening's premiere. It's not like anybody was going to miss her, right? After all, there was the sparkly Esha Gupta. We do live in a world where the story of a model-turned-actress is far more riveting than that of a bar dancer-turned-scriptwriter. More's the pity.