All too soon, Jas's number was called, and she held her head high, tinkling along the corridor and pushing aside the starred door.
"Good luck," said the cameraman who stood just inside it, but she was only capable of half-muttering thanks, overwhelmed by the sudden reality of sharing room-space with three Bollywood icons.
"Hello," said Priti Mehra kindly. "Come on in."
She tiptoed forward, facing the long table behind which they all sat. Ajay in the flesh was dazzling, his skin so perfect, his teeth so gleaming, his eyes so dark and stormy...
"I'm sorry, this is a very great honour..."
"Don't apologise," said Ajay with a blinding smile, those rich smooth tones pouring into her ear directly from his mouth, instead of via celluloid. It was too much.
She laughed and then put a hand to her mouth before it turned too hysterical. He spoke to me.
An impatient Ranjit Dhaliwal waved his hands.
"Okay, okay. What's your name?"
"And what are you going to do for us?"
"I'm going to sing the Bebo song."
"Aha. The Kareena Kapoor number."
"What are we waiting for then?"
A technician pressed a button on a vast tape machine and the introduction burst out almost before she was ready, but she caught up with herself and threw her body into the dance moves she had rehearsed for months.
Once the first line of the song was out of her mouth, she was able to lose her inhibitions and her nerves and glide seamlessly into her performing self, even spinning and bending flirtatiously close to Ajay and fixing his fascinated eyes with hers. His clear appreciation of her routine gave her the boost she needed, and she reached inside herself, finding every reserve of talent and rhythm and sex appeal she possessed, flinging it all in front of the judges like precious jewels.
When the music finished, she came to a shuddering halt, panting and shiny-eyed, holding herself strictly in motionless reserve until the judges spoke.
"You certainly channelled Kareena Kapoor there," commented Dhaliwal. Not the cutting-to-the-quick nastiness she had dreaded. A compliment?
She smiled. "Kareena Kapoor is one of my great Bollywood heroines." She nodded towards Priti, hoping to imply that the retired actress was also included in that bracket.
"She is a talented actress," nodded Dhaliwal.
Priti spoke up next. "I like your moves, Jasmeena, you clearly take your dancing seriously. That was a very tight routine. Thank you. I enjoyed it."
"Thank you!" exclaimed Jas, overwhelmed, putting her hands together in rapture. She was still beaming at Priti when Ajay spoke.
She looked into him, willing him to fall in love with her. He certainly had the face of a man who was, if not in love, at least contemplating that emotion.
"Jasmeena, you are one of the hottest new talents I have seen this week. If I have my way, you will be in round two. And, for what my opinion's worth, I think you have what it takes to go much further than that."
To her immortal embarrassment, Jas actually screamed and leapt into the air.
"Are you serious?" she gasped, tears threatening to ruin her carefully-applied mascara.
He nodded, still smiling like a man about to garland his bride with flowers.
"Very serious. Congratulations. Well done."
The soap actress stepped forward and took her arm, shepherding her from the room while the cameraman followed them.
Either very good or very bad, thought Jas ecstatically. And she certainly wasn't very bad.
The soap actress, a rather excitable woman, flapped around Jas once she was seated for her mini-interview.
"Wow, Jasmeena, Ajay really seemed to love your performance. How does that make you feel?"
"I can't believe it." Jas dabbed at her treacherous eyes with a tissue. "I just can't believe the lovely things he said to me. It's like a dream come true."
"A dream come true for a girl who serves behind the counter in her local grocery store. A big, big chance."
"Oh, I know. I mean, I might not get in. There still might be performers better than me to come. But those words will live with me forever."
"They'll warm your heart on a cold night, I'm sure."
Jas could do no more than nod, in a daze.
The interviewer and cameraman returned along the corridor for the next auditionee, but Jas stayed in her place for a few more minutes, searching in vain for her lost composure.
She had another hour to wait before they announced those who had made it to the next round. She ought to find Krishnan and maybe get a cup of tea and something to eat. But there was no way she could eat. Not now.
She looked up to see the technician who had sorted out the backing tape standing in front of her. Was she going to get her tape back?
"Message for you," said the technician abruptly, shoving a piece of folded paper into her hand before turning away again.
"For me?" Jas asked the empty space wonderingly, unwrapping the piece of jotter paper to find a couple of lines in an elegant hand.
You are a knockout and I want to take you out tonight. Please meet me at by the back exit of the studio.
A dilemma for Jas! Will she meet the handsome star?
The answer can be found here...
And please don't forget that all six Bollywood tales can be won in this excellent competition.