I will always remember when I first went to the sand dunes at Jaisalmer. I was shooting for a short film called Highway by Amit Kumar and was living in a small chawl in Mumbai with barely enough space to stretch myself and no window. The expanse of the dunes was a real shock. There was so much space! I could see all the way to the horizon but the desert seemed not to end there.
I love the experience of non-metropolitan India, where I still feel the presence of a soul. In the metropolitan cities, life is very mechanical. You work, you earn money, you struggle and one day, you die. In the villages, you laugh, you cry, you share your life with several others… Life is always on the edge in the metros. I like to get away from it and make my way into the suburbs. I do not believe in running after money, I feel that if I do good work then money might run after me for a while. I feel uncomfortable in cities, although I never really had a choice. I am from Muzaffarnagar, like most others from small towns I am always ridden with self-doubt and live in insecurity of being replaced. It makes me work harder and complain less.
When I saw the sand dunes of Jaisalmer, I felt free. I felt like I was made for them. It was not just the fact that living in Mumbai makes you love open spaces.
Since I do not get much time to travel far and wide, I revisit the places I have been to. I find a sad state of affairs in these places. When I revisit a place after years, I have been surrounded by change in my city with new skyscrapers, flyovers and other signs of development and yet, in these areas, nothing has changed. I remember on one visit after a gap of three years to a village in Maharashtra to find that the road that should have been constructed was nowhere on the map. The development that we talk and hear about in the news, it only takes place in the cities. The real India, only imagines the development.
Shooting for Manjhi was a challenge and I was drawn to the commitment of the man to the love of his wife which makes him cut through a mountain, everyday, for 22 years. The people in the village were a delight. They were very warm and helped us with the shooting. They always made themselves available for our questions and even offered a share in their meals.
After the promotions of the film, I took my family and headed to my village, Budhana. It had been too long. My family supports me in my work but they had been complaining about my long hours. Once home, I realised that I had been out of touch of things I loved to do earlier. I have done farming for 20 years of my life. Whenever I get time, I take it up. It’s our ancestral occupation. It gives me a lot of pleasure. I visit my village twice in a year and make sure to spend some time at the farms. It feels normal, like being at home. The villagers have known me for years and watching me farming is not a new sight for them. There are many other farms adjacent to ours and everyone is busy with their own chores.
I am currently heading to shoot Raees with Shahrukh Khan, an actor I greatly like, and am looking forward to the experience.
– As told to Susmita Mukherjee