“I became interested in the street children of Mumbai and particularly, those who are forced to beg and have to give their money to someone else. I visited various orphanages and NGOs (non government organisations) and met many children and listened to what they had to say. In Scotland, I wrote a story but felt something was missing, somehow I couldn’t relate to my central character. I’d met so many kids and heard so many heart breaking stories but I hadn’t found the connection I needed. I remembered Rajesh (Jai) from a train station where he was shoe shining / begging. He had a beautiful face and grotesque feet and a manner about him which was different to the other beggars and street children I’d come across. He seemed to encapsulate a lot of what I felt about India – a country of extremes. I was in Scotland trying to write the script but I just couldn’t get Rajesh out of my mind even though I knew nothing about him.
After much searching we tracked him down. We discovered that he was born with large feet and there is nothing much that can be done besides to amputate and use artificial limbs. He is frightened of such drastic surgery and has no money for medical care.
We were amazed at how
similar his life story was to what I was trying to write. As a young boy,
he had been taken by a travelling circus to be displayed in a freak show but
managed to escape. A foreigner had given him a considerable sum of money which
was taken from him. He had been through periods of depression where he had
contemplated suicide on the railway tracks and against all advice, he climbed
Vishnu Devi, one of the holiest mountains in India. At that point, he didn’t
care if he died as long as he got to the top. On the summit, he made a wish
that one day his life would be better. I was moved by Rajesh’s sincerity
and he really believed our meeting was an answer to his prayer. Although Rajesh’s
auditions were not so successful, his will and commitment were beyond anything
I’d come across. I felt he had something special inside beyond his deformed
feet and it was my job to try to represent that on film.
The shoot was really tough but I’m very pleased with the end result. I wanted to make a film that epitomised what I felt about India, a country of extremes, of the utmost beauty and horror living side by side. Something that made me think about what it is to be human. And let’s face it, the sheer mad adventure and chance to find a paradise beach may have also had a little to do with it.
I am writing a feature based in the same world which has an amazing story to do with where this boy comes from and his journey home. I have done some workshops with Rajesh and Sangeeta and would want them to be part of the bigger film too. Durdana has set up a charity for Rajesh and the other street children, and currently Rajesh and Sangeeta are starting their education. They are learning to read and write and hopefully this will be the first step to a better future.”