Haleem Khan – my big project for the year 2015


Haleem, in the picture above, is the subject of my next documentary movie project. His full name is Haleem Khan. And he is not a terrorist. He is a Kuchipudi dancer. Kuchipudi – the folk dance of Andhra Pradesh, is a dance form almost predominantly learnt by, and taught to Hindus. But for Haleem, dancing is a religion in itself. And that’s why he didn’t care about which community he was born in, when he got attracted towards classical dance. It all  started by watching performances once in a while on TV, as he grew up in Ongole. He didn’t know whether he was watching Kuchipudi or Bharatnatyam or anything else. The only reason he ended up learning Kuchipudi and not anything else was because the only teacher he could find in Ongole, taught Kuchipudi. It was not easy for him to convince her to teach him. All the other students she had were younger Hindu girls. Here was a Muslim guy in 11th class who wanted to learn classical dance because he was attracted to similar performances on TV! What was she to do? She refused. But Haleem persisted. And he eventually won in convincing her. And that’s how the journey started. He knew it would be next to impossible to get approval from his conservative parents. In fact, his parents came to know about their son being a Kuchipudi dancer, only after 7 years of him starting to learn the art-form. Because by that time, he had become famous enough and the media had started talking about him and writing about him.

What has made Haleem really popular in the Kuchipudi circuit are his female impersonation performances, which he started few years ago. In fact, in the recent times, almost all shows that he does, he performs dressed as a female dancer. And he has performed not just in India but even internationally in countries like US. There is a reason why he tried a female impersonation for the first time. Haleem explained to me that, one cannot call himself a complete Kuchipudi dancer, unless one has given at least one performance as a female dancer. Historically, when Kuchipudi evolved, women were not expected to / allowed to dance. So men would dress up like women and perform. In our modern times, the perception towards classical dance is that of a feminine thing. Guys from outside dancing families hardly want to learn it and almost no one wants to dress up like a woman to perform. So it’s not surprising that when Haleem does it, some wonder if he is a gay or a transgender. When someone asked him this question for the first time, he was surprised. Is it so hard to believe that a straight ‘man’ can dress up like a woman to perform a classical dance, purely for the love of art? Apparently, yes. And that’s what makes his journey interesting.

There is not much money in classical dancing. Many a times, even organizers don’t want to pay you (we would give you a wonderful stage to perform and great audience, what do you need the money for?) and when they pay you, they pay you as less as they can. And yet Haleem Khan, who went on to also get an MBA degree, left his job after few years to focus on being a full time dancer. His life is a struggle. And for him, the struggle is worth it, because of his love for the art-form that is Kuchipudi. All that he wants to do is perform (and get paid for his performances like a true professional) and spread awareness about the awesomeness of Kuchipudi worldwide. And this passion of his, is what I want to bring out in my documentary.

Because Haleem is based out of Hyd, and I live in Goa, it is a challenging task to shoot him and his life and his journey on a regular basis. I have been trying to rope in friends based in Hyderabad, who can shoot footages occasionally. Let’s see if their initial interest persists over time. This is my big project for this year (definitely beyond 3 minutes 😀 ) and I hope you all look forward to it as much as I do.


Funny memories from a Jaipur trip

I called up Kanhaiya to tell him that I wanted him to come over to Choki Dhani for dropping me to the Jaipur airport. Kanhaiya was a cab driver. Two days ago, I had taken his cab via the pre-paid counter at the airport. That’s when I had first met him. I had arrived in Jaipur to shoot a wedding in the Chokhi Dhani resort.

After landing, I was waiting for my luggage to arrive. I had flown down from Goa (to Mumbai) to Jaipur on a single Air India ticket. I had a aircraft change in Mumbai. My luggage was to arrive directly to Jaipur. But it did not. It had my clothes and a monopod (to be used for shooting video). Few co-passengers and I kept staring at the luggage belt even after everyone else had collected their stuff and left. It was hard to believe that our luggage hadn’t shown up. An Air India lady staff came over to us and in the most matter of fact tone, said, ‘you guys have come from Goa, right? Your luggage will arrive at 5 pm’. She didn’t look worried. She didn’t say sorry. The way she broke the news to us, was almost the same way a secretary of a senior IAS officer would tell you how sahib is busy and that you have to wait for 5 hours minimum before he gets free, even when you arrived at a time allotted by the same fucking secretary. But then this was Air India. What was she supposed to say, huh? ‘We screwed up and your luggage went to Delhi. We would have it here in Jaipur by the evening flight. So sorry for the inconvenience caused sir’? Really? What do you think Air India staff is, Arvind Kejrival? Air India guys have an attitude that they need to live upto. I am sure this staff would be promoted soon for her ability to make a screw-up sound like a daily routine.

It was 11 AM then and I was not going to have my clothes or monopod till five in the evening. Hmm. The evening function was to start at about the same time. It would be a pain in the ass to shoot without the monopod. I did have another stabiliser but it was still going to be a pain. I had no idea how much time Air India was going to take to get my stuff to me after this Delhi flight landed. There was nothing much that I could do, except letting the kind lady know the address where my luggage was to be delivered, whenever it arrived. All’s well that ends well. The Air India staff did end up delivering my stuff by 6 pm, in my hotel and though I could not find time to change to fresh clothes, I could definitely use my monopod while shooting the sangeet ceremony.

Next day was the wedding. After few small functions during the day, the wedding started at around 6 in the evening and went on till almost 6 in the morning. That is when I finally got to hit the bed. I had my return flight to Goa in less than four hours, so of course I couldn’t seep much. I got up still sleepy and called Kanhaiya. While driving me to the resort two days ago, he had remarked that it would be cheaper for me if I called him for the airport drop, instead of asking the resort guys to arrange for the same. This, I later found out to be true. Choki Dhani’s charge for airport drop was 700 bucks, while the pre-paid rate that Kanhaiya offered was 400. As I was confirming the time with him, Kanhaiya proposed to me an even better offer – if I was willing to share his cab with another guest staying in the same resort (who too wanted an airport drop at the same time), he would charge me 100 bucks less. ‘Yeah sure, whatever’, he made 600 from the same trip and I paid less than 50% of what the resort would have otherwise charged me – pretty much win-win for both.

An uncleji was already seated in Kanhaiya’s cab when I arrived with my luggage. Kanhaiya helped me load my stuff in his car and I took a seat next to uncleji. I asked the uncleji if he was also a wedding guest. Yes, he nodded. He asked me what I did and where I lived and I told him I was a photographer and a film-maker and that I lived in Goa. By this time, we had reached the airport and said our goodbyes to Kanhaiiya. While at the boarding counter, uncleji told me he wanted to talk to me, once we had cleared security. ‘There is so much time to kill’, he remarked. The flight had been delayed by 45 minutes – the second time since morning.

I had almost assumed the like most people, uncleji would have the standard set of questions for me (how I left my job, life in Goa etc.). But I could’ve never imagined, what he finally did ask me.

‘Next week, a friend of mine and I are visiting Goa. I visit Goa often you see, but this friend of mine, it will be his first visit. Can you tell us few places that we should check out? I have been to Titos once. And one of those casinos on the river. Any other place that you can recommend?’, he started off. I told him about LPK. But before I could come up with more options, he quickly came down to the point. ‘And also, which is the best beach for finding Russians?’. Tharki uncle.

Our flight to Delhi kept on getting delayed over the course of next few hours and to my delight, once I had given a vague answer to Tharki uncle’s question, he did not have more insider info to get out from me. It was a tiring full day of travel, flying from Jaipur to Delhi and then back to Goa. I had gallons of coffee to keep me going. But as always, it felt wonderful to be back. With funny memories from the Jaipur trip.

Life is fickle

Sharing below one of my latest wedding movie trailers. Took biwi along for this shoot because the wedding was in Goa and she was free. And it had been long that she’d seen me work. Plus, I thought it would be useful to have parallel shots of certain moments (like vows and speeches and the first dance), this being the first movie from a Christian wedding for me. How do you like the trailer btw?


The guy kissing the girl in pink dress at 3.14-3.15 (in the above video) died few weeks ago. His name was Dean. He was only 22 years old. He had a natural death and no one knows what lead to it. Tells us life is so fickle. What you have today, you might not have tomorrow. Are you making the most of it?

Death of young folks is suddenly pretty much on my face these days. A few months back, the young founder of a NGO for which I had volunteered in 2008, died. He was around my age, also from Patna and studied in a IIT too (Mumbai). About a week before he died, we were chatting on Facebook regarding me shooting his sister’s forthcoming Nikah. And then he just died. From asthma. And when this year started, I was speaking to the young founder of a SEO company in Bhopal, to whom I had given the job of optimizing ShaadiGraPher.com. And a day or two later, he died too. In a road accident.

And then new beings are taking birth. Tota & Maina gave birth to a healthy baby girl a couple of days back. Tiwari’s son is already a year old now I think. When biwi and I discuss about babies (which we very rarely do), our discussion is mostly along two lines a) she telling me how she had to escape not so subtle suggestions from my mom and b) our inability to imagine ourselves as parents! We simply can’t imagine ourselves in that role. So I keep asking her to keep ducking my mom’s hints. And so goes life.

The coming April, we are planning to be in Italy and do some cycling in the dolomites up north and a bit around the Alamfi coast in the south. And when not on a saddle, we would be walking around in the cities of Venice, Rome, Naples and the Capri Islands. We recently booked flight tickets and have started getting hotel bookings done. And then we will apply for our Visas and then go to Italy and make a Holioke again. That’s the only kind of thing that we think about and do. Who wants babies, eh? Last month, we also took two days of lessons in wind-surfing. We picked up the basics, faster than we had expected and it has been super fun so far.

This year is going good work-wise for me. I shot two weddings in Jan, one in Bhopal and one in Mumbai other than going for a couple shoot of a batch-mate from IIT who had come over to Goa. And this month, I would be traveling to Jaipur, Hyd, Jabalpur and to Mumbai again. Apart from ShaadiGraPher work, there is enough of documentary work at hand (the stories that I have shot, but haven’t had the time or energy to edit them). And even then, I am already meeting new people with interesting stories to tell. Should write a separate post on such meetings I guess.

Anyway, let’s wrap up this post. 1/12th of the year is already over. So much to do. So much to share. Keep rocking, wherever you are, whatever you are doing. Life is fickle, jab tak hai, tab tak hai. Make use of your time. Do what you want to do. Spread happiness and peace!

PS: do check out the two Shitoons I posted on the site today – 156 and 157; let’s see if I reach 200 this year.