Documentary, Features, Short Film

Director’s Note: Yadav Ji

It was only about a year ago at age 24 that I finally had complete clarity about Documentary filmmaking being my true calling. This, after dappling in Hindi Cinema in various roles for about 6 years. In making a small beginning towards my pursuit, Dimensions Mumbai, the short film competition of the Mumbai Film Festival, seemed like the correct stepping stone. And thus began my journey of learning more and more about Mumbai and arriving at, Yadav Ji.

I have to confess that I am very enamoured with trying to understand India at its core. I truly believe there is a reason for us existing and living the way we do. And in my quest to understand a part of this mystery is trying to make sense as to why India has only one Mumbai and why people leave their home in the villages flock to this city to make their livelihood.

I was introduced to Mumbai street chaat by my mother at an early age. I inherited my mother’s love for Bhel and Sev Puri and made it my own. This was the food closest to my heart and I developed a desire to pay tribute to the people behind it. I had been eating at this vendor, Yadav, since I was 12. He had seen me through school, college and now as a working professional. His affection, his positivity and his amazing food is what fostered this relationship. There was something intriguing about him and in the process of finding that, I discovered a story of what is special about this city too, a story evolved in different perspectives and angles. But even as I wanted to explore why people migrate to Mumbai specifically, I found more value in talking about Yadav’s personal journey instead; him navigating his life through the hardships and the emotions he has had to overcome on an individual level just to keep his place in this city. This spoke of the spirit of the so called outsider making it in Mumbai, and what’s more, about Mumbai itself.

The biggest challenge was to convince ‘Yadav Ji’ for filming with him. He initially thought I was asking him to be an extra on a film set because thats what he knew about filmmaking. He thought he would lose an entire day of work and apparently the pay from the extra’s job would barely cover half of his earnings from selling food, besides having to spend 12 hours just standing like a prop. These fears made him very reluctant. It was after a lot of conversations and explaining that he understood what I meant, and that my film was solely about him. I told him that I would film him as he goes about his day without hampering his business in anyway. Once he understood  what I had in mind and extracting a promise from me he wouldn’t lose any of his livelihood, he agreed.

Yadav  Ji,  stays in Virar and was initially very uncomfortable for me to come to his house as he didn’t want me to film his home at all. But once he saw the camera and got familiar with the process, he let us shoot in bits and pieces. It proved to me yet again that perseverance in filmmaking is everything.

While prepping for the shoot I had decided early on itself that I did not want to film a typical talking head interview since 5 minutes is too short a time to keep cutting in and out of the interview while trying to keep the viewer engrossed in the emotions of the film. So I recorded only the audio track for the interview. Thankfully, this worked well and I realised later on hindsight that this was a good decision from the perspective of making him comfortable as well. Else he might have been a lot more conscious if there was a camera pointed at him, and perhaps he might not have been as honest too. Here, he pretty much forgot about the microphone on him and in the end, it just became a lovely conversational interview.

My interview with Yadav Ji was about 80 minutes long. When I trimmed it what I thought was the bare minimum I needed to tell his story, it was still 20 minutes long. Getting to the crux of the film in just 5 minutes was a huge challenge. Once I finished filming with him, I did not anticipate the editing to be this difficult; it took me about a month just to finalise the cut after tons and tons of deliberations. But in the end, my ruling argument was that his soul is the most important and it trumps the hard facts of his life and his day to day living. So I chose to make the film as poetic as possible. As it is I consider food to be an art. Its not just about bringing a bunch of ingredients together. There is a rhythm to it and a personal vision of the person making the food. In wanting to capture Yadav Ji’s artistry that he has culminated over 30 years, I really wanted to give him the platform of a large orchestral piece and portray him as the true artist that he is. My biggest inspiration for this was the food show, Chef’s Table. It is a show that makes the art of cooking look and feel larger than life. This was but my humble attempt at achieving that.

What Yadav Ji has managed to achieve from his life is everything that Mumbai teaches you. The biggest lesson the city teaches you is that less is more.  It felt good to see it, experience it and believe it. I was very fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Mumbai, my home as well.

When I got the news that my film had been selected for the Jio MAMI festival in Mumbai, I was, as expected, over the moon. This was my first festival experience and I was going to be showing my film to hundreds of strangers; I had to be open to all kinds of responses – a dreadful but exciting part of a filmmaker’s journey. My film was scheduled to be shown over two days in two theatres that were 35 kilometres apart, one in Andheri and one in Mulund. This also meant two very diverse types of audiences.

At the first screening in Andheri, the theatre was not only full, there were people pouring sitting on the steps and aisle of the auditorium.  My film was one among 14 other short films and was the eleventh film to be screened. Thrillingly, there was loud applause and cheering at the end of the film. That level of appreciation and a validation of  one’s work, was something I had never experienced. It was humbling to say the least… I did not expect the second screening in Mulund to be as packed as the Andheri showing. But yet again, the hall was full to the last seat. Though this crowd was vastly different, they responded at exactly the same points in the film. I have to say I was surprised yet elated at the same time.

I felt like I had achieved what I set out to with Yadav Ji, but winning the Silver Gateway Award at the end of the festival was the icing on the cake. The entire experience of having my name called on stage to my father, my plus one, jumping like an excited, little child behind me as I walked up to collect my award and fumbled in my loss-of-words thank you speech – it was all truly overwhelming.

While I have not even scratched the surface with Yadav Ji, my work has, in fact, just begun. I am still trying hard to figure out this country’s biggest mysteries to understand the ’typical Indian mentality’. Hopefully I will come back with a bigger and more exhaustive film on that in the years to come.

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