From Dharavi’s Slums To International Ballrooms: A Film On Jameel’s ‘Dancing Shoes’

Posted on September 16, 2015 in Culture-Vulture, Staff Picks, Stories by YKA

By Anugraha Hadke for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Editor’s Note: As part of our coverage of PSBT’s Open Frame Film Festival And Forum 2015 in Delhi (15th-22nd Sept), Youth Ki Awaaz will be featuring interviews with the directors who are screening their films at the festival, along with a candid chat later with the organisers who make this excellent festival possible each year. With this year’s theme being ‘DIVERSE PEOPLE, DIVERSE STORIES’, the documentaries being screened include “those that document, narrate, follow, investigate, represent, challenge, advocate, affirm, empower, unsettle and sometimes disturb.” Scroll down for schedule details.

Jameel Shah, the son of a farmer, had a dream of making it big in Bollywood. He moved to Mumbai with the hope that one day, he would make his name in tinsel town. So what’s the one thing everyone in Bollywood needs to know? Dancing of course! And that’s how, this worker from a leather factory, after being rejected from almost every class because he couldn’t afford them, landed up in acclaimed choreographer Sandeep Soparkar’s classes. When his mentor didn’t receive a pair of dancing shoes he was expecting from London, Jameel stepped up and offered to try making a pair.

Ever since that day, his perseverance, and never say never attitude has led him to become one of the finest makers of dance shoes in the country. Working out of a small shop in Dharavi, Jameel successfully sells close to 300 pairs of international quality dancing shoes for Latin ballroom and other western dances every month, with the likes of Soparkar and Longinus Fernandes as faithful customers who swear by him.

Jameel’s story became the focus of filmmakers Rishebh Batnagar and Jogavindra S. Khera’s project ‘Dancing Shoes’, which will be screened at this year’s PSBT Open Frame Film Festival.

In an exclusive interview with YKA, Batnagar explained that Jameel is “the kind of person that anyone in the world can relate to because of his innocence, dedication, and clairvoyance.” His positive nature, combined with his one-of-a-kind choice of profession, and his success story can easily draw anyone in.

“Here is a man, with next to no education, no experience of running a business, making dancing shoes for the film stars and different artists of India with sheer dedication, giving his mind and soul to the craft,” says the filmmaker.

Our perception of the slum has largely been shaped by its depiction in popular culture, as the gritty lanes, open drains, and a clutter of half-broken houses that Danny Boyle showcased in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Or the images that Gregory David Roberts painted for us in ‘Shantaram’.

But for Batnagar, “it is all a matter of perspective”. In fact, what led him to Jameel was when fellow filmmaker Khera told him about a company that took tourists on a guided tour of Dharavi. A chance mention to the tour guide about his profession introduced him to Jameel, and the revelation that Dharavi is.

Talking about his experience while shooting, Batnagar reveals that most of the residents at Dharavi are self-employed, each running a small business, which explains why Sandeep Soparkar calls it a “goldmine”.

On enquiring if he found any more fascinating stories as Jameel’s in this goldmine of a place, Rishebh narrates a fantastic tale of an old man whose passion was to teach the children of Dharavi free of cost. “He would go door to door and convince the family about how important girl education is and the importance of English in our society. The only drawback were his blunt words, for example if people wouldn’t be convinced, he would use words like baboon, idiot, people with no brains. Because of his anger and old age people considered him mentally challenged. When I questioned few kids about him they said he was one of the best teachers they ever had. There were few who said he was an English graduate while others said he did an M.A. in English. After he came to know what people were saying behind his back, he left Dharavi. Unfortunately, nobody knows where we went.”

‘Dancing Shoes’, with Jameel’s positive energy, glimpses of Bollywood’s dance world is a story that it both beautiful and inspiring. The use of interesting shot angles and a mix of ballroom music in the background score shows the directors’ love for the audio-visual medium. Batnagar admits that he finds inspiration everywhere around him, the trees, birds, fish, even day and night. He feels that the medium helps us to travel to a different world, that it lets him create a “magical” world, other than the one we live in, so his next project could possibly be anything under the sun!

Catch Batnagar’s film at 10.00am, 18th September, at the India International Centre, on Max Müller Marg, New Delhi.