Moon on the Man: A documentary on the curious lives of two men in Mumbai

The documentary, telling the story of two men with strange lives in Mumbai, was premiered at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala.
Poster of Man on the Moon
Poster of Man on the Moon
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The way Aasif and Wadood were debating, standing relaxed on a Mumbai balcony, you’d think somebody had accidentally left a camera behind them. One was leaning over a rail talking about the truths in a lie. The other said that if someone believed the lie to be true, then they were giving you their truth. The whole exchange is very raw, a fragment falling out of an evening conversation between friends. Prince Shah knew exactly what he was doing when his two friends began debating over a man called Praklawn and he began shooting their exchanges on an iPhone. This was going to be his documentary on one of the most interesting characters in Mumbai.

Praklawn was 79, and claimed, among other things, that he was the youngest freedom fighter in India. A young team including Prince shot Praklawn’s story over 5-6 years till it became a documentary that would add another man’s tale to it. Moon on the Man, as they called their work, was screened for the first time at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK).

Even if there were no cameras or a group of curious youngsters following Praklawn around, you’d have noticed the man moving about with long golden-white hair, shaking hands with one and all. He’d calmly tell you his story, the famous people he worked with, the film song he wrote. “We met him in 2007, after a film screening, when we were loudly discussing the movie. He came to us and said that he had worked with director Guru Dutt. That night we went to his house and spent four hours there. Four years later, I told him I want to shoot his story,” Prince Shah tells TNM after the Moon on the Man premiere.

The film’s producer, Anshul Pandey, and cinematographer, Vaibhav Sorte, are also with him at the premiere. They talk in turns about the changing emotions they felt while shooting the documentary. At first it was driven by curiosity, to know if Praklawn was telling the truth. But somewhere along the way, curiosity vanished and they didn’t want to judge him anymore. He became a dear friend.

Vaibhav, Prince, Anshul

At one point, when they could not get the right climax to end the tale, they found Sailesh, another curious character loitering around on Mumbai streets. He tells anyone who listens he was once a child actor – the most expensive one – worked in movies like Yaadon Ki Baaraat as one of the child actors along with Aamir Khan. But somehow, he ended up on the streets. In the documentary, you spot him at events, asking questions to dignitaries, trying to get a free meal.

“We met him one midnight when we were having chai at Church Gate after an exam. This guy came to us and asked if we could pay for his chai. His accent was amazing and he looked like Al Pacino. When I bumped into him again later, I thought why not club his and Praklawn’s stories together,” Prince says.

Unlike Praklawn though, Sailesh had evidence of having once been an actor. His face holds the biggest proof, it is the same one that once played a child in many Hindi movies. The camera intermittently goes back to the two debating friends, who go deeper in their analysis Praklawn and Sailesh. “We didn’t want voiceovers. We wanted the conflict behind the camera to happen in front of it. So, we let Aasif and Wadood have their debates. It was the same bunch of questions and answers we were having behind the camera,” Prince adds.

Both their characters enjoyed being shot on a camera, they ‘performed’ for it. “We were curious first as humans and then as artists. We wanted to deconstruct and investigate them. After a point though, we wanted to go above that. We didn’t want to judge,” says Prince, with Vaibhav and Anshul in agreement. 

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