This was a story that seemed too typical of modern India, and perhaps, of Asia in general. A one-in-a-million man with a special talent, which could also be a curse.
However, with that certain quality of clever resourcefulness which most ancient Asian peoples have, he’s found a way to make money from it without being exploited by others. When I heard about this man, I was almost a new arrival in Delhi, barely being here more than a month. His “act” so-to-speak sent chills of excitement down my spine, and I was thrilled when I was given a chance so early in this internship to prove my worth not only as a video editor, but as a video presenter. I wasn’t too nervous about the prospect; I had some experience of acting under my belt from college, starring in student films by friends because finding real actors was difficult. I’d never done anything like this however. It was almost like a kind of journalism, and I’d never learnt anything about journalism in college. I was particularly nerve-wracked when I found out a day later that we’d be shooting just one day after that.
I wasn’t prepared at all for it; I had planned to write a script, to practice delivery, everything, but there was hardly any time for that anymore. With the time I had left I could only develop a basic idea in my head of what I’d say and how I’d say it. Thankfully by the time we started shooting it soon became apparent that the crew already had a good idea of what I’d be saying to the camera and when. This is something I’ve discovered in Indian culture, and I greatly admire it; it’s a persistent ability to work things out on the fly. This is a method which can lead to erroneous judgement calls, however it is much better at dealing with unforeseen events. Obviously this method suits the unpredictability of life in India far better than meticulous planning would, and practicing it is a skill which I need to develop.
Anyway, after a small adventure which led to me becoming separated from the crew for 10 minutes, the result of one of those erroneous judgement calls I mentioned earlier, we found Prem Singh’s restaurant. Surprisingly, the man himself was standing right behind the counter, stirring the same wok full of super-heated oil I’d seen in photos; however I did not recognize him immediately. I assumed that this business savvy restaurant owner stayed out back, coming out every now and then to attract bigger crowds of customers with his unique act. However there he was; a simple cook with a coating of yellow crust on his right hand. It was when I noticed this small detail that I begun to suspect that this was the man we wanted to see; this was confirmed shortly afterwards by our line producer. I approached him and offered a nervous handshake, and he shook it with a warm smile.
Then we began shooting. The shoot from there was fairly stressful, but fun. It was a fascinating experience, seeing this man dip his hand in boiling oil as if it were rinsing his hand in a basin of cool water. It was stressful because I was learning on-the-fly about what was essentially impromptu public speaking, as a new crowd would arrive whenever we started a take, and I was always making up what I would say on the spot. After we’d packed our equipment and departed from Prem Singh’s restaurant (with three complementary and delicious pieces of deep-fried fish I might add!) I felt that we’d shot competent footage, however I was worried about my parts. I felt like we didn’t do enough takes for me to become comfortable with speaking to a camera in front of a curious crowd of on-lookers. However my fears turned out to be unfounded, as either through the incredible power of editing, or perhaps simply because my presentation wasn’t actually that bad, the final piece was pretty good!
Now, with the release of a couple new pieces focusing on the many discounts you can find in the obscure markets of Delhi, I feel like I’m getting much better at this bizarrely specific kind of journalism. I’m also extremely excited to explore new facets of this strange and beautiful country with new videos very soon, so stay tuned in to Clipahoy for more.