From running bare feet in his village to creating statement-making shoes for celebrities, Jameel Shah has come a long way. Priyadarshini Paitandy narrates his inspiring tale
His is a tale that inspires… a story that has the potential to become a Bollywood film. From running bare feet across the fields of Doghra village to Latin ballroom dancing in shoes made by himself, Jameel Shah has had quite a tumultuous journey. He is the man behind Shah Shoes, a company that manufactures dancing shoes with an ever growing client list that includes Katrina Kaif, Bipasha Basu, Farah Khan and international artistes such as Kylie Minogue.
“Kylie had come to Mumbai and wanted to try my shoes. I went to show her some samples but her bodyguards didn't let me in. They took the samples in and showed them to her. Within a few minutes Kylie came out herself and met me. She liked my shoes and ordered eight pairs to take back with her,” says an ecstatic Jameel. Sure, it's all hunky dory now but initially it took the man from Bihar 12 years to make a mark.
Like numerous others who come to Mumbai, the land of opportunities, to make it big, Jameel too came to the city as a 14-year-old. At that point all he wanted was to wear good clothes. “When I was young I noticed that whenever people came from the city to my village in Bihar they would be wearing nice clothes. My father was a farmer and couldn't afford much. Hence I decided to move to Delhi to follow my dream and make some money,” says Jameel.
He worked at a company that made bags and wallets. He made friends with the other workers and they would all watch movies together. That's when Jameel latched on to his next dream — that of meeting film stars. He realised that would be possible if he lived in Mumbai. Next thing he knew, he was in Mumbai working in a wallet factory. “I used to roam the streets and dream of going to five star hotels. I knew if I saved enough I could start something on my own in the future,” says the 30-year-old. Things were going according to his plan till he lent Rs. 25,000 to a friend, who ran away to Bangalore. Not one to give up, Jameel followed him to the Garden City with Rs.1,500 in his pocket. The friend was never found and three days later Jameel realised he had run out of money to pay his hotel bill. He looked for jobs, and worked as a watchman, doorkeeper and valet driver. “I used to live in a garage. This guy who lived on the upper floor of the garage asked me to come out with him one day. He took me to a Salsa workshop. The dance form was intriguing. I told the teacher I was interested but had no money. He said ‘No money, no class',” recalls Jameel. Ever since that episode, he felt Bangalore wasn't the place for him and went back to Mumbai where he sold television and mobile covers. “Again I came across a dance class and there was a contact number. It was Sandip Soparkar's number. I met him and told him I was keen on learning dance but didn't have any money. Soparkar immediately asked me to join his Latin Ballroom class and I was delighted,” says Jameel.
Watching Soparkar in action, Jameel noticed he was wearing a specific kind of footwear that he had got from London. “That pair cost around Rs. 12,000. I was shocked to know shoes cost so much. I asked him if I could borrow his shoes and try creating something like them. That's how it all started.” The first few pairs he made, he admits, were “bakwaas”. Soparkar pointed out where he had gone wrong and helped rectify the mistakes. “Since I danced and understood the nuances, it became easy for me to understand the specifications that dance shoes require,” he says. Today, Jameel designs and creates shoes for Salsa, Flamenco, Latin Ballroom, Tap, Contemporary and Jazz among other dance forms and also undertakes custom orders.
Shah Shoes started in 2007 and within a year Bollywood artists had started ordering shoes from him. His account had cheques from Amisha Patel, Amitabh Bachchan's office, Kajol…that made it possible for him to get a bank loan to start his own workshop. “Holiday” was the first film to use his shoes, followed by “Kites”, “Saat Khoon Maaf”, “Jodi Breakers” and “Tees Maar Khan”. Contestants on dance reality shows such as ‘Jhalak Dikhla Ja' and ‘Dance India Dance' too perform in his shoes.
In spite of all the orders pouring in, an incident from the past still haunts him. “This happened long ago when I had just started out. A contestant wore my shoes for a competition and as she danced the heels broke into two. Even today I feel miserable about it and put in extra care while creating them,” says Jameel.
And how is he doing dance wise? “I have been dancing for 10 years and enjoy it. I was part of the Limca Book of Records in 2004 for dancing non-stop for 55 hours and 20 minutes in Goa.” Apart from honing his dance skills and coming up with footwear in myriad finishes and shapes, Jameel has started a coaching centre in his village to educate children. “I understand the importance of education. I might be successful, rubbing shoulders with the who's who and attending big events but I feel sad when I can't converse fluently in English,” he says, ruefully. However, he cheers up when he says, “All this while, people asked those going abroad to bring shoes from there but now I want to ensure that when people come from abroad they buy shoes from here. My shoes have a Made In India mark and it makes me happy to see that stamp all over the world.”