'The impact of live experience documentaries is the unpredictability of situations that one faces'

A man, his motorcycle and his camera — the main players in presenting a picture of a destination and the anticipation of surprises along the way. Sounds like a trailer for a Hollywood film, doesn't it?

It is apt for Gaurav Jani, a Mumbai-based filmmaker who believes that true adventure lies not in well planned itineraries, but in encountering the unknown.

Without a planned route or a backup camera, Gaurav has filmed a documentary of some of the remotest parts of the Himalayas.

Live experience

Riding Solo is a self-funded film that documents Gaurav's journey from Mumbai to the Changthang plateau in Ladakh, bordering China.

Produced by his own company Dirt Track Productions, it won the National Award for Best Non-feature Film in 2006.

Gaurav calls this genre ‘live experience'.

“The challenge and the impact of films like this is the total unpredictability of situations that one faces,” he says. “There are no pre-written dialogues, no actors. Your bike might get punctured; you may not find comfortable places to camp in; the camera may stop functioning. At such times, all you can do is have faith.” So how does a one-man crew journey these pristine parts without proper research or planning?

“Initially, it was difficult to convince even myself that such a thing was possible. But once I started out, there was no going back. The people I met played a huge role in motivating me to complete the task I had undertaken,” he explains.

Filming solo

“Being a lone filmmaker, I had to take care to use the camera batteries sparingly and gather fuel at every filling station possible. Mostly I rode on instinct,” he says. “Once I found a place to shoot, I had to ride back and forth at least thrice to get the shot: one to set up the camera, next to ride a certain distance for the film, then ride back to collect the camera.”

Often, he had to do retakes because of insufficient light. Dangerously, he even strapped the camera onto his bike or rode with one hand holding the camera in order to get various angles of motion shots.

Gaurav has worked as an assistant director with Ram Gopal Verma in the movie Jungle (2000) when he had to hunt for shooting locations. “I had to visit several national parks and forest reserves. Living with the locals there inspired me to explore the land further and I left mainstream cinema,” he says.

Wanderlust

But the filmmaker in him did not quit. As he went about riding to various parts of the country, he decided to combine his love for riding with that for filming.

His second movie, One Crazy Ride, was about the adventurous ride of five motorcyclists over uncharted dirt tracks, on their way to discover a traversable path from Guwahati to Arunachal Pradesh, without taking the State highways. Featuring the five-some riding on rocky land and crossing rivers by wooden bridges, the film inspires a wanderlust in the viewer.

Making this film was more challenging in terms of handling the camera, Gaurav says. “When you are filming solo, the course the film will take depends entirely on you. But when you are in a group it becomes essential that you capture the energy of the group. So you need to be up before anyone else and sleep after they all have slept. If something that happens is not captured on film, it might as well never have happened!”

Motorcycle Changpa, a sequel to Riding Solo, on Gaurav's experience living with the Changpa tribe on the plateau is set to release soon.

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