Moon on the Man by Prince Shah takes a hard look at reality, illusions and truth

Moon on the Man is a documentary by Prince Shah about two iconic characters and the turn their lives have taken

Updated - July 13, 2024 06:30 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 07:29 pm IST

Prince Shah

Prince Shah | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As an assistant director, Prince Shah has worked on movies such as Tenet and Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and has won numerous awards both in India and abroad. With Moon on the Man, screened recently at the Bangalore International Centre, he charts the lives of one of India’s youngest freedom fighters and a former child artiste who worked with the greats of his time.

In a talk with The Hindu, Prince Shah shared the inspiration behind the documentary and the journey of transforming it from a mere idea into a finished film.

Driven by curiosity and a desire to understand why the protagonist of the film, Praklawn — a man well into his 80s dwelling in the red light district of Mumbai — lives as he does, Prince pieced together almost five years worth of footage to bring to life Moon on the Man. Prince met Praklawn by chance while loudly discussing a film with his friends outside a theatre. A long-haired old man approached them and introduced himself, as he often did, as a former associate of Guru Dutt.


Praklawn | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Now 85, Praklawn, one of India’s youngest freedom fighters, has worked with actor and director Guru Dutt. He also collaborated with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, in Miami. Named Prakash Lalwani, Praklawn was how Fleming addressed him and the moniker stuck.

“He has this great energy and aura, he’s a legendary guy,” said Prince, talking about him at the event.

Moon on the Man also features Sailesh Kumar, a 55-year-old man living on the pavements of Marine Drive. Prince’s college was opposite Sailesh’s usual spot, making their meeting inevitable. Conversations with Sailesh revealed that he had once been a celebrated child actor appearing in over 60 films, including some with Amitabh Bachchan and Raj Kapoor.

Moon on the Man explores their stories, life experiences, and daily activities in the bustling city of Mumbai. “I started out with a fictional plot while working on some great projects as an assistant director. But, then I met Praklawn and he changed my life. I spent nine years making this film.”


Sailesh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

These two larger-than-life personalities, with Prince’s friends Asif and Wadood, who provided the dialogue, were vital in narrating a story that is partly biographical and primarily, a journey of critical thinking into the nature of reality, illusions and truth. While Parklawn and Sailesh are the main subjects in focus, many devices, apart from their voices, are used to build a story.

“My friends became the voices you hear since I don’t prefer voiceovers. They became a nice device to get into the lives of Praklawn and Sailesh,” he recalls.

Another device used in the film is the “mirror man,” which aims to reflect the questions posed in the film onto the audience. This serves as a reminder that the documentary is not just about these two lives but about the viewer too, making the audience another character in the film’s landscape.

Prince Shah in discussion with filmmaker Sunanda Bhat at BIC

Prince Shah in discussion with filmmaker Sunanda Bhat at BIC | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I was so curious about their lives that my team and I followed them and worked on this project. The story evolved over time,” says Prince, adding, “Everything evolved organically. We have to be patient while filming documentaries, while for fictional content there always is a plan.”

Prince, was initially overwhelmed with working on a non-fictional project. He says his team also shot some scenes using a simple iPhone camera, primarily at night to minimise unnecessary sounds. 

Adapting the raw, unsanitised footage of a documentary was a minor challenge for Prince, who was used to making features. However, with a close-knit team of friends, including editor Ashish Ranglani and cinematographer Vaibhav Sorte, they worked together effectively and enjoyed the process. 

“Praklawn was part of a Palestine support protest in 2016 and when I joined the protest, a whole new world opened up for me concerning Palestine and Israel,” says Prince, who adds he was in his early 20s then. He recalls that being among protesters helped him gain insight into global affairs and broadened his perspective beyond the insular world of cinema.

With Sailesh also, Prince says he learned a great deal about comfort and contentment. “Despite living on the streets without money or resources, Sailesh seems happier than many of us.”

Reflecting on his own experience in directing the documentary, Prince describes it as a cohesive and beautiful journey alongside an exceptional production team and cast. Quoting Alfred Hitchcock, Prince says,“In feature films, the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director.”

The future of Moon On The Man includes screenings at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai, apart from screenings across India. Plans are also underway to release the documentary on several OTT platforms.

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