They were the two most invigorating hours of Neil Nitin Mukesh"s life. The time that he spent in Tihar jail on Monday afternoon as part of the campaign to make his film Jail connected to a larger reality about the life of prisoners, has left the young actor sobered and reflective beyond words.
“What I saw in Tihar was not just prisoners put in for punishment. But human beings who have been put in a 400-acre city with the purpose of reforming them and making them suitable for mainstream existence when they are released."
Neil reached Tihar around 2 in the afternoon with his co-star Manoj Bajpai, director Madhur Bhandarkar and music composer Shamir Tandon. Neil, Manoj and Madhur were immediately recognized and mobbed by the inmates.
Getting emotional Neil says, “Every barrack has a television with 20 channels. So they had seen our movies. What I saw in their eyes was an amazing pain. We had taken along a small orchestra. Shamir Tandon and all of us sang Lataji"s Daata sun le maula sun le, followed by Kitne ajeeb rishte hain yahan par and Sikandar from Madhur"s Page 3. When we sang Sikandar the prisoners burst into a dance. This was the only time I saw them really let go of themselves."
The Jail anthem Daata sun le will now be played at Tihar every morning as part of the prisoners" daily prayer meetings. Bhandarkar"s film will also be screened on a DVD for the inmates.
The two-hour-thirty-minute visit was peppered with moments that have changed Neil"s life forever. “There was cage filled with birds. I hate to see caged birds. I requested the DG of police to please free them. He listened to me, allowed me to enter the big cage and free the birds personally. It was the most liberating experience of my life."
Neil spent time talking to individual inmates, getting to know their minds and hearts. “Do you know they have 10-day meditation courses in there, a full Vipashana where the yoga guru comes and stays inside the prison? There"s also a shopping arcade at Tihar where everything under the sun made by the prisoners is branded TJ (Tihar Jail) and sold. I was told the revenues from these handmade Tihar goods comes to 7.5 crore rupees every year. I bought a kambal (woolen blanket), shawl, kurta, sweets and other edibles."
Understandably Neil feels a great pride of achievement in what he has done, “It is one thing to play a prisoner no matter how authentically it"s another to actually go into this world away from the free world and experience the feelings of isolation inside."
Adds Manoj Bajpai, “I had last been to Tihar 12 years ago. The reform work that had been started by Kiran Bedi has continued. Tihar shouldn"t be the exception. All prisons should be modeled on Tihar."