Neil Nitin Mukesh went to Delhi's Tihar Jail and came back with a bagful of goodies made by the prisoners, including a blanket, a shawl, sweets and other edibles. The shopping arcade in the jail premises sells everything under the sun, says the actor who will be seen as a prisoner in his next movie.
"There's 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 Rs.7.5 crore every year. I bought a kambal (blanket), shawl, kurta, sweets and other edibles," Neil said.
"Do you know they have 10-day meditation courses in there, a full Vipassana where the yoga guru comes and stays inside the prison?"
Neil spent Monday afternoon in what is described as Asia's largest prison as part of the campaign to make his film Jail connected to a larger reality about the life of prisoners.
"What I saw in Tihar was not just prisoners put in there 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," he said.
Neil was accompanied by his co-star Manoj Bajpai, director Madhur Bhandarkar and music composer Shamir Tandon. Neil, Manoj and Bhandarkar were immediately recognised by the inmates. "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 Data sun le maula sun le, followed by Kitne ajeeb rishte hain yahan par and Sikandar from Bhandarkar'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," said Neil.
The song Data 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.
"There was a cage filled with birds. I hate to see caged birds. I requested the authorities to 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," said Neil who spent time talking to inmates, getting to know their minds and hearts.
The actor plays a prisoner in his next film Jail and says reality is completely different from reel. "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," said the actor.