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Being Homi
Text by Jayashree Menon and Photographs by Ankur Chaturvedi
Published: Volume 14, Issue 4, July-August, 2006

Scuba-diving instructor, travel and humour writer, storyteller...the Being Cyrus director, Homi Adajania, has tilted at windmills as part of his real life madness. In a freewheeling encounter with JAYASHREE MENON, the Mumbai-based film-maker speaks about his chequered pursuits, his celluloid offerings and his creative muse

He opens the door and greets me with a huge yawn…then offers me a large glass of some beetroot 'n' carrot concoction. When I politely decline, he gulps it down himself. This kind of sets the tone for our encounter: relaxed, informal, freewheeling. Much like director, Homi Adajania, himself.

His typical South Bombay upbringing - Cathedral School, St Xavier's College - notwithstanding, Adajania's life has been anything but elitist. He has been there…he has done that…done it all. "This can only happen if you keep your eyes open as you go through life. You must absorb, assimilate and be a part of the whole madness," he grins.

As part of his madness, he's been a scuba-diving instructor in the Lakshadweep islands; he's run the family gas station at Grant Road; he's freelanced as a travel and humour writer; he's assisted Mahesh Mathai in advertising; he's worked as the director of operations for an American adventure company; he's lived in the basement of a brothel in Vietnam; he's interviewed 600 physically challenged persons within a week for a Benetton catalogue; he's lived in Crete for a month on 147 dollars; he has been deported from Nepal and has even transported a fake fakir to Venice for an installation…. My head is spinning. He's a great storyteller and I tell him so.

"Oh, I'm nothing. My father could really spin a yarn," he enthuses. His father, the late Captain Aspi Adajania, was on a short service commission with the Indian army during the Pakistan war and was also the president of the Indian Amateur Boxing Association. "He'd travelled a lot. After every trip, he'd tell us some wonderful story about his adventures…as a double agent, a super spy, a brave soldier…. We'd listen enthralled as he held forth. I noticed though that every time he repeated the story to a new set of listeners, it would change a little and by the fifth or sixth telling, it was totally different from what we'd first heard!"

Obviously, the yarn telling gene has been inherited by the son.

His stint with film-maker, Mahesh Mathai, came about while playing rugby at Bombay Gymkhana. "Half the team was from advertising, so getting a job wasn't all that difficult." Assisting Mathai kindled his interest in film-making, but scuba-diving beckoned irresistibly. "My love for underwater diving started when I first plunged into a deep well at the Karanja naval base. It was pitch dark, I couldn't see a thing. Yet, along with the fear came a deep sense of warmth…a strange feeling of familiarity. I knew this was where I belonged."

The professional sea diving courses being offered abroad were very expensive. "I just couldn't afford them." An unlikely messiah appeared in the portly form of ad film-maker, Prahlad Kakkar. "When I told him that I wanted to become a diving instructor, he first showered me with the choicest abuses, then packed me off to the Lakshadweep islands for a basic course in scuba-diving." Adajania went on to do his rescue as well as advanced courses, the last in Mauritius.