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Royal Enfield Wins Best Documentary

Man, Machine and Myth

By Ujjwal Dey with photos from "Gaurav Jani"
5/21/2009 12:11:14 PM

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Synopsis: Gaurav Jani is a founder member of 60KPH a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle club. He rode and recorded his solitary trip to Changthang among the Himalayas and to Marsimek–la, the highest motorable pass in the world at 18,634 feet. He shot 40 hours of his ride which has been heartbreakingly edited to a 94-minute documentary. The project won many awards including Golden Conch for Best Documentary at the Mumbai International Film Festival (2006). His memoirs are now available on DVD.

I met Gaurav on 26 May and we talked till 3 AM at a road side dhaaba (food joint) in Thane Ghodbunder Highway.


Man, Machine and Myth - Romancing the Roads

Men are not emotional creatures. We have a strong façade for the expansive world. But we do have passion. It is this intense drive to do what is unique to us, a force driving us towards a different world view. When you realise you are not a sheep in a herd but a beast far more extreme – you do what cowboys have done since ages – tame a wild bull or die trying.

For Gaurav Jani this began years ago as he founded the all India Bullet club – 60 KPH ( http://www.60kph.com ). Don’t be fooled by the name, their speed or reach is not limited to 60KMPH. Over the years members have gone on group rides throughout the country and into neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan on their trusty Bulls (Bullets). But he had not discovered himself yet through these group rides. He craved a personal adventure to realise what Bullet-eers call Bullet Nirvana. This he achieved in “Riding Solo To The Top Of The World.”

Talking about his trip; why choose a motorcycle that retains a 50 year-old technology in its current production. Royal Enfield’s cast iron engine has gone with almost no technical improvements since it started operations in India. Today the Indian company is the only one functioning while its British parent company and all others have shut shop long ago.

Remember Biking In India article--We mentioned the history of Royal Enfield in India.EXCERPT from the same: "The Indian debut happened in 1949 with the 350cc Bullet when Madras Motors started assembling the Royal Enfield motorcycles to supply it to the Indian Army. The Bullet would disappear from most regions of the biking world but Enfield India Company thumped along. In 1994 the ailing company renewed its reach after they were acquired by the Eicher Group ."

“I didn't have a line up of bikes from which I could choose a 350cc Enfield over a 650cc or 1100cc bike. The Enfield in Riding Solo... is my five-year-old bike and my only option for this ride” Says Gaurav confident of his Bullet. Year of Manufacture / Purchase of your Bullet used for the trip Model and CC capacity/BHP of his Bullet = 2001 model, 350 cc, Std Bullet iron engine, 18bhp.

None of the financers were willing to put money on this project. A solo ride with no route or itinerary planned. In these desperate circumstances was his state of mind, firm on doing it solo. That was the essence of the trip – doing it on his own and capturing it on film. Having worked behind the camera; facing the camera was another challenge for him.

Author's Note: It is the passion for riding the WW II technology with no changes - drum brakes and spokes and CB point ignition et al. Most of all the Thump and displacement gives the unique comfort of riding in the top gear (4th gear) at the speed of as less as 20 KMPH without missing a beat or engine problem. Also due to the displacement the bike runs at same speed with pillion or luggage. It is a hard core Indian bike now - even with the British Royal Enfield tag.

Gaurav explains, “Both Rajiv (a friend) and I knew that riding the bike wouldn’t be a problem. The problem would be handling the camera (a Panasonic DVX-100e Mini DV camera). I would have to experiment with the kind of shots I would take, check them, rectify mistakes and learn on the way. But the biggest problem of all was - Who would face the camera? I have been working in films as an assistant director. But that’s behind the camera. The other side is for actors and for people who are camera friendly. The body was prepared for anything but the mind just could not get over the fact that I would have to face the camera and talk to it. Once I accepted this fact, everything fell into place. And throughout, I had the support of fellow 60kph members, the only guys outside Dirt trackers (his production company) who believed in the film.”


Being an experienced rider, Gaurav was confident about his solo trip. He knew where he could stop and where he could refuel. Minor maintenance of the bike would be done by himself on the road. The tank capacity of the Bullet was 14 litres, and he could carry 19 litres of fuel as luggage. Rest of the fuel would come from various Indian Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police camps in Changthang. “Midway into the ride I did return back to Leh for fuel and most importantly food supplies.” In Changthang itself his Bull consumed 95 litres of fuel.

Originally the ride was to start from Bombay (Mumbai). But to avoid damage to the camera from the heat the bike and equipments were taken by train to Jaipur and then the bike trip began on towards Delhi. At Delhi he met with Discovery Channel executives who were not too keen on this documentary with no defined plot or structure. Gaurav was yet to know himself what he was going to do and where his final destination will be. Not disheartened yet he rode on. A year later Discovery Channel has shown interest in his production. Telling us about his riding preparation Gaurav says, “The maximum amount of space was occupied by the camera box and camera accessories. The heaviest bag had the bike spares and tools.”

So how does a man document his own biker trip on the road? Who records him riding on the mountains and through brooks underneath frail rope-wood bridges?

“Once on the road, each time I had to take a shot, I had to untie the camera bag and tripod, remove the camera, tie the camera bag back onto the bike, set the frame, wear the helmet, ride away from the camera, come back to unpack the camera bag on the bike and pack the camera and tripod back onto the bike.”

That seems like a lot of work to a layman. But not for the passionate film-maker, Gaurav wanted the best footage for his dream-run into the Himalayas. Some people in the initial cut of his documentary disbelieved he performed the solo trip and recording. There were scenes of the camera panning. Gaurav explains that two scenes were not shot by him. One was shot by Zee News channel who were doing a feature on paragliding near Rohthang pass at Manali. Another shot was from Royal Beast, a Delhi based Bullet club. “I actually wanted to inquire from the cameraman on what all precautions I should take while taking shots in sub-zero temperatures,” explains Gaurav about his shot with Zee News team.

Though Gaurav is experienced in film-making this was his first fully-owned project. He was to direct, present and capture everything by himself without knowing what was in store for him ahead and what the final-product would look like. He shared his thoughts, “Filming my own journey on the high altitude region was tough physically, but mentally it was satisfying. Any first- time director would be nervous on the sets, crew and cast waiting for his directions. But for Riding solo... there was no one to judge me or look at me for further instructions. I was filming without any plan or schedule and most importantly, I had complete freedom. A perfect scenario for a first time director.”


But even at desolate places Gaurav would have imaginary million eyes on him whenever he tried to face the camera. He had to analyze his speech, and as advised by his colleagues back home, face the camera while talking, to connect with the prospective audience. This changed overnight as, “The fear was considerably reduced when I lost my way searching for a place called Datta. The sun was about to set and it was freezing cold. In that moment of panic, the camera was the only companion I had. My whole approach to the film changed on that restless night. I had never imagined that I would ever get lost or be in a situation where I would fear for my life.”

What followed was a humbler approach topped with a camera-friendly attitude. Another turning point on the jouney was when he stayed with Chang pa nomads. Their simple life was enlightenment for Gaurav, “When strangers meet (on those mountains), there is no manipulation, no faking of identity.” After Changthang, a breath-takingly beautiful region, he reached Hanle. At the Hanle Palace he got the tremendously moving sight of huge grasslands and the Hanle river winding its way among the fields. Nearby was the Chumur monastery where even the National Geographic Society was denied permission to enter despite their reference letters from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Indian Home Ministry. (See here http:// magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0401/feature5/ index.html?fs=www7.nationalgeographic.com ).

The landscape was desolate except for plenty of wild-life. Hundreds of Kiangs (wild-assess) made way for the Bull which hoped for a single day ride to reach Chumur. Then on, a mighty hike to get to the monastery.


To make the bike lighter, Gaurav had left most of his luggage back at Hanle. “I reached Chumur in four hours. After a 30-minute interrogation on what I was doing at Chumur, I was allowed to shoot.” He had already shot 7 hours of the Hemis festival when he had reached Leh. The daring effort now would be to ride back to Hanle. He had exposed tapes and no tools if the Bullet broke down. A suicide run, he camped at Khargyam grassland, where the stream besides his camp froze to ice. When at 6 am he tried to capture the frozen stream, his battery died in 2 minutes due to the cold (instead of the usual 3 hours life).

“Riding to Marsimek–la, the highest motorable pass at 18,634 feet was also tough, but that was my day off from work. Camera batteries were getting charged at the Army camp. I was not operating the camera or facing it - that day was my vacation on a vacation so as to speak. Getting to Marsimek-la was for the biker in me and not for the filmmaker.”

He completed his solo trip as he dreamed but not planned. He had 40 hours of footage, and the post-production team was editing the same. Heartbreakingly the final cut is reduced to 94 minutes on the screened documentary and on the DVD which is available for purchase at 60 KPH website http://www. 60kph.com/photos/video/riding_solo.html .


“I wanted the film to have multiple angles, shots that would do justice to the beautiful Changthang. It's tough for the filmmaker to decide where the film is going when there is a constant clash between the filmmaker and the biker who wants to enjoy the ride uninterrupted; without having to stop every now and then to set up a camera.”

Having won the Golden Conch and Critics award for Best Documentary at the 2006 Mumbai International Film Festival among many other awards at various festivals; it seems the biker and the filmmaker are both at peace with the results.

Commenting on the well-received film he says, “I was away on another trip when my Editor, Sankalp Meshram informed me that the selection jury of the Mumbai International Film Festival had left for their respective homes after they saw Riding Solo... I said, come on man, our film is not so bad for them to react like this. He said ‘Idiot, they loved the film so much that after watching our film, they didn’t want to see any other film and spoil their mood’.”

Adventure Sidebars:Total Petrol used in your Solo trip = around 210 liters (or 47 gallons).
Total Kilometers ridden on solo trip = 5,000 Kms (about 3,200 miles). KM = A metric unit of length equal to 1000 meters (or 0.621371 miles)

Litre = A metric unit of capacity equal to the volume of 1 kilogram of pure water at 4 degrees centigrade and 760 mm of mercury (or approximately 1.76 pints)

Gallon = A British imperial capacity measure (liquid or dry) equal to 4 quarts or 4.545 litres

Mile = A unit of length used in navigation; equivalent to the distance spanned by one minute of arc in latitude; 1,852 meters

Now we need a Calculator ;)


The Film “Riding Solo To The Top Of The World” on the Festival circuit:

1) Indian Documentary Producers’ Association Awards 2006
Technical Award for Sound Design - Dwarak Warrier
Technical Award for Editing - Sankalp Meshram
Documentary - Gaurav Jani

2) Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival 2006
Audience Award - Best Documentary

3) Mumbai International Film Festival - February 2006
Golden Conch for Best Documentary Film / Video
National Critics Award

4) Signs Film Festival - August 2006
Best Documentary – Biography Category

5) Calgary International Film Festival - September 2006
Nominated for Best International Documentary Award

6) Indo American Arts Council Film Festival
Nominated for Best International Documentary Award

Copyright Ujjwal Dey May 29, 2007. Here's the man's self-run Production Company - Dirt Track Productions: http://www.dirttrackproductions.com

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