Two year old labour of love!
Robot Jockey was commissioned the day Miriam’s son was born. She had to begin pre production work as soon as she was out of the hospital and leave for the first shoot in Qatar when he was barely a few months old. The film has been made over 2 years with over 60 hours of footage.
Four cameras in the camel race
It was truly challenging, shooting the camel races.
As many as 30-60 camels take part in a race and they lurch forward seeming to almost collide with each other right at the very start. The spectators besides catching the start and end of the race get the chunk of action of the marathon endurance course from television screens fitted in the audience stand. Alongside the race tracks the true mayhem of camel racing explodes. Hundreds of camel racing enthusiasts race in SUVS alongside the camel tracks careening along and yelling at their camels even as they juggle the remotes for the robot jockeys.
We knew we needed a complex multi camera set up to get a blow by blow account of the races. Brad Dillon a specialized National Geographic sports photographer flew in from Singapore just to film the final races. He placed one camera right on the tracks to capture the start line and the photo finish! Another camera was in the SUV  to catch Abdallah point of view as he controlled the robot. A third camera caught audience reactions. A fourth lipstick camera Brad wanted to mount onto the robot so we got the racing camels perspective. We needed special permissions for this as no one wanted to take any risk with their highly trained racing camels. Every additional weight including a miniscule lipstick camera they believed would slow down their chances… of winning the grand prizes- fancy sports cars, gold swords and purses worth millions! Finally the Head of the camel racing federation agreed to mount the camera on his camel. The lipstickcamera was taped onto the robot and mounted on the camel in a mad dash before the race began. We whooped as the camel lurched forward onto the tracks.
But at the finish line, we unraveled the lipstick and tried to play back. We got nothing… The high vibration on the camels back had ruined the camera!
The changing complexion of camel racing !
Al Shahaniya is where Qatar’s biggest camel tracks are situated surrounded by camel farms. Most of the department stores cater to camels from - date cakes to colourful muzzles and beads! The newest entrant who is arousing a lot of curiosity is the robot jockey who is on hire. He will be the substitute to child jockeys and  is being rented out and tested before the biggest camel races begin…
The only person to get as much attention as the robot jockey was Miriam! The local newspaper that covers the camel races had her with the crew splashed across it’s front pages. The crew basked in the attention thinking it was because it was a National Geographic crew visiting until a Bedouin sidled up and confessed that it was because Miriam was probably the only woman around Al Shahaniya. The Bedouin leave their families and children in the cities and pitch tents in the desert a few months before the races so they can sell their camels and train them for the races. This is macho sport, not one for a woman except for the few foreign tourists who may show on the race day.
In Abu Dhabi, a local chieftan invited the crew over for a sumptious meal – an entire lamb was roasted and placed in the center of the saffron rice. A few murmurs passed around the circle of men as an unwritten code of conduct was broken and Miriam squatted on the floor along with them. Once the initial embarrassment was done with, Bedouin hospitality was at it’s best, as all hands dug into the common plate of rice. An over enthusiastic youngster, picked up the head of the lamb and pulled out the steaming insides and handed it over to Miriam explaining he was sharing the tastiest tid bit with the only woman amidst the Bedouins .
The mover and Sheikher!
Right from the moment the crew landed in Doha, all the complications that an international shoot entails became apparent. Our equipment was grounded because a paper that had to be faxed from the customs office with the serial numbers of the equipment had not reached. Abdallah who we were scheduled to film with that day had to be contacted. He used all his royal connections to clear the equipment and begin the shoot schedule.
We had carried more than half our foreign currency as American Express traveler’s cheques but bank after bank turned us down. Once more sheepishly we had to confess to Abdallah our predicament and he explained to us that no bank in Qatar accepts American Express travelers cheques but that he would get one bank to make an exception!

Jungle adventure in Jharkhand
“Play safe and don’t stick to the same pattern…Infact don’t inform anybody of your plans”
“Do not stay on in the forest after dark in fact you should not even be on the roads”
We were to shoot
‘A light burns’ in the forests of Jharkhand. A naxal heartland, known to be a battleground between the armed forces and the naxals, we set out with a lot of trepidition  ignoring all warning. We had no choice. The shoot was planned over two days and there was no question of returning before dark our shoot was about a forest dwelling community’s efforts to generate electricity using bio diesel and night shots with lights burning were intrinsic to telling the story.
Two village boys on a motorbike led the way across a rugged terrain. Hamlets and huts grew scattered and the vegetation dense…until we were careening through the smallest mud paths and rocky ridges to arrive in the village of Gardih. We were told that only two members of the crew could stay overnight in the village to get shots of the lights burning and the leaf plate weaving that the women do even late in the night. The cameraman and assistant, it was decided would stay.
It was a fitful, sleepless night for the rest of the crew…as all the warnings before the shoot played back eerily. In the darkness of 4:00am on a winter morning, the team huddled into the car and sped back to the village only to spot the cameraman capturing a spectacular sunrise after a hard night’s shoot!

Real life hero
The film centres around Habib Haji, a car stunt specialist in Bollywood. Habib’s own father was a stuntman who had died during the filming of a car stunt. Despite his own personal tragedy, Habib follows in his footsteps and was to give us a first hand account of the dangerous stunt industry.
Over one year we recorded one spectacular stunt after the other to capture never before seen accounts of Bollywood stunts. But through it all Habib remained distant and cold barely opening up to the camera.
After the first rough cut…the channel suggested that it was time we considered changing our protagonist since Habib was way too retiscent. One year of filming seemed to have been pointless unless we could somehow convince Habib to transform into a real screen hero.
The next few days were spent with Habib, pouring over old albums and reliving his days with his father. Then the rough cut was screened for him…to explain we had just one shoot schedule to change an impersonal narrative into a moving account of his life.
During the last schedule Habib was truly different, he had understood that this film could be a tribute to his father who had died with little recognition. He coaxed his mother who he had until now sheltered from the camera crew to give us an interview as well.The film wrapped up, the channel approved.
Many months after it was aired an excited Habib called Miriam up. He had just completed a stunt schedule for an action film shot in South Africa. Little children recognized him and ran to ask him for autographs. The documentary had turned an unsung hero into a real one even for a few moments.
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