Being Homi

Filmmaker, SCUBA diving instructor, adventure sport enthusiast and yoga practitioner, Homi Adajania, talks to Sophie French about movies, diving, being a father and explains how yoga complements all his passions.

The first time I heard about Homi Adajania was in 2006. I was working in Mumbai as a journalist, and his debut film Being Cyrus had just released. Over the past decade, Indian cinema, especially Bollywood, has changed its narrative to give audiences films that are rooted in reality as opposed to the gilded romances that had dominated the film industry in the past. There have been original directors who created brilliant cinema even in the 80s and 90s, but such films were rare.

Mumbai-based Homi Adajania is one of those rare, unique filmmakers that cannot be categorised into any one genre. Whether you’re watching his debut Being Cyrus (about a dysfunctional Parsi family) or Finding Fanny (an endearing satire of love, loss and dysfunctional relationships), you know it’s a Homi Adajania movie because nothing about the story is typical or predictable. And, that’s exactly who Homi is in real life, too. His unabashed approach to life and his films is unapologetic and like his movies, his life follows myriad narratives, too. He’s a yoga practitioner, SCUBA diving instructor, writer, filmmaker and one of our favourite Parsis at SanātanaYoga. When I approached him for this interview, in true Homi style, he opened the piece with a disclaimer. Read on to find out more about the life and times of Homi Adajania.

Homi Adajania: Before I answer anything, I want the reader to know that I am an amateur (at best) yoga practitioner, who realises that with every little step I achieve in this way of life, it throws up a bunch of new challenges that I had no clue existed. I guess this is why I keep going back to yoga.

Sophia: When did you start practising yoga?

Homi: I can’t remember when it was exactly, but I think I started practicing in my mid-twenties. I’ve always been someone who will try something once, however bizarre it may seem. I’m not kidding. My curiosity has taken me from Capoeira to colonic irrigation. At that time, I was playing competitive rugby and was becoming a SCUBA Diving Instructor, so I wasn’t really looking at yoga in the midst of that. But then I ambled into an ashtanga class and it was perfect for my state of mind at the time. I wanted something that was physical and this helped my flexibility as well. I continued to practise at various classes, but eventually, I gravitated to the Iyengar approach with Neerav Gandhi. Every single old rugby injury (dislocations, broken bones, ripped ligaments and tendons) that would keep resurfacing got sorted by yoga. When doctors would advise bed rest for a bust back, Neerav would make me do asanas that were often a pain in the ass, but it totally sorted me out. But, from day one at that first ashtanga class, I always knew that I would discover the other aspects of yoga when I would be ready to.

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Homi amidst schooling Silver Jacks in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.

Sophia: Mumbai is one of the worst-hit cities by COVID-19. How has it affected your life and work?

Homi: I lucked out as I had left Mumbai for a weekend in the outdoors and I haven’t returned for almost 80 days now. I say this with an unbelievable amount of gratitude and some unwarranted guilt that we place on ourselves for having the fortune of watching any storm from the outside. So in terms of my life, it has been greatly enhanced. This new sense of clarity has been very organic as I have been fortunate enough to not be tested by being locked into a confined space in the city. When I say organic, it’s because I wasn’t looking to find a new perspective owing to the pressure of a situation that I was in. It’s a clarity that has given me more time to understand why we live the way we live our lives in the city.

In terms of work, the first day that I released my new film (Angrezi Medium) was the same night that all our cinemas were shut down. So that was a bit of a hiccup. But, there’s always a worse scenario I think of in every situation and this wasn’t so bad. We released on an online platform and more people ended up viewing the film as everyone was stuck at home. Right now, I’m just writing new content and creating a library of options for whenever we are able to shoot films again.

Sophia: How do you think yoga can help people deal with the pandemic? How is it helping you?

Homi: If your mind and intent are in the right place when you practise, I don’t think there is anything that yoga cannot help make better. In terms of the pandemic, even your basic asanas will balance the body from within — it will dispel any physical restlessness or lethargy. Beyond the basic asanas, yoga can help people find that their sense of peace is actually within them. It’ll help people to not get overwhelmed with the constant onslaught of dark and chaotic information and once they tap deeper into this, no uncertainty is uncertain anymore.

I practice for an hour in the morning. I’ve managed to catch sunrise doing surya namaskars, which I never did before and it’s incredibly energising.

Sophia: You’re passionate about adventure sports and the outdoors. How does yoga complement these activities?

Homi: When I look at how to marry yoga with any sport, it all comes down to the use of one’s breath. While doing most sports, I would coordinate my breath with an action or movement and while doing yoga, I tend to move to the rhythm of my breath. This gives you an insane amount of energy and fatigue tends to set in much later. We tend to hold our breath when engaging in something that scares us or if we need a sudden burst of strength. For example, when you’re snowboarding and you take that first jump off a mountain or you need to lift a heavy anchor very fast to save a boat from crashing, let the flow of your breath influence your movement rather than your movement influencing your breathing pattern. That’s what I try to follow.

Ironically, I’m also doing an online breath-holding course for free-diving and have managed to hold my breath for three minutes at a time. With yoga influences thrown into the mix, I will hopefully manage to hold my breath for five minutes. So once all this crap lifts, I’ll hopefully be able to free-dive with whales and not disturb them with the lumbering presence of a scuba diver blowing loud bubbles after inhaling air from a bulky tank on his back.

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Homi with a Hammerhead Shark in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador.

Sophia: How has the way you practise yoga and understand it change after the pandemic?

Homi: I’ve gone a little deeper into it, though I wish I had the discipline to have gone way deeper during this time.

Sophia: What do you miss most about life before lockdown?

Homi: Travel and adventure sports.

Sophia:   What are you most grateful for at the moment?

Homi: That my family is not starving and have more than a roof over their heads. They have the bonus of access to a little piece of the outdoors.

Sophia: Being a filmmaker, do you see the current crisis as a form of life imitating art, specifically dystopian fiction?

Homi: One can’t help but think of all those doomsday stories and films. I guess we’ve been obsessed with the end of the known world since biblical times. It’s not something I could ever have foreseen, but in spite of never imagining this scenario, for some inexplicable reason, I feel no sense of surprise at all.

Sophia: As a father, are you concerned about the world your sons are growing up in? How can we collectively make the future and the world better for the younger generation?

Homi: I am concerned in terms of the state of the environment that we will leave for them. But I know that they’ll find their feet. Their future got f***** up on our watch. The kids don’t need us. They need us to step aside now. I feel every parent’s folly is to try and make their kid like them — whether it’s to fill the voids that they may have experienced or to mirror what they think their strengths are. Every kid has their own individuality which must be respected and celebrated. If we want to make the world better for the younger generation, we need to teach them compassion, empathy and love. Teach them that one’s life goal is to be happy and that the things that give you happiness are not things. If children can grow up with these values rather than being force-fed crap about being better than everyone else, running some illusive race against their peers and that success is defined by how society validates them, I feel that the world will become a beautiful place with a human race that will be half-tolerable at least.

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Homi with his wife Anaita Shroff Adajania and their sons, Zreh and Zane.

Sophia: What’s the first thing you’re going to do after lockdown ends?

Homi: Learn how to swim in these new waters, I guess. It’s not a movie where the lockdown will end and we’ll all get up, dust the popcorn off our seats and amble back into life as we knew it. Like most of us, I’ll take baby steps as well. Social behaviour will be readapted, too. A certain level of paranoia will have to be contended with and we will have to keep checking in on ourselves to make sure we don’t get swept away in a wave of irrationality. With masks on, we’ll all hopefully look into each other’s eyes more to gauge how a person is feeling. I have a simple mantra for how I try and go through every day. At the end of each day, I just look back and make sure 60% of it was happy or if I’m in a tough spot, then I try to keep 60% of the day as positive as I can. If I achieve this, my day has been a raging success. Sorry for digressing, but I guess I was trying to say, in a very convoluted way, that I’ll take it a day at a time.

Sophia: List five movies that you think we should all watch while we’re sheltering-at-home?

Homi: I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I don’t really watch movies. As soon as a movie starts, I fall asleep. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is. My idea of “binge-watching” is watching a series piecemeal over a week! Whenever we sit down to watch something, my family and friends place bets on whether I will make it through the opening credits.

Watch Homi Adajania’s latest film Angrezi Medium on Disney + Hotstar.

July 2, 2020
Photos Homi Adajania

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