Beginnerís Luck

Schoolboy Shams Patel wins a National Award for playing a street child in Thanks Maa

Shams Patel, a 13-year-old wide-eyed boy, was ensconced in the comforts of his home and would let it out on the football fields of his school. like any other boy in the posh neighbourhood of Andheri, Veera Desai Road in Mumbai. Patel is no longer any other boy. He has just won the National Award for the Best Child Artist for his performance in Thanks Maa. He hadn't faced a camera before, but in Irfan Kamal's debut movie, he metamorphosed into Municipality Ghatkopar, a street child in tattered clothes.

"Until then, I only gave a cursory glance at these kids," he says over phone from Mumbai. So how is he taking in the news? "It is still hard for me and my school friends to digest. Since I suffer from stage fright, I used to stay away even from oratory competitions. To win such an honour is something special," says Patel.

Thanks Maa, which might just rival Slumdog Millionaire's depiction of Mumbai slums, revolves around Municipality Ghatkopar and his gang of friends who find an abandoned baby boy in a garbage dump and their search for his mother. Municipality Ghatkopar overturned Patel's routine of textbooks and tuitions, video games at his PlayStation and weekend soccer. Two years ago, when Kamal, his uncle, decided on the movie, he found his street hero in Patel, then an 11-year-old who worshipped Manchester United and Barcelona. Patel underwent a month-long workshop, grew his hair, memorised street slang and noticed the mannerisms of street kids by being in their company. "A member of the crew would always advise me on the basics of acting," says Patel.

The shoot was done in actual locations in Mumbai to capture the hustle-bustle of the city, like the teeming crowds at Lal Bagh during Ganesh Chathurti processions. Since hidden cameras were used in crowded locations and in the majority of shots, Patel says he never felt he was being filmed. Often the hero became just a boy. "When I would hold the baby in my arms during shooting I felt a sense of responsibility. That soon disappeared once he wetted my shirt," Patel laughs.

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