Documentary channel

The documentary ‘Mumbai Mornings’ proves that anybody can run

Veena Rao’s film follows in the footsteps of Abbas Shaikh, jewellery polisher and marathon runner.

The Mumbai Marathon on January 17 will feature all kinds of runners, from amateurs and thrill-seekers to hard-core professionals who have been planting legs on asphalt for several months in preparation for the 42.194 km-run. Among them is likely to be Abbas Shaikh, a gold polisher by profession and a marathon runner by choice. In 2019, Shaikh ran for seven hours and 23 minutes to win the 75-km race in the Bangalore Ultra. Veena Rao’s beautifully shot and crisply narrated short film captures his dedication to a sport that is usually thought to be the preserve of the middle and affluent classes.

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“I came to Mumbai this summer [2015] to make a short documentary,” Rao said in an email interview from New York City, where she lives. “I researched a few ideas before I came, but they ultimately fell through, and I had to look for something new. One night I was out with my cousin and he mentioned to his friend that I wanted to make a film. His friend told me about a member of her running team, Abbas, who had a great story; one that was inspiring and relatable.”

Rao read up on Shaikh in newspaper reports, and she felt that his story captures the essence of being a runner as well as a resident of Mumbai. “I think Abbas’s feat speaks to the fact that running is accessible and can be a lot more than a way to stay fit – it can represent freedom, a sense of purpose, and be a vehicle for personal change,” said Rao, who has previously co-produced Art, Architecture and Innovation: Celebrating the Guggenheim Museum and was an associate producer on Yoruba Richen’s The New Black and Judith Helfand’s Cooked. “I also think that Abbas is representative of the determined and hardworking nature of so many remarkable Mumbaikars. And the fact that he is so loved and supported by his fellow runners speaks to the strength of the running community in Bombay.”

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