The water was cold and pitch black. Director Homi Adajania was onboard a vessel from which he was diving in the Galapagos Island. In the middle of the night, by about three, he realised that the vessel had hit rocks and was starting to sink. It was a huge ocean with “nothing in it”.Homi laughs while narrating the incident trying to play down the fact that he could have died that day. “At that time you don’t think you are going to die,” he says. “You are just concentrating on staying alive. You are not thinking, there is so much adrenalin in you, your body is so hot inside, and it is an incredible feeling.”
There is a twinkle in Homi‘s eyes when he talks about that “incredible feeling”. And, this is certainly not the first time that he has experienced it. That near-death situation when you know you could die any moment and all you can think of is how to stay alive. In his own words,Homi, the man behind films like Being Cyrus, Cocktail and Finding Fanny, calls it adventure tripping. On his now defunct blog Lost Dog Tales, he writes about the many times that he has seen death at close quarters and managed to squeeze through it alive. Times when he has been “an arrogant prick” and thought he was “indestructible”.
At 19 and after scaling a height of 14,000 ft, he realised that he could also fall prey to “acute altitude sickness”. He describes it as a state of mind that is too numb to even feel temperature. “All I could think of was that I needed my mother,” writes Homi. He ran out of air underwater during his Rescue Diver course in Mauritius, caught a massive python by its head at a snake farm along the Mekong Delta (out of curiosity, he explains with a smile), went rafting during freak rainfall in the Zanskar River in Ladakh (“after that experience, I think twice before putting my clothes into the washing machine,” he writes) and the list goes on.
What about fear, then? “At that moment, there is no fear. You have to go that edge to experience it. ,” he says. “You know its not like I would think that ‘oh I would never do that kind of thing again’. That means either am stupid or it doesnt matter to me. I learn from the experience and go on.” The biggest lesson he has learnt from indulging in these adventure sports is that man is just a small and pathetic being with no control whatsoever over the omnipotent and awe-inspiring nature. “I just love being outdoors, I cant tell you what it does for me. You feel so humbled,” he says. “But when you get back to the city where everyone feels that if they wouldn’t do what they were doing the world would stop, it is ridiculous!”
His 20s sound like a roller-coaster ride. All he did was travelling and before you can voice the first question that pops into your head, “dude, where’s the dough?”, he volunteers with an answer. “As cliched it may sound, I travelled on just love and fresh air,” he says. Although he led a comfortable life as a child, it took a turn when his father and his biggest inspiration Aspi Adajania, an Army man and the president of the Indian Amateur Boxing Association, passed away suddenly. He had to figure out a way to sustain his and his mother’s lives and Homi got into the family business in his late teens. After having made sure that his mother was taken care of, he set out to explore the world “on a shoestring budget”. He did anything that would pay him, from the banal to the outright outrageous. From arranging a crowd for a shoot to standing in as extra in an ad, writing articles to taking a fake fakir to an art biennale in Venice, he has done it all. “I would do anything to make money so I could travel,” he says. “I realised very early in my life very early in my life that if you are broke and happy, you will never be happier. And that I think stayed with me.”
And, mind you, broke is not an understatement. Homi recalls the time he spent a month in Greece on just $147 and lived in a cave in Matala. “There were these caves you could enter from the top and where travellers used to leave something behind,” says Homi. “There would be some torn book, a bucket or a chatai and then when you leave, you also leave something as well. So you never know whom you are following or who is behind you.” This is the beauty of travel, he says. It is not the destination nor the itinerary that matters. It is just about being and existing in a place that is outside your comfort zone.
Somewhere along the way, he, however did not forget to make himself employable in what he loves to do. Today, Homi is one of the three highest qualified SCUBA diving instructors in the country and holds a CMAS certification that allows him to train future instructors. He has also done over 800 dives in places as far and wide as the Galapagos, Lakshadweep, Indonesia, Mauritius, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Maldives and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Even films is then in a sense a journey for Homi, 42. He took to it at a whim and because it was outside his comfort zone. Having inherited storytelling skills from his father, Homi figured that films were a good way to put it to good use and make enough money to go wherever he wanted to in the world. Of course, now three films later, he does enjoy the high of creating something from scratch and watching his vision play out on a big screen, but nothing can keep him from travelling or diving. Not films, not even family. “When I go underwater, for me it’s just pure peace,” he says. “I think its truly the only quiet place left in the world, because fortunately human beings haven’t figured out how to speak loudly under water.”
But doesn’t having a family change anything? To think that there is someone waiting for you back home? “I have mellowed with age,” says Homi. But he goes on to narrate an incident, one of his crazy trips which he went on when his wife Anaita Shroff Adajania, stylist and fashion editor, was pregnant with his first son. “I was standing on top of a mountain which was about 14,000 ft, dangling my legs at this sheer drop. There was a good 800 foot drop before you hit the ground,” he says. “I remember looking down and I actually thought about it. That was the first time it actually came into my head saying ‘listen man, there are now two people waiting for you at home’.” The next thing he remembers is that he was jumping down the mountain. “That is me, wanderlust is just in my nature,” he says. “And if I try to change that, then I wont be a happy person.” Now, his wife is used to it and just rolls her eyes, he says. The only concern now is that he gets back home. “She tells me ‘just come back in how many ever pieces, we will stitch you up together’.”
Homi, who loves to read and spend time with his sons, Zreh and Zane, aged 6 and 4, is now gearing up for his next film with his long-time collaborator, producer Dinesh Vijan. Much like what adventure travel does to you, the film, which is an adaptation of the novel The Fault In Our Stars, will be a call out to “all of us profound idiots who believe we have unlimited time here,” he says. If there is a way to live, says Homi, it is by keeping on travelling and taking such risks. Life makes sense only when you go to the edge, touch the peak and then sit back once you are safe to reminisce and revel in the rush you felt.