In a tiny 100-square-foot room in a dirt-strewn alleyway in Dharavi, workers sit cheek to cheek, leaning over pieces of satin and rhinestone curls. Above them is a cluttered attic where more and more workers are making leather on molds. Given the infamous living conditions in Mumbai’s largest slum, it’s hard to imagine their designs – dance shoes – will soon adorn the feet of the rich and famous.
The team is led by Jameel Shah, a man whose life has unfolded like a Bollywood script of misery to wealth. Born in Doghra, a small village in Bihar, he was one of nine siblings from a low-income farming family.
“We were so poor that we struggled to have a decent meal or buy a pen to write our notes. We couldn’t afford a school, so we went to a local mosque to learn, ”he says. The National.
In 1996, at the age of 10, Shah ran away from home and took a train to Delhi, hoping to make a living. He found work thanks to friends in a leather wallet manufacturing company, but people told him that Mumbai was the perfect place to make a fortune.
He was also in awe of the gargantuan Bollywood posters he saw in places such as Connaught Place – Delhi’s commercial center – and, like many young Indian boys, dreamed of entering the film industry, of course. ‘dress up and have a good lifestyle.
Arriving in Mumbai with stars in his eyes, in 1997 he found work in a power loom in the Bhiwandi district before moving to Dharavi to work in another leather goods company.
As fate willed it, Shah lost all his savings when he was duped by one of his colleagues, who fled with his money to Bengaluru. Shah chased him to the southern Indian city, but couldn’t find him and had to work as a security guard for two years before he could earn enough money to return to Mumbai. It was in Bangalore that he joined Latin dance classes for the first time and found his mojo.
Back in Mumbai, his real turning point came when he went to see choreographer Sandip Soparrkar, a well-known dance artist, and told him his story and his desire to continue dancing, although he did not. cannot pay the fees. Her sincerity made a strong impression and Soparkar allowed her to join her Latin dance lessons for free.
Soon Shah was entering – and winning – competitions. “I was part of the Limca Book of Records [in India]in 2004 for dancing non-stop for 55 hours and 20 minutes in Goa, ”he says.
He discovered that most of the dance shoes, which were personalized, came from abroad, usually from London. They were also expensive, costing over 12,000 Indian rupees (around $ 160).
Motivated by Soparrkar, Shah tried to replicate these shoes and, through trial and error, quickly discovered that he could make good quality dance shoes from the skills he had learned in the leather industry. To make ends meet, he sold his creations to dance class students who could not afford to buy shoes made abroad.
His first big order came with the 2006 Bollywood movie Vacation, a remake of the Hollywood classic Dirty dance. It was just the break he needed.
He quit his job in 2007 and, with a small bank loan, started Shah Shoes with two assistants. The company now makes shoes for celebrities, corporate balls, dance shows and reality TV shows.
“It was just word of mouth. I didn’t advertise anywhere. It has helped me to be part of the dance community, ”Shah says proudly.
“Dance shoes are special. They should be light and at the same time strong and flexible, absorb perspiration, provide a firm grip and support the arch of the foot.
“Dancers don’t have the luxury of taking their shoes off for a while, so they have to be designed correctly so that they don’t cause back pain or knee pain,” he explains.
It takes Shah and his team about 15 days to make a pair of dance shoes, and they cost over Rs 4,000 a pair. Today, his clients include Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan, Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt, as well as cricketer MS Dhoni.
“Kylie Minogue was in Mumbai and wanted to buy my shoes. It was an honor to make her eight pairs, ”he says, showing a photo taken with the Australian singer.
Shah makes custom shoes for all dance genres, from salsa and tap dance to flamenco, ballet and jazz. He is now paying for his siblings’ education, bought a farm for his father, and dreams of opening a one-stop dance store that can supply everything from costumes to shoes.
“I have done everything in my life, from the security guard to selling mobile covers in stations. But I always wanted to pursue my dreams and do better, ”he says. “What makes me happy today is making the best dance shoes.”
Update: July 16, 2021, 4:52 am