By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Spending five hours with hardcore convicts including prisoners serving a life sentence at the Thana jail on Thursday proved to be a life-changing experience for Neil Nitin Mukesh.
"It was the most life-changing day of my life. So much of what we take for granted seemed so vital and unreachable in there," says Neil.
The original motive for the visit - as a preparation to play the convict in Madhur Bhandarkar's Jail - was completely forgotten as Neil came face to face with people with very little time or hope to live.
"These are people who have built a universe within the prison. They cook, they do carpentry, make beautiful meals and artifacts. They pray, study, even watch films. We sat and ate their food. And I must say it was very good."
The first thing that Neil noticed about the prison inmates was how dark-skinned they had all become. "That's because they spend most of the time locked away from the sun," says the actor.
Neil now intends to get himself 'jail pallor.' "It's not a skin complexion that I can get on the beach. It will be through under-exposure from the sun."
Neil's interaction with the prisoners wasn't only skin-deep. "There are faces and voices in there which I'd never forget. Unfortunately, we couldn't meet prisoners on death row. But the rest of the inmates were there for us to interact with."
The young actor has formed a lifelong bond with some of the prisoners. "It's hard to believe some of these inmates are considered dangerous, more to themselves than people from the outside. We were not allowed to take belts, coins or any hard objects because any of this could be used by prisoners as harmful weapons."
Neil reached Thana jail around noon on Thursday with his director Madhur Bhandarkar and writer Manoj Tyagi.
Leading lady Mugdha Godse who was also expected to accompany them chose to stay away at the last minute. "We were told there would be an added security problem if she came along," explains Neil, probably referring to the fact that Ms Godse does have the tendency to play the temptress too intensely. The role could be misleading in a place where only men have been confined sometimes for many years.