x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Moving return home for Mother Teresa's Dubai 'son'

Dubai filmmaker Neel Kumar, who was five months old when he was adopted from a Kolkata orphanage, has made an emotional return to shoot a documentary.

Neel Kumar’s new film, Born Twice, will explore the subject of adoption, featuring his own story and that of the orphanage.
Neel Kumar’s new film, Born Twice, will explore the subject of adoption, featuring his own story and that of the orphanage.

DUBAI // A filmmaker has made an emotional return to Mother Teresa's orphanage in Kolkata to shoot a documentary.

Neel Kumar was five months old when he was adopted from the orphanage by Neeraj and Bipasha Kumar 26 years ago. He grew up in Dubai and began working in advertising. Last year, however, he gave up his job as a copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi to start his own film production company, Akela.

He has made a number of corporate videos and a commercial, but his new film - Born Twice - will be his first longer production. It will explore the subject of adoption, featuring his own story and that of the orphanage.

He plans to enter the documentary at next year's Sundance Film Festival in the United States.

"I'd like to raise awareness of adoption," he said. "If even one family sees the film and contemplates adopting then that's something in itself."

Three weeks ago he went back to the orphanage for the first time in 16 years.

"It was quite an eye-opener. On a day-to-day basis the sisters there see sick children, children who don't have homes or families, so it's very hard to smile from their perspective.

"When I went back everyone was very happy - it was like seeing the fruits of their labour. They were saying in Bengali, 'Our son has come home'. I think they have a collective, almost maternal feeling towards all the children.

"It was difficult, I went upstairs to the cots where all the really young babies are, from one day old to six or seven months. That was where I got picked up from.

"Strangely, it wasn't a sad experience. I thought it might be because it was difficult to go back there with the life I have now and not feel either guilt or extreme luck. But unexpectedly I had a very warm feeling."

Mr Kumar is directing the film and producing it with two other Dubai residents, Umran Shaikh and cinematographer Abbo Abbondandolo, who will also provide the music. Shooting is due to take place in Kolkata over the next two months.

Mr Kumar's mother grew up in Kolkata and decided she would one day adopt from the orphanage after working there as a volunteer when she was a teenager in the 1960s.

Her wish came true when she and her husband adopted Mr Kumar in 1986. Two years later they returned to adopt a baby girl, Natasha, who is now 24 and works for a recruitment company in Dubai. The family first came to Dubai 30 years ago. Mrs Kumar was a teacher, while her husband works in the internal audit department at Emirates Airline.

Mrs Kumar said: "The orphanage asked for volunteers, so I started going there to help with the kids. All these kids come running up to you and you're not allowed to hug them - you're allowed to help them, but not hug them so you don't get too attached. I always wanted to adopt after I saw those kids."

Mr Kumar's adoption papers describe him as an "abandoned and unclaimed child", but his mother explained that this was legal wording rather than a description of how he had come to be at the orphanage.

In fact, she said, like many babies there he was born to an unmarried woman who had sought help.

He was aware that he was adopted as he grew up, and does not want to know the identity of his biological mother.

"A lot of people find it odd that I'm not curious, but I'm very content with the way things are," he said. "I think your parents are the ones who raise you."

csimpson@thenational.ae