In 2011, an 18-year-old Mumbaikar was thrust into the public spotlight when a video of him performing a dangerous train stunt went viral on the Internet.
Hanif Sheikh points to a railway poster warning against the dangers of the stunts he performed. Pics/Pradeep Dhivar
But he barely had any time to enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame, before he had to go into hiding from the railway authorities that began a serious crackdown on train stunts. Now 21, Hanif Mohammad Allahbaksh Sheikh looks back on the video and his days as an amateur stuntman repentantly.
Hanif Sheikh at Reay Road station. Over three years after his infamous video, he hopes to channel his bravado to professional stunts in Bollywood
“Do not repeat what I did. It is not a good thing to be infamous for such wrong acts. I have suffered a lot; my family and I lived under constant fear every time the video was played on TV,” said a somewhat wiser Hanif, three years later. However, warning aside, Hanif is still keen for adventure and hopes to perform more jaw-dropping stunts, but this time, on film.
Hanif’s claim to fame was a video that went viral in August 2011 that shows him and a friend perform a stunt called ‘train surfing’, which implies hanging from the window or the body of a running train.
Ironically, his claim to fame is the viral video of a train stunt he performed in 2011
The video showed the duo dangerously leaning out of a train, reaching out to touch overhead equipment poles as the train rushed by them, leaping on to the railing of a bridge and running on it for a few moments, only to leap back on the train all the while the train was in motion between Cotton Green and Reay Road stations on the Harbour line.
With the video, Hanif, a resident of Kavla Bunder, Daaru Khana at Reay Road attained instant notoriety across India, and soon even abroad. In fact, a relative watched the video online all the way in Saudi Arabia and called Hanif’s mother to inform her.
“After that, she would get very scared whenever I left home. She kept warning me about the consequences, and my family began to monitor my movements after that episode,” recalled Hanif. In fact, it wasn’t just his worried mother who was watching his movements.
The video became the talk of the country, with several news channels running prime time bulletins on it. It drew strong criticism from both the railways, as well as activists. Under pressure from the media, the railways launched a massive drive against the train stunts and the perpetrators, and many were put behind bars.
Ironically, he was made the poster boy for the railways’ campaign against train stunts, after the authorities decide to take advantage of the buzz around the video. Within a month, posters with his face were splashed across railway stations in the city, warning commuters about the consequences - injuries, fatalities and legal action - of performing such dangerous acts.
Sensing trouble, Hanif attempted to stay low-key, to avoid getting into trouble with the police. But the police did find him, albeit while they were investigating an unrelated case. “During interrogations, I confessed about my stunt and the video. I was thrashed mercilessly, but they let me off without filing any case. I learnt my lesson and I promised not to repeat the stunt ever again,” said Hanif.
But the after effects weren’t all bad. As an eighth grade dropout, Hanif worked at a shipping garage Danabunder with his brother in-law. But a more glamorous opportunity came knocking last year, when some Bollywood stuntmen visited him after they watched the video.
They offered him a six-month contract to perform stunts in Dubai, but he eventually passed on the offer as his father was unwell. “My father’s health was critical. He was habitual drunkard and was bed-ridden. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, but I had to give it up,” said Hanif, whose father passed away six months ago, after which he also lost his job a few months later.
Now, with the responsibly of running the family on his shoulders, Hanif plans to turn the whole stunt story to his advantage. He realised that if he channelled his bravado and skills to reel life, it could become a source of livelihood.
“I missed one opportunity due to family obligations. But now I want to pursue my act in Bollywood. I met couple of people from the industry recently and am waiting for their replies,” he said.
Hanif said that he was always passionate about stunts. When it came to shooting the infamous video, he said, “Ek nasha sa tha (It was a craze). My friends encourage me, and I would perform more stunts. But my mother cried when she saw the video.”
Hanif has been performing train stunts since childhood, when he would travel on the footboard or hang from the train while commuting from Reay Road till his school at King Circle. He boasts that he has never taken a misstep or fallen during a trick. “The only time I have ever fallen from a train is when I was a school kid. I was trying to catch a moving train and grabbed the handle by the door, but it was loose and I slipped,” he said.
A grab from the 2011 video that shows Hanif Sheikh and his friend performing a stunt called train surfing between Cotton Green and Reay Road stations on the Harbour line. The video simultaneously put him in the public spotlight and on the railway authorities’ radar.