Big Cheese

The new life of a former Bollywood bigwig

01 February 2016
Mansoor Khan, once one of Bollywood’s biggest filmmakers, now runs an organic cheese farm in Coonoor.
VIPIN KUMAR / HINDUSTAN TIMES
Mansoor Khan, once one of Bollywood’s biggest filmmakers, now runs an organic cheese farm in Coonoor.
VIPIN KUMAR / HINDUSTAN TIMES

At around ten on a December morning, I accompanied a 58-year-old man on an inspection of his organic cheese farm in Coonoor—a small hill station in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiri hills. Cows, mostly Jersey and Holstein, grazed languidly in nearby pastures. He stopped for a moment to examine the grass feed, which is grown organically on the farm, and we headed towards one of the cottages that he leases out to tourists. There, he instructed his staff on preparations for the next guests’ arrival. This man who was arranging for bed covers to be changed was once one of Bollywood’s biggest filmmakers—Mansoor Khan.

Our last stop was the “Cheese Cottage,” where the farm’s famous artisanal cheese is made and aged. Inside, Mansoor’s wife, Tina, was teaching a guest how to make cream cheese. “Processed cheese does not count for aficionados,” Mansoor quipped. Stacks of different cheeses—gouda, gruyère and cheddar—lay ageing on the ground. The milk for the cheese comes from a cow shed a hundred metres from the cottage. A gobar-gas plant under the shed uses methane from cow dung to produce the energy used in making cheese, and also in cooking in Mansoor’s home.

Mansoor’s farm, called Acres Wild, is the key to the ideological beliefs that have shaped his life. He traded an incredibly successful film career for what he calls an “ecologically sustainable” and “socially just” way of living. After making some of the most memorable Hindi movies of the 1980s and the 1990s—starring his cousin, the actor Aamir Khan—whose career he launched in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, he not only quit Bollywood but also urban life itself. He bought 22 acres of land in Coonoor, where he built a self-sustaining cheese-making farm. At the same time, he studied the relationship between the environment and economics, and started giving lectures on the topic at several universities, including the Indian Institutes of Management and the Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi. By 2011, Mansoor had written a book on the subject. Bollywood, now, is not much more than a blip in his life’s trajectory. “I was more of an incidental filmmaker,” Mansoor told me. “I was more of a vagabond with too many things going on in my head.”

Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

Keywords: Bollywood Aamir Khan Cheese Mansoor Khan Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander Josh
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