In the remote Devarpada village a good five hours’ drive from Mumbai, India, Kamlesh Nanasaheb Ghumare still cannot believe how his life has magically turned around overnight.
“This is all a dream unfolding before my eyes,” the 27-year-old farmer told VICE. “Everyone’s calling and texting, wishing well and offering to help.”
Earlier this week, Ghumare – now referred to across the country as “Jugadu Kamlesh” – went viral for his unique pitch on the Indian version of the popular American reality show Shark Tank. In it, budding entrepreneurs pitch their business concepts to prospective investors who may or may not bankroll their ideas. He goes by “Jugadu Kamlesh” because “jugadu” colloquially refers to a flexible and innovative approach to problem-solving using minimal resources.
"Jugadu Kamlesh" with his contraption, both of which went viral this week
Ghumare pitched a pesticide spray trolley mounted on a bicycle, meant to make the lives of farmers easier. The mechanism automatically sprays the pesticide solution the moment the trolley moves. A 2017 video of the machine on his YouTube channel now has nearly 8.6 million views.
“I’d see my father, a farmer, carrying nearly 20 litres of pesticide in a spraying machine on his back almost every day in the fields,” he said. “One day, when he asked me to do it, I realised how physically draining it was.”
This was in 2014. That night, Ghumare couldn’t sleep. “Something had to be done. I couldn’t bear to see him like that, literally breaking his back.”
What followed was a seven-year journey to finding an apt solution. Even though his friends from a local workshop who had promised to help backed out midway, Ghumare was not one to give up. He took it upon himself to learn everything, from welding to soldering, to give shape to his dreams. Poor access to the internet meant sourcing materials was an arduous task in itself, and with no investor or a stable job to lean on, Ghumare had to wait out the financial dry spells his family went through. He just kept adding new features to the contraption over several years, spending a total of Rs 8,000 ($100) on the product.
Ghumare had always been curious about how things work, and it motivated him to be productive despite his lack of academic achievement. “I could never excel at school,” he said. “It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I just couldn’t understand what the teachers were saying.”
He drew inspiration from the daily toil of his community. Apart from the pesticide spraying contraption, Ghumare has worked on other innovations over the years as well, all with the intent of making the lives of people around him easier.
Once, when he’d gotten drenched in his father’s open tractor after a heavy downpour, he came up with an ambitious plan to modify the tractor’s interiors to resemble a luxury car. “I even replaced the (usually uncomfortable) tractor seat with a car’s. Even though we can’t afford one, what’s stopping us from turning our tractor into the car of our dreams?”
Kamlesh upgraded his uncovered tractor to become the car of his dreams
Since childhood, Ghumare has also cultivated a fascination with filmmaking. “The first film I saw on the big screen was Aatma, a horror film that scared me to death,” he recounted. “But the world of films always fascinated me.”
But who knew that growing up on a farm can be a plus in filmmaking?
In Ghumare’s village, budding filmmakers use everything from farm tools, tractors, and broken cameras to shoot Instagram Reels and, before India had banned them, TikTok videos. “For one of the films, they needed a dolly crane for a certain shot. So, I managed to fashion it out of an old bullock cart.”
His own relationship with entrepreneurship took off after a failed attempt at getting into Bollywood. Acting in films came at a heavy price, he learned, accompanied as it often is with humiliation and rejection at every stage. But with his entrepreneurial ideas, he said, he could go wild and live his dreams.
“I have bad memories associated with Mumbai,” he said. “When I visited the city in 2017 to make it big in movies, I was clueless. I didn’t know which train to catch and no one was willing to help because I didn’t look like an actor. It scarred me for life.”
But when his application was accepted by the Shark Tank India team, it was time to get over his traumas and embrace what could potentially be a new lease on life. This is where he got help from his childhood friend Umesh Dalande, a truck driver now based in Mumbai.
“He knew that I wouldn’t be able to figure out the city once again, even if it was for a confirmed Shark Tank audition. He dropped everything and stayed with me all day and all night in the audition queue,” Ghumare said. “If you have friends like this, what cannot be achieved?”
And now – after years of flirting with filmmaking, acting, entrepreneurship and everything in between – his pesticide trolley has received a generous investment from one of the show judges, who offered him Rs 10 lakh ($13,000) for a 40 percent stake in Ghumare’s future firm and a Rs 20 lakh ($27,000) no-interest loan.
Despite the dozens of naysayers who tutted at Ghumare back in his village of Devarpada, his parents believed in him all the way, even when he was still a child playing with broken cameras and farm equipment. Because of this, he said, he has faith in his ideas, no matter how far out they seem at first.
“Sometimes, I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night with a start after an idea hits,” said Ghumare a.k.a. Jugadu Kamlesh, who remains humble despite his sudden fame and fortune. “Even if it means riding down to the farm on my bicycle, my parents let me do it. They believe that if I’m doing something, there must be some method to the madness. I’d like to believe this is only the beginning.”
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