Watch Shaun Majumder’s new documentary special, “Every Word is Absolutely True,” and you might be a little perplexed.
It starts out as a road trip film, following the funnyman on his “This Hour Has 22 Cities” standup tour across the country last summer, and you gear yourself up for a few laughs. Then you watch as he returns to his native Burlington and listen as he talks about his plans for establishing eco-friendly cabins, a lodge and a community greenhouse there, and you reckon it’s more about his career projects. By the time the film ends with footage of Majumder scattering his mother’s ashes in faraway countries to a soundtrack of The Once’s “Sail Away to the Sea,” you might find yourself wondering, through tears, what the hell he was thinking when he made his entire private life public.
If you ask him, Majumder will say it wasn’t a difficult thing to do.
“It wasn’t so much that it was easy as it was important for me,” he explains.
When Majumder, best known for his roles on “22 Minutes,” “Detroit 187” and “The Firm,” first talked to producers Rob Blackie and John Vatcher about making a documentary, it was more of a “Hey, I’m going on tour, let’s bring a camera and see what happens,” type of deal. The goal was to follow Majumder on tour across Canada, film the comedy show footage for a DVD, and make a road-trip style documentary about the tour and his comedy career in general.
Then things started happening.
First, he got the call that “Detroit 187” was being cancelled — and they caught the moment on film.
Then, he auditioned for “The Firm” by taping himself and sending it in — also caught.
That’s when Majumder said he and the producers realized they wanted the piece to have a little more depth.
“It kind of revealed itself to us as we moved along,” he says. “In the end, it means a lot more to me than just doing a sketchy-sketch, jokey kind of film.”
Where the film started to get deep and beautiful is when Majumder appeared on “George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight,” and the CBC TV host asked him about his mom’s passing in 2003.
“He had pulled me aside and asked if we could have a quick chat about it, and I said yeah sure. I was super confident, like no big deal,” Majumder says. “I’m on the show and he goes, ‘You were with your mom when she passed away, what was that like,’ and all of a sudden there was this choking up, this reliving of the story. I’m on national TV now and I’ve got this claustrophobic muskrat in my throat trying to come out. He said, ‘Hey, we don’t need to talk about this,’ and I was like, ‘We do have to talk about this. It’s really important for people to hear the story.’”
Majumder says his mom had always wanted to see the world, so when his career took off and he could afford it, he began taking her on trips. During a trip that took them to Guatemala and Mexico, visiting ancient ruins, his mother had a massive heart attack and died while he was with her.
After that, Majumder started taking his mother’s ashes with him wherever he went in the world, and started spreading a little in each place: Spain, Morocco, Germany, England, India. Most of the time, he taped it for his own use, never planning to do anything with it. The footage ended up as a touching sequence at the end of the documentary.
“I think she’d love it. There’s a reason why I wanted to share that story, and it’s the lesson I learned,” Majumder explained. “You cannot take anything for granted. Two or three days before mom passed away, she was hiking up ruins in the middle of the jungle, and swimming with dolphins that day. I want to share that with everybody and say look man, do not wait. Don’t assume that there’s going to be next year, because it could all be gone in the blink of an eye.”
Another focus of the film is the comedian’s “Majumder Manor” project, a show that will begin airing on the W network this September, featuring his journey with the community of Burlington to create a high end, eco-lux manor in the town.
The aim of the project, Majumder says, is to breathe life in his hometown on the Baie Verte peninsula, which doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure or small business. The project saw a setback when Majumder and his team presented their business plan to the provincial government, which pointed out some holes. While Majumder’s orignal plan was for a five-room inn, government suggested 10-12 rooms would be needed for it to be successful.
Majumder and his team have been looking to now build cabins before the manor is constructed, but they’re having a hard time finding land for them in Burlington.
In the meantime, they’ve built a greenhouse on a plot of land in the centre of the town. The original idea was that the greenhouse would be a source of fresh vegetables for the manor; now the plan is to make it a community greenhouse, for area residents to use.
Majumder is in Burlington this weekend to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and flowers in the greenhouse; root vegetables will soon be planted in an adjacent garden patch. The planting will be filmed for “Majumder Manor.”
“We want to engage the entire community to come down, get their hands dirty and take part in the planting,” he says. “It’s a metaphor — we are literally planting the seeds of our project.
“The trajectory of our plan has changed, but not our plan itself; this is our answer to what government had suggested for a more robust business plan. We’re starting from the ground up, with the greenhouse.”
The ultimate goal this year is to have a three-day harvest festival in Burlington come August, to which Majumder’s planning to invite chefs from around the province, local musicians and others, in an effort to make it a significant community event and the Season 1 finale of “Majumder Manor.” Even Les Stroud, Outdoor Life Network’s “Survivorman,” has expressed interest in coming.
Majumder knows his plans are ambitious and he’s not sure it will all come to fruition, but he’s confident the project will be a success on some level.
“There are so many pieces we need to have,” he acknowledges. “Am I confident? Yes, we will achieve much of what I’m dreaming about. If you don’t have a vision for an overall project, nothing will get done.”
“Every Word is Absolutely True” will air on HBO Canada throughout May, and will debut Monday night at 9 p.m. Newfoundland time.
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This is a corrected version.