Posts Tagged ‘Atul Kasbekar’

India’s biggest photographer unplugged

May 13, 2009 Comments off

Published in Mega Modelz magazine – March-April 2009 Issue – © Manali

Ace film and fashion photographer, rhymester of the prestigious Kingfisher calendar, owner of the ever-flourishing ‘Bling’ celebrity management and the man behind inception of ‘Corporate Image’…  A mixed bag, Atul Kasbekar is walking in the momentum. Manali H. Shah attempts to keep pace…

As I wait for him in anticipation at his studio Negative Image, my inquisitive eyes roll around the office. Quite startlingly, I notice that this place is quite different from my other photographer friends standard but flamboyant photo studios that I visit often for shoots and otherwise. Comparatively, this studio I see is a toned down version of the lot, which has an uncanny hint of sophistication to it. As my train of thought begins to gear up, a vigorous tone interrupts out of nowhere. I look on; and to my realization, it is Atul Kasbekar who calls out a ‘Hi’ to me. I reciprocate with a soft smile.

It is going to be my first innings with this legendry photographer. I follow him inside his studio, where I observe some ravishing models striking spectacular pose, all looking their gorgeous best, as the latest Kingfisher calendar rule a particular section of the wall right across me.

We take a seat, and I quickly move my mobile phone on the table next to him and without wasting much time, push the recorder key on. At the cost of sounding cliché, I pop up the very first question, ‘How did your love affair with photography start?’ And, he clinched. I nonetheless promise him that while the interview proceeds, we would talk regarding some interesting things that he must have never got to speak about in his past interviews. To this, he modestly flags a green, and we head on.

Peek-a-boo into the past…

“I quit studying chemical engineering in the second year of my college when I figured out that this was something I did not want to be in life. I always liked clicking pictures; it’s the art that sort of fascinated me… so I decided to take the plunge in photography.”

“I went to Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara to learn the tool and later worked in Los Angeles for over a year. I finally came down to Mumbai in 1991,” he says nonchalantly. Unlike many of us, Kasbekar, as a kid, performed quite well in the academics bit too. “Be it math or science, I was always pretty good at academics. I never really considered anything else as I thought I would become a doctor or an engineer types,” he admits. Coming from an emblematic south Mumbai existence, he has played a lot of sports during the course of his schooling in the all-boys ‘Campion.’

So, who would he say is the fuel of his life? And he promptly asserts, “I don’t consider any particular person this way. As, when you know your family is always there for you, things become much easier. I have been equally close to my parents, wife, kids and sisters, as well as my in-laws family too. We share a strong bonding in the family. Apart from the family bit, it’s safe to say that if you genuinely like a person who you are in love with, the battle is won. And I have been very fortunate in that sense.”

As I see him getting in the groove, I swiftly ask him to speak about his Brooks institute experience. “Being in southern California where the sun, sand, sea and women are prominent, I definitely had a good time. It was a different time in India when I went to Brooks. As a young boy you are expected to become an architect, doctor or an engineer. But when people saw my penchant towards photography, they suspected my magnitude. Hence, it was certainly path-breaking as I had a lot to prove when I got back.” Even after working with several big photographers abroad, he never considered settling down there. ‘Not even for a minute, India is my home,’ he declares.

The turning point…

He opportunely bagged some high profile assignments within few months of returning to Mumbai. After doing the outdoor campaign for Park Avenue and catalog shoot with the brand Sheetal amongst several others, his pristine work instinctively snowballed him into recognition.

It is no doubt that today, most of the people consider Kasbekar’s job to be the best in the world. “Yeah, I get that a lot,” he laughs incisively. “But, I think it’s true. I frankly think of myself as a very fortunate guy that I can make my living out of what I really enjoy doing. For instance, my Chartered Accountant, he could not care less about cricket or sports… but, as ridiculous it may sound, numbers really turns him on. In that manner I am quite similar. There is a whole lot of glamour quotient attached to my work which is why it is noticed. Otherwise, it’s the same thing.”

He continues, “I would have taken the pictures anyway, it’s just that I happen to get paid for it, which is great. I believe there are very few people who enjoy doing what they do, whereas the rest of them go to work. But, if you are having fun, then, despite of the number of hours you put in, you are automatically having fun all day. And if you get a cheque at the end of the day, how nice can that be! That’s really the whole master plan!”

So what would he call the turning point of his life to be, “When I returned Mumbai, there weren’t many people in the business who came back from a photography school with vast technical knowledge. I was probably the first person. And propitiously, I started getting good break within the first 6 months of being here. Maybe it was just the timing I guess. Nevertheless, I pretty much delivered my best and people were satisfied with my work. It just feels like yesterday…” He muses in nostalgia.

Is that something to do with his winning an award at the Brooks? “Not really. Though I topped my graduating class and won an award. But, if I get a genuine compliment from one of my peers, saying, ‘hey, really nice cover’ – to me that is an ultimate award.”

Do such people really exist these days? “I am not totally sure about that. Nevertheless, if I see exceptionally good work from one of my colleagues, I definitely call him and admire it. I don’t see what’s wrong with it. Though, to the best of my knowledge, there is only one or two person who reciprocate and have a kind word.” Continuing in the same streak, he says, “I learnt this a long time ago from Prahlad Kakkar that if somebody is talented, they are going to breakthrough and do well, whether you help them or no. It’s like, if you light many candles with your candle, the whole world becomes a brighter place.”

Almost all the photographers who has assisted Atul Kasbelkar in the past, are doing considerably well in this field today. Infact, he is the only photographer in the country who’s more then 30 assistants have now reached the milestone in this field. But, he seldom feels threatened. “Infact it gives me immense pleasure when I see any of my former assistants driving a great car or winning an award. I am a kind of person who never generally feels insecure – be it for work or in general. I am very generous with my praise if I like anybody’s work. It just comes naturally to me. I guess someone out there has been really kind to me.”

Photography funda…

When it comes to being behind the lens, Kasbekar makes a highly structured photographer. “To a great extent I am fairly clear about what I want. I visualize the pictures I have to click and use that as a bare minimum benchmark for delivery, and then I probe around to see what else can happen.” He uses reference strictly as a reference. It is important to communicate with the clients about the kind of the mood and feel the photos will reflect. “So that everybody is on the same page and there are no problems in expectation management later on,” he opines wisely. Anyhow, he totally loathes the idea of copying the reference, “Then you are not a photographer… And if you are telling me do this, then you are just paying me wee bit too much… as anybody else can do this,” he mutters.

Effervescent and full of life he might be, but he becomes a completely different person once he is behind the camera. “When I am shooting with the likes of say Shahrukh, there is going to be noise as set is ought to be filled with a lot of people. Conversely, it does not make any difference to me as I don’t hear or see anybody then. At that time the particular human being I am shooting with becomes the most important person in the world, with whom I need to communicate. I totally get into the zone. I don’t take calls, unless if there is any calamitous situation that way. Amazingly, the only time I tend to feel tired is probably after the shoot,” he confesses.

One thing that he totally loves about his job is that no two days are alike. “Even if I have shot anybody for like hundred of times, the hundred and first picture is going to be radically different. There is no rigid pattern, you see.” His job surely earns him incredible amount of moolah… but for Kasbekar, “Money is like a byproduct to being able to follow your passion. If the idea was to only make money, then my Dad has a chemical factory and I could have seriously made a lousy chemical engineer earning times double the money any day then I make by being a photographer. Clearly, there is no dispute about that.” He clears, “Honestly, I don’t think about it. It just comes. Someone up there just makes sure I have enough.”

As nearly 70 per cent of his work happens with the celebrities, he believes in treating everybody as an ordinary person. “It works well if you don’t give them too much importance. In fact, a lot of celebrities appreciate if you treat them normally.” However, his another company Corporate Image that deals in photographically glamorizing the titans of the corporate world like the Ambani’s, Ratan Tata, K. V. Kamath and many more, isn’t it difficult to get them pose in front of the camera? “If you are a people photographer, you have to do whatever it takes. You should have the knack to change yourself to put them into a comfort zone. Taking a picture is something that any idiot can do, but the art lies in making them feel at ease and bringing them to trust you. And the word ‘re-shoot’ is a swear word for me.”

The coveted Kingfisher calendar…

The Kingfisher Calendar conceived by Kasbekar for the UB Group has unquestionably become a cult phenomenon today. So what was his idea behind the conception of this one? “I think, for me it was an interesting space to be in. I was lucky over here that Dr. Vijay Mallya and Kingfisher partnered with me. I had a limited vision of how to make the calendar look good but what Mr. Mallya saw was a much wider cult phenomenon.”

Out of all the 7 editions of the Kingfisher calendar shoot, which one is his personal favourite? “The latest is always the best. As, the 2009 calendar was return to the basics. No gimmicks, no drama and very little Photoshop. The joy is in making use of intrinsic elements like nature, water, light, air, leaves – it was genuinely a rejuvenating experience for me. And the response has been phenomenal! For me it was just cathartic and I am really happy. This is the joy of making an image by itself,” he says, with a sense of pride.

However, one thing that he doesn’t like about the photographers nowadays is that, “Most of them are technically and esthetically incompetent. They depend a lot on fixing the picture after the shoot. But hey, why don’t you do a straight shoot that will blow my pants off? That will impress me!” He emphasis, “I am not afraid to say this… they are both, theoretically and aesthetically a complete disaster.”

“Any idiot can sit on the computer all day and make a striking photograph. But, where is the purity of your vision then? How great an image can you do?” He feels that photographers like Richard Avedon whose work is mostly one light, grey background is an ultimate illustration of art. “They are conceptually and esthetically so strong that if even today you put a logo of any brand on the image and it will surely work wonders!” He affirms.

So what is it that he looks for in a fashion model when deciding on the faces for the calendar, “I shortlist about 8-10 models and Dr Mallya then chooses the final 5.” Kasbekar sallies, “I am not into perfectly perfect face… The ideal beauty is bohemian and I prefer slightly quirky face, as for me those are more memorable. Though all the models are beautiful and sexy anyway…”

Personally perfect…

This ace photographer’s life is no different then most of us. A normal day in his life is, “If all goes ordinary then I see my kids off to school in the morning, then go for workout at Bombay gymkhana and reach work by 10am.” Nothing like other media bees, Kasbekar prefers waking up quite early in the morning. “I get up by 7:30am or so. Yaar, I can’t sleep till late. For me, 5 hours is more then enough to get a sound sleep. Remaining, I feel is a waste of time.

He further philosophies, “Logically, a normal person almost spends almost 20 years out of 60 years in sleeping, now how wasteful is that?!” This leaves me wondering… “I am usually the energizer bunny… as I am more energetic then most of the people,” he says gleefully. According to him, his time is usually packed. “If not for photography then I have Bling to take care of and just incase if I have nothing to do, then I will make up things to do,” chuckles Kasbekar.

His two fraternal twins Arnav and Naomi are 12 years old now, studying in South Mumbai school called Hill Spring. “They play fairly great tennis. It’s good to see them being such an apt at sports.” Kasbekar is personally having one of the best times with his kids right now. “It’s a wonderful age to hang out with them. At this age they still think it’s cool to hang out with parents… but, once the teens bug hit them, let’s see,” he laughs.

I straight away defend him by saying that any child would be lucky to have a parent like him and his kids would surely continue chilling out with such a cool dad even in their teens… “I hope so,” he laughs incessantly. “I have been kidding with my daughter Naomi ever since, that after 5 years even she has to model for the Kingfisher calendar and she goes like ‘noooo…’ It’s basically a family joke now!” He says, with a gleam in his eyes.

Strangely, none of his kids are interested in considering modeling or photography as a profession after they grow up. “It will be good to see them playing professional tennis in the future though, if they wish to,” he adds. Kasbekar’s wife handles the production work in the studio, “She handles the back office and works whenever she feels like,” he smiles.

When not working, what does Kasbekar indulge into? “Hmm… I am actually pretty much working 24/7, except for Sunday. It’s a family day then. Though these days I am listening to my body, say if I feel like sleeping, I sleep. Whereas, Sunday evenings are usually spent with some close friends, where we have some nice food, good wine and fine conversations.”

These days however, he is trying to get in a better shape. “I want to get back in a really good shape, something like I was a few years ago,” he concludes. Another six pack abs in making… I wonder!