Photographer Atul Kasbekar opens up shooting for one of India's famous calendars amid the COVID-19 pandemic

He also gives his take on what he feels about Zoom photography, how he spent his lockdown, among other things

Manasi Y MastakarUpdated: Sunday, January 17, 2021, 02:07 PM IST
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Photo: Kingsfisher

How would you sum up your long association with the Kingfisher calendar? And what visible changes has it gone over the years?

My journey with Kingfisher calendar is probably unprecedented in the Indian advertising history. To my knowledge, there is no instance of a professional relationship between a photographer and a brand for 19 years. I am looking forward to the next edition to mark a clear two decades of shooting one of India’s most iconic photographic properties. I am genuinely grateful to everybody at the UB Group for their trust and support.

As for the changes, there is a lot of maturity in the work. I feel the images appeal to a broader spectrum of the audience. We have also consciously photographed models of varying heights. Some of our talents have been no more than 5.5 ft. Most of the swimsuit and lingerie editions shot abroad have almost a mandate that all talent used is 5.9 ft and above. I sincerely believe that it is completely possible to have a greater variety in the kind of models we have chosen. It is to our credit that a lot of them find their way into the Indian film industry.

Shooting for a calendar amid the pandemic, how did you manage to achieve that feat?

We actually contemplated for a while as to what will be logistically the best option to shoot this year. Luckily for us, Kerala opened its doors to visitors and it is one of my favourite places. Mercifully, I had the opportunity to shoot here professionally and it was a wonderful experience. We set up a lot of health protocols, and tried to be in as much of a bubble as possible. Since in any case, the cities we were shooting in were otherwise closed, we were pretty much restricted to the confines of the hotel properties.

Why Kerala? What was the draw of the place?

It doesn’t require much to choose ‘God’s Own Country’ as THE destination. We have shot in India before and had left out Kerala that time since we had decided it deserved its own exclusive calendar. Inadvertently, it turned out that this was the year. There is so much to see and use as a backdrop in the state. From lush vegetation to various kinds of water bodies, not to mention the beautiful hotel properties and great hospitality and cuisines.

What was your takeaway from the shoot this year?

The primary takeaway from this year’s calendar shoot was that my belief in the phrase ‘less is more’ continues. We have an exceptional team put together like Flavien Heldt on hair, Maniasha Fialkina on makeup, who saw the same philosophy. I did not really need to brief the stylist, Allia Al Rufai, at all as she is completely in tune with my sensibilities.

During the lockdown, Zoom photography became a trend. What so you have to say about it?

I think Zoom photography was a temporary fad, which was necessitated by the fact that we had to keep apart from each other. It is not something which is sustainable at all.

Today, a lot of photography revolves around filters. But you have till date been an exception in bringing out the best minus them?

I prefer not to use any filters on my lenses. A lot of engineering has gone into the optics in creating the lens in the first place. Why would I want to diminish that by adding another layer of glass? What I prefer to do is post-production to enhance color and to use fill flash extensively outdoors for crisper and truer colors.

Indian photographers are winning international awards in various categories. How do you visualise future of creative photography in India?

Frankly, if you ask me, while our editorial work is getting better and better, the advertising work is really at the bottom of the barrel. Most of the images involve celebrities selling a product, and by and large we are using them as sales people. Hence, photographically you can shoot a generic shot of a person smiling and/or holding a hand out and insert a product or service that they are engaged for.

Tell us about your lockdown time. What were you up to?

I spent my lockdown time quiet effectively. After deciding that I will not drive myself up the wall, I engaged in following a strict diet regime and did yoga. I also learnt cooking, which otherwise I was quite useless at! Furthermore, I managed to drop seven-eight kilos of weight in the process. I was always reasonably fit, but post-lockdown I feel like I am living in another body all together.

What next after the calendar?

I just did a very exciting campaign for a smartphone brand. It involves portraiture, which is my favorite part of photography and shooting a bunch of COVID warriors from across the country. It was a genuinely fulfilling assignment.

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