Tuesday, September 2, 2008

'Chameli' by Nights....


Mumbai has its good side n the bad side and the in-betweens! I have often been amused at the sight of sex- workers hiring an auto-rickshaw n making rounds looking for prospective customers. Its neither good nor bad – but just a fact of life! They would stop for just about enough time, strike a deal n God knows where they go off within minutes. A friend of mine once remarked if there were no sex-workers- the world would be full of rapists’ n mentally deranged people. Perhaps!

But yet, a woman trading flesh for money is a strange idea to me, though not at all alien to the society we live in. A popular Bollywood film called ‘Chameli’ popularized this term for such women.
I just bounced the idea of shooting a pic like that to Mamta during a casual chit-chat- she absolutely freaked out! She can be quite stubborn once an idea goes to her head. She insisted upon shooting that pic that night itself.
It was quite an exercise to find a make-up artist at 12 at night, but thankfully Manoj obliged and then to hunt for an auto-rickshaw at the Oshiwara crossing with a blue light inside, when it was pouring non-stop was quite a task. I stood beneath a shut tea-stall for more than half an hour- and every time an auto would pass by, I would stop him n ask if he had a blue light inside- I can never forget the incredulous look on their face- they so obviously thought I am some mad drunk guy stopping rickshaws at night n looking for a blue light. But I wanted a bit dramatic lighting and when you got someone as enthusiast as Mamta, the excitement rubs on to you as well and you are determined to get the shot right.

I was amazed at her excitement – she styled the whole look herself, organizing all the clothes from her friends’ including the red “chameli” Sari- right to that flower in her hair. We got the make-up done, found the auto-rickshaw somehow (had to pay him Rs 300 for 30 min of work) and then managed to somehow get a chai-wala as well. Now for those who are from Mumbai –these chai-walas are a very comforting sight at the nights when you are working late. You will find them at most of the prominent crossings with ready-made tea and also packs of cigarettes. They are such an integral part of Mumbai work life that you can’t imagine a night without them!
Did we get all the elements correct? Well…almost! There was not just enough light available to capture Mamta’s expressions and then to highlight the chai-wala as well! Somehow we managed to get a studio opened up for 2 hours to get a power connection to place the flash lights on the road- put rain protection cover on them and cover my camera as well to avoid water drops because all the moisture can really damage the equipment.
Nobody’s asked me the time so far- let me tell it was about 2.30am when we got these shots. But it was really so much fun- the only thing I dreaded was cops- if they would find us doing such crazy things in the middle of the night, then surely would have spent the night in the lock-up.

But all in all…it was great fun…! We even managed to get a quick shot in the studio before leaving. Why not shoot there as well since were paying for it….!
But the best part was the way Mamta would laugh after every shot and the auto-rickshaw guy n the chai-wala had great fun too. After all, they don’t get such wild people every night.

So, hope you enjoy the ‘Chameli by Night’ shots – which I doubt anyone else but Mamta could have delivered. She is adorable, immensely talented and I hope she gets to reach high point in her career as an actress- which she truly deserves.

(Dont ask me why the match stick is still burning in this pic after she got it lit up - I told you I like drama !!!---and dont miss that fire in her eyes !)

p.s.- Mamta Dutta is an established model n a really fine actress...!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The vibrant colors of life...

I was shooting publicity stills for 'Coffeshop'-my close friend Ishaan Dutta's film in Goa, when I came across this amazingly vibrant rag-picker who was busy collecting thrown away plastic bottles from the set.
As usual,I couldn’t find my lighter, so asked this woman for a match box to light up my cigarette. She passed on the match box, giving me a casual indifferent look -completely ignoring the expensive camera in my hand. And that does hurt my pride once in a while-not that I am a show off-but it did take a lot to buy that one n deserved a longer look from anyone!
Goa is a heaven for tourists’ n film-makers …and the locals are quite used to people carrying heavy equipment around. So it was ok I guess to be ignored like that...(and if you are in India n not been to Goa- you surely are missing something)
However I loved her energy,body language n what she was wearing- the nice vibrant colors with all that metallic stuff around her neck, hands n feet. Quite a fashion statement actually! I wanted to shoot a pic but she wasn’t just in a mood and won’t smile. She asked me why I wanted to shoot her- I looked at her n said ‘because you got a more beautiful smile than the heroine in the film and I am going to ask the director to cast you in his next film’.
Now, who doesn’t want to feel good even if it’s a good joke! She just won't stop laughing after that- and I even noticed a hint of shyness spreading across her wrinkled face.
After that we had a few nice laughs n a few good pics.
I showed her the pics in the camera- she called her friends around, quite excited like a little girl ( I had to show them all one by one!) n finally said to me-
“ tu photo achee kheenchta hai”- (you take good photos...)
I hope she wasn't joking this time- it somehow always feels good to hear that!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Born free- my six best shots for Independence Day

I close my eyes n think of those who laid their lives to gift me the freedom I have today- which allows me to be what I am. I salute those who loved before me, my country-loved enough to fight for it and die, as one would fight for honor of their mother.I hold the flag of my nation, with pride in my hand-I open my arms to feel the winds of change blowing across - I feel larger than life- I feel blessed...!
I love my country as a son would love his Mother and I respect your nation as you too are a brother... We are the blessed ones who were all born free...!
Lets not fight now ever...let’s not be slaves to inhuman desires ...Lets be brothers ...let’s be friends!
Jai Hind

I am putting below six of my most favourite shots which I took for the Independence day and the reasons why I chose to take these shots...

I believe that a new India is about bringing smiles to all faces.

And before i forget-61 reasons to celebrate India- a must read article in August 2008 issue of Mumbai Touchdown.
It's fine of the finest researched n informative article I have read in recent times. A big applaud to the magazine and the art director to come up with a unique concept, also enabling me to shoot some great pics.

Life is a beautiful challenge.....!

Imagine how boring an ordinary life would be , with no probs , no worries, nothing to fight ...nothing to tackle...its the unpredicablility of it which makes life exciting...!
When u r born free...u are ready to take on challenges in life...!Life is one big adventure...live it like that...! Its quite a sight in monsoons to sea these fishermen brave the wild ocean...the way they hold on to the boats...and sail across...!
And the most awesome thing is the Indian Flag on top of the boat !

I Love my freedom....

I have absolutely no words to describe this pic...it has often been reproduced in publications and yet it remains so fresh to me.

I believe I can fly...
You hold the flag of your nation, and feel the spirit of freedom in your heart n may be u too can fly....

I went to Saurabh's terrace to shoot this pic on the 18th floor, as I wanted the whole feel of a man flying across the city. More than the timing, the important thing was to get the jump and the thrust right, and most importantly hold the flag high. And my friend got it just right.

I feel larger than life- I feel blessed...!

The whole idea of shooting this perspective was to give a larger than life feel to the image- how would you really feel if you were patriotic to the core and were holding the National Flag in your hand.
Tushar's height and the extra low angle made this image to become possible.

The slight color gradation in the background to match the flag colors was achieved in photo editing .

My spirit- that would never die..!...my flag...that I would always hold high.

Gayatri is a trained kathak dancer , so creating that balance wasn't difficult for her. I chose that angle as I wanted her to really tower over even that 25 floor building in the background, and also keep the flag vertical. Keeping it b/w was simply to high-light the flag color and also white is all about purity n peace...and her lovely smile created the rest of the magic.

This picture was ofcourse made possible by my dear friend Priya at WSP ( The Times of India)

you can view the entire album on my photography page marked as " The spirit of freedom" by clicking on the link below:-


If their is any query regarding any images, you can mail me at praveentalan@gmail.com

The essence of being born free...

My great grandfather was a freedom fighter. My grandfather proudly told us this a million times as we grew up; how he actually died or whom he really fought, my grandfather never went into details as he didn’t remember much,-being just thirteen year old when my great grandfather was killed.

Sometimes I even wondered if he actually was a freedom fighter or my grandfather made up that story to make us feel proud, but even if it was just a story, it was too beautiful a lie to be questioned. He made sure every Independence Day me, my sister Poonam n younger brother Vicky, remembered that story and it charged us enough to shout through the rest of the day ‘Jai Hind’. It would be only years later when we would understand the true significance and importance of being born free!

My grandfather whom we all call Dau-ji was a farmer and till date he is passionate about farming. At the age of 81, when most would prefer to laze around, he has managed to convert half of our house in Ghaziabad( a city next to Delhi) in to a mini-farm where with his khurpi (a sharp metallic tool to dig soil) he would be busy most of the day digging or sowing.
I once noticed with utmost fascination the way he moved his hand over the soil, the way he would very gently touch the plants, removing infected leaves- cleaning the vegetables, watering them; more than work for him, it appeared to me like a prayer. He laughed when I said this to him and said “my karma is my prayer. I have come from this soil and soon one day I will go back into the same soil. That’s our mother and you must learn to respect and also fight for it, if the need be. “ I found it too filmy till I read the seriousness in his eyes.

That’s the day he made me understand that the green color in our national flag indicated our relationship with the land and the plants-on which other life forms depend. I also learnt that the saffron was for courage, sacrifice and the spirit of renunciation; the white for purity and truth. And most importantly the chakra (the wheel) in the middle was the wheel of the law of Dharma which meant there was death in stagnation and life only in movement. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.

He said the day he would stop working, he would die. He never went to school but he knew what life was all about, and what our National Flag really meant, and most of us including me, who studied all their lives, even today do not understand our own national flag, including majority of the politicians who abuse it all the time.

I can go on endlessly about the stories about Dau-ji because he has always been my hero, but the reason I remembered him all the more today was as someone asked me if there was anything really as the spirit of freedom and the relevance of mother nation in global perspective.

I paused to think about it and realized that relevance of being the son of the soil would always be there. Every land has its own energy, vibes, essence, fragrance, values n culture, which is beyond comprehension of a normal human mind. We may meet a million women in our lives, but what we feel in the comforting arms of our own mother has no substitute ever. We travel around the world, but the moment we set foot on our own soil-the feeling is inexplicable.

We love our mother, but we were also taught to respect other women, who would be mothers to our friends or neighbors…and the same sentiment has to be valued with regards to other nations-That they are the mother-nation to millions of others like us, and since we don’t disrespect our own family, we ought not to disrespect anyone else.

I remembered I had once fought my mother for some stupid reason n had shouted back up on her, telling in rude words that I won’t be answerable to her for everything and she had to respect my freedom. After 3 days to that was Independence Day and I was very excited about it, Dau-ji stared at me hard and told me, “you got no right to celebrate the Independence Day as you don’t even know its real meaning. If you cannot love and respect and love your blood-mother, you can never be true to the nation you are born in. You are just a pretender- almost a traitor.”

I almost cried but learnt my lesson. I learnt being born free doesn’t mean you got the right to do anything you want to at the cost of disrespect to your country-your mother or abandoning your own cultural-social values. We demand so much from our parents, our country, but I think we ought to take a few minutes off to think what have we actually ever given them back!
Today when I see people sending their parents to old age homes or throwing them out of their homes to live a so called comfortable life- I almost hate them –as if they are traitors to the nation- because my grandfather taught me that lesson many years back, if you can’t respect your own mother, how will you respect your nation.

You might have been born free, but before that notion of freedom comes the truth that someone gave birth to you. Our Flag is not to be held high just one day in the year …but it should forever be held high in our heart and in our lives. That’s the essence of being born free. To understand and appreciate truly what we have been given after huge sacrifices…and to uphold those values and beliefs forever and pass them on to the generation next. To become a strong arm to those who might need us and become their strength in life.

…and before I forget to tell you, I did finally ask one day about the truth behind my great grandfather’s death. Dau-ji was silent for a few minutes n finally spoke,’ he had been poisoned by some jealous villagers before India got independence’. I stared at him silently.

He smiled at me after a few moments and said, ‘I never told you before how he died or that he died fighting, so don’t look shocked! I just told you he was a freedom fighter- and yes that he was! …with patriotism in every drop of his blood and the same blood runs through your father and now you…and I know one day you will do us all proud in your own way and make a difference to a few lives in the process.’

I wish.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Life is beautiful....

There is something about a genuine smile…it touches your heart…touches your soul and some-how makes you feel incredibly good ! Nothing can touch your heart more than witnessing a pure smile...n even more so if it’s meant for you...!
I have shot a lot on the streets...candid shots...n over a period of time a few images just stayed back with me...in my heart n mind for various reasons n became my favorite photos!
Each of these photos always tells me-”Life is beautiful…”
I am putting below three of my favorite shots and the small stories behind them…!

The woman at the crossing...

There are certain bonds which are inexplicable…! Relationships that are meant for, and restricted to a certain time n place…Like, of this old woman at the crossing n mine! I never thought of her once I passed that crossing, but once there I always looked for her! As if this bond was meant to last for that five minutes of waiting at that crossing every evening.

She often found her way to the rickshaw I would be traveling in, wearing a torn sari n a beautiful smile, extending her hand for money…she never asked for it, there was something very warm about her, I never could ever think of her as a beggar; it was always as if I owed her something from another lifetime…When I put that one rupee coin in her hand, she would place her hand over my head …blessing me from her heart. She would smile n I smiled along with her…

We never talked but she always seemed to be able to read my moods even in my silence n accordingly her hand stayed on my head, just a wee bit longer when I was distressed by something!Mumbai is an expensive city n certainly very difficult to afford when it comes to genuine emotions…but in her I found a way of purchasing genuine blessings everyday for as less as just One Rupee…! I might sound selfish, but am no more the man I was in my little town, n like many others started believing in "value for money"...…But then somehow I feel she would bless me even if I didn’t give her that coin-she seemed like a good soul...but I didn’t want to test that…!

One day she saw me holding my camera and asked me to shoot a pic of hers…I was mildly surprised but asked her to give a nice smile…she asked me what’s a nice smile ? I couldn’t answer. She laughed …I shot it …and it did make a great picture!

I eventually bought a car and changed my traveling route. It’s a strange truth that the people we meet depend on the route we take in our lives!
I never met her after that.
But still whenever I look at this pic I smile-The photograph of a simple woman at the crossing…with a gorgeous smile...n a beautiful heart!

Laughter is contagious...

I had gone to shoot Mumbai Marathon-one of the greatest events Mumbai has every year in the month of January. This boy stared at the camera in my hand from behind the grills. I tried to initiate a conversation but he just wouldn’t talk n rather continued to give me those dead hard expressions…very unusual for a boy his age.

I am sure he was quite intrigued by the size of the lens I was carrying.

I asked him if he wanted me to shoot a picture for him. No response. I told him he was a great looking young man and would look even better if he smiled more. He stared at me for a second n burst out laughing saying his amma (mother) said the same to him! He told me I was funny. Imagine that!

What followed next was a photo-session which makes me smile even today…! He just wouldn’t stop laughing n I couldn’t stop laughing with him and soon everyone around us was laughing too, for no reason!

Laughter is contagious …n beautiful….!
Since then this pic has been reproduced in various publications n even today continues to remain one of my favorites!
The joy of laughter is supreme....it makes u believe that life is indeed beautiful....

Life is about sharing happiness...

They told me she is a mad woman...I agreed! Only a mad person could be so happy in today's world...!I stared at her peaceful face n the purity of her laughter. I was envious of her.I wish I was mad...cos i have almost forgotten how to laugh like that.

It had been a tough day for me in the jungle, trying to get some good tiger shots n I had got none! I looked at her yet again from the small tea stall I had been killing time at. As I observed her I realized she was a very beautiful n graceful woman who had surely seen better days in her life. I found out her story … (I wouldn’t want to put that here!)

I decided to take some pics of her. She seemed to be enjoying the attention.
I have noticed people on the road actually take pleasure in being photographed; they never get these pics but the whole idea that someone finds them interesting enough to shoot them, excites them a lot! They pose much more naturally, devoid of inhibitions n make lovely pictures.

She beckoned me to come to her and show the picture. I obliged n sat next to her. She was clean n didn’t smell awful as I would have expected her to. How much we assume for no reasons? She was happy and I was happy, sitting next to her showing her the pics and smoking cigarettes together. It was not such a bad day after all.

She made me happy or I made her happy, I am not sure, but we did share happiness for a while!

Friday, June 20, 2008

A walk on water...

Alot of people have asked me how I shot this unusual photo of a woman walking on water. It always makes me smile, because the trick in it is really small.
Good photos are all about timing.

First things first –the model in this photo is a fantastic ballet dancer –Tanya, who has for years trained in various forms of dancing and has superbly flexible body n on top of that she loves to play with water. Now that is quite important, that people should love doing –whatever they are doing, n end results are invariably good!
She happened to be playing a significant role in a documentary film which I was shooting in M.P. (India), and while going to the location, we crossed this small river which wasn’t exactly too deep. She got excited, jumped off the jeep n next moment was playing around with water. Somehow instinctively she seemed to have found a spot which was quite shallow. I stared at her amusedly for a while from the jeep, but then impatience took over me as the light was dropping fast…

She was adamant upon not leaving the spot till I shot a picture of her playing with water. So I came upon this idea n told her to find a spot which had just very little water for her to stand comfortably, yet enough to make a splash when she jumped. It was a little tricky as she had to give enough thrust to create the splash, jump forward n then kind of balance herself to look it like she is floating or walking on water, n I had to shoot this at high shutter speed, get my timing correct to catch her in mid-air, keep her in focus n catch the water as well to get the desired feel.

The beauty of this photograph is that it was a one take shot n i shot it while sitting in the jeep. We couldn’t have spent more time on the spot as we were getting late for the video shoot n locals were gathering quite fast, amused at the sight of a beautiful foreigner playing with water in the middle of a jungle !

Sometimes good pictures just happen…like this “walk on water”…

Thursday, June 19, 2008

To get a crazy shot, you got to be crazy enough!

Rains always make me do crazy things. And almost every time I do something out of the box, I regret it eventually; especially whenever I come back home n realize that I have yet again managed to mess up my expensive lens. But I am a crazy guy n like crazy people, Rizwan Sikander for instance. He is humble, courteous, talented yet absolutely crazy!

He ended up at my place saying, “I want a unique picture”. Now, I have heard that before a million times. I asked how mad you can go and the look on his face said it all. We reached Versova beach (Mumbai). It was raining mildly yet the sea was in its full glory and the way waves would hit the rocks n the splash at times rise almost 15 feet, it would scare any man. Rizwan n me both hesitated a second. Was it worth the risk, standing on a rock with the angry ocean on your back side, at the peak of the monsoon period? But , I must say this guy has courage, probably that’s the reason he has always won all the reality shows he has participated in, including Fear Factor India '06 on Sony TV n created history by being the only finalist n eventually winning it!
I asked him if he would stand on the rock, appearing to be peaceful, while the waves rose behind him almost covering him. I warned about the risk of falling off n hurting him on the small sharp edges of the rocks beneath. That was my duty as a photographer. Before I had finished, he took off his shirt n was up on the rock in seconds. It must have taken some 20 shots, n for him as many hits from behind, before we got this one perfect shot!
He fell off the rock twice, cutting himself mildly below the knee. And my camera was all wet, and it was almost impossible to shoot anymore because of all the moisture it had absorbed.
But whenever I look at his picture and the peaceful expressions on his face, the powerful wave rising behind him some fifteen feet, I feel good! It always tells me, how one should be in life, in the face of danger---peaceful…courageous …! This picture has the great attitude of a winner.
That’s the spirit of Mumbai and I absolutely love this pic n Rizwan for making it possible.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

When Ami Vashi almost got drowned during a photo-shoot in Goa

I love Ami
Not because she is ex-Miss India or very beautiful and warm…or cos she got everything to make a movie-star...!
But because she is as mad a person as I am.

I was shooting at Goa for the Telenorr campaign with Ali Zafar n Sonya Jahan for a Pak agency when Ami suddenly decided to fly down to Goa in the middle of crazy rains to shoot some outdoor photos. I had warned her about the rains, Telenorr campaign was fine as their theme anyways had rains but shooting photos in such unpredictable weather is crazy and really disastrous for the lens.

I love outdoors…it’s always fresh n different n my friends always call up on me to shoot fresh n outdoor pics-guess that really works well with Bollywood producers as well

Anyway, to cut a story short how it happened…

After getting her beautiful Saree already torn ,shooting a pic with hand on the tree while a chameleon hid on the other side ( she didn’t notice n I didn’t tell)…..getting a few odd bruises…she spotted a nice rock about 20 feet away from the beach n decided to get shot with it.

I was reluctant…but I got on to a higher rock and shot couple of them…then she wanted to sit on it and wait for the wave to hit her n me to catch the splash
…sure…why not?

But we didn’t realize since it was monsoons n had been raining…the water level as quickly started coming up….
Couple of splashes were fine…they were low n quiet. Until she noticed a huge wave coming to her n got excited, motioning me to shoot as it would hit the rock. She waited anxiously…n so did me, with one eye closed n one looking through the lens…got it… got it …got it…....and then…oh! Where is Ami?I couldn’t see her on the rock anymore!

The monstrous wave lifted her clean off the rock and threw her some 15 feet away. The impact must have surely hurt her .The waves then started retreating to the sea…the force started dragging Ami back…she was half in water and screaming my name ….choking on muddy water badly. I laughed at her n took couple of her pictures screaming. I thought she was just trying to make me to get in the water, but then I realized the angry waves were actually pulling her back in the sea…
A million thoughts went through my mind upon seeing Ami almost getting drowned n go past me…then as if I woke up from a trance, I jumped in the water, clutching on to my camera …n with one hand pulled Ami back out of the water.

Needless to say this episode added a few more bruises n cuts to her…and I felt miserable the rest of the day for allowing her to get in to this mess….she was my responsibility after all! ...and while she almost slipped into water, i was busy taking photos. I hated myself so much !

Later on, in the evening over a cup of tea….sitting outside in that lovely resort, we laughed over the whole thing…and she said she wasn’t scared one bit…and at least we got some great shots!

I looked at her a few moments longer than I would n wondered
…such innocent laughter...such pure looks…so courageous…absolutely my kind of girl…Her boyfriend was surely one hell of a lucky guy!
I smiled back at her saying no more shoots in water for you…she just laughed …

And guess what, she called again this morning…”hey it’s raining…let’s shoot some photos”

Sure! But nowhere close to the sea!

photos- 1. On the rock- a beautiful shot
2. When the monstrous wave hit her!
3. When the wave started pulling her back in the sea! Notice the force of water around her body!

Monday, March 10, 2008

International Women's Day shoot for WSP