CHAT Lensman Atul Kasbekar talks about a decade of shooting the Kingfisher Calendar

It's been 10 years since the Kingfisher Calendar has been keeping its date with bikini glamour. What started off as a much talked about publicity vehicle for Vijay Mallya's UB Group – not that it isn't so now – has also become a platform for a whole group of industry professionals. Faces hitherto unknown are famous now – from Katrina Kaif in 2003 (the first calendar) to Yana Gupta, Ujjwala Raut, Bruna Abdullah, Shivani Kapur, Pia Trivedi, Deepika Padukone and Nargis Fakhri. Atul Kasbekar, the man behind the idea of the calendar and its execution, is, obviously, happy. Speaking on the phone from Mumbai, trying to make himself heard over the din of wedding fireworks nearby (“Diwali is quieter!”), Kasbekar says the 2012 calendar, shot in Sri Lanka, marks a return to simplicity.

“I'm actually quite proud of this year's work in Sri Lanka. We had tied up with a hotel chain. And the property is very simple; comfortable and luxurious, but simple. There's nothing very ornate. In Sri Lanka, it's not easy to go out on the street and shoot a girl in a swimsuit. It becomes a bit like India. So, we've done all our shots on or around the property, but 90 per cent of it is literally with sand, water, sky and beach. But I think it captures the soul of the girl. And there are some incredible swimsuits from all over the world.”

An alumnus of Brooks Institute, in the United States, Kasbekar has been into photography professionally for exactly two decades now. Besides being the honorary chairman of the Photographers' Guild of India, he also owns celebrity management company Bling!, where clients include the likes of actors Abhay Deol, Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan and Farhan Akhtar and models Sahil Shroff and Angela Jonsson. Obviously, the swimsuit calendar forms a part of his portfolio, a prominent one but still one aspect.

Is it ever a problem, being associated so much with one project to the point that others get overshadowed? “People only see the advantage of it. I think it works both ways for me, but the pluses have been far greater than the minuses. What it's done is established me as a professional, to some extent above and beyond the work we do.”

Rewinding to before the first calendar, Kasbekar recalls, “I had this germ of an idea that I thought would work. I had a list of one, which was Vijay Mallya. If he had not bought the idea I was not going to take it to anybody else, which was very clear in my head. I only knew him socially; I called him up and he asked me to come to Goa. One-third through the presentation, he said, ‘This is it, do it.'”

Testing the waters

Kasbekar tested the waters in the first calendar. “I played safe that year. I took a bunch of seasoned models – there was only one newbie – and a really good crew and I shot in a location I was very familiar with, Mauritius. I was pretty sure I would get great shots. What Mr. Mallya did, above and beyond, was have a launch party, call Shah Rukh Khan to launch it, put a whole media spin to it. And he saw it as a platform for Indian fashion. My vision was honestly limited to taking great shots, without a sub-committee of art directors questioning me.”

How does Kasbekar view the idea of “correcting” photographs?

“That's like saying we should only go watch documentaries. People dancing in movies look better than they are because of the edit patterns and the cinematography. People will advertise and dress up a product to make it look better than it does when you go to a supermarket shelf. I, for one, am not shooting a news report. If you're doing something for the news, you will obviously be faithful to the news. The space I shoot is a cosmetic world and everybody wants to look better than they actually can. If I'm shooting my personal portraiture, I'll keep my retouching to a bare minimum. I'll just remove a few lines and soften a few edges,” he explains. “But if we're shooting commercially for a brand, people want to look a million bucks, and we do that. I honestly have no problem with that. There are different applications to different things.” The idea, he says, is to imitate reality, but not veer too far from it either. “If you're 40-something, I don't care how many skin peels or botox you've done. You will have some lines. You can't show me something that's so ridiculously fake and say ‘That's how it is'. You end up shooting yourself in the foot if you over-retouch.”

SHALINI SHAH

The space I shoot is a cosmetic world and everybody wants to look better than they actually can

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