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With new faces, exotic locale and swimsuits designed by students, Atul Kasbekar's 2006 Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar is the most talked about

Ace photographer Atul Kasbekar has a job profile that any shutterbug would give his right arm for: shooting the annual Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar and taking pictures of the who's who ranging from Big B to the Little Master and Malaika Arora.Now, it is time for the fourth edition of his signature swimsuit calendar to be released. This time around Kasbekar has chosen Australia for the backdrop for his exotic models. This is where the similarity with the previous years ends. While last year one was treated to the likes of Yana Gupta, Vidisha Pavate, Pia Trivedi and Sheetal Menon, this year the line-up is composed of six fresh faces that includes Bangalore's own Deepika Padukone, besides Karishma Kotak, Mashoom Singha, Neelam Chauhan, Shilpa Reddy and Shruti Agarwal.Of the new faces, Deepika is the one we can readily picture, but Kasbekar says we might be hearing more of the others once the calendar is released. "A lot of the big names are a creation of the calendar... Yana Gupta, Katrina Kaif, Pia Trivedi... They got their first bit of stardom from the calendar. There was a time when Miss India and the other contests made the stars but now the Kingfisher Calendar ranks amongst them."A sneak preview of the calendar reveals that it is not just the faces that have changed. The swimsuits have been designed by 22 design students from fashion schools across the country that include NID, NIFT, SNDT and Sophia Polytechnic. And Kasbekar has adopted a whole new approach while shooting his photographs. He says his shots are much more wider than traditional swimsuit shots."In calendars such as Sports Illustrated the people come in more close. There is no background. It has its own appeal, but I decided with Vijay Mallya that you need a new direction. We agreed to make it wider with more background. Also there is not much dependence on the beach."Testament to this new approach is the photograph of Neelam Chauhan. Neelam, who is also a gymnast, is featured in a stunning shot where she is jumping on a trampoline against the backdrop of the Sydney harbour bridge. But as always, the critics have accused Kasbekar of missing his subject - the girls. Reacting to the criticism Kasbekar retorts: "Is there an image that makes the world happy? If you are going up close to the girls what is the point in going to South Africa or Australia? You do what you have to do. I wanted to infuse a lot more energy."

Superstar material

Among upcoming models, Deepika Padukone has been branded as special for a very long time and Kasbekar echoes the same feelings. "Day one she walked in and I knew she was special. If she keeps her head straight, she can be a superstar. She has the raw material... She has it all... " But the dark horse in the calendar that one needs to watch out for, according to him, is Shruti Agarwal. He says shooting her was a challenge he relished. "She has a hybrid north and north-east look to her. It gives her a slightly oriental look. That made choosing the composition tricky. I think the northeast of the country itself is overlooked. That part of the country needs to be represented."Coming back to the issue of choosing new faces and getting design students working on the wardrobe, Kasbekar says he wants the calendar to be a platform where Indian talent can be showcased. "In the first year we needed credibility. So we went for the big names. Last year, we went for the next rung of superstars. This year we have chosen new faces and thrown open the doors to design students. This will help the students the most. It will ignite them to do something. Imagine your creation in the Kingfisher Calendar."So, in its fourth year where does the calendar stand when compared to Sports Illustrated, whose calendar is the most sought after world over? "First Sports Illustrated has a number of issues for different countries. But lets just take the American version. I would say Kingfisher is in a different league altogether. I am the first one to criticise my work. But the SI U.S. calendar for me is cheese-cakey quality. The emphasis is on amazonic women and oversized breasts. Beyond a point it is so fake that it is almost repulsive. I find Pamela Anderson disgusting. Singularly unattractive. Ujjwala Raut is sensational. But she won't make it in the U.S. calendar just because she doesn't have big breasts."

Hush-hush zone

At a time when moral policing is on the rise in society, a swimsuit calendar has somehow slipped attention. But nude photography and a nude calendar, holy grail for photographers, is still a subject that can only be whispered in dark alleys and muted corridors. Kasbekar has always been open to nude art photography and has done assignments for clients abroad. But for an Indian calendar someone has to commission him to shoot one first."Once in a while we get into a puritanical argument. Take this order on cable T.V. operators for example that they have to check screening of adult content. Get real. Going by this argument even HBO has to be canned. Two years ago in a spa I shot a photo with Buddha in the background and it caused a furore. For gods sake I have Buddhist tattoos and have shot the Dalai Lama, whom I revere. The way to go is forward but right now lets stick to things like making the Sensex hit 10,500."The 2006 Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar will be launched on January 8 in Mumbai. You can check it out online at





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