Shooting a swimsuit calendar? Which hot-blooded male wouldn't want to do that? ANAND SANKAR speaks to photographer Atul Kasbekar whose name we often miss in fine print while ogling the toned and tanned bodies he shoots
For this year's calendar we have chosen new faces and thrown open the doors to design students Atul Kasbekar Ace photographer Atul Kasbekar has a job profile that any shutterbug would give his right arm for: shooting the annual Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar and also having India's who's who ranging from Big B to the Little Master and Malaika Arora posing to be painted by his lens. And now it is time for the fourth edition of his signature swimsuit calendar to be released. Renowned for its choice of exotic locales (South Africa last year), 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."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 north-east 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 super stars. 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 Amazonian 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."
At a time when moral policing is on the rise in society, a swimsuit calendar has somehow slipped attention. But nude photography, Holy Grail for photographers, is still a subject that can only be whispered in dark corridors. Kasbekar has always been open to nude art photography and has done assignments for clients abroad. "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 god's 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 www.kingfishercalendar.com.For shutterbugsAtul Kasbekar topped the class of 1988 at the Brooks Institute of Photography (Santa Barbara) and won an achievement award in Advertising and Photography. He trained in Los Angeles for over a year, with legendary photographers such as Dennis Gray, Ron Slenzak, James B. Wood, Jay Silverman, Jay P Morgan, Bill Werts and David Le Bon.In 1990, he returned to India to enter a fast-growing communications industry. Assignments came thick and fast: to shoot food, fashion, automobiles, airplanes, hotels and magazine covers. His work can now be seen regularly in Elle, Cosmopolitan, L'Officiel and Time magazines. All of them have used cover photographs by him. Omega and Christian Dior work with him on their advertising campaigns. He works from his studio, Negative Space, in South Mumbai.Atul Kasbekar explains the specific technique he used while shooting for the 2006 calendar: "I have been using very strong light sources even in sunlight. I use a hard external flash. So the light on the model is brighter than the sun and I get deep saturation of the colour in the background. I don't like to use polarising filters even though they give rich blue and green hues. You lose crispness of the skin tone."