In 2000, Sooni Taraporevala came up with what is now considered a seminal work: Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India; A Photographic Journey. In the 13 years since then, she has added more photographs to the collection and the combined effort will now be on view in Mumbai at her exhibition titled, simply, Parsis. It promises to be an eloquent portrait of a community that has done much for modern India.
Taraporevala’s eye is that of the insider who is intimately familiar with every quirk and nuance of her subjects but objective enough to capture them with affection and a gentle irony that gives her photographs an easy conversational tone, one similar to that of a family reminiscing about its favourite aunts and uncles.
While many of the photographs serve as an illuminating record of the community’s life and rituals, it is in the portraits that Taraporevala’s frames acquire an aching beauty.
Look at mystic and piano tuner Mr. Ratnagar, frozen in an immensely dignified isolation, oblivious to and untouched by, the world that rushes by him. Or The Man in a Sola Hat, a picture that is intimate yet sweeping, a desolate portrait that encapsulates the community’s eccentricities and pride, its dwindling numbers and the clouds that hang over its future.
In her introduction to the book, Taraporevala talks of her “childhood desire to hold tight what is precious, not allow it to change or disappear.” And confesses that the photographs of her grandparents and extended family “still give me some measure of, perhaps, childish comfort.”
Strange recurring use of the word childish, I remark. She laughs. “I’ve been made to understand that when you grow up, you get used to change, to the idea of people dying and losing them. But children don’t like change, they want to hear the same stories, wear the same clothes, eat the same food.”
Her other driving factor is legendary lensman Cartier-Bresson, who, she says, “inspired me to take photographs and whose work continues to enthral me to this day.”
Photography is not Taraporevala’s main profession; screenwriting is. But in-between Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala and The Namesake emerged the book and now, 12 years later, this exhibition. It should be worth the wait.
Bottomline: Should be worth the wait
Parsis: Exhibition of photographs by Sooni Taraporevala
Where:Gallery Chemould Prescott, Mumbai
When:March 5 to April 6, 2013