A short picture-summary of our ten days in Italy this year

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ALTA BADIA

P1050660 P1050670P1050671Cannot recall the name of these things we ate. But I soon got fed up of Italian food. Can’t say the same for biwi!

P1050675 P1050683 P1050691Went to skiing areas in running shoes. And sat like a boss.

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VENICE

P1060515Felt at home in Venice (and most other places in Italy) on seeing Italians dry their clothes just like Indians do!

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ROMEP1060640

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CAPRI ISLAND

P1070248 P1070265 P1080019Home-made limoncello and bruschetta offered to us by the generous owner of the B&B where we stayed in Capri.

P1080014This is the last picture that I took in this trip.

So yeah, we had a great vacation. I am glad I finally got to use my quad-copter in a vacation (had lost one last year, weeks before traveling to New Zealand). And the result has been stunning (sharing our Holioke for this year – 2015 below).

It took us a LONG LONG time to finalize a song. We would go through a million songs, finalize one. And then, realize that it was not good enough after a while and go through another million songs. We ended up with this song because, well, we had to finalize some song at least few days before the trip started. So that we could mug up the lyrics and all that. It was a hard lyrics to mug up by the way.

Unlike our last trip to NZ, this time we did not carry any heavy gear (because this time we were not road-tripping in a car). Most of this holioke was shot on a GoPro Hero4 (a camera the size of a match-box) often attached to a hand-held chinese gimbal. We landed in Milan, headed north to the Alta Badia region, stayed there for 2-3 days, then took a bus to Venice and spent another two days there. Then took train first to Florence and then to Rome and finally Naples from where we rented two bicycles and spent two days cycling to Sorrento and then to Salerno. The rental guy picked up the bikes in Salreno, we took a train back to Naples and then boarded a ferry to Capri Island, where the last 2 days were spent. And then back to Naples to Rome to Abu Dhabi to Goa. Our trip in brief.

The changing face of Divar Island – a photo-essay

One request. Don’t scroll down too fast.

Go slow. Look at each picture for 5 to 10 seconds. Let it sink in. Try to think of what I am trying to tell. You might not figure it out all the time. I might not have done a good job with each picture. But I can promise you, if you give these pictures some time, and try going beyond the colours and aesthetics of the frame, you will feel something deeper.

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I think it is important that you see these images in the order that I have presented them. What each image is trying to portray will become more effective, if you also sense the overall context from the overall images. The images might be real but of course I have weaved together my own version of the ‘change’. I do not want you to judge the island and the folks who live there.

You can read up more about the island on Wiki, but to quickly explain it those not from Goa, it is an island with a limited population, very green and connected to mainland Goa only by Ferry. Although, only about 10 Kms from Panjim city, it lacks commercialization of all sorts (there are some basic ration shops and a handful of budget restaurants). It’s a village, but dangerously close to a city. Would the city devour the village one day? Who is to say!

This is probably my first photo-essay outside of weddings (and other family trips / events). I happened to join Edric, a wedding photographer friend from Goa for something called ‘3 worst photos’ photo-walk. The photo-walk rules were: you can’t change your ISO, you can view scenes only through your view-finder (the LCD is to be taped off), can frame only one photo at a location (even if you screw it up) and you can click a max of 36 photos. After the shoot, three worst photos (to be decided by the group) of each photographer would be published online.

I could click only about 20 photos in the two to three hours that we spent in the island. I have shared most of them here. I had decided upon my point of view before I shot any image. What was my point of view? Hey, you can’t ask me that. That is for you to decide! I shot all of these with a Pansonic GH4 with a 12mmf2 Olympus lens.

There is a funny story behind the first picture in this blog (it was not the first that I clicked btw). So I saw this family on this scooty and I asked them if I could click a picture of them. The aunty said, no, no. I said ok. I walked past them, explaining this was for a photo-competition. She said, no, no, we don’t want to buy any camera. I said, no, no, I just wanted to click a picture. The uncle said, yeah ok, that you can do, we just don’t want to buy any camera. So I went back to where I was when I had first seen them. And I clicked.

There is no funny story behind the picture of the three boys fishing (and the third one showing off his catch). I was in as much water myself when I clicked this. And I almost fell in the water and dropped my camera. Not funny at all. I don’t think I have troubled myself so much to click any picture ever. But I saw them fishing in the middle of this water-body, chest-deep and I was like, shit I gotta wade up to them.

Does anyone think I should do more photo-essays?

Some pictures from a ridiculously hot summer in Bihar

Last week, biwi and I flew to Kolkata and took a train to Jasidih to meet my grandparents. There was no electricity the whole day with temperatures soaring higher than 40 degrees. We were f***ed. The electricity did come later and the AC worked whenever the voltage was good (which was only once in a while). After two days, we left for Patna to see my parents and to attend the thread ceremony of my cousin Palak. There was going to be no AC in Patna (no one lives in our Patna house). We knew we were f***ed real bad.

IMG_0462The ‘we are so f****d’ look on biwi’s face as we wait for our train to Patna. We could not find tickets in an AC coach. That clearly shows.

 

IMG_0465Akarsh, one of my youngest cousins would take my name and jump a few times every time he saw me.

 

IMG_0468Palak gives a cold look to the barber.

 

IMG_0485 IMG_0486 IMG_0491 IMG_0510 IMG_0543IMG_0525 IMG_0534 IMG_0545 IMG_0550 IMG_0553 IMG_0560Mother teases her son.

 

IMG_0565 IMG_0579Ma (my ma) catches up with relatives.

 

IMG_0587 IMG_0592 IMG_0597 IMG_0598Ravi uncle, Palak’s dad, remembers his own thread ceremony. I had mine with him. And three more uncles. When I was about five years old. That was like 25+ years ago. F**k.

 

IMG_0622Biwi puts a brave face to hide away the torture.

 

IMG_0628But some tortures are difficult to hide.

 

IMG_0635IMG_0639IMG_0650IMG_0655IMG_0658IMG_0664IMG_0671IMG_0675IMG_0701IMG_0710Palak manages one fake smile for the camera. Mogambo khush hua. Even if for a split second.

 

IMG_0715IMG_0720IMG_0728IMG_0733IMG_0740IMG_0745Sometimes you give up on your own happiness to make everybody else happy.

 

IMG_0763Biwi gets a taste of what it feels like to dance in 40 degrees. Manages to hide the torture again.

 

IMG_0769IMG_0780Anno didi, showed the same dance moves when I went through my thread ceremony 25 years+ ago. Should find her picture of hers from then.

 

IMG_0809IMG_0813Bobby didi danced so much I ended up remembering her dance with her friends on her budday on the song Tu Cheez Badi hai Mast Mast. That was like twenty years ago. Some of her friends from that budday party did show up later that evening. But they didn’t dance of course.

PS: All pictures shot with a Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC on a Canon 6D.

Haleem Khan – my big project for the year 2015

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Haleem, in the picture above, is the subject of my next documentary movie project. His full name is Haleem Khan. And he is not a terrorist. He is a Kuchipudi dancer. Kuchipudi – the folk dance of Andhra Pradesh, is a dance form almost predominantly learnt by, and taught to Hindus. But for Haleem, dancing is a religion in itself. And that’s why he didn’t care about which community he was born in, when he got attracted towards classical dance. It all  started by watching performances once in a while on TV, as he grew up in Ongole. He didn’t know whether he was watching Kuchipudi or Bharatnatyam or anything else. The only reason he ended up learning Kuchipudi and not anything else was because the only teacher he could find in Ongole, taught Kuchipudi. It was not easy for him to convince her to teach him. All the other students she had were younger Hindu girls. Here was a Muslim guy in 11th class who wanted to learn classical dance because he was attracted to similar performances on TV! What was she to do? She refused. But Haleem persisted. And he eventually won in convincing her. And that’s how the journey started. He knew it would be next to impossible to get approval from his conservative parents. In fact, his parents came to know about their son being a Kuchipudi dancer, only after 7 years of him starting to learn the art-form. Because by that time, he had become famous enough and the media had started talking about him and writing about him.

What has made Haleem really popular in the Kuchipudi circuit are his female impersonation performances, which he started few years ago. In fact, in the recent times, almost all shows that he does, he performs dressed as a female dancer. And he has performed not just in India but even internationally in countries like US. There is a reason why he tried a female impersonation for the first time. Haleem explained to me that, one cannot call himself a complete Kuchipudi dancer, unless one has given at least one performance as a female dancer. Historically, when Kuchipudi evolved, women were not expected to / allowed to dance. So men would dress up like women and perform. In our modern times, the perception towards classical dance is that of a feminine thing. Guys from outside dancing families hardly want to learn it and almost no one wants to dress up like a woman to perform. So it’s not surprising that when Haleem does it, some wonder if he is a gay or a transgender. When someone asked him this question for the first time, he was surprised. Is it so hard to believe that a straight ‘man’ can dress up like a woman to perform a classical dance, purely for the love of art? Apparently, yes. And that’s what makes his journey interesting.

There is not much money in classical dancing. Many a times, even organizers don’t want to pay you (we would give you a wonderful stage to perform and great audience, what do you need the money for?) and when they pay you, they pay you as less as they can. And yet Haleem Khan, who went on to also get an MBA degree, left his job after few years to focus on being a full time dancer. His life is a struggle. And for him, the struggle is worth it, because of his love for the art-form that is Kuchipudi. All that he wants to do is perform (and get paid for his performances like a true professional) and spread awareness about the awesomeness of Kuchipudi worldwide. And this passion of his, is what I want to bring out in my documentary.

Because Haleem is based out of Hyd, and I live in Goa, it is a challenging task to shoot him and his life and his journey on a regular basis. I have been trying to rope in friends based in Hyderabad, who can shoot footages occasionally. Let’s see if their initial interest persists over time. This is my big project for this year (definitely beyond 3 minutes 😀 ) and I hope you all look forward to it as much as I do.

 

Funny memories from a Jaipur trip

I called up Kanhaiya to tell him that I wanted him to come over to Choki Dhani for dropping me to the Jaipur airport. Kanhaiya was a cab driver. Two days ago, I had taken his cab via the pre-paid counter at the airport. That’s when I had first met him. I had arrived in Jaipur to shoot a wedding in the Chokhi Dhani resort.

After landing, I was waiting for my luggage to arrive. I had flown down from Goa (to Mumbai) to Jaipur on a single Air India ticket. I had a aircraft change in Mumbai. My luggage was to arrive directly to Jaipur. But it did not. It had my clothes and a monopod (to be used for shooting video). Few co-passengers and I kept staring at the luggage belt even after everyone else had collected their stuff and left. It was hard to believe that our luggage hadn’t shown up. An Air India lady staff came over to us and in the most matter of fact tone, said, ‘you guys have come from Goa, right? Your luggage will arrive at 5 pm’. She didn’t look worried. She didn’t say sorry. The way she broke the news to us, was almost the same way a secretary of a senior IAS officer would tell you how sahib is busy and that you have to wait for 5 hours minimum before he gets free, even when you arrived at a time allotted by the same fucking secretary. But then this was Air India. What was she supposed to say, huh? ‘We screwed up and your luggage went to Delhi. We would have it here in Jaipur by the evening flight. So sorry for the inconvenience caused sir’? Really? What do you think Air India staff is, Arvind Kejrival? Air India guys have an attitude that they need to live upto. I am sure this staff would be promoted soon for her ability to make a screw-up sound like a daily routine.

It was 11 AM then and I was not going to have my clothes or monopod till five in the evening. Hmm. The evening function was to start at about the same time. It would be a pain in the ass to shoot without the monopod. I did have another stabiliser but it was still going to be a pain. I had no idea how much time Air India was going to take to get my stuff to me after this Delhi flight landed. There was nothing much that I could do, except letting the kind lady know the address where my luggage was to be delivered, whenever it arrived. All’s well that ends well. The Air India staff did end up delivering my stuff by 6 pm, in my hotel and though I could not find time to change to fresh clothes, I could definitely use my monopod while shooting the sangeet ceremony.

Next day was the wedding. After few small functions during the day, the wedding started at around 6 in the evening and went on till almost 6 in the morning. That is when I finally got to hit the bed. I had my return flight to Goa in less than four hours, so of course I couldn’t seep much. I got up still sleepy and called Kanhaiya. While driving me to the resort two days ago, he had remarked that it would be cheaper for me if I called him for the airport drop, instead of asking the resort guys to arrange for the same. This, I later found out to be true. Choki Dhani’s charge for airport drop was 700 bucks, while the pre-paid rate that Kanhaiya offered was 400. As I was confirming the time with him, Kanhaiya proposed to me an even better offer – if I was willing to share his cab with another guest staying in the same resort (who too wanted an airport drop at the same time), he would charge me 100 bucks less. ‘Yeah sure, whatever’, he made 600 from the same trip and I paid less than 50% of what the resort would have otherwise charged me – pretty much win-win for both.

An uncleji was already seated in Kanhaiya’s cab when I arrived with my luggage. Kanhaiya helped me load my stuff in his car and I took a seat next to uncleji. I asked the uncleji if he was also a wedding guest. Yes, he nodded. He asked me what I did and where I lived and I told him I was a photographer and a film-maker and that I lived in Goa. By this time, we had reached the airport and said our goodbyes to Kanhaiiya. While at the boarding counter, uncleji told me he wanted to talk to me, once we had cleared security. ‘There is so much time to kill’, he remarked. The flight had been delayed by 45 minutes – the second time since morning.

I had almost assumed the like most people, uncleji would have the standard set of questions for me (how I left my job, life in Goa etc.). But I could’ve never imagined, what he finally did ask me.

‘Next week, a friend of mine and I are visiting Goa. I visit Goa often you see, but this friend of mine, it will be his first visit. Can you tell us few places that we should check out? I have been to Titos once. And one of those casinos on the river. Any other place that you can recommend?’, he started off. I told him about LPK. But before I could come up with more options, he quickly came down to the point. ‘And also, which is the best beach for finding Russians?’. Tharki uncle.

Our flight to Delhi kept on getting delayed over the course of next few hours and to my delight, once I had given a vague answer to Tharki uncle’s question, he did not have more insider info to get out from me. It was a tiring full day of travel, flying from Jaipur to Delhi and then back to Goa. I had gallons of coffee to keep me going. But as always, it felt wonderful to be back. With funny memories from the Jaipur trip.