How Ratani frames his favourite Bollywood celebs
While the New Year, for most of us, entails the mundane - decluttering and redecorating the house or listing our resolutions - for high-profile people like ace photographer Dabboo Ratnani, it presents the perfect opportunity to amalgamate their creative achievements into a celebrated celebrity calendar. One that would encapsulate the year by capturing the famous faces.
In an exclusive telephone interview, Ratnani takes us through his illustrious frames and talks about how his celebrity calendar has evolved over the years.
When did you start toying with the concept of making a calendar?
It started off as a gift for the new millennium… Initially, I didn't plan to make it an annual event. So in December 1999, I put together 12 of my pictures and produced a calendar. And since 95 per cent of my work revolves around the film industry, I decided to use film stars instead of models. And no one had ever thought of such a concept. I just printed 1,000 copies as I was new in the business, so it was just for a few clients and friends in the film fraternity. The response was tremendous, so I thought of repeating it every year. And from then on, instead of 12 pictures, I put up 24. And I started shooting exclusively for it.
Does this come with a price tag or is it exclusively for the film fraternity?
Yes, it's given out only to people involved in the film business. I foot the production and printing bill and the rest is free - no fee for the actors, make-up artists or even stylists.
So would it be apt to describe it as your New Year card?
Well, kind of. I mean, international photographers do exhibitions, coffee-table books… so in that sense, the calendar is my form of expressing my work. I don't deal with clients or an agency. It's completely personal, completely what I like to do. Overall, it gives me immense creative satisfaction.
And how do you select the faces for your calendar?
For the last 12 years, you'd notice that 50-60 per cent of the celebrities are constant. There's Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan, Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan), Abhishek (Bachchan), Hrithik (Roshan), Shah Rukh (Khan), Kareena (Kapoor), Priyanka (Chopra), Bipasha (Basu)… Many of them have been working in the industry for over ten to 12 years. And the additional five to eight celebs are finalised during the course of the year. It would depend on who I shot that particular year, or even someone who has made an impressive debut. So we do change the list a bit.
This is your 12th edition... anything strikingly different from your other calendars?
In terms of the photography style, yes... It's different in treatment and composition. I think every year I set a benchmark... new challenges and it helps me evolve. Currently, I think this is my best calendar. I don't like working on thematic calendars because I'd prefer to let the actors be rather than allowing the theme to take over the picture. Apart from the water theme [his 2007 calendar] every time I've done themes I've felt it was restricting me creatively. I want to create something that doesn't bore you for a year!
Any favourites in the 2011 calendar?
I don't think so. I think all the 24 images worked out the way I wanted them to or even better than I had imagined. It helps to work with actors as they take your concept to a whole new level. That's the beauty about shooting with actors as opposed to models.
What is more creatively satisfying - film/ad shoots, magazine covers or the calendar?
Editorial shoots are definitely more creatively satisfying. There's a certain amount of drama you can create. But when it's a film campaign, you are working around a set guideline. You are doing everything as per instructions. And it's the same with ad campaigns. There's a client breathing down your neck… So, if it's creative satisfaction then it's editorial shoots and the calendar.
Before we wrap up, any word of advice for upcoming photographers?
Honestly, it's not so tough. If you have a signature style, you can make a niche for yourself. If a new guy comes in and starts replicating another photographer's work then he's not going to make it. That's how it worked for me, even though my family is not remotely connected to this industry.
"I wanted to do something laid-back... on a deck chair. This was an impromptu shoot. We just went to the location and experimented. Many pictures in this calendar (Asin, Genelia) aren't planned. A lot of last-minute improvisations are done and this is one of those photographs."
"It's an interesting angle… This is not a concept shoot, it was more like the situation that made the picture."
Shah Rukh Khan
"I wanted to place the actors in a completely contrasting situation. I took him to a construction site. He's dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie but he's taking out his bicycle. After he saw the first shot, he got excited and added a watch, dark glasses… And that's how the picture turned out so well."
"He's wearing a suit and waiting for the barber. This shot works because of his attitude. Again, a concept where he's dressed up but in a contrasting situation.
Who is most particular about what costume they wear for a shoot?
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
Who is most likely to arrive late?
Who is most likely to pester you to take more shots until they are happy?
No one really. It might be the other way round… I could go on clicking even when the star is happy with the shot.
Who is most likely to take the longest time to get ready for a shoot?
No one really. Actually, it all depends on the situation. Even they are pressed for time. Photo shoots are one of the million things they do in their lives, so I don't think they'd want to waste their time dressing up.
Who is the most versatile star you've shot so far?
Shah Rukh Khan.