Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More than a 'Dream'

I have splendid news in this piece. Our studio has passed its test run of 3 months with flying colours. We officially launched our 6,500 sq. ft. studio in May 2007. Set in the dynamic suburb of Gurgaon, the space is more than a studio, it’s a dream come true. The construction pace was like all such endeavours are, excruciating. Thankfully, had a fabulous team of professionals constantly striving to get on with the ultimate ‘plan’ - our very own world class studio. The space cannot be explained it has to be experienced. There is an amazing splash of natural light that makes the white walls seem farther, makes the area enormous. It’s everything we need to produce quality imagery, from India to the world.

We can now boast of international standards, handpicked sets, state of the art equipment, plenty of natural light, extremely talented photographers, a team of production staff that only think out of the box … and that little bit extra, passion! Everyone at is driven by the prospects of the stock photography industry, we are producing signature imagery and we are good at it. With the studio in place, our horizons have broadened so much, that we are flooded with ideas, concepts and themes. The studio seems like a living being, like a part of the team, it has its own energy. The peripherals are perfect too, we have a view of contemporary office buildings at one end and a balcony garden at the other. When the sets are out, the transformation is unbelievable, we have our high school classroom, the next door chemist, a home kitchen and a kids bedroom all in walking distance.

The biggie came last month. We wanted to do the Kathakali shoot and we knew the artist would be wearing an outfit that weighs a ton and makeup that weighs more. He had never worked in a studio and we were just beginning to cover specialty Indian stock. He took 3 hours to get ready, we hit the studio at noon and right there in the middle of the studio was our ‘muse’. It was an awesome sight, his fantastic makeup, his overwhelming garb and yet he seemed so small, almost animated in all that space, with the sun overhead, it was truly a sight to see. We had another quandary to deal with, we needed a motorcycle up in the second floor studio for a concept shot. That was great fun. Lugging that 500 pound piece of machinery up on the set, readying it for our custom shot, getting our model seated firmly on it … all the while we were applauding ourselves quietly.

We had multiple shoots that day. It seemed heavy but in retrospect the team made it all happen. We had frantic studio hands carrying boxes of mobile phones, frenzied art directors readying their shots, make-up artists, hairstylists, prop hands, all this while our extremely calm photographers meditated with the lights. All in all the studio has added a whole new dimension to pursuit of exquisite Indian stock.

That’s the thing about, there is always something new and exciting going on. Watch this space for our next adventure and check out the gallery for a sneak preview of all the amazing stuff we have produced since the studio got ready.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Eyes open wider

I took me a couple of weeks to get over the whole ‘Bharatanatyam’ shoot. I don’t know why, it never takes me this long to absorb something extraordinary and I tend to produce very varied stock for my brand - It was probably some latent disappointment regarding my own experience with ‘Bharatanatyam’ that did it, I wasn’t great at it but I am sure I could have pursued it longer such to let the grace and discipline seep into my everyday life. Anyway, I kind of obsessed with the idea of exploring the various dance forms our country had to offer. And if you are still gaping at the number of languages, cuisines and cultures we actually have, then this topic will surely amaze you. Almost every state of India and we have 28, has a dance form they call their own. That meant I needed to get cracking, book my studio space with our Creative Director and get a hold of all these lovely artists. My endeavours were well rewarded within weeks. I found just the right person for one of India’s most awe inspiring dances – Kathakali. Certain elements remain common to all dances of India, they are storytelling personified and they are all extremely graceful, vibrant and emotional. But ‘Kathakali’ is just a wee bit more of all the adjectives I have used. Kathakali is the traditional dance-drama of Kerala, the way ‘Bharatanatyam’ traces its roots to Tamil Nadu and it is sheer, raw ‘power’. That’s the best word to describe it.

The day of the shoot started early. Our model was a veteran performer very keen to enlighten us about the nuances of Kathakali. He had prepared us for a 3 hour makeup session and we all thought he was exaggerating, apparently …. He was not. The first hour he lay motionless on the floor, while his team prepared colored pastes in little bowls made of coconut shells. It’s this kind of quaintness that always gets me. I mean, this man has a mobile phone, he probably downloads his performances from the video camera to DVD and yet they didn’t start getting him ready till the traditional brass lamp was lit and a little prayer was said. I always knew that most of the south Indian dance forms were rooted in Hindu mythology but this was true devotion. The base coats on his face took longer than a fashion model's makeup, then came the colors – rich parrot green, bleeding orange and the stark yellow of the ‘tilaka’. The makeup itself that transformed this man into a living caricature, a living, breathing mythical creature from way back into our past. He seemed to loom larger than he was when he came in. One by one, ornaments came out of an old, dented trunk (there was the quaintness again).

I noticed him change from an ordinary person to a revered character, his team was all over him, cajoling him like he was a child, adoring him like they were his mothers and keeping his comfort our utmost priority. There were steel talons on one hand, headgear that rose a foot in the air and solid gold arm bands that I had never noticed before. In a way it saddened me, I had seen quite a few performances in the last 15 years and I never stopped to notice these fantastic details. Sure enough, it took him 3 hours to get ready and all I could think of was how an Amazonian state like Kerala could have a dance form that requires a thermal costume weighing over 8 kilos?? This had to be true devotion! I remained mesmerized for the next few hours. Not just by the movements and expressions but by the subtleties. Our model’s team had a different attitude towards him once he was in costume, they were short of worshipping him and we all felt it. It was like being in the presence of God, or at least the closest thing to it. After a few frames we noticed that his eyes were very blood shot, so we asked if the atmosphere was bothering him. He gently informed us that he needed to portray the angst, the power, the menace and the megalomania of his character, thus the red eyes. He had applied a powder derived from a 'brinjal' like vegetable (which I suspect is the chili family, don't the seeds look alike?) in his eyes and thats what made them burn red this way.

Before we knew it … the shoot was over. I felt awful, there was still so much to explore, so many questions to ask. All I could the end the day with was an apology to our model, I apologized for being just the ‘audience’ all these years. I apologized for not recognizing the immense talent and fervour that goes into being a performer of Indian classical arts. And finally I thanked him, thanked him for showing me the essence of ‘Kathakali’. Apart from the makeup, the costume, the √©lan and the rich history, it was the devotion, the discipline and the traditional grounding that I will never forget. So next time you go to see any Indian classical dance, remember to feel the history and appreciate the entirety of what you see.

Dance Therapy

“She is the embodiment of grace. She flows like water, she glows like fire and has the earthiness of a mortal goddess. She has flowers in her hair, jewelled hands and kohl dark eyes. Her eyes speak a language that her hands will translate, her feet move in tandem to make the story complete. She is a danseuse, she is a performer, she is almost ethereal.” – These were my thoughts when we were producing the ‘Dances of India’ images at the newly built studio. Our model was unique, she wasn’t here to strut her stuff or pout and be pretty, she was here to blow our minds. I learnt ‘Bharatanatyam’ for seven years as a child but even I didn’t remember this kind of magical aura and splendour. It wasn’t the costume or the jewellery, it was the motion, the fluidity, I could go on and on.

Dance in India symbolizes more than just entertainment; it actually serves as a communication tool. Dances were mainly performed in temples as offering to the Gods, these dances relayed messages of community living, fictional plays depicting an ideal way of life and mythological tales of people and places. Most classical dance forms still remain physical manifestations of the music they are performed with. In Indian culture, song and dance are inseparable companions of classical arts. One compliments the other and neither can survive on its own. A typical example would be Bharatanatyam and Carnatic Music. Bharatanatyam is a dance form supposedly created by Bharata Muni, the sage who wrote the ‘Natya Shastra’, ancient text dealing with dance, performance and theatre. Bharatanatyam was performed by ‘Devadasis’ in ’ancient times, dancers that appeased the Gods, much like the mythical ‘Apsara’s', Hindu equivalents of angels or celestial dancers. The entire performance is actually a play, with stunning costumes and feline grace. The emphasis lies in the movement and expressiveness of the eyes, intricate hand gestures that speak volumes and most essentially an attitude that emotes confidence and beauty. ‘Karanas’ are classical postures in Bharatanatyam, these are 108 and 125 positions in the classical Indian dance. The word ‘Karanam’ means conscious and systematic action in Tamil. Another distinctive feature of Bharatanatyam is expressive hand gestures as a way of communication. Hasta Mudras refers to the varieties of hand symbols that a dancer uses to convey the story they are performing.

Bharatanatyam evolved as a dance form of the deities and went on to be performed across Tamil Nadu at festivals, in temples and in palaces. It had a mystical aura that spoke of eternal wisdom, enlightenment and purity. It I still considered a ‘fire dance’ as compared to Odissi being a ‘water dance’, the inclusion of elements adds a more metaphysical aspect to dance performances in India. All the technicalities aside what is most striking is the colors and the movements. The costume is elaborate and physically flattering to the female form, the hairdo is accented with fresh fragrant flowers, the hands and feet are adorned with a red paste and the jewelery too is loud and expressive. All these elements are essential to make the impact that this dance is all about. After all it is a story told with no words, the music is an accompaniment not the storyteller, the dancer is the only medium truly communicating with the audience.

View Bharatanatyam Stock Photos by