Hitting rewind: Karan Kapoor is back, as another kind of film hero
Twenty-five years after he moved to the UK to pursue photography, he returns with a show of early photographs of Anglo-Indians.art and culture Updated: Sep 03, 2016 23:25 IST
You may know Karan Kapoor as the son of Bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor. You may remember him from the ’80s films Sultanat, Loha or Afsar that make up his brief film career. Or you may have been swayed by his brown eyes, fair hair and handsome half-grin to splurge on the Bombay Dyeing fabrics he modelled before he moved to London in the ’90s. It’s unlikely that you know Kapoor as a documentary photographer. And yet here he is, 25 years after he vanished from the public eye, with an exhibition of pictures that shows which side of the lens he ended up choosing.
Time And Tide debuts in Mumbai on September 22 before travelling to Delhi, Banglore, Kolkata and Jaipur and is Kapoor’s first show in India. It comprises 45 black-and-white silver gelatin prints from two early series – Anglo Indians in Bombay and Calcutta between 1979 and 1980, and a bucolic Goa from 1980 to 1994. Both works represent a period before Kapoor established himself as a commercial photographer in the UK. They also offer the last looks at two westernised, fast-fading Christian cultures in India. “In a sense, it’s holding on to a world gone by,” says Kapoor, now 54.
THE CLOSE CROP
If, in the pictures, you can’t tell those worlds apart, it’s probably because Kapoor is so close to both of them. One of three children born of a British-Indian marriage — his mother, English actress Jennifer Kendal, co-founded Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre — Kapoor’s first shots, at 15, were of ageing Anglo-Indians. The family also spent many Christmases at their home in Baga, and Kapoor recalls being ‘a part of the village’. “We’d join in for all the tamasha: births, weddings, funerals,” he recalls. “I’d see people pitching in to pull in a fishing boat; I’d get on a bike and drive to neighbouring Candolim for fish curry. I wanted to capture this connection to the past before it disappeared.”
So capture it he did, freezing forever two suited youngsters at Goa’s Three King’s feast, shack-free beaches, Byculla musicians, dapper Calcutta grandpas, Daphne Sampson who won the 1956 Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest, and community rituals. “I did all that and nothing happened,” he says. The world changed and the pictures languished until Abhishek Poddar, who founded the photography institution Tasveer, saw some of Kapoor’s work and decided to exhibit it.
THE WIDE ANGLE
Bollywood’s shadow, which covers so much of the Kapoor family tree, is missing in the works. Kapoor shows no interest in the subject, “maybe because I’m so close to it”. But he certainly realises how the industry has grown. “There are more good films than when I was acting, and lots of places for smaller films to thrive. If my father produced Junoon and 36 Chowringhee Lane today [acclaimed arthouse films that failed at the box office in 1979 and 1981 respectively], they’d have done better,” he says.
Kapoor’s sister, Sanjna, who ran Mumbai’s iconic performing arts venue, Prithvi Theatre, until 2012, believes he was probably destined to be behind the camera. “There’s a story about him from before I was born, when he was about three or four, on a family trip to Singapore,” she says. “Karan was actually the funny-looking quieter brother. Kunal was the cuter one, he demanded attention and always got his way. They were at a store and Kunal must have been running around – ‘I want this! I want that!’ – and nobody noticed Karan until they found him standing in front of a display case, tears running down his cheeks. He was looking at a little plastic camera – and of course my parents bought it for him.”
Photography changed Kapoor, she believes. It turned him from that “silent, reticent kid” into a man who can get his subjects relaxed enough to open up. His commercial and lifestyle photography is starkly different from the thoughtful, intimate compositions of Time & Tide. They are artful, but feature the sunny beaches, bright colours and gleeful expressions typical to advertising. “Karan would have continued with documentary work if there’d been enough opportunities for it,” his sister says. Perhaps now the time is right.