Driven by the constant urge to take creative breaks every three or four years, in the summer of 2006, photographer Zakia Shakir enrolled herself at the International Center of Photography, New York. She says, “At the time, India was a big story and I was asked about its achievements. Suddenly it was a nation of software and information-technology wizards, and a newly confident player on the world stage.”
The men who were household names for Zakia and other Indians ignited a spark of inspiration, and she went on to create Men Who Inspire India, a collection of unique portraits of more than 50 Indian men. It was published by Om Books International after three years of effort.
Photography is about making pictures, not taking them, for Zakia. She advises, “Free yourself and your work will come alive. Love your subject. Do not be intimidated.”
I was still drained from dengue when my shoot with tabla maestro, Ustad Zakir Hussain was fixed. His niece had called unexpectedly to say that he was to spend a night at his Napean Sea Road home in Mumbai. I wanted to capture the chemistry with his instrument. I recollect very few details of that day, save that I sweated profusely the whole time from a high fever.
Mr Narayana Murthy helped me reach out and a date had been set months in advance. I had been promised a chance to photograph Dr Kalam during his visit to an engineering school in Hubli, but the security cordon around him on the stage was so tight that I could get nowhere near him. Mr Murthy got to know and called me. Dr Kalam asked me what the book was about. In response to my question about what inspired him, he turned away, picked up a chalk and wrote on the blackboard behind him. I had barely 90 seconds to take the photograph before he vanished into his security blanket. It’s one of my special photographs.
We shot at business tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s spacious top floor of his multi-storeyed office in Mumbai. Tech-savvy and always keen to understand the mind of the common man, he said to me, “I have read your email about the book, but I want to hear about it from you.” I had been forewarned that he had only 10 minutes of time, but it is a law of nature that when you are shooting India’s richest man, the swanky new lights are bound to conk out, or, for that matter, not even come on. Ambani looked on quietly. “It happens,” he said. He waited patiently for me to fix the problem.
‘Love his perfection’
Hrithik would move accurately every time I pressed the shutter, sensing my timing while constantly transforming his mood. He was so meticulously aware of the timing of each frame and what was required for a good shot that I felt if, perchance, the photographs did not come out well, the fault would be entirely mine. I came away feeling that his aura as a person overshadowed his Adonis looks.
‘Soft spoken man’
At 5 pm every evening, spiritualist and leader of the Art of Living movement, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has a date with some big beasts which he never misses: the elephants at his ashram on the outskirts of Bangalore. The juxtaposition of this slender, gentle, soft-spoken man with the biggest animals in nature was something I could not resist. After a few photographs, Sri Sri waited to greet people who wait to see him and touch him everyday. As I followed him out of the ashram, one of his devotees objected to me using my flash repeatedly. In spite of the tumult around him, Sri Sri noticed this exchange and politely asked his follower to let me do my work.