A pair of hungry-for-beauty eyes greeted Brazilian model Flavia. But she chose to ignore them, resolutely looking at the wall of a bookcase. Draped in bright-coloured papers and spread all over the January page of a desktop calendar, her eyes seemed to follow a man who barely acknowledged her presence. That man is Kedar Kishore Malegaonkar who celebrates beauty through the viewfinder.
As you turned the pages, Carolina surfaced - another sensational import from Brazil. Kedar had chosen the duo to a give a different look to a paper company's lavish print campaign. One more reason to envy him. In due course, more followed.
To cut to the chase, Kedar, barely 27 years old, is a successful freelance advertising photographer working with some of the top agencies of the country: Lowe (previously Lintas), O&M, Mc Cann-Erikson and Contract Advertising, on assignments ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Although reluctant to spell out the exact figures (as HT is also read by the Income Tax officials, I supposed), he earns about Rs 2 to 3 lakh every month.
His photographs for the print campaigns of confectionary giants Perfetti and Cadbury won O&M Asia Pacific awards in 2006 and 2007. At the prestigious New York Festival in 2003, his photographs carried a brochure designed by Mumbai-based advertising agency Design Temple all the way to the final round.
Now, he had a 550-square feet air-conditioned studio at Matunga with marble flooring, three flat-screen computers and two young assistants. The other things that showed up in abundance during an afternoon of an elaborate interview were his confidence and dedication to the job (and, of course, the local trains since the building that houses his office is very close to the railway tracks.) He was eager to share his what-made-Kedar-click story to the world.
"After school, I was faced with limited choices for career," he said. "I couldn't have pursued science and commerce for fear of Maths. The other option was to follow the heart, and it was in drawing." So he enrolled for the Bachelor of Fine Arts course at the JJ Institute of Applied Art, a five-year-affair. His parents supported the decision.
"My father, an aircraft engineer with Air India, is also an avid trekker and an amateur photographer, so you know where the genes come from," said Kedar.
He was spotted when his award-winning graduation project on a Mitsubishi Pajero campaign made it to an exhibition curated by the Communications Artist's Guild, an association of advertising professionals. "Black-and-white candid images with a catchline that said 'It's me and I always thought it was SUV' got me a job with Design Temple," he said.
Then came a spell of bad luck. His computer, loaded with all the pictures he had taken until then, crashed. So did his dreams of getting into Griffith University in Australia. "I was also denied a visa to travel to the US to pursue a course at the Brooks Institute of Photography in California," Kedar said.
In 2002, at the age of 23, he abandoned the desire to go abroad, and decided to strike out on his own, resigning from his job at Design Temple. It wasn't exactly the arrogance of youth; could be a belief in one's self.
"When you assist an old hand, you tend to be influenced by him, and in the process your ideas lose their freshness," said the young veteran. "I took a year's break, made my portfolio and started doing the rounds of advertising agencies."
By then, the second round of coffee had arrived, and he stepped out on the balcony to escape from second-hand smoking inflicted by the interviewer. The fifteenth train had hurtled by, and he was ready with the caveats to this glamorous profession.
"It's a tough job," he averred, with full of uncertainties even when everything had been worked out in detail. "During a shoot for fashion designer Gayatri Khanna, who was launching her party clothesline, a minor voltage fluctuation threatened to spoil everything. The model's hair was burnt at the tip, and she was upset. It required a good deal of pampering to get her back in mood."
"That very day, someone, very foolishly I must say, decided to iron the clothes while Kamal Siddhu was wearing them, and burnt her skin."
Then of course there were the weather gods and their vagaries. In a village off the Mumbai-Goa highway, the entire unit prayed hard for the rain to stop for a few minutes on a July afternoon. It didn't, and ICICI's Freedom Account snapshot showing a woman enjoying the breeze on a hot day finally happened with the aid of a blower, artificial lights and reams of framed cloth (for protection from the rain).
"There are hazards, too, while working with stars like Daler Mehendi (for Flagship Advertising) and Priyanka Chopra (for Lowe), who are always hard pressed for time," Kedar said.
Kedar also has a fan following. His former boss Divya Thakur from Design Temple has fond memories of him: "I was struck by the quality of his work. He had developed an international style with distinct European sensibilities without having travelled much. I think his success as a photographer can be attributed to his command of graphic designing."
For someone who keeps a safe distance from discotheques and hangs out with only a handful of friends, marriage was the next logical step in life. Kedar is enjoying domestic bliss with a graphic designer, who is also a JJ alumni. They live with his parents in Thane. He is happy with the way life has shaped up. And if god listens to him one last time, he would do everything to become a National Geographic photographer.