'A sexy picture can generate the hype; give the film its image'
Part 2 of tete-a-tete with the ace photo artist of Bollywood, Dabboo Ratnani.
From where you derive your inspiration?
I get inspired from everything and anything in life. It could be a song, lyrics, an interesting location, a nice ray of light, etc. Like, once I was driving to the studio I saw a man unloading stuff from the top of a taxi, he was sitting on the carrier so that inspired me and I shot Kajol like that. In last year's calendar, I shot Abhishek where he played 11 different characters - the actor, cameraman, on set photographer, sound recordist, spot boy, make-up man, light-boy and many more on a film set. Recently I was in Germany where I saw a show-window which had various characters and the trolley camera. Actually it was the display of the show window with a mannequin. When I came back I shared this idea with Abhishek and we did the same for my calendar. The inspiration can come from anywhere. Like once I was in a store I saw a discount tag hanging and if you see this time's calendar for Ranbir's picture I have incorporated that. As a photographer you have to constantly keep your mind and vision open.
You have to be open to suggestions, open to life and be all the time stimulated with your photography. Photography is in my blood stream. I am immensely passionate about it. And I have tuned my wife also in the similar fashion. Before I start, she is already thinking. It's contagious between us. She supports me in my shoots.
Your photo shoots are theme-based...
I don't have a theme. Every picture is a theme, a concept in itself. But I try to sum up pictures. If I say grunge is the concept it doesn't mean I'll literally do it. Anything can fit in grunge like for this time's calendar I did crazy sexy cool. We shot Ritesh at a petrol pump where he is spraying petrol on his body and he's got a matchstick in his mouth which has got flame on it I think that's crazy. Abhishek is in double role. Ranbir is wearing a discount tag. With Genelia I used a bike and with Ajay, I did a very intense picture. Then Shahrukh is looking cool in the stubble. While I find it to be cool most of the girls found it hot. You can't really define or confine art. You can't tell people how to think of a picture. The whole calendar experience is lot more than just a photoshoot it's an evolution process. Year after year I evolve with new concept, push myself to next level and try to outdo previous calendars.
Do the image or persona of a celebrity influence your creativity?
Subjective. Sometimes you want to change the persona/image of a celebrity and try something different then you will introduce something new. Like Hrithik has been a part of my 11 calendars. Out of 11 calendars, I have done 6 body shots as he has a great body but that doesn't mean I've done all 11 as body shots those 3-4 times I have changed it. I have dressed him up in a suit. Sometimes I have done only close-ups, sometimes only half a face, sometimes full lengths, then sometimes mid-shots. Akshay's launch in the industry happened as an action hero, but my first few pictures with him were funny. Every year is different for me. Every photographer goes through phases. Suddenly you want to shoot everything in Black & White then you want to do lots of colour. In 2008 calendar I made everyone look grungy, I made them wear torn jeans, muddy stuff, grease all over the body, etc.
'I have been always a fan of Madonna's photoshoots'
Can a film gets its face or identity without a photographer?
A sexy picture may create an impact but not a normal one. For e.g A ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA picture may not generate hype like THE DIRTY PICTURE but the minute you saw the trailer of ZINDAGI NA MILEGI DOBARA you wanna go and watch the movie. When I had shot for JISM with Bipasha that one picture sold the movie, created hype. A sexy picture can generate the hype; give the film its image but its subjective. I wouldn't say every picture will create a sensation. Like the HERA PHERI poster didn't create the buzz but the trailer made a noise. Sometimes posters are appreciated after the film's release. When we shot for KAANTE or PLAN it just portrayed that it's an action film but did not create the necessary buzz until people saw the visuals on TV. The masses sense a good film. If it's a bad film your posters, trailers nothing can save you. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. You cannot rely 100% on the poster or stills.
Genre and content of the film have an influence over publicity stills?
Yes to some extent. A horror type of film may not generate a buzz like JISM or PAAP or MURDER.
Do you get involved in the pre-production of the film to define a film/character's look
You need to meet the director and understand the vision or the publicity designer meets the director and designs the campaign accordingly.
What influenced you to become a photographer? Was it your childhood dream?
I initially started working in my dad's store at Bombay dyeing store. No creativity just measure cloth and cut it that was the only routine. It was not doing anything for me. When I was 16 I decided to do photography. I thought if it has something for me great otherwise I'll join back my dad's business. My parents were supportive and I started assisting a photographer called Sumeet Chopra. By 21 I was a full-fledged photographer. Luckily I had that vision and that want to do something different. Luckily I did that very early in life.
It just triggered off from another aspiring photographer, Ranbir. He was my brother's friend and used to come home often. Besides, I have always been a gizmo freak so whether it was the music system or camera I used to open and analyse it. Initially I thought like any other gizmo cameras are also another fascination for me. But after assisting Sumeet for 4 years I realized that I really enjoy it and decided to be a photographer.
Do you have a bucket list?
I am enjoying photography so much that I am not thinking of moving out or branching out. Everyone has a list of things-to-do in life. My dream is to shoot a huge Hollywood star. Since my childhood I have been watching Madonna's photoshoots. She is 50 and still looks brilliant and makes amazing pictures. Since I was a kid I used to listen to Madonna's music. I have been always a fan of hers and her photoshoots as well. Bono, who's the lead singer of Irish rockband called U2, is someone who I would really like to click other than Madonna. Besides photography my second passion is music.
Were you not be a photographer what you would be?
I would have been a DJ
Is direction your next logical step?
I have already been offered to direct Ad films but I am happy with what I am doing right now. Even if I decide to take another logical step I'll have to stop this. If I decide to become director I will quit photography. A director and photographer are two different heads. If I move into another profession I want to give in 100%. So currently I am not thinking.
How much of you is a technician than an artist?
I am an artist.
Black & White or colour photography, what is more challenging and interesting?
I love shooting in Black & Whites but there are times I may think it will look great in Black & White but when I see it in colour the outlook changes. Certain shots don't work always in Black & White. In 2010, I did all Black & White calendar then in 2011 I had only one Black & White photo.
You are known as Big B of photography?
Thank you. It feels good because in many ways I have evolved and not got stuck in time. In these 16-17 years I progressed, I bought new equipments. I didn't get stuck anywhere. There was never a lull period. I kept changing my style. It's worked well for me. There are but very few photographers in the film industry who have sustained for so many years and I am one of them. I am proud and happy and God's been really kind to me.
CHECK OUT: Interview of DABBOO RATNANI-1
- Rachana, Glamsham Editorial