Interview : Dabboo Ratnani Part 1 of 2

'I am responsible for Hrithik becoming an actor today'

The ace photo artist of Bollywood, Dabboo Ratnani, who has been enthralling us with his spectacular work for 16 years, has come a long way. The leading photographer, who's done multiple large scale photoshoots, has become a brand in itself for his annual calendars. Recently we had a tete-a-tete with the renowned photographer, Dabboo Ratnani. Here are the excerpts this exclusive two-part interview:

People obey stars but stars obey photographers. How does that feel?
It's a joint effort between stars and the photographer. A photographer's role in a shoot is very much like a director who has the vision. The creative agency briefs the photographer and then the photographer briefs the actor. So it's like a joint effort between stylist, the make-up artist and all technicians put together with the actor. What happens with models is that they do exactly what a photographer asks them but actors/stars take it to the next level. They put their own performance and take it one notch higher. The aura of the actor, the mood, the feel all that comes in the final product.

It seems stars have an edge over models?
The beauty about shooting with actors over models is that they can act/emote, they can look different, they can do experiment with different things. You can do the same with models but with actors its lot more noticeable. It's easier to shoot and convince models but it's a huge deal to get an actor to do something because they have certain public image, lot of expectation, people have lot of expectation from them. So when you shoot with an actor a lot more thought process goes in. You need to be clear about your vision.

What differentiates you amongst your peers?
Every photographer has his own signature style. My signature style is shooting outdoors. Most photographers shoot indoor a lot. I love shooting everything outdoor because I feel the way I can use the natural light and the way I can control natural light very few photographers can do that. I love mixing natural light with artificial light that would be my forte. There is a certain amount of candidness that I capture. I often don't do staged indoor pictures with the typical hairlight or backlight. I like to see the pictures little more natural. I like to see my actors being how they are, in natural not trying too hard to pose. It should be a little more relaxed. I bring out the real character of the person. I don't try too hard or over pose on celebrity.

Photoshoots serve as makeovers for stars?
Absolutely. There are many big actors including Kareena, Hrithik, Arjun today who have done numerous photoshoots with me before they began their film career in order to understand their look, how they should perform, how they can glow their hair - whether they should have long hair or short hair, whether slimmer look or leaner look or bulkier look what looks better. They will keep trying till they get the desired look so it becomes like a look test for them. In fact Pooja Bhatt used to do a lot of experiment with her looks. Before using it in a movie she used to do numerous photohoots and then okay it. If it's a particular wig that she wants to try or something else, she knows in which angle it will look better.

For a star to be born the first step is photoshoot?
It is a stepping stone. As any producer and director will first have a glance on images. If they find it impressive enough they will for a second meet and do a video test.

How much of a film's success or artist's success depends upon a photographer?
It is difficult to say. It's different for everyone I can't generalize that. Many stars like Kareena, Rahul Roy, Tusshar, Hrithik, Atul Agnihotri did their first portfolios with me. I shot with them before they came in the limelight. A certain picture has got them a role sometimes. In many ways I am responsible for Hrithik becoming an actor today. I remember before doing KAHO NAA PYAAR HAI in 1999, he did 3 back-to-back photoshoots in 3 days - two with another photographers and one day with me. He got the results of those two and decided against being an actor. He made up his mind to become a director as he felt he was not photogenic. For whatever reasons he felt the pictures didn't work and said 'I can't see myself on-screen like this'. Next day after seeing my results he was completely blown away. He immediately said 'I want to become an actor'. He realized that being in right hands is very important, getting the right pictures, getting the right mood and capturing best of people makes lot of difference.

Are there clashes of outlook between you and stars?
It never happens at least from the relation that I have with most actors from 15-16 years of being in this industry. They rely on my vision and they take it to the next level with their own aura, own expressions. It's healthy to have someone correct you or someone adding value to the picture. 

Being a celebrity photographer does Dabboo Ratnani face tantrums?
I never had to face any tantrums. I meet the person before shoot and discuss everything and if things are not working out or not getting along then we don't shoot at all. Why to get into a situation where we are stressed on the day of the shoot. We rather be friends and acquaintances than spoil the relation.

Stars are highly conscious about their photos/images? 
Today it's not a mere photograph. Going by the way the media is today, the way the internet is, it spreads like wild fire so most actors are very particular on every image that releases. Internationally, if Tom Cruise does a photoshoot its not that the photographer releases all the pictures. It is in consultation with him, with the actor's agent, the publicist and the magazine. They all sit together, decide on the picture and then only release it. It's a global trend.

Do popularity of the stars matter for your list? 
It's more to do with the person who has worked a lot in that particular year. If a particular celeb has 2 flops in the year that doesn't mean I will not use them. As long as the celeb is making a great looking picture its fine. It's who I have worked with, who I shoot a lot with and who I enjoy working with.

Are you believer of the hot photoshoot trend?
It depends on how the person shoots. You can't really make everyone look hot. I am okay with hot shoot like a semi nude or a sexy shoot where the person is scarcely clad but it should be done aesthetically.

Are you planning something bigger and better for your annual calendars?
I constantly keep thinking of new ideas. Like this year's calendar I have achieved a lot more production, lot more sets. The calendar is much larger, much bigger, much expensive, year after year. It's very important to evolve and take it to the next level. When we started shooting calendars for the first 4-5 years out of 24, 22 pictures used to be in my studio or in nearby locations but now probably 2 are in the studio and rest are on big locations, big sets.

Of all the photoshoots you've done which is the best according to you?
I can't choose or differentiate. For me work is work whether I am shooting a top actor or a newcomer. There's equal effort for every picture that I put in and it is like choosing from your own kids. If some shoots don't work out well I don't take it negatively. On the contrary I feel somewhere I need to improve; I need to learn something new. Like I shot Hrithik recently and suggested him about certain idea of lighting and he was game for it. I am trying something new even at this stage after being in the industry for good 16 years. You have to keep trying harder; you have to keep inventing something new. As an artist you need to evolve, you need to travel, you need to socialize.

Who has the most striking face in the industry?
Undoubtedly Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

Which star is most spontaneous in shoots?
Rahul Bose, Abhay Deol are very spontaneous. They are very different kind of people to shoot with.